Saturday, December 29, 2007

A Few Thoughts About Vintage And Custom Drums

About the author: Ken Sanders owns a selection of Vintage Drums and various Custom Drums, from Fork’s Drum Closet.
Ken is also an active member at Drum Solo Artist where he is answering drum related questions, and helping drummers with tips and advice.

Vintage Drums Versus Custom Drums

As a general rule a vintage drums should range from 1920 's to 1970 's and drum sets usually include three, or four pieces. Some of the Manufacturers that are popular between the "vintage drum seekers" are: Gretsch, Ludwig, and Slingerland, and one of the most important aspects when choosing a vintage drum is its particular model. - That of course if you are buying the vintage drum as a collectable item, and not because you just want to add that "vintage sound" to your drum set.

I do my all of drum equipment business at Fork’s Drum Closet in Nashville. One of the cool things about shopping at Fork 's is that you never know who is going to come into the store. Customers, both professional and amateur, often have those drummer-to-drummer discussions that are worth just hanging out at the shop to hear. One cool thing about us drummers is that we love to share our drum information with one another.

One segment of Gary Forkum’s (the owner of Fork’s) business is the ever-increasing vintage drum market. Fork’s has a steady flow of very interesting vintage drums and drum kits coming into the store. It is not unusual for the customers that are present when some really cool items come in, to ooooh and aaaah the newly arrived treasures, often with the reverence others might associate with viewing a sacred relic. I’ve certainly slobbered over lots of them, and see no foreseeable change in my tendency to do so.

Some folks love to collect vintage drums because they find them unique pieces of musical history. Others have been looking for a drum that they want to create a certain “authentic” sound for recording work... basically a tool of their trade, but a very special one. Still others, especially “Jazz Guys” are looking for a vintage kit that has the feel and look and sound that just “does it” for them. Everyone seems to have at least one “Holy Grail” drum item they are searching for. For a lot of us drummers... well... we really have all the stuff we will ever need. It’s just that we still just want more cool stuff.

Well, I went through all of that to get to the heart of the discussion we had at the drum shop last week. The topic was... ”Do the old drums just sound better than the new ones?” Aaaaah, you can imagine the depth of that discussion... way too much to cover here, but it does warrant a few points I will make.

First, everything about what "sounds" good, bad, great, or, terrible, etc. is, of course, very subjective. If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, then likewise we can accept that fantastic sounds are up to the ears of the one proclaiming them as fantastic sounds.

Now, although some others may disagree with me, there is no doubt in my mind that the top line drums made today, are better crafted than the drums made thirty and more years ago. But the sound? Obviously subjective!

Today’s top line drums are made from specifically selected woods and other materials to purposely generate certain sonic qualities. Walnut shells, birch shells, ash shells, maple shells, and beech shells, etc. or combinations thereof... all generate different sound characteristics. Additionally the glues, bending and seaming technology, and other craftsmanship involved in making top line drums today is far superior to those of the good old days. Now that 's the craftsmanship, not the particular sound that just might absolutely rock your world.

So maybe we can agree that it still comes down to the unique sound you like, doesn’t it? For example, I was surprised to learn that the eight lug Ludwig Acrolite snare drum of the 1960’s was preferred over other most of the more expensive drums for many years by recording engineers. It was the unique sound that the drum’s thin aluminum shell and the eight lugs produced! Now the Acrolites were considered inexpensive student line drums back then. But with all of those treasured old Radio Kings and Supraphonics that were also out there during that period. "who wood think" the Acrolites were the “go-to” snare drum?

Another example that I hear over and over is that someone in the drum shop will eventually say “I’ve been looking for a snare drum with that classic roundabout (remember the Yes recording with drummer Bill Bruford) sound, and I still haven’t found it”.

I confess that I’ve had a lot of fun with this one. I’ve told those drummers searching for that genuine roundabout sounding snare drum to select ANY 5 to 6 ½ depth, 14” diameter drum in the shop and then I would show them the drum they were looking for.

After they brought me a drum I would say... "My God... that 's it!" Next I tuned the drum heads top and bottom and then de-tuned the top head. Then aha! there was the roundabout snare sound. The point is that it is not always the drum. It is often the way you set the drum up.

So our drum shop discussion last week ended this way just about any drummer can name a vintage drum (or drums) that would just be their ultimate find. If they find it, they will treasure it, and it will be a source of personal drum pleasure for them to have.

However, back to the original question posed; an old drum does not automatically qualify for being a great sounding drum. Even after being properly repaired/restored an old drum MAY NOT sound like the mythical sonic treasure you had stored away in your mind for years. I have discovered that many times myself, although, it doesn’t stop me from still wanting that ELUSIVE vintage drum that is STILL my particular Holy Grail drum. It must just be something that gets into the blood system of us drummers!

Our drumming performances, in my opinion, are a combined product of our minds, our ears, our limbs and lastly, our equipment. No matter though because many of us drummers are still gear heads anyway. Hope you enjoyed these thoughts and I hope you find your Holy Grail Drum!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Yakov Kasman... Superman of the Piano!!!

Yakov Kasman, has become a folk hero in Portland classical music circles after seizing the day with his daring 2004 rescue of the Oregon Symphony by playing one of the legendarily tough Rachmaninoff piano concertos.
I remember reading this story the first time around when the gifted pianist came to PDX and did the difficult, pinch hitting for the orchestra with the Rach 3, and it has resonated with me, whenever I think of what he did to perform as he did that evening...and he came back two years later, and did it again with the Rach 1 !!

Enjoy this story, and thanks to the Oregonian and their ace classical reviewer David Stabler for allowing this copywritten piece live again on this blog.

The Oregonian - Monday, March 13, 2006
Pianist flirts with the devil

Yakov Kasman returned to Arlene Schnitzer Concert Hall on Saturday for another triumphant performance of a Rachmaninoff piano concerto - proving his 2004 feat was no fluke.
Eighteen months after rescuing the Rach 3, Yakov Kasman returns to tackle No.1

By David Stabler
The Oregonian

The pianist Yakov Kasman moseyed across the stage of Schnitzer Hall with a hangdog look Saturday night. He bowed obediently without smiling and sat down.
The audience's welcome couldn't have been warmer - they remembered Kasman's daring, triumphant, improbable rescue of the symphony's Rachmaninoff's Concerto No.3 just 18 months ago.
Still, Kasman knew the demands that lay ahead of him, and his body looked as though it didn't want to cooperate.
But the moment he touched the piano, a great shuddering and exploding erupted. His hands shot across the keys, a blur of speed and almost predatory urgency. In the next 25 minutes, Kasman gave one of the more mesmerizing performances of Rachmaninoff's Concerto No.1 that I have ever heard.
Kasman's brilliant performance combined sheer aggression with swooning romanticism, confirming that he is a remarkable pianist- powerful, measured, deeply serious, but also a little dangerous. He flirts with the devil.
Now we know that his previous success in Portland was no fluke. Not that we thought it was, but we had to hear for ourselves. Kasman triumphed again in Schnitzer Hall and after hearing him twice, I'll never worry about this diminutive Russian pianist again. He can play anything, and we can let matters take their rapid course.
All through the Rachmaninoff Concerto No.1, brash and youthful compared with the magnificence of No.3, it was impossible not to link the figure at the piano with the earlier visit.
Then, Kasman flew across the country to Portland to substitute for injured pianist Louis Lortie. He went on without rehearsal, and after the performance, he slumped on a sofa in his dressing room, having played what he acknowledges was the concert of his life. When I shook his hand after the concert, it was limp like a jellyfish. His face was flushed. His watch pointed to midnight, Alabama time.
The day had begun with a phone call from the Oregon Symphony to his home in Birmingham. Could he fly to Portland and play Rach 3 that night?
Kasman had never been to Portland, had never met conductor Carlos Kalmar and hadn't touched the fiendishly difficult music for seven months. One seat remained on the plane to Portland, and it would leave in 90 minutes.
Kasman was on it.
His plane touched down in Portland at 7 p.m., an hour to spare. He was so focused, he didn't speak or even look at anyone. All he wanted was to touch the piano and huddle with Kalmar about tempos.

Details still fresh

He still remembers many details of the story.
"I felt dread and excitement. I had a kind of feeling - they don't know that I know it. I know that I know it even though the truth is, the last time I played it was many, many months ago. But that piece was always in my fingers"
Kasman doesn't remember the conductor nudging him through the stage door, but he heard the applause. "They know I just arrived in those circumstances. I know they don't expect too much, so I just relaxed."
But he also knew there was a tricky passage in the first movement that could derail him. If he and the orchestra got through it cleanly, he was home free.
They sailed through it.
The rest of the performance, give or take a couple of chords, defied reality. Kasman, whose child-size hands belie his power, played with a booming tone, matching the orchestra note for note.
Audience members leaned forward, shaking their heads. They couldn't believe what they were hearing. The final, thundering chords lifted Kasman straight up off the bench. People rocketed out of their seats, too, shouting with joy.
Kasman recalls the day after the concert. "I remember the sunny morning. When I left the hotel, I said, "OK, I did something very, very good last night." That was a great feeling."
And then it happened again.
Six month after his Portland triumph, Kasman's manager called. "What are your plans for this weekend?"
No plans.
"Would you like to play tonight in Charleston, West Virginia?"
"OK. What?"
" Rach 3"
Charleston is only 3½ hours from Birmingham, so Kasman actually had time to practice before boarding the plane. He arrived two hours before the concert. Again he sailed through the piece..
"I should keep my suitcase ready," he jokes.

Unfamiliar music

After his first Portland success, Charles Calmer, the orchestra's artistic administrator, asked him leading questions about his repertoire, which leans heavily toward Russian music: Tchaikovsky, Prokofiev, Rachmaninoff, Shostakovich.
Kasman, who won the silver medal in the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1997, sensed an impending invitation.
Sure enough, it came a couple of weeks later. Kasman opened a letter from the Oregon Symphony asking him to play the first Rachmaninoff concerto: He didn't know the piece, but again, he didn't hesitate to accept.
Saturday's performance revealed no first time jitters. He and the guest conductor, Sweden's Stefan Solyom, synchronized phrases between piano and orchestra as if they'd played it together a dozen times, building a sympathetic partnership. After the brilliant embroidery of the first movement, the slow second movement sang a mournful song, both sober and ceremonial. Russian music loves Kasman as much as he loves Russian music.
In all, we heard power and temperament expressing themselves, a feeling for life that is both grand and painful. Kasman knows both. He suffered greatly in music boarding school and in the Russian army, where he spent two years mopping floors and peeling potatoes.
But he doesn't doubt himself, he says. The night he saved the symphony, he felt "anticipation of something extremely unusual, absolutely impossible. It will be a highlight of my whole life, that's for certain. Not only my concert life, but my whole life."

Blizzard of Lies...The Government, Part 200

Remember Alberto Gonzalez??? The US Attorney firings??? How soon we want to forget, but with every passing day, more heinous things are being uncovered with regulararity. The arrogance of these current officials with their jaundiced actions stymies the very thing that makes government " for the PEOPLE".

In the interest of disclosure,here is the story of a bad person who is still entrenched in the government, and the detailed account of a former attorney in the same Department of Justice that is now speaking out, in spades.

Thanks to the Washington Monthly, December 2007. This article is copywritten and much appreciated.

Brian Roehrkasse, Please Leave the Building...Why the DOJ's spokesperson dishonors the department
By Bud Cummins

With rare exceptions, the Department of Justice has a distinguished history of nonpartisan pursuit of the laws of the United States. It conducts its business across the nation through ninety-three U.S. attorneys' offices, each led by a presidentially appointed U.S. attorney who is the chief federal law enforcement official in the federal district. One of the many responsibilities of the U.S. attorney is to speak, at times, on behalf of the DOJ.

From 2001 to 2006, I was one of those ninety-three attorneys, appointed to the Eastern District of Arkansas. Much of the work I did couldn't be discussed publicly, for legal or ethical reasons. When I did speak to the media, however, I always made sure to be precise and accurate. Credibility is the currency of a federal prosecutor who represents the government. Former Deputy Attorney General Jim Comey often reminded my colleagues and me that U.S. attorneys are immediately assumed to be credible—not because of who they are but because of whom they represent, the United States of America. Credibility is a formidable weapon, and those granted it have a solemn responsibility to preserve it. That means telling the truth.

In 2006, the Department of Justice asked for the resignations of nine U.S. attorneys who had been appointed by President George W. Bush. I was among them. No president had ever fired his own appointees in such a manner, and a scandal was born when Congress started asking questions and getting fishy answers from the DOJ. Many months of lies ensued. Some of the dubious statements, such as those of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, were made during congressional testimony. Others came in the form of public statements made on behalf of the department. Today, most of those involved in the deception have resigned.

Most, but not all. One player who remains is a DOJ Office of Public Affairs spokesperson named Brian Roehrkasse, a Bush campaign worker in 2000 who went on to be a spokesperson for the Department of Transportation and for the Department of Homeland Security before moving over to the DOJ in 2005. Roehrkasse did more than perhaps any other DOJ official to disseminate the avalanche of untruths. A number of reporters have complained to me in private about having been deceived by him. But he never resigned. In fact, he was promoted by Gonzales in August to be the director of the DOJ's Office of Public Affairs.

I believe deeply in the Department of Justice. Serving in the DOJ was the pinnacle of my professional career, and I will be forever indebted to those who helped put me there, including President Bush. But the department's reputation can't be restored if its chief spokesperson isn't credible. Out of dozens of examples, I've chosen five, ordered chronologically, that I hope will illustrate the problem. You'll find no bombshell (and some are complex, so bear with me), but what should become clear from them is that they are statements fundamentally intended to mislead.

1. The Maternity Dodge. I am perhaps unique among the fired U.S. attorneys in knowing the truth about why I was fired. It was to make room for an aide to Karl Rove named Tim Griffin. (I know this because then Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty made it clear in congressional testimony, and subsequent e-mail disclosures confirmed it.) Tim Griffin took over from me in December 2006, and his arrival attracted scrutiny for two reasons. The first was that he had been appointed under a new and virtually unknown legislative provision in which a U.S. attorney could skip Senate confirmation. The second was that his appointment went against a norm of having the first assistant U.S. attorney of an office serve as interim U.S. attorney until a presidentially appointed and Senate-confirmed replacement can report for service. So why hadn't Jane Duke, the first assistant in my office, taken over from me until Griffin could be confirmed? That was the question journalists put to Brian Roehrkasse at the DOJ. His answer: "The first assistant is on maternity leave."

Many folks in Arkansas were incredulous at this explanation, particularly those close to Duke or the office. We'd known for more than six months that Griffin was going to take over for me, and the original due date of Duke's pregnancy fell well after the date of my ultimate resignation. In other words, if the DOJ had ever had any intention of installing Duke as an interim attorney, it could have made plans to do so. It was true that Duke was on maternity leave at the time, but this was only because she'd gone in for an emergency delivery a few days earlier, two months prematurely. Roehrkasse knew that only my colleagues and I would understand why his statement was so misleading. Apparently he was counting on our "loyal" silence.

2. The "Good Faith" Effort. Once it became clear that several U.S. attorneys had been fired, members of Congress became concerned that the White House was trying to circumvent the confirmation process. Tim Griffin, after all, had been appointed in a manner that bypassed congressional advice and consent. In response to Senate accusations of bad faith, it was Brian Roehrkasse who came out with an official statement meant to allay such worries. "In every case, it is a goal of this administration to have a U.S. attorney that is confirmed by the Senate," he said. "It is wrong for a member of Congress to believe that this is in any way an attempt to circumvent the confirmation process."

Except that, in this instance, the Democrats in Congress had it right. After internal DOJ e-mails were subpoenaed, we learned that Gonzalez's chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, had authored an e-mail about precisely how to execute an end run around senators in the case of Tim Griffin. Sampson wrote to White House and DOJ colleagues:

I think we should gum this to death. Ask the senators to give Tim a chance, meet with him, give him some time in office to see how he performs, etc. If they ultimately say, "no, never" (and the longer we can forestall that, the better), then we can tell them we'll look for other candidates, ask them for recommendations, evaluate the recommendations, interview their candidates, and otherwise run out the clock. All this should be done in "good faith," of course.
It's possible that Roehrkasse didn't know about Sampson's game plan at the time he made his statement, but he never subsequently corrected the record.

3. The Disappearing Denial. Several weeks after I resigned and just after I had been quoted expressing concern about the allegations against my colleagues, I received an unpleasant phone call from Michael Elston, chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty. During our conversation, Elston warned that if I—or other fired colleagues—continued to respond to media inquiries about the firings, the DOJ might have to roll out more damaging allegations in the press. In March, McClatchy Newspapers learned about Elston's call to me and ran a piece about it in which they spoke to two of the other fired attorneys anonymously. Brian Roehrkasse criticized McClatchy for running the piece, saying, "It is unfortunate that the press would choose to run an allegation from an anonymous source from a conversation that never took place."

The problem is that it did take place. In spite of Roehrkasse's condemnation of McClatchy, the story was exactly accurate, and we proved it. In fact, at least three of us had received similar threatening calls, and Elston himself didn't even bother to deny having spoken to us, saying instead that he was "shocked and baffled" over what he said had been a misunderstanding. Roehrkasse, undaunted, then found a new spin on the story. "A private and collegial conversation between Mike Elston and Bud Cummins is now somehow being twisted into a perceived threat by former disgruntled employees grandstanding before Congress," he told journalists. This was an impressive mix of untruth and affront. First, the public was evidently supposed to forget that the conversation "never took place." Then it was supposed to believe it did take place but was entirely collegial. Finally, the public was to suspect the fired attorneys of "grandstanding before Congress," even though each of the U.S. attorneys had turned down numerous previous invitations to testify. As Roehrkasse well knew, we were talking to Congress reluctantly, and only because we'd been subpoenaed.

4. Spinning the Post. In March 2007, the Washington Post ran a story that pleased senior officials in the Justice Department. It began as follows:

The White House approved the firings of seven U.S. attorneys late last year after senior Justice Department officials identified the prosecutors they believed were not doing enough to carry out President Bush's policies on immigration, firearms and other issues, White House and Justice Department officials said yesterday. The list of prosecutors was assembled last fall, based largely on complaints from members of Congress, law enforcement officials and career Justice Department lawyers, administration officials said.
This was the story that the DOJ wanted to sell, but the story soon unraveled. For one thing, subsequent DOJ disclosures revealed that the list had been initiated long before "last fall," with names being added or subtracted right up to the last minute. For another, while it was supposedly senior Justice Department officials who had identified prosecutors they believed were underperforming, not one of the officials under oath would admit to placing any of the names on the firing list. Finally, not a single person within the DOJ who was consulted about the list would have been in a position to evaluate the performance of the U.S. attorneys who were fired. The seemingly reasonable explanation reported in the Post story was, bluntly put, a load of bull.

So who within the DOJ had caused such deceptive claims to become the basis for the Post story? Let the answer come from an e-mail that Kyle Sampson (chief of staff to the attorney general) sent to Brian Roehrkasse at the time: "Great work Brian. Kudos to you and the DAG [Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty]."

5. The "Oops" Denial. Last April, Alberto Gonzales told the Senate that Seattle U.S. Attorney John McKay had been fired because of recent disputes over an information-sharing system. A few weeks later, however, it emerged that McKay had been recommended for removal as early as March 2005. Why had the DOJ neglected to release a document showing Gonzales's claims to have been false? Because of an "inadvertent mistake," explained Brian Roehrkasse. A suspiciously lucky inadvertent mistake, he might have added.

hese are just a few examples. As I said, there are many others. None of them is individually earth shattering, but the pattern of deception employed by this young man is deeply unsettling to me. It is symptomatic of a creeping mendacity in public life, a deceptiveness that has found its way into bedrock institutions that once were immune from Hollywood-style spin. Political campaigns and movie stars traffic in it, certainly, but some institutions, like the DOJ, have always been viewed as sacred. It's one thing when a flack for Lindsay Lohan falsely assures us that Lindsay is sober. It's another when a spokesperson for the DOJ starts telling fibs about a department that is entrusted with the neutral and nonpartisan execution of our nation's laws. The decisions made by the DOJ affect life and liberty. The entire mission depends on the integrity and credibility of the department.

Now, I don't have any way of knowing how Brian Roehrkasse came to make so many dubious or misleading statements. I've never met the man or communicated with him directly. For all I know, his superiors were writing them, and he was simply reading them. But once you realize you are being repeatedly marched out to say untrue things, integrity dictates that you push back or resign before you do it again. Fool me twice, shame on you. Fool me over a dozen times, I'm a willing liar.

When I became a U.S. attorney and the government issued me DOJ credentials, I used my institutional credibility to my advantage frequently. If I made a factual representation to a judge, he usually accepted it. If I told reporters I had to keep quiet about a case for ethical reasons and public safety, they respected my silence. I was sensitive never to abuse this power. Trust should never be taken for granted—by anybody.

Here's another thing: We are at war. There are a great number of relevant and legitimate legal debates about executive power generally—about topics like the terrorist surveillance program, torture, and the legal status of enemy combatants. Unlike a typical Washington Monthly reader, I happen to agree with President Bush on most of these issues. The executive branch, from the president down to the investigating agent on the street, should have as many constitutional tools to protect the security of the nation as possible. And it isn't smart to debate all of the issues that face us out in the open in front of our enemies. Some issues need to be analyzed more privately. In sum, our government needs a formidable range of powers in order to investigate and combat terrorism properly.

The public, however, will never grant it such powers if the government and its agencies lack credibility. Congress has to believe the Justice Department when it makes representations about legalities. There can't be doubts.

Unfortunately, doubts are all that someone like Brian Roehrkasse can offer. The Department of Justice has gotten a fresh start with a new attorney general and new senior officials. But how can the public trust any agency with a spokesperson who thinks distorting and deceiving in order to satisfy his bosses is part of the job? If Attorney General Michael Mukasey wants to repair his agency, at the top of his list should be finding the DOJ a trustworthy spokesperson. That means telling Brian Roehrkasse to find a position more suited to his abilities. Hollywood, I suspect, awaits him.

Bud Cummins served as the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas from 2001 to 2006

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Just please tell me: "what does a drummer do" ?

This is a post from rec.musicmakers.percussion from a gent named drummerrob who captured my eye with his post on just what a drummer really does with his abilities....please read and soak this in.

"drummerrob" wrote in message
I've written a book called "Whole Music Drumming". My premise is that
drummers need to know all the parts of a song they don't play, so that
they know what to play. If you'd like to know more, go to

Meanwhile here's my essay from the book on the role of drummers, as I view it.


The drummer provides the rhythmic environment for the entire band.

Often the role of the drummer is thought to be the time keeper of the
band, but the drummer's role is far broader.  While the drummer's
playing is the closest actually stating time, everyone keeps time -
otherwise the song would fall apart.

The drummer most often - and appropriately - plays grooves (drum set
beats) and fills.  Simultaneously, musical drummers make choices based
on many pieces of information - meter (duple, triple, unusual,
combined, etc.), the style and corresponding feel of the music, the
melody, harmony and bass lines, the song form and phrasing, the
arrangement form (how the song is to be performed), and any number of
additional elements particular to the song being played.  That sounds
like a lot, but while making the journey from drummer to musician,
these things must be learned in order to bring to the playing
experience the knowledge necessary to render a musical performance.
When the knowledge and playing abilities are all there, the result is
sensitive, vibrant and artistic playing which fits into the song
perfectly and makes everyone sound great.  The best drummers
consciously and intuitively understand this stuff.  The rest of us
should be on the road to acquiring it.

Philosophically, I like to think of the drummer-musician as the play
caller or traffic director.  In sports the equivalent might be the
point guard in basketball or the catcher in baseball.  The drummer
accompanies and guides the group through one section into another,
helping set the feel, implying (though not often actually playing) the
beat.  The drummer has to push, pull, energize, and hold back, in a
sense providing a large part of the band's rhythmic environment.

Drummers are musicians of the very most important level...
if trained and taught to think that way.  
Too often the joke about the band consisting of four musicians and a drummer is true.  
Too often the drummer is trained to become drummer and not a musician.  
If musicianship is emphasized he becomes both.
If only drumming is emphasized he becomes a musician largely
as a result of aptitude and luck.


Sunday, December 02, 2007

Sean Cruz: Why I am running for Oregon Senate District 23, part 2

Sean Cruz is one of the administrators of the Jim Pepper Rememberence Band (documented in the archive pages of this blog), and he currently is running for the Senate in Oregon.

A nice person with one of those stories that just tugs at your being.

Sometimes you just don't know how close peril in someone's life lives next to your own situation.

Here is a story to read and digest when you think about change and voting those current bastards out of our lives and our government.


Why I am running for Oregon Senate District 23, part 2
By Sean Cruz

Four years ago, on Thanksgiving Day 2003, I watched my son Aaron, all 21-years-old of him, pack for deployment to Iraq.

He was gone the next day, driving to Utah to join my other son, Tyler, 19 years old, both members of the same Army National Guard unit.

As we held our last embrace, standing together in my driveway, Aaron in his full dress uniform, I could feel in my heart, bursting with dread and pain, that I would never see him again.

I promised him that his room would be as he left it when he returned, forcing the words out of my mouth, my stomach knotted in grief.

I had spent every day of the previous three months desperately trying to connect Aaron with medical care. We had no health insurance.

I had been among the hundreds of thousands of Oregonians who lost access to health care when the Oregon Health Plan was gutted in 2002.

Senate District 23 was hit harder in sheer numbers than any other senate district in the state.

I understand the access to health care issue on a deeply personal level. This is the core of my commitment to Oregonians as a candidate for the Oregon Senate.

Aaron had a host of medical problems, some life-threatening. He had suffered medical neglect for years while living in Utah, the victim of a 1996 kidnapping from Oregon.

I had recovered Aaron from that kidnapping just three months before, in August of 2003.

He had called me and said, “Dad. I’m ready to come home. Come and get me.”

I had left my job, taken the seats out of my van, and was gone for him the next day.

The joy of recovery was gone as soon as I saw him there in his friend’s living room in Payson, Utah.

He was suffering psychosis, sleep-deprived for so long that his eyes would roll back in his head while he was speaking.

I saw that he had become a chain smoker, and I watched him nod off that morning with a burning cigarette in his hand.

I woke him and told him about the cigarette, and he replied that he did that all the time, showing me the burn scars on his finger joints.

Cigarette burn scars on my beautiful son!!!

Every person I met during the several days it took to get Aaron packed was oblivious to his medical condition, shrugged it off, actually.

It was apparent that others accepted Aaron’s crisis as “normal” behavior.

Aaron had no health insurance, no access to competent care, no one to help him get seen by a doctor, and that had been his situation for the years that had passed since he had disappeared from my home during the major storm that had besieged the Northwest in February 1996.

For days, repeatedly, we would get the van partly loaded, and then Aaron would take everything back out and spread it on his friend’s lawn, over and over, obsessing over this and that.

He would fall asleep in every kind of position and situation, for time measured in seconds, then wake up as if all was well. For Aaron and those in his Utah life, this was considered normal behavior.

When I finally got him home here in Portland, I began the desperate search for medical care, with no health insurance and no financial resources to speak of.

My friend Baruti Arthuree helped me, arranged for Aaron to be seen by a Providence doctor.

The one contact with “medical” care that Aaron had in Utah was his participation in a methadone program there, and we continued that here.

Every weekday morning, from that first day in Portland, I drove my son to the methadone clinic to start the day.

He was too ill to drive himself, too ill even to sit upright in the car. He would lie on the floor of my van both ways, every day, eyes closed, might get four or five minutes of sleep in the process.

Methadone clinics are closed on weekends, so every Friday Aaron would bring home the two weekend doses.

His Providence Hospital doctor really took on his case, really tried to help him, tried to total up the damage from all those years of emotional abuse and medical neglect and figure out a way to keep him alive long enough to give him a chance to improve the quality of his life.

Among the medical issues we were learning about, Aaron had developed a seizure disorder that threatened to take his life. His doctor warned him that there was a strong likelihood that he could suffer a seizure and lapse into a coma from which he would not recover.

I have that warning in writing.

The Bush Administration, however, had other plans for my son, needed Aaron to help them out in Iraq, ordered him to report to his unit by this date, dead or alive.

When he left our home, Aaron lost what little access to health care he had, lost contact with the one person in his life who understood his need, who was committed to filling it.

The Army held Aaron in Utah under medical review, which one would think would include actual medical care, but that is not the case.

National Guard soldiers in this hold status draw no pay and receive no benefits. They are entirely on their own resources. Aaron had no resources in Utah.

During the medical review process, Aaron was required to remain in Utah, where he had no health coverage, was too ill to hold a job, and had no place to call home.

His condition deteriorated until March 2005, when—as predicted—he suffered a seizure, lapsed into a coma and died several days later.

I spent the last five of those days at his side.

As it turned out, Aaron was sick enough to actually qualify for the remaining remnants of the Oregon Health Plan, although that coverage didn’t arrive before his deployment orders.

I spent all of my financial resources during that 2003-2005 period on supporting my son, on paying his bills, on a cell phone for him that was our sole means of communication. I have not come close to recovering financially.

I could hear his worsening illness in his voice, in countless conversations during that period, begging him to come home no matter what the Army had to say about it.

He was focused, however, on finding a way to join his unit and his brother, wouldn’t give up, loved his Guard unit and his brother more than he loved his own life, wanted to be with them more than anything else in the world.

Aaron wouldn’t—or couldn’t—come to grips with his own medical reality. He was ready to sacrifice his life for his country, for his unit, for his brother.

The sacrifice would have ended his own pain, and he welcomed that.

Aaron would have been the first to step into noble glory on foreign soil. All he had left was courage.

I personally had no medical coverage until January 2005

Now it is four years later, and another 3500 Oregonians and their families recently received the news that they will continue to shoulder the burdens of war virtually all on their own.

The fact is that we Oregonians are knowingly sending many of these soldiers off to get their lives ruined, and that we are doing so knowing that we are not doing enough to help either the troops or their families that have gone before them.

The 3,500 soldiers we are about to send off to the war realize this fact, and they have little reason to expect that we Oregonians will value their sacrifice enough to cover their backs.

The focus for the month of December will be on what it always is--holiday shopping and holiday travel.

Much of the holiday shopping involves the purchase of goods made or grown in foreign nations. This does nothing to strengthen the nation in either time of war or peace.

For some of those 3500 soldiers and their families, the gifts could be the last, the holiday spirit a sacrifice already made on our behalf.

Most of the holiday travel involves the purchase of fuel that directly fills the coffers of the nation's enemies.

I can tell you that I personally do no holiday traveling.

The nation struggles with the cost of gasoline at the pump, is locked into a war to keep the price under $ 3.00 a gallon. Nothing gets people more upset than seeing a nickle bump in the cost of fueling their private motor vehicle.

Meanwhile, it costs the US taxpayer one hundred dollars a gallon to get diesel into Afghanistan. That's right, $100 a gallon, but who cares?

These Oregon soldiers and their families know that they are going into the meatgrinder, making sacrifices for people who will begrudge every nickle spent on services for veterans and their families on down the line, for people who will make absolutely no personal sacrifice in return.

Who among us will these courageous people look to? Who will be there for them?

These are important questions, and one that we must settle among ourselves here in Oregon.

Ending these wars is completely out of our control.

As a consequence of its relatively small population, its distance from the national Capitol and the factor of time zones, Oregon rarely has a meaningful role either in the selection of presidential candidates or in the election of the President of the United States, much less a role in the nation’s foreign policy.

We also lack both the clout and the sensibility that comes from the presence of large military bases or defense contractors.

The one thing regarding the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan that is entirely in our Oregon hands is how we will address the needs of the troops and their families, how we will address the needs of those that have already served, those who are serving and those who will serve.

This is our mutual responsibility, and we are failing the troops and their families.

We are failing them both individually and collectively.

I am committed to changing that.

Access to health care is the key issue for the constituents of Senate District 23, and the voters will have the opportunity to make that statement clearly by supporting Sean Cruz in the May Democratic primary.

I am asking you to send me to Salem, to represent you on those vital Senate Committees on health and human services issues, to fight for access to quality health care for all Oregonians.

I need you to invest in me, and I need your support now!

Mail contributions to:

Friends of Sean Cruz
P.O. Box 30093
Portland, OR 97230

Let me know how else you can help. Here’s one really important way: Please forward this message to your friends and associates. That will help.