Tuesday, March 27, 2012

More Ominous News Re News Corp

A good candidate for "single most odious person" during my life span is Rupert Murdoch. His fifty-plus year terror walk through the world of media corporations has, on balance, directly or indirectly caused immeasurable changes in our world, and few of them, as time pass, can be characterized as being for the better. But the empire, formerly as inevitable and rapacious as the march of the Mongols across Asia eight centuries ago, is starting to grind to a halt over a couple of developments in the United Kingdom. I mentioned the first in this space in the fall; Murdoch's minions had been caught hacking into the voicemail systems of witnesses in court cases and subjects of news stories, which led to resignations and then criminal charges. But yesterday, from across the pond, came another revelation along the same lines. Apparently, Murdoch's News Corp had used its own online security subsidiary to crack the security codes of a rival media company--a company that went under the waves due to an inundation of pirated content, and also a company that was the only serious possible competition in the field of pay-TV to Sky, the British version of Direct TV, the attempted acquisition of which by News Corp has been the catalyst for all those revelations in the last six  months.
I have to be on the road in a little while and thus do not have a great deal of time to expound on this subject this morning. But this is serious stuff. This is yet more proof, as if it were needed, that the people in charge of Fox and many newspapers in the United States will Stop...At...NOTHING to get what they want. This is the most ruthless outfit of our lifetimes; there really are no limits to what Murdoch will do in order to accomplish his aims. If laws don't matter, then antiquated notions like fairness, decency, and morals certainly do not. These are the people who are responsible for the information that a fair number of Americans have come to rely on to inform their world views and their voting decisions. People are going to do what they are going to do, but in the interest of balance, and in the small hope that at least some of them are being unwillingly misled, it is fair to point out that a great deal of evidence has already accumulated that these people will stoop to virtually any depth to get what they want, up to and including the knowing presenting of false information to buttress their positions, and the resorting to Nixonian "dirty tricks" to undermine not only their opponents' credibility, but their very viability and ability to exist.
At the very least, it should raise questions on anything that is presented through any "news" forum of theirs. As I said, I don't have a lot of time this morning, but already the machine is starting to roll out in full force regarding the Trayvon Martin case in Florida, for example. No media source should really be trusted without any reservation, but at least most of them are trying to be as accurate as possible. Anything associated with a Murdoch outfit cannot be reasonably accorded that presumption any longer.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Doctor's Visit

Today is (hopefully) the final post-operation visit to the foot surgeon. I've been able to wear foot loafers and slippers since the last visit three weeks ago, and the incisions on both feet have healed more or less completely (just two Herman Munster scars on the top of both big toes). I have not done any running or serious exercise yet, and I am not sure I will have the OK to do so after today, but five weeks after the surgery, I am have returned to more or less normal function, it seems.
Did it do what it was supposed to do? We'll see what her professional opinion is on the subject, but to my eye and thinking...sort of. The right foot/toe is great, the best it's been since I was in college. I don't have the flexibility of a dancer, but the big toe does have much more flexibility than it did (and is gaining more by the day), it is noticeably smaller than it was, and it is entirely pain free. The left foot/toe--not so much. There was a bigger bunion there to begin with, and it doesn't appear to have been reduced in size a great deal. There is a bit more flexibility in the joint, but not as much as the other side. It doesn't constantly ache like it used to, but I am certainly aware of it a lot, especially when I walk. It snaps and cracks a lot more than the other side, and isn't as easy to manipulate manually. This morning, it actually hurts a little, as the toe feels like it needs to be "cracked" like a knuckle and walking around hasn't been able to make it happen; I'm hoping that when the junior doctor there moves it around, something will give. The left foot also hurts some days on the outer side; I am not sure what that is about, whether it was a temporary result of new distributions of weight or another problem that needs addressing. Up until Saturday, I would have said the latter, but it didn't hurt yesterday and isn't this morning, so maybe it was just a bruise or an adjustment phase.
I am glad that my recuperative powers remain what they have been my entire life. I've always healed quickly from any injury I've ever had, and pretty much any illness, too (other than mononucleosis. I never knew it was possible to be so exhausted that I could not get myself out of a chair, and for three months after I got out of the hospital with it, there was a point in the day where it was literally like running out of gas, when at a moment's notice, my body more or less shut down and I had to not only rest, but sleep for at least a couple of hours. More than once after I went back to work at my father and I's business, I got as far as the car, but couldn't make it out of the parking lot without having to shut it off and nap). More people than I ever thought have had this procedure done on at least one toe, and a few have had it done on both, and almost all of them have said something about how quickly I've been able to get around without limping or assistance, and how normally I'm getting around at this point in time. I don't feel like I've been doing anything special; hell, after walking around in more or less constant achy pain for twenty-five years, the fact that it isn't there all day every day anymore is a great incentive to keep pushing the limits of what I can do. But even more than that, I'm not sedentary by nature. I'm not one of these guys that needs to go out in the wilderness every weekend, or is constantly on the move, but I've never been a couch potato, either. I've gotten along on five to six hours of sleep my entire adult life, and that isn't changing, either (and the last week or so, I've been getting less, some of it due to seasonal allergies and some to stress. The stress should be alleviated some after tomorrow, when a meeting I've had some reason to be apprehensive about takes place. But the allergies... I tried to do without Benadryl last night, and slept for about three hours all told, in twenty-minute bursts, it seemed, although I finally had some dreams after 2:30, which apparently is the deep sleep the body needs. I'm not going to mess around tonight, not with a pretty good drive ahead of me tomorrow).
And I should be able to wear regular shoes again. And even though the world does not turn on my needs and wants, I think it is amazing that the entire five-week period that I have been limited in my choice of footwear has coincided perfectly with the warmest five-week stretch between Valentine's Day and now that anyone can ever remember, and with relatively little precipitation, too. Tonight, the temperature is supposed to go down to 20, and daytime highs for at least the next week are going to be in the 40's and 50's, with lows in the 20's--but given that I should be able to wear regular shoes, I don't care how cold it gets after today. Just another reminder that I get looked out for on a deeper level, and that I must be doing better in eyes that truly matter than I feel like sometimes.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Random Notes, Another Weekend

1) Yesterday's music festival for the all-county bands really was something to not only listen to, but also to see. I'm not positive, but I think every school district in the county sends kids to this, and it really is fantastic to see the entire Anderson Center filled with parents of all sorts while an orchestra of middle-schoolers is on stage playing classical music. The weekend is exhausting for the kids; my daughter, who had not worn heels for more than ten minutes in her life before yesterday, could barely walk when she left the auditorium yesterday, and she understandably does not want to see her viola for a while. But she's not sorry she took part, not by a long shot. And even though it does get annoying for the directors and conductors to come to the microphone, I can't say that they are wrong for doing so. All of them made sure that the parents were appreciated not only for their presence, but their support for their kids the year round. All of them also made appeals for parents to vote on their school budgets, and to try to ensure that music departments remain an important part of a school's priorities. As much as I would like to dismiss this as alarmist, it isn't, especially since the only time budget cuts seem to get anyone's attention is when administrators start talking about cutting sports teams. In the overall picture of education, sports, as much as I enjoyed playing them in high school and am glad that my daughter plays them, are not important compared to actual academics and music education. To be able to play an instrument and be a part of a band requires much more of a youth in the way of academic development than any sports program does, and it has much more applicability in the world when the youth becomes an adult as well...wow, did I just write those sentences? I think I'm going to get my membership in the Old U-E Jocks Club pulled this year.
2) One of the things I wondered how I would react to as I got older was the interest that boys would take in my daughters. Obviously, I am more aware of Sabrina's interactions in this area than my older two, but the day has been coming--actually has been here--for some time now. I won't be the embarrassing father type, but apparently two of them are now involved with other kids. One was actually brought to me to meet before the kids went jogging together (that's an interesting way of spending time, one that I can honestly say I never thought of); the other is a kid that I also know and approve of. I'm crossing my fingers, but if this is how it's going to go, I will be more than happy.
3) And at least neither of them wear hoodies, so apparently they won't be targeted by law-abiding citizens for accosting while carrying junk food and assassinated for walking on a street. Geraldo Rivera, who I thought only existed in archives and in deep freeze (kind of like the smallpox virus) these days, surfaced again a few days ago (on Fox, of course) suggested that the kid lynched in Florida a month ago somehow bore some responsibility for his own death because he was wearing a hoodie. Although I do not think "profiling" is necessarily wrong in all cases (for instance, given what has happened around the world in the last couple of decades, I don't have an issue with people who appear to be of Middle Eastern descent being paid more attention to at airport check-in), I do think that pretending that the Martin case is about anything other than race is totally despicable and wrong. As if more proof were needed, the reaction by police in that town has spoken volumes; they really ought to stay away from the press, because every time they open their mouth, their deep-rooted and total racism seeps out like water from a saturated sponge. I'm not going to go off on a lengthy piece on this subject today, because I write about it fairly often. But I do fear for this country's future in many ways, and I honestly believe that there are going to be, at some point, riots and possibly even insurrection coming at some point to come. The way that African-Americans are treated by both law enforcement and white people in general is still, despite undeniable movement forward during my lifetime, generally awful. And there is only so much of that that can be taken before response occurs.
4) The nation heard from another formerly relevant conservative mouthpiece this week. I half-thought Rivera was dead, but I really thought Pat Robertson was dead; he was nearing sixty years old when he ran for President when I was in my twenties. And, taking up an issue from the first thing I wrote about, he said that since the Denver Broncos traded Tim Tebow this week after Payton Manning signed with them, they "deserved" to have bad things happen to them, like Manning getting hurt. This kind of crap would get challenged in a seedy bar, much less coming from the head of a fairly significant and large religious congregation and one of the most visible clerics in the country. It is flabbergasting to me that any person who allegedly follows any tenet of Christianity as defined by the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth could publicly hope for divine retribution for anyone, with the suggested means being physical injury to someone. But even more amazing to me is that a reverend/minister/man of the cloth actually seriously believes that the Almighty would have the slightest bit of interest in American football teams' roster decisions. My command of the New Testament's lesser works isn't what it is of the gospels--but I definitely think I would have recalled if Paul or the apostles had been passing comments on the "Gladiator of the Week" or the 224th Olympiad. The theology of Robertson and some of these other Protestant sects is a never-ending source of fascination--and revulsion; there is this compelling awfulness about the way its proponents prioritize their deity's concerns. Truth really is stranger than fiction; there is no way that a preacher in any novel could be depicted as saying and believing the things Robertson has said over the past forty years, because no one would think it plausible. And to think that this way was once a serious contender for the office of the Presidency of the United States, and that hundreds of thousands, if not millions, cast their votes for him in primaries.
5) And speaking of sports, the ride ended for the Orangemen last night at the hands of Ohio State in the Elite Eight. Although I actually projected Ohio State as my national champion on my most serious brackets, it still was galling to watch. Syracuse didn't have an important player in foul trouble pretty much all year--yet yesterday had to put three of their players on the bench with 13 minutes to go in the game because they had four fouls each. It was a horribly officiated game; Ohio State has some reason to bitch, too (Aaron Craft had no fouls at halftime, and ended up fouling out; I saw each of the five fouls, and every one of them was a very questionable call). But all in all, it was hard to find fault with the team. They persevered in the midst of some of the most distracting issues any team has faced in decades, and managed to win three tournament games without their most indispensable player. I find it hard to believe that Fab Melo would not have kept Jared Sullinger in hand yesterday. Is no Final Four a disappointment? Sure. But does it take the edge off what was really a great year? No, it doesn't. You shouldn't have to feel bad about a 34-3 season.
And the Rangers are responding to the challenge of the Penguins. They are struggling, but winning the games they should win as the stretch run commences. This is already the most successful team since the 1994 champions, and with seven games left, they have a (tiny) chance to set a franchise record for points still (112 points, set in an 84-game season). If they finish first, they are likely to draw one of three teams that they have had problems with all season--Buffalo, Washington, or Ottawa. If they finish fourth, they are likely to draw Philadelphia, whom they have not lost to all season. But still, it would be very damaging to lose the top slot in the conference after having had it for four months. Their next three games are at Minnesota (which has been the worst team in the league for three months), at Winnipeg (a tough place to play, but a team they've handled easily all three games they've played this year), and at home against Montreal (already eliminated from the playoffs, even though the Rangers have somehow lost twice to them this year). If they can get six points out of those games, they should be able to survive the final week, especially since they have a chance to directly affect all four teams they play against's final position in the standings. Boston probably is going to hold off Ottawa for the division title, but might not hold off Florida for the two seed, and losing to the Rangers could make that scenario occur. Pittsburgh obviously is chasing the Rangers, but the Flyers haven't lost contact with the Penguins, either--or the Rangers for that matter, five points down with seven games to go. And the Rangers meet Washington two weeks from today in the last game of the season in a game that could quite possibly determine whether it is Washington's last game of the season--and if they win, they would likely get the Rangers in the first round.
Boy, it's been a long time since I cared this much about hockey. And I'm loving it.

Saturday, March 24, 2012

A Special Weekend

For the first time since last summer, Sabrina is here on a Saturday morning. Today is the annual Broome County Music Educators Association music festival, and, after a year's hiatus, she is returning to it, this time as a member of the Binghamton 7-9 Orchestra. Since the rehearsal was at the high school from 4 until 8:30 last night, and since she has to be at the Anderson Center  at BU by 8:30 this morning, I told her mother earlier in the week that it made no sense to take her to Endicott last night, only to have to fetch her back again ten hours later. Her mother was not happy, but being she asked me for money twice this week claiming she didn't have enough money to put gas in her car to go apply for jobs at places that were hiring (as she took drags off cigarettes--but I digress), she agreed, after I said she could have Sabrina for a few days during the week she is going to be off school in the near future--although I am sure that there will be softball practice and I will end up having to run out to Endicott every day anyway.
Sabrina has doggedly stayed with her viola much longer than I really anticipated, and I honestly do not know how much she really likes it. I think she likes playing it, but she doesn't really like practicing, and certainly does not like these mass rehearsals that she goes through every year. But this year, she didn't seem to mind, and I found out why last night when her Facebook status changed to "in a relationship"-- it's the same kid she first started "dating" in a very tentative way when she first got to West last year, a kid who plays three or four instruments well and is as into band as she is into softball. I have nary a qualm about this development, or even with her interest in boys in general; she is thirteen and it's that time of her life. And honestly, I like this kid somewhat better than one of the others she's been interested in over the last year or so.
I am beginning to see that, compared to most kids her age, Sabrina has a very wide and varied set of acquaintances. She seems to get along well across several "groups" in her school. She still stays in touch via social media with some of her friends from elementary school. She has several connections among the girls that her older half-brother hangs around with. She is starting to pal around a little with my 18YO niece who now lives at my mother's while she attends Broome. She made some friends among the JV and varsity softball players in the last month. And she is very familiar with and friendly with a lot of women  --and a few men that are my friends--in the fellowship. The candlelight meeting is two blocks from the high school, and so after picking her up at 8:30, I stopped back in to catch the end of the meeting--and she worked the room like a rock star, getting big hugs from Misty and getting introduced to Sarah and sitting by Kathie and getting a wink and wave from Aldo and a few others, no doubt, that I missed. She goes to the Thursday meeting every week with me now, and is "buds" with Misty and Amanda because of it (she is closer to their age than I am). The result of all this exposure is a kid with an unusual sense of perspective for thirteen years of age. She not only looks older than thirteen, but almost always acts it, too. As she gets older, she resembles her mother when she was younger more and more; she has my eyes and is closer to my skin tone than her mother's white latex, but in most other ways she resembles Shannon. It's really like having a young adult around about half of the time (I would insert a catty comment about her mother here, but I'm trying to get away from that...) But I have no reason to complain at all about my child and the way she is growing up.
And I am glad in a more basic way. I have radically changed my life in many ways over the last decade, hoping that the end result would be exactly this: a well-adjusted, relatively happy and grounded adolescent. I am far from out of the woods, but I honestly feel that no matter what happens from here, she's off to a real good start in many ways that neither I or especially her mother was--her mother's childhood was such an abomination that it appears increasingly likely that it is a ball and chain she will never free herself from. It sounds rather crude, but when I realized the exact nature of the baggage that I had carried into adulthood from my childhood, I was determined to not make the same mistakes (or what turned out to be mistakes; I think my parents' motivations were good, but they were a product of their environments and upbringing, too) that had turned out to have such a role in my own story. And I haven't; I made a commitment to do things differently and to emphasize different priorities.
And the results have borne out that this was a better way to go. The end of the story is still far away, hopefully, but I feel confident that she at least is not starting out with as much crap as I did, much less her mother. And the varied interests, the general happiness, and the qualities that she exhibits regularly are proof that the changes, the effort, the commitment to a different way of life was worth it. It wasn't easy, and still isn't. But I have never experienced a more rewarding feeling that the one I get every day, knowing that I have done right by my child and that she is much better equipped to handle adolescence and eventually adulthood than I was.

Book Review: KILLER MOVE

I picked up Michael Marshall's Killer Move because it looked mildly interesting, from the notes on the book jacket. To very briefly sum up, a real estate broker begins to have some weird stuff happen to him, which, as the story unfolds, turns into a grisly nightmare that leaves a trail of dead bodies and uncovers a vast conspiracy of rich people who mess with people's lives as a game--with the twist being that one of them has turned into a completely psychopathic serial killer. which complicates the game much more than usual. The details are not important; this is becoming a widespread motif in American fiction that is itself an example of the deep seated human need to believe in conspiracy theory to has characterized human society since the first groups of upright austropithacenes started hanging out with each other.
There are three main issues I had with this book. One is that the main character, the "victim," is not likable; he is a grasping, shallow, unabashedly materialistic example of petty ambition. I think that the travails he endures are supposed to make him more sympathetic, but at least for me, the changes never took hold. The second is that, as seemingly always is the case in this sort of book, the body counts that accumulate without drawing attention are complete fantasy. The third is that the author writes in the style of Michael Connelly, among others, in that the narrative switches from first person to descriptive from chapter to chapter. Connelly can pull it off, but few others can, and Marshall, at least in this book, isn't anywhere near as skilled at it as Connelly is; it's frankly distracting and annoying at times.
I normally find it a pleasant surprise when a novel like this gets near the end and I learn that the resolution is something I did not see or even sense coming, yet was artfully concealed in the story all along. This book's ending really couldn't be seen coming, and even after the "hero" helpfully connects the dots by musing out loud, the story still didn't make a lot of sense. I will say that it was engrossing, once the story got underway; the middle half of the book was interesting and moved right along. But it was slow to pick up speed, and the ending really was disappointing. I'm not sorry I read it--but I would be if I had bought it, at least in hardcover. If it makes it to paperback, it might be worth reading on a long weekend at the beach or something like that.
As always, clicking on the book title in the post takes the reader to amazon.com, for more reviews and purchasing information.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Winter, We Hardly Knew Ye

We're three days into spring on the calendar here, but the winter "season" this year lasted an astonishingly short period of time. I really do not remember a significant snowfall; it's the first year I ever remember that there were no snow days at all for Binghamton kids. It's been around 75 degrees for daytime highs all week, and no let-up is in sight. All of the spring flowers are blooming, the bushes and trees are filling in their leaves, and I have been severely tempted to begin planting.
I'm not going to; a look at the forecast for the week, with one night supposed to go down to 33, shows me that there are still some cold nights ahead. But I really think we are done with the snow and ice. We've had a bunch of mild winters in the last decade, but this one is the mildest I remember in all my life.
And the unspoken question in a lot of minds is, is it a result of "global warming?" I think that for those of us my age and older, it's become impossible to be unaware that more and more winters are warmer and less snowy than those forty years ago. It isn't like we are walking around in shorts and sandals in January, but I don't recall breaking out one of the winter jackets I own at all this past year. And when things like this start happening more and more frequently, well... it's the result of global warming. There are always going to be those that won't admit it, for whatever reasons, but there's a Flat Earth Society, too.
And nothing is being done about it, either here or too many places overseas, as well. Part of the reason is the capricious nature of weather; global warming is going to be a tough sell in Europe this year after one of the coldest winters ever in most of that continent. But the climate change wonks have been saying for years that one of the signs of climate change is the frequency of extremes--stronger storms, exceptionally warm and exceptionally cold spells, huge precipitation amounts and startlingly long droughts. I'm not a Weather Channel watcher or anything, but I can tell give you a few examples of each of them off the top of my head.
In other words, even if you pay only cursory attention, you can't miss the trend. And the longer we go pretending that it's still an open question, the harder it will be to make the necessary changes. My gut belief is that it's too late, that we are eventually ended for radical change on a planetary scale that is going to simply make large swaths of the earth uninhabitable for human beings. I'm hopeful that it won't be in my lifetime, but I'm pretty sure that it will be the case by time my kids are approaching old age--if they even get to grow that old.
But a mere 35 years ago, I was home for two weeks in February of my eighth grade year because it was so cold that the school district was afraid that they were going to run out of fuel oil, and the temperature never once rose above freezing in the month of January 1977. The reservoir on Taft Avenue froze in early December; we were playing hockey all of Christmas break on it. It never came close to freezing over this year, and the years when it does now, it is well after Christmas before it happens. There is an occasional anomalous year like last winter--but the new "normal" is a lot closer to this winter. And I can't say I like it. Aside from stuff like hockey, I really think snow pack and snow melt is a lot better for the environment than rain, in the wintertime. It distributes water more evenly in the spring, and things grow better when they're not starving for water three weeks after they bloom. Another reason to not plant yet.
But most of all, it's disruptive to what I've come to regard as "normal." I feel like I wintered in North Carolina or something, like winter was never really here. If I wanted weather like this, I would have moved down there years ago. I like the snow and ice (in moderation); I like bundling up and snowball fights with my kids and watching squirrels and cats do their tango in slow motion through snowy yards. I didn't get to see that this year. Small losses like that add up to a general decline in the quality of life.

Thursday, March 22, 2012

One Disease, A Bunch of Different Symptoms

I had really been looking forward to my home group for several days this week, and it was made even better by the fact that tonight I was not relating a tale of personal disaster. There was a lot of good sharing around the room tonight--you tend to get that when you have a mixture of people with a lot of and very little clean time. And two things that kept getting brought to the forefront of my mind were 1) early recovery for me; many things shared were events that had equivalents in my life in late 1998 and early 1999, and 2) just how the core essence of my personal disease of addiction manifested itself in several different ways other than my full-blown crack addiction. I shared a few pivotal experiences of my first year that seem to be universal or nearly so. One of the newer members shared about how he had found himself in a bar staring at a drink for some time before hightailing it out of there, and it reminded me of a few times in the first year when I came face to face with my drug of choice--the time when I got my furniture out of storage and found 12 stashed bags of crack, which I shared about (I ended up tossing them off the Clinton Street Bridge, and then parking in the then-Sheraton parking lot , scrambling down to the riverbank, and following the package as long as it was afloat, vainly hoping the current would carry it to shore again as I cursed, "What did I just do?), and the time when I deliberately sought out a seat in a meeting, just about running someone over to get to it, next to a real good-looking woman I knew with about two days clean with a stem burn on her lip thinking that, if she wasn't real serious about staying clean, I was going to subsidize her relapse that night (she was, as it turned out, dead serious about staying; although she ended up becoming a member of the other fellowship, the last I knew she had many years clean, and for all I know may still be), which I haven't shared about in years. I have had other close encounters-- I found two bags under the jungle gym when I was playing with Rachel and Jessica in South Side Park, and one time going to a house where the curious, unmistakable mixed odor of exhaled crack smoke and unwashed human body that serves as the scent marking the proximity of the truly addicted was absolutely overpowering. It is not possible to wall yourself entirely away from it, and I think there is a time in everyone's life where you end up facing it down, either in a heart-pounding one-on-one or by asking for help from others.
But possessing the knowledge I do now, I actually was hit harder by talking about gambling with someone there. She was talking about her father's addiction to it. I gambled for a living the first few years I was out of college; I came and went as I pleased at my father's business for several years, and got away with it because I was, I realized belatedly, living his dream. The one time the man was speechless in the thirty-seven years I shared this earth with him was my showing him a suitcase full of money after a real good week at Belmont in 1987. If I told him I was sure that a horse was going to win, I usually got some of his money to go along with me when I went to OTB.
But for me, it wasn't an addiction. It was time-consuming, so much so that I didn't have a lot of social life other than other horseplayers for the first three years I was out of college. But it never really got unmanageable, at least in any way I recognized it as such. In fact, the usual result of gambling addiction is losing money you can't afford to lose. I ended up making money hand over fist in those years; I don't know exactly how much, but it was much to the good side of the ledger, at least fifty thousand dollars worth.
But the thing was, I realized even then, was not so much the making of money at it; money was just the means of keeping score. What I got off on, the high of it for me, was the fact that I was successfully doing what hardly anyone else could do; I was special and unique and, most of all, better and smarter than all of you. I used many forms of mind-altering, mood-changing substances for twenty-two years--but swear to God, as good as that felt for a long time, it did not compare to the feeling I got when I nailed a horse race absolutely cold, especially if it was a long shot. That week at Belmont, I cashed tickets after 31 of 36 races in four days, including some races when I felt so locked in that it was almost supernatural. I remember one vividly--it was the last race of the day two days before the Belmont. I had bet a little bit on the race because I didn't feel that strongly about any horse's chances, and wandered down, as I often did at Belmont, to the winner's circle trackside, in the clubhouse section. And I look around, and standing three feet away from me is the trainer of one of the horses in the race. I see he has torn jeans and muddy boots on--and a suit jacket top with a dress shirt underneath. I was puzzled for a moment, and then it hit me--they take pictures in the winner's circle from the waist up. So I casually say hello, ask aren't you so-and-so, and he says yes, and I ask him how he likes his chances, and he glances at his watch and says, real casually, "you've got enough time to get a bet in." Horse paid $25.60, and topped off a $766 exacta. The next day, I was sitting around the upper deck when I noticed that one horse was getting almost all his money in the win pool (there are normal ratios between win, place, and show betting pools, but this one was off the charts in the win pool); that horse paid $18. It wasn't even my ability to discern useful information out of a Racing Form that was the rush, although that was a pretty good jolt, too; it was the ability to notice everything and turn it to my advantage. I remain convinced, to this day, that there is no greater rush, no greater high, than knowing something most other people don't know--and even more so if you figured it out for yourself.
It didn't take too much time working a recovery program to notice that was an earlier manifestation of my major character defect--arrogance--that later accelerated the descent into cocaine-fuelled madness (my view when I started smoking cocaine was that addiction was something that happened to other people; I was too goddamn smart for me to lose much of anything, much less everything. And it was all gone and then some in two years; my battle with crack was like Frazier vs. Foreman-- a whole lot of "Down goes Frazier!" and not much else. I have never had my ass kicked like that, by anything, ever.  A big reason why I have never relapsed; I have no illusions that I could do this successfully). And since it was so deeply ingrained, so much at my core, I still sometimes feel the pull of that tendency. I often pray in the way that I posted this morning--"not my will, but Yours, be done. Give me the strength to accept and endure." But for the first few years clean, as I often asked for acceptance in situations where I was getting embroiled in conflicts, I used to add "and prevail" to the end of that little formula. It has taken me a long, long time to lose that drive to conquer, to defeat, to win--because to think in those terms necessarily means there is going to be a loser. It also means that, rather than God being my Higher Power, whoever it is I am struggling with is, at that moment, is. I try to stay away from that these days, because that is the secret to keeping my life manageable.
But it's still the default option. And it still exerts its pull on me, even thirteen and a half years removed from my last drug use. Recovery is, as I now know beyond a doubt, just a daily reprieve from active addiction; the disease is the thinking behind the using, and that is hardwired into our brains. All of us, I should add; my most enduring point of gratitude is that I have been granted the ability to see it for what it is and given knowledge that actually alleviates the condition. Many people don't get it, or refuse it when it is clear that it is needed and applicable.
Anyway, that was the second time it came up tonight; before the meeting, One of my friends was talking about the movie course he is putting together for his classes next year, and the movie Diner came up, which I and a few others also have seen many times each. Something one said reminded us of one of the many classic scenes in the movie, when one of the characters pulled some unsuspecting guy out of a movie line and beat the shit out of him, in retaliation for the guy having been part of a gang that beat the character down years prior. And I remembered another manifestation of "I will prevail;" the need to get revenge on those that wronged me. A little (but not much) sheepishly, I recounted how it had taken me eleven years to get even with a guy who seriously screwed me over. And I thought to myself how grateful I am, again, not to be fixated on that kind of stuff any longer, that I have the capacity to let go of things. When you have a functional God in your life, when you are convinced of the efficacy of regular practicing of principles--well, to be blunt, other people lose much of their power to hurt you and to cause you harm.
And everyone's life improves. One of my favorite sayings is "He who forgives ends the argument." And it is so much better to be devoting my time and energy to enjoying life and finding all the neutral and wonderful things out there to be enjoyed. As another friend once told me, "The problem with winning the rat race is, you're a rat."
I rather like being a man today, instead.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Book Review: THE VISIBLE MAN

I became aware of Chuck Klosterman, the author of The Visible Man, through his friendship with ESPN's Sports Guy, Bill Simmons. Klosterman and Simmons are the driving forces behind Simmons' Grantland website, which combines sports and entertainment industry content and commentary, that has proven to be a huge success on ESPN's website. Reading Klosterman's biography, I was aware he was an author with a few books to his credit, and I wasn't sure what to expect when I saw this book at the library. My guess was the same sort of mildly sarcastic slice-of-life stuff that one finds normally on Grantland.
I was wrong. This is an excellent book. Not quite a thriller, it nonetheless is a fascinating account of a female therapist who finds herself working with a man who says he has been able to master a fantastic and long sought-after human dream--practical invisibility. The science as presented is plausible enough to make the story viable, and the story as it unfolds becomes a window not only into the effects such an ability would inflict on the person, but also into the human condition at large. The main character's claim that people are truly themselves only when alone makes a certain sense, and his descriptions of his "studying" of people are the most riveting parts of the book. The effect on the therapist is less realistic and more predictable, but not enough so to drag the story down, and it is also serves as a cautionary tale for professionals who allow themselves to be affected by some of those that they work with, a lesson applicable to any field.
This is one of the best books I've read this year-- unusual and well-written on a very interesting subject that would be easy to sensationalize. As always with books reviewed on this site, clicking on the title takes the reader to amazon.com, where purchasing information or other reviews can be found.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Gun Nuts

With growing revulsion, I am watching this latest episode of "Post-Racial America--NOT!" unfold in Florida. In a gated community near Miami, an unarmed 17YO black kid was shot to death by a white security guard, according to initial news reports, a couple of weekends ago. But as details emerge, it has become clear that, rather than just a case of ordinary authority abuse, or even ordinary racism, that there continues to be a profound problem in American culture that civil rights laws have done painfully little to alleviate.
The particulars are well-known already: the kid was returning from a convenience store when he was accosted by a "private security guard" and somehow ended up being shot to death. Disturbing as it is, the fact that the shooter was not charged after his claim of self-defense was, it seems, accepted without much of an investigation. Then it came to light that the shooter was not officially employed by anyone, but took it upon himself to be a one-man neighborhood watch. He called 911 46 times between January 1, 2011 and the shooting, including the night of the shooting, and the victim's family finally got the 911 tapes released yesterday--and they clearly show that 1) the guy was clearly told not to get out of his car, but to let the police that were on their way handle it, instructions he obviously ignored, and 2) anybody listening clearly can tell that his claims of self-defense are total bullshit. This kid was executed. Period.
I'm not going to write extensively about the racial injustice here; it is coming to the fore on its own, and it isn't like it's news that much of this country is still racist, and that racial profiling is a gigantic problem here. It isn't even news that this took place in the South; another of the big lies that the Southern establishment has foisted on American cultural thought is that racism is just as deeply entrenched in the North as it is in the South; I'm not suggesting that the North is a racial paradise, but it's better than the former Confederacy. What bothers me is that this fool was allowed to patrol a neighborhood with a firearm without anyone seeming to give a shit that his record showed a bit of an obsession with phantoms and bogeymen. And maybe it is just a product of having grown up in a state where guns are not easily available, and of being brought up in a household where the adults, whatever other foibles and faults they might have had, were very much against guns, but I cannot understand how so many people are so casual with giving anyone who can write their name the potential ability to easily take someone else's life. Guns scare me, and I am not shy about saying so, and always have been scared of them--but even more so, of the people who own them.
I do not have a problem with widespread ownership of rifles, I should add. I have never hunted, but I have no special revulsion toward those that do, and a rifle is not easily concealable and not designed for use against other human beings. Handguns are a different story, and even though I have been hearing all the justifications for them, and the claims that an armed society is a safer one, for the forty-eight years I have been on earth, I'm not convinced by them, not at all. No one except legitimate law enforcement officers should have handguns. There are simply too many people out there like this guy in Florida who, owning guns, are itching for a chance to use them. And they do not get used on rabbits or raccoons; they get used on other human beings, usually those with a darker skin hue than the gun owner. And when they don't get used, they get used as props in little psycho-dramas; the stereotype of the gun owner feeling empowered and making up for feelings of powerlessness and inadequacy by owning--and making sure others know he has--guns is very much based in truth. Even in this relatively liberal neck of the woods, virtually everyone knows someone who's a lot more courageous and aggressive toward his fellow human beings because he owns firearms.
But it makes me nervous when I walk into Wal-Mart and see an entire section of firearms and ammunition. The ridiculous hypocrisy of being able to purchase a small arsenal in a "family store", but being unable to purchase an uncensored Eminem CD, is jarring--but it would be even more so if I was able to actually walk out of the store with the gun and bullets in my hand. The existing laws in this state sometimes don't deter the determined from pursuing their violent fantasies--witness the massacre at the Civic Association here a few years ago, when the killer waited for his background check to come back clear before getting his gun. But I am sure that a lot of unstable people who otherwise would have guns don't have them because of the laws here, and I am very glad that impulse buying is not feasible here.
But even more so, I am just glad that guns are not as prevalent here as they are elsewhere in the country. Widepsread gun ownership affects, negatively, the culture. I lived in Texas in 1986 for a short time, and one reason I came back to New York was that every moron (and there were a lot of them) in the world down there seemed to have at least one gun and was looking to buy more. I remember going out to a Happy Hour somewhere and seeing people wearing holstered weapons--and sure enough, after being there for an hour or so, one of the natives noticed that my speech was different than his, and started hassling me about his view that, in his mind, there was still unfinished business from the Civil War. Even guys I half-liked in the apartment complex I was living in casually mentioned their love for exterminating as many small animals as they could find during excursions to rural areas, and a couple of scary nerdy types were quite open about their desire to find a justification for shooting other human beings with their guns. And to me, that's the real problem with widespread availability and ownership of guns; it allows too many people the option of not moving past juvenile and irrational fears and feelings, that instead it allows them to nurse feelings of resentment and anger. Even if the large majority of these people never end up shooting other people, they still are damaged goods, and we end up with a society where lots of people blame other (different) people for problems, where it is easy to construct a world-view where one's insecurities are given flesh and blood. It allows politics of hatred and injustice to flourish. It allows elaborate justifications and far-fetched notions of victimhood a sort of perverse legitimacy, and people to act on those distorted versions of reality, in deadly ways, and hurt or kill other human beings who have done nothing except be in the wrong place at the wrong time.
The apologists is partially right, in that guns don't kill people, people do. But the inconsistency and hypocrisy of this argument galls me. You could say the same thing about cocaine, for example, but there isn't a huge lobby advocating that cocaine should readily available to everyone. Just because people are responsible for their actions doesn't mean it should be made easy for them to act out in ways detrimental to all of us. But that is what we do, in effect, with the widespread availability of firearms. I am glad I live in a place where gun ownership is regulated, and gun owners not given free rein to impose their neuroses and inadequacies on the rest of us. Especially those of us who are not Caucasian males.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Book Review: PASSAROLA RISING

Passarola Rising is a quirky, tidy little first novel by Azhar Abidi that I, devotee as I am of historical novels and period pieces, enjoyed a great deal. The two main characters are a pair of Brazilian brothers who, in the 1700's, designed a prototype flying ship. The novel is based on the premise that they actually got it to fly, and that flight of fancy is used to deftly explore both the topical political--the conflict between church dogma and the quest for scientific knowledge--and the intensely personal--what gives meaning to one's life. The brother who is the narrator of the story is not the designer, and the narrative serves as one of his own journey through life, as he struggles to find his own identity. I found myself nodding in agreement at some of the passages toward the end of the book, when he in essence asks "Is this all there is?;" I have asked that same question at times as I follow the same path--devoting one's life to one's children and a stable breadwinner's life. His brother never gave up on his idealism, and disappeared on a mission later in his life, after the two had gone their separate ways and found, despite the affection of siblings, that they no longer had anything in common.
And the book has an unexpected resonance in our larger society, as well. The brothers' having to flee the Inquisition at several points in the book has several eerie similarities to some of the rhetoric being heard in the current American political debates--the refusal in some quarters to accept scientific truths and the refusal to hold religious beliefs to the same scrutiny as scientific knowledge. It was hard not to think of the "debate" over climate change when reading the passages where the Cardinal was present.
But for me, the most haunting passage in the book was toward the end, when the narrator was courting his wife and he was sharing an afternoon with his father-in-law-to-be. The older man's secret was that he was a survivor of an expedition into the Amazon to find a lost city. The few survivors that returned found that no one believed them when they related what they had discovered. And that hit home for me, too--the fact that those who can find the past in fragments cannot convince most others of the fullness of what has gone before, that we are, as a species, very amnesiac about our past. The narrator used the conversation as a confirmation of his own decision to not explore with his brother any more--and then spent the rest of his life wondering if he had made the right decision.
One of my favorite songs, as I've written before, is Jackson Browne's "The Pretender." This novel is that song fleshed out in book length in a society two and a half centuries ago--but packs just as powerful a wallop to the emotions and psyche of the reader/listener. This book was only published a few years ago. As always with book reviews here, clicking on the title will take one to amazon.com, and I intend to do so as soon as I publish the post to see if Abidi has written another book or two. This one was a beauty of a first effort.

Keeping It Green

This might not be the nicest thing I've ever written, and I am fully aware that I am channeling my inner Nicholas Somma here. But the absolute silliest and most ridiculous "holiday" there is on our calendar is the abomination that St. Patrick's Day has become. A lot of conservatives complain about the "politically correct" emphasis that has become more pronounced in the last thirty years re ethnic identities, and to prove that I am not a kneejerk liberal pantywaist, I think in this particular instance they have a legitimate point. It's fine to be aware of your roots, and I also think it is fine to maintain aspects of the culture of your native land--for instance, I have come to know many Hispanics, and a staple of diets in every one of their households is some form of rice and beans (and as good as they make it, it's no wonder). It's even all right to celebrate legitimate feast days of saints, if you are Catholic or Orthodox (I think most, if not all, Protestant sects either dispense with saints altogether or are very muted in their observance of the concept, but I could be wrong, as I've never been part of a Protestant church); in my mind, the classic example of how a religious feast day should be celebrated is how Orthodox churches observe St. Nicholas' Day (either December 6 or 19, depending on what calendar the church follows).. But St. Patrick's Day has become a monument to two very unsavory aspects of American culture: the excuse to party and the tendencies to glorify greed and violence. I don't know how many leprechauns I saw around town yesterday (and I was home for the day by 2:30) but at least half of Wegmans employees were dressed as them, and there were at least a dozen in other places. The "pot of gold" legend is actually one of the repulsive stories in our cultural repertoire; let's physically overpower someone different than us and force them to hand over everything they're worth--on a day dedicated to a saint, no less! And the beer companies took over March 17 a long time ago and made it a day where those who "party" must get bombed out of their skulls. Come to think of it, the beer industry has actually changed the American calendar, in that some existing and now several made-up "events" make a sort of regular party itinerary as obnoxious and pervasive as the retail sector's "shopping events." From Super Bowl Sunday through New Year's Eve, there are now about ten "days" through the year where the alcohol industry has sold much of the country on the idea that eating crappy food and getting shit-faced not only should occur at regular intervals, but that you are square and no fun if you don't indulge in the gluttony. St. Patrick's Day, though, is perhaps the worst of the lot, because not only does what it has become pervert what is actually a fairly straightforward nationalistic holiday in Ireland itself, but it now serves to reinforce negative stereotypes of the very group that it ostensibly is celebrating. My father was no fan of the Irish--a legacy of growing up as an Italian in a New York City where law enforcement agencies were dominated by the Irish-- and if any of us wore anything green on March 17 or went out drinking with friends, we were subjected to wrath as only he could bring it. I'm not quite that worked up about it, but I refuse to go along with this made-up nonsense that has become merely an excuse for senseless drinking.
And I'm not a big fan of ham, and definitely not of cabbage, and certainly not of them together. I tend to play down my own ethnic ancestry, but I will say this much: being Italian, I know good food. If I was going to celebrate my ethnic identity, I would hope that the signature dish of the day would be something pleasant to eat--not something that blows up your digestive system for days to come. Columbus Day has turned into a de facto Italian celebration, although not on this scale, and sausage and peppers and a lot of different pasta dishes are a lot nicer on the palate than ham and cabbage. And red wine is a lot more palatable, for that matter, than green beer... I never bought into this crap. Even at Geneseo, when I was otherwise drinking and partying and often drunk five or six nights (and more than a few days) a week, I made it a point to not go out on March 17. It was Amateur Night, as far as I was concerned, and I had no desire to see hundreds of people speaking in tongues, stepping on everyone's feet, spilling beer with nasty food dye on everyone in the vicinity, and vomiting up food that was none too appetizing on the way down with the added bonus of the mess being marinated for a couple of hours in green-tinted stomach ferment. My views have not changed appreciably in nearly thirty years; I don't drink any more, but you couldn't have gotten me near downtown last night at gunpoint. Just too much stupidity on the hoof to feel safe.
I have to go into the office this morning to work on a few grants before I pick up my daughter at noon. I have to pass three Irish-themed drinking establishments on the way. I am almost positive that the area around all three will look like a trash tornado hit them, as they do every March 18. I don't think I'm going to have to go downtown, so I will miss the special treats to be found, no doubt, on the State Street strip of bars. But Sundays in warm weather, the county jail sends out inmate work details to pick up trash all over the county. I am positive that they will be in the City of Binghamton this morning, picking up after this "holiday."

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Book Review: THEIRS WAS THE KINGDOM

I've spent the last ten days in various stages of busyness, but I've also been deeply engrossed in a book that is nearly 20 years-- John Heidenry's Theirs Was the Kingdom. It was a 600-page history of what may not seem like a subject worthy of that kind of treatment, Reader's Digest magazine and the couple, Dewitt and Lila Wallace, that founded it.
But it is important. The Digest was part of my parents' home up until a few years ago, and it was the by far the most-read magazine in American for decades. It was that for several reasons--its "condensation" of articles into the bare minimum necessary to understand them; its mostly positive and unrelentingly conservative, God-apple-pie-and-guns view of America; and its somewhat ironic constant double entendres and other references to sex were testimony to how well they knew their audience--the vast majority of not-quite-ignorant-but-definitely-not-intellectual Americans. Bluntly, it encapsulated perfectly the usual American disdain for deep thought and thinking through matters, and perpetuated the black-and-white world view that most of us still tend to prefer.
But there was a lot  more to it--the constant infighting among the hierarchy, the success of the company on a world-wide basis, and its undoubted ability to influence American politics--the Digest was a huge factor in getting Nixon elected in 1968, in derailing Ted Kennedy in 1980, and electing Reagan (who quite openly professed his love for the magazine) and Bush I. It served as an undoubted front for the CIA in its foreign offices, and could be counted as a reliable forum for conservative thinkers to find their way into national prominence.
But it was also kind of disturbing to read that almost everyone associated with the magazine was, in major ways, a hypocrite: few if any lived up to the wholesome, family-oriented, moral lifestyle they promulgated for the public to follow. In other words, conservatives have been full of shit in this country for a lot more time than the present batch of hypocrites. And with the magazine still entrenched in the same philosophy, and still one of the widest-reaching print publications, it's tempting to just throw up hands and mutter that we are doomed, that this country is so full of hypocrisy and moral cancer--coming from those that accuse the other side of the political spectrum of the same--that it is terminal. I have opined more than once that although I personally don't think it is true, if there is anything at all viable in the visions of the Book of Revelation, there is not a doubt to any other national group in the world what the identity of the false, hypocritical country is. And Reader's Digest has done its share to make that identification crystal clear for nearly ninety years now.
Although the book is no doubt out of print, it can be found at amazon.com, accessible by clicking on the title of his post. And despite the rotteness of the magazine itself, the book is a first-rate biography of both the founders and the magazine. I was dimly aware of it when it came out in the early 1990's, but I never got around to reading it until I was looking for something else in the library and saw it there. It is worth reading.

Panic at the Disco

I suppose it really doesn't compare to waking up to the smell of burning house or in the throes of massive chest pain. But this morning, in my mind, a psychological disaster of similar proportion occurred. I knew something was wrong when I looked at my watch when my eyes opened, and it was ten minutes later than the last time I looked. It took a minute to realize that the second hand wasn't moving, and that in fact it was not 4:10 AM. I rolled over and glanced at the window, and there was some light coming in through the shades. I bolted up and looked at the clock--6:45. Odd, I thought, that the coffee pot didn't wake me up when the auto-brew shut off, but not unprecedented--especially this morning, because I was very tired last night after a full week of work, a meeting that went long, and watching basketball late.
So I trudged off to the kitchen, and found an empty pot. I thought I might have forgotten to put water in it last night, but a quick touch to the machine disproved that theory, and there was coffee in the basket, too. I unplugged it, plugged it back in, and hit start. And nothing happened.
And I am not ashamed to say I freaked out. I simply cannot function without at least one cup of coffee in the morning, and I usually drink a full pot before venturing into the shower and beginning my day. And I don't go for this Folgers Sunnyside Farm brown water that some people try to pass off as coffee; I prefer Italian Roast or Espresso Blend, and have only recently grudgingly accepted that French Roast is adequate most of the time (considering that I don't have to take out a loan to obtain French Roast, and that other outfits than Starbucks and L'Vaggio sell French Roast around here). But nothing? Seriously, I just stared at the useless hulk of plastic and metal on my kitchen counter, cursing softly, "You couldn't even squeeze out an inch of sludge before crapping out? You had to just shut it down like that?"
I remembered that I still had a Wally World $50 gift card I got from someone a few months ago as a Christmas present. I hate Wal Mart, but as long as I'm not spending my own money, I will swallow hard and go there; I rationalize it by saying they've already got the money, so I might as well make it cost them something. There is a Wally World now about a mile from my house, just over the Johnson City line, that has been universally reviled by those that go to those sort of places regularly as the world's unfriendliest Wally World, with surly help and limited selection of stuff to buy (as an aside, I had wondered how placing a Wal Mart there was going to work out. This area, all cheerleading from the Chamber of Commerce and other boosters aside, is not all that welcoming to outsiders--as anyone who has ever attended Binghamton University will tell you. There is a heavy concentration of Eastern European descendants here--the same folks who brought us World War I and the break-up of Yugoslavia. They are some of the most clannish and xenophobic people on earth, and two or three generations of being in America has softened them not one whit--at one point, before the first and second generation immigrants started dying out in force, there were at least a dozen different Orthodox sects with their own churches, and several Catholic parishes that were identical to a corresponding Orthodox parish except that they accepted the Pope as the head of the church instead of the Patriarch of Some-City-That-Has-Been-Muslim-For-Many-Hundreds-Of-Years. All this in an area that, at its peak fifty years ago, had about a population of about a hundred thousand, of whom at least half were Roman Catholics--who, for its worth, also hated each other. The ethnic rivalry and prejudices between the Irish, Italians, and Poles around here was almost as fierce, long-lived, and ultimately ridiculous as those among the Orthodox. Lost in the saccharine trips down memory lane for those who mourn the passing of the IBM company town that Endicott used to be was the fact that the first Italian--in a town that is at least half-Italian and in an area where Italians are the largest single ethnic group--was hired by IBM in 1961, decades after the company was founded... I lived in Johnson City for a decade when I was married, and I never ceased to be amazed by the provincialism and outright hostility to those who were not of their ethnic group. Obviously, having grown up here, I knew what it used to be like, but I really thought that by 1990, this sort of shit was in the past. I was wrong. I actually was told by one of my ex-wife's relatives that "I'd rather she married a n.....r than a goddamn Catholic like you." Never mind racial prejudice,which needless to say were and are also very prevalent, this hostility went across virtually every conceivable difference between groups of human beings...anyway, the first complaints were heard within hours of the store opening that the sales "help" was anything but helpful, and I have found it to be the case during my own limited forays there. In the Vestal store, associates often go out of their way to ask you if you need help finding something; in the Johnson City store, if you  walk up to one and ask a question, you are just as likely to get a look that could peel paint off a wall and then seeing them walk away in silence as you are to actually get any kind of answer, even "I don't know"). I went there and managed to find a model that just came in under the gift card price, and hurried home.
And then I couldn't get the damn thing out of the box. I swear, NASA doesn't pack the space shuttle as tightly as Mr. Coffee does their precious machines. I ended up having to tear the box to shreds to get the machine out, and then watched in horror as the new pot fell out of its slot and bounced on the floor. If it had broken, I would have committed homicide on the next person I saw, but fortunately it just rolled a few feet. I hurriedly set up the machine (water filtration system? Run a pot of water first through it? Wash the pot and basket in soap water? Are you kidding me?) and started it, then dashed into the shower to hopefully have a cup waiting when I got out.
It took a little longer than I expected, but I grant you I was probably hurrying. There is nothing quite like the virgin cup of coffee from a new machine. I'm kind of sorry I didn't have better coffee to run through it (just the household staple, Wegman's French Roast), but it was good.
And I was finally able to tackle the day, a couple of hours after I normally would have on a Saturday. But I don't want to have a beginning to the day like this one ever again.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Messed Up Priorities

While I am glad to read stories in the media that the economy is improving and that the recession might be history--because it makes it more likely we will have the Empty Suit for four more years rather than someone truly dangerous in charge, and it means that the freak show in Congress won't be able to push through yet another version of voodoo economics-- it's sure hard to see evidence of that around here. The state budget is coming to a resolution, and it seems clear that some sort of major pension reform is coming. It was an overdue move, and yet it sets a precedent that I'm not sure is a good one. Other cuts from years past are coming to fruition, and school districts are starting to cut positions like they are pruning flowers on a geranium. I talked to one colleague in one of the more affluent high schools the other day, the social worker, who is getting reassigned from the high school to an elementary school. In another district, one that cut a social worker last year, a teacher that lives in my neighborhood was informed yesterday her job is history at the end of the current school year. I notice that Binghamton has slashed a few positions in the last couple of years, too--one modified team instead of two, Challenge program is been curtailed, other positions have vanished. Johnson City cut the one program that ensured that troubled kids had incentives to stay in school; we're all muddling along, but the flood chaos has obscured, until now, the effect that measure is having. Everyone around here is cheering the fact that BAE has decided to occupy the old IBM buildings in Endicott rather than leave the area entirely--but several businesses in proximity to the old Johnson City site have already closed up shop. There doesn't seem to be much of anything on the horizon as far as good news, either, and there are stubborn rumors that the B-Mets will be leaving the area after this season.
And I read widely and note that other areas of the country are having similar problems, and the jobs being lost or whittled away are middle-class, taxpayer jobs. And then I read things like the new state budget is approving pay raises for judges in the state court system; that a Goldman Sachs executive resigned because the firm's culture is unabashedly devoted to ripping off customers. The company has disputed those allegations, but given what's happened in the country in general and in that institution in particular--see "The Goldman Sachs Mess" in this blog last April 18--in the last decade, I have zero doubt that the allegations are substantially true. Don't you love it how, whenever some shit like this hits the fan, the corporate entity trots out the "disgruntled employee" excuse? Of course the employee was disgruntled; he or she wouldn't be leaving if they were happy. On occasion, they will say things that are not true, and almost everybody in the midst of a dispute tends to view themselves as a victim. But it sure seems to me that almost all of the time, the person blowing the whistle is telling the truth. When that excuse is trotted out, it doesn't make me question the veracity of the complainer--it makes me both upset that the institution thinks that this excuse will work on me and also those putting out the excuse have no compunction about lying to the public when they don't get what they want.
And really... does Goldman Sachs really think that the majority of us think they don't treat their "clients" as cash cows to be milked? This has become the prevailing ethos in American business circles over the last three decades. Credit card companies became so brazen about ripping us off that Congress, normally very reluctant to take on corporate America, had to pass laws reining them in. Hardly a day passes without some new revelation of Banks Behaving Badly regarding home foreclosure practices. I haven't paid great attention to the details, but some financial firm apparently just got away with misappropriating a billion dollars of their clients' money. There is a small number of rich individuals pouring huge amounts of money into the Republican presidential primaries, attempting to thwart the preference of even Republican voters that Newt Gingrich just go away. And this is the kind of stuff that drives me crazy when dealing with True Believers on the other side of the political fence. For Christ's sake, how much more evidence do you need that that the people you want to put even more in charge than they already are will fuck you over without a second thought and leave your corpse in the county landfill? They want it all, and they will take it all if given an opportunity--and you want to give it to them? What the hell is wrong with you?
What kind of priorities do we have as a society? We cannot afford to pay teachers--who, despite some of the rhetoric heard, not only do much more good than harm, but perform a role in our society that is, you know, necessary. We have to cut firefighter positions and jobs at whatever IBM is calling themselves around here. We want to cut pensions for those who worked all their lives. Nationally, voices are heard that cuts to Social Security and Medicaid are necessary. As more and more Iraq and Afghanistan vets return home, it has become clear not only how much money was wasted in the wars, but that the commitment to take care of those who actually fought it after they come home is sadly lacking. And yet--we have money to give to lawyers and judges? We don't want to raise tax rates on those that have proven time and again their contempt for us by shamelessly ripping us off without mercy, by looting everything they get their paws on and charging us for every conceivable and a few inconceivable "services" (come on--75 cents for a minute of air at the gas station?)?
You can make all the noise you want about "illegal immigration," "welfare cheats," "corrupt unions", "lazy state/county/federal workers," "sluts and hussies", and any other number of straw men that the corporate greedheads and their minions in the media and Congress have set up for us. The real problem is that too much of our resources are allocated to compensating people--stockbrokers, "financial services professionals," insurance companies, lawyers--who don't do anything that improves the general quality of life. I'm not saying that these people shouldn't exist or that there isn't a role for those professions. But I am saying, without reservation, that there is no way that these people should be at the top of the food chain. That's the root of all our problems here, and until people come to grips with that and change their ways of thinking, it's only going to get worse, no matter which party is nominally in charge.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

A Setback That Isn't

I have a very mopey and disappointed young lady walking around the house this evening. Today was the third and last day of JV softball tryouts, and she wasn't kept on the JV team--although not really cut, either. Between sniffles in the car, she told me that the coach told her she was only as good as the sophomore catcher, not better--and that if he wasn't going to be playing her most of the time, he'd rather she played all game every game on Modified this year. I know she's disappointed, especially since her friend the whirlwind pitcher got kept. But being one of two 7th graders even asked to try out is testament to how much ability she has, and she certainly wasn't overmatched. The varsity coach told her to dispense with City League this summer because he wants her on his travel team, which is another sign she has a very bright future with this sport. She's been told that she's already made the Modified team; all she has to do is make sure she shows up, which is more than anyone else, other than KK, in 7th and 8th grade has going for them.
And as her dad, I'm disappointed, but not overly so. I can certainly appreciate what the coach told her; if I am going to be in the stands every game, I'd rather watch her play than sit half the time. On Modified, she won't catch every game, but she will be in the field--first base or the outfield would be my guess--when she isn't catching. And she almost certainly, barring an injury of some sort, will be the JV catcher next year--in the 8th grade. Most kids don't even try out for JV until the 9th grade; it is hardly an indictment of her ability to not stick a level up two years early.
And on some level she knows this; nine days ago, I had to talk her into staying at the open gym practice with the varsity and JV kids because she wasn't sure she was good enough to play at that level. Her expectations flew up to the clouds in a very short period of time, as she began to understand fully just how talented she is at this game. The one qualm I do have about her being on Modified is the possibility, not overly likely but nonetheless there, that she will dominate this level like Babe Ruth in a Babe Ruth League. This is a kid who hit .900 in City League last year with twenty extra-base hits in eleven games. But I think, regardless of how challenging she finds Modified, it will better in the long run for her to play at least one year at this level. And she will be with several kids that she has become very close friends with this year, which will make the year go by very quickly. And she told me yesterday that the coaches had mentioned that one of the factors in the decision they were struggling over was wanting her to catch KK.. They have been a battery for eight all-star games over the last two years, and they have total confidence and rapport with each other, which the coaches already knew--and truth be known, KK's cat-like reflexes fielding bunts (much better than Emily and Rebecca and the other JV pitcher) alleviates the single weakest area in Sabrina's game (although I was very surprised this spring by how much faster she gets out of the crouch this year compared to even last August; it's not really a weakness any more). And they are friendly, as well. Lastly, selfishly, I can certainly think of worse fates than watching games in the stands with Todd all this year.
And I know my daughter well enough to know what's galling her most of all--that she was not anointed by outsiders to be the most special of her group; not only was Emily kept as a 7th grader, but Sabrina desperately wanted to match her friend Maggie's feat of being a starter on JV as a 7th grader (Maggie is a year ahead of her). I recognize it when I see it because it's inherited; it used to piss me off when I was younger when I felt I wasn't recognized as sufficiently special, either. I used it as motivation to excel even more than I might otherwise have when I was younger-- I am pretty sure that I was the last 5-7, 160 pound linebacker in the history of Union-Endicott football that led his team in interceptions, tackles, and sacks even though his coach talked up two other guys who were bigger and stronger (but slower and much dumber) as "blue-chippers" to college recruiters. It will pass; she felt a little disappointed last year that Maggie was in the older City League even though she was still eligible for Sabrina's level, but adjusted to being Godzilla lording it over Japan soon enough. I suspect that she will be just fine by time the season is three weeks old.
And I can start trying to find the money for travel team now. I may end up selling sausage bread to order at Easter time, but for my own kid's expenses, not as a work fundraiser.

The Worst Company in the World

For all those who think that "consolidation" and "the marketplace" lead to better customer service, I have a three-word retort: Time Warner Cable. When I got up this morning, there was no Internet access. I called their help line, and of course got the automated menu, which told me, after a suspiciously low number of prompts, that there was an outage in my area. I turned on the TV and saw that the cable was out, too. Managing to find another Internet provider within range, I got on their website, and eventually discovered that the service interruption was a "planned outage."
Planned.
Funny, us poor paying customers were never told of this "plan." I know NYSEG and Verizon, when they are planning on some kind of service upgrade or maintenance, lets their customers know ahead of time. Our own IT department lets us know when there is maintenance planned for the system. The City of Binghamton lets residents know when water pressure is going to be down for maintenance. Microsoft and Yahoo and Facebook and every other on-line presence that I've ever come across lets their customers know when planned maintenance is going to take place.
But not Time Warner.
This is far from the first time that this company's contempt for its paying customers has been made starkly clear. Technically, I suppose it is not a monopoly; you can get Direct TV or Dish Network (and do without local stations), and you can get another Internet service provider (granted, Time Warner is a little faster than the competition). But it sure us frustrating knowing that they take you for granted, and that they know they treat you like shit and pretty much get away with it. I've looked into the alternatives, and I've decided that cable isn't a priority and DSL or other Internet services aren't--and it galls me to say this--aren't as good, so I continue to fork over my $65 a month for high-speed Internet and seven TV channels.
But I long for the day when decent alternatives are available and I can tell this wretched, arrogant example of corporate arrogance and greed to go to hell.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

A Friend in Need

I've been starting to go to the noon meeting recently pretty much every day. It's a block away from my office, and it's a good way to put some teeth into my determination to give back to the fellowship, to show the newcomer (and the noon meeting is full of newcomers) that once jobs, family, social respectability, etc, come back (or come into for the first time) our lives, we do not just pack up and move on. It also is broadening my familiarity with the members of the fellowship as it now stands; I had been relatively isolated for years by only going to at most two meetings a week.
I came in a few minutes late and strolled over to the coffee pot, and didn't notice, until I sat down, that Brian was there. The horrific relapse is over, and he has been released from jail and is starting to pick up the pieces of a life that went horribly wrong last summer and fall. His wife is still having a lot of problems, but is out of ICU and starting on her own road back, according to a text I got from her friend and sponsor yesterday. I had wondered how I was going to feel if and when he ever came back in the door.
I felt really happy when I saw him. I can't really describe it any other way. The man is a big reason why I am still here; whatever his merits and faults as a man and as a sponsor, the fact is that he was my sponsor during my first year clean, and I can think of a half-dozen hard times that he helped me get through, and I'm sure I have forgotten a half-dozen more. Much of my grounding in the basics of not only the program, but the vast changes that took place in my heart and soul during the first couple of years clean, came about with his guidance and help. My understanding that all addicts, regardless of what their drug of choice was and their material circumstances, felt the same desperation when the drugs ran out and it was time to get more--which was the key to feeling like I belonged to the fellowship--came during my time with Brian. My commitment to integrity in relationships--and also the idea that it is not necessarily wrong to play the field, as long as you are not pretending to be committed to someone--also came during my time with Brian; one of those thunderclap moments of clarity came during the time when Shannon was in Hannick Hall and a very attractive, but troubled, woman was very attracted to me. I will never forget, as long as I live, him just leaning back and saying, "Well, are you under contract or are you a free agent?" It made it all instantly clear that all those fine promises I had made not only to Shannon, but to the DSS caseworker and to myself about being honest and committed and setting an example for the then-infant Sabrina as she grew up were not conditional, that just because a really hot alternative (and at that time, Shannon was considerably younger and more attractive herself; it wasn't like I shouldn't have been satisfied with what I had, even absent the fact we had a baby together) suddenly was available (and that woman ended up hanging around for nine months. It was ten years and a lot of life lived before Shannon relapsed). And the realization that, when working the steps and out of the literature, there are no shortcuts, and that the literature and the steps are in the order they are in for a reason and you can't just jump around and start where you think you are, also came from Brian. Even aside from affection, I have always felt an intense debt of gratitude to him. Yes, Aldo has been my sponsor for twelve years and took me through the 12 and 12 and has been a huge figure in my life--but it as Brian who help build the foundation so that all that has taken place since then had something to be built upon.
And I found myself desperately wanting to talk to him, and ended up doing something I almost never do; asked him to go outside and talk, which we ended up doing for about 30 minutes. He was a little more upbeat than I thought he would be; the lights are definitely back on. He surprised me by talking about how he and his wife are not only talking, but have committed to trying to find a way to salvage their marriage. Regardless of what I or other people think of the idea--and I know both of them are going to run into some serious flak from friends and family--I think, at least for now, the desire is genuine; I had never, in thirteen years, heard him say he loved her, and he admitted, also for the first time to me, how hurt he was when they separated for almost two years some years ago. He also, at least verbally, owned up to living too close to the edge of the using world and that some of his moral choices regarding income had to change. All of which is going to be necessary for change to in fact take place.
But even more than all that, I was really surprised just by how glad I was to see him. Even after we stopped working together, we were friends for a long time. We didn't hang out a lot, but it was never like it was hard to find things to talk about with him when I did see him. I always enjoyed his company, whether after meetings in the parking lot, at events, or when he was a regular at the Friday night feasts when we were going out after the candlelight regularly five or six years ago. And looking back at some of the stuff I wrote as his life was imploding last year, I realize that to some degree all of us that knew him, while shocked and a bit disgusted by some of the actions he took during the relapse, never completely wrote him off. I wrote three different times that the stuff I was hearing he was doing was totally not the man I had known. I knew his marriage had been troubled; it had been the root reason behind my seeking another sponsor. I had my opinions on how dedicated he was to his parenting. But I never lost my affection for him as a person and a friend--those concerns were not in the "what an asshole he turned out to be" category, but more like "man, he's got to get a grip on this stuff."
I don't want to overanalyze this whole thing. I took his number--he is staying at his mother's-- and do intend to call semi-regularly. He is working with Vincent, who has been around for a long time and who has walked through the aftermath of a troubled--and ultimately failed--marriage himself. And he is dedicated to sticking around "a day at a time", he says--which, after all, is the way all of us do it, too. And he needs all the support and affection he can get. There will be no shortage of people--in the legal system and otherwise--passing judgment on him.
He doesn't need that from me, too. Especially since when I needed an open mind and some tolerance shown to me, he was more than willing to do so. Welcome home, my friend.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Moral and Intellectual Pygmies

One of the reasons that the First Amendment exists is that it theoretically makes it easier for the "rational" citizen to distinguish between what is intelligent opinion and what is not. In other words, by allowing free expression of all ideas, you can separate the morons and the bigots from the rest of us fairly easily; it's the "give 'em enough rope" principle. For most of my life, I have not really thought much about this principle, other than to take it for granted. I have a healthy ego and have never suffered fools easily, and there have been times when I have been largely apathetic toward my fellow travelers on this space rock, because I figured that if I minded my own business in my own corner of the world, I would be largely OK. But as my kids have grown and I proceed along the back nine of life, I have largely lost that apathy, even as I gained a better understanding that I have not been granted my intelligence and my abilities by God to use those tools as cudgels against my fellow men and women. I have really come to believe that I have a responsibility to contribute to the common good, that the secret to a happy and meaningful life is that we are all in this together, and when you start to really believe that we're all on the same team, it tends to make you more tolerant and patient, and it definitely makes you more useful to others.
But at the same time, as my daughters get older and are closer to the time where they will become independent members of society, it has caused me to take a harder and more critical look at those sharing the world with me. And increasingly, I am appalled by the willful stupidity and ignorance that I see. I'm not even talking, necessarily, about the stereotypes that come to mind--the 300-pound Wal-Mart shoppers, the people who have never read a book, Future Inmates of America, the people who think Franklin Graham is God's representative on earth. What I am seeing more and more of is the educated idiot and the morally challenged intellectuals. These people are not dumb. They have the intellectual ability to function well among us. Some of them are in quite challenging fields, some of them are very smart people. But on some subjects, they hold opinions and views that are not only intellectually flawed, but in many cases show an alarming moral void. It is almost as if they are too intellectual on some subjects, that they are so enamoured of a particular concept that they fail to realize that 1) they affect real people in real ways, and 2) those ideas in practice have turned out to not work, that far from being solutions, they cause more problems for a greater number of us.
I'm not even talking about the abominations like Rush Limbaugh; Limbaugh's overriding concern has always been Limbaugh himself. I will take three examples that I ran across yesterday in various forms. The first was an article I read online about a United States Senator's views on climate change. His entire argument is based on a passage from the Book of Genesis that says that God promised, after the Flood, to never destroy the world, and therefore there is no need for us to pay any attention at all to any of the evidence that our climate is changing and the problems that it might cause for those of us who live on this planet. I am not going to rehash the entire argument here, but it is not only frightening that a presumably intelligent person can live life so in thrall to preexisting viewpoints that they cannot even see what is happening in front of them, but it is appalling that this person actually is a position to make sure his views prevail. There are only one hundred people that can actually make legislation that can do something about climate change in this country, and he is one of them. And what is most galling about the position he holds is that he doesn't even think through his position. All that passage in Genesis says, even if you are inclined to believe in literal Biblical truth, is that God won't destroy the world again; there is nothing that precludes man from doing it. Yes, technically the planet is not in danger of being destroyed--but the chances are growing that the ability of human beings to maintain  habitat on it are in serious jeopardy. And to say we can keep doing what we're doing because, essentially, someone wrote something three thousand years ago that says "God's not going to let that happen" is a monstrous shirking of basic personal responsibility--and when the shirker is a United States Senator, that's frightening stuff, because he's in a position to do a lot more damage than the average seriously deluded and stupid person.
The second item I noticed was an item in the news that someone at NASA is claiming that they are being unfairly treated because he doesn't believe in evolution. Ummm...
And the third example was a tidbit I noticed in a Facebook conversation between two ostensibly intelligent people. I'm not going to go into details, but essentially  the position taken was that FDR's New Deal programs were "folly." It is very hard to understand how people can hold opinions like that, even seventy years after the man has died. First of all, we are the product of the New Deal. With few exceptions, none of us that grew up in the Endicott area in the 1960's and 1970's would have had the lives we had without the New Deal. Secondly, it has become fashionable for conservatives to say that the New Deal didn't really alleviate the Depression, that it was actually a failure and if none of that tinkering had taken place, it all would have been just fine. That is intellectual hubris of a frightening degree, because not only does it assume that all those millions that voted for FDR were morons that didn't know what was good for them, but it also ignores the evidence that it did do a lot more good than not. The foundations of broad-based prosperity that followed the war came in the 1930's. We have never had a sense of direction at the top like we did in the 1930's, that was so dedicated to the general welfare of all of us. I get more and more disgusted when people find reasons to denigrate the accomplishments of the one administration in this country's history to did more to alleviate widespread misery than any other. You can trot out as many economic treatises and statistics as you want that "prove" whatever bullshit you're peddling. The fact is 1) alone among the powerful nations of the world of the time, we did not turn Fascist or give into paralyzing political weakness at the time, 2) we actually were somewhat prepared for the cataclysm that came in 1941 only because the guy in charge made sure we were, and 3) for the first time in this country's history, the resources of the federal government were devoted to trying to improve the welfare of all its citizens first, rather than the elite and the wealthy. I am so sick of intellectually dishonest revisionism, of trickle-down economics being dressed in different clothes and served for dinner yet again. Franklin Roosevelt was the greatest President this country has ever had, bar none. And one of the best things about him was, even though he did it with a smile on his face, he put the moral pygmies of his time in their place.
I am tired beyond belief of having to listen to the willfully ignorant, and pretend that that the bullshit being espoused is merely "difference of opinion." In some cases, there are legitimate differences of opinion. But when the "difference" is the gap between what is real on the ground on one side and trying to justify prejudices and preexisting views on the other, when the purpose of the "debate" is to justify dogma on one side of it,... not impressed. And not bound to respect those "differences." Those holding those opinions are not only wrong, but as far as I am concerned, they are morally deficient, straddling the line of actual evil.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Random Notes, Daylight Savings Time Edition

1) Is there a sillier ritual that we as a society do than this two-step with the clocks every year? And we are getting to the point where it seems like we are on "standard time" for about ten weeks. It's actually a little over four months, in actuality, and it's perilously close to the "why bother" point? Gaining the extra hour at the beginning of November is nice, but to me, losing the hour in the spring--actually, it's still winter now--more than makes up for it negatively. I don't like that the sun is still up at 7:15 PM with (admittedly trace amounts, this year) snow on the ground, and the sun is not going to come up until 7:30 AM again for a few weeks. It took the world five thousand years to get everyone on the same page with time around the world, and we no sooner got grudging acceptance of that then we tinker and mess with it compulsively, for reasons that are unclear and advantages that are unproven.
1a) One of the world's most amazing anomalies is the "Newfoundland Time Zone." The island of Newfoundland in Canada is 30 minutes ahead of the Atlantic Time Zone. Does that make any sense at all? How do you have one place in the world that has a "standard time" in 30-minute increments? That may be the most bizarre geography/history factoid that I know of.
2) Having just returned to work a few days ago, I am not going to spend a lot of time at my office this morning, unlike usual Sunday practice. One good thing about being out for a while: I spent less than I normally do on gas in the last few weeks, even though gas prices have risen a good 40 cents per gallon in the last few months. And as much as I would like to bitch about the prices, a logical look at the issue tells me I have no real reason to. Considering that the United States is a much larger country than almost anywhere else, considering that we have made the choice in the last 70 years to move from urban to suburban housing patterns, given that our entire society relies on transportation of goods in a quick and timely manner--we have no right to complain. Gas prices ought to be a lot higher, strictly speaking from a theoretical standpoint, than they are. I don't know anyone who drives that could not drive less. And if the United States government--Congress and executive branches, Democrats and Republicans--ever really wanted to get serious about deficit reduction, they would raise the gas tax a quarter. It would be more expensive to drive, but not enough to make people stop doing it, and as many as 75% of Americans drive every day, meaning that everyone is going to have to ante up. I realize that this position makes my progressive/liberal friends as aghast as the conservatives out there because it would end up being a regressive tax for the most part,--but this is one area where the long-term benefits outweigh the short-term pain. If it means less of us drive in the long run, that's good in a number of different ways--environmentally most of all, but not exclusively on that front. It also means people will start to move closer to and in many cases back into cities, which will fundamentally change American life on all levels. not least politically, for the better.
3) With the approach of spring comes, unfortunately, spring cleaning, and that is metaphorical as well as literal. I'm not going to get into details, but I basically told someone yesterday to go away and not come back. I'm not blind when it comes to friendships and relationships. I'm not perfect, but quite honestly, when I choose to help people to some degree, I know they are under no obligation to reciprocate, and I know that it does not give me control over them. But I do think that if one asks for and accepts help, hearing "thank you" is not an unrealistic expectation on my part. I think if you are asking for help and I am willing to give it, then showing up at the time agreed upon to meet so that I can give you what you asked for is not an unrealistic expectation, either. I cut people slack and give them breaks much more than I ever have in the past, but there comes a point where you say "enough is enough." Like I posted as a status yesterday, if all you really have to offer is time and you're not willing to give that, then there really is nothing there. Or, as I once told another person, "if you act like the only important person in your life is you, there will eventually come a time when the only person in your life is going to be you." I don't let matters get to the point where I did with that particular person any more, not even close, which is why it was easier to say adios yesterday.  But it doesn't mean it doesn't rankle when it happens. It is a reminder to me that the disease of addiction is self-centeredness, and people who don't have drug problems suffer from it just as deeply and endemically as the people with tracks on their limbs and stem burns on their lips.
4) There was a note in the paper, speaking of endemically self-centered people, that a 16YO girl was pulled over yesterday near where I used to live. The passenger in the car was a 62YO man--a 62YO man who is a repeat sex offender, who had a order of protection against him for the girl, who was arrested several months ago for having sex with (presumably the same) underage girl. I and a lot of other people know the guy because he was part of the recovery fellowships in this area for years, up until he was arrested a few moths ago for sexual contact with a minor, not for the first time. What I want to know is, how is he at liberty? Why is he out of jail? At what point do you lock this guy up and never let him out again? I saw in the paper that he was sent to jail in lieu of $500 bail. In lieu of--in other words, if he had had access to $500, he would be walking around today. I'm sorry, I just don't get that. It is the hope/denial conundrum that we become familiar with in recovery--where you have to draw the line between hope that change can occur and realizing that you are in denial that anything will ever be different, that some things and some people just are what they are. This guy has amply demonstrated that he is not going to change in any meaningful way. It is past time to remove his ass from society, until he is not capable of causing problems anymore.
I actually had thought of that guy when another guy showed up at the candlelight meeting the other night to pick up a black keytag. Jim--not his real name--is now in his early 70's, and I think it was his 27th anniversary. I know his last name because he is still shown, about once a year, on those little broadsides that the school district sends to the house periodically. I remember how shocked I was when I first saw him, right after I started getting those in the mail--not least because he lived three blocks away from where I was living at the time. I saw the details of the rap sheet; the crime was in 1984, when he was 43, and the victim was 17, and it was apparently consensual....as much as wrong is wrong, as grades of crimes go, that's certainly not the most heinous thing on that sheet, but if it had been my 17YO daughter, I would want this guy put away for a long time, too. The reason I am bringing this up is that, even though he may not have committed any crimes since then, and even though he no longer drinks or gets high (thankfully, he attends the other fellowship almost all the time, so we hardly see him), he is still a first-class skeevy asshole. More than one younger woman has told me that he has offered them rides home after meetings and then tried to get in their pants. He shares with an edge that announces, "I am an asshole, and you have to deal with me because the literature says you have to." There is this faux-profound sounding, totally devoid of actual substance spiritual pap that he shares that certainly isn't apparent in what he says or does. And to top it off, even making allowances for age, he has only a nodding acquaintance with personal hygiene-- he has long, stringy, greasy gray hair in a ponytail, and his clothes are always disheveled and unkempt. He would creep me out even if he never opened his mouth, and the fact that he sets the bullshit detector off on high alert whenever he does talk makes it even worse...we all deserve a chance to recover, and to be sure, he has not done anything while clean that I am aware of that was illegal. He is hardly the only older guy in the rooms of AA and NA that has hit on and tried to take advantage of vulnerable women. But that hardly excuses it, either. The longer I hang around the rooms, the more I really wish there was some kind of scorecard, some kind of database or something that newcomers could consult about those who are already there. I know it's not feasible, and that the idea both completely splinters our anonymity and doesn't fully allow for the fact that some of us do profoundly change as the process takes root. But it still is something that bothers the hell out of me. I've talked about this stuff for thirteen years with a lot of people, ever since it first began to dawn on me that the Messagemaster and his disciples were not what they claimed they were, and my support group said at the time that one of the ostensible purposes of having a recovery program is that the addict learns, for themselves, how to make better decisions--"good judgement comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgement." If asked, we share our experiences about our recovery process, which includes our opinions about others around us and our interactions over the time we've been around. But there are limits, and as much as one would like to get out a megaphone and announce our views, 1) it's a form of manipulation just as much as the bullshit we're reacting against, and 2) it is as likely to have a positive effect as any other spoken sharing of experiences--a few will digest the information and internalize it, and most will do what they want to do, which means in practice most ignore the information at best and close their ears and eyes to you at worst and end up having to find out for themselves what your issue is. Some learn and stay and become positive forces in the fellowship. Some stay and become part of the problem. Many get disillusioned and leave and return to addiction, hopefully to return in the future somewhat sadder, more beaten, and receptive to different input. It takes what it takes, and that point is different for all of us. Those of us with good intentions and those of us with not-so-good intentions both have to, ultimately, understand this and deal with it.
5) Yesterday, at the conclusion of the winter open-gym workouts, what I suspected was going to happen did happen. The coach asked Sabrina to try out with the junior varsity team, beginning Monday; there is a two-week gap between the beginning of the high school teams' practices and the Modified tryouts that begin on the 26th, so they have two weeks to figure out whether she is ready to play on that level. The only other seventh-grader to be asked was her friend Emily, the out-of-this-world fast pitcher who was on travel teams all summer last year and didn't play City League as a 12YO, but who was Sabrina's batterymate on the all-star team two summers ago. There are two other middle-school kids also invited; I know Maggie was on JVs last year, but I'm not sure about the other kid...it's a hell of a testament to her ability. But it also is a testament to her work ethic, and to her willingness to be coached. I do not know whether she is going to stick; she, me, and the coach talked for about ten minutes yesterday after the end of the session about it, and it was agreed that if she is not going to play a substantial amount of the time on the JV team, then she will go back to Modified level this year. He didn't come out and say it, but I am sure that his only concern for the moment is her ability to hit a higher level of pitching; she is simply a great defensive catcher, and her arm has gotten a lot stronger and more accurate over the fall and winter. The coach was her instructor for the previous two years of open gym winters during the pitchers-and-catchers-only portion of it, and I know he is well aware of what happens in the youth leagues; I saw him at the Binghamton East tournament at every game, and his talk at the end of the session yesterday to the 6th and 7th graders assembled said essentially what all of us who watched the all-star tournaments last summer were saying: this is a loaded group of youngsters coming up the pipeline. I did not know until yesterday that one of the casualties of the budget process in the city school district was a Modified team; there will be only one this year, instead of West and East having their own teams. And I thought it was telling that he told the kids there yesterday that he expects the Modified team to have at least as many 7th graders as 8th graders, even if there is going to be a practice squad of 4-5 players who don't dress for games this year...but returning to Sabrina, at 11 she was the second-best catcher in the area, to the 12YO who was the primary catcher on that year's all-star team, and that kid now plays lacrosse. She was the best catcher by far in both tournaments last summer, and she has grown two inches and lost a lot of pudge in the last eight months--she is a bit faster on the bases, her swing movement is a lot quicker (she was the only kid in the league last year, Todd told me, that pulled KK's pitches, and I almost think that, with a couple of at-bats against her, she could pull Emily. In both the open gym  this winter and the open gym with the older kids this past week, she was clobbering the pitching machine at speeds that even some of the seniors weren't coming close to handling. She got my genes with that; when I was playing ball as a teen, I had trouble with breaking pitches, but there wasn't anyone's fast ball I couldn't hit), and her throwing speed is hard, much harder than even last summer. I've been telling her since she was nine years old that a good catcher will always play, and she is a tremendous defensive catcher. A good defensive catcher that can hit well, in baseball, is an MVP candidate, and she has been telling me that several of the older kids on JVs and varsity pegged her as early as Monday this past week as a keeper. And of course, she has a couple of former teammates already on JVs who are very supportive of her and helping her feel comfortable...we will see. But my gut feeling is that whoever was catching for JVs last year either moved up or wasn't as effective as they would have liked, and I actually think she has a real good chance of sticking--especially since no one else there has any experience catching the whirlwind that is Emily, and Emily figured out two years ago in all-stars that she could really let it fly with Sabrina (and the other catcher, too, who was also pretty damn good) because they were going to catch the ball if they could reach it (I remember the no-hitter Emily threw against us in City League when she was 11; I don't think the catcher on her team caught a half-dozen pitches cleanly all game).
And as an aside--I am starting to really wonder how in the world our City League team did not win a championship during Sabrina' four years on it. Well, actually I do know why, but I'm not going to get into that all over again. But there was a current 9th grade JV pitcher, a 8th grade JV starting shortstop, and now a 7th grade catcher invited to try out for JV on our team, and a kid who's not trying out for Modified this year even though she's really good because she is only in 6th grade who was an excellent player when she was nine years old, and might very well be on JVs next year, too, because she is that good. That was four of the twelve best players in this age bracket in the City of Binghamton on one team. Yes, we made the playoffs two years, but still-- we should have a trophy or two, Bill, and that we don't is a testament to your coaching non-skills more than any other thing.
I have this compulsion to get the last word. Got to work on that.