Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Book Review: EMPRESS OF THE NIGHT

Despite the Gothic-sounding title, Eva Stachniak's Empress of the Night is actually historical fiction--an account of the life of Catherine the Great, Empress of Russia in the late eighteenth century. The structure of the book made it somewhat difficult to follow; the "action" consists of Catherine suffering a stroke at the beginning of the book and flashbacks to various events of her life while she is laying more or less immobile as the family and servants tend to her in the palace. Some of the flashbacks are interesting, but much, too much, is made of Catherine's relationships with her lovers (her husband was murdered at the beginning of her reign, and it is still not clear whether it was done at her order or not, but she never remarried). And the end of the book is peculiarly unsatisfying; as she fades to death, the jumping around from past to present becomes so confusing as to become impossible to tell what is real and what isn't.
This wasn't a bad book, but it could have done a lot better.

Monday, October 20, 2014

A Good Weekend in Sports

It was a pretty good weekend for every currently active team/individual that I follow or root for that  was in action in the last few days. Friday night, the Rangers, off to a start that was beginning to become reminiscent of last year's horrific opening weeks, recovered somewhat by managing to defeat what possibly is the worst team in the NHL, the Carolina Hurricanes, in a shootout. It was the first game of the season in which the much-maligned Rick Nash did not score a goal, and then he ended up potting the shootout winner (shootout goals do not count in a player's totals). Nash rectified that omission by scoring again last night, as the Rangers finally, for the first time since opening night, looked like the team that went to the Stanley Cup finals last year in blanking the heretofore-unbeaten Sharks 4-0.
Nash aside, this team still isn't out of the woods. Even with the shutout, Henrik Lundqvist's goals-against average is over three and his save percentage is .892, numbers that would earn him a trip to Hartford if they are still his numbers at Christmas. The team does not have a goal from a defenseman yet, and it is clear that some of the departed from last year's team are sorely missed--Anton Stralman and Brian Boyle especially. They are still oh-for-the-season on the power play, six games into the year. Some of this bodes well for the future--Lundqvist is not going to have a 3.21 GAA, and they will score some power-play goals, and the team can't help but improve. But it's still hard to see a team out there that won't be fighting to make the playoffs at year's end. The bleeding has stopped, for now, though.
And yesterday, in a matchup of teams that have collectively taken years off my life, the Bills managed to defeat the Vikings on a touchdown pass on the last play of the game. My daughter watched much of the game with me, and asked me if I was going to be happy no matter who won (I liked the Vikings for a long time, since childhood, until I finally threw in the towel four years ago after one disappointment too many). I replied that no, the Vikings are just another team to me now, and as the Bills went down the field in the last minute, I couldn't help but think that while the names on the jerseys may change, it's still the same old Vikings. The Bills converted a 4th-and-20 and a 3rd-and-12 on the final drive; they committed four turnovers during the game; and they lost both halves of their dynamic running-back duo, CJ Spiller and the Infredible Hulk, to injury (does this have Bills written all over it? Spiller's injury came at the end of a 53-yard run, and he is likely gone for the rest of the season). Yet the Bills managed to win, and the Vikings let yet another winnable game slip past. The thing was, it was like watching an ex-wife's second marriage implode; I knew that somehow, some way, the Bills were going to go down and score, simply because this is what the Vikings have done for my entire lifetime. And they did not disappoint me.
The Bills are lucky that they play in a terrible division. They are 4-3, with two games remaining against the Jets, and games against the Raiders and Browns, too. On the other hand, three of their four wins are against NFC North teams, and they seem really unlikely to beat the Broncos, Chiefs, Packers, or Patriots. Their season could very well be decided by the return match against the Dolphins; it's not a given that 9-7 is going to make the wild-card game, but it's a minimal level they have to reach...or they could lose to the Jets next week and end up 5-11 on the season, too. Which would be a shame, because the defense is really good and Kyle Orton, while not really good, is at least marginally competent at quarterback, something that is cause for Bills fans to do cartwheels because it's been so long since we've seen even that level of play. But this is the first time in forever that the Bills season hasn't been a foregone conclusion by mid-October.
My favorite team in the best soccer league in the world, the English Premier League, was another team that was off to a very disappointing start. Everton had visions of contending for a top-four vision and playing in the Champions League, and it's become clear, after eight games of a 38-game schedule, that that isn't going to happen. But if they had any hope of turning around a start that saw them win only one of their first seven games, they had to beat perennial bottom-feeder Aston Villa Saturday, and they did so easily, looking for the first time since the first 70 minutes of the Arsenal game like the team that finished fifth in the league last year. I know hardly anyone that reads this knows a thing about English soccer, or even soccer. But for those that became temporarily interested in soccer during the World Cup--Everton is USA goaltender Tim Howard's day job, and frankly he's been much of the problem this year. The shutout he put up was his first one of the season, eight games into the season--and in professional soccer, that's deadly. Like the Rangers and Lundqvist, Howard is going to get better as the season progresses, and so will Everton--and it hasn't helped that Everton has played every good team in the league except Manchester City already. But they have to win at least seven or eight of their next eleven games to have any hopes of another top-five finish. And having seen three of their games on TV so far, I really don't see that happening.
The fourth sport I follow this time of year, NASCAR, eliminated four more drivers from its Chase for the Cup yesterday. There will be a new champion this year; Jimmie Johnson was one of the four that lost out yesterday, as was Dale Earnhardt, Jr. My favorite driver, Jeff Gordon, managed to sneak through despite a thoroughly uninspiring effort yesterday at Talladega. Talladega and Daytona are the circuit's two superspeedways, when everyone is running two hundred miles an hour and gigantic wrecks take place, and a preferred strategy has been, in recent years, to hang out at the back of the pack most of the race to try to avoid the chaos. Except in recent years, most of the wrecks have occurred near the back of the pack. They did yesterday, and Gordon never once got near the front of the race. But he will be racing next week with his championship hopes still alive, and the three tracks in the next round are all tracks he has won at in the last few years. And he has become, by default, the white hat left in the Chase, the best story, the fan favorite. If he wins his fifth championship, thirteen years after his last one--well, that would be nearly unprecedented in any sport.
It's been a long time since nothing disappointed me on a sports weekend. I'm going to enjoy the afterglow, at least until the Rangers play the Devils tomorrow night.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Advantages of Bad Credit

Having credit is considered to be a rather positive aspect in today's society, especially after the recession of 2008 that began with the implosion of the subprime housing market, which essentially functioned on the idea that giving people huge amounts of money on credit that didn't have a prayer of ever paying off those loans except if they sold those houses for even more money was a winning idea. But increasing numbers of Americans don't have great credit, or even good credit, because of various factors in our past. I have a Discover card, and Discover has taken to recently putting a cardholder's FICO credit score on each monthly statement.
And I have been amazed to find out that I have average credit. I have a bankruptcy in my past--granted, it was fifteen years ago, but still--and a more recent history of not paying some credit cards off, and there were other judgments against me in the mid-to-distant past, too. When I saw the number, I swear to God my first thought was "This country is in a LOT of trouble if half the people in it have worse credit histories than I do." And in the last couple of months, I've done a quiet, clandestine canvass of people I know to see where they stand as far as credit ratings and debt levels, and I've been kind of surprised. No one out there is going to be able to finance buying a sports franchise or anything, but a surprising number of people have more credit--and more debt--than the amount of money they make would seem to dictate.
Which you can't keep up forever, I know better than most; at some point, inflation is going to eat away at an income enough so that choices are going have to be made as to what to stop paying on. And even though it may not seem so, credit cards are actually the best thing out there to stop paying on. Yes, your credit will nosedive for a while--anywhere from two to seven years. But it's something you can survive, especially if you bite the bullet enough to make sure you have enough put away to hire an attorney to handle any issues that come up.
Which is as good a place to start this as any. Credit issues are not the only matter that require navigation through the legal system; a surprisingly large number of people have Family Court issues, and a distressingly large number of people have contact one way or another with the legal system. And I am here to tell you that you are a fool, an absolute nitwit, if you do not have a lawyer when you have to go to court for any reason. Granted, in criminal and Family Court matters, a lawyer will be appointed for you if you are poor, and there are good attorneys that are attached to the public defender's office and Family Court lists--but not many. I don't care if you have to sell your ass on the street--look around and talk to other people you know so that you can identify a decent lawyer, and pay the fucking retainer (almost every lawyer will work with you on paying the fees at the conclusion of a case). Otherwise, going through small claims court, Family Court, and civil court without a lawyer is like trying to play football without any equipment in a game where everyone else is wearing pads and helmets.
Anyway, once you have a lawyer, you can deal with bad credit. And it's not a death sentence for the rest of your life, far from it. Advantages are, in no particular order:
1) You learn to live within your means. You would be surprised at how much crap you buy that you don't actually need until you don't have the money for things. You don't actually need things like Yankee candles, or sports jerseys with your favorite player's name on the back. You discover that a pair of $20 sneakers in Payless cover your feet just as well as the $89 pair of sneakers at Foot Locker. You actually go places and buy things, rather than order on-line and pay shipping and handling. And most of all, you will learn to make your own meals much more than ever, even if it's just buying sandwich meat more than you have. Food is not cheap--but eating out for lunch every day and a few times a month for supper, too, is incredibly expensive. I cannot imagine spending $35-50 per week on lunch every week now; I sure as hell couldn't do it when my finances were in a lot rougher shape than they are now.
2) You become much more Internet-savvy. Most things that are available on television and other media outlets are available on-line, if you know where to look. Many of those things cost less than paying the other outlets would, and if you are willing to stretch or break the boundaries of legality, almost everything is available for free one way or another (pirated CDs, streaming of live events, converting videos to MP3s and bypassing CDs and DVDs). There are risks involved in doing so, from possible arrest to nasty viruses on your computer. But even if you are not skirting legality, you can never know too much--and knowing your way around a computer is a skill that helps in a hundred different ways other than just saving money.
3) No one wants to steal your identity. The whole point of stealing someone's identity is to stick some poor, unsuspecting sucker with the bill for getting a bunch of stuff on credit. Obviously, if you have lousy credit to begin with, this isn't an issue.
4) Telemarketers leave you alone. Not bill collectors, but telemarketers. I don't think I've gotten a half-dozen calls in fifteen years from true telemarketers; whatever lists they pay for that include the names of business prospects, a poor credit history ensures you're not on them.
5) You learn how to deal with bill collectors. Cell phones invariably have caller ID, and I've learned over the years that any number that is a different area code needs to be screened, because in almost every case it's a bill collector. Most won't leave a message. Should you answer, here's some tips: 1) Don't admit to anything at all; 2) hanging up is permissible; 3) again, don't admit to anything at all. And Google the number after you're off the phone; often you will find that the people calling you have a long history of dubious, unethical business practices. They're not going to file paperwork on your debt, and on the off-chance they do, they're not going to do it right--and any lawyer worth his salt will be able to have it thrown out.
Indeed, I can't emphasize this enough. There will be a time, in the first six months to a year of not paying on a credit card, when you are dealing with the actual company/bank holding the debt. But for small amounts--and few of us have credit lines more than $2500, which to banks is a small amount--, especially if you've stopped answering their calls and ignore the notices that come in the mail, banks will not go after you; it's not worth their time and money to pursue it. They sell your debt to these debt collection agencies, and they make their money almost exclusively by intimidating and threatening those who owe with dire threats that they have no way of enforcing. If your debt has been sold to one of these agencies, chances are that if you are willing to have the debt on your credit report for 3-7 years, you won't have to pay it.
6) It keeps you from doing some really stupid stuff. Not having access to a couple of grand at a moment's notice will keep you out of the casino, from investing in your friend's can't-miss scheme, and from impulse purchases of a sharp-looking money pit car. If that woman/guy you just started dating learns you don't have deep pockets and they hang around anyway, they're much more likely to be a keeper than those that want to keep going to the BonTon or the Sports Authority indefinitely on your dime. You will discover that you don't need to detail your car, that you don't need to pay to watch on movie on-demand every weekend, that you don't need to buy an outfit that you will look good in once you drop those fifteen pounds that you intend to lose, that your car doesn't need new rims and fancy seat covers, that you don't need to be paying $49 a month to belong to the gym. And a thousand other things that make you slap your head five months later and say "What the hell was I thinking?"
7) It will keep you from believing the horseshit that politicians (mostly Republicans) put out there about how poor people waste the money they have. This could be a post all by itself, but in short, I'm getting really sick of these rich politicians complaining that people who struggle to make ends meet are wasting their money frivolously. I know it's hard for those that read these pages to believe, but up until about 2003, I wasn't half as liberal as I am now. Bush's little foray into Iraq started the process, but most of my eventual leftward turn regarding my worldview came when I was just beginning at the place I work now, making $9/hour with non-existent credit--and I kept hearing from all these conservative jokers how much I didn't deserve the little I had. And I didn't even get to the point where I was getting food stamps or Medicaid or other "entitlement" programs,  like so many others do (because they need to, not because they are lazy or feckless or stupid or thieves). There's nothing to make you angry like seeing some jackass in a suit (or some woman that married a rich guy) that inherited his millions or got rich looting people in the "financial services" industry lecturing you about how you're a sponge and a leech because you've endured some setbacks or made a few mistakes and have been trying to pick yourself back up.
I did not set out to defraud the credit card companies that I ended up not paying all those years ago. But several of them were unethical, and at least two were predatory and employed seriously bullshit moves as a matter of routine business practice. That's the big reason why even this bunch of corporate lackeys that populate Congress passed legislation a few years ago that changed the way credit card companies do business (and for those that wonder, that was during the two-year period when there were Democratic majorities in both houses of Congress and a Democratic president in the White House. It wasn't a coincidence). I'm not telling anyone to get a bunch of credit cards just so that they can run them up without the slightest intention of paying the bills. But I am telling you that if you should find yourself with problems and can't pay them like you used to or intended--it's not the end of the world, far from it. Don't buy into the bullshit; you can survive just fine with a bad credit history. And even the horror stories that one hears now about how employers are using bad credit histories as a way to exclude job applicants--I can tell you that any place that does that is not a place you want to work, anyway. They will just can you for some other bullshit reason should you start working there; you're better off not getting hired to begin with. As someone that does hiring, I can tell you that moving from job to job in a short period of time raises more red flags than a bad credit rating.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

Bubble Boy Promotes A Book

I was talking with a friend this week about our esteemed governor--actually, about my undying hatred of him--and my friend wondered if perhaps I was being a little harsh on the Spoiled Little Bastard. Not that he is a Cuomo fan, by any stretch, but that perhaps I was overreacting to his personality and understating some of his political effectiveness. I said in rebuttal that when I vote for a Democratic candidate, I would like that person to actually reflect some of the values of the Democratic party (Cuomo, like the Empty Suit in the White House, is more conservative than Republicans like Nelson Rockefeller and Hugh Scott used to be in my youth, not to mention a lot more conservative than his father was). I also said that the sense of privilege and emotional disconnect from the men and women that actually live unprivileged and normal lives that he ostensibly governs on behalf of is so great as to be unbridgeable, that he truly has no idea--and doesn't care that he doesn't-- of what the great unwashed think, feel, or are concerned about.
And then, like a gift from the gods, this interview from the New York Times got dropped in my lap this morning. Cuomo, it seems, has written a book (or grossly underpaid some peon collaborator to do so), in which he talks--seriously--about all that he has had to overcome to be what he is today. The first question is about his teen and young adult years, when his father was governor and he was given a job in state government. The Albany press dubbed him The Prince of Darkness. To me, this is proof that his arrogant, vindictive manner that has earned him my sobriquet of Spoiled Little Bastard goes back well over two decades; to him, it is proof that New York's reporters are more "tenacious" and "no-holds-barred" than reporters in other places. Translation: while I am harboring presidential ambitions, I'm not going to rip the press, but they're a pain in my ass because they won't just accept whatever comes out of my mouth as the gospel truth. Then comes this gem: he feels that having a father that was governor of New York was "more a negative than a positive."
Yes, he really did say that.
There are two possible explanations for a statement of this magnitude of disconnect from reality. One, that he has so much contempt for the intelligence and intellectual prowess of the actual voter that he thinks he can say this with a straight face and get away with it. Or two, that he actually believes this to be true. My guess is the latter, that this guy's ego and sense of privilege is so great that he truly believes that he is That Special, and the fact that his father was eventually voted out of office after serving three terms was proof sufficient that his name was a burden to be overcome when making his own career.
So, Andy, you really think you would have been Health and Human Services secretary at 28 if your father hadn't been governor of New York? You think you would have been Attorney General of New York state in your early thirties under a guy that couldn't stand you if your father hadn't been governor of New York? You think a daughter of Bobby Kennedy would have given you the time of day, much less married your ass, if you hadn't been the son of the governor of New York? And that's the sad part: all the available evidence points to the idea that he truly does think that having a father that was governor was more of a hindrance than a help, because he is That Fucking Special.
When we read, when we are in school, about the sense of privilege that was exhibited by the nobility in other countries around the world in eras previous to this one, we blanch and shake our heads. "Let them eat cake," Marie Antoinette allegedly said when told of dangerous peasant unrest as the French Revolution was starting, and we shake our heads at the level of arrogance and distance from the reality of everyday life. We shook our heads at the insistence of Nicholas and Alexandra that Rasputin was a positive force in the affairs of Russia just before the Revolution, marveling about how divorced from reality two people could be. In the modern age, the look of disbelief on the face of Nicolae Ceausescu as the crowd turned against him as the last twenty-four hours of his life began--and the accounts that he and his wife taunted the soldiers that eventually shot them--is forever etched into the minds of anyone that was watching the news in 1989.
And in America, we have Andrew Cuomo saying being the son of the keynote speaker of the Democratic Convention of 1984, the three-term governor of one of the nation's most populous and most important states, was a net negative to his own career ambitions.
This is a different level of disconnect from reality than that of, say, someone like Louie Gohmert or Sarah Palin or Joni Ernst or any other of the dozens of morons littering American politics today. Cuomo is no dummy. What he is, is so full of himself, so convinced of his own wonderfulness, as to be characteristic not of the delusional, but of the megalomaniacal. Cuomo has a messianic complex; he really does believe that all who oppose him are not only wrong, not only mentally deficient in some way, but evil. The rest of the interview, after he dropped the my-dad-being-governor-didn't-help-me pearl, shows this.
  • He brushed off press accusations that his touted anti-corruption campaign is a joke because he called it off when it started to find corruption close to his office by saying the press is sensationalistic, that they were motivated by the desire to "sell," that they could not possibly be motivated by anything other than base and evil desires because they are going against him. 
  • He dismisses the opinion of the Times editorial board as completely beneath comment, much less answer the question he was asked--again, breathtaking arrogance, and then, when pressed, blames the Legislature and Times for the scandal--because the Legislature wouldn't pass his entire proposal (what dummies they are for not slavishly following Andrew lock, stock, and barrel!) and the part that they didn't pass was the only issue that the Times cares about (their motivations again are base and small-minded, and don't appreciate what the Great Cuomo Father has done and has in mind for all of us). 
  • Then he says "There is no doubt that I have passed laws that have made Albany more transparent and ethical". Umm... you signed bills that crossed your desk. Even if the legislation was initiated by you, the Legislature actually passed the laws. Again, he doesn't even bother to pretend that he is only part of the government; he is the only thing that matters, the only force that is worthy of mention.
  • He touches on his 2002 defeat when he ran for governor--and then makes it clear that he himself bore no responsibility for the debacle, but rather it was the press' fault that he said that incumbent George Pataki did nothing in response to 9/11 except that he "held [Bush's] coat," and that everyone in the world, including his father, said that he was wrong for saying it.
  • Then when the reporter says "we like the truth," Cuomo comes back with "you like your truth." Again, the idea that anyone that goes against him is dishonest and evil is very clearly expressed. 
  • And lastly, the reporter asks if he plans to marry the woman he has lived with for nearly a decade, and Cuomo brushes off the question by saying, "That wasn't mentioned in the book." And then closes the interview by touting how "likable" he is. Yeah, that's the way to prove it--by refusing to talk about the one thing that might possibly soften your edges a little bit. This is not just arrogant--this is stuff that people like Stalin, Hitler, and Mao put out there regularly. Andy Cuomo is The State and soon will be The Nation; he has no time, no need for a wife or personal life. He is Too Big for that. 
Likable? Compared to who or what? Dick Cheney? Ebola? The guy running North Korea?
I am glad to say that Amazon reviewers are absolutely savaging Cuomo's book. No doubt he views that as the work of more of his "enemies" and ignorant, evil-minded peons who do not appreciate how lucky we are to be living in the era where God has gifted us with Andrew Cuomo. 
And you know what the saddest part about this forthcoming gubernatorial election is? The guy the Republicans put up against him would be a complete disaster, even worse than Cuomo. I don't intend to fill out this line on the ballot; I cannot hold my nose hard enough to manage to fill in the box that says "Andrew Cuomo" without vomiting all over the voting machine. But I'll be goddamned if I am going to vote for some Tea Party nitwit, either. 
But as time passes, it is clear that Cuomo isn't just a lousy politician or a bit of a jerk. He's truly dangerous, someone that would, if he gets half a chance, turn into a Caribbean-type despot. And a political system that gives us a choice between this wannabe Baby Doc and a idiot bunghole like Rob Astorino is a system that is broken beyond repair. 
And if you think I am exaggerating any of what Cuomo said, here is the link to the interview: 

Friday, October 17, 2014

Book Review: THE FIGHT OF THEIR LIVES

Baseball fights generally are pretty tame; a lot of people come in from the bullpens, mill around, yell at each other, but most of the time there isn't any real violence to be seen. It's news when one does feature a real fight. But there is one, that happened forty-nine years ago, that featured actual violence that is so graphic that you cannot find video of it anywhere anywhere, and The Fight of Their Lives, by John Rosengren, is about it. It was the game of August 22, 1965, when Giant pitcher Juan Marichal hit Dodger catcher John Roseboro over the head with his bat.
The incident itself takes up a chapter in the book, but it concerns itself mostly with the aftermath and the attempts, ultimately successful, that the two men made at a reconciliation. Roseboro did not acknowledge his part in the situation until after he retired--he nearly hit Marichal in the face with his return throw to the mound--and the incident created a very dark shadow over Marichal's career that still has not entirely dissipated. But the most interesting part of the book is not the incident between the two, but the detailing of the obstacles both encountered while growing up and getting into major league baseball. Both were in the forefront of the first generations of non-white ballplayers--Marichal was among the first Dominican in the major leagues--and the naked prejudice and blatant injustices both were subjected to are disturbing--actually, disgusting--to read about, so much so that it boggles the mind that anyone could realistically think that we are a post-racial society. And the part of the book that deals with the men after their incident is even more proof. Roseboro was treated terribly by Calvin Griffith, the owner of the Twins, and although he could have been a great manager, he was of the generation that just didn't get considered for managerial opportunities. Marichal had to wait years to get into the Hall of Fame, and still, even at 80 years old, has to fight not only lingering memories of this incident, but naked prejudice as well--the "hot-headed Latin" stereotype is alive and well, and the fact that Marichal has been, for virtually all his life, a devout Catholic and family man that has been by nature quiet, reserved, and nice has been largely overlooked or ignored. And while the struggles of black ballplayers to overcome the color barrier are somewhat well-known, those of the Latino players that entered baseball in the 1950's are not--and the overt resistance is still there, as far as cultural differences and problems with learning English. 
The book tends to focus more on Marichal than Roseboro, mostly because Roseboro has been dead for twelve years and Marichal is still alive. But Marichal, particulars of the incident notwithstanding, also comes across as a nicer man. Roseboro was a tough ballplayer and had to overcome a bit more in his life, and his edge made him the ballplayer he was--although his stat lines don't scream out at you, he was one of the better catchers in baseball history (players who played in the 1960's played in perhaps the most pitcher-friendly, offense-depressing era ever, and those that played for the Dodgers played in the most pitcher-friendly home park of the time. Roseboro's .249 career average was more impressive in its time and place than Ivan Rodriguez's .296 in his).  Marichal, when he does pass on, will no doubt have Roseboro attached to his obituary like it has been attached to his name for the last 50 years, but he has earned his redemption, as he did Roseboro's forgiveness. It's a very inspirational and uplifting story. 

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Random Notes, October 2014

1) Another week, another "shelter in place" drill at Binghamton High School. Apparently, this time there was a note left in one of the girls' bathrooms saying that a bomb was going to off after lunchtime or something, which necessitated another hour of kids being essentially held hostage in their classrooms while personnel and police searched the building. I understand that the school administrators can't ignore something like that, and I applaud the decision that has been made to offer a $100 reward to the student that turns in whoever is behind this and the other notes of last week. I'm not so on board with coupling the reward announcement with the information that the guilty party will be expelled and prosecuted. Why put all your cards on the table before you have to? Why encourage, any more than the money already will, any possible vendetta finger-pointing? I suspect the guilty parties are youth that would rather not be in school anyway, but telling the student body that police involvement is going to result all but assures that the culture of "Stop Snitching" is going to take precedence--and also invite retribution against anybody that might be thinking of giving someone up.To me, this is more evidence of the essential cluelessness of the school administration and of the principal in general. They have this pipe dream or fantasy that their own views of school, and of what constitutes "the right thing to do," are somehow basic human values that, deep down, every kid in the school shares. They simply cannot conceive that to a significant portion of the student body, anything resulting in police involvement is a non-starter, regardless of the offense that would bring that about. Unless the appearance of trying to get to the bottom of this is paramount (which is certainly possible), I don't understand why the possibility of arrest is being broadcast so openly.
2) And on the same wavelength... I have a pretty good friend that has unfortunately landed again in the county jail due to relapsing, and is awaiting transfer to a long-term rehab facility. During the week off I just had, I went to visit (I've been in jail at a couple of points in my life, and I know how much knowing that friends haven't forgotten you means to those that are inside). And I was once again struck by the attitudes and behaviors of many of the people that come to visit, and not in a positive way. I saw someone ignore the prohibition on cell phone usage in the waiting room--and get seriously huffy and uptight when the corrections officer told her to lock it away, then spend the next five minutes cursing under her breath at what a bitch the CO was. I saw the CO say, with respect, that the woman bringing her 2YO in through the detector had to hold the kid while she was waiting to go in and while she was in the room; we were treated to a lengthy diatribe about how hard it is to keep a toddler under control--no doubt that's true, but to me, that's evidence that perhaps you might want to reconsider the wisdom of bringing a toddler there. There was the usual grumbling about how the people inside shouldn't be in there, coupled this time with one guy telling the entire waiting room what a piece of shit his father (the guy he was there to see) is. Ummm... do you really think that any of us care one way or the other? And how exactly is this supposed to make us feel about you? 
It's the same principle, or lack of it, that makes people get into these 89-comment debates on Facebook about something that most of us don't give a rat's ass about. If someone is in the waiting room at that particular place, trust me, we all have an idea that people are not perfect. I really don't need or want reassurance that you and yours are the victims of injustice. I really don't want or need to hear your views on why certain items of the jail visiting protocol are nonsense or bullshit. And I really don't want to hear about your "issues" with your man's other three baby mamas, or details of why the DA is a jerk for wanting to send a guy to Attica again, or any of a thousand other sordid details of your sorry life up to this point that are the result of you having the judgment abilities of a garden vegetable. This is not a pleasant experience for any of us up there; it would be nice if you didn't obligated to make the situation worse by flapping your jaws. And just for the record, the county is not obligated to make the waiting room a hotel suite. It's not the county's responsibility to provide seats that can accommodate your 400-pound self, with an ass that is literally three feet wide.
3) It's about a year since I first downloaded and started looking at Mobile Patrol, the phone app that allows one to see who is in the county jail at any time. I'm not quite the MP junkie that I was the first few months I had it, but I still look at it probably at least once a day. And one thing I have noticed, depressingly, is just how many people in this area are on a treadmill of incarceration/release. I can think of a dozen people off the top of my head that have been arrested and put in three or more different times in the last year, and I am sure that there are a lot more that I don't pay all that much attention to. It's sad, to be sure. But it's also testimony to the prevalence of both drugs in this area (most of those dozen that spring immediately to mind are people I am familiar with because they have at least put in appearances in meetings recently) and also how few options there are to people who have run afoul of the law to get things like jobs if they are truly willing to turn themselves around. This is an area in lousy economic shape, and the opportunities simply are not there for people with no strikes against them, much less those with problems. I'm not sure what the answer is. I know what it isn't, and I am profoundly grateful that I realized this a long time ago and made the commitment not to go back to old behaviors that landed me in trouble and old "solutions" that made things worse. But I also realize that for many people, that's simply not really possible, at least at this time.
Someone was talking at the meeting I was at last night about how he is catching some static from his "peers" in the program he is in; he's been a part of it a little less than a year, and he is to the point where he is about to re-enter the work force and get his own apartment. The static is coming from some that are, as he rather gently said, "comfortable" with being partially or totally supported by DSS, that are afraid for whatever reasons to take full responsibility for their own lives, and so are resorting to telling him that he is not ready to leave the cocoon. I guess that there is some merit to that, but the entire idea of the curriculum of care is to get your problems under control to the point where you can take responsibility for your own life again. It's not meant to be a lifetime crutch or a ticket to having someone or something else take care of you for the rest of your life. He was a little caustic when he mentioned some in the program that are, in his opinion, using a mental health diagnosis or physical issues as ways to avoid taking full responsibilities for themselves.
And that I do see, and I do wholeheartedly agree with. Not everyone has that much fire and drive to take that responsibility for themselves. Another person shared at the meeting last night that he was glad to hear people talking about getting jobs after they got clean; he's been putting back into the system for twenty-five years and is approaching retirement, and if he is going to retire, he needs the younger generation to start putting into the pot he's going to draw that from. I'm not as close to retirement as he is, but I feel the same way. There is something very sad about people in their late 20's and 30's who have no bigger ambitions than to get an SSI diagnosis, or to find a sugar daddy (or mommy), or to figure out a way to still draw out of the system while working under the table. And to be truthful, it's more than sad; it angers me at times. Yes, to a degree it is human nature. Yes, I understand that it takes time to right the ship, so to speak,, for some people, and I can't really tell people "you know, I think it's been long enough and you need to start supporting yourself, and you might want to consider not having any more kids, too." But the temptation is there, believe me.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Book Review: THE LONG SHADOW

I am a World War I buff, and I will read just about anything that is written about it. There's a greater interest this year than usual in the Great War because of it being the centennial of its beginning this year, and David Reynolds' The Long Shadow was published, I'm sure, largely because it has been a hundred years since the war began. The book concerns itself with the legacies of the war, most specifically in the two countries that fought in it without having their home territories invaded and fought over: Great Britain and the United States.
I was disappointed, ultimately. The first half of the book, dealing with the interwar period, was interesting, and brought to light a couple of things that aren't generally known outside Britain--how desperate a problem Ireland was for the British during the Great War and after, and that Britain was the only Western country that weathered the Depression in reasonably decent shape. The United States' entry and fighting in the war became the subject of an intense national debate that was directly responsible for isolationism, especially since the American performance in the war was, from any objective standpoint, rather poor--the Yanks had to learn what the main combatants had learned in the war's first couple of years about what did and didn't work on the battlefield, and our losses were proportionally awful in comparison to the number of men involved. I also did not know that half of American combat deaths were due to the flu pandemic of 1918-19. It was also interesting to read of the Soviet Union's near-total indifference to Russia's participation in World War I; it was the 1990's before there was any official memorial to that country's war dead.
But the second half of the book, about remembrances after the end of World War II, dragged badly, mostly because Britain and the United States were much more directly affected by the second war (the Blitz and Pearl Harbor, and the need to raze Germany to the ground). The Great War faded into the background, and didn't really enter in major public consciousness until this century, when the last veterans in each of the combatant nations began to die. The last World War I soldier died in France in 2011 (somehow, that particular man managed to have fought in both the Italian and French armies during the war), and there were many news stories about it. But this book tends to focus much more on Britain than the other nations, and talks about the "war poets" and oral histories of the war much more than anything else, and it frankly isn't all that interesting to an American reader. Or this one, anyway. Still, the book was worth reading if you like the Great War.