Saturday, August 28, 2010

And One More Thing

As the very same people who insulted all of those who are for Freedom of Religion and our Constitution when they marched against the Mosque and are today amassing in the Washington Mall to insult Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., I have to say one more thing that maybe hasn't been thought of regarding the so-called outrage against the Cordoba House (the Mosque) and against those other Mosques across the country.

Do you realize that our troops fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan are fighting along side of and training Muslims? Do you realize that our mission there is to win the hearts and minds of Muslims in those countries? So "they" can fight for their own war against Taliban oppression? The single most thing America is known for the world over is our Freedoms, and we are respected for it, and people yearn to come here because of it. If anything has made us great in the minds of people, it is our Constitution. How then can we win the hearts of minds of those who fight with us against the radical elements who would do us harm if our own people will not stand for freedom and tolerance?

The fact is that we can't. The movement against Freedom of Religion will affect the minds and hearts of millions of Muslims who want peace with us and fight with us. The so-called Glenn Beck Rally will affect our troops within our military, probably causing dissension among our troops. These movements are insults to anyone who took an oath to protect the Constitution. They are insults to General Patraeus in Afghanistan whose sworn duty is to do his best to project our Freedoms in Afghanistan, to train its military and police forces who are Muslim.

So, what is driving these movements? Is it spite? To do anything and everything to oppose our values out of spite? To dismantle our government? To disrupt our society? To "strut" in front of our neighbor? Where are those who would speak out against these movements? It seems that Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin are doing bin Laden's work for him.


Friday, August 27, 2010

Republican Lies About the Federal Bailout and Debt

It's astonishing that Republicans and their talking heads keep saying Obama and Timothy Geithner are running us into "bailout" debt when this article shows that the Bailout is actually making money for taxpayers at a whopping 15.5% interest: Public-Private Investment Program Reaping Rewards - The fact is that more investment stimulus will boost our economy and continue to pull us out of recession, but these are things the Republicans vote against 100% of the time. They would rather America fail for the sake of their own agenda.

They, the Republicans, also keep saying the new Healthcare program will cause more federal debt, yet here (pdf) is a letter to Idaho U. S. Senator Mike Crapo, a Republican, from the Congressional Budget Office saying it will actually reduce the deficit. Senator Crapo wanted proof that the healthcare program would increase the deficit so he could be "enraged" about it, but the CBO said the opposite instead. It's interesting that the Joint Committee on Taxation, a subcommittee of the House Ways and Means Committee, made up of both Democrats and Republican staffers, supports the CBO in its conclusion that the healthcare program will reduce the deficit. It seems to me that the Senator's name says it all, "crapo."

The true cause of the federal deficit from all that I can find are two things: 1) the cost of the two wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, both started by President Bush's hyper-extended Administration, and 2) the 2001 Bush Tax Cuts that will expire at the end of this year, 2010. The Republicans are determined to keep the wars going and to extend the tax cuts for the rich. In fact, those are the only congressional bills that the Republicans will vote for.

It sure is strange in this world where all logic is turned on its head that people clip that bull ring in their nose and follow the Republican lies about the deficit, wars and tax cuts. If people are willing to follow them to the slaughter house on those issues, what else are they willing to follow? But, they've already answered that question with other lies: the total destruction of the Constitution and the Government. It makes your head spin.


Thursday, August 26, 2010

Antoine and the Bay Area Redwood Forest

I had no idea that only five miles from Castro Valley, by following Redwood Road north towards Oakland, that we would find a Redwood forest. But here, Redwood Regional Park | East Bay Regional Park District, is the proof. Of course, these Redwoods are not nearly as tall as the Redwoods about five hours north of the Bay, near Humbolt, CA., where the Redwood National Forest is. The Redwoods up there are huge, the tallest standing approximately 380 feet tall and 26 feet wide. Once when returning to the Bay from Arcata, we drove those dark, shadowy and dimly lit roads through those giant trees trying to find the tallest, but we didn't. In fact, its location is a secret to save it from too many visitors. Instead, we saw trees so big and ancient that we were satisfied that it existed and there was no need to continue to follow confusing signs any longer if we were going to make it home before midnight. A person can get lost on those roads and never return. But, we finally found the highway south to home. At that time, I was convinced that the largest trees closest to the Bay Area were near Santa Cruz, an hour or so south of San Francisco. You can take an old steam-driven train ride through that forest.

And so, on our first night in Paris, I was surprised to hear Antoine talk of a Redwood Forest only a few miles east of San Francisco, in the hills near Oakland. After a day of flying from Sweden and taking the train from Charles de Gaulle Airport, walking a mile or so transferring between trains to subway, missing our last subway stop and walking at least five miles to our hotel, dragging our suitcases behind us, and after a two hour rest in our room, we went looking for a place to eat dinner around 9:00 pm. We were tired from a very long day. We found four sidewalk restaurants close by. We chose the pizza cafe, the closest, since we were not willing to take one more step than necessary. Antoine, our waiter, took our order and as soon as he learned we were from the San Francisco area, he said, "I've just returned from a trip there!" And we talked of the sites in San Francisco, Beach Blanket Babylon, The Garlic Cafe, Pier 39, The Embarcadero, Golden State Park, etc. He seemed to know a lot about the city. "The best," he said, "was the Redwood Forest."

"Near Humbolt?" Chris asked, "north of San Francisco?"

"Humbolt?" He asked, "No, I don't know Humbolt. The forest east of San Francisco, about one-half hour drive, near Oakland." Huh? Chris, who was born and raised here, and I, having lived here for twenty-five years, looked at one another in doubtful confusion.

"Are you sure?" we asked. Antoine was positive. We ate our dinner and tipped Antoine, even though he said tips are not usually customary in Paris, and we walked back to our hotel discussing whether Antoine had really visited the Bay Area, confused about the location of the Redwood Forest, or whether he'd simply studied the area on the Internet and was making up the entire story. We decided that he was confused.

A few weeks after returning home, we went to dinner with M and G at Barney's Gourmet Hamburgers in Oakland and the Redwood Forest came up in our conversation. “Oh yea,” either M or G said, “it's right down the road.” And, sure enough, not three or four miles from the restaurant on Highway 13, a highway we frequently travel, was an exit I hadn't noticed: “Redwood Forest.” We took the exit and drove up the high Oakland hills that are only a few hundred feet shy of qualifying for mountains, made a left turn and drove down into a forest of Redwoods just as dense, dim and shadowy as that huge Redwood Forest a five hour drive north near Humbolt. The trees are not as tall and have a smaller girth, but never the less they are big. And down in the deepest and lowest part of the forest is a small community of about 50 people, a post office, a store and houses barely seen here and there among the trees. “The primary crop is Marijuana,” G said. Besides being an intellectual, G is somewhat of a Pot Historian based on long experience when he was younger. He will freely admit that to friends. Apparently, that small community is on the Drug Enforcement Agency watch list, or was at one time back in the days. And did I hear G right saying that one Pot grower protected his crop with bears? Nah, my hearing or my short term memory must be faulty. Still, that little town is about as secluded as Tennessee moonshiners, and just as scary if you happen to be walking alone there. There's no telling what you may find there.

And so, it turns out that Antoine was right. There is a Redwood Forest in our back yard. Chris and I are confused.


Monday, August 23, 2010

The Mosque Diatribe - The Great Meltdown

It all started with Pam Geller who writes the blog, Atlas Shrugs 2000. (I'm not going to give you a link to her blog. You're better off not knowing about it if you don't already. As the old saying goes, if you don't want to associate with the Devil, then don't invite him in.) Don't know who she is? The best description I've found is here, on "Loon Watch." She will say anything and do anything for attention, and money, since her blog has advertisers who pay her and she is vehemently racist. Her latest target just happen to be Muslim, who could be anyone, and Arab, who may not be Muslim. Both she and her advertisers like what she does because she is so outrageous that all of the crazy conspiracy theorist read her blog. Before she wrote her "conspiracy theory" article on the Mosque, nobody was paying any attention to it (the Mosque), not even Fox News, who had given the whole story of the Cordoba House a shrug. But, a few loons who read Geller's blog, such as Newt Gingrich and Sarah Palin, picked up on the story and off it went into viral mode. From there, Fox News backtracked and its loony bins, Sean Hannity, Glenn Beck and Bill O'Rielly picked up on it, then Rush Limbaugh and now the virus has spread to the more "normal," albeit right-leaning, talk show hosts and opinion editors who usually keep there heads. Not anymore.

And, everything being said sounds sssoooo reasonable and logical that now we have 70% of the country against the "Oh My God! Terrorist Center - Ground Zero" Mosque and in other parts of the country people are picketing and demonstrating against mosques and good friends on Facebook are showing their so-called patriotism by publishing Toby Keith's latest oh so proud nationalistic clap trap. And, there is not one scintilla of evidence that supports any of the rage or hate. What started out by a bigot is now being used for political purposes to exploit fear, bigotry and hate and it is all paranoia, emotion and fear.

And, you know you're wrong. At least I hope you know you're wrong, or else we continue the meltdown into anarchy. Mob rule has never worked. Rule based on emotion and fear has never worked. In every case I've read about, the ultimate end of fear and emotion appears to be war, and we don't need to look any farther back than the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq to prove that point. But, you can go back as far as you want into any country who has ever gone to war, any war. It is all foolishness.

The issue has to do with the First Amendment to the Constitution and, unless you've been asleep or dead, you've already heard that. If you are among the 70%, then you've brushed that aside saying, "BUT," this or that. But, in this case, we should be "sensitive." But, in this case, we can't have a "terrorist training center" in New York. But, in this case, blah, blah, blah. I've even heard, "...the Constitution was written so long ago that it needs to be changed." If you believe that, then you're really out to lunch. The biggest and most meaningful "But" is, however, that all of the arguments against the Mosque are all nonsense.

The First Amendment: "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances."

In the days when this was written, the Jews were the "other" religion most hated and subjected to every kind of discrimination their neighbors could think up and there were no Jews among those who had the most to do with writing the Constitution. They were, after all, the ones who "killed" Jesus. You've heard that before. In fact, of those men who had the most influence in writing the Constitution, most were Christians, and a few could have been considered "devout" or even "fundamentalist" Christians. One wonders, then, how they could have given so much freedom to "other" religions? Especially to the Jewish religion. I happen to believe that it was their knowledge, and perhaps fear, of what they called "the beast," their term for the "mob," that was more inclined to be filled with passionate emotions and fear than reason. It turns out that they, the writers, were all very well read and had a deep knowledge of history, especially in regards to human behavior. They knew that the beast cannot rule because it goes this way one moment and the other way the next, all based on emotion. John Adams, probably the most influential in the final draft of the Constitution said, "Reason holds the helm, and passions are the gales." But, it appears that today, passions are the hurricanes and reason can no longer hold the helm. The seas are too rough. The Great Meltdown of America has started or is well underway.

So, whatever your reason is for not allowing the Mosque to be built, you need to let it be built, otherwise we've lost our way. In fact, following the likes of Pam Geller should make you ashamed of yourselves. The other question is if  it's Muslims we hate now, who is next? Hindus? Buddhists? Those who don't go to church? Or, do we go back to hating the Jews again? You lost me when you joined the beast on this path. I won't follow the meltdown.


Friday, August 20, 2010

A Bow to Orbitz

For all who read my dig at Orbitz, I have to let you know that it was all my fault. Had I been more diligent in tracking my expenses on the trip, I would have noticed that the $125.56 I accused Hotel Lorette of billing me as a "double" charge for the hotel room wasn't that at all. And, I guess it was the large amount and the transaction date, the same date as my last day there, is what threw me. The charge was for, and this is a shocker, laundry services I ordered three days earlier. $125.56!! For laundry services!! Yikes!

But, I did it and I signed it and what I signed has the same transaction number, regardless of date, of the charge for the laundry. Games up. I'm guilty.

So, following my last post on Orbitz, I bow and humbly apologize. The problem was mine after all. I have no complaints about Orbitz. They did fine.

I have to say, though, that if I had my wits about me at the time, I would have worn dirty underwear a few more days. Whew, that was expensive!


Monday, August 16, 2010

World Trade Center and the Muslim Mosque

It is amazing on how much noise and hate the Muslim Mosque in New York has stirred up and how twisted the explanations are fighting the Mosque. I also heard President Obama speak about Freedom of Religion and the right to put a Mosque or Community Center on the private property at that location. I know what I heard him say. Nobody needs to tell me what I heard. I didn't hear him endorse or not endorse the Mosque and he didn't need to qualify his statement on my behalf. But, all the pundits are shouting out interpretations of what he said. What I do notice is that most of the noise is coming from white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants.

Then, today I heard a sound bite from Rush Limbaugh saying that President Obama is our first "un-American" President because he spoke of the Constitution's Freedom of Religion. What rubbish. Are you kidding me?

I wonder what those who died in the World Trade Center would say. The last count I've found said that 2,752 people died there, from seventy nations and of all races and ethnic and religious backgrounds. They are not all white, Anglo-Saxon Protestants. Here is a list. I see all kinds and shapes of people. I'll bet that if they heard how stupid the arguments are that they would say, "let the Law of the Land prevail." Our Constitution is the Law of the Land. Either we live by it, or we live in anarchy.

I've had it with intolerance.


GovTrack: House Vote On Passage of Air Traffic Safety Bill

According to this, GovTrack: House Vote On Passage: H. Res. 1606: Providing for consideration of the Senate amendment to the..., not one Republican voted for the bill. I find that appalling. I watch every bill through Congress through my subscription to GovTrack and this same situation is repeated over and over; every bill is opposed by 100% of Republicans again and again. You'd think that at least one Republican would find Air Traffic Safety worth voting for.


Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Farmer's Freedom

Last night I watched most of this 2008 documentary (I missed the beginning), Food Inc, A Controversial PBS Documentary | HyTek Gamer, in which Monsanto Corporation, the huge agri-corporation based in St. Louis, MO., controls 90% of grain producing farms in America. Controlling more that 60% of any market used to be a monopoly, but maybe not anymore. And, it's a damned shame. When I was a kid working on my brother-in-law's and sister's farm, we kept some of the grain we harvested for seed for the next year; corn, soybeans and wheat in silos or barns. And, I got the impression, although I was way to young to understand, that we sold the extra seed we had on occasion, and once or twice gave it away to a few farmers that were really hurting. Farmers can't do any of that anymore, even very small farmers. In one example, a farmer who owned only three acres, hardly more than a gardener, grew soybeans for seed to sell to local farmers at a much cheaper price than other sources, primarily Monsanto. But, Monsanto sued him, "blacklisting" him, scaring away all of his friends and those farmers who bought seed from him and bankrupted him. He only owned three lousy acres and they sued him! The message was that Monsanto will sue whether it will win or not just because it can. With legions of lawyers and billions of dollars to spend, Monsanto can bully just about anyone, government and farmers.

The other message I got was that farmers are not free to grow what they want, set land aside for nature to restore the land when they want or even sell their crops when they want. And, always, they must return to Monsanto, their boss, for instructions. I once thought that being a farmer would have been the best life I could want. That there was a "Freedom" in farming like no other occupation I could have chosen. I regretted not trying it, even if I failed. But, after watching the documentary, I have to say that my temperament would have gotten me in a lot of trouble. If there's anything that gets me riled, it's somebody else telling me what I can and can't do with the things I own as long as I live within the law and I don't harm anybody doing what I want. The message from the documentary was that farmers are not free. They are slaves to Monsanto. I would have had a very difficult time living with that.

It is curious that Monsanto knows what farmers do. How does it know when a farmer who owns only three acres is growing soybean seeds? How does it know that he is selling the seed? And, how does it know who buys it? A three acre farm is so small, that it just barely registers on a detailed map. It is a shocking revelation that through the electronic and digital transactions that record a sale and purchase of grain that Monsanto would learn the minute details of that transaction. It must be through Monsanto's government connections, perhaps with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), that Monsanto gets a record of all grain sales and purchase transactions that it can then match to its own corporate records to generate an "unmatched" list that it passes to its lawyers; a "target" list. Otherwise, how could it happen? Does the FDA do the processing and give Monsanto the unmatched list? Na, I have a problem believing that the FDA is THAT corrupt.

But, one item of interest the film reported is the swapping of Monsanto Executives in and out of FDA Executive positions, and other government positions, year after year, in the past sixteen years of the Bush and Clinton Administrations. There have been plenty of opportunities to blend together the two data processing systems, FDA and Monsanto, into nearly one data management system. That's easy to me. I understand how that is possible. It was also easy in today's world of corporate lobbying and government corruption to get Congress to pass laws requiring that farmers, mill and elevators, grain storage businesses and the Farm Bureau report grain production and transactions to the FDA.  So, I don't doubt that there's a trench dug from the FDA directly to Monsanto with a high-speed optical fiber sending transaction data, even bank accounts, to Monsanto's data processing center. Ten seconds later, or less, Monsanto's lawyers know who the culprits are who are asserting their freedoms. That's scary.

So, keep Monsanto's in business - Vote Republican, the corporate flunkies! I want another chance to say "I told you so!"

Or, you could watch the documentary. It's worth it, but it will make you angry if you're for "Freedom." It may even change your politics.


Saturday, August 7, 2010

The Language of the Right - Are They Brainwashed?

Just when I think I can relax and give everyone a breather, something else stirs my blood and I am driven to speak out. I was very proud of Mayor Bloomberg last week when he spoke for Freedom of Religion, Freedom of Speech and the Rights of Property, all American values and tradition, when he approved the use of the Muslim property near the location of the destroyed World Trade Center to be used as an Islamic Mosque. A true "Conservative" would want to conserve those values. Those values are institutions in our heritage. What I heard in response was outrage from the Right-Wing movement that would deny those rights, evict those Muslims from the property they have owned for twenty-seven years and banish them from the Earth. What I heard was fear and bigotry. I also heard sentiments and a yearning for that "old South" of pre-Civil Way days, a Klu Klux Klan sentiment waving Confederate Flags and toting guns, yearning for those cotton fields and slavery, and from another faction of the Right-Wing, a neo-Nazi sentiment of the skin-head movement, all of which make up the Right-Wing movement of today, along with the Tea Party and fundamentalist Evangelicals and which the Republican Party has aligned itself with. Isn't it obvious?

Is there no thought from that movement on what would have happened had the South won the Civil War? For example, how could America have become such a great nation, a bastion of Freedom, based on a "cotton" economy and slavery? And so, we come to a battle over taxes and the willful misrepresentation from the Right that those G. W. Bush tax cuts that so crippled our country should not be allowed to expire. David Kaiser's article, "The last Congressional battle of the year," says it all with historical perspective and pointing out the Republican plans and intent to dismantle our government. That is alarming. What then? In fact, there is a willful intent from the Right to do just that. I'm going to use those words, "willful intent," a lot in this article. A willful intent to disregard the best advice from those that know what they're talking about. Warren Buffet, for example, said, and I paraphrase, "The rich should pay more taxes. It is not right that I pay 15% and my secretary pays a higher percentage than I do." He should know! Or, when GE CEO Jeffry Immelt pulls his company, along with others, out of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce because of its obstruction of and lobbying against clean environment and clean energy legislation. Don't we want those things? A willful intent to disregard the best advice of our best economist, our best bankers, our best oil industry engineers, and our brightest in academia who all say we need regulation in one form or another and that we can't allow willy-nilly corporate anarchy to run our country. It seems to me that there is a willful intent, and perhaps even pride, in being ignorant. Perhaps it is even a fear of that "group mentality" around us, or should I say "mob" mentality. A fear of being disliked by our peers or in our church group or our business group. A fear that feeds on itself and makes everyone in it follow the Palin mob, or the Glenn Beck mob or Rush Limbaugh mob, in spite of the Klu Klux Klan or Skin-head rubbing elbows with us, the company we keep!

I've known for sometime now how to recognize a person's political sympathies regardless of how hard they try to scoot under the radar and pretend they are unbiased or claim to "consider both sides." They are not fooling anyone. Sometimes it pains me to know the political sympathies of a Right-Wing sympathetic person, especially a good friend or a member of the family, and I, out of courtesy, try to temper my impulse to "get in their face" or to challenge their beliefs. But, I still wonder why there is such a huge difference between our beliefs and our understanding of America. Don't we have the same genes? Did we not grow up in the same place, knowing the same people of that place? Did we not read the same history books? Listen to the same teachers, or to parents taught by those teachers? Did we not all go to the same churches and listen to the same preachers? Where not all of those people we knew and those experiences we had kind, considerate, compassionate, fun and loving?

I thought they were all of those things. I realize that some differences will grow between us because of our experiences over the years that would sway our sympathies and passions toward liberal or conservative thought, or somewhere in between. I understand that. But, now days, there is a huge gulf between political ideologies and America is deeply divided and there seems to be no way of reconciliation. Each side barely tolerates the other, accuses the other of being un-American, and perhaps it is only courtesy and politeness that keeps us from tearing at each other's throats or severing our relationships forever. When I listen to the language of the Right, I have to conclude that something is terribly wrong. Words don't mean the same as they once meant. Conservatism is no longer conservatism of the past. I don't recognize the lessons of the past. The lessons were not learned, somehow, or not passed on. I don't recognize our history. Our country's history is forgotten or wasn't passed on and is twisted solely for an agenda. I don't recognize our Constitution in the language of the Right and I have to constantly refer to it to make sure I understand it compared to what I'm hearing from the Right. And, I am constantly asking myself, "Do I understand what I'm reading in the Constitution?" and, "Do I have to be a lawyer to understand it?" I think I do understand it and that I don't have to be a lawyer to understand. It's plain English and easily understood. So, I have to say that our Constitution is forgotten, misquoted, misunderstood, ignored or blatantly belittled by the Right. On that side, there seems to be a willful distortion of fact and tradition simply for the sake of power and to mislead as many people as possible. It is a mob mentality. It is destructive. The language of the Right is calloused, without compassion, merciless, cruel, hateful, bigoted, divisive, nontraditional, nationalistic and extreme beyond the pale.

That's not to mention faith. It is most astonishing that a lot of Christians have joined the Right-Wing movement. I am simply flabbergasted by that. Because, when I parse the language of the Right, I see how fiercely the Right-Wing opposes initiatives to control corporate greed, or protect consumers, or help the poor or to stop the wars or to control the spending on the machines that kill, initiatives that agree much more with Jesus' teachings and actions than the language of the Right. These are all issues of social justice, kindness, charity, protecting the poor, shouting for the poor who have no voice and caring for our fellow man. In the Right-Wing movement, I see an extraordinary contradiction and a blind following that just doesn't make sense at all. When I see and hear Right-Wing Christians, I am reminded of Gandhi's statement, "I like your Christ. I do not like your Christians. Your Christians are not like your Christ."

The thing about the language of the Right is that it is perfect English, said in ways and phrases that are so traditionally American, and that sound so Constitutional and so Christian and so "Family values," and could be very convincing and to many people it is, hence the huge following. Most recently everyone heard John Boehner and Mitch McConnell say repeatedly as they obstructed needed legislation "the American people want this," "The People want that," "We are doing what The People want" over and over again. And, from there that phrase can be traced down through the media talking points, FOX News, and the Fox wanna be, CNN, and from there through Fox commentators and hosts, such as Sean Hannity and Bill O'Rielly, and Clear Channel's Rush Limbaugh, and on to Mike Savage and Micheal Drudge and every Right-Wing radio and television host out there to finally end up with that Right-leaning person who I personally know. And that person I know can repeat what John Boehner or Mitch McConnell said, verbatim, with the same clarity and conviction and in the same language, and even add convincing arguments (to some) in suitable English.

In fact, when I first heard the phrase "The People" spoken by Republicans in Congress about the Health Care Bill I was convinced, because of the source, that they were simply full of it, that it was just more deceptive speech meant to willfully deceive the public. But, by the time it was repeated as a talking point so many times, over and over, and on CNN, ABC, CBS and NBC, I began to doubt myself. In fact, I did not hear one single media source deny the Republicans or speak the truth of the deception and it seemed that they too thought it "cool" to continue the controversy and be willfully ignorant. Could I be wrong? Is it really better not to provide health care to millions of people who need it? Could all of those articles and reports I read really be wrong saying that thousands die because they don't have healthcare insurance? Is the Congressional Budget Office wrong saying that there would be a savings over the long term? That the Bill would reduce our national debt? I really had to think about it, and in the end I believe my logic won out. I reread the Congressional Budge Report. I reread the Bill Summary and many of its pages. I reread many reviews and analysis from professionals and analysts. So, the answer is No. I wished for a public option, but that was defeated. But, the Healthcare Bill will save lives, will not increase the debt and if people believe that it won't do those things, they are wrong. I need only one example to show that it will save lives; KGO Radio reported on a woman who, because she could not afford and did not have health insurance, could not pay for a cervical cancer screening and did not have it done. She died of cervical cancer. I suggest asking around in your local neighborhoods for a similar story. I'll bet you find one. And, can it be denied that the new healthcare laws will help millions of people in our own country? It cannot. And, that, to me, seems to be a good thing, a charitable thing and worth the costs, if it cost anything extra at all. Why not do that? If you are so convinced the healthcare reform will not work, cancel your insurance. Let's see what you've got to say then. I think that "passing along" the language and speech of the Right, down through the media to our friends and neighbors, repeatedly over and over again, eventually convinces more and more people. It is in fact a method of brainwashing and it is effective.

I'm reminded of stories in the 1960s about subliminal messaging in advertising. The story back then was that if an ad displayed some message in a split-second, invisible to the eye but not the subconscious, then the person watching the ad would have the subconscious urge to do or buy whatever the message said. The example I remember was "popcorn." A person sitting in a movie theater would be encouraged to buy popcorn when the word "popcorn" flashed on the screen for a millisecond, even though they didn't consciously see it. I'm not aware that marketing firms continued that, but if they did, perhaps that explains all that junk in my garage that I don't need and never did. It is all the result of impulse buying. I think everyone knows how extremely effective marketing agencies and public relations firms have become. It is no longer art, it is a science, proven over and over again. With the right ad, the right stage, the right speaker or actor and right voice and right words, those agencies and firms can sell us anything, make us do anything and make us believe anything even against our own interest, beliefs and will. They can manipulate and change our minds! They know they can get to us and they do it. And, it is brainwashing and it is effective. As I see it, the Republican Party and its Right-Wing propaganda flunkies, Fox Cable News and Right-Wing talk show hosts, are doing it. They are dangerous!

Hence the division in this country. Talk to a Right-leaning person and you will get the idea that all, every last one, of those "other" news sources, ABC, CBS or NBC, and all of those "other" newspapers, New York Times, Washington Post, L. A. Times, and God forbid mentioning a San Francisco newspaper, such as The Chronicle, are all "Leftist" and "Socialist, Liberal" media. All are not to be believed, according to those who have a steady diet of FOX. And, neither is a scientific research paper or any other serious study that refutes FOX or suggests that the Right-Wing could be mistaken. It's almost a religious devotion to FOX! Maybe it is. But, it is so wrong.

Lately, the one thing I notice most is the constant and consistent Obama bashing at every turn and on every word he says, no matter what it is. One of the Rights' favorite phrases in regards to Obama is, "If he wants bi-partisan support as he says he does, he should lead by example." That's the top bashing phrase, verbatim, on the Republican, and FOX News, talking point list. I hear it repeated all of the time, from all of the usual suspects. And, it is rubbish. The President I watched over the past year bent over backwards to get cooperation from both sides. I guess they didn't see that on FOX. Another term applied to the President is "socialist," and that too couldn't be farther from the truth. In fact, and it has disappointed me, he has leaned more to the right in controlling corporate greed and bank misbehavior than I would like, and even top economists and bankers and business leaders suggested tighter controls. Even Alan Greenspan recommended tighter controls and he is about as conservative as we can get. Our new banking regulations passed by Congress has more holes (dug by Republicans) in it than Swiss Cheese and we're going to regret that. The banks are already scheming to exploit those holes in the law and they are not doing it for "our" benefit, or our kids' benefit. Yet, that appears to be the Right-Wing hope and desire. They would rather go "back" to the deregulation of the past to the causes that brought this great country to its knees, caused the loss of millions of jobs and caused millions to lose their life-long savings and homes, adding to the ranks of the poor like no time in the past since the Great Depression. Not to mention Republican obstruction of climate change legislation and extending unemployment insurance that we dearly need. It is astonishing, and the constant stream of propaganda goes on and the blind followers follow it.

I think it is all coming to a head like an ugly boil that's ready to burst, and we won't like what comes out. I see a nationalistic behavior on the Right that resembles Nazi Germany in the 1930s and I regularly go to this list of fourteen characteristics of Fascism, by Dr. Lawrence Britt who studied fascism of several Fascist countries, to see if I should check off one more characteristic that the Right has adopted. We already have our German Goebbels Minister of Information (say Propaganda) in a number of Right-Wing television and radio personalities - take your pick. How do you think all of those good German people were persuaded to follow Hitler? The answer is propaganda and fear. Who will be our dictator? Sarah Palin? She could be the one if we're not careful. The words "President Palin" sound obscene to me. We won't have Germany's version of Fascism. We'll have an American version of it. But, the outcome will be the same.

And, several of our government regulatory agencies have already become completely ineffective regulating industries. Do I have to tell you about the failure to regulate the oil industry in its off-shore drilling? Contrary to the Rights' claim that the failure to regulate BP, its oil spill and recovery, it-ain't-over-yet, is all Obama's fault, it wasn't. That agency stopped regulating the oil industry as soon as G. W. Bush moved into the White House, under the auspices of an Executive Order that was a flagrant middle-finger to long standing laws as well as the previous Clinton Administration. Yesterday I heard that the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) is also defunct for the same Bush-Executive-Order reason; it is unable to control the telecom and communications industry. Google and AT&T, with complete disregard for the United States Government, began deliberations together on how they were going to divvy up the Internet, charging for some content and limiting other content. The cost of the Internet is going up! Whether there is good reason or not and whether we want it or not and whether regulations now on the books contradict anything Google and AT&T conjour up. It will all depend on the greed of those companies, and nothing more, all of which is okay with the Right and the Republican no-government Party. And, then there is a very scary thought that we will not be able to find and know the truth, because access to that too may be controlled. Net neutrality is a First Amendment issue, a Freedom of Speech issue. Don't doubt that for a minute.

So, now our U. S. Senate is in a shambles, a chaotic, dysfunctional and even hateful parliamentarian government body. It was never intended to be that. These excellent articles by George Packer, a New Yorker journalist, here and here, and commented on by the Columbia Journalism Review here, should warn us of a coming and very destructive end. We are losing our Democracy. The great country of America is coming apart at the seams and it is happening in our lifetimes.

No matter what the thought is of going back to a time of before the Civil War that the Right desires, we can't go there. The "North" may not be able to bring the "South" back into the fold this time. If we split, we are ruined. Once that last brick in the wall the Right is building is sealed between us, we are forever severed from one another. Don't go there. Step back from the precipice and reject the Right-Wing mob. Put that movement behind you.


Wednesday, August 4, 2010

The Truth - An Apology to Mike

I have to correct the record. For all of those who knew Mike back then and today, I know that they know my statements are grossly inaccurate. My very poor choice of words in order to explain why I got such a generous dose of vodka were just that, a very poor choice of words. In my effort to tell a funny story, I was disingenuous instead. And, I never want to be that. And, that "generosity," I believe, is the right word. Mike was generous, probably to a fault, with his friendship, his laughter, his jokes, his help, his car and his love. I would have given a thousand tanks of gas for his friendship, but he never ask for that or anything else. I believe all he wanted was our friendship, and that I gladly gave. So, if anyone got the wrong impression, I hereby by the snap of my fingers erase it from your mind, never to be thought of again. I have a fondness for Mike that will die only when I do. Put that in your pipe and smoke it.

And, I may have given you the wrong impression about George Kesterson, whose nickname was "Nine," because he had only nine fingers. I remember the nickname, but not the reason nor do I remember that the nickname referred to George. I remember Dad telling fondly remembered funny stories about Nine, though, and everyone around would laugh. I got the impression that Dad was fond of Nine and wouldn't think ill of him for the world. But, if Dad had work to do, he usually wasn't one to stand around talking. That is a better description of what occurred when George stopped by to talk. I'll bet money, though, that if George told a new story or experience, Dad would have let the work wait and listened to George talk as long as he wanted to.

I was also reminded of another side of George that I didn't know and my depiction of him is also inaccurate. Julie, for example, said she grew up "unafraid" of George and she remembered him spending time at the Griffin Elevator. And, for those who didn't read Julie's comment on Facebook, I quote: "Years later I took care of him when I was working as an RN in one of the nursing homes in Princeton. He also became quite the character in Princeton as well, routinely escaping in his wheelchair (he was an amputee by then) and once getting stuck trying to cross the railroad tracks." So, George was full of life, to the end. That's the impression I get. I can't say it better than Thomas Fields relates in these two stories, quoted verbatim. Thanks, Tom.

"George Kesterson was referred to as Nine by we "bottom folk".  It had to do with the fact that he had one finger missing.  He liked me and called me "Tommy".  He scooped corn for my father every year and when I was about 4 or 5 years old Nine caught several small mice as they ran out of the corn.  He put them in my pockets and I went in to the house to show my mother my new prized pets!  She nearly evacuated her lower bowel!  She went out and told Nine not to ever do that again!  He and the other hands nearly died laughing!"

and, in another email from Tom...

"You know, Nine added so much color to our lives, although he did not know it.  He was a true "mountain man" turned river rat.  He always had a trout line and a net in the Wabash and was a source of many a catfish dinner for our family.  In the fall and early spring you would find him wading the shallow ditches in the bottoms with a steel rod and a spade.  He was hunting snapping turtles!  He was quite self sufficient and did enjoy the spiritus fermenti to the extreme.  He knew how to "work the system".  As fall became winter Nine would "tie one on" and then throw a shoe through a store window.  The local constabulary was a part of the game.  He would then be arrested and sent to the "work farm" which was a prison for the likes of such, where he would be kept warm and fed through the winter months..  It got it's name because the inmates grew gardens to feed themselves, and the game wardens supplied venison from arrested poachers and "road kill". Story has it that Nine miscued and was sent in a bit early one year and the warden met Nine when he arrived and gave him a shovel and said "Come with me Nine, and I'll show you where to dig the potatoes.  Nine replied, "Hell I don't need you to show me the tater patch, cause I planted the damned things!"

Simply wonderful stories and told perfectly. Spiritus fermenti, in case you're wondering, is beer or liquor. So, you see? George was a completely different person than the guy I described sleeping in the Library Park and who didn't want a "boy" bothering him. He wanted to be left alone to sleep. Every small town should have a George in its legends to add to its character.

I didn't receive much information about Ab Beck except that he had a son, Johnny, and a stepson who, if I understood correctly, still lives and works in Owensville. I didn't know that. So, my impression of him is wrong, too. Ab added to the town's flavor and helped make it a safe and wonderful place to live.

I also should say something about that old '54 Ford that was the center of several fond memories. Perhaps David Beloat, some evening when he has all of his extended family gathered around, including his in-laws, can ask a question: "Who was driving Dave Clark's old '54 Ford on the Fort Branch road when its engine blew and locked up?" I'm sure he'll hear a funny story and more than I remember. As I remember, another fondly remembered friend in those days and I were at the Pool Hall and somebody suggested that we should get a six-pack of Falstaff. So, I loaned the Ford to my friend and he took off for Fort Branch. He, of course, didn't know anything about that car. It used as much oil as it did gas. I would have been grossly negligent if I didn't check the oil every time I filled the gas tank. In spite of my religiously keeping oil in it, the rod bearings would begin to knock louder and louder as time went on until every three or four months I would have to dismantle the low-end of the engine and shim the bearings. I peeled the thin aluminum foil, for a shim, off chewing gum wrappers, carefully smoothed out the wrinkles, and gingerly slid the foil around the bearings and put it all back together with a fresh five quarts of oil. Good as new, it ran another three or four months until I did it again. And, it was due another shimming that night and when shimming-time was near, forty miles per hour was about all it could safely do. But, I recall he said that he was doing eighty when, "the goddamned back tires locked up and it swung and swayed this way and that and went into the ditch! Sorry, Dave." And, that's where Elvin and I found it, nose in the ditch about one-quarter mile from the Orchard Curve and locked up so bad that we had to have it hauled away. It sat behind the Texaco Gas Station, near the water tower, until it was junked.

But, that car sure had a good paint job and strong bumpers and fenders. One night three of us decided to go to Mt. Carmel to get a six-pack. By some miracle or crooked liquor store clerk, we were able to buy it directly in spite of how young we were. Can you imagine any of us at sixteen or seventeen passing for twenty-one? I had problems doing that when I was thirty! But, we did. And, to avoid Indiana cops, we took a right turn on a gravel road that ran along the Wabash just after we reentered Indiana. I believe it took at least an hour to drive those back roads until we came out on the gravel road that enters Johnson from the rear, toward the curve where the old Mill and Elevator was (and could still be). As I turned on to that road and picked up speed, a skunk ran in front of us and I jerked the wheel to avoid it. That Ford slid into the ditch as easily and slick as we could have imagined, without a jolt or bump or abrupt stop. I seem to remember that all of us burst out laughing, not thinking at all of being injured, and I remember a little cursing, mostly at me, which made it all funnier. One of my buddies knew a farmer in Johnson, the name Harmon or Almond rings a bell, so he walked alone along the dark road and returned about thirty minutes later with a farm tractor to pull us out. I checked for damage to the Ford the next day. There was not one dent in the bumper, fender or along the side that scraped along the ditch bank weeds and brush until we stopped, and I don't remember a single scratch on the paint. What a car!

As for our drinking and the many comments of surprise that we weren't as innocent as many believed. I received one private message that noted surprise "that you boys would try drinking." Ha. My response was, as I say to you, that I believe the operative word is "try." To tell the truth, we were not very good at it and many days passed between our occasional beers (or vodka) and I remember fun and fond memories on those other days too.

To those readers who may not know Owensville, the best description I've ever heard was from my stepson, Damon, who by chance was able to spend a few hours at my Niece's home one day, and see the country where I was raised. He said, as Chris and I were arriving in Johnson one day a few years ago and he happened to be talking to his mother by cell phone, "Oh, you're in God's country." I think if you take a slice of that corner of Indiana, say ten to fifteen miles in all directions from Owenville, you can call it a special place. If that area is not a great slice of America and Heaven, then I don't know beans about anything.

I apologize, Mike. I sincerely hope this makes up for it. And, a spiritual note to Mildred Armstrong, as I noticed in Mike's email that he correctly spelled "Screwdriver," one word and not two. I'm sorry, Mildred, but I still seem to have a problem with spelling. You would still give me a "D" for that.

Love you all,


Sunday, August 1, 2010

The Town Character and My First Screw Driver

It could be the Owensville Watermelon Festival pictures on Facebook or simply the picture of the bandstand in the Library Park in the center of town, or maybe simply a random thought, but "town characters" came to mind this morning. Owensville had, in my day, both locally famous and infamous town characters. Ab Beck, Moes Higgenbottom, a character in the making at the time, and others. Jerry Pegram, a superb town historian in the tradition of a village story teller, can recall most of them and he can make me laugh for hours listening to his stories about them. When I think of town characters, though, I think of George Kesterson, the town drunk.

As far as I know, George was harmless and probably had a good heart. When I knew him, he must have been in his mid-sixties, but there is no doubt in my mind that he had a rough life so he could have been younger than that but simply looked older. It was in 1961 and I was sixteen years old when I experienced my "encounter" with George and began paying much closer attention to him, although I knew he was around before that. More than once when I stopped by Smith's Hardware on my way home from school, he would be there talking to Dad and Harvey Smith. He would talk and talk, while Dad and Harvey simply said, "Well," repeatedly. I'm not sure what Harvey meant by "well," but I knew what Dad meant by it when George talked. Dad's "well" meant many things, depending on who he was talking to and the subject of the conversation. If the person was a special friend, and Dad had many friends, and the subject was tragic or sad, Dad's "well" probably meant sympathy or empathy and he simply had nothing to add to the conversation. If the subject was heart warming, it meant companionship and fellowship, but again, he felt no reason to add anything new. But, for George's chatter that he'd heard all before, over and over again, Dad meant, "I wish a customer would come in or a delivery would arrive so I would have an excuse to excuse myself," so he wouldn't have to listen to George talk. But, both Harvey, I believe, and certainly Dad was too polite to rudely say, "go away, George." So, they listened to him. If Dad was anything, he was always polite.

I kept my encounter with George secret, known to only a few family members and repeated every other family reunion in recent years for a good laugh. It all started with my first Screw Driver, the drink of vodka and orange juice. On that night four of us, who I will not name (to protect the innocent) except for Mike, who may or may not be innocent, went looking for booze. We found it at one of our homes, nearly a full bottle of vodka. I'm not sure what was intended by the one who lived there, but Mike poured the drinks, and it was my experience to that point that if you let Mike use, pour, drink or eat somebody else's stuff, then you just as well count it as gone, used up and finished. I recall that once when Mike and I stopped at Elvin and Joan Kerns', my brother-in-law and sister's, farm and Mike's car was running on empty, Mike ask if he could "borrow" some gas from the farm gas tank. I was thinking that he could take enough for only a quarter tank or so until he could make it to his Dad's own gas station to fill his tank, but Mike kept on pumping, even when I ask him to stop. He had a full tank when we left and I had a severe guilty conscious for taking Elvin's much needed gasoline. And, of course, it wasn't "borrowed." But, that didn't bother Mike. As much as I liked Mike, and still do, I have to say that if you gave Mike an inch, he took a mile. It was the same with the vodka and he filled my glass with easily a 50-50 vodka and orange juice mix, emptying at least one-quarter of the bottle in my glass. So, perhaps my friend who lived there cringed at the thought of his dad finding the empty bottle of vodka or no bottle at all. And, it tasted terrible! It was my first taste of vodka. My God what a taste! How could anyone drink this stuff? It reminded me of lighter fluid. I learned later, but never tried it, that a true Screw Driver was nearly all orange juice in a much shorter glass and a single shot, about two ounces, of vodka. But, that wasn't what I had!

But, I drank it. And, by the time I drank the whole thing, I was about as wasted as I've ever been in my entire life. I could not stand up and I don't remember having the ability to even crawl. I was REALLY DRUNK. One more drop of vodka would have killed me by alcohol poisoning, I'm sure. I don't remember a lot about the rest of the night. I can only deduce what happened by where I woke up. I assumed that my three friends made it to their homes that night. I owned a car at the time, a 1954 Ford, but perhaps I couldn't find it or perhaps I somehow knew, by some miracle, that I was in no condition to drive it, or maybe I had completely forgotten that I had it. Whatever the reason, I did not drive home around my usual time, between ten to midnight. Instead, I fell asleep, or perhaps passed out, beside the bandstand steps, under a bush.

I awoke the next morning as the light of the day barely peeked over the horizon, perhaps around 4:30 to 5 A.M., wondering where I was and why I wasn't in bed or at least sleeping in my car. Still groggy, I scooted out from under the bush and looked around, and there, on the other side of the steps, I saw two legs sticking out; old, scared and weather beaten steel-toed work boots with the laces untied, wrinkled socks down around his ankles and his trouser legs pushed up showing two very white skinny legs. I got up to see who it was. George Kesterson had also stayed the night in the Library Park, sleeping nearly next to me.

As a side note, I read this story to Chris, my wife, up to this point. She laughed and said she was surprised that "the police" didn't find me and help me home. I had to laugh about that. She, of course, doesn't know or understand Owensville, and specifically its Town Marshal, Ab Beck, another town character, both famous and infamous depending on who you ask. As far as I know, Ab Beck sat down in his car each evening and he didn't get his fat butt out of that seat the entire night until he returned to his home. If he wanted to talk to any of us loitering in front of the Pool Hall or on the Drug Store corner, he pulled his car up next to us and he would likely say, "what are you boys doing out this late?" And, pulling his car close to us could mean pulling his car into the wrong lane or even partly on the sidewalk. He never got out of his car and, from that position, he could never have seen the grandstand steps or anyone sleeping next to them. And, it seemed to me, Ab was never as concerned with George Kesterson anyway, as drunk as George sometimes seemed to be, as he was with us loitering on the street. Ab told me to get in his car a number of times; "I'll take you home," he said. But I always told him, "I'll walk." It was only three blocks to home and I never trusted Ab even though I had no reason to think bad of him.

It is to this point in this story that I have retold to family as a humorous story. But that's not the whole story. I've never told what happened next to anyone, even though nothing seriously happened other than in my very active imagination at the time, perhaps influenced by too much vodka. So, here is the rest of the story. George looked dead, so I poked one of his boots with my toe, but he didn't move. I poked his boot again with a little more force, but he still didn't move. I shouted, "George! Are you all right?" At that point he moved slowly, and grunted and rolled onto his back, and then, as suddenly and abrupt and as fast as you can snap your fingers, he sat up in my face as I leaned over him to see if he was alright. I can still see his dirty baseball cap, his stubble gray and white beard, his sunken eyes, coal black and staring straight at me and his sunken cheeks and the spittle around his mouth, and he shouted, "get out'a here, boy, or I'll smash your face!" I jerked back so quick and shocked that I'm surprised that I didn't hurt my neck and I ran like hell to my car, fumbled the key in the ignition and agonizingly slow, it seemed, started the car and drove as fast as I could to Elvin and Joan's where I was living at the time. I didn't feel safe until I got there. I had to stop along the way because I was so sick from the vodka, but I kept a watch on the road in case George was following me. He wasn't, of course.

Once home, I locked the back door that we never locked, changed into my work clothes and lay down on top of the covers for an hour or so of sleep before work. Elvin woke me up for the day's work an hour or so later, and I spent most of the day discing a forty acre field just up the road from the house. I had to stop nearly every other turn at the end of the field to vomit, the vodka had made me so sick. I was miserable. I got over my fear of George relatively quickly, although he still comes to mind whenever I see a similar scene in a horror movie or think about town characters. But, back then, whenever I saw George in the Pool Hall, Smith's Hardware or Garrett's Mill and Elevator, the places I remember seeing him most, or walking around town, I watched him like a hawk for any threatening move. As for vodka and Screw Drivers, I grimace at the thought of either drink. And, of course, much thanks to my three buddies for the memory. You can admit to your part in the story at your own will, or not, except for Mike. Sorry, Mike. I took the gasoline back.