Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Harsh Words

A black woman approached me as I was leaving Kragen’s Auto yesterday. She said she was having a hard time, that she was homeless but trying to live in motels and didn’t have enough money. She said someone told her to go to Trinity Church at six, but she couldn’t find it. She was crying. She showed me a scar from trying to commit suicide and she said she was an alcoholic.

I gave her twenty dollars and told her to make sure she went to Trinity Church. I forgot to ask her name. It is always important to ask people for their names. She blessed me. I wondered what would become of her; a broken spirit.

Last night my wife told me to leave, that she was tired of me tossing her bones. Well, it is her house so I will leave without argument. “Bones,” though, seems too harsh. It was our baggage of life; Jacob Marley’s chains. Which of us has the longer chain?

I haven’t got a lot to pack – four feet of closeted clothes and a few drawers, and a few items from a cluttered garage. I will finally have to go to my place of origin since California is too expensive. I wonder what will become of the two of us; broken hearts and dreams.

It's ironic that I just started reading Studs Terkel's Hard Times.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

Chevron’s Duplicitous Hypocrisy

Has anyone seen the Chevron “Will you join us” public relations campaign? What a crock. It seems to me that Chevron should be joining America instead of us joining them. So, Chevron, my suggestions to you are:

  • ·         Make sure all of your oil tankers don’t leak and all have double hulls.
  • ·         Make sure all of your oil tanker operators are qualified to drive to make sure another Exxon Valdez accident doesn’t happen again.
  • ·         Make sure all of your truck tankers are converted to run on LP Gas instead of diesel so they pollute less.
  • ·         Make sure all of your gas stations don’t leak into the local community water supplies.
  • ·         Pay your full taxes so that local and state governments can afford schools to make the public better informed and less ignorant about their country and its vital needs. Didn’t you pay only $8 million to Contra Costa County of the total $36 million due?
  • ·         Pay your full taxes to help local and state governments pay for society improvements, including green projects that help governments reduce costs.
  • ·         Stop lobbying to evade good environmental laws instead of paying millions to evade or corrupt those laws.
  • ·         Use the millions you pay for duplicitous public relations campaigns to build renewable energy projects for public consumption at reasonable costs.
  • ·         Invest in truck tankers and gas stations that haul and sell LP Gas for public consumption instead of asking our government to use tax money to build that infrastructure.
  • ·         Invest in vehicle conversion facilities to cheaply convert gas engines to use LP Gas.

·         Just to name a few…

Of course, if you go to Chevron’s “Will You Join Us” web site to join the discussion, you are restricted from discussing any of the above because the “Community Discussion Rules” prevent any discussion off-subject. The site is monitored so that only discussion favorable to Chevron or is directly relevant to the chosen subject is published; Chevron’s subject.

Like I said, isn't it time Chevron joined America?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Ozymandias’ and The Shoe

I met a traveller from an antique land
Who said: Two vast and trunkless legs of stone
Stand in the desert. Near them on the sand,
Half sunk, a shatter'd visage lies, whose frown
And wrinkled lip and sneer of cold command
Tell that its sculptor well those passions read
Which yet survive, stamp'd on these lifeless things,
The hand that mock'd them and the heart that fed.
And on the pedestal these words appear:
"My name is Ozymandias, king of kings:
Look on my works, ye Mighty, and despair!"
Nothing beside remains: round the decay
Of that colossal wreck, boundless and bare,
The lone and level sands stretch far away.

Ozymandias, by Percy B. Shelley, is one of my favorite poems. I can’t help think of it while reading The Limits of Power, by Andrew J. Bacevich. Shelley summarizes Bacevich’s book in fourteen lines, but I still recommend the book. It took several thousand years of decay to show how futile was the narcissistic and vainglorious gloating of Ramesses the Great. It took only eight years of Bush to show how narcissistic and vain is twenty to thirty years of American hubris. Now, in his last days in office, Bush is attempting to rewrite his place in history through a series of interviews. How appropriate it is that a shoe will be its exclamation point!

It's too bad that The Shoe is also an accurate statement on America's behavior. But, that won't matter; we will miss the point anyway.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Peace on Earth

Contrary to popular belief, “On Earth Peace, Good Will to Men” is not the correct translation. The angels really said, “Peace on Earth to Humans of Good Will.”

It makes a world of difference.

Friday, December 12, 2008

The Fossil John Stossel and Company

Several days ago on Larry King Live, John Stossel’s anti-bailout stance for the auto industry showed himself to be a dinosaur. As usual, Larry King continues to sew divisiveness instead of contributing to the discussion as he claims by inviting disagreements from non-professionals on his show for national consumption. And, as usual, the intended divisiveness succeeded. Stossel disagreed with all of the other four guests on the car bailout. Stossel would have the industry die and to hell with the fallout that would be one more nail in America's coffin, if not the last devastating nail in American society’s coffin. He says “politicians” can’t fix it; they’ve never fixed anything. He would have the natural free-market mechanisms eat Ford, General Motors and Chrysler up; the natural results from the man-made Darwinian survival machine where the strong survive. The Free-Market is man-made cannibalism. It destroys and creates by gobbling up the weak just like the dinosaurs did. Give me a break, John. You are simply not thinking.

Neither are the Senate Republicans thinking. Yesterday, those senators caused the car maker bailout bill to fail in the Senate. Their approval hung on United Auto Workers wages, too high they said, and they didn’t like the “Car Czar” idea. The Bill, according to reports, would have restructured GM and Chrysler, and maybe Ford if it used the money, but they were not buying that idea. So, on those grounds, they filibustered it. Instead of listening to reputable economist, they continue to listen to Jurassic ideologues.

The fact is that politicians, like corporate CEOs, are human, and whatever they do will not be perfect. The other fact is that finally some politicians, unlike CEOs, are coming around to the idea that the human wellbeing is more important than the free-market cannibalistic dogma; that the whims of the free-market cannot be allowed to destroy societies. I hope that the free-market dinosaurs are fading away and perhaps we can get on with pragmatic government for the good of the people instead of letting corporate special interests dictate our world, but it will be too late to save GM and maybe Ford. Chrysler’s demise is a given. Unemployment will skyrocket. Depression, with a big “D,” is more likely than ever.

What we didn’t hear is 1), each worker actually earns about $38.00 per hour – not an unreasonable wage, and 2) that each labor worker creates approximately $200 value for each hour they work – that’s a great return on investment. It is the healthcare portion, an approximate additional $35.00 per hour, of the labor costs that is too high, and Congress could have done something about that. The healthcare cost is not a union demand; it is the Insurance Industry special-interest-suck-up demand. But, if you were not convinced that Republicans care nothing for the average working stiff in this country before, you should be convinced now. Why or how Republicans ever got in office is beyond my comprehension.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

The Last Genius

An article in the India Times suggested that Einstein may be the last genius. The article suggests that individual contribution to science is being replaced by institutional contributions because institutions have more resources. Institutions have always had more resources and that doesn’t explain individual genius or the lack of it. What does explain how Einstein was able to do what he did is that he thought about it. Galileo, de Vinci, Socrates, Aristotle and all the rest had no institutional lab or huge pool of resources to help, except their brain; they thought about it. Want another genius? Then start encouraging people to THINK. What seemed to be a common thread to all of the above great thinkers, and others, is that they understood the human state in this physical existence; that we are spiritual beings in a physical existence. How much could we improve our lives if we just think about it?

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Boy Scouts are Alive and Well

Today I went to Lucky’s for a few items for homemade chili. At the entrance, I bought one dollar’s worth of mistletoe from a Boy Scout. His scout master stood close by. I told them both that I had heard that if Barrack Obama was elected president that the Boy Scouts would be disbanded. I asked whether they had heard that.

We all had a good laugh. They asked where I’d heard that. I told them that James Dobson, founder and president of Focus on The Family, made that prediction if Obama was elected. They said they had never heard of Dobson. Good. As I suspected, James Dobson’s skills of prophecy match his intelligence; nil.

Arcata Blues Again – Take Two

As I’ve said before, whenever George, Monica and I get together, we have good discussions. Last night at dinner on the occasion of my birthday was no exception. We re-visited Arcata, California’s young homeless and vagabond issue I wrote about several posts ago. So, I’ll write about it again, for the last time. It’s not my problem; it’s Arcata’s problem.

But, I thought of Bob Dylan’s Desolation Row when I visited Arcata; where those on Desolation Row look out at the hypocrisy surrounding them. Dylan writes:

“Here comes the blind commissioner
They've got him in a trance
One hand is tied to the tight-rope walker
The other is in his pants”

When there, I couldn’t help but hear that many Arcata citizens looking in on Desolation Row say that those on the Row were there by choice, that they were “hippies” happy with the “freedom” of that life; i.e., freedom from work, from daily toil and routine, from family responsibility, etc.; a rebellion against society. There is a sign in the central Arcata Park that lists at least a dozen things you cannot do in the park, including sleeping, loitering, smoking, etc., no doubt put there by the city’s “commissioner.” The sign is ignored, obviously, by all, including the police apparently. Ironically the sign is part of Arcata’s solution, essentially saying "go someplace else" – the commissioner is indeed blind. But, all the extenuating circumstances and reasons aside, I can’t help but think that the central idea that these young people are in their situation by choice is the culprit that keeps them there. That idea is a cop-out. It allows a person to do nothing; to avoid the responsibility for the desolate. It is my opinion that if the idea that these poor and homeless landed in their situation by mere chance, a series of unfortunate life-changing accidents, is the central community thought, then something will and should be done to help them out of their situation. That “something” could be as little as voting for a proposition to fix it or as big as organizing the community to fix it.

Monica and George claim to disagree. Monica is extremely intelligent with a lifetime of experience in the Oakland, California School system as a Psychologist dealing with mentally challenged and less fortunate children. George is an intellectual and is more informed on social and economical subjects, and many more, than I could ever hope to be. In short, they are not dummies by any stretch of the imagination. Initially, I felt inclined to change my mind when hearing their arguments. Like I’ve said before, I’m not quick on the up-take. Now, it could be that I’ve completely misunderstood their arguments (there is a high probability of that), but after some thought, I think we agree on most everything we said, so I’m sticking with my original argument.

Because, no matter what reasons are given to explain why these people end up in Desolation Row, and there are hundreds, it seems to me that these people wouldn’t have chosen that outcome. Was it bad parenting? Or childhood environment? Or a chemical imbalance? Rotten education? A malfunctioning gene? A physical impairment? Or poor choices in the company they kept along the way? Or all of the above? If given the opportunity to correct the mistakes they made or the influence that affected them, they would take it. If we could all see our future, our choices along the way would be a whole lot different. If we knew how to fix those disappointments and regrets, we would do it. If we knew the true consequence of our actions, this would be an entirely different world without Desolation Row.

Of course, if Arcata does start something to help those young people leave the Row, they will likely screw that up too – probably with another sign. We humans make things more complicated than they need to be. I can’t help but think that if Arcata provided some very basic (and inexpensive) needs, that these young people will do the rest. Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs is a good place to start. If once some of the psychological, safety, belonging and self-esteem needs are met by the community, the self-actualization would follow for most. We should be resigned, however, to the idea that a minority will require support all of their lives or may not accept help at all. Arcata should do it anyway.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

My Birthday Present

I’m not big on birthdays, although they are better than the alternative, and I’m not big on birthday presents. I know, you insist. So, since you insist, the best present you can get me is to become self-sufficient. What’s that? You poo-poo my request, dismissing it as being nice or somehow altruistic? Well, then please think about it. If you’re self-sufficient, then you should be able to take care of 99% of your own wants and needs without my (or my wife’s) help and, in that case, I (we) won’t have to spend ten times more on you this year than your present cost. I won’t have to put your present someplace, such as in my already cramped closet space or on some table until Thanksgiving, Christmas or some other event that requires me to hide it until the guests leave.

You think I need new shoes, but I have four pair and they all fit fine. You think I need new clothes, but my closet is already overflowing – to the chair beside my bed. You think I need a new gadget or widget. I already have more widgets than I can learn to use. By the way, what happened to my iPod present? I either hid it out of view or someone took it and now I can’t find it. I want to give it to your mother/stepmother.

Now, you might think I’m selfish after reading the above, and you’re right. But, the real reason for my selfishness is not obvious from above. I have another and more important reason for wishing you to become self-sufficient. If you can stand on your own, I don’t have to WORRY about you. Please, please, please, don’t get me a present. Stand on your own in your life. Finish your education, get yourself a good job, pay your own bills, buy what you need for yourself, save money, and pay off credit cards; live your own life. That will be enough.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

The Universe Lottery

“What did you get?”
“Earth, 1944, a human. What’d you get?”
“Nothing. My ticket came up empty.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. Better luck next time.”
“Yea. Maybe someone will give up theirs in hopes of a better draw next time.”
“When are you leaving?”
“In a few minutes. She will be impregnated anytime. If I’m not on time, the baby will be still born.”
“That happens a lot. Do you know anything about the family?”
“Yea. They’re poor and uneducated but he’s a hard and steady worker so they will manage. They’re happy, though. They already have two children, so I’ll have an older sister and brother. I wish He would let me keep my memories. It would be a lot easier if I could. Starting out in a poor family doesn’t always lead to a good life.”
“Everyone wishes that. He won’t allow it.”
“Then how do those myths originate down there? Some of them are close to the truth. They have to come from someone.”
“Yea. Some vestige of memory does pass through but you have to become a scribe, philosopher or religious leader to fabricate the myths. And also, you have become famous, which requires a lot of persuasion and stretching the truth; not always to His liking. Otherwise, you have no power to propagate the myth. He doesn’t care for the myths.”
“Yea, I know. With such a poor start, there’s not much chance of me becoming famous. More than likely I’ll simply be a believer in some myth or another, which may or may not turn out good.”
“Well, you can trade with me. Maybe the next draw will get you a better pick.”
“No thanks. I’ll take my chances with this one. I have to go. Maybe we can meet again after life.”
“Yea. Good luck.”