Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Expecting the Worst

I knew Obama wasn't going to be all that the dewy-eyed thought he was going to be. I remember telling a lot of people before the election that he was an empty suit, that there was nothing much to him other than a polished delivery and his skin color. But even I didn't think he'd turn out to be this bad. Or maybe bad isn't the right word-- I guess "half-assed" is more like it. There have been a few good things done, but by and large the overwhelmingly sense is that an opportunity has been lost. You can tell that the financial elite are no longer scared of him; they've essentially seen him blink, and are resuming their thirty-year gangrape of the American public with increasing arrogance and boldness, as their propaganda machines put voter attention on virtually any other circus and what they can't deflect, they lie about. I've never been so depressed about the future here.
And it's an opportunity we're not going to get again. Once the financial elite regain nominal as well as behind-the-scenes leadership, we're going to get fucked even further. The witchhunts of the Clinton years will seem tame by comparison. The continued commitment to denuding the planet of all its fossil fuels (future generations be damned) will accelerate. The immigrants won't be dissuaded from coming, but their penalties for getting caught here will be increased. And, of course, the wars will continue without end in Afghanistan and Iraq. And I'll bet we're in for new nasty surprises, such as the return of debtors' prisons, internal Gitmos, and private security forces taking over municipal functions on an unimagined scale. New environmental disasters await, like the Colorado River going drier sooner and becoming too salty and polluted to use for drinking water.
The only hope is that there is a new Civil War. Little if any stomach for any of these trends can be found anywhere north of Virginia and east of Ohio. The problem is, just like in 1860, most of the arms and forces willing to use them are in the other parts of the country, and unlike 1860, most of the capacity to make weapons no longer exists. The first American Civil War was a foregone conclusion; the North, if it was willing to fight, was going to win eventually, and it did. I don't think that's going to be the case now.
By 2024, at the latest, what we think of as America is going to be as gone as the Roman Republic.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Book Review: TOTALLY TASTELESS

Totally Tasteless was quite the rage when I was in college. It is simply a jokebook, a collection of pretty rude ethnic and other categories jokes by Blanche Knott, who turned out to have a legitimate career ahead of her as a legitimate author under her real name. As always with older material, it is amusing to see what were the topical concerns of the time it was written--there's an entire section of JAP jokes, for example, and references to Toxic Shock Syndrome and Tylenol that would make sense to anyone born after 1986 or so. Still, there were a few jokes in this book that have stood the test of time, and I have to say that our society's standards of what is tasteless have changed; there is little in this book that would be considered shocking if they were told for the first time today.

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Book Review: SUPERBUG

Superbug, by Maryn McKenna, is a sometimes frightening look at the recent epidemic of MRSA (methicillin-resistant staph) across the country and even the world. Staph is one of the most common bacteria around us; zillions live on our skin at any one time. Most varieties don't cause major problems, but increasingly some do, and antibiotics that work against them are getting fewer and harder to find. The stories are heartbreaking about the effects on the victims, and the findings of casual hygiene among hospital staff across the country is breathtaking and infuriating. My mother almost died as the result of an antibiotic-resistant infection in 2002, and I have vowed to never get surgery, if I can help it, because of it; it's the reason I put up with balky feet. This book has shook me out of my complacency about washing my hands every single time they need it, too, and may--may--just convince me to get me and Sabrina flu shots this winter, since there are fewer nastier and quicker ways to die than to contract staph pneumonia, and the great majority of staph pneumonia cases got infected while their bodies were fighting off influenza.
What this book ultimately shows is that the American health care system, while largely effective, is nowhere near the quality that its proponents, who were loud and prominent during the health care reform imbroglio, would have us beleive. Hospitals really shouldn't be places to avoid if you're sick, but they are. Medical staff shouldn't be the major vector of deadly infections through their own carelessness, but they are. We shouldn't really be getting into lifelong debt over medical care. And one other revelation of this book is that no major drug company is looking hard for new antibiotics; from a "business" perspective, drugs like Cialis and Prozac are better for the bottom line, so that's where the R&D money goes. The almighty dollar rules in this area, too, as it does everywhere else in this country.
I don't really think that they are right, but if the conservative religious right is correct in their beliefs about the Last Judgement coming, and in particular their interpretations of the Book of Revelation, then we're fucked. Because quite clearly, no culture in the history of the world has so totally set up their altar to the pursuit of worldly honors and prizes than that of the United States of America. Not that he was something to emulate, but the Ayatollah Khomeini had a point; by our own definitions of the term, we are the Great Satan.

Saturday, August 28, 2010

Tween Troubles

Although it's a weekend and I don't have to go back to work for a couple of more days, the vacation is essentially over. And it was a pretty difficult week for my parenting skills. Simply put, this eleven-year old daughter is getting to be a handful. I'm not going to get into all the gory details, but I am starting to get very irritated about being ignored on certain things. This cell phone crap is going to be an issue forever and three days, I suspect. She upgraded the other day, and it's been nothing but trouble. First of all, she's always on it. She's starting to get involved with kids I don't know. So far, they're all girls and other girls that I do know are friends with them, so I'm not alarmed necessarily--but it's always a cause for concern when new influences come into her life. Secondly, the defiance that I occasionally see is manifesting itself again; she can be a willful little thing when she wants to be, which is why I have been exchanging text messages with her at 5:30 in the morning. I have a morning routine when I get up--check email, the Press website, the Channel 12 website, NOAA's website, Eschaton, Facebook, then ESPN. When I got on Facebook, I see a post by one of my daughter's friends (who friended me months ago). And Sabrina had commented on it that the kid needed to call Sabrina, adding "I'm doing this from my cell phone." The time was somewhere between 2 and 3 AM. Sabrina is at her mother's per usual arrangement, so it isn't like she is doing it in the middle of the night here, but aside from the time, we had a five minute discussion the day she got the phone about how it costs ten bucks to use the Internet from the phone and how she was not to do it.
So damn right I woke her up and told her she is getting no September allowance, and if I see another FB post from her cell phone, she's losing the phone. She tried to claim I had not told her about not using the Net from her phone, which is a blatant lie; we've had this talk on more occasions than the other day after a surprise $130 bill in the spring. I told her I wasn't going to argue about it, but she's on very thin ice right now. I understand little rebellions are part and parcel of the maturation process, but if she is going to rebel to establish independence, it damn well isn't going to cost me ten bucks a pop. She'll spend middle school in her room first.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Book Review: NO LAW IN THE LAND

No Law In The Land is the next installment in Michael Jecks' Knights Templar series. The intrepid Simon, Sir Baldwin, and Sir Richard have made it back to England, only to find that the realm has descended into anarchy and lawlessness. Human life is cheap-- there are nearly twenty-five people murdered in a month--and the all the basic human vices are in full flower, as England suffers under the depredations of a rapacious elite. The trio do manage to set their corner of the world right, and there is at least one person who undergoes a change of heart of sorts, which is the turning point of the book. I really like this series, and Jecks is extremely prolific; the next book in the series is already out, and the total he has written set in the reign of Edward II is nearing two dozen. The medieval world seems as familiar as KMart within fifty pages, and the people act like people, not some cardboard cutouts of stock characters.

Thursday, August 26, 2010

My New Favorite Sport

I don't know why, at this point in my life, I am getting seriously hooked on NASCAR, but I can't deny anymore that I am. It's the first place I check on the sports sites, and more than a few Saturdays, I've found myself thinking, "There's a race on tonight, so I better not commit to anything for the evening." And, like most things I get interested in, I'm starting to become knowledgeable about it. A few random thoughts about the state of my new favorite sport:
1) The Chase, as currently constituted, sucks. The various tweaks over the years haven't made it more competitive or exciting. I'm not even sure they should have one, because of seasons like this one, where Kevin Harvick has been so consistently good that he is miles in front of everyone else. But if I were running the sport, they'd start the Chase spaced ten points apart for each position (Harvick would have 120, Gordon 110, etc, down to Bowyer at 10). I'm not sure wins should be worth ten points each, but if they left that rule in, it would be all right. The way it stands now, the runaway points leader is going to start 20 points behind when the Chase starts. Makes no sense.
2) I used to think the only difference between drivers was their cars and crews. Not anymore. Good equipment does make a difference, but not the only one. Kyle Busch, to take the most obvious example, drives the hell out of whatever he is sitting in, and he to my mind is clearly the best driver out there. In five years, after a championship or three, there's not even going to be any doubt about it. Others that are very good are (as much as I hate to say it) Hamlin and Kurt Busch; if they have a chance, they're near the front. Kenseth and Edwards managed to stay afloat when their cars weren't very good this year, too.
3) There are also some guys who wouldn't be half as good in inferior rides. Jimmie Johnson is the most obvious; he's good, but for a four-consecutive-time champion, he doesn't seem to be that good on talent. I also fail to see the big deal about Kasey Kahne or Dale, Jr.; they're competitive about once a month.
4) Although I like the really fast races (Daytona, Talledega, the 2 mile tracks) I have to say that it opens the door for just anyone to win. It's becoming clear that the shorter the track, the better the driver has to be to win. You simply don't see your Joey Lagano and Martin Truex types near the front at the shorter tracks, and you don't see someone like Elliot Sadler or Sam Hornish near the front at the intermediates.
5) If you need lessons on the power of media in making "stars", Exhibits A and B are Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Danica Patrick. Both stink, frankly. Earnhardt at least has a past, but he is clearly washed up; I really think the messy breakup with his stepmother and his father's outfit took his desire to race and beat it to death with a blunt instrument. And I have a felling Heidi Klum, if you gave her 18 months behind the wheel, would be about as effective as Patrick, at least in NASCAR. If Patrick was a man, or even an ugly woman (and she's no hottie, by the way; the years have not been kind to her) she'd get less attention than Micheal McDowell.
6) Speaking of washed up, I'm jumping off the Jeff Gordon horse. I've sort of liked Gordon for years, but he simply can't close the deal anymore, and I am sick to death of hearing him whine every single race about how "loose" his car is. If you've lost your nerves and can't handle your car in the corners, then maybe it's time to shut it down. And I used to like Tony Stewart, too, but I think he isn't as hungry as he once was, either.
7) I have some new favorites. Both Busch brothers have grown on me; they don't take crap, they're good, and they almost never just drive around the track. I also really like Juan Pablo Montoya; he runs well at least part of every race, and he isn't afraid to get himself involved with other drivers. I loved it when he took Johnson out last week, for example; Johnson's been cutting people off for years with impunity. JPM dumped his ass when JJ did it to him; I guarantee JJ thinks a little harder about doing that again in front of a red car. I also like JPM's teammate McMurray; it's been really gratifying to see a career revive this year.
8) And some I am beginning to hate. I've never liked Edwards, and I suspect that his performance dive in the last couple of years is PED related. But I would love to see Kesolowski wreck his ass with a title on the line, serve the Beaver right. I don't like Johnson; I think he takes liberties on the track that he's gotten away with, and I think his crew chief cheats. I'm also not a fan of Hamlin, not at all; seems like a big crybaby and fingerpointer. Lastly, for sheer incompetence, no one beats David Ragan; this guy better be banking everything he's getting paid, because he took one of the most visible cars in the sport and made it disappear. He's locked in through next year, too.
9) I find it interesting that when top guys get into hassles with the Kesolowskis of the world, they get all the benefit of the doubt. Edwards and Hamlin have gotten into issues with a lot of guys, but most notably Kesolowshi, and everyone just writes it off to being "competitive." Well, they're assholes, and they've got major stuff coming to them. I notice they don't pull shit like that on Montoya or other hard-nosed guys like Robby Gordon. I am dying to see someone send one of these guys ass over head, preferably in a Chase race. It will make the fall races interesting.

Wednesday, August 25, 2010

Book Review: BLIND DESCENT

Blind Descent, by James Tabor, is not another poltically themed book, despite the title suggesting so. It is about the quest to find the world's deepest cave, and the people who explore them. There is a focus on two men and the people surrounding them trying to find the bottom of two supercaves, one in Mexico and one in Georgia (the Caucasus one, not the USA one), that are contenders for the "bottom of the world" title. Expeditions over the last 20 years are chronicled, along with a fair amount of shop description of the tools and techiniques used that is fascinating stuff. Recently, the cave in Georgia bottomed out at over 7000 feet, which is truly amazing to contemplate.
And while caving has never appealed to me as something I might want to do, I am even more convinced of that now. I can't fathom living in total darkness, peeing into bags, spending days underground, digging out boulders, and all of the dozens of other peculiarities of being underground. Not to mention not showering for weeks at a time. It's a different breed of person that does it. Tabor says in the beginning of the book that finding the deepest cave is the last piece of exploration left to mankind, and--at least on earth--he is right. I found myself rooting for the Mexican expedition to get the record, but unfortunately they haven't managed it yet, and the leader of the group is now 60 years old and probably physically not up to it. But this book relating his attempts is very readable.

Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Book Review: STRANGE BUT TRUE

Strange But True is another one of those books I picked up at the front racks at Barnes & Noble, by John Slemen. It is a collection of short informational blurbs of dozens of interesting people and phenomena over the centuries, some real, some legendary, all more or less interesting. From 19th century accounts of strange aircraft to prophets in medieval times to some of the stranger aspects of Hitler, it holds the interest of the reader, although it hardly delves in-depth to any of its stories. On a whim, I Googled several of the people mentioned in this book, and by and large the information presented seems to be accurate, although at least in one case the Wikipedia article was based on the chapter in this book. For the curious, there are certainly worse ways to spend a couple of days than reading books like this.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Book Review: THE MOUSE THAT ROARED

The Mouse That Roared was originally published in 1999 as a study of the Disney Corporation and the reach and influence that it has in today's world. This is a rewritten version, by Henry Giroux and Grace Pollock, that is heavily weighted toward what has happened since 1999. In short, it exposes Disney as perhaps the most typical of the corporate behemoth that we should all learn to fear and combat. Disney undeniably does some good, but on the whole, it is guilty of pushing an all-pervasive consumerism that has resulted in two main effects in American society, neither positive. One is that, perversely, the notion of childhood seems to going by the wayside; by focusing on getting into kids' wallets, corporate America is accelerating the trend of adults being exonerated of their responsibilities toward their children. We regularly incarcerate and imprison teens for crimes, and the amount of medication prescribed for children in this country is a national disgrace. This is not to say that Disney is solely responsible for this, but they are part of the climate that has shaped this change, tying into the second point: the notion of citizenship has been replaced by market-based identity, and critical thinking as a goal for the education of youth has been replaced by the idea of creating passive consumers.
And Disney is absolutely relentless in pushing its products. It has become worse in the last decade with the explosion in popularity of the Disney Channel. It is also a pretty fair pusher of an homogenized "normal" both on TV and in its theme parks. Its control over its theme parks and the employees there is well-documented, but its relentless pushing of white middle class circa 1950 values as quintessentially American is not quite so well-known, and is more insidious, as not only does it leave precious little room for other family situations to be part of "normal" life, but it also makes the ability to be part of the consumer culture the defining characteristic of normality and of being American. In a country where this is becoming increasingly problematic, this is a dangerous path to go down, and for corporate America, it may be ultimately self-defeating. It is people who feel they have no stake in the existing system, and no chance of fitting in, who ultimately revolt.
There was also a revealing chapter on Disney's efforts to abet the national security freakout of the Bush years; I somehow missed The Path to 9/11, which by all accounts was a highly partisan and detestable simplified view of the entire tragedy. It caught so much flak that it was not ever put on DVD or made available to the public after its showing on TV, which for Disney is unheard of. I confess I had never thought of The Incredibles in that light, but the point is persuasively made that it, too, is an apologia for post-9/11 measures taken in this country.
Which, perversely, made me happier about the job I have done as a parent. Sabrina has never really liked The Incredibles; she is not a particularly consumptive tween (she just, after ignoring it for the last year or so, gave up on Club Penguin); and she does exhibit a fair degree of critical thinking capacity. While I worry as she gets older about the influence of the world around her, it is already clear that she has been given a broader array of tools than most kids her age have regarding how to get along in the world, and does not totally buy into the drone culture. I have fought battles against the influence of Disney's TV efforts for most of her life, and have at least made some headway. And I have to say I was very glad recently when I lost the channel. When I got wireless here two years ago, the installer told me that he had forgotten to bring the proper trap and as a result I was going to get channels I was not supposed to get until someone from Time Warner had to come work on something. That happened a few weeks ago with the wireless, and the Time Warner guy installed the proper trap. I now only get channels 2-7, and I have to say I don't really miss the others. Sabrina has adjusted by watching many more movies--we've dropped 20 dollars at Redbox in less than two weeks-- but I would much rather she watched movies regularly than the crap she was watching regularly for the last few months. The only Disney show I will miss is Sonny With a Chance, which, by some miracle, actually bit the hand that fed it regularly.
I would heartily recommend this book to anyone concerned about the influences their children are exposed to. But then again, most of the parents of said children have bought into the consumer culture wholeheartedly, so it isn't like there's going to be a revolution coming from it. I can only change my corner of the world, and I know I am giving Sabrina a fighting chance to be an independent and critical thinker in a world of zombies. That's all I can reasonably do.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Book Review: A PRESIDENCY IN PERIL

A Presidency in Peril is a timely look at the disappointment that has been Obama's first term, by Robert Kuttner. The events of various debacles, mostly the economy and healthcare, are gone over in excruciating detail, but the book can boiled down to two main points: 1) Obama doesn't have it in him to be a decisive leader a la FDR; his talents are conciliation and consensus-building, which is both not possible with the Cheap Labor Party in Congress and not what the times require, and 2) he has provided a sickening continuity with the economic policies of Bush, even retaining most of the same failed economic team. Anyone who doubts one-party (with two wings) rule in America should read this book. The financial elite run this country to their exclusive benefit, and the rest of us can go scratch. It's not going to get better.
I am usually right in my assessments of people, and I thought from the beginning of 2008 that Obama was an empty suit. I really didn't want Hillary to win the Democratic nomination, because Clinton's economic policies were part of what landed us in crisis in 2008. So I was rather discouraged to find in this book that the behind-the-scenes eminence gris of the Obama Administation is Robert Rubin. And what is especially revolting is looking at the records of the people making policy: Rubin ran Citigroup into the group; Lawrence Summers ran Harvard into the ground; Geithner ran the Fed nearly aground, etc ad nauseum.
In other words, it's the same old story. Politician says what he needs to to get elected, then governs for the benefit of Big Money. I was merely disappointed that I was wrong in my initial assessment of him, but a lot of people out there voted for him really hoping he was different, and their crushing disappointment that he is not will probably keep them from voting in the future. And then it's time to look out, because the Cheap Labor crypto-fascists are smelling blood.
Ours.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Vacation Again

This one is closer to a real one--a full week away from the office. Sort of. I am going to read my email at least once a day, and I know I have to go in briefly to get my paycheck and probably send in a couple of check requests (we are at that point of the year where we have to spend a lot of money left in our budget), but for the most part, I am done until August 30.
And it feels good and relaxed. I've kind of moved past the I-hate-everybody stage I was at earlier in the summer. And I will get a chance to spend a full week with Sabrina, something that in my mind is becoming more precious. Yesterday morning, she went in the bathroom after I showered, and wrote in the mirror "I [heart] MJ," the boy that lives next door to her mother. I suspected as much, and I mentioned to her that I had seen the writing, but didn't add any comments, and hopefully that will just be the end of it. I can live with an 11YO crushing on a boy, especially since he's going to a different school next year. I am sure that he is going to be the first of many in years to come; I don't want to freak out every time she shows me she's not a little kid anymore.
She's going to have Hailey over Sunday or Monday night, and we will finish our school shopping and stuff, but mostly it will be a week of little or nothing to do. The kind of vacation I like.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Book Review: THE DEATH OF AMERICAN VIRTUE

The Death of American Virtue is law professor Ken Gormley's exhaustive look at the Whitewater/Lewinsky investigations led by independent counsel Ken Starr during the Clinton administration. I started yesterday to talk about some of the things I was learning while reading the book, and I think I'm just going to continue:
1) I remember when Vincent Foster committed suicide. The reaction from certain quarters of the population then is the same now when some people talk about Obama and other "liberals." There were absolutely no sense among a significant portion of the media and population--the conservative portion--that Foster was a human being, and that his family and friends were grieving like most people would be if a friend or acquaintance had died unexpectedly. From the time the body was found, the human side of this tragedy was sacrificed to political ends. Some of the most egregious offenders then remain egregious offenders now, like The Big Fat Idiot Rush Limbaugh.
2) This quote from Clinton himself captures this element of the American population perfectly: "They worship power, not God. And they will do anything to capture and maintain it." Remember that the next time you hear one of these assholes pontificating. What's especially depressing about the statement is that so many of them have been caught breaking laws and behaving reprehensibly themselves. Of the major political figures opposed to Clinton during this period, Gingrich and DeLay had to resign, and several Republicans have been embroiled in scandals. Limbaugh turned out to have a nasty OxyContin habit. Yet they go on like their sins are not the same as others. Clinton is right; it's about power, not morality. Morality is just a tool in the arsenal.
3) Remember when Limbaugh seriously accused Hillary Clinton of "murdering" Vince Foster? The matter was investigated over and over again for years, and even Starr's witchhunting crew never found a shred of evidence that Foster's death was anything other than it was reported to be. But there is a significant portion of the American political world that believes that she had something to do with Foster's death.
3a) The first special prosecutor, Robert Fiske, actually made a report to this effect--there was no coverup, and no wrongdoing by anybody in the Foster matter. And the Republicans in Congress and in the media went apeshit, accusing Fiske of being part of the coverup. The actual facts did not and do not matter to these people.
4) The whole Clinton sex scandal bits started with "revelations" by Arkansas state troopers. Somehow lost or neglected in all these stories were the fact that not only were these guys trying to get a book deal--and hence their stories became more salacious as interest failed to pick up-- but they were being paid by conservatives, and given forums by conservatives, to spout this stuff.
5) The get-Clinton stuff started from the time he announced his candidacy for President in 1991. Most of it originated with Arkansas people. Most of it had the tone and character of an old-fashioned Southern blood feud--the kind of people that forgive nothing and forget nothing. I've touched on this before and no doubt will again, but the South is a culture that is very alien to "Western" values--it has more in common with Eastern and Southern Europe than it does with the English roots of the northern part of the country. And it is not a positive difference.
6) The independent counsel law expired while the first counsel appointed, Robert Fiske, was on the job. Less known was the fact that when Clinton was President-elect, the 3-judge panel that oversees and selects candidates for special prosecutors was changed to include two Republicans and one Democrat. The new leader of the panel was a conservative recommended by then-Chief Justice Rehnquist and a friend of the two uberconservative North Carolina Senators, Jesse Helms and Lauch Faircloth. Is it that much of a reach to think something was in the works even before Clinton officially became President?
7) When the law was reenacted, no one dreamed that Robert Fiske would not be reappointed, but said panel decided he needed to be replaced. That's how Starr become special prosecutor to begin with.
8) In a move that pretty much defines the Republican idea of public service, Starr didn't even quit his day job. One reason his panel took forever to do its work is that its leader wasn't devoting his full time and effort to it. This is something that has happened time and again with Republican types in government "service;" the ability to make money elsewhere is always a priority.
9) Starr, in fact, wanted to bail out and become the dean of Pepperdine Law School in early 1997, but backed down when the Republican Congress and media went apeshit again because he had not found anything they could pin on Clinton. He backed down and stayed.
9a) One of my personal candidates for Antichrist, Richard Sciafe (multimillionaire conservative publisher) said, while being interviewed for this book, 12 years later, that Starr hadn't done a good job "because he didn't find anything." Sciafe will never be convinced, despite there actually being no evidence, that Clinton did nothing illegal with anything Whitewater related; he thinks he knows better. That may be the most telling statement of all, and explains much of what has happened with Republican policy over the past 30 years; they just "know" things, and never mind if there is overwhelming evidence that it isn't true. From supply-side economics to freedom-loving Contras to the Evil Empire to Clinton's a crook to Saddam did 9/11 to Social Security is bankrupt to Obama's a socialist, this is a consistent and frightening pattern in American politics. As mentioned yesterday, it is extremely reminiscent of the totalitarian ideologies of the 1930's; "truth" is dogma, and reality doesn't matter or will be bent to accommodate dogma. Scary stuff.
10) I did not know that Paula Jones was offered a settlement that gave her everything she publicly said she wanted--and turned it down. Why? Because what she said she wanted was not what she wanted, and certainly was not what those who were controlling her wanted.
10a) One of the people helping Jones behind the scenes was Ann Coulter. 'Nuff said.
11) Starr's office was the most notorious leaking operation of all time, even having charges brought against it on that account. And they certainly ignored rules when it suited them. At one point, they had a copy of an affadavit by a witness in one of the cases before the judge did. What made it strange was that the judge had commissioned it, not the prosecutor.
12) Starr ignored 100 years of precedent in trying to make Secret Service agents testify about the President they protect--and then, after months of court and a lot of money, acted shocked when they didn't know anything. If he had bothered to know what the job entails, he would have known that. What it showed was a common human failing--that we assume others think and act as we would in a similar situation. All that episode showed was that Starr and many of his team were not trustworthy or loyal.
13) Clinton's take on his wife's famous comment about the "vast right-wing conspiracy" was that it wasn't a conspiracy; it was totally out in the open. Hard to argue with that one.

The story chronicled here is not a pretty one. I am not a big fan of Clinton, but this was just a disgusting story of a complete witchhunt. It made me sick at times, to read about this. Was he blameless? No. Did he engage in criminal conduct? No. The worst that can be said is that he tried to weasel out of consequences of an affair, which may or may not be a reason to condemn him. But most of those who did condemn him for it ostensibly are familiar with and live by the code of Matthew 7:2. But the more apt Matthew quotation is 6:24, and most of them have chosen long ago to serve Mammon rather than God.
The conservative element in this country is every bit as dangerous as the Nazis, the Communists, the Taliban, and the nuts running Iran. They are ten times worse than the junior thugs surrounding Nixon were. I fear for the future of this country if they ever return to power, and I have no doubt that if they do not get elected within a time frame, that an element is planning a takeover. I just hope that I'm dead and gone by time it happens.
The book itself is very readable for a 700-page tome, and strives to be as fair as possible, although by the end of the book, the author clearly believes that the Starr team was off the rails. Still, it's not a hatchet job by any means, and it brings back to the light what was a national obsession in a more innocent time, the time before the war on terror and when people actually still had some hope and expectation of something other than getting by.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

A Reappraisal of the Clinton Years

I am in the middle of a mammoth book about the Clintion "scandals" during the 1990's, which is why there have not been any book reviews for a week. One reason it's been going so slow is that I have been taking notes; there is that much to think about and comment on. And it is also frankly depressing to see that Hillary Clinton's claims at the time of a "vast right-wing conspiracy" were--guess what--largely true. Rather than a small book when I finish reading it, I'm going to start addressing this stuff on days when there isn't other matters I want to talk about.
Before I start, I need to make clear that I was no Clinton fan when he was President. I voted for Perot both times he ran. I still feel that his support of NAFTA and welfare reform were two really bad long-term decisions for the country and the American workforce. I still think that, even if impeachment was a farce, that his constant womanizing was not helpful for his governing ability or for the country. But... having said that, I had no real concept at the time of what he was up against; maybe none of us did, after all that has happened after 2000. And I feel almost sorry for him; it is no wonder that he has completely white hair. Frankly, he may be lucky to be alive.
Here are some of the highlights, or lowlights, of what I've been finding:
1) I swear I never knew this before I read the book, but James McDougal, the principal figure in the Whitewater affair, was tried and acquitted on land fraud charges in 1990, two years before Clinton was President. There was no reason at all for anyone to start looking at this crap again. Basically, it was entirely politically motivated; the law had already taken its shot and lost.
1a) If more proof was needed that it was totally politically motivated, the initial push to investigate Clinton in regard to Whitewater came in October 1992--before he had even won the election. The only reason it didn't go anywhere at the time was that a Republican judge actually put the law in front of politics and refused to allow charges to be filed against McDougal. But this was a pattern we've been seeing ever since--and actually, had started to see in 1988, when Dukakis was absolutely flayed alive. No trick is too low for the Republican party apparatus, no flimsy excuse too flimsy to pursue. Anything is permissable as long as power is held or maintained, and the other party doesn't get to govern. We see it regularly now, in the administration of another nominally popular Democrat. This is frankly reminiscent of the electoral tactics, while they were still an electoral party, of the Nazis circa 1932 iin Germany.
I really don't think the comparison is overblown. We've had one blatant and one not-so-blatant stolen elections, and the country has basically been looted by the corporate element that controls that party. It's frightening, frankly.
2) And it was visible in Clinton's case from the moment he appeated likely to win the election. Every action he took was analyzed and portrayed in a horrible light, and I have to say in retrospect that it was amazing he was able to do as much as he did, considering what he was up against. The media had him portrayed as some sort of Southern con man even before he was President, and continued to portray him as shady even as precious little stuck, and that is because the Republican party apparatus sustained an all-out assault on the man for nine years. And not only him, but those around him, and not everyone was able to escape with white hair and open heart surgery.
To be continued. Next time, a few words about Vincent Foster.

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Family Matters

Yesterday there was a minor addition to Chaper 85 of the Mother of the Year scrapbook. She has another job, working in maintainence at the same place but for a different company, and one other difference is that she now works first shift. Sabrina still has been going over to her house during the day, but there is usually a babysitter there (for the younger child). Sabrina, it is apparent to me, wants the summer to end, because the arrangement has long outlived its usefulness, but she doesn't complain out loud. But on occasion, I get a glimpse into her mind.
Like yesterday. I went to drop her off at 8 AM, but the doors were locked. So I called her mother, who told me that the back door was open. If it had been, I shot back, I wouldn't be calling, and to make a long story short, the older son had screwed up. Her mother wanted me to help Sabrina climb in the window. I said I thought taking her to my mother's was a better idea, and Sabrina, too, didn't relish the idea of climbing in a second floor window. So off to grandma's we went.
Sabrina is better off than I was as a child in a few ways, and having a strong relationship with a grandparent is one. My father's parents were dead by time I was born, and my mother's parents lived in Michigan. I liked my grandfather, but he was very quiet and henpecked, and died in any event right before I graduated high school. My relationship with my grandmother can be best be encapsulated by the last thing I ever said to her, ten years before she died: "the next time I want to see you is in a casket." The woman was known in our house, quite seriously, as the Antichrist, and although I am not going to list the entire sordid history, she was a miserable bitch to everyone concerned for the length of my lifetime. I don't know a single person that missed her; I now understand how my mother ended up in New York City for college when she could have easily gone to Detroit.
In any event, Sabrina has been close to my mother for her entire life (my father died when Sabrina was 17 months old; she used to say she had vague memories of him, but no longer says that). Sabrina gladly spends time with her, learns from her, does things with her. Sabrina already knows how to sew, and puts that knowledge to good use around here; it is a skill grandma taught her. Grandma took her to Old Country Buffet yesterday, and bought her some stuff for school, as she frequently does. I didn't think twice the entire day about Sabrina, knowing she was in good hands; I frequently think about her most days as I wonder what kind of nonsense is going on over on Munsell Street.
Changes are coming. I am off next week, then there is one more full week of summer vacation and then the return to school. Changes are afoot everywhere, and one of them is going to be that, once school begins, I am going to file a petition for child support from Sabrina's mother. After another four months of inconsistency and watching money get spent on nonsense, I've had enough. I was frankly thinking about it in June, but I figured that with her taking care of Sabrina most days while I worked in the summer, it would hard to argue persuasively that she wasn't contributing to the cause. She was falling short in that area even before the change to first shift; Sabrina has lost some weight this summer because she says that her mother just doesn't give her much in the way of lunch.
Anyhow, Sabrina is the grandchild that spends the most time with my mother, and it's worked out well for both. I'm not sure how much longer my mother has; her memory is starting to slip, and as her 75th birthday approaches next week, it is foolish to count on her for much longer. But I am profoundly glad that she has been around long enough to be a strong influence on my daughter. She needed it, much more than Rachel and Jessica did.

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Neighbors From Hell

For the fourth time in a week, my beauty sleep was disturbed by these people who moved in upstairs in April. Last Wednesday night, they left their cat in the hallway upstairs; its mewling might have woken the dead, but not either of them. Then last Thursday, the cops came to the door looking for the 18YO going-nowhere daughter, who apparently got mixed up in some unpleasantness. All I know for certain is that the cop strongly advised her to get a lawyer--and after the cop left, the girl went apeshit up there, screaming that she wasn't going down alone and she was fucked, and then eventually giving up on making words altogether and just screaming. The mother took her somewhere, thank God, or the cops were going to be back. Then Sunday night, they apparently switched bedrooms; they were moving heavy things all over the place--at 11:45 PM. Then at the stroke of midnight, it was a chorus of "Happy Birthday" for Precious Daughter. Last night, there was no noise at all when I went to bed at 11; don't even think they were home. But they sure were at 12:45, when there was another cursefest followed by another departure from the home.
I'm trying not to lose perspective or go to gut-level unpleasantness. I'm trying not to think, "stereotypical Puerto Ricans," that she and her daughter have no social graces and simply have no control over their emotions. But this cannot continue. There are a dozen minor annoyances, too, that I deal with--for instance, there is a low noise in the background that apparently is a fan running. Why you would need to run a fan when you have central air conditioning is beyond me, but a steady, not punishingly loud sound isn't something to have a confrontation about. The kid also occasionally listens to loud music, but I remember when I was 18, and I did that, too; as long as it isn't in the middle of the night, and to be fair the music hasn't been an issue at night, I guess I have to deal with it.
But the mile-a-minute, arguing-as-only-Latinas-can with a saturation of F-bombs is going to have to stop. I know better than to intervene while it's going on; it would be strapping a bullseye onto my back if I did so. But she's not around much during the day, so it's tough to say something then, too, and talking to the kid woud be useless. But this can't go on... I've already talked to Nancy about them, and Nancy has said she will not renew her lease at the end of April. I am so tempted to tell the lady not to get comfortable up there, because she's going to be moving again in 8 months, but 1) why play your hand right away, 2) Nancy may change her mind, and 3) they may just throw all semblance of civilized behavior out the window, which would lead to 8 months of true hell.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Tough Break

Or maybe not. I was watching the end of the PGA Championship last night on TV, and Dustin Johnson missed out on a playoff because he grounded his club in a bunker--according to the rules. The reason it happened is that the bunker was about sixty yards from the fairway, and that the gallery had been standing in it for days, so that it really didn't appear to be one. My original thought was that this was a horrid call, one that seemed real picayune considering what was at stake.
But the more I have seen and read since it happened, the less I feel that way. For one thing, every player was handed a notice at the beginning of the week about precisely this issue: in essence, it said that there are 1200 bunkers on the course, and many of them are in the gallery just like this one. Johnson apparently didn't read it, and other pros confessed to not even looking at it as well. For another thing, considering the stakes involved, why wouldn't a guy who does this for a living err on the side of caution and at least ask for a ruling? The ball was sitting on sand, after all. Third, when the tournament was last held at Whistling Straits six years ago, Stuart Appelby got a penalty for exactly the same infraction. Fourth, the ball landed several dozen feet off the fairway; it was a terrible shot. One complaint I always have about pro golfers is that they don't pay the same price for their really bad shots that we would because they get to play off stuff where crowds have been all week, and also because many times the crowd stops a shot from being even more wayward. This was one of those shots. And fifth, TV replays appeared to show Johnson's club not only touching the ground before he swung, but the ball, as well.
Johnson is the same guy who led the US Open going into the last round and then proceeded to shoot 82. He hits the ball very long, averaging well over 300 yards a pop. He also already has a DWI under his belt (nothing about the ultimate disposition of that case ever made the papers). It's becoming clear that he doesn't exactly overthink his way not only around a golf course, but through his life. Everyone seemed impressed by how "gracious" he was yesterday after the penalty, but part of that may well have been that he was spared having to play in the playoff. He made the Ryder Cup team with his finish yesterday, but I can tell you that if I was Corey Pavin, the only time this guy plays is Sunday in the singles match, because Johnson has shown absolutely no ability to perform under pressure, and also has shown that his ability to think on the fly is severely limited.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

The Ground Zero Mosque

I read a lot of blogs; they have become the main source of information for me about what is going on in the world, because mainstream news media usually parrots the establishment line faithfully and doesn't even report a lot of things (I remember when we used to get uptight about the Soviets having the same situation, but I digress). One thing that gratified me yesterday was that Obama finally publically stated that he was in favor of freedom of religion--specifically, the intention of some New York City Islamic group to build a mosque near Ground Zero.
The hue and cry surrounding this intention is ridiculous All the flag-wavers and uberpatriots have come out, wringing their hands and raising thier voices, that a mosque in the area somehow "insults" the memory of the 9/11 victims. Well, no, it doesn't. Let's get a few things straight. For one, no American citizens were among the presumed hijackers; this was a plot planned and carried out by foreigners. The people wanting to erect a mosque are Americans. To hold them accountable for the actions of others who happen to be a part of a sect of a mainstream religion that they are also a part of is ridiculous. By the same logic, there should be no Congregational churches in Salem, Massachusetts, or any Christian churches near Wounded Knee, or, taking it just a bit further, no new Catholic churches anywhere in the country because of all the killings done over the years by Catholics.
For another, while I am not generally a fan of Islam, I am not gripped by irrational, Crusader fear of it, either. All religions have tenets that others find objectionable. Some of Islam's are very diffiicult for modern Americans to swallow. But Islam is not monolithic, and the fact that many Muslims have chosen to live in this country should be a clue that the large majority of them find the values that we as a society espouse and live by very congenial. Everyone's path to God is different, and how they express themselves on that path, if not dangerous to others, is not to be suppressed. Period.
For a third, I am beyond sick of the powers that be in this country using 9/11 as an excuse to indulge a wish to make this country fascist. The sad part is that by playing to the sense of pain and helpless anger that being the victim of an attack, many otherwise decent people get on board with those whose motives are not pure. Because of 9/11, we have become embroiled in two endless wars overseas, lost our economic way, have accepted what was once unacceptable indifference to our own people in our shores, and gladly acquiesced in the erosion of the civil liberties that have made this country the envy of the rest of the world for two centuries. Can we get a grip here, people? It's a fucking church--not a Christian one, true, but a church. Why are we getting all bent out of shape and allowing the fascists more traction in their quest to make this country into a quasi-Nazi behemoth?
It's easy to be in favor of the Bill of Rights when everyone is on the same page. It's precisely the difficult cases that is most needed for. It means nothing if it is going to be overturned or ignored at will. The Soviet constitution in place from 1924 till 1990 was the most liberal-sounding document ever put together--but because there was no will to enforce it, its stated rights were next to worthless for the citizens of that country. If it doesn't mean anything in practice, then it doesn't mean anything in principle.
Lastly, I leave you with this quote. "The people can always be brought to do the bidding of the leaders. All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked, and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and exposing the country to danger." Herman Goering said that, in the 1930's.
And there are a lot of right-wing people in this country who have employed this stategy for the last decade or so.
Don't get sucked in. It's a church.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Running on Fumes

Not in general. But with the recovery community. I tried to make it to my home group. I didn't get there until after 8, and that imbecile John from Staten Island was sharing the same crap he always shares, with an added twist; he actually complained about hostage takers that talk about the same thing for 15 minutes. I guess talking about it for 12 is all right... and then Don started in with something, and I was looking around and saw three or four other purveyors of nonsense waiting their turn, and I just said to myself, "This does nothing for me" and left. And I'm not sure when I'm going back.
I was thinking about the NA people I used to depend on, the ones that made my home group special and a highlight of my week. Aldo hardly ever goes to meetings anymore. Bill is in California, and had degenerated into a satyr of sorts before he left. 3.0 is in town, but doesn't go to meetings. Paul doesn't come around anymore. Even Jose, as much as he annoyed me at times, was trying to recover. Kathie comes about as often as I do. The only regulars left are Kate, John, and 2.0, and they aren't enough to offset the madness.
And where do I really stand with all this? I am in no danger of relapsing. I do not want to get high, and don't even entertain thoughts of it. On occasion, I do think about drinking, but I'm not going to do that with Sabrina still in the house. The other aspects of recovering aren't getting nurtured in the fellowship at all. My concept of God works for me, and I'm kind of plugging along with it, but the next step most people take is returning to a church. I've thought about that, too, and have considered at least trying to join the Redeemer Lutheran church, where Pastor Barb is and where the meeting is held. The Lutheran belief system is about as liberal as I've seen--but I simply do not beleive in Resurrection theology, only in the message of Jesus about living life in the here and now. It certainly creates limits on how fully I could feel a part of the church, knowing I do not share and never will share one of the core beliefs.
So what now? I've started writing again on the Bible, but Leviticus is not something that I am likely to find spiritual nourishment from; it is the embodiment of a concept of spirituality and a path to God that I have never found appealing or resonating. I'm becoming more and more concerned about the direction of the country and the world and have considered becoming more involved on that front, except I feel that not only is it futile (because the game is rigged) but might turn into something dangerous for my kids and me (these assholes, if you make yourself visible enough, are more than capable of taking one down). I'm not feeling terribly fulfilled at my job. My daughters are all growing up, and while I remain devoted to all of them, they are becoming more and more independent and their own people (Rachel drove here yesterday). I've even gone on dates and considered doing more on that front, but at this point in my life, it's difficult to get enthused about the process of getting to know yet another person inside out only to find them incompatible at a certain point in the process--so why start it?
And on and on. This is as good as a funk as I've been in for some time. I manage to write something on here every day, but even that is getting harder and harder. I need something to charge me up here. The only way it's going to happen is to keep it moving and see what happens--but I feel like I've entered the desert with no end in sight.
We will see.

Friday, August 13, 2010

Book Review: AMERICAN CONSPIRACIES

American Conspiracies is a walk through American history by none other than Jesse Ventura. Ventura captured the nation's attention a decade ago by parlaying a wrestling career into the governorship of Minnesota as an independent (and doing a decent job at it), and now makes a living doing all sorts of media endeavors. He looks at many incidents in American history that he says have substantial evidence of conspiracies that have not been brought to light. For many of them--the killings of Lincoln, the Kennedys, MLK, and Malcolm X-- he sheds some light on stories we already more or less know that we were lied to about; in particular, I did not know that King's relatives had brought and won a civil wrongful death suit that more or less won an admisssion that James Earl Ray did not kill him. Others, like Iran-Contra, the aborted coup against FDR in the 1930's, the October Surprise of 1980, and the stolen elections that resulted in two W Administrations, were not news to me, either.
But some were. Ventura poses the interesting proposition that Watergate was intentionally botched with a trail to Nixon so that he could be taken out of office, and gives a lot of supporting evidence to the idea. The chapter on Jonestown was illuminating; there were a lot of people there who were killed, who did not commit suicide. I had heard 9/11 conspiracy theories before, but never realized that there were so many anomalies--for instance, four of the alleged 19 hijackers have been found alive in other parts of the world. And it never occured to me before that fires underground for weeks after 9/11 logically couldn't have been from a fire that started on the upper floors. The strongest evidence against the idea is how incompetent the Bushies were after they got their War on Terror. But it certainly makes one wonder.
But the most frightening chapter is the one on the existing plans, at least according to the authors, for the crackdown on America by the elite. It's not terribly surprising if true; the rich and powerful always want more, and always have. But the technology revolution in my lifetime truly has led to some Orwellian features and possibilities. I've known deep in my bones for years that the political arena is simply a dog-and-pony show, but I've held out some hope that eventually it will right itself because of nature and/or people getting sick of the status quo enough to do something about it. But it will just be crushed...
The prevailing, overarching American self-image of my lifetime has been that we are somehow different than everything that has ever come down the pike before. But every leading state in the world throughout history eventually got to the point where we are--where the elite have taken over the state for their own aggrandizement, and the rest of the population are merely adjuncts to their way of life. It's happened here, and it isn't reversible.
One last point: Ventura points out a couple of things that fall into the blindlingly-obvious-once someone-else-points-it-out category. One is that every public figure that has been assassinated was under surveillance by some government entity for a long time beforehand; Ventura says that it was likely done to set up an assassination plot that would work and point the finger elsewhere. The second is that in some attempted assassinations--Wallace, Reagan-- the "normal" police procedures were followed, because they were what they appeared to be. With the other "lone nut" or "terrorist" events, though, evidence was destroyed or normal procedure dispensed with almost as soon as the bodies hit the ground--by governmental entities--and these are precisely the events that are the subject of the book. When normal procedure isn't followed, it's a sure bet that something fishy is going on.
Does it matter anymore? Ventura seems to think so. I have my doubts. I've made almost five decades into my life, and I'm past the point where I think anything I do is going to change the world for the better. I'm just hoping to be able to live out my life in relative peace. My children will have to make their own way in the world; I'm not going to leave any wealth or material goods. What I am leaving them is a well-developed capacity for independent thought, a capacity I hope they can use to decide and implement what is best for them and their children. And if that means living elsewhere, so be it.

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Dog Days

It is summer, and it is supposed to be hot. I know this. But I have to say that I cannot remember so many nights where the temperature never got below 70 degrees ever before. This summer has been a great one for growing things; it has been at least 80 every day for weeks, with a fair number of days around 90. I've never had so many squash and cherry tomatoes, and the cucumbers are having a good year.
Still, on the whole I don't think it's a good sign. Nature has endured a lot of insults this year, and the global warming trend is, to me, unmistakeable, with all the attendant long-term effects. What is more discouraging (and this is just one more subject that it's happening in) is the realization that there are precious few people willing to do anything about it. I look at the news, and there is a lot of claptrap and noise and dangerous crap going on about matters like illegal immigration and inflation fears and Socal Security and deficits, and next to nothing about really important stuff like the stupid wars, climate change, the dangerous amnesia with the oil leak, the large numbers of unemployed, and the fact that there is no recovery because there is no basis for it--a service economy cannot work if there is no money to be spent for a large number of people.
The short version of this is that it's hard getting up some days, because it isn't getting better and it's going to get a lot worse. I just banking paychecks, paying bills, and doing the best I can to prepare for a future that is going to be even more dismal, I suspect, than I can imagine. I've often thought of 70 as being my lifespan, but for the first time in my life, I'm beginning to suspect that I'm not even going to make it that far, and also that I might not mind going earlier. I don't like waking up with these thoughts (and it isn't helping that the neighbor's cat is meowing outside my door this morning; apparently she/he got locked in the hallway last night), but trying to sleep with an overburdened mind isn't doing it, either.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Book Review: JOURNAL OF THE PLAGUE YEAR

Journal of the Plague Year is an interesting little tome. Penned by Lloyd Constantine, it is a revealing window into just how screwed up the governing of the state of New York truly is. Mr. Constantine is a lawyer from New York City that has been very close to former governor Eliot Spitzer, and served as an aide in his administration. Some observations:
1) Constantine admits his arrogance in many places, and it only mitigates how annoying it is. This is someone who has an immense sense of entitlement and hubris, traits Spitzer clearly not only shared, but had in even larger quantities, at least before March 2008. More practically, there are times when the reader's attention is deflected from the matter he is writing about because of it.
2) The depicted portraits of many familiar names from the news are not pleasant. Nobody--Joseph Bruno, Sheldon Silver, Malcolm Smith, David Paterson, Jim Tedisco, Dean Skelos-- comes off looking like anything more substantial than a Tammany boss in the Tweed era, and most come off looking much worse than that. I was also intrigued by who was not mentioned. For someone who was Senate majority whip during the time was Spitzer was governor, it was instructive that our own senator, Libous, was not mentioned once. The only reason for voting for this guy would be his seniority and alleged clout, and he clearly has little if any on any level that matters.
3) The portrayal of His Accidency, Paterson, is particularly grating. Constantine claims that he knew Paterson was a lightweight since long before the 2006 election, and that Spitzer's gravest disservice of all to the electorate was choosing this guy as his running mate (and also resigning even after getting caught). As someone who is afflicted with a good dose of unchecked arrogance at times myself, I can affirm that while infuriating to deal with, arrogant people generally are correct, especially in their assessments of the shortcomings of others. Paterson has done more damage in two years than Spitzer ever could have done, and Constantine's account of strongly urging Spitzer to stay in office because a Paterson governorship would be disastrous rings true. He also notes that once ensconced in the governor's chair, Paterson lost what few virtues he had--to take one small example, a man known for his amazing memory and whose one virtue was scrupulously returning phone calls and keeping his word to meet and talk with people never scheduled a follow-up meeting with Constantine after the transition meeting in early April 2008, even though Paterson said he would. Again, it rings true.
4) I've been a tepid supporter of Cuomo because I figured he couldn't be worse. According to Constantine, he is worse. As Attorney General, he completely botched the State Police investigation, which resulted in even more long-term damage, for political purposes. He is even more a child of privilege and entitlement than everyone else in the book, dating back to the time when his father was (an ineffective) governor. A Cuomo Administration is not going to fix any of New York's problems. I only live ten miles from Pennsylvania, and it's looking better and better.
5) The naked ambition of all these guys is jarring. Everyone around Spitzer took it for granted that he was going to eventually be President, and part of the disdain for Cuomo is the knowledge that he, too, views the Governor's mansion as a step on the way to the White House. It's even more jarring when the upward mobility of most Americans, and certainly most New Yorkers, has been severely curtailed or is an impossible dream.
6) It is even more jarring how out of touch with the lives most of us lead these guys truly are. Constantine writes of his squash and tennis games with Spitzer, of having two or even three homes, of blithely assuming that he was not only qualified but deserved to be SUNY Chancellor, of the idea that increasing tuition at SUNY schools by $500/year (it ended up being more under His Accidency) was like buying a Big Mac for most of the kids that would be attending. I am sure that there are hundreds of details of his daily existence that Constantine and others in his class take for granted that at least 17 million of the 18 or so million people that live in New York will never experience once in their lives. It makes his--and Spitzer's and Cuomo's and Pataki's and whoever else has some claim to power--stated rationales for actions on behalf of us peons seem ridiculous--or they would, if not so sad and pathetic.
7) A forgotten controversy of Spitzer's first few months in office was the tumult over the pay of the judges of New York. Constantine writes that they had not recieved a pay increase in nine years, which is a somewhat defensible point. But the amount they are getting--$136K--is hardly WalMart stock boy pay, as he implies when he makes a remark that judges "can't afford" a $2.50 coffee at Starbucks. Really, Mr. Asshole? How do you think the guy making 20 or 40 thousand feels? And I suppose it's natural for a lawyer to assume that these people fill a needed function. My brother is a lawyer, and a rather altruistic one at that, and so I am less prone than most to bash lawyers--but to imply that they are the most necessary element of a functional and healthy society is ridiculous. They make nothing, they contribute little--they are basically outside the nuts and bolts of everyday life for most of us, and make a lot of money doing so. Shut up with your cries of poverty already, especially when you use the argument that they could be making so much more in private practice. If so, then go. Maybe the solution is to randomly appoint lawyers across the state as judges for three years at a time--no second terms, and make it a requirement of receiving a license to practice law that if your name comes up, you must serve your term.
8) And on a personal note, the individual most responsible for making Spitzer's first year a nightmare was Darren Dopp, his communications director. Constantine beleives that Dopp largely was a loose cannon, which I find very difficult to swallow entirely, and that he was not acting at the behest of Switzer. I do believe, though, that Spitzer did not initiate the inquiries into Bruno's use of state aircraft and transportation (Troopergate), and that Dopp was lying about it when he got caught. What makes it personal for me is that Darren Dopp grew up about twenty yards from me--his parents' house was two lots down and behind ours. He is five or six years older than me, and I didn't know him well, but Constantine's portrayal of him as aw-shucks face combined with naked ambition and a willingness to play unfair is one familiar to those in the neighborhood I grew up in. He was my brother's age or a year apart, and my brother never cared for him or trusted him.
Anyway, the book is interesting but depressing. If there was ever a time when New York worked, it was long ago and far away, and it isn't going to improve now. There is surprisingly little material on Spitzer himself, but since one of Constantine's complaints is that Spitzer became a different person when he became governor, maybe that is not surprising. It reminded me of how ineffective he really was as governor. To make a New Yorker long for Pataki is no small feat. And there is no really no hope for the future here, either. It is broken beyond repair.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Corporate Anti-Christs

In the last decade or so, I have become woefully aware that the giant corporations that dominate American life are the cause of most, if not all, of our national problems. When I was growing up, there were some veiled references to the monopolistic practices of IBM and AT&T, but in our area at least, where both were huge employers, the companies spread the wealth around a lot better than they do now. This was a rather prosperous area in the 1970's, which apparently not the case across the nation, and one reason why was that those two companies, and GE as well, that employed a large number of people here treated their workforces relatively well and fairly. When employees are paid well and treated well, everyone wins, because the money gets spent in a thousand different ways, each benefiting someone else.
Then IBM started to pull out, and the slide downhill began. It picked up speed with the entrance into the area of Wal-Mart in the early 1990's, and by Y2K the transformation around here was complete. This area is as dead as gangrenous flesh; the corporate manufacturers are more or less gone, and what is left are the service giants. They do employ a fair number of people, but they pay their employees poorly, they offer few if any benefits, and they put nothing back into the community
And most of all, MOST OF ALL, they offer crappy service. My current bete noir is Time Warner, offerer of RoadRunner Internet wireless Internet and the local cable packages. Both are expensive, lacking in basics, and installed and maintained with a haughty indifference to the needs of its consumers. I thought I was having problems with my wireless router, which flickers the signal so badly in the afternoons and early evenings that often I cannot stay online for more than five minutes at a time. But the problem, I have found from talking to other people, is not crappy equipment but a crappy signal, because it happens to everyone. I've called their alleged customer service, to be blandly told that the best they can do is send someone over in a four hour window days or even weeks from now. My view is that for the amount of money I get charged monthly for this crap, instead of lining the pockets of the executives of this corporation, they might use it to actually hire some workers that can make their services work better. I would have switched long ago to Verizon for wireless and Direct TV for cable, except they are just as bad.
That's the galling part of it: there is no other option that works. We are stuck with these unresponsive entities that exist merely for the enrichment of their executives. I am sure that at some point soon, I will get fed up enough to switch. But the point is that at some point, it has to end badly, doesn't it? How long can corporate America hold its customers in contempt in this way?
And then I remember my history, and the answer is not comforting: a lot longer than I have left to live. Revolutions take decades and centuries to brew, and we're still worried about straw men like illegal immigrants and mosques in Manhattan. If I live that long, I want to spend my last years in New Zealand, for a number of reasons, but the biggest one is that it's as far away from this corporate plantation as it is possible to get and still be on dry land.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Surprise

We had our miniature golf fundraiser yesterday. There were a few changes from last year, not all of them good. The most important one was that this year, we were up against the Spiedie Fest and NASCAR at Watkins Glen, and we had not much in the way of attendance. Unlike last year, Sabrina didn't have a friend with her and is a tween, and so we were only there for 90 minutes. So imagine my surprise when I got up this morning and went online and discovered, on the Channel 12 News, a picture of me and Sabrina playing golf. At least something positive came out of the day.
Sabrina is sleeping over Nancy's new house. Since Nancy moved, she's been asking me to have Sabrina stay over there with Charli, and finally, with softball over with, there was no reason not to have her go. I was a little surprised I was not invited to tour the new house, but I've learned not to take offense at those sort of things; Nancy is a little quirky in some ways. She is bringing Sabrina to the office this morning on her way to dropping off Charli at day care, and I will take Sabrina to her mother's house for the day.
Summer is officially winding down; there is less than a month now before school begins. I have another two weeks before I get a full week off; it's been a slow summer as far as my job, but I am sure when school starts, it will get crazy busy again.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Nothing's Going to Change

This week, the state finally passed its budget. I am not going to go into a blow-by-blow on that, and unlike previous years, money for what I do wasn't cut at the last minute, so I can't say I had a huge personal stake in it. But what I am finding distressing is not the prospect of Governor Cuomo (he has to be an improvement, doesn't he?) but rather the lack of outrage about the current legislators that allowed this mess to fester to this point. Where are the challengers to the incumbents? Not only here, but across the state--where are they? I just found out the name of the guy running against Libous this morning. Libous has been there 22 years, and while on balance he hasn't been awful, he certainly is part of politics-as-usual. Lupardo is running for a third term, and while she is more progressive than most, I still do not see an overwhelming committment to change the Albany culture out of her. I don't even think anyone is running against Finch... where is the outrage? Where are the people who are demanding to change the government? I know that they would not be likely to succeed. But is nobody willing to try? Good God.
I was convinced that the system was broken beyond repair last summer, when I found out that somebody from New York had gotten caught creating a legislative assistant's no-show job for one of their cronies at a salary of $121K. That's more money than I get from the federal government to run my program. I don't object to high salaries on principle; I think many more people should make much more money, and rich people ought to make far less. But when the state is cutting money for most of its programs, and people who depend on that money are starting to not make it and/or depart for elsewhere, you can't be hiring your friends for that kind of money--especially when they aren't actually doing anything with the position.
I've seen nothing in the year since that has made me feel any more optimistic. It's not going to change, and there just isn't the political will, as yet, among the voters to force changes. And so it goes on. After my kids are out of school--if it still is possible at that point--I'm out of here.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Book Review: QUEENPIN

Queenpin is another noir novel by Megan Abbott. Several classic themes are entertainingly explored-- the protege struggling for her own identity under the thumb of the benefactor, fatal weaknesses, the lure of the wild side and the criminal life. The twist is that these are women in a Las Vegas-type city in the 1950's, and that one is never sure what is around the corner. It is somewhat novel to see the storylines of a Greek tragedy played out by women in such a setting, but it works well and moves quickly. I like this author; she tells wonderful stories in less than 200 pages that expose the seamier side of human psychology in an entertaining and realistic fashion, without characters succumbing to stock motivations or "the devil made me do it" simplistic explanaitons.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Visitation Time

Today I am scheduled to see Rachel and Jessica for the first time in three weeks. However, it is now in jeopardy due to a call I got yesterday. The reason they come on Fridays now is because Jessica is in some sort of All-Star band that plays out of town every weekend, and has been since June. It normally works out all right, except for Sabrina not being able to see them (less of a concern since everyone is on Facebook). But the last two weeks, Sabrina's had softball tournaments and Fridays have been unavailable, and I am starting to become antsy a bit. I miss my daughters when I don't see them, and I'd rather not give up today's time if I don't have to.
There are many times when it's not cool to be the visiting parent. This is one of them. It's already becoming more difficult as they age; Jessica, while friendlier than ever, still isn't what I would call close, and Rachel is almost on the cusp of adulthood--two years from now, she will be preparing to go to college. Although I am established as a part of their life, I don't kid myself about my role; it isn't terribly large or important. I don't want it to be even less than it is, which is why I really don't like having to miss time with them.
And it gives me a bit of agita thinking about what I do. Why do parents take their kids for granted? I only slept for about 4 hours last night; one reason why was the 18YO upstairs was playing her music a little loud at 11 PM. I'm not 100% sure of what the story is up there but I do know that the mother spends a lot of time between 10 PM and midnight yelling at her, threatening to kick her out almost on a daily basis. According to my sources at Binghamton High School, the mother has never been happy with this kid, and has been threatening her with homelessness for years. To my eyes and ears, the kid doesn't seem to particularly irksome--maybe a little bold and mouthy at times, but what teenager isn't? But this mother is a very poor role model; there is a steady parade of men in her life (three since the end of April) and she doesn't act terribly mature (I'm not a fan of 45YOs who are out both weekend nights and some weekdays, too). It's kind of disconcerting when I come home for lunch some days and this women is sitting on her latest squeeze's lap on the deck upstairs--especially since the guy is both at least a decade younger than her and is apparently is a state worker, given that the (different) car he has every time has state plates on it. Our tax dollars at work...
I digress.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Book Review: SHAKE THE DEVIL OFF

Shake the Devil Off is, on the surface, an account of a notorious murder in New Orleans in late 2006-- Zack Bowen killed his girlfriend Addie Hall, then kept the body in the apartment for over a week and dismembered the corpse trying to dispose of it before killing himself by jumping off a roof of a tall hotel. But there were many different threads of national life that culminated in the murder and its aftermath, and Ethan Browne brilliantly captures all of them. In no particular order:
1) Bowen was a returned Iraq war veteran who clearly suffered from Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, among other ailments. The lack of mental health care for vets returning from the "wars on terror" is stark and disturbing; someone is quoted in the book as saying that eventually, post-war suicides are likely to eclipse the actual number of casualties in the conflicts. It is well-documented how the Veterans Administration and the military will go to huge lengths to try to avoid diagnosing soldiers with PTSD, because they don't want to pay for ongoing treatment, and the "treatment" they do grudgingly hand out is, by nearly all accounts, terrible and slipshod. This was policy set at the highest levels of the Bush Administration, and continues in Obama's.
2) The lack of care and concern for the actual soldiers in the military was present from the beginning of the Iraq war. There were a spate of news stories several years ago about the lack of military equipment the units were dealing with, but even more disturbing, basic necessities were also dispensed with, mostly because Donald Rumsfeld and other "planners" of the war didn't want to bother with details. Can you imagine fighting a war in a desert and only getting one bottle of water a day to drink? That's all Bowen's unit got on the way from Kuwait to Baghdad.
2a) A complaint of many military families is that the country doesn't seem to care much about "the troops." And by and large, they are correct, but it's not really an indication of cold-heartedness by the public. One unintended aspect of the volunteer army is a major disconnect between the military and the population whose interest it is supposedly defending. As one person in the book says, "America's not at war, the military is." Contributing factors have been the restrictions on media coverage; no one really knows what's happening over there, because the flow of information is limited and biased, for the most part. Then, too, there is the confusion of messages: after all, wasn't "mission accomplished" years ago? The insurgency is not neatly defined as a conflict, in any event, and it is tough to get enthused or supportive when the troops' "enemies" are dressed like and usually are civilians. One of the most poignant passages in the book was an interview with a returned vet from Bowen's unit, who spoke of driving across the road even now here, six years after returning home, when he sees a McDonald's bag on the shoulder, because in Iraq, those type of things often harbor roadside bombs. I can't imagine dealing with that sort of thing all day, every day, either there or here. No wonder PTSD is so widespread.
3) One underlying theme in the wake of stories like Bowen's and other returning vets who have committed violent crimes and suicides since returning home is that there is a distinct possibility that the wars continue because policy makers don't want the soldiers home. It is expensive to provide care for them, and they are damaged goods that cause havoc on the home front. Medieval Europe was beset by bands of marauding knights who only knew warfare, and one reason the Crusades were launched repeatedly and other wars started was to keep this predatory class occupied and away from home. While American military forces are not quite "predatory," the commitment to put the effort to tend to their needs in readjusting to civilian life is not there, and neither is an effort to find a way out of the conflicts, despite original rationales for fighting the wars long ago having been exposed as spurious at best and there being no clear sense of mission for continuing them. There is more than enough grounds to believe that it serves the ruling establishment's purposes to fight wars that make little or no sense because, in their view, it is easier than dealing with the challenges of taking care of the rank-and-file's needs when they come back to the homeland. If this sounds overly cynical, then review the sequence of events that led to the beginning of the Iraq war and tell me, in 2010, that the Bush Administration and elements of the military were not acting cynically at the time, and would not be capable of such callous treatment of men and women whose motivations were more or less honorable.
4) And if you need more evidence of the Bush crowd's callousness, in a month or so, as the 5-year anniversary stories of Katrina show up in the news, pay attention not only to what happened in late August 2005, but the incredibly shoddy and empty "rebuilding" effort that has taken place since. If one watched nothing but NFL telecasts, one would think that everything was fine in New Orleans because the Saints are Super Bowl champions. But New Orleans is not fine, far from it. It is a city where little has been rebuilt, that has a third of the population it did in 2004, and where the criminal element is dangerously close to being in charge. The city's murder rates are astronomical, and the most unbelievable statistic I have ever read came out of this book: in 2006, there were 159 murders in New Orleans--and zero convictions for murder in the city's courts. The police are ineffective, and elements of it are still as predatory as those in some of the more notorious Katrina stories, while the district attorney's office acts like some of the justice departments in places like Colombia and Bolivia--completely corrupt and/or incompetent, and serving masters other than the public. The endemic, horrifying everyday level of violence is indescribably high in New Orleans--more than twice of that of "Killadelphia," to name one prominent example. It is a wonder that anyone still lives there.
5) What Katrina (and its aftermath) and the ongoing fighting of the war without taking care of those who fight it embody is the near-total conversion of American governmental policy to a "you're on your own" mentality exhibited toward those it is ostensibly supposed to serve. George Carlin, before he died, was increasingly vocal and eloquent on the subject of the "ruling class" in this country, and he couldn't have been more right. The government exists to help corporate America and the rest of the haves get even more, and the rest of us are given just enough to ensure a supply of obedient workers. The book was written before the Gulf oil leak, but that is yet another example of the indifference and the callousness which the Haves feel toward most of us--THEY DON'T CARE about us. And they're not going to. Whether the population ever has enough to revolt is an open question; it's going to be hard when there is a substantial element of the population that listens to the Becks and Sheriff Joes and Palins and Tea Partiers (and more than a few Democrats, too) and is willing to look anywhere but our own predatory class for scapegoats. It is sickening that the only trouble spot that received instant and overwhelming response of money and effort in the last twenty years in the halls of Congress was the massive bailout of Wall Street. It is government of the rich, by the rich, for the benefit of the rich. The rest of us? To quote Carlin, "They don't give a fuck about you." I don't know how much more evidence is needed--but one element of the fuckover strategy is the raising of and encouragement of ignorance. I don't see it turning around in my lifetime, frankly.
Anyhow, the book is riveting and interesting from cover to cover. There are flaws--the murder victim comes off as someone no one in their right mind would give a shit about, which couldn't have been right, and I think in the interest of portraying Bowen fully, not enough attention is paid to his narcissistic attitude toward fatherhood; he did next to nothing as a father for the last two years of his life--but on the whole, this was one of the most compelling reads I've had this year.

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

In the Books

This weekend was the second of Sabrina's all-star team two tournaments, and they won this one. All told, her team was 7-2 over two tournaments, and she herself played pretty well, batting over .500 in the second tournament and doing well in the field. Her confidence, which was a little shaken at the end of the season, is back, and she has a little bit better idea of what she needs to improve upon, as well.
I liked the experience. I now see what's possible when there are coaches dedicated to softball; these kids all took a lot of positives away from the three weeks. I ended up with some respect for both coaches that I did not have before; Todd is an unrelentingly positive teacher-type, and Anna, although not warm and fuzzy, has eyes wide open, and Sabrina very much moved into her positive categories, which is only going to help in the future.
And Sabrina liked the experience, too. For one, she likes playing, and the season was over a month longer than it was the previous two years. For two, she was able to make friends with virtually every kid on the team, even the more difficult ones, while retaining the ones she had. In particular, she became closer to the team's two pitchers, who are both also entering sixth grade at the middle school. For three, she has a renewed appreciation for what's possible and what isn't. She surprised me by asking Todd, when we turned in uniforms, what would happen if she tried out again; she found out she is likely to go to Perna, which was a little disappointing to her because she clearly was trying to figure out how to get on BTA, but she also befriended two Perna kids (including the one pitcher) during the tournament, and she is at least thinking about it. I also understood a little more clearly that for all my issues with the coach and the way the team is run, she also has a third of her conscious life invested in the team she is on, and she and Steinbrenner's two daughters are friends. I made some tentative steps toward burying the hatchet with Steinbrenner, mentioning that I was preparing for next year to a degree; he didn't say much, which tells me he's as sick of me as I am of him.
And for four, I am at least going to attend the coaches' meeting in the wintertime. While Rebecca's mother, the coach of Post 1645, insists that there are going to be new teams added next year, Todd was not so sure. I did also pick up that Steinbrenner is now interested in some of the BAGSAI (Binghamton Area Girls Softball Association, Inc) for his kids, and he may end up taking them out of City League. But I think it is more likely he is going to keep them in; as an elected city official, with reelection next year, I just don't think he's going to take that sort of chance with his image. So all options remain on the table.
And for five, I am investigating BAGSAI for Sabrina, too. It's not free, like the city leagues are, but it is definitely a way to improve her skill set. She is going to have to deal with Lily, the other catcher who is a year older than her, for the next several years. She wants to be the best catcher in the area, which is going to be hard to do if you're not the best catcher on your own team. Todd was very encouraging, but he also is super positive about everything, so I am not sure how much was exhortation and how much was real. I do know that for an 11YO, she is damn good, and as has been the case her entire life, she ended up accepting and embracing the challenges in a new situation. Even in three weeks, she learned how to get up out of the crouch a lot faster, and now moves as close to the plate as she can without the batter hitting her, which was a major flaw before July. She's getting there.
Anyhow, there will be ongoing developments in this area. There is a definite divide between kids who have a future with this game and those who don't, and Sabrina is now firmly in the former group. It's becoming a year-long thing. I'm not sure it's a totally positive development, but it's reality. And we are embracing it.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Book Review: THEY WENT THAT-A-WAY

That Went That-a-Way is one of those books in the front section of Barnes and Noble that I picked up some time ago. It's an account of how about a hundred people of varying degrees of fame and renown died, written, before he died himself, by semi-famous millionaire Malcolm Forbes. That accounts for the large number of wealthy socialites throughout American history who make the book, as people tend to write about what they know, but a good number of famous historical figures are included, and most of the tales are interesting (for instance, the ancient Greek playwright Aeschylus was killed when he was sitting talking with someone and eagle flying overhead apparently thought his bald head was a rock; birds that catch and eat turtles drop them on rocks to separate the shells from the body, and this one dropped the turtle on Aeschylus' head). The book is a breezy way to kill a few hours, and the reader will know more than he did when he picked it up.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Book Review: POINT OMEGA

When I first saw Point Omega in the library, I thought, "Why not?" Don DeLillo has won great renown over his career, it was only 116 pages, and the premise as outlined on the jacket--a filmmaker trying to convince an intelligence analyst to make a film-- seemed interesting. I will be the first to tell you that, having read the book in a day, I didn't get it. There are basically three plot elements--the filmmaker, subject, and filmmaker's daughter in the desert waxing philosphical; the daughter disappears; and these vignettes are bookended by an odd sort watching a "Psycho" museum display all day every day. Little is explained, little makes sense--which perhaps is the veiled point, that nothing in the Iraq war is as it seems or makes sense. But that's just a guess, and honestly I can't say that I found this book interesting enough to be disappointed.

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Book Review: SEASONS OF SHAME

One of the reasons I like to read older books once in a while is to see the difference between what was considered important in different times and places, and how what the authors were writing about has been addressed in the intervening time. Robert Yeager's Seasons of Shame is such a book. Subtitled "The New Violence in Sports," it was published in 1979, and it is not only concerned with the violence and injuries endemic in American sports at the time, but also the culture surrounding them. And it is a pretty interesting look inside a time capsule of American life:
1) It is somewhat jarring to read "HEW" officials quoted at length. The federal Health, Education, and Welfare Department became Health and Human Services long ago, when we as a nation decided "welfare" was a dirty word.
2) In the wake of the recent World Cup, there were many commentators in the media who openly wonder if it was the seminal event that is going to make soccer "take off" in the United States. There is a passage in this book that talks of the explosive growth of youth soccer leagues in the late 1970's and the "inevitable" establishment of soccer as a major sport in this country sure to follow it as these youth matured. Of course, since the section talked mostly about how competitive and violent these leagues were and what jerks the soccer parents and coaches were, maybe the generation got turned off the game...
3) The focus on the damage that was done to the youth playing the games, especially foofball, seems to have been addressed. Equipment has been made safer; artifical turf is hardly used anymore; some of the practices (like spearing) are no longer prevalent; and blatant outside-the-rules cheap-shotting is instantly cracked down on. I don't have the statistics in front of me, but the thousands and thousands of paralyzed and crippled players don't seem to be out there.
4) The drug use rampant in sports in the 1970's does not seem to be on the same level anymore. I am not sure how widespread amphetamine use in both professional and amateur sports now, but it is definitely much less than in the 1970's. Steroid use did spike upwards for years, but now is recognized as a major problem. Use of recreational drugs among athletes still happens, but is much less prevalent than at that time.
5) There was a chapter that largely focused on the mayhem in football in that era. Two of the figures were discussed in some detail. Mean Joe Greene, whose public image has been defined for 35 years by a Coke commercial, but in his time and place, he was a pretty dirty player (he was, after all, "Mean Joe"). And the Stingley/Tatum hit was written about extensively, which was ironic since Jack Tatum died this past week. His parlayzing of Darryl Stingley was mentioned frequently in the news this week, but he was also eulogized as a good player and a "hard hitter" rather than as part of the "criminal element" that was put on trial in the NFL at that time. Interesting how memories evolve...
6) The four major sports have all changed drastically in thirty years, all having taken steps to curb endemic violence in the games. Baseball has done much to eliminate beanball wars, and while purists decry the reluctance of millionaires to take a chance on hurting another millionaire's chances of earning a living, I don't think there's any doubt that the game has been the better for it. Football is rigorously policed now for violent and dirty hits; again, there is a lot of complaining about it from some quarters, but the game is no doubt the better for it. Safety is better, too; I can't remember a paralyzing injury or close call since the Mike Utley and Dennis Byrd injuries in the early 1990's. Basketball, as well, errs on the side of caution; any punches and coming off the bench are rigidly and strongly punished. There have been some ugly incidents, such as the Artest melee, but on-court violence has markedly decreased since the 1970's. And hockey is hardly the same sport that it was circa 1977; fighting has decreased markedly, brawling is extinct, and assaults on ice are as well.
7) Fan violence has been curbed, as well. No one comes on the field anymore, and when they do, they get the shit beaten out of them. Fights in the stands are also less common. In this area, at least, it isn't hard to figure out the reason; restricted sales of or outright bans on alcohol.
I liked the book also because it was the world I grew up in being portrayed. I sometimes tend to think of the 1970's as the golden age, because national trends in political and economic life have gone south since 1980. But this book is a reminder that the conservatives have a point, too; there was plenty of disorder and self-indulgence in the 1970's that, looking back, was not pretty and caused major problems of its own. Perhaps it was merely that monumental self-centeredness of the baby boomer generation give free rein? I know I can certainly live with not seeing a guy hit a pennant-winning home run having to fight through thousands of fans to cross home plate like Chris Chambliss did in 1976 ever again.