Saturday, November 30, 2013

Mini-Sicknesses

I'm not sure if it is a function of aging, or whether or not the microbe world has changed at dizzying speed and I am a battleground area in a new front of a eons-old battle between the world and the organisms that inhabit it. But after working my way through two distinct illnesses within a five-day span, and looking back through my health history the last three years or so, I am beginning to see that these "mini-illnesses" are the norm now, because in the last three years or so, I have been sick, with all sorts of symptoms, for one day on about ten different occasions. Only one of those illnesses stretched into something longer than 48 hours.
I remember when I was younger that when I got a cold or the flu, it usually was at least a three-day, and sometimes a week-long, battle to clear it. There were days I didn't feel particularly good, certainly, but the full-blown cold/flu experience-- aches, fever, sore throat, runny nose, congestion-- usually didn't all happen at once, and if it did, it would go on for longer than ten hours or so. And there was a wonderful time, for about five years after I quit smoking, that I hardly remember being sick at all; I don't think I had more than one or two colds the entire time I lived at Webster Court.
Maybe, in retrospect, the fact that my daughter was in elementary school had something to do with that. She was there for seven years, and with exposure to the same kids and their microbes for that long, a certain immunity builds up. I now realize, as I am writing this, that the cold-free era ended when she went to middle school, and maybe it isn't coincidental. In any event, it was about 3-4 years ago when I started getting these one-day colds, when I would wake up feeling a little off, progress to stuffiness or achiness as the day progressed, be miserable by time bed time rolled around--and be more or less over it by noon of the next day. This has happened, as I mentioned, about a dozen times in the last few years, with only one instance of a serious illness arising (and of course, it came during a time I had a scheduled week off from work).
This week has been like that. I woke up Tuesday feeling like a truck had run me over; I had a lot of desk jockey stuff to do at work, and it was a good thing, because I kept taking 30-45 minute breaks to lay down on the couch between reports. I went to bed early Tuesday night, had a big sweating fit in the middle of the night--and woke up like new. And then I woke up stuffy yesterday morning, which quickly progressed to major runny nose and sore throat, which made for a very uncomfortable day. This morning, the congestion is gone, although the sore throat really isn't (and since I am supposed to be speaking at the NA event this afternoon, it might get a little hairy if it doesn't feel better soon); aside from the swollen tonsils, I actually feel fine.
I would not be surprised if, on a microbial level, we are seeing evolution at work. Between the proliferation of over-the-counter remedies and all sorts of pharmaceutical wonder products available through prescription, it would only make sense that bacteria and viruses would have adapted themselves to do their damage in a much quicker time than previously. I am not the only one I know, far from it, that has to be sick for a few days before going to a doctor or staying home from work, and so if the infectious agent can figure out a way to run its course in a body within the 36 hours I am willing to suffer without seeking assistance in dealing with it, it will escape antibiotics and/or other remedies that would kill it.
I am not certain that I have been dealing with two different bugs here; it's possible that yesterday was round two of whatever ailed me Tuesday. But I don't really think so; I felt fine yesterday from the neck down, and this morning, the need to take an antihistamine has completely vanished. The sore throat I have is probably due as much to snoring because of the stuffiness last night as to the bug. I don't have to talk much for a few hours yet, so that should be fine by time the afternoon rolls around. Which is good, because I have a lot to do today, and I have to get our Christmas stuff up tomorrow. Even though I am allegedly on vacation now, as seems to be the case more and more, my time off seems to be fuller than my regular routines.
And I can't afford to be laid up during those times.

Friday, November 29, 2013

$30,000.99

The above number is a sum added to daily. I am writing about it today because it crossed thirty thousand dollars. The number is the amount of money that I have not spent on cigarettes since the day I quit, a week short of eleven years ago today. And the number is actually quite a bit less than it actually would be if I had continued to smoke cigarettes, especially at the rate I was accustomed to. What I was paying for two packs of USA Golds on the day I quit, I could not buy one pack of Pyramids or Sonomas or whatever the cheapest brands are with today. 
There are times when I think that nicotine addiction is the most insidious and damaging of all the addictions there are. I myself managed to quit shortly after I got the job I have now. But I was unemployed for a substantial portion of 2002, to the point where I was going to food pantries for food--but I was finding money to buy two packs of cigarettes a day somehow. I know a lot of people who have hardly any money at all who continue to smoke cigarettes nonetheless, despite having no disposable income at all. I have friends that are in drug treatment programs that have put down such powerfully physically addictive drugs such as heroin and powerful prescription pills--but who cannot stop smoking cigarettes. I have written extensively of the incongruity of my daughter's mother, unemployed for two years, still managing to find money to keep herself in cigarettes on a daily basis. I know at least three people who have serious lung issues that have smoked for decades--and who still smoke despite the fact that walking across a room has become an ordeal that may lead to a near-fatal shortness of breath. Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and I have hundreds of things to be grateful for--but one of the biggest is that, after being enslaved by a nicotine addiction for two decades, I was able to put it down and keep it down for, as I mentioned, almost eleven years now. 
And even more so than the crack addiction that landed me in recovery, I cannot imagine a circumstance where I would start smoking cigarettes again. After all, I had over four years clean when I quit smoking; the cigarettes were a lot harder to put down than the crack, and it was not only because cigarettes are legal and easier to obtain. I have a certain sympathy for people addicted to any substance, having trod that path for years myself, and I know how difficult it is to put it down. 
But I will say this; I am growing less tolerant as the years pass of those who have been gifted with having the addiction broken for them--and who willingly start the process all over again. As far as I am concerned, incarceration is a waste of time and money for almost all offenders that does more harm than good--with one notable exception. If you go into jail addicted to an illegal drug, chances are your dependence on it will have vanished by time you are released--and if a smoker goes into jail for even a weekend, they have quit for long enough to keep it down. I don't know how many times I have seen people who were in jail for periods of time ranging from a few days to several months who light up again before they have even left the jail parking lot after release--and to me, that's becoming more and more unacceptable. Why willingly enslave yourself again to something that causes even more damage than an addiction to an illegal drug does, once the chain has been broken? There was an occasion recently where someone I've known for years called me from the release station at the jail, whose original ride could not be found and who did not want three hours for the bus to bring them downtown. I was about to head to lunch and was willing to come pick them up--until he asked me to stop and buy him a pack of smokes on the way. I refused, and he had the balls to get angry, whereupon I told him he could wait for the frigging bus. And I've seen him a couple of times since, and he's smoking away like he never had an interruption--and just as financially unmanageable as ever. I just don't understand why you would do that to yourself, knowing what you're getting into again.
Thirty thousand dollars. Even in today's world, that is an annual salary that can be lived on. It is far more than the initial annual salary that I had when I first had this job, and it is more than the salary of the position I was promoted to in 2005. And as I mentioned, cigarettes are much more expensive now than they were in 2002 when I quit, and they were a lot more expensive in 2002 than when I started smoking in 1982. I am old enough to remember when cigarettes were sold in vending machines. I am old enough to remember when the legal age of purchase was 16. I can remember waiting for the corner drug store in Geneseo to open at 6 AM so that the 96 cents I had scrounged would be enough to buy a pack of Marlboros. I can remember going to Atlantic City for the first time in the summer of 1983, and being outraged that the casino had the gall to charge a dollar and a half for a pack of cigarettes. I smoked for a few years before I started buying cartons--and while I don't remember the exact amount I paid for a carton of Marb Light 100s, I do remember I got change from a ten-dollar bill. It was a different world. 
I think cold turkey is the only way to stay stopped. But I have seen an absolute explosion recently in these electronic/vaporizing cigarettes, and a few people at least seem to have stopped smoking the real thing by substituting. I have a grudging admiration for whoever thought of this; they are making money hand over fist on a truly unique idea that actually is somewhat of a solution to an endemic problem. The e-smokes bring their own problems, to be sure. They seem to be very intricately put together; one  of my friends has had all sorts of trouble getting the damn thing operational. I have to say that it's a big unnerving to see people pulling out these gizmos that resemble the hookah that the caterpillar smokes in Alice in Wonderland, and there are others that seem quite clearly to be designed to look very much like a crack stem. While smoking indoors has been banned in this state for a decade now, I am noticing that many e-smokers are quite militant about their right to do so indoors--and almost everyone that does so has some sort of flavor package, so that they are inflicting menthol or chocolate cake or jasmine or vanilla or some other oppressive fragrance on the rest of us in the room, and battles that non-smokers thought were long ago won are now being reopened in a lot of places. It's not quite as oppressive as cigarette smoke, but it is annoying to deal with--I almost want to ask some of these people who are fond of particularly odoriferous concoctions "Mind if I fart?" because what they are putting in the air is just as nasty to me as that would be to them. But I digress...The point I was trying to make originally is that e-smoking isn't cheap, either. The units are anywhere from 50 to 80 dollars, the liquid that gets vaporized costs about thirty dollars for a two week supply, and the batteries and filters in the units have to be replaced periodically. But on balance, it is cheaper than forking over ten bucks a day for a pack of Newports or Marlboros. 
Thirty thousand dollars. Wow. I knew I was blowing a lot of money on cigarettes when I smoked, but I can't imagine that I was spending anywhere from 15 to 30 percent of my income on them. And my health is much better, too. My wind and lung capacity has recovered, and has been more or less what it ought to be for seven or eight years now. I get sick less. Food tastes better. My teeth aren't stained. My fingers aren't stained. My house smells better, and I don't have ashes everywhere and burn-holes in half my clothes and on my furniture. I've probably saved hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars in heating bills by not having to trudge outside every 30-45 minutes to smoke... not smoking is a win/win/win situation. I am grateful beyond words to be free of this curse. And as I said, I cannot imagine a circumstance where I would start smoking cigarettes again. 

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Book Review: CREATION

Creation is one of my favorite books of all-time. It's not new; it was originally published in 1981, and it was the apex of Gore Vidal's career. Stunningly ambitious in scope, it is not only a first-class historical novel, but perhaps the greatest treatment of comparative religion that has ever been put to paper. I re-read it at this point in time because I only recently became aware that it was republished, with material edited out of the original book, a decade ago, and that one of the libraries in the system had the revised version.
The material put back in did clear up some matters for me, in that the strange events that led to Darius the Great ascending the throne of imperial Persia were more fully explained. But I can also see why they were left out of the original; not everyone is as into history as I am, and ultimately the narrative isn't greatly affected or changed by the inclusion of the material. And what a narrative it really is. The main character, Cyrus Spitama, a Persian courtier exactly contemporary with Xerxes that happens to be a grandson of Zoroaster, engages on a 600-page journey through the world of the fifth century BC, meeting several figures that have had a lasting influence on the world's faiths and philosophies: the Buddha, Confucius, Gosala, Mahavira, even Socrates. And to anyone who has engaged on any sort of personal spiritual journey, the interplay between Cyrus and these titans of world history is priceless, a sort of pro/con shorthand listing of almost every major non-book based philosophy known to man. And at the end of the book, Cyrus has been shaken out of his own complacency and certainty, which I think is the point. It is more important to realize what you don't know, and what it isn't true, than what you do know and what is true.
But the spiritual journey is just one level of this wonderful story. Persia is perhaps the most forgotten of the world's great civilizations, for a number of reasons. One is that our civilization's ultimate forefather is that of the Greeks, who resisted Persian hegemony and who, in celebration of that resistance, depicted the Persians in an extremely unflattering and biased manner. Vidal made a career of iconoclastic portrayals of history from non-traditional viewpoints, and this is another beautiful example of his stock-in-trade; the conflict with Greece, from the Persian point of view, is a rather sobering and impressive narrative. Persia was the first great world-spanning empire, but one of the themes of the book is that there was a lot more world than even the Persians acknowledged at the time. And two other things should not be forgotten: the book's original publishing date--and the fact that Persia now is known as Iran. It took a big set of balls to publish a novel that depicted Iranians as largely benevolent and the true beacon of civilization in 1981, even if the time frame was 2500 years in the past. Vidal always had that set of big balls, and the almost-aggressive tone of the book that portrays the Greeks as the real barbarians was at least partially influenced by the events happening as Vidal was writing the book.
And in that sense, rereading the book now was serendipitous. Iran is on the front page again this week, as a nuclear agreement has been signed between that country and the United States, and predictably, a large segment of our proto-Greeks are inflamed about it. Reading this book was a healthy reminder that the modern Persians have some issues with us, too, and that this cultural conflict has roots that long predate the Christian-Muslim coloring of today's contests. And that even before Rome, there was Persia--and the world has rarely worked as well as it did when the Persian Empire was at its peak.
Aside from the religious figures, there are several well-known historical figures that make appearances in the narrative--Pericles, Themistocles, Thucydides from Athens, and Xerxes, Mardonius, and Darius the Great from Persia. I love historical fiction as a genre, because those figures that we read about in history classes and sober historical tomes were people just like you and I, and that a good novel with a historical figure as a main character will always be more informative and more compelling than any "scholarly" history. It is one thing to read a list of the things Pericles accomplished as the leader of Athens; it's another to read of what he had to do to maintain his position and how he interacted with contemporaries. It's one thing to read of Darius' rise to the throne; it's another to see how his personality and ambition shaped an entire world. Vidal had few, if any, peers in writing historical fiction; reading his American history corpus, from Burr through Washington, DC, would be a very interesting and informative high school history curriculum, one I hope somebody someday has the guts to put forward--because it would sure resonate with students a lot more than the dry material in textbooks would.
And Vidal's views on Persia and Greece--that sexual matters were much more of an influence than is generally supposed--certainly are plausible. It is undoubted that harem politics warped Xerxes' life, and that quarrels in Athens and other Greek cities were often rooted in spats between jilted (male) lovers. But these subjects are taboo in traditional history textbooks, which really doesn't make a lot of sense, because the world at large, and today's politics too, are certainly influenced by sexual passions and concerns. I think one reason why youth are not usually interested in history is that the sanitized, sterile material they are asked to learn while in school is boring as hell; they are merely showing eminent good sense by showing a lack of interest. Real life is usually not dull, and a more realistic and honest picture would breed more interest. And the higher the interest, the more we would not have to repeat our mistakes on a large scale, because the mistakes and patterns of the past would be better known by those in a position to make those mistakes--or not.
Vidal died a couple of years ago, and while his place in American literature seems somewhat secure, this particular book is not as well-known or regarded as it ought to be. I'm doing my part to rectify this. If you get this out of a library or buy it on Amazon, you won't be disappointed, and I can guarantee that you will know a lot more about your world, past and present, than you do now.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

How's It Gonna Be

It's been nearly two months since I formally added to the number of "exes" that I have, and over six weeks since the last communication we had. And while I have no regrets about letting go, no second thoughts, no sense of unfinished business, I nonetheless was hoping against hope that she managed to hold herself together in my absence. I know how hard it is to transition from a life in the using world to living clean and drug-free, and that it's next to impossible to do so without some degree of accountability during the immediate transition. She does have a small bit of accountability--a probation officer--but when she and I split and she didn't even go to meetings, much less start working a program, I knew that eventually she would fall back to the depths. I was just hoping not to confirm it with a sighting or a call or a text.
I hadn't seen her since early October, and had only heard a couple of people say they had seen her, none recently. And then last week, I saw her friend, the one I met her through, the Former Distraction, the one that we had the disagreement about--the people, place, and thing that she had to change most prominently, if she hoped to keep the drugs at bay herself, that she insisted she could still be friends with and hang out with--wandering up and down Main Street in the late afternoon, doing what desperate women in the grip of addiction do to support their habit. And I thought "this is not a good sign." And it wasn't, because yesterday I finally saw my ex.
October and November have not been kind to her. She was sitting with her back against the front door of a two-family house on North Street, near my office, on a cold and snowy morning, looking absolutely torn up, and enduring verbal abuse from several kids walking down the sidewalk on their way to school. I didn't have to roll down the window to hear some of the derogatory comments. I was driving slow due to the conditions and due to almost being to the corner where I turn, and as I looked, I could see the vacant stare and the defeat in her face. The house is a known spot, and I am sure she was either being denied admittance because her pockets were empty or she had been tossed out because what money she had arrived with had been spent. And then later in the day, a friend of mine told me she had seen her earlier in the week, too, saying "she looks like an AIDS patient. Oh, my God!"
And by one of those coincidences that aren't, that have happened to me several times over the years, the song that was playing on my CD player in the car was Third Eye Blind's How's It Gonna Be, an anthem that more or less describes this situation to a tee. I admit thinking, when it was going south between us, "there's no way you're going to make it without me." There was nothing left between us, and over several weeks, I've realized that there was nothing to miss.
But I'm not made of stone, either. That image of her sitting there, forlorn and caught in the hopeless grip, has haunted my last twenty-four hours. And I admit that there is a twinge of wanting back in, a small desire to swoop in and say, "You see? I was right. Now come back and stop the nonsense and do what the rest of us who have put it down and kept it down did." And if she does that, then I can intellectually justify sleeping with her again... it's fleeting, and it's nothing I'm going to act on. But it is there, among the hundreds of other thoughts I have every day.
One of the indications that you actually are mature and that you've awakened your compassionate and caring nature comes in a situation like this. There was a time in my life when I would have stopped the car, walked up to her, and gloated about her misfortune to her face. There was also another time in my life when I would have tried to intervene in a way that I would have been a hero--with the promise of the hero being rewarded. But now, I'm feeling mostly sad and empathetic. I've been in that place, at the end of the road where nothing but bad options are available. And I honestly know both my limitations--I'm not going to be the one who can restore her to sanity--and my responsibilities--which is to make sure that her story playing out now is not going to be my story ever again. It's been over fifteen years since I was at the end of the road, and it's been a long journey over that time to a better place. My kids and society have come to depend on me, and more importantly, so have my colleagues in recovery. We can only keep what we have by giving it away, and that presupposes 1) that I am here to give it away, and 2) that I have something going for me that other people want. That in her case, up to this point, the siren song of addiction lured away from the something I have that she found, however briefly, attractive enough to put it down for a time does not mean that I should stop doing what I was doing, or exact a punishment or a price from her for turning away from it. She is doing more to herself than I ever could do to her right now, anyway.
I knew that the answer to the question "how's it gonna be" was going to be "terrible" two months ago. And that it has turned out to be a totally accurate prediction is no cause for joy or happiness. Not at all. Tomorrow is the day most of us formally and vocally express our gratitude for what we have and have been given, but those of us in recovery are in deeper touch with feelings with gratitude on a daily basis. I am grateful that I have been able to find a way out of the morass I was stuck in at one point in my life. And being grateful does not mean enjoying the misfortunes of others... I'm not horribly depressed about seeing her; life does go on and I know we all bear responsibility for the choices we make. But I was saddened, and I hope that she can find her way back to where she needs to be before she has to experience more of jails and institutions, and that she can take death off the table as a possible outcome.

Tuesday, November 26, 2013

In The Bosom of Family

I was at my mother's last night for dinner, as I've gotten back in the habit of doing, more for my daughter's sake than my own edification, this autumn. And during the dinner, someone mentioned that one of my absent sisters somehow, somewhere dug up an old photo of me from when I was in high school, of the very first time I ran an 800 meter race in competition. I had only run 100 and 200 meters prior to that race, and I had no idea of things like pacing at that time. After getting jostled in the middle of the pack for the first hundred meters of so of the race, I bolted to the front and, competitive as I am, stayed there until the last ten meters of the race, when I "hit the wall," in runners' parlance, and my legs stopped working. I ended up with a "did not finish," as I fell and could not stand up for a couple of minutes.
I took some ribbing from teammates and coaches at the time for it--but there was also a fair amount of respect that came with it, too. No one ever questioned my effort or whether I was leaving anything in the tank for the remainder of the two years I had left in high school, and it was the springboard to a very successful track career. Once I learned a little about pacing, I became a very effective 800 meter runner. Within a couple of weeks, I became the regular lead-off man on our 3200 meter relay team, and handed off in the lead every race over the last two years of my career but two, and in second place the other two times; ended up going to two state championship meets; ended up breaking 2:00 a couple of times and was usually between 2:03-2:05, a range that often wins 800-meter events in this day and age in this area; and was a quarter of a relay team that held a Section 4 record for 23 years. I was not the best middle distance runner we had at that time and place, but on a team that was perhaps the most talented top-to-bottom of any scholastic squad that this area has ever seen, I never sat out or was relegated to the scrubeenie events for the remainder of my two years there. A couple of months ago, someone posted a picture of the 1980 team on Facebook, which led to a fair amount of wistful reminiscing regarding what was an amazing collection of talented athletes. To be able to maintain a competitive role on that team was probably the greatest sustained athletic accomplishment  in my life.
And my own family chooses to remember a moment not the accomplishments, the records, the victories--but rather one of the few moments that was something less than successful. I wish I could say I'm surprised, but I'm not, not after all this time. I wrote a few weeks ago of feeling envious of one of my friends, who has been supported in his endeavors by his parents and family since he was a boy, because I have never felt that way. Everything I've done in my life, it's always been "you could have done better" or "so-and-so did more" or "what were you thinking when you did that." Not "that was a hell of a race" or "wow, you had eighteen tackles" or "that was a great shorthanded goal you scored."  It was always the shortcomings, the failures, that got remembered, that still get remembered and brought up today. And the most galling thing is that I am one of four siblings, and as I ended up rather testily pointing out last night, my accomplishments dwarfed those of the other three combined, at least athletically; you'd think, being family and all, they'd feel some filial pride or something about it. But that's never been my family's way; it's always been about bringing you down, of pointing out your flaws and the times when you weren't perfect or didn't accomplish what you wanted to or someone else did more..
And after forty fucking years, it's gotten really, really old.
Thanksgiving has been my least favorite holiday for most of my life. But to be truthful, few of them have ever been festive or feel-good occasions; invariably, somebody starts putting down someone else or loses their temper because something happens that they don't like, and then the insults and the nasty remarks start to fly. When I was younger, I didn't know any better. When I started coming around with my eventual wife, she told me, after a couple of these performances, that she had never seen anything like it, that it was like watching that pack of velociraptors going after one another in the Jurassic Park movies. And as I've spent time around other families as I've gotten older, quite honestly gatherings of my own have lost their appeal. They are occasions to be endured, not enjoyed, and I am sure after this little post makes the rounds, I will be taken to task again for exposing the seedy underbelly of it all again.
But I'm tired of it. It's not like my sister has to carry that picture around on her phone, and there's no reason to. There's no reason she even has it. And the sad part is, this is the sister I feel the most affinity for... I don't know. Part of me really wants to go off, to point out to all of them there each and every one of the times they've not succeeded at something they've done, to detail all of their shortcomings in excruciating detail dating back to the edges of memory. But that would just be fitting right in with them, and I really don't want to go there, because everywhere else I spend time, I'm not like that, because the people are not like that. I've spent much more time in the last fifteen years around people who support one another, who do their best to build each other up, who enjoy each other's company, who don't relentlessly seek out psychological weak spots and try to drive a bulldozer through them.
This year, the fellowship I am a part of is having a marathon meeting, and both home groups I am a part of it are participating in it. I intend to be there for both meetings they are presenting. Which means that the day will be an eat-and-run, and quite honestly that delights me, because every "festive" gathering invariably results in somebody bringing something up that leads to unpleasant feelings or remembrances. I've spent fifteen years getting away from that crap, and I'm not real keen on participating in it any longer. Honestly, if it weren't Sabrina's getting a chance to be around her cousins, I wouldn't even go over there.
There's a reason many of us in recovery introduce ourselves by saying, "Hello, family."

Monday, November 25, 2013

Winter Comes Early

Yes, it has snowed earlier than this in recent memory. Yes, I am sure that it has been colder than it has been the last couple of days earlier in November in the last several years. But more often than not in the last decade, even two decades, we in upstate New York have been walking around in light jackets late in November. For there to be about an inch of snow on the ground, about fifteen degrees with a wind chill around zero, on the last weekend in November-- it's been awhile, especially with no real relief in sight, as a winter storm that will bring the dreaded rain/snow/ice mix just in time for a lot of college kids to travel in on Tuesday/Wednesday.
And I am not complaining. The long-term weather trends remain in place, and I have no doubt that thirty years from now, Thanksgiving is going to be a holiday where cold and snow is going to be rare, if not an outright memory. And it's only due to an accident of the calendar that we are still waiting for Thanksgiving; this year it is as late as it can be, so in most years this would have been happening post-Thanksgiving and would seem less noteworthy. I also have never been much of an outdoors type, and staying holed up inside on a cold weekend doesn't bother me like it does many people that I know. I was pretty busy on Saturday u until the middle of the afternoon, and went to bed early while the wind howled outside, and yesterday I didn't leave the house after I got Sabrina around noon, fighting my daughter for the right to sit on top of the heater vent most of the afternoon and evening.
I work three days this week, and then am off for a week and a half, then will work for ten more days, then be off the week before Christmas. I used to take almost all of December off, but a change in management policies meant that taking three weeks off in a row is no longer possible unless someone dies or you get married or something really out of the ordinary. This is as close as I could get, and I think it will be good for me. I've been taking a lot more time off recently, and it has been better for both me and my program--I"m less burned out, less impatient, easier to get along with, more inclined to suck it up and do what needs to be done without complaining. And having just passed an anniversary date, I am now in the zone where I get an extra 20 hours a year of leave time per year; I might as well take full advantage of it.
Perhaps it will help me get more in the Christmas spirit this year, too. The weekend after Thanksgiving is the time I put up our house's Christmas decorations, without fail; since this is a house that celebrates Orthodox Christmas as well, they will be up until January 8 at least, so this year, I'm actually glad that it will be December before the tree is up. I see from social media that some of my friends already have their trees and lights up, and that's fine, if you have young kids, and a matter of choice if you don't for that matter. Right now, though, Christmas seems a lot more than a month away.
The weather will help with that. As I age and the climate changes, the association of Christmas with cold weather and snow becomes less based in reality, but the cultural imprint remains embedded, especially in my generation that grew up when white Christmases were a reality almost every year. That's going to be inexorably lost as time marches on, and I have no doubt kids being born now will not be as wedded to the White Christmas paradigm as even my kids' generation. I'm not saying it's necessarily a bad thing in and of itself; holidays are a function of culture, anyway, and the weather conditions should not make a major difference in what Christmas is supposed to be about. But it is changing, and I am going to enjoy this cold and snowy Thanksgiving because it is very likely that there won't be more than two or three more in my lifetime, and by time I am old and bedridden, chances are that Christmas will not be a winter wonderland any longer, too.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Book Review: THE IDES OF APRIL

British suspense writer Lindsey Davis has made quite a living over the years from her Marcus Didius Falco series. Her fictional Falco was an "informer," more or less what we would call a private investigator, in the latter first century CE in Rome. Her last book was two years ago, and in that one (see the review of Nemesis 4/24/11 in these pages), Falco more or less came to the end of his professional career, as many personal threads came together to make retirement possible. The Ides of April picks up the story over a decade later, and the protagonist of the series has shifted from Falco and his family to the adopted daughter of Britannic origin, Flavia Albia. Domitian is now Emperor, and Rome is a very different place than it was during Vespasian's reign; although the reign of terror that characterized Domitian's time on the throne only briefly impacts the story, it is a presence throughout in the background. Flavia Albia has followed in her father's footsteps and also become an informer, establishing a bit of a reputation and a decent living independent of her still-important and thriving family. A series of what appear to be poisoning deaths soon begin to hit very close to home for her, as the resolving of the mystery begins to become a bit of a desperate race for her, and even after the perpetrator is identified, the danger does not end until the very end of the book.
That seems a bit sketchy, but this is a very well-done and well-constructed plot, and I really do not want to say more because it would compromise some aspects of the plot. I will say that I am beginning to enjoy Davis' writing immensely; all the details of her characters' lives line up as important plot elements, her details about the setting are spot-on and consistent with actual history (one of my college degrees is in history, and my area of concentration was late Republican/early Imperial Rome, a time frame that Davis' novels are set in the latter part of), and she can certainly spin a yarn. But what elevates her out of the ordinary is the way that her characters, even living nineteen hundred years ago in a culture long vanished, are recognizably people, with a lot of the same concerns, motivations, and feelings as twenty-first century human beings. A subplot that goes through the book is Flavia's setting trapped foxes free; the foxes will be sacrificed as part of an archaic religious festival dating back to Rome's rustic beginnings eight centuries prior, and she does not want to see the animals suffer, much like animal rights advocates do not want to see animals suffer now. The relationships between some of the main characters are nuanced and subtle, not crude and one-dimensional. Her relations with her family are not only as divided as any young adult looking to make their own way in the world would be, but the circumstances of her adoption also figure into it. And the portrait of the long-widowed Flavia (her husband died when she was 22, and she is 29 in the book) in her tentative romantic reawakening rang extremely true; she, and other women in the book, were played by a type of man that was as common in first-century Rome as he is in modern America, and in a manner that was instantly recognizable to someone who has seen this type of predator time and again in the last decade.
But the ultimate recommendation of this book for me is that there were two major plot twists. A careful reader figures out who the murderer is long before Flavia does, which already might divulge more plot than I want to--but the second one I never saw coming, and it is a delicious and wonderful surprise at the end of the book. It's worth it.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

The Movie Everyone Has Seen...That I Haven't

The big excitement in the teen world (and among a substantial number of adults, too, because a number of my friends have already been to see it, and I am hopeful that I will be able to within the next couple of weeks, too) is the release of the second movie in the Hunger Games trilogy, Catching Fire. Almost everybody I know has seen the first movie; I didn't see it in theaters, but we got the DVD within a day or two after it was released, and I have seen it, along with Sabrina, at least fifteen times in the year or so we've owned it. With the widespread use of Netflix, most of the "must see" movies of the last few decades have been viewed at least once by almost all of us. It is rare now that someone admits to not having seen a "classic" movie.
But it seems like we all have one that, somehow or another, we have not managed to view over the years. Mine came up again for me recently. The last few weeks on Facebook, there has been this list going around--a friend gives you a number, and you post that number of things about yourself that few or no people know about you. And for me, one of the things I put on my list was "I have never seen Star Wars." That's right; I have never sat through the entire movie, either in theaters or the thousands of times it has been on television. To be totally honest, I have seen scenes from it--the Darth Vader "I am your father" moment, various Luke-Princess Leia interactions, Chewbacca piloting the spaceship. And I know the story more or less completely; after 35 years and six other movies in the series, you'd have to have been lost in the jungle for decades not to. I have seen three other movies in the series (Revenge of the Jedi, The Empire Strikes Back, The Phantom Menace) and will probably check out Episode VII if it ever makes it to the screen. I don't really have any particular reason why I haven't seen it; I just haven't. I actually came very close to going to it when it was first out. I was between the eighth and ninth grade that summer, and I recall debating with my friends one Saturday night whether to see Star Wars or the then-new James Bond flick, The Spy Who Loved Me--and not surprisingly with four teenage boys, Barbara Bach's boobs won out. (Not for anything, but does anyone realize--or care, for that matter--that Bach has been married to Ringo Starr for 32 years now? Ringo always seemed to be the most level-headed and sensible of the Beatles, and being married to a Bond girl for 32 years seems to be some good supporting evidence of that notion). And the opportunity never really presented itself again. The movie took forever to get to HBO then, and wasn't released to home video because there wasn't home video for about a decade after its release date, and there seemed no compelling reason to get it out after VCRs became a normal part of American life in the late 1980's. And nearly a decade and a half into a new century, I still have not seen the movie.
And after I posted this on my list, I've heard from various people about movies "everyone has seen" that they haven't. Someone of my generation allowed that they have never seen Animal House. A woman I went to college with claimed she has never seen Beverly Hills Cop. A guy I was at the meeting with last night that's older than me and was in the armed forces told me he's never seen Apocalypse Now. A guy from my generation admitted he's never seen, start to finish, Caddyshack. I even heard from someone, albeit somewhat younger, who said they, too, have never seen Star Wars. So I guess it's a more widespread phenomenon than I thought it was.
And at this point, it's almost become a point of pride to have not seen it. I don't really plan on doing anything to make sure I see it before too much more time passes or anything like that.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Fifty Years After JFK

Fifty years ago, a defining event in American history happened. I do not remember the assassination of John F. Kennedy; I was seven months old and, according to my mother, had just gone down for a nap when Walter Cronkite came on the airwaves with a special report. But everyone old enough to have a memory sure remembers where they were when they heard about it, and the killing has certainly been a pivot on which American history has turned.
The biggest effect it had, though, was one that is largely underplayed or even unacknowledged today. The moment when a majority of the American public began to lose faith in their government can be traced, with unusual precision, to the "verdict" issued by the Warren Commission. Within a couple of years of the killing, it was very clear that the official version of what happened was a lie, and most people, in their heart, knew it then and know it now. And when those governing the country continued--and continue--to insist that the fairy tale promulgated was the "truth," people stopped believing not only what people in our political bodies were telling us, but also that those same people had benign or healthy motivations in doing anything that they did. For God's sake, they were ultimately accessories--or active participants--to a murder of a President of the United States. How can anyone trust these people? Much of what came afterward--the Vietnam debacle, the mass goofiness of the seventies, the appeal of anti-government rhetoric practitioners such as Ronald Reagan--is the result of the cynicism that took hold after Kennedy was killed. And we are well into our second generation of cynics, with the end result being that our governing apparatus is viewed as something to be endured at best and destroyed at worst.
At this late period of time, there is no way that anyone who was actually responsible for the death of Kennedy is going to be brought to justice; I seriously doubt any of them are even still alive. I'm much less interested in JFK assassination literature and controversies than I used to be because of the passing of time; the chances that justice will be served are zero now, so it's almost like there's no point to it. I am certain of a few things. One is that while I am not sure what did happen in Dallas that day, I am 100% certain what did not--Lee Harvey Oswald did not kill Kennedy acting alone shooting from the sixth-floor window of the Texas School Book Depository. The Zapruder film, doctored as it is, shows the fatal shot did not come from behind; the description of his wounds by the Parkland hospital staff that saw him minutes after the assassination does not match those described in the autopsy performed in Washington fifteen hours later; the proposed way it happened documented by the Warren Report is a physical impossibility. That this fantastic scenario has been doggedly held onto as the "official" story for so long tells me that someone, somewhere, with access to or holding power had a very strong interest in making sure further digging did not take place at the time and during the two decades afterward.
The second thing I am sure of is that Oswald wasn't completely innocent, either; it was no coincidence that he was in Dallas where he was that day. Oswald was mixed up in American intelligence to his eyeballs, and so much of his story makes no sense in the context of time and place that there is no way to figure out what the hell he was doing there. It was no mistake that he was killed himself two days later; he was likely the only one who could have enlightened anyone about who the actual players were there.
The third thing I am sure of is that while Mafia expertise, as it were, might have been employed in some way to bring the murder off, the Mafia did not plan this and carry it off by itself. The number of anomalies associated with the aftermath tells me that there were people with access to or holding power that were deeply involved in this. This has become generally accepted over the years, but sometimes excuses are heard like "well, they didn't want to start a war with Cuba/Soviet Union." I think that's wrong; we were thirteen months past the missile crisis, and there was a loud, significant minority whose main beef with Kennedy was that he was "soft" on Communism and Communists. What I actually think is that the people who pulled this off really thought that someone more congenial to their aims was going to become President in 1964.
There are other things I am reasonably certain of. I think that, of all the theories I have read and heard of over the years that pushed alternative theories as to what actually happened, David Lifton is the closest to unraveling what actually occurred. Best Evidence was published in 1981, and it remains the most compelling assassination literature out there. I'm not going to go into great detail about it this morning, but it has the advantages of 1) being able to coherently resolve a number of seeming contradictions, and 2) does not speculate to any significant degree as to who did it, only what actually happened. Once what actually happened is settled upon, then it makes it easier in the long run to figure out who actually did it, because it eliminates a lot of possibilities that could not have done some of the things that were done. To sum up a 600-page book in a couple of sentences, the body that arrived at the autopsy table had significant changes in wound patterns than the body that left Dallas, which meant somebody, somewhere had access to the body before the autopsy doctors did. And Lifton found some actual indirect and semi-direct evidence that it did, where and how and when. It's a fascinating read, and probably less disturbing now than it was in the early 80's, when a lot of the parties that could have been responsible were likely still wielding power.
I also have come to believe that the party (parties) ultimately responsible were almost certainly the rabid right wing centered around Texas oil men. The location of the assassination, the ability to find a local means of killing Oswald, the ability to get the actual hit team out of Dallas, and the inability to completely stifle the rhetoric prior to the assassination that drew attention to the right wing as possible suspects all point to someone(s) with deep Texas roots. That also helps, to a degree, the seeming lack of result that came out of the assassination. I've had discussions with friends and acquaintances of mine for three decades about the JFK killing, and some of them have expressed skepticism about conspiracy theories by saying that most of the likely motives often cited--war to take back Cuba, fighting Communism more aggressively, rollback of the New Deal, stopping desegregation--either didn't happen or didn't happen on the scale one would think would happen. My thought is that there wasn't really a coherent to be accomplished other than Kennedy not being President anymore. Aside from any policy differences, Kennedy was everything that these "real American" types despised-- Catholic, liberal, morally questionable, son of disreputable machine Democrat, strong ties and commitment to the New Deal. The fact that a Texan succeeded him was almost immaterial, and that that Texan ended up being more liberal than Kennedy ever would have been indicates that the policy didn't matter as much as would seem logical.
As we are seeing now, images can be more--much more--powerful than deeds. Much of the right-wing apoplexy about the current occupant of the White House is not because of anything the Empty Suit has actually done. It is because he is so obviously "un-American" to these narrow-minded, bigoted eyes. Anyone would be preferable as President  to this guy, in their minds, and I have no doubt that a lot of similar motivations were in play fifty years ago. The fact that a Massachusetts liberal Catholic was no longer President was the goal of whoever was responsible for killing him. What came afterward really didn't matter as much to these people.
Which is why I find the fact that, so far, nobody has attempted to assassinate Obama shocking. His very presence and existence, not Obamacare or Benghazi or whatever else lame excuse of the week is presented, is what they find objectionable, and for many of these people, removing him in this manner is  what they consider a reasonable option. Either the Secret Service and FBI are doing yeoman work behind the scenes, or else something big is brewing. JFK was the last President that was assassinated, and no one has even tried since Hinckley shot Reagan. I think we're long overdue for something of this nature to occur again. I don't want to see it, but in a country of 300 million people, and with a third of them absolutely hating the person holding the office of President beyond all reason--I really think that it is inevitable that there is going to be an attempt on his life before January 2017. I hope I'm wrong.
But I don't think so.

Thursday, November 21, 2013

Drone Crash

Sometime last week, for some reason, my attention was drawn to a Syracuse news station's website report of a drone crash into Lake Ontario. My first reaction was to get real nervous; in the wake of the revelations in the last six months about the breadth and depth of the National Security Agency's domestic spying program, I was thinking "Wow, it's worse than we thought." Then came the "official" explanation--that the drone was on a test flight originating from Fort Drum, up near Watertown, and was not on any official mission.
And after about five minutes, it dawned on me that while the official explanation might or might not be true, the fact is that the official explanation was all the Army was going to say publicly even if it wasn't. Which led me to thinking about whether drones are being used for surveillance purposes in the United States, and the eventual answer that most likely they are. It would be very rare for a tool not to be used, especially if the likelihood that its use would be public knowledge is rather small.
I'm not freaking about it, though. If there is one thing we have learned this year regarding the massive domestic spying program, it's that much more information is gathered than can be realistically processed. Or put more bluntly, people still have to sort through, collect, and make use of the data, and there aren't enough people employed to do so. The Snowden case, whatever one might think about him and his motives, proved this; not only are a lot of people being given access to the data, but it's quite clear, given how easy it was for him to leak it, that no one really has a handle on the people responsible for actually going through it. Just because the information is out there doesn't necessarily mean it's being used for nefarious purposes. The capability is certainly there, but the resources that would be needed for a 1984-type of Big Brother Is Watching apparatus haven't been deployed, and in the current political climate, are not in imminent danger of being so deployed. By the government, anyway.
I'm not that worried about the present or even the next twenty or thirty years. What does worry me is that at some point in the future, trends already in place are going to be accelerated. We already saw, in Iraq and in Afghanistan, that the military delegated a lot of heretofore "military" functions to private contractors--the infamous Blackwater security forces the most well-known, but ultimately on several levels. And at some point, all this information that's being gathered is going to be a very tempting target for acquisition by private forces not necessarily dedicated to national security. Bluntly, somebody is going to be very tempted, whether illicitly or openly, to sell the information we can't really process efficiently now to bidders.
And while I would prefer not to indulge in doomsday scenarios, I think it's beyond doubt that this would not be a good development. There are already a lot of elements of what thirty years ago would be labelled "police state" practices that have become accepted, "normal" practice. I got a small taste of this a couple of weeks ago, when I got a notice in the mail from the New Jersey Highway Department informing me I owed them $51.50 for missing a toll booth when I got on the Garden State Parkway on one of Sabrina's softball trips. It wasn't intentional, and I've never seen a setup on a toll road like that before, but I did bypass it, and I paid up.What bothered me was the surveillance photo accompanying the notice, of my car and the license plate number clearly visible... Which is not unusual anymore. I have been told the police have scanners in their car that scan plates on vehicles they pass while they are patrolling and can tell them within seconds whether the car is stolen or warrants exist for the car owner. When crimes are committed in Binghamton, there are often photos of the scene that are released to the media that came from cameras mounted on light poles and buildings in the area the crime took place in. By now, anyone who has any sort of on-line presence at all knows that your personal information is available to almost anyone who really wants to find out about it (as an aside, why anyone would not fully disclose things like arrest records when applying for jobs in this day and age is beyond me. They're going to find out, period, and in most cases, the answer is less important to those asking the questions than whether or not you are willing to be honest about it. In this day and age, getting into some sort of trouble is not necessarily going to prevent you from being hired by a prospective employer--but proof that you're not entirely honest before you even get the job will, every time. Just answer the question. If a record costs you the job, then that wasn't someplace you wanted to work, anyway).
At present, the information out there is not being used, near as I can tell, for political purposes, in the sense that rigid conformity to prevailing ideology among our ruling class is being enforced. Not yet anyway. But the capability for that is present. And I can easily imagine a future where the quashing of dissent will become more common. Just another reason I really don't want to get old in this country.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Book Review: ALL THINGS AT ONCE

I don't watch a lot of television, mainly because there aren't a lot of television shows I like. I especially do not like news talk shows; I developed a knee-jerk aversion to the format when Larry King was in his heyday, and I've never really gotten over it, especially since most of the attention they get now is for Fox shows, and Fox is one of the harbingers of the apocalypse. And one of the worst, as far as I am concerned, is Morning Joe on MSNBC. I don't  like it because 1) it replaced Imus in the Morning six years ago. Imus was better listened to on the radio rather than watched on TV, but he was often hilarious, usually interesting, and removed from the air in circumstances that I didn't necessarily agree with. I couldn't listen to a regular diet of Imus because it affected me--I became much more acerbic and nasty, almost by osmosis--but I did like the show. Joe, even if it were a quality show, would suffer by comparison; 2) it's not good. Joe Scarborough is an idiot, some has-been former congressman whose next good idea will be his first good idea, and his manner is wooden and vaguely smarmy. All Things At Once is the autobiography of one of his sidekicks, Mika Brzezinski, who has been the eye candy part of the show since it moved to the morning slot all those years ago.
Brzezinski, for those of us of a certain age, does have a certain credibility not usually associated with eye candy; she is the daughter of Zbiginew Brzezinski, the former National Security Adviser for Jimmy Carter and even now somewhat of a staple on talking head shows. And MB (I hate typing her last name) isn't a bimbo. But her story isn't quite compelling reading material, either. The anecdotes of her childhood are somewhat interesting, and the struggles of getting established in the news business in Connecticut were readable. But much of the book is meandering justification for the lack of direct involvement in her children's lives because "that's the nature of the business," and there are two or three sections of the book where she goes on for five pages or so detailing an inner thought process that is simply unreadable. I don't dislike MB; she's not one of the Fox bimbi or a genuinely annoying talking head like Katie Couric, and her main claim to fame--refusing to read a Paris Hilton story on the air because "it wasn't news"--was actually gutsy and admirable, although she made it sound more heroic than it actually was on the air. The book is only a couple hundred pages, and I've struggled through worse, but honestly, this isn't the most compelling book I've ever read.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Support Court Decision

Saturday was a rather full day, and I didn't get home until well after dark. In the mail slot was a rather thick envelope containing the decision made by the Support Court magistrate regarding my violation petition that I had filed several months ago. To make a long story short, the court agreed that it was a violation, but refused to call it a willful violation, which means that MOTY is responsible for paying me the money off the top if and when she ever works again, but that she will not be subject to contempt charges.
There are three elements to any Family and Support Court proceedings: the two parents and the child/children. And as this episode played out over the past few months, I became convinced of two things. One was that MOTY has completely regressed from whatever little progress she made as a human being during the years she was somewhat in the recovery community. She has become a complete parasite on society; I don't know how I missed the connection when it happened, but she became pregnant as soon as it was humanly possible when her unemployment benefits ran out in January this year. She is an active drug addict again--not with her former drug of choice, but not only has she become more unmanageable with the prescription drug abuse, she's upped the ante, as it were, by now becoming dependent on such heavy-duty pills such as Percocets. It has become clear that she remains an informant for law enforcement, which was part of her escaping serious consequences of her brush with the legal system four years ago. The events surrounding this last child's birth a few weeks ago sound like something concocted by a daytime talk show host, and the actual father is someone who, according to those that I know that know him, another one comfortable on the margins of society--serial philanderer while he was married, suspected drug dealer, confirmed loan shark, allegedly in recovery but zero apparent evidence of it other than occasional meeting attendance. She remains a wannabe Secret Squirrel, even stating during the court proceeding that she didn't follow the provisions of the court order regarding informing me of income and residency changes because she didn't feel it was "any of my business." Manipulation and attempts to control the flow of information are a staple of the disease of addiction, as much or more so than the actual use of drugs, and usually it rises to frenzied levels when there is a great deal of activity that is sketchy. And there is a lot going on over there that is sketchy or worse.
Her basic defense regarding the non-payment this calendar year has been that she was unemployed. I have found it somewhat puzzling that the person who worked at nearly forty different jobs between 2000 and 2011 all of a sudden couldn't find a single job. I attributed it to the fact that she was now liable for paying child support, but sometime between the day we left court a few weeks ago and the day the decision was handed down, it dawned on me--most private employers now require applicants to pass a drug test, and if she's hooked on Percs and other heavy-duty pills, she can't pass one. And I've found it doubly odd that she hasn't been required to do some kind of welfare-to-work or re-training while she was on unemployment for two years; the last time I was unemployed, over eleven years ago, I had to do things like that, and I was only out of a job for four months. Her other defense was that she was pregnant and "unable to work." I know that her memory is extremely selective at best, and that she usually claims she "can't remember" because she is so completely dishonest that she cannot recall which lies she told to whom when, and so, in a setting such as court where there would be real consequences to getting caught lying, simply says she can't remember. But she genuinely may have forgotten that when she was pregnant with Sabrina, she pulled the same "I can't work" crap so she could get rent assistance and Medicaid. I know because her landlord was, on the record, me; we were living together and in the midst of active addiction together. And it was a crock of shit; she did whatever she needed to do in the service of her active addiction right up until the day she gave birth. When she was pregnant with her son in 2003, and working legitimately, she worked right up until the week before the kid was born. Yes, I realize she's 39 years old now--but how convenient for her that it's a "high-risk" pregnancy.
You acquire a record and reputation. She's lied, connived, cheated for so long that God Himself could come down and tell me it was legit, and I wouldn't believe it, and when I read the decision for the first time this Saturday, I got pissed, that she had managed to weasel out yet again of the consequences of her actions and incredibly inept decision-making by lucking into another situation where the one making the decisions was someone who had never dealt with her before and so was inclined to give her the benefit of doubts she manifestly does not deserve. And I admit that I thought about appealing the decision, because aside from the unemployment leading to no payments, she admitted in court to the other charge of violation, of deliberately not informing me of changes in income and residency. My thought was, and remains, "Why issue an order in the first place if it can ignored with impunity?" I will grant that the tone of the order is "this is the last break you're getting;" the magistrate actually wrote that she did not want her time wasted by MOTY ducking responsibilities because of "self-imposed hardships," and that she "strongly suggests" that MOTY follow the directives about informing me of changes in the future. MOTY may have caught a break, again, but this is another well she can't draw any more water from.
But the third side of this triangle is the one I am ultimately finding some acceptance regarding. My daughter is is in a tough, tough spot. She is a freshman in high school, and any lingering illusions she had about her mother as a human being are, I have discovered, long gone. She knows that her mother is a liar and a cheat, that she is hooked on pills, that she is a philanderer, that she couldn't raise a flag (much less children), and that she herself is more mature and responsible than her mother is.
And it's eating her up.
Sabrina has been miserable for a few months, ever since she found out her mother was pregnant and was told by her mother not to tell me she was pregnant. She has been even more miserable when my frustration boiled over a couple of times recently and I said things about her mother in her presence that were very intemperate, if accurate. And again, sometime on Saturday night it hit home that whatever MOTY's faults, however much she might deserve to do some time in jail, however much of a POS she is and will always be--she is still my daughter's mother, and you only get one mother. It will not be helpful if Sabrina has to go visit her mother at the jail, and if her mother, messed up as she is, is absent for four to six months. She already has major angst because of the lack of a strong maternal influence in her life; as much as some of the other women in the fellowship have helped in this regard, they're really not emotionally there on a deep, consistent level for Sabrina. I am, but there is a gulf between a teenage girl and a father that really can't be bridged, on some subjects. Her mother is, in my mind, a useless human being--but for all her faults, she has been there, as a physical presence, for the length of my daughter's conscious life, and as such as not been useless to her. Flawed, yes. Undependable? Absolutely. Probably done more harm than good? Possible.
But what has happened over thirteen years here has turned out to be, despite the mess that MOTY has been, beneficial--yes, beneficial--to at least one person. I would not be the man I would be today if I had not confronted and accepted the responsibility of being the primary parent of my daughter. It has consumed me, defined me, changed me beyond recognition from what I once was, and I am not sorry, all things considered, for it, not at all. And Sabrina has benefited, as well. MOTY's other two non-baby children have turned out to be train wrecks, largely because she has been their primary parent; Sabrina is not and will not be. While Sabrina no doubt feels burdened and afflicted, that she is missing something that many of her friends and acquaintances have in their life, she is also aware that she is better off than she could have easily been, and that many kids she knows have turned out to be. She does not have the baggage that many of her peers do, and she doesn't have the issues that some of the other kids she's grown up around in NA do, too, for that matter. She knows this, and she is grateful, sometimes even expressing it as much as a 14YO will allow herself to do.
And ultimately, I didn't need to add to her burdens by being put in a position where my input would be crucial in deciding what price her mother had to pay for her misdeeds, as would have been the case had it been found a willful violation. God does work in mysterious ways, and this is, for me, another example of God's will being made clear to me--it isn't time, or perhaps more accurately it isn't my place to make happen, for MOTY to pay the consequences of her foul lifestyle. They are coming, no doubt, and to be sure, in many ways they are already apparent; her life, on any level you can name, sucks, for real. I don't really believe in the concept of divine "justice" being manifested as "punishment;" I am a fervent believer that we get out what we put in, and the awful situation MOTY finds herself in is the accumulated result of short-sighted, self-centered, morally empty decisions stretching back decades. Or more bluntly, God hasn't done it to her, she's done it to herself. And however justified I would feel in pushing that process along, ultimately it would be more a case of my indulging and acting out on my feelings and ego than any sense of justice. I'm going to get the money, someday, and really, that's all I suppose I am not only legally but morally entitled to. The reasons why I haven't gotten it to this point will, in God's time, bring about the consequences they will. And even though I don't think it's ever going to happen, maybe He wants to give her every chance He can before the inevitable happens. I got more chances than I deserved, too.
One thing I vividly remember from my time at Tully Hill all those years ago is a poster that was up on a wall, detailing 23 different risk factors for addiction. I think I had nine or ten in my background. MOTY had every single one. And as frustrated as I get and have gotten, I need to keep that more in mind than I often do. She has nothing to fall back on, and it's not really a surprise, in retrospect, that the recovery process didn't take in her--seeds will not grow on concrete. All she really has going for her is the idea that God is actually loving and caring, and that He cuts her more breaks because she needs them. And who am I not to accept that in anyone's case, much less my daughter's mother's?

Monday, November 18, 2013

Book Review: TRAVELING THE POWER LINE

Traveling the Power Line is another quirky weird travelogue book that I find irresistible. Julianne Couch is a professor at the University of Wyoming, a state that I knew next to nothing about before reading this book. Apparently energy--extraction and production--is the main livelihood in the state, and the erection of wind towers near her home in Laramie spurred her interest in writing this book, which is her account of going to tour and travel to power plants across the nation using every source of energy we have except oil. The pros and cons of all sources are explored in detail, and I finished the book with a renewed appreciation of how screwed we are in a climate change sense--because every alternative source other than fossil fuels either cannot handle the full job of electricity generation for a huge nation or has huge problems of its own.
Nuclear power is probably the "cleanest" alternative, which, considering the rather huge problem of what to do with the radioactive waste, doesn't say much for our chances. Geothermal is probably the best from a global warming perspective, but its not practical in many parts of the country. I think the author minimized what fracking actually does to the groundwater and communities near gas wells--she went to Texas to view a gas plant and field, not Pennsylvania. She also does not seem to be aware of other countries' efforts in solar energy; Germany has implemented putting solar panels in old railroad beds and is experiencing a huge increase in capacity as a result, to take one I am aware of that could translated well here.
The book is very accessible to the average reader, and full of interesting little digressions like weather in Wyoming, the course of the Platte River, and fish runs in the Northwest. It took me about a week to get through because I was busy, not because it was dull.

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Spectacle in Toronto

Some months ago, I noted in this space that the mayor of Toronto had turned out to be a buffoon beyond belief. Well, he certainly has raised--or lowered, depending on your perspective--the bar on the "can you believe THIS shit?" scale. This week, in addition to previous admissions of smoking crack, word came of that he has bought other illegal drugs in the last two years; admitted to driving drunk while in office; had video and audio tapes surface of him being under the influence while in public; details of a St. Patrick's Day party in the mayor's actual office that involved drugs, alcohol, strippers, prostitutes, and sex with staff were made public; dragged his wife to a press conference to deny some details of the St. Patrick's party and managed to publicly state that he has performed oral sex on her "at home;" reports are now surfacing that several domestic violence calls were received at the Ford home in the last eight years; as it became clear that a bill to strip the mayor of virtually all power (since he refuses to resign) by Toronto City Council was going to be passed quickly, gave all his staff $5K raises before the law took effect, despite his previous pledges that his primary purpose in office was to save taxpayers money; and once the bill was passed, promised to sue the city in court, bragging that the suit would cost same taxpayers "an arm and a leg."
Wow.
There is no question that Ford is an out-of-control addict at this point; his public behavior is rivaling that of Charlie Sheen and Lindsay Lohan in recent years as they were in drug-induced free fall, and what is now making it to public scrutiny is familiar fare to all who have gone through addiction issues themselves. There are many who are asking themselves how in the hell Toronto voters could be so dumb as to elect a guy like this as mayor to begin with; Toronto is not some town in the boondocks or populated by semi-literate gun nuts, but Canada's largest city with several million people living there and the intellectual center of English-speaking Canada. The answer has less to do with the intellectual qualities of voters and more to do with the nature of addiction. Addicts, by definition, are extremely manipulative people, and one of the tools they employ to enable them to pursue their addiction is by being very, very careful to control what other people see of them and their lives. Drug addicts aren't the only ones who do this, either; abusers and serial criminals and philanderers also exhibit these tendencies all the time, because when people finally get caught doing these things, a near-universal refrain is that hardly anyone, and usually those closest to them, suspected that anything was going on. Addicts (and for convenience, all the types of malefactors listed above are going to be included in that term for the balance of this post) are better actors than anyone in any movie.
And that is why, when it all goes south, it goes on for so long; the addict eventually gets to the point where they truly cannot believe that they have lost the ability to manipulate and fool others, that the jig is up. I can remember laying some song-and-dance on my father about three weeks before the end of active addiction that cost him about $500--and being absolutely elated, once I was safely out of his sight and on my way to cop again, that I had been able to get over on him once again after he had become profoundly skeptical of everything that was coming out of my mouth. Many addicts will confess, once clean, that the "chase", the process by which our addiction is enabled, was almost as much of a psychological thrill as getting high actually was; it is part and parcel of the disease of addiction, which is ultimately not about the effects of drugs on the body, but a disease of the spirit. What we are witnessing with Rob Ford is the death spiral of his addiction. He has been getting away with it for so long, and worked everyone around him so well, that he literally cannot believe that he has come to the end of the line. Is he in denial? Of course he is. But delusions die hard in almost everyone, and they die hardest in active addicts.
As I was reading the latest revelations today, I thought about many people I know personally. I recently celebrated a clean time anniversary, and I've spoken a couple of times at meetings I've attended about having become very grateful that, as much as I did to myself and others during my active addiction, I have a relatively low tolerance of pain--because compared to a lot of people I know, I had had enough pain to stop using and stay stopped at a point where many people haven't had enough yet. I have seen literally hundreds of people sink much, much lower--and suffer much, much pain and cause much, much more pain to others--than I did, and I honestly wonder how the hell they can do it, how they are able to function and continue to pursue their path of self-destruction long past the point where reason and logic would ostensibly dictate that they stop. And what we are seeing with Ford, what we have seen with other public addicts such as Sheen and Lohan, is someone with an incredibly high threshold of personal pain. Even though he may seem like a monster, somewhere inside Ford, he knows exactly what the deal is--but he is deathly afraid to stop doing what he's been doing, to admit that it has all crashed down and it is time to surrender. That point does come for many, even celebrities; twelve years ago, Robert Downey, Jr., seemed to be completely hopeless, and six years ago, no one would have believed that Britney Spears would ever get and keep her life together for any length of time.
But for many, it does not. One of the small subplots running through my own life recently has been the struggles of a few people I know that were part of the addict's union when I was using--and are still struggling today. I wrote a few months ago about someone I dated in early recovery who relapsed long ago and cannot keep it down; she's still working the neighborhood my office is in nearly every day. A guy that I have known for nearly twenty years, a guy who's had a daughter with a close friend of mine, who has been to dozens of programs and treatment centers, has, after an encouraging spring and summer, crashed again and is haunting the City of Binghamton on his bike, dopesick or drunk or both pretty much 24/7. A woman I used to get high with that also works the streets was recently arrested after being hit with a Taser for melting down in public; her daughter told me this week she is looking at six months in jail and yet another term in treatment after that. A guy that was part of my circle the first summer I was clean was arrested this week for stealing copper pipes out of an abandoned house, no doubt looking for money for drugs; he has done at least one long bid since the summer of 1999, and he may well be headed for another one... there is an adage in recovery circles that some must die that others can live. There isn't a happily-ever-after for everyone with addiction issues, unfortunately. The opportunity is there for everyone, but the sad fact is that not everyone takes advantage of it. It's far too early to tell what side of the divide Rob Ford is going to fall on. But it's unfortunate that a city of 2.6 million people is going to have a front-row seat as his personal struggle plays out.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Comical--But Not

The candlelight meeting has been my home group for a long time now, and while we're not drawing the 80-90 people we were when ACC was bringing their people to the meeting, we still draw a good fifty to sixty people a night. And given those kind of numbers, and given that it held on a Friday night smack in the middle of one of the city's sketchiest neighborhoods, it's not surprising that three or four times a year, people that are mentally unstable wander in and make their presence felt. We had another instance last night. A guy came into the meeting about forty minutes after it started, sat down next to the woman that was sharing and put his hand in the air like he wanted to talk. There was someone who was due to talk next, and I held my breath when he started talking when the person did, but he held quiet until she finished, and then he started in. And it became clear that he was not there to share a message of recovery.
I was the secretary last night because the usual secretary was not at the meeting, and I was trying to figure out how we were going to shut this down from the moment he walked in the room, because these outliers always tend to ramble on and on and on. Kate was chairing the meeting, and I could see she was on high alert, too, but fortunately, the guy gave us a chance to intervene, because after a rather obnoxious sixty seconds of rant, he allowed that he was currently high, which gave Kate the opening to tell him that it is group guidelines (as stated in the chairperson's report read at the beginning of the meeting) that if someone present has used today, that they remain silent. The guy reluctantly stopped talking, but within two minutes mouthed off to the guy sitting next to him and stalked out, cursing as he went. I followed him up the stairs and out of the building, to make sure he didn't do any damage or make any detours, and then went back down to the meeting. The meeting resumed, and we managed to get through to nine o'clock without any more ugly incidents.
And someone asked me, quite seriously, after the meeting was over, why we have the guideline in place. The answer is partially for safety--this guy was clearly not quite right, and I can think of a couple of others over the years that were also borderline dangerous, and many people under the influence are quite belligerent once they are assured of an audience. Last night this was even more of a concern, because a few members had their preschool children along (which it would have been nice if some of the adults who shared had kept in mind when they were sharing, because it seemed like a half-dozen people managed to work several F-bombs into their sharing, but that's a topic for another day). But the main reason is that a meeting is a place where addicts gather to share their experience, strength, and hope of recovery. We're all well aware of what being in the grip of the disease of addiction is. We don't go to meetings to hear more of drunk/intoxicated/high people; we've all spent years spending our most of our time around such people. Recovery is about change and about doing things differently, and how to change and how others are living differently today is what we go to meetings to hear, and what we need to hear. You can anywhere else in the world and listen to people who are in the grips of addiction, all day every day. Our primary purpose, as stated in our literature, is to "carry a message of recovery to the still sick and suffering addict." Allowing people under the influence to indulge their disease at its most active is a direct contradiction of that purpose. We have enough trouble keeping our attention-seeking tendencies under control while we are clean and trying to recover; we certainly do not need or want to give the disease of addiction a greater forum to influence us in a setting where we are trying to combat it.
It isn't a matter of censorship, or of power/control issues. It isn't even all about safety. Any group, any organization, has the right to define its own boundaries, just as individuals do, and we are by no means obligated to allow those boundaries to be violated simply because we have made a collective commitment to acting on spiritual principles. And ultimately, the guy was welcome there; we merely asked that he not speak because he was high. That he refused to abide by that request clearly showed that, whatever his motive might have been, it was not about trying to hear the message of recovery. There have been plenty of times over the years where high or drunk people have been in meetings, and no one has ever made one leave simply for being drunk or high. And that didn't happen last night, either.
The guy stayed gone, which doesn't always happen, and in the end, it was merely a diversion, something that made this particular meeting memorable for the attendees. We were fortunate that the uniqueness turned out to be more humorous than anything else, when all was said and done. But the hope, ten hours later, is that the man didn't succumb to his disease last night, and that some day, soon, he finds his way into a recovery setting with enough desire for change to be able to stay long enough to hear the message. Another passage in our literature states that "no addict need die from the horrors of active addiction," and that's as true of the obnoxious and obstreperous addict as it is for anyone else. I hope to see the guy again.
Just when he isn't as in the grip as he was last night.

Friday, November 15, 2013

Bon Voyage, Miranda

On Monday, I will have been at my job for eleven years. Our agency is a pretty large non-profit that spans the state, with about a dozen offices and somewhere around fifty different programs from Buffalo to Long Island and most places in between. And having been around here for this long, I have seen literally hundreds of people come and go. I remember going through a pile of stuff about four years ago and coming across an old Central Region phone list, and at that time there were maybe eight names out of fifty that were still working for the agency. It's a field where turnover is constant, and indeed staff retention is a constant concern of upper management, as it is for virtually all employers of size in this day and age.
So when someone hangs around for a long time, you become somewhat attached to them, and when that someone is a person that you a role in hiring, that was your colleague for a time, and has been your friend through thick and thin...well, you don't just let them go, when that time comes, in silence. I first met Miranda a little over ten years ago, during the first incarnation of my program, when the position I held was two levels below the one I have now. She was one of the applicants for a vacancy in the then-Oneonta office, essentially looking to become the Otsego County me. She had just finished her two-year degree, was maybe twenty-two, but it was clear from the moment she started answering questions that she was the right person for the job, and after the interview was concluded and we had a roundtable discussion of the candidates, I was quite vocal and really pushed the then-coordinator that Miranda should be hired, even with only an associate's degree. She was, and even though she has moved around to about six different jobs within the agency in that decade, she's never left it. Until now. Today is her last day.
So much has changed in the last decade, as it should; she has been here for a third of her life. She got married about six or seven years ago, and now has two kids, and while I will not divulge details as to why she is moving on now, spending more time around her young ones and her husband is part of the reason. That's something I can identify with strongly; I have been fortunate enough to be able to (mostly) arrange my work life so that I have had plenty of opportunity to participate in my children's life, and have felt even more fortunate when I see the demands placed on people who work in other programs in the agency. I have privileged to watch Miranda develop not only as a professional, but as a person; while she was confident and competent from the day she started work, but watching her learn to stand up for herself and develop the skill set to manage difficulties both on and off the job has been one of the quiet rewards of my own time here. Our paths haven't crossed real often since 2006, but every time we do run into each other, there has been a comparing of notes and an appreciation that, yes, someone else is finding their way through the professional minefield and not only building a career here, but living a full and rewarding life, too. We've leaned on each other during crises; we've helped each other adjust to the dizzying changes that have affected and continue to affect our employer; we've provided each other with honest, non-judgmental, and supportive input as events have required.
She has been that rarest of treasures, the person you know from your job that actually is your friend no matter what happens. 
And it goes without saying that she will be missed. Of course I wish her well, and hope that all that she is hoping to accomplish in the future comes to pass.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Jail Expansion

Several months ago, our local sheriff, who's been in office since before the turn of the century, announced that he felt that there was a need for a new county jail. And my suspicious little mind immediately noticed both subtle and not-so-subtle measures being taken that could be construed as a way to influence a public, and perhaps even a county executive's office that has been very adamant about not finding ways to spend more public money, that might not be convinced that an entire new jail was necessary. To wit:
1) If you don't leave the house much, you'd be convinced that we, in Binghamton, are in the middle of a crime wave akin to that of Al Capone's Chicago. For years and years, few if any crime stories made the television station's roster of air-worthy stories, and the local rag was almost completely devoid of arrest stories. Since Sheriff Harder (no, for you out-of-town people, that is not a sarcastic nickname, but his actual last name) went public with his desire in early summer, all of a sudden the TV and Press are chock full of stories about crimes and arrests. I'm in the community a great deal, both professionally and on a personal level, and honestly the City, at least, doesn't seem a whole lot different than it did in the spring. There may well be a worsening of crimes, but as I said, I'm suspicious.
2) Harder managed to find an army surplus armored vehicle for peanuts--he says--at a government auction, and invited the media to tour the region inside it. I didn't even know the county had a SWAT team before this story aired; I knew the State Police did, and to my mind that's more than sufficient for an area of this size and the number of times one is needed. It is a general maxim that if one owns something, one finds a reason to use it even if you really don't need to. To my knowledge, this monstrosity has yet to be deployed--but it's only been a few months. I simply cannot fathom any circumstance where it would actually be necessary to use what is essentially a tank, not around here. But given the amount of attention the purchase received, it reinforced the impression that crime is out of control and we need to lock up more people.
3) Shortly after the new jail idea was floated, I began to notice that people began disappearing--not in the Argentine junta sense, but in the sense that people were getting locked up for a lot of things that they used to released on their recognizance for, such as petty larcenies, seventh-degree possession, and other misdemeanors. It might have been coincidence, but I also noticed that a larger-than-number of people were violated from parole and probation this summer (although that may be due merely to the fact that a former DSS worker not noted for her patience has made it past her own probationary period at the Probation Department and started violating about a quarter of her caseload; she was a jerk at her former job, and by all accounts she is as just as miserable as ever at this one), and Drug Court, for about two months, seemed to remanding a lot of people back to jail for violations that seemed rather--iffy, let's say. The result was predictable; the jail went from being slightly under capacity to seriously overcrowded in about three weeks.
4) And then reality gave the efforts a boost, as well. There have been murders in the county since my family has lived here--not a whole lot, but enough so that when one occurs, it is not shocking. They also, for whatever reasons, tend to cluster--there will be years where there are maybe three, and then there will be years when there are a dozen or so. This year, for whatever reasons, the numbers are up. Proponents of "law and order" have been quick to seize on them to make the case for the usual tried-for-sixty-years-and-found-wanting-alleged-solutions, of which increased incarceration rates are an integral aspect of--and then, two days before the Binghamton mayoral election, a particularly gruesome murder took place (with an attempted murder of a pregnant woman along with it), which certainly abetted the impression that crime is out of control in this area, and which certainly didn't hurt the candidacy of the guy who was promising to hire more cops.
And a couple of days after the election, the shoe dropped. But thankfully, it actually was more of a slipper than a shoe. The current jail has a gym that is hardly ever used, and Harder announced plans to convert it to two small residential pods and an expansion of the medical unit to conform to new state regulations. And even curmudgeonly me can't tear the plan apart as a total boondoggle. The cost seems manageable on the surface, but there are two elements of the plan that aren't being taken totally into account. One is a long-term cost--there are going to have to be more correctional officers hired, and not only do they get paid reasonably well, but they have a functional and powerful union that takes care of their members well (and it's one of the few unions that these small-government, no-taxes politician types either don't have issues with or are too politically savvy to openly oppose). There will be budget tensions in future years, but chances are the cuts and trimming that will be necessary to accommodate the increased number of law enforcement officers are going to be taken from other areas--in other words, to take one likely example, enjoy the last few years of public transportation while you can. The second is due to the logistics of the jail itself; the only way to work on the existing jail is from the interior courtyard, which means that the equipment necessary to do the job is going to have to be dropped into it by crane. Cranes are hideously expensive, and their operators almost equally hideously underpaid and under-trained; I would almost bet money something goofy is going to happen if and when the project starts, and because cranes are contracted out months and even years in advance, this project isn't going to start anytime soon. And it will be interesting to me to see what happens in the interim. Now that the plan is in place and there seems to be no qualms about the cost, I wonder if the roundup I think I've been seeing will ebb somewhat. I hope so.
But even more than the hidden or unacknowledged costs,there is a bigger concern I have. I really think that jail does more harm than good for non-violent offenders, and the day of reckoning is coming for the entire punitive approach to drug use and drug addiction, not only here but nationwide. The war on drugs is not a war on drugs; it is a war on people, and no one wins. I'm not busting with innovative alternative ideas, but I do know--and so do cops and politicians, if you talk to them privately and in a setting where their words won't be made public--that the approach we've been using for the last thirty to fifty years has failed miserably. And the first step to finding something that does work is finally accepting beyond the shadow of a doubt that what is being done now is not working and that changes are needed.

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Race Rears Its Head Again

There are those that claim that racial prejudice in America is a thing of the past, that somehow, because we have an African-American President and no obvious legal discrimination in the land, that racism is no longer prevalent or a factor in American life. Most people aren't quite that naive, but I will say that there are far, far too many (white) people out there who do not fully appreciate the depth of the reservoir of racism that is present in the adult generations everywhere in the country. There were two news stories in the last two days that pointed out the continuing pervasiveness of racist attitudes here that continue to infect us:
1) The most obvious was a column by Washington Post writer Richard Cohen, who managed, in a piece ostensibly about Iowa in 2016, to insert this gem of a paragraph:
“People with conventional views must repress a gag reflex when considering the mayor-elect of New York — a white man married to a black woman and with two biracial children. (Should I mention that Bill de Blasio’s wife, Chirlane McCray, used to be a lesbian?) This family represents the cultural changes that have enveloped parts — but not all — of America. To cultural conservatives, this doesn’t look like their country at all.”
And he honestly cannot understand why people who read this consider this racist... "Gag reflex?" "Conventional views?" I would agree that there are people that de Blasio's family does inspire a gag reflex in some--but I would vehemently disagree that they represent "conventional" views. They represent racist, or redneck, views. Unfortunately, "cultural conservatism" has long been one of those nice-sounding euphemisms that describes racist attitudes and thoughts. It's certainly not a new phenomenon; this country has been deeply divided by attitudes toward race since before we were actually a country--there was a lot of noise at the Continental Congresses over the hypocrisy of the many slaveholders who were crying loudly about "liberty," and the debate has never really quieted over, now, eleven generations of Americans. Conventions are changing, and I would say that at least in areas of the country outside the South and the belt between the west coast mountain ranges and the Rockies, that a biracial family would not inspire widespread "gag reflexes." However, the key word in that sentence is "widespread."
I have a friend that I don't see very often anymore, after she returned to work after completing whatever addiction treatment program she was in. She has two bi-racial children, and she shared, when she chose to when she was in a meeting, that her own family refused to accept her or her children simply because of their skin color. I have heard and seen variations on this theme dozens of times over the last thirty years or so. It is less common than it once was, and a bit less virulent than it used to be, but it is still present, and my daughter has already passed remarks that she is afraid that her half-brother, only a few weeks old, is going to have an already hopeless journey through life further complicated by the fact he is bi-racial. To be sure, a victory of sorts has been won in the fact that such attitudes are now driven under the surface, rather than openly expressed, much of the time. But the fact that they still exist testifies to the depth of the problem. And it should not be forgotten that we are in the Northeast, one of the better parts of the country as far as racial attitudes are concerned. 
Cohen's column has ignited a firestorm, not least since it is only about the fifteenth racially inflammatory column Cohen has written in his career, and despite his publisher defending him yesterday, his career may not survive the hit. But his views are not, unfortunately, unique, and point to the divide in the country not only among sectarian lines, but along generational. Cohen is an early Baby Boomer, prone to narcissism almost by definition, and so his puzzlement that people are objecting to his terminology and views is likely genuine. But that doesn't make it any less repulsive. Conventions are changing, but change means movement, and movement creates friction. And Cohen's generation is not going to give up its views easily or quietly. 
I suppose in the larger picture, there is something to be grateful for, because compared to, say, 1959, attitudes have changed markedly among many in many places. But only to a point. No one with cancer is satisfied when "there's less of it than there used to be," and racism is a cancer that has affected us since the day we got to these shores four hundred years ago. That's quite long enough to be living with a deadly disease, and it needs to be confronted and eradicated whenever it pops up.
2) An example of the more subtle kind of racism that is all-too-common was shown in Atlanta yesterday. The Braves announced that they would not be renewing their lease at Ted Turner Field after it expires in 2016, but instead will be playing their games at a yet-to-be-built stadium in suburban (and heavily white) Cobb County starting in 2017. That series of events is worthy of a separate post, but most telling to this conversation is a comment made by the Cobb County Republican (of course) Party chairman, saying he would support the proposed move if taxes didn't go up (can't argue with that) and also  “It is absolutely necessary the (transportation) solution is all about moving cars in and around Cobb and surrounding counties from our north and east where most Braves fans travel from, and not moving people into Cobb by rail from Atlanta." 
You rarely see something this inherently racist uttered so blatantly any longer. "People" coming by rail from Atlanta would be not white and not suburban, which doesn't leave too much ambiguity about what population demographic he is referring to, does it? And we have a new poster boy for the New South... this kind of shit is endemic in the South. People that live there can say all they want about alleged changes in attitudes, but the evidence--actual circumstances and actions other than words--points overwhelmingly that the white population of the South is what they have always been: racist to the core. It has been this way for three centuries, and it will be this way, without intervention, for at least three more. It's ironic that Atlanta crossed my radar this week, because two of my work colleagues are attending a work-related conference in Atlanta as I write, a conference I could have gone to if I really wanted to. There are a number of reasons I did not--the biggest one being that flying is difficult for me--but the fact that it was in Atlanta sure made it an easy decision not to go. Many of my friends from high school and college have moved, over the last three decades, to places in the South--Atlanta, Houston, Charlotte, Charleston, Nashville. And honestly, I don't care how well they are doing financially, I would never follow in their footsteps. Even allowing for some differences among regions--Charlotte seems almost tolerable, while there is no conceivable circumstance that would compel me to spend even five minutes in Houston--the entire Southern/cracker culture is too ingrained and too strong for me to ever feel comfortable in. I lived briefly in the Dallas area in 1986 and in southern Florida in late 1998-early 1999, and whatever weather-related and taxation advantages there might be in the South, the culture is, to my mind, rancid. Period. Intolerance, bigotry, racism--whatever term you want to use, it's there, it's obvious, and it's nothing I want to be a part of. And this bullshit about how it's changing is just that; cow feces. It's been this way since Jamestown, and it's not going away. I'm never going to be benevolent dictator, so I've accepted that I can't make them go away--but I'm not cosigning this kind of endemic, morally repugnant bullshit, either. Racism is ugly and indicative of a stunted soul, and anyone who makes excuses or apologies for it ought to be ashamed of themselves. 
And by choosing to live there, you're making excuses and apologizing for it. It's one thing if you're a native; it's another to willingly plop yourself down in the middle of a moral cesspool.