Friday, January 31, 2014

School Matters

My daughter is extremely bummed that she needs to be getting up in about 35 minutes to go to school, largely because she hasn't had to be there since last Friday. The last week in January is traditionally winter Regents week in New York, and this year Sabrina doesn't have any tests to take (she has a few Advanced Placement classes, and in years to come will have January tests, but not as a freshman, I guess), so she has been off since last Friday. And she is not enthused at all about going back to school for one day. Her father is very enthused that she will be actually be out of bed before the crack of noon today for the first time in a week. I was a teen once, a long time ago, and it wasn't that much of a different world; I was in bed much more often than I am now. But I can honestly tell you that if I was in bed at noon as a teen, that was because I had not gone to bed until 3:30 or 4 o'clock in the morning, and more likely than not I had been shit-faced when I had gotten to bed, too. She doesn't drink or party, to my knowledge, which is an improvement over what I was doing at her age, but this tethering to her bed does concern me some.
I do agree that it is generally a waste of time to return to school for one day before a weekend. Binghamton is doing something today, though, that I honestly think should have been done years ago--in fact, can't believe that the area's largest school district has not done for this length of time. Starting today, Binghamton High School students will be issued school ID's, and increased security measures will be implemented as well--if you do not have a school ID on you, you will not make it past the security desk, starting next week. It's not quite metal detectors and frisking, which is what some of our more extreme parents would like to see, but it is a long overdue measure that, to my mind at least, is not overly intrusive to the students. And it beats some of the other ideas that were being floated such as confining students to the school grounds during the day (and at lunch time, more specifically). Sabrina's not real happy about it, but I think she will get used to it fairly quickly, and in a few years, it will be so standard as to be routine. I still think that the high school is going to have to rethink some of their other approaches to security--this policy they've adopted of not suspending non-Caucasian kids no matter what they do is causing chaos and, if not rescinded soon, is going to lead to some massive white flight among those who can afford it--but this is a rather easy and necessary step to improve the atmosphere around the school. As it stands now, the graduated and those who have dropped out both more or less have the run of the school should they show up at the school, especially during lunch time, and kids no longer attending school have been part of every major problem that has happened at the school in the last four years.
The end of January has also seen the spring semester for our local colleges begin. I'm more aware of it this year because several of my friends that are part of Drug Court have returned to school, and without exception all of them are really excited to be doing so. This is why Drug Court and other chemical dependency programs are such a great thing and why they are so much better than incarceration (especially since the Department of Corrections no longer gives inmates the opportunity to pursue educational goals beyond a GED like it used to, and I'm reasonably sure the federal prison system no longer offers college-level courses and such, either, like it did when my father was doing his bid thirty years ago). For the person who is truly looking to put drugs and, more importantly, the drug lifestyle behind them, the opportunity to get even an associate's degree while still in treatment is a life-changer, especially for younger people that have almost all of their adult lives ahead of them. If you want people to stay clean and become productive members of society, and I think a majority of people do (there are always people that think anyone who has ever done--well, actually, let's get real; anyone who has been caught doing--illegal drugs should be buried under a rock and never allowed into open air again), then there has to be some opportunity given to them to better themselves. And it isn't as if it is a free opportunity; every one of the people I know that has gone back to school while in Drug Court has had to take out serious student loans to do so. I cannot imagine starting life under serious burdens of debt, but it has become the normal course of events for people going to college today, and I think that development suits the oligarchic elements that actually run this country just fine. There will be a price to pay in the future; most revolutions in world history have debt of the many owing to the few as a root cause, and we're getting there faster than I ever dreamed would be possible when I was college-age. But this is the new normal, I suppose, and I've ceased to be amazed or even unduly alarmed by it. My daughter Rachel is going to be a veterinarian, and I've known for years that, even with her fabulous grades and major number of scholarships, that she was going to start out in her late twenties with a huge amount of debt; that's just the way it is now.
It's Sabrina I worry more about. I didn't have much of a cushion to begin with, and one consequence of her softball career is that the cushion is going to shrink or vanish by the time she is a senior. One of the ideas behind the softball is hoping that she develops her abilities enough so that she is offered a partial or full scholarship to a college she wants to attend because of her talents; it may or may not play out that way, but if it doesn't, she can always get loans, too. And the idea of trying to move forward in today's world without at least some kind of college sheepskin is becoming ludicrous, and will only be more so in the years to come. That's why I am glad to see so many of my friends on Drug Court and in Supportive Living in college; they at least have a chance to make it. And I don't know anyone who has gone back to school under such circumstances that has regretted it; to the contrary, it's become a bulwark, a fortified defense, against the possibility of relapse. For kids still in high school, not going onto college is more or less a death sentence for any possibility of a comfortable existence as an adult; I can't say it any plainer than that. I don't care how high the minimum wage is raised; even if you can make a living bagging groceries or working in fast food places or cleaning or doing grunt work, there are much more rewarding and easier ways to make a living, and getting that education adds to not only your skill set, but gives you a chance to recoup losses should poor decisions or bad luck intervene. I was very successful financially in my twenties and early thirties, and blew it all with startling speed to the point where I was completely starting over at 36 years old--but the only reason I have been able to claw my way back to lower-middle class life is because I have two college degrees. I would never have been able to be a white-collar person who has been at the same place, working up the ladder, for eleven years and counting without that education.
You can never know too much, for real. And despite the flaws in our education system, the process of getting one, especially on a college level, does give you skills you need to move forward. More than anything else, the ability to problem-solve and think creatively in addressing issues is developed to a useful level in college, along with other big-people skills such as time management, setting priorities, playing well with others, and gaining a sense of responsibility. Attendance isn't compulsory like it is in high school, and you have to learn to juggle your time, especially those who are not living on campus, to get all you need to do done in a day. College, and education in general, is a great thing, and those working their way through it need all the support they can get from the rest of us peons, because corporate American sure isn't looking to do so. All they want are people just literate enough to run the machinery, but otherwise motiveless and clueless--"obedient workers," to use George Carlin's phrase. It's possible to move beyond that, to be sure, and the more of us that can do it, the better off we all will be.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Book Review: EMPIRE ANTARCTICA

It's been a cold winter around here--but there are places on earth where temperatures reaching a few degrees below zero and wind chills of about fifteen below would be considered positively balmy. British doctor Gavin Francis spent a year in one of them, Antarctica, and that year is the subject of Empire Antarctica. The book is fairly interesting, amusing in spots, about the day-to-day existence of living on a base where the sun doesn't shine for three months out of the year (and doesn't set for an equal amount of time); what people do to maintain interest, the lack of privacy, the routines that develop. The "Empire" of the title comes from Francis' interactions with the other living creatures that shared his world, emperor penguins, and the book is full of interesting information on the world's largest penguin and penguins in general. I had no idea that every emperor penguin in the world in a warm weather zoo is miserable and disoriented, for example, because they are hardwired and physically adapted to seriously cold temperatures. I had no idea that an emperor penguin egg is nearly the size of a football, or that adults fast for up to four months out of the year, or that chicks cannot swim for the first several months of life--they're capable of it, but they haven't grown sufficient weathers to weather the cold temperature of the water. Francis seems like a decent fellow, and the book is a nice little tale of a year of his life.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Winter--and Reactions To It

We have a really cold, by any standard you care to use, winter. It's unusual to have had several days where there have been school delays because of cold; I really don't remember that happening in recent memory, and I've had kids in school since 1999. Of course, it's giving those who really want to deny climate change half a soapbox to stand on, which I've more or less tuned out completely; on any subject, there are some people who just aren't going to be convinced until the Atlantic Ocean is lapping at the steps of their home. That's not what I'm writing about.
It's the near-panic reaction anytime something unusual happens with the weather. You see it in the summer; every time a severe thunderstorm or tornado watch is issued, there are people who are convinced the apocalypse is nigh. You see it in the fall; the first snow of the season invariably sees some people in a tizzy. You see it in the winter all the time; OH MY GOD SNOW IS COMING. And you see it in the spring; around here, everyone is hypersensitive every time it rains for more than a day because of two recent devastating floods in the last decade (and to be fair, some live in areas prone to flooding; I've become much more blase about rain since moving to relatively high ground). But at least in the area where I live, we are used to variable weather, and the worrywarts are in a distinct, although annoying, minority. Most of us pretty much go about our lives. And should something unusual happen, we act like--and more importantly, drive like--we've seen this kind of weather before. We get the occasional imbecile behind the wheel in snowy conditions, but invariably the driver is either someone who is young and inexperienced or someone who drives recklessly no matter what the situation. We don't get grocery stores or Home Depot mobbed like they were giving stuff away. We don't get panic school closings because it might snow or rain or something (the last couple of years, anyway; many of us raised sufficient hell during the late aughts when a forecast of a couple of inches beginning when school ended was sufficient to call the day that I think school superintendents are more wary of bullshit calls these days).
But I have been in warm weather burgs when winter weather has come knocking, and it's not pretty. During my unhappy sojourn in the Dallas/Fort Worth area in the mid-80's, I was there for a minor ice storm during the spring--or at least minor by upstate New York standards. For these people--what a calamity. There were fifty accidents in Arlington if there were one, and it was one of the few times in my life when I was glad I didn't have a car at the time. Those people had no idea of how to drive in slippery conditions, and it was seriously like a demolition derby out there. My friend that I was staying with, who was originally from suburban Buffalo, did have a car, and he was just appalled by the chances the locals took, and sure enough, his car got hit pretty good--in a parking lot, of all places; I recall him actually jumping up and down a few times in frustration as the scene unfolded, knowing what had just happened could have been avoided with the slightest bit of care and caution and common sense, and being powerless to stop it. I was also in Boca Raton during early recovery, as well in Daytona Beach on spring break when I was in college, and although there was no snow or ice event while I was there, I was vastly amused by what the locals considered to be "cold." I remember walking around quite comfortably in shorts and T-shirt on a day when it was about sixty degrees, and some (not elderly) natives walking around with fleece jackets zipped to the top in both places who stared at us with malevolence, no doubt pegging me and my friends for the Yankees we were.
I was reminded of all this yesterday, when national weather forecasts were calling for snow and cold as far south as Florida. I have friends from my youth that live in places like Atlanta and Charleston now, and they were watching the local panic with bemusement and sarcasm. But I imagine that there is some chaos in those places this morning; it is fifteen degrees in Atlanta at this moment, Charleston is expecting sleet and freezing rain, and the entire Cotton Belt is under a hard freeze warning. Should be interesting to see how the area copes.
And in other parts of the country, the watching goes on. I caught a snippet of news the other day that said the expected high in Minneapolis was -10 degrees. With the Super Bowl being held in Giants Stadium--outdoor Giants Stadium--in the metro New York City area on Sunday, the possibility exists for a Snow Bowl (something I would love to see; there is no way 38YO Peyton Manning is going to have a good day in freezing, snowy conditions, simply because no athlete that old is at their best in cold. Well, except maybe for Jaromir Jagr, but he won't be at the Meadowlands Sunday), although the latest forecasts are somewhat encouraging. It has been snowing in the lake effect snow belt in New York for three days; the only thing keeping pileups from being massively high is that it is so cold outside that the air doesn't hold much moisture... and we're still in January. We have several more weeks of this left (does anyone realize that the Super Bowl is going to be played on Groundhog Day this year?).
And even in the midst of all this come reminders that climate change is real. We have had a fair amount of snow this season--but there still isn't much of a snow pack because there have been periods in between snow events where the temperature shot up into the 50's and it all melted. Droughts happen when there is no slow spring melt; we've been pretty lucky where I live in that drought hasn't really affected us in the last decade, but that's not true in most of the country. I would love to see a deep freeze last until spring in the upper Midwest and Rockies; they might get some drought relief if it happens. Here, our worries are much more prosaic; I just want the temperature to revert to "can be outside for more than ten minutes" by the weekend so I can clear out the side of the garage I've been using for storage for two years; the new tenant moving in on Saturday drives, so the two car garage will host two cars again.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Repulsive Human Being

I think I can add a sixth state to the list of ones I would never go to. Arkansas has given us Wal-Mart and the Walton family, which alone would earn it status as at least an eighth circle of hell, and is also responsible for Tyson Foods, which, in an addition to be a first-class polluter and one of the worst outfits in the country to work for, has also contributed mightily all by its lonesome to the obesity epidemic facing our nation. Arkansas, lest I be accused of being a panty-waisted liberal, is also responsible for inflicting Bill Clinton, the original pantload himself, on the nation; Democrat I may be, but I have no nostalgia for Bubba at all, since he is responsible for the two biggest afflictions that have made middle-class existence precarious for a huge number of us--NAFTA and "welfare reform."
But odious as all these are, the latest ass pimple in the news from Arkansas may be the most egregiously awful of them all. One of  Clinton's successors as governor in the 1990's was an evangelical rotundity named Mike Huckabee. Huckabee first came to national prominence when he was accused of corruption while winning the lieutenant governor's position in 1994; the amount of money he spent far outstripped that which he officially raised; it eventually came out that he accepted money for speaking fees as a more-or-less paid minion of R.J. Reynolds, the tobacco giant. He eventually was elected governor when his opponent was convicted of fraud during the campaign. Once in office, for a while he showed a propensity to put down ideology to actually govern; he did things like champion and pass a law that extended health care benefits for children. He also did some wingnut things, like a partial birth abortion ban and allowing the state to license church groups as daycare providers. In nearly eleven years as governor, he continued to show this dichotomy of addressing reality in some areas, pursuing pet conservative agendas in others, and a near-pathological propensity for feeding at the public and private troughs, repeatedly getting caught lining his pockets in ethically dubious schemes.
Once out of office, he started harboring Presidential ambitions, and actually threw a scare into John McCain in 2008 as the preferred candidate of far-right religious nuts. And as time has passed, he has gotten more and more ridiculous in his alleged evangelism, more or less coinciding with his television talk show. But he has outdone himself in the last week with his remarks on contraception and Democrats:
"Our party stands for the recognition of the equality of women and the capacity of women," Huckabee told his audience at the Republican National Committee's winter meeting in downtown Washington. "That's not a war on them. It's a war for them. And if the Democrats want to insult the women of America by making them believe that they are helpless without Uncle Sugar coming in and providing for them a prescription each month for birth control, because they cannot control their libido or their reproductive system without the help of the government, then so be it."
Yes, he really did say this.
"Uncle Sugar?" "Controlling libido?" Not to be to condescending, but what the fuck? Isn't it nice that the Republican party is waging a culture war on behalf of women by opposing contraception (and equality of pay, and by being against abortion in all circumstances, and by cutting spending on welfare and education, and on and on). Isn't it funny that everything that the conservative movement does that is supposedly "on behalf of" every group other than affluent white males tends to primarily benefit affluent white males?
But more to the point here, Huckabee is a preacher and an avowed Christian--it's his political identity and base. And with every public pronouncement he makes, he makes his brand of Christianity, his ideas on morality, repugnant to more and more of us. This is not attractive, not at all; this is an American Christian Taliban mindset at work. This is someone who uses select passages from the Old Testament to justify ignoring virtually the entire message of the person he claims to believe was God Himself as outlined in the very same collection of literature he professes to believe in. There is nothing attractive about the message of Mike Huckabee and his "faith." His faith is that of a repugnant misogynist and social bigot, and apparently he missed all those unmistakably unambiguous messages in the Bible regarding the moral rot of love of money. Even as personally reprehensible as I find his views, I would at least believe they are honestly held if he didn't have such a long record of grabbing for the bucks at every opportunity. If you're going to champion the Ten Commandments as your ideology for morality for the rest of us, you ought to at least regard the Eighth Commandment as binding on yourself. 
That people like Huckabee have a home--and apparently command some respect--within the Republican Party shows two things. One is that Red State country really is a different place entirely than the country that a majority of us inhabit. One of the most enduring and striking images that came out of the 2012 election was the superimposing of the electoral map of 2012 with the map of places where slavery was legal in 1860--they was a near-total match between Republican states and slave states. It is a different culture, with different values--but please, please do not call them "American" values, because they are not devoted to liberty or equality or even morality. It is the province of guns, greed, and bigotry, of oligarchic privilege overlain by a thin veneer of religiosity. The second is that the national Republican party is too much in thrall to this element to ever legitimately win a national office again. Put bluntly, if the choices every four years are going to come down to out-of-touch rich guys, religious hypocrites, and crypto-Fascists--well, the fact that a country as deeply racist as this one has elected a black guy with no real credentials or aptitude for the job twice ought to be the reddest of flags that something is seriously wrong with the Republican party. And Huckabee is the worst of the worst; even other Republicans are distancing themselves from him. There is, and never was, any real chance that this clown would become President. But the fact that he is taken seriously in too many quarters is a sign of how deep the rot goes. 
I honestly do not see how anyone with a functional conscience can remain a part of today's Republican party. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Taking in the Grammys

I almost never watch television any more, if it isn't a sporting event, and I watch awards shows even less often. But one of Sabrina's great passions, Taylor Swift, was both nominated for awards and scheduled to play on the Grammy telecast last night, and she, as has been her wont in recent weeks as the realization that I am all she is has set in, asked--pleaded, really--for me to watch the performance with her. And since Swift didn't perform until the show had been on the air for an hour, I got to take in quite a few acts that I normally don't see and, in some cases, had never even heard of before.
I've never gotten what the big deal is about either Beyonce or Jay-Z, and that didn't change last night. My daughter made a comment about him rapping in a tux, and I suppose it was unusual, but I don't really know enough about either to judge either the performance or the material. Which is fine by me; I don't feel like I'm missing much. I've never  been terribly into pop music, at any age, and while those two are very different than, say, Barry Manilow, it's the same thing to me--flavor of the year. Ten years from now, much less another lifetime, no one but hardcore aficionados will recall either one of them.
I did like the song that Hunter Hayes, whoever the hell he is, performed. I liked watching him perform it much, much less. If you are going to sing a perceptive song about a subject as relevant and serious as teen depression/suicide, then don't gyrate like a monkey on acid around the stage while doing so.
I found myself (gasp) enjoying the Robin Thicke/Chicago collaboration. While Chicago turned into one of my musical Antichrists after I graduated from college, in their original incarnation, I regarded them as rather harmless (and I have a soft spot for music I remember listening to when really, really young, and I had somehow obtained a Chicago 8-track in middle school, so they go back a long way for me). I was hoping against hope that they would break out in "25 or 6 to 4", but the five minute medley that was topped off by Thicke's hit of the year was actually pretty entertaining, and I found myself half-liking Thicke, too, even though he has had generally awful press. Go figure.
Somehow I missed the Paul McCartney/surviving members of Nirvana collaboration, which won the Geezer Award (I know it was Best Rock Song, but apparently a stipulation of nomination is that someone at least 70 years old perform on the song) entirely. And there's no way it was the winner, either. Both the Stones and Sabbath songs were a lot better. Also, I had forgotten that Krist Novoselic was a physical giant; he has to be at least a foot taller than McCartney.
Am I the only person that saw Daft Punk and said, "What the hell?" I'm not a fan of gimmick acts, and the fact that they won an award and had to go up on stage with their robot suits on was sad and pathetic, in my eyes. You've just accomplished what everyone who has ever cut a recording hopes to accomplish in their career, and you can't take off your motorcycle helmet long enough to say "thank you?" Some day, whoever is underneath that goofy getup is going to wish they weren't a slave to the gimmick.
I've tried. I really have. But despite a reasonably good body of work, Katy Perry just comes across as a mean-spirited, attention-seeking bitch no matter what she does. And it doesn't have to be that way. Someone else who was there last night started her career as the same sort of attitudinal nightmare diva, but Pink basically grew out of it without completely losing her edginess. Maybe it will happen for Perry some day. But I think a leaked sex video is far more likely, especially if she stays with John Mayer, who thankfully did not perform last night. Mayer is a boil on the backside of humanity, and the fact that she is considering marrying this dick is confirmation that there is something seriously amiss in her emotional makeup...oh, and her performance wasn't very good last night, either. Although I kind of liked the dress.
Swift came on shortly after the geezer award, and sang "All Too Well," a song I really like. I actually really like most of Swift's work; I think that for her age, she's wonderfully adept at crafting images from words, and she has already proven that she is at home with a variety of musical styles. She's still early in her career, and it could all go south at some point still, but I really believe that she is on her way to being a Dylanesque transcendent force in American music. Her songs are that evocative and that good. Having said that... last night was not one of her great moments. The Twitter posting from backstage was #Lame. The headbanging at the piano looked odd--actually, looked kind of freaky. And she didn't win any of the awards she was nominated for, mainly because Red was so eclectic that it didn't really fit well into any category it could be nominated for. But Swift is going to be a fixture in American consciousness for the next forty years, and I'm sure that last night will be just a minor piece of a long career when all is said and done.
I watched for a little while longer after Swift was done. And I got to hear something I hadn't heard in probably thirty-five years or more: Ringo Starr singing "Photograph." I remember buying the 45 of "Photograph" when I was in the fifth grade, and as lush and overproduced as it seems now, it still gets me in the heart forty years after its release. And at 73, Starr is clearly enjoying what is proving to be the coda to a long and productive life. He looks great, and appears to be at peace with the world. Good for him... and something I had forgotten about him was his trip to rehab in the 1980's and subsequent sobriety. His wife, Barbara Bach (a "Bond girl" actress in her youth), also went into rehab at the same time--and remarkably, they have stayed together since; they have been married for over thirty years now. Celebrity marriages rarely last decades to begin with, but as a recovering person who has seen hundreds of couples try to get clean together, it is even more remarkable that they have stayed together as recovering people; maybe one couple out of a hundred that got high or drank to excess while married manages to stay together after getting clean or sober without one or both relapsing or without the relationship coming to an end.
I gave up after Ringo; I figured that everyone that I had any interest in seeing had already been on stage. And while it wasn't the worst 90 minutes of my life... well, I haven't missed a whole lot all these years that I didn't watch the show, either.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Random Notes, Late January 2014

In no particular order:
1) We were forecast to get a few inches of snow yesterday in our area during the day. Instead, nothing happened (during the daylight hours, anyway; there appears to be about an inch on the ground as I look out the window now), and sometime in the afternoon the weatherman on one of the local TV stations issued a rather sheepish mea culpa on his Facebook page. Predictably, there were people who went apeshit, as there are every single time a weather forecast turns out to be less than accurate. People write and say things like "Being a weatherman is the only job where you can be 100% wrong and keep your job!", and sentiments like this irritate me to no end. One, it's blatantly, patently untrue; I don't know of any job where you are required to never make a mistake. Even in life-or-death jobs like doctor and policeman, it is understood that human beings are performing the jobs, and that sometimes mistakes are going to be made. I am very, very sure that the nitwit saying such things has a job where it is understood that he/she is going to occasionally screw up, and that the threat of instant unemployment is not hanging over that person's head should they err. And two, while forecasting the weather has become much more reliable in the last few decades, it is still something that has a great deal of unpredictability built into it, and very, very rarely will a forecast be issued that claims a 100% chance of anything happening (and when there is, I've never seen one be wrong). This is Mother Nature we are trying to predict here, and climate is such a complex phenomenon that it is a wonder that predictions are accurate as often as they are. When things change at a moment's notice--well, it's not a function of the people trying to predict the weather's capacity. We all shake our heads when we read stories of Xerxes whipping the ocean when the invasion of Greece failed--but saying the weatherman ought to be held responsible for a failed forecast is a modern equivalent of someone whipping the waves.
And more to the point--are you really sorry we didn't get five inches of snow? I'm not. I have noticed that when forecast errors occur, they are invariably on the side of predicting something adverse happening that doesn't. Which is how it should be; when errors are made in the other direction is when real trouble, up to and including weather-related deaths, happens. If a forecaster missed a hurricane or a blizzard, in this day and age, well, maybe I would question whether they ought to pursue another line of work. But a few inches of snow is not a big deal, especially since what happened was fairly simple to comprehend... I remember about twenty years ago, a big winter storm was predicted for the area. One of the people that worked for our family business lived in Montrose, about 15-20 miles away over the Pennsylvania border, and he called in about 8 AM to say they were getting hammered with snow and he wasn't going to be able to come in. Montrose ended up getting nearly two feet of snow in the next 24 hours--and not a flake fell on the New York side of the border, because the frontal boundary of the system stalled between Montrose and Binghamton. I remember another time I was at my friend Paul's house in Endicott, less than two miles from my parents' house, near the top of the hill that dominates the North Side of Endicott, and sitting on the deck of his pool in blazing sunshine watching a thunderstorm deliver a deluge worthy of Noah over my neighborhood; nary a drop fell at his house. It happens, and it happened again yesterday. I checked the weather map online twice during the afternoon, and for whatever reason, the snow system horseshoed around our area--north, east, and south of us got snow, but we did not. And as I said, I'm not sorry we didn't.
And I've also noticed that a fair number of the people who are usually heard from in these circumstances are the real in-your-face Christian types, that claim that Jesus is their Savior and that God is responsible for everything. Except sudden, random changes in the weather, apparently; that's the guy on television's fault. I'm not sure whether to be amused or disgusted when I see such clear examples of stupid hypocrisy. On the one hand, you tell me God is all-powerful and is responsible for everything, and on the other you want some poor sap to pay with his job for a change in the weather. Not only that, but I guess they were absent from church and Sunday school the days when they covered the part about he who is without sin casting the first stone, and forgiving our trespasses.
2) Speaking of winter, my favorite winter sport is in the news again today. The Winter Classic was one of the few good ideas that have come out of the Reign of Error that has been Gary Bettman's stewardship of the sport--an annual outdoor game that takes place around the New Year. It's held in stadiums where huge crowds watch, and usually showcases good teams. This year's game featured Detroit playing Toronto at the University of Michigan's Big House, and over a hundred thousand people attended the game... but wait. Last night, there was another outdoor game, in Dodger Stadium of all places, between the two Los Angeles-area teams, and today there's another in Yankee Stadium between the Rangers and Devils, and another in Yankee Stadium Wednesday between the Rangers and Islanders, and two more before the season is out.
Leave it to the NHL to take a good thing and beat it to death with a blunt instrument. Am I glad that the Rangers are going to be featured twice on national TV in four days, and playing in front of huge crowds in New York City (even though they are nominally the away team for each game)? Of course. But I can't help but believe that this is not what's best for the sport. Hockey has been criminally mismanaged for the last twenty years, and I'm wondering how much more self-inflicted punishment it can take before it slides out of relevance.
The sad part is, I've been touring You Tube recently looking at games from past eras. One of the greatest sports experiences of my youth was the Rangers' magical run to the Stanley Cup finals in the spring of 1979, and a number of games from that run are available on You Tube. And I am absolutely amazed by how much the game has changed. The goalies could barely skate, and compared to today's warriors, look like they're not wearing padding at all. It is strange to see most of the players bareheaded. It is strange to see hardly anyone blocking shots. It is strange to see how relatively small the players are. The game looks like it was being played at least two steps slower than today's game. It is interesting to see how some of the rule changes have affected the game; I had forgotten that it was once common for a team's bench to empty to congratulate a goal scorer, for example, before the practice was outlawed around 1980. And listening to the game is surreal. I'm not a huge fan of the Rangers' broadcast team as it now stands--but the fond memories I had of Jim Gordon and The Big Whistle Bill Chadwick can only be excused as the follies of youth; they were terrible. The guys doing the Bruins games at the time were even worse. The CBC broadcasters were three terrible guys; watching the 1979 Finals broadcasts are torturous. The production values of the actual broadcasts are primitive; the average iPhone video looks and sounds better than a TV broadcast from circa 1978.
And yet for all that, the game was compelling. There were goals, there were fights, and most of all, the guys playing the game didn't look like gladiators. I remain more convinced than ever that the biggest difference between today's game and then golden age is the prevalence of shot blocking now; it is really jarring to see games where players make no effort to get in front of shots taken. The game of hockey that I loved to play as a kid and that I still love, for all its faults, today is being overseen today by people who seem bound and determined to make sure that as many people as possible are turned off by it. The big selling point on these games is that they are "rivalry games," too. But one of the things that the powers that be have taken out of the game is the old intense divisional rivalries. In the 1980's, the NHL had four divisions, and the top four teams in each division 1) played seven games or eight games against each of the other divisional teams during the season, and then 2) the first two round of the playoffs were against teams from the division as well. As you might expect, those were rivalries. It's been many years since those days, and I still hate, absolutely loathe, the Flyers, Devils, and Capitals, and the only reason I don't hate the Islanders and Penguins on the same level anymore is that the Islanders haven't been good for twenty-five years (and the beatdown the Rangers put on them in 1994 was kind of like 2004 for the Red Sox-Yankees rivalry; how do you get past a four-game sweep that the Rangers outscored them 22-3?) and the Penguins never made the playoffs in those seasons. And other divisions had rivalries just as heated. By the end of the 1980's, there were teams, and fan bases, that absolutely hated one another. You don't see that kind of passion today in hockey (or any other sport, for that matter); there are too many teams, and the playoff system is less rigid. And to be honest, I really, really miss that passion. The most intense fan experiences of my life did not take place in arenas or stadiums; they took place in bars in Geneseo when the Rangers and Islanders were meeting in the playoffs. There is no atmosphere that can be as charged as three hundred college age kids, all drinking heavily, in an establishment that held about 150 comfortably, with fan bases evenly split between the teams. I used to go to the Vital Spot to eat lunch on playoff game days so that I could be assured of getting a table to watch the game that night. And the place was full to capacity by four in the afternoon... and we were three hundred miles away from New York. That's a rivalry, not this lame-ass stuff they try to market as one today.
And it kills me, because all other things being equal, ice hockey is a sport that is more enjoyable to watch and certainly relate to than any other of the major sports. Of course I will be watching today and Wednesday, even though the Rangers are a combined 1-4 against the other New York teams this year. But I would have preferred that the Yankee Stadium outdoor game series take place in a setting and a year when it wasn't lost in the saturation of five other outdoor games in a month's span. It deserves better.
3) I'm not sure how to segue from hockey rivalries to my personal life in a coherent manner, so I won't even try. But this was some week on that front. I ended my latest relationship last Sunday, and haven't looked back; there was one brief meeting and then an exchange of text messages on Tuesday, which confirmed the wisdom of the decision, and I've been enjoying the solitude this week. But I've had three of my exes intrude into my consciousness this week. The descent of MOTY to the nether regions of active addiction continues; I haven't heard directly from her, but Sabrina did, and Sabrina told me that she is "through" with her mother until she seeks help. I have no feeling left for MOTY as a person, but I don't want to see this; my daughter does not need to have a mother go absent on her, for the first time, at fifteen years of age. But on the other hand, the ocean of denial in MOTY runs miles deep, and that trailer trash false pride that has always been a part of her makeup is about the only thing she has left, from what I understand. I really think that she will never come back to our fellowship again; if she is forced by some sort of authority, eventually, to go back to some sort of meetings, she will do AA, I am certain, rather than face those in NA she has, not to put too fine a point on it, used and lied to and attempted to bullshit for all these years. She doesn't have that kind of commitment to honesty and taking responsibility for her actions in her.
Then in the middle of the week, I was scrolling through my newest obsession, Mobile Patrol, when I saw a familiar name. It was the current husband of Lila, arrested for burglary. To be fair to her, I did not see her name, and I'm not even sure she's still in the area; after her arrest with the husband last year, I would not be surprised if she went away to a long-term rehab again, especially since all her kids are now out of high school. I've also seen her son get arrested twice in the last two months, and I doubt he's getting out any time soon... The husband intrigues me, in that he was formerly a Corrections Officer at the very jail where he is now being held. I'm sure that at least a few people in there were incarcerated at a time when he worked there, given the reality of recidivism. He's also gotten really, really fat; I know she used to be repulsed by heavy people, so I wonder how the marriage is going...I remember when we were together, and she told me repeatedly that she (and I; we're only a few months apart in age) was "too old" to be living the lives we were living in active addiction--and we were 37 at the time. For whatever reason, she chose, after we broke up, to take up with this guy, who seemed like such a catch in 2002, I'm sure. But twelve years later, he's in and out of jail; her worthless son has a rap sheet a mile long; her 20YO daughter, I see from her Facebook page, has a baby; her mother died last year; and she herself has had renewed acquaintances with the legal system and her drug of choice. Does it make me a bad person to want a chance to say to her in person, "Don't you wish you had stayed with me?" I've mentioned many times that the break-up with her was an emotional Hiroshima for me, and it has certainly cast a shadow over every relationship I've been in since. It would have been a lot easier for both of us if she had just embraced the changes we were going through at the time, instead of fighting them and then looking for material solutions to spiritual problems. Something tells me that at this point in her life, the lights still haven't gone on... which is sad. It's out of my hands, and I'm not directly involved with any of those people anymore. But yeah, it still occupies some space in my head, and I'm not even going to try to deny it, especially in the aftermath of another relationship that, upon reflection, certainly had parallels. I don't know why I seem to be attracted to bi-polar women, and they to me. But the ending doesn't seem to change; it just comes earlier now than it used to. I've got a lot of faults, but a complete inability to learn from experience isn't one of them.
The third showed up unexpectedly Friday at my office. It was Lauren, the one I was with in the summer and early fall, that didn't take "people, places, and things" seriously and ended up in a bad way after I walked. I was expecting to be hit up for money, but surprisingly, she didn't ask for it directly, just for some ideas on how to (legitimately) get some in a hurry, because she hasn't made a payment on her fines and restitution for four months and she was on the verge of getting her probation violated. I gave what input I had, and we ended up talking for about a half-hour. She's been using and using hard for a while; she cut off her hair again, as she is prone to do in the middle of serious runs, and she's been more or less quarantined from her daughter. She admitted that she screwed up back in the early fall, and told me she wished she had done what she knew she needed to do to stay in the relationship with me, something I really didn't expect to hear. I don't know whether she was looking for me to come riding to the rescue; if so, she was disappointed. But somehow, I didn't really think she did; it was more that she was, much more than in the summer and fall, beaten, and, as sometimes happens, she wanted to make sure that I knew that she now understands what I was trying (and failing) to get her to understand  several months ago; I remember seeking out a few people, after I had gotten clean, that had tried to help me when I was lost, too. "Moments of clarity" are necessary for all of us in the recovery process, and I think she has had a couple (and the threat of serious consequences will do that; if violated, she will be going to state prison for two years). But I also know that moments of clarity are just moments, and it often takes dozens of them before a path through the jungle begins to get hacked out. And regardless of how much she's come to see, for me, that ship has sailed. Whatever she's going to make or not make of her life, it's going to be without me.
But it's taking a bit of a emotional toll on me. It has renewed my commitment to recovery, to be sure, but it has renewed a bigger commitment: to principled behavior. I cannot afford to take timeouts, to get lost in the pursuit of pleasure on any level. I've always told people that there are no shortcuts, and I keep getting reminders, like this week, about what happens when you do take shortcuts. It's not pretty, and it doesn't end well. I'm not always happy with my life, and yeah, I thought I'd have more financial security and hoped that I'd be in a relationship with a stable and attractive woman by this point in my life. But because those things haven't happened doesn't mean I'm a failure or that my life hasn't been good or rewarding. Because I keep seeing what happens when those other considerations are a priority, instead of principles.
4) And on that note, there was a note in the paper that underscored how screwed up many people's priorities are. Some guy that was arrested on federal drug trafficking charges over a year ago was sentenced, after pleading guilty, to twenty years in jail. And the way a lot of people that I know reacted, you'd think Nelson Mandela was being sent to his island prison all over again...
I do not know the man, and I am sure that all those people bewailing his fate are not imagining that he had some good qualities. But come on, people, for real. This is a man who was arrested with large quantities of several different drugs, a gun, and a lot of cash. He was not a user caught in the grip; this is a guy who had made a conscious decision to make his way in the world peddling poison to whoever would buy it from him. The papers reported he was a gang member, which means that he was at the least a passive party to intimidation and violence, and more likely someone who engaged in that sort of thing regularly. I remember a time and place where drug "pushers" (why don't we use that term anymore, by the way?) were the bane and fear of responsible parents, someone we wanted our children to avoid at all costs and someone we wanted off the streets. Instead, I read an entire community of people talking about what a travesty of justice it was that this guy was going away for a long period of time. How fucked up is that?
For starters, it's not an injustice. He pled guilty, so no one can reasonably say (and indeed, no one has said) that he is innocent and being sent away for a crime he didn't commit. And I am quite sure that he knew the risks involved when he made the choice to do what he did for a living, and that the penalty for being caught was exactly what he's facing now. I'm sure he felt no qualms about spending the money he got from selling his drugs, and the risk associated with that payoff was that you go to jail for a long time if you get caught doing what you're doing.
And then several people said things like "you can kill someone on the street and be out in less time." One, that's inaccurate; I don't know of  anyone who has been convicted of a murder that has been released from prison in less than twenty years. Two, it's irrelevant; even if it were true, that doesn't relieve him of the responsibility for his own actions. I heard this bullshit in rehab and early recovery more often than I care to remember; it even escaped my own lips from time to time because I felt I was paying a price I shouldn't have to pay. But ultimately, I understood that I had done what I was accused of doing, and that just because it appeared someone else was paying less of a price for something similar or worse didn't mean I was entitled to a break on my own charges. If the guy pled guilty, than there was a plea bargain in place, and he pled guilty knowing full well how much time he was going to get. For all the people whining about the sentence--he could have taken his chances at trial and possibly been found not guilty and had no time at all to serve. That he didn't do so ought to tell you something.
And what really burns me is the number of comments to the effect of "he was such a good father." Really. Good fathers don't sell drugs. Good fathers don't get themselves locked up for decades at a time. Good fathers don't knowingly set an example for their children that the promise of large enough material gain is sufficient motivation to engage in morally repugnant behavior. Good fathers do set a good example for their children. Good fathers do take care of their kids, and live up to their obligations, and don't make a living by preying on the weak and vulnerable. When I read and hear people give paeans of fulsome praise to guys like this as "a good father," all it makes me think is that the people talking have no fucking idea of what a good father--or a good parent, period--is. And it's a slap in the face to those of us who are good fathers and good parents to hear nonsense like this. If you really think that a drug-dealing gangbanger is a good father--well, all you're proving is that you have no idea what a good father is. And what's truly frightening is that this value set is being passed on to, apparently, a significant number of people.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Book Review: BAD MONKEY

It isn't often when a suspense/mystery novel makes me laugh out loud. But Carl Hiaasen's Bad Monkey does so, repeatedly. There are so many unforgettable characters in this book that they almost defy description, from the detective busted down to food inspector that does all of the detective work to the Bahamaian voodoo queen to the fugitive from Oklahoma justice to the villains of the piece to the monkey of the title. The plot moves briskly, with several major twists along the way that aren't obvious but aren't improbable, either, and the action takes place in familiar but exotic locales--the Florida Keys and the Bahamas. I can't even talk about the plot without giving some of it away, but suffice it to say that a severed human arm is both the beginning and the end of the story, and what happens in between is one of the most entertaining and, in places, riotously funny whodunits I have ever read in my life. I burned through this book in less than 24 hours; I seriously considered staying home from work to finish it even it earlier, It's that good.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Book Review: BATTLE FOR GROUND ZERO

I was born in New York City, and spent a lot of time there up until the time I was in high school. Although I never spent any time in Manhattan, and regarded that fact as a badge of honor--and to this day, I feel like Brooklyn and Queens are the real New York--, nonetheless I felt very possessive about the familiar New York skyline that I had to pass through or around virtually every time we drove down there. And one of my earliest full memories is touring the city on Christmas Eve 1971, with my uncle Tony (who was to die of leukemia within two years) as the tour guide, with my brother and cousins, checking out Christmas lights. We ended up in lower Manhattan, and I distinctly remember gazing up at the then-brand new Twin Towers in complete, total awe. My eight-year old mind could not conceive that any building, much less two of them, could just go on and on into the sky like that.
Time passed, and the towers became American icons in a relatively short time. I was only in one of the towers once; on one of my race track junkets in the late 1980's, I ate in the Windows on the World restaurant that was on top of the North Tower. But several of my friends that I went to college with landed jobs with firms headquartered in the towers, and I remember, even when I began to come to New York via the George Washington Bridge regularly, to make sure I looked for the towers, as a way of somehow viscerally confirming that I had arrived in the city. I do remember the last time I saw them standing very well; it was toward the tail end of active addiction, and I was exiting the city after a rather eventful 24 hours. I had somehow ended up in East New York in the wee hours of the morning, and got on the Belt Parkway going east after I got what I had come to the city for, and rather than get on the Verranzano, I heeded my companion at the time (MOTY) who had never been either through a tunnel or lower Manhattan before and headed up to the Battery Tunnel and emerged in the shadow of the towers before heading up West Street (it was just after sunrise) and getting on the Hudson Parkway on the way to the GWB.
I have not returned to the city since. Most of my relatives have either died or moved away that lived there; I longer go to the racetracks, and I certainly no longer go to the city to as part of my addiction. And obviously much has changed in the fifteen-plus years since I was there last, including 9/11. But one of the central premises of Elizabeth Greenspan's Battle for Ground Zero is that rebuilding the World Trade Center site is something that affects all Americans, and it is something that all of us have a stake and a voice in. The book itself is a rather factual account of the political maneuvering that has taken place regarding the restoration efforts since September 2001.
I wasn't aware of much of this; I have been rather caught up in my life here and simply haven't been paying attention much, especially after my father died and I haven't been reading the New York papers every day like I did for the first forty years of my life. The lobbying, politicking, changes of plans regarding the site, the money involved, the cronyism, the pros and cons of the involvement of the office holders throughout the time--it's all here. I didn't think it was possible for me to have a lower opinion of Rudolph Giuliani, but this book took him even lower. I didn't think much of George Pataki during his time as governor, but his role here was surprisingly nuanced and consistent. The architects, lease holder, the Port Authority and the unique role it has in and around the city--it's all explained and explored very concisely and very well, and the narrative is very coherent and chronologically accurate.
And having been absent from the city for so long, I had no idea that the new tower was actually nearing completion, and the rebuilding of the complex itself was actually underway. And the 9/11 memorial is open to the public now. I have mixed emotions about whether I am going to visit it someday; for me, 9/11 has become unfortunately tied up in the national and international nightmare that came after it for me to give support to the flag-waver, hate-the-towelheads narrative that seems predominant among my countrymen (indeed, the most odious figure of the book is not any of the politicians, but one of the 9/11 widows named Debra Burlingame, who channeled her "grief" into becoming a tool of the jingoistic, crypto-fascist elements that got us into two wars and consciously ignored all the elements of "America" that we were ostensibly trying to defend). But I know my children want to, and I also know that at some point, I should return to my roots; New York, even if I never viewed Manhattan as the real New York, is home for me. I've avoided it for so long because at the end, it became inextricably tied up with my addiction.
But the new, restored WTC profoundly stirs up ambivalence. I know now why my father, as he got older, did not like to go through Flatbush and Canarsie and Woodhaven, and stayed off Atlantic Avenue and Remsen Boulevard and Rockaway Parkway. It was because so much had changed since his childhood and youth that it was an unpleasant reminder of how much time had passed since the spring of his own life. I have a mental picture of New York that includes the Twin Towers, and I am not real eager to see what has taken their place, because it will be a reminder of how much time has passed. I will do it some day, but it doesn't mean I am looking forward to it.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Just Me And You, Kid

One part of the new reality is settling in to a relative comfort level. I've never actually been a true "single" parent, until now. I've been a primary parent for years, but the other parent has always been there, in some capacity, until now. This post isn't about MOTY, but rather about the dawning realization that my daughter isn't going to go to the other parent's home on any kind of regular basis for at least a short while, and, if Sabrina has any input into the decision, for a long while.
She is 15, and the choice about where she wants to live is nearly entirely up to her, legally. And she knows it. I know she has been increasingly unhappy with developments in her mother's house for a long time, but the shenanigans surrounding her birthday were the straw that broke the camel's back. I think she has been in some sort of communication with her mother this week--typical of MOTY, she is ignoring the directive from Family Court that any change of address or job status be immediately communicated to me; I'd file a violation if there was any point to it, but when someone doesn't even have an address to send it to...--regarding where her mother is landing, but Sabrina has decided that she has had it, is totally done with the chaos and lying and deceit and bullshit and drug use and the rest of it. Here is her home, and for the first time in her life, in her mind, she has one home. And a reinforcing factor was my telling the Bipolar Express to move on down the tracks on Sunday; being here now doesn't mean having to adjust to another mercurial female presence with small children being around on occasion any longer.
And some degree of communication has opened up in the last couple of days. We received a tentative softball schedule for travel team from the coach; financially, it's going to be a bitch to manage. The only out-of-town definites right now are Rochester, two in Hartford, and the national tournament in Myrtle Beach at the beginning of August. The money to be on the team will be difficult enough to come up with, but the hotel money is going to be a real bitch to find, and my mind is churning as to things we can do. Sabrina has been talking about getting working papers since her birthday, and when Rachel and Jessica were here the other day, they gave her a list of places she could work at 15. I have a feeling that by time February rolls around, she will have the papers and start to look...she also shared with me yesterday that she is seriously considering a vegan diet. We had a serious discussion about it, and I told her that I am not comfortable with the idea of completely going meatless at her age and given some of the particulars of her life--she sleeps enough that I am concerned about it as it is, and with her level of physical activity and her already being on the pill because of heavy flows every four weeks, I think, at 15, she needs to ensure that she has enough protein and sufficient iron intake to remain healthy, especially since she is likely not completely done growing yet. I am aware that it is possible to find those nutrients from other sources; I am also aware that it is very expensive to do so, and money is already tight and going to get tighter if she is going to be doing travel team. I'm not dropping fifty dollars a week on tofu and exotic vegetables in addition to regular food, mostly because I don't have those fifty extra dollars. She seemed to accept this, but she did wrangle a concession that she doesn't have to eat pork and lamb on a regular basis anymore (and I wrangled a concession that she needs to eat other vegetables than potatoes, broccoli, spinach, and corn, which is all she's really been willing to eat since she was about four years old).
We also have been talking about other sources of emotional support for her. There is one couple in particular, the mother of a long-time (boy) friend of hers (since pre-K), that makes me uneasy; the mother is one of those people that is forever commenting on Facebook posts by kids, and the father, while pleasant enough to me whenever I've seen him, has some attitudes and beliefs that I find personally repugnant. They are foster parents for another non-profit in the area, and let's just say that their reputation in that area isn't sterling, either. I am also suspicious that the mother has been friends with MOTY for several years, too, and that their period of friendship coincides perfectly with MOTY's descent into dabbling with prescription drugs; it might be coincidence, but it might not. She has said she wants to let this family take her to school on days I am out of town, and hang out there more when the weather gets warmer (they have a pool), and it is clear that whatever my reservations about this family are, she finds them a source of comfort and support. So I agreed to keep an open mind about the idea. She also hung out at the home of a friend I know and like last night while I was at my men's group, and that seemed to go well. I've talked about her seeing a counselor of some sort, but she's very resistant to this point, but I intend to keep pushing it. There's been enough trauma and drama from the other parent over the course of her life that Sabrina's going to keep one busy, should she start to open up, for years; it's getting her to start talking that's going to be the issue, since she has the typical teen "privacy" thing going on right now.
I've always been committed to raising Sabrina, and she has always been my primary focus. But it's been taken to another, deeper level, even as simultaneously she is growing more independent. I'm a firm believer that you're not given chances to act on these sort of commitments until you are ready to undertake them. Five years ago, even two years ago, I doubt I was up to a full-time sole-parent role. Hell, I have some doubts I'm up to it now. But I do know that my acceptance of the role is greater than it would have been even a few months ago. The shoe I knew was going to drop as long ago as 2000 has finally hit the ground, and in some ways I think the intervening 13 1/2 years have been preparation for this moment in time, and I know that even if I feel at times like I'm not up to this, I do know that I'm more capable of meeting this new challenge than at any time previous.
And also that there are times when "one day at a time" is more than a cliche. Even fifteen years into my own recovery, there are times when the best--the only real--choice is to just keep it in the day and not look too far ahead. And that's where I am with this right now. She's in the shower, I'm going to make breakfast when she gets out, she has a dentist's appointment tomorrow morning and softball practice on Saturday. Beyond that, we're not going to get hung up about it too awful much.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Even a Stopped Watch

The adage "He's learning how to say hello when it's time to be saying goodbye" was first coined in my childhood about a baseball player that had been a grouchy bastard to the working press for most of this career, and then started to cultivate the news guys when it became apparent that his career was hanging by a thread. In the same vein, in the same week that a second major allegation was levied at Chris Christie (that he made the disbursement of Hurricane Sandy relief funds for Hoboken dependent on their mayor supporting a project that Christie wanted that the mayor had opposed), he came out with, in his State of the State address yesterday, the single most realistic and long-overdue reform measure I've seen in a long time in American politics. And he didn't dance around the subject: he called for modifying and changing "the failed war on drugs."
Christie's proposal was to do away with routine incarceration for drug infractions, and vastly increase the frequency of and money devoted to treatment programs for non-violent drug offenders. I cannot emphasize enough that is much more effective than locking people away. Having been in jail for a drug offense, however briefly and a decade and a half ago, I can tell you that, at best, incarceration is a waste of a portion of a person's life, and at worst, it is a continuing education and internship in promoting the very behavior and cultivating the same type of lifestyle that imprisonment is designed to inhibit or forestall. I don't know how many times I've seen people who were dabbling in the drug world when they went into jail come out and dive right back with easier access to it because they made stronger acquaintances while inside with people who had no intention and/or chance of leaving the drug world behind. Consequently, I can also tell you that even though relapse rates are very high among people in drug treatment, especially those in it for the first time, it nonetheless has a durable and positive effect. There are a substantial number of drug users who never return to their "hard" drug of choice after experiencing treatment; their relapse is usually with alcohol or pot. Even those that do return to their drugs of choice tend to return more quickly to abstinence; as the saying in the fellowships goes, "it messes up your high" knowing that there is a way out and you're not taking advantage of it. Especially for younger offenders, treatment is a vastly better option than jail is.
And juxtaposed with Christie's speech yesterday in the national news was an op-ed piece in our local rag excoriating the county administration for levying taxes trying to raise money to expand the county jail. I've written about this intermittently over the last several months, but there is no lessening of the drug war around here; the jail is full and is likely to continue to be for the foreseeable future, as it is indisputable (except in the minds of hardcore conservatives) that poverty is the single biggest root cause of crime and this area is economically comatose. At present, the increase in arrest rates is being tempered by a functional and effective Drug Court, combined with a reasonably effective comprehensive Curriculum of Care for drug treatment that can, theoretically, take a drug user from acute crisis care through up to four years of support as the client becomes more established in the world. As I always tell people in early recovery, this is the one area where the world is willing to sit on the sidelines while one gets themselves together, and an increasing number of us are taking advantage of the opportunity afforded by these programs. But it hasn't escaped my notice that those taking advantage of the chance being given are largely Caucasian; I am sure that the increase in jail population that will happen with a larger jail will largely be an increase in the number of black and Hispanic people wearing orange jumpsuits.
And I am reasonably sure that even if Christie's proposal gets off the ground, it will largely benefit white people. It's a start, and maybe in the future the decrease in the punitive aspects of how we deal with drugs as a society will cross racial lines. There are a number of factors in the catastrophe that has decimated the black family unit in our country in the last forty years, but by far the biggest one is that African-American males are far more likely to end up incarcerated, much more often and for longer periods of time, for drug offenses than members of other ethnic and demographic groups, and their absence has ripped apart three generations and counting of families in the black community at large. The other associated effects--the lack of jobs, the lack of viable economic opportunities, the lack of just about everything positive--are directly traceable to the number of young black males in prison. Most of them are there for drug offenses, and most of them wouldn't be there for the same length of time if they were not black.
Christie's proposal isn't going to reverse forty years of decay. But it will be a start in the reversal of the process. And while it is tempting to think that Christie is having a come-to-Jesus moment because his political career is suddenly in dire peril, to be fair to him, he was on record two years ago as wanting to change the approach of New Jersey to drug law enforcement. I am no fan of his, and I don't think he is going to survive the storm he is experiencing at the moment; I think he gave the last State of the State speech he is going to give yesterday. But even a stopped watch is right twice a day, and for all his bluster and bullying, I have to say that Christie is marginally better than almost any other Republican buffoon of national standing. And there is a part of me that wants him to survive this political crap storm, because like him or not, bully or not, he is the only person on that side of the political fence that I even occasionally see come up with a reasonable and possibly effective idea.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Book Review: COLLISION 2012

Collision 2012, by veteran and well-respected Washington media writer Dan Balz, is a perfect example of what is wrong with mainstream media in this country. This book has been nearly universally praised in the press for its "exhaustive" coverage of the 2012 Presidential election, and I will admit that in the part of it I managed to slog through, there was some interesting information given about both the Obama and Romney campaigns. But about a hundred pages in, Balz devotes an entire chapter to the rise of the Tea Party and the hysterical and blanket anti-Obama segment of the electorate--and somehow, in fifteen pages, never once manages to even allude to the possibility that a significant part of the implacable opposition is due to one factor: the color of his skin. There are people who are legitimately opposed to much of what Obama does--hell, many that voted for him twice, like me, don't like a whole lot about him, but considered him less objectionable than those he was running against. But one would assume that Balz, who works for The Washington Post, is capable of at least glancing at the comments section of newspapers and websites--and I don't care what one you look at, there are always a bunch of them that make it clear that there is a significant portion of America that simply cannot get past the fact that Obama is bi-racial. Any cogent analysis of American politics in the Obama era cannot simply ignore this unfortunate but concrete reality, and when Balz did not mention racism, even in passing--or even to dismiss it--he and his book lost all credibility with me, and I stopped reading.
Balz' non-addressing of the issue is typical of the Washington bubble that the mainstream media exists in. They do not live in the same America you and I do, are not aware of or downplay factors that you and I are keenly aware of, and think that people universally and wholly tell them all there is to tell when he interviews them for fifteen minutes in the middle of a media frenzy during a political campaign. If this is what passes for political reporting and incisive reporting in 2014, we are all in trouble. The Internet is very much a mixed blessing, but one of its unquestioned positives is that it provides a much broader-based sampling of opinions across the nation, and it allows the freer expression of what people really think. And like it or not, racism is a huge part of the unbending and unending opposition that many people have to anything Barack Obama does or wants to do. For a book to completely ignore that factor renders it essentially meaningless, and attempting to read it a waste of time.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Super Yawn

I watched most of the NFC Championship game yesterday, and God knows I've seen enough of Peyton Manning to last five frigging lifetimes in the last fifteen years, so I'm not sorry I missed the other championship game. But I have to say that the later game yesterday underscored every sense of alienation I have with the game that  dominated my existence when I was growing up, that I used to write about for money when I was a young adult, and that used to dominate every Sunday afternoon of my life for four months out of the year for decades.
Maybe because it's because in my youth, I played defense, and it simply appalls me that the rules and the emphasis of the game have changed so much that the defenders in today's game resemble are like the Washington Generals to the offense's Globetrotters. You can't hit a player high anymore--and now you can't hit them low without risking a penalty, either. You can't touch receivers past five yards off the line. You can't clothesline, and you can't horse-collar. There's supposed to be no pushing off by either receiver or defender on passes, but in practice only the defensive guy ever gets called for it. You can't hit anyone with your helmet anymore, and it's a penalty even if the offensive guy moves after you've already started moving. It's been a source of growing irritation to me for years, but it's culminated in the game becoming almost unwatchable for me the last couple of years. Everyone is making all these orgasmic noises about Manning and other quarterbacks putting up these ungodly numbers and amounts of points; I would love to see what Air Coryell and some of the other great offenses of past eras could do today, because what they did was more impressive considering that teams were actually allowed to play defense in their time and place.
And not to sound like an old codger, but--Jesus Christ, where do they get these officials from? Officiating is assigned on a merit basis for the playoffs; supposedly we are supposed to be getting the best officiating crews doing the playoff games. And they're absolutely abominable. There were several really bad calls yesterday, but one that is largely unnoticed in the larger picture was the bogus personal foul nonsense that occurred at the end of the first half yesterday on a fourth-down pass by Seattle. The ball went off the Seattle guy's hands and up in the air down the field, and the 49er defender shoved the guy out of bounds. The flag came out, which was bad enough--and then, to compound the ridiculousness, they called it a dead ball foul, even though the shove came before the ball had hit the ground, and therefore let San Francisco get the ball, but moved them back fifteen yards. The 49ers elected to kneel and take the lead into halftime, but if they had gotten the ball fifteen yards closer to midfield, with three timeouts remaining, they might have been able to run a couple of plays to at least get into field goal range. In a game decided by six points, with the deciding play being an interception from the 20-yard line in the Seattle end zone when the 49ers needed a touchdown to win without the option of a field goal to tie--hell, yeah, it made a difference. A Big One. It got lost in all the travesties of the second half, but that was perhaps the most egregious awful call of all.
And I am sick of the strutting, jawing, narcissistic bullshit that accompanies virtually every damn play anymore. Are you capable of playing the game without "celebrating" every time you do what you are out there to do? Is this the end result of the "everybody gets a trophy" nonsense that permeated youth sports two decades ago--the endless parade of "look what I did" posturing that goes on in football? It does occur in other sports--basketball almost as much, baseball some--but it is most obvious and most annoying in football. I just realized that football is the one sport that is universally populated by Americans. I'm sure there's a connection, because, conversely, you don't see it in sports that have a heavy international representation--hockey, soccer--or that are largely individual sports--golf, tennis. It has gotten out of hand; it has gotten to the point where I cannot watch a game for five minutes without getting pissed off at some overgrown jackass parading around in a manner that would have earned him a beatdown at the hands of his own teammates thirty years ago. I'm old enough to remember that no one hated Mark Gastineau more than his own teammates, and what Gastineau did was trivial compared to what some of these frigging clowns do after every tackle, every first down, every single positive accomplishment. Just shut the fuck up and settle down and play the game--if a toddler pulled this shit in day care, they'd be put in a fucking timeout for a week.
I don't like the aesthetics of today's game, either. I think players with hair halfway down to their ass look stupid. I think players with tattoos covering every visible surface of their bodies look silly, and make the game look like a prison-yard brawl. And I don't like that everyone on the field, even the kickers, are genetic freaks. It's gotten to the point where it's like watching another species on the field, because everyone on it is larger than three quarters of the people I know...When I was growing up, I had a relative that worked for one of the airlines, who was based at LaGuardia, and his job was distributing the weight of the passengers and baggage through the aircraft so that it was balanced when it took off. He used to tell me that on flights that had more than a couple dozen people on it, he could use a basic calculation that everyone on board was an average of 180 pounds, with one exception--when a football team was traveling. There are no football teams that fly commercially anymore, but I sometimes wonder how the hell someone who prepares a team's charter flights accounts for the size of today's players, and what the average weight is of your average football team--it has to approach, if not actually exceed, three hundred pounds per person. I know a lot of people in this smallish city, from all walks of life--and I know maybe half a dozen that weigh over three hundred pounds, and all of them are visibly overweight and out of shape. I can't imagine dealing with fifty behemoths in top physical condition that are essentially giants. And I derive no pleasure in watching a sport played by entities that bear no real resemblance to me. It honestly looks like a contest between robots or even large zoo animals. It's lost its appeal to me, nearly completely.
I can't tell you how much I am not looking forward to the frenzy that is going to take place two weeks from now. I don't care who's going to win; I don't care about anything about it, frankly. It will be a good day to get caught up on my reading.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Even More Briefly

Every couple fights. But there are certain lines of respect and common decency that cannot be crossed. I have been relationships with three bi-polar women in my life. The first time, I dealt with the manic episodes, the name-calling, the free-falling rage, the paranoid-macabre-fantasy as reality, for over a year, to the best of an ability I never knew I possessed, in the name of (a genuine) love--only to have it end in the single most devastating emotional catastrophe of my life. The second time, it wasn't quite on the same level--a couple of months, and nothing really bad happened other than the same "I'm going to act as if my worst fears are real, and therefore you're an asshole only pretending to be a nice guy" dynamic at work; I bailed after two months. This one didn't quite get to five weeks--but three episodes in a week, including consecutive days, with today's escalation to lying about what my daughter said when we're both trying our damnedest to accommodate you, and then making shit up because, again, you can't distinguish dark phantasms in your mind from reality...well, you gotta go. End of story.
These are the last words I'm going to use addressing this situation and this person.

Very Briefly

...there's been an incredible amount of event crammed into a day or two. And I am reminded once more of just how difficult it is to be the grown-up at times. A month ago, none of this stuff that's been going on was a factor in my life. Relationship stuff is very much a luxury issue, in the bigger picture--but it's still work, and it does pack a bit of a wallop emotionally, or at least it should if you actually like and care about the person. And I've known for fourteen years that at some point I was going to have deal with MOTY not being there someday; I'm fortunate that it took this long for it to happen, but unfortunate both in that my baby girl has been dealt a very devastating blow and that she is old enough so that she is not as resilient and adaptable as a younger kid would be.
Honestly, I've felt like a circus guy juggling four basketballs and a chain saw the last couple of days. My lady friend's mother departed for the Seattle area yesterday, and even though it is in the long term the best move for all involved, a lifetime of guilt-tripping took its toll on her daughter yesterday. Although I knew it was going to take a small miracle not to catch some shrapnel yesterday, I was a little disappointed in myself that I allowed something that I was so pettily annoyed with to be the trigger--and it took a couple of hours to work through. I am trying really hard to be sympathetic to Sabrina in this time of travail--but her attitude and reaction to being hurt by trying to exercise control over those of us still present in her life is wearing on me, too. I've been trying to keep everyone happy, and wasn't really doing so well.
I finally just am getting back to being me and letting everyone else react to that. We've had a pretty good hour, am going to do some family-type activities today, and hopefully everyone can be reasonably content, if not actually ecstatic. And I can regain some equilibrium.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The Changing Face of Reality

We are eighteen days into a new year, and for once, it really is a New Year. The first thing that is apparent to me is that I did not get out of bed until 8 o'clock, which may well be the latest I have gotten out of bed since I stopped working for the halfway house all those years ago. I didn't go to bed particularly late, either; I read some before turning off the light like I normally do, but all was dark around here by 11:30. I'm always tired, and so it wasn't like it's a matter of catching up on sleep; I could sleep for a week and still feel tired, and that's a fact of life for any adult, I think.
No, what makes this a new reality is that with a washer and dryer now, there is no reason I have to get up early on Saturdays anymore. I don't have to make time to lug everything to the laundromat, and make sure I get there early enough to get either the washers (at Suds 'n Duds) or dryers (at the Speed Queen at the end of my street) that actually work well. And freed of that burden, I've discovered that I can actually find the 30 extra minutes sometime on Friday to get over to Johnson City and do my weekly Wegman's shopping, so there's no reason to combat the small army that invades that store every Saturday morning, either. That leaves cleaning the guinea pig cage and changing the bedding in it the only chore that used to take up my Saturday to do, and 1) it takes ten minutes and 2) can be done anytime. So for the first time in literally almost thirty years, I can actually enjoy a weekend the way that those people who went on strike and fought for a five-day work week over a century ago envisioned.
Another change is that Sabrina is sleeping in her room. When her mother and I first split nearly fourteen years ago, the eventual visitation agreement stipulated that Sabrina was over there from Wednesday night to Sunday morning, and even after all the eventual adjustments as I assumed the custodial parent role, Sabrina still has been at her mother's almost every Friday night since. Even in recent years, I don't think Sabrina has woke up here on Saturday morning more than a dozen times. She's here today because there is no "Mom's home" to go to; her mother has been evicted and no word came yesterday as to where, if anywhere, she landed after the 72 hours expired. And even should she find somewhere, all the events of recent months have taken their toll on Sabrina; she really, after the birthday cake fiasco and witnessing what she saw on the street the other day, has no illusions left about her mother, and at least for now, is adamant that she is not going over "there", wherever that might end up being, for the foreseeable future. At fifteen, the choice is more or less hers to make, and I certainly am not going to force her to go somewhere that she does not feel totally safe. This is beyond "I don't like it there;" exposing her to using addict behavior, strange people coming in and out, and unstable at best living conditions is not something I am going to do, and any court would agree with that.
I almost feel bad that as this is going on in Sabrina's life, my new relationship is proceeding to develop, as well; she certainly has a lot to deal with at a relatively fragile time in her life. My lady friend happens to share the same first name as Sabrina's mother, which is coincidental but nonetheless something that 15YOs pay an inordinate amount of attention to, and although Sabrina is outwardly accepting of the increased role Shannon and her kids are playing in our lives, I'm not insensitive to the fact that it's an upheaval of seismic proportions right now. And it is for me, too. I'm still wrapping my head around the idea that someone actually wants to spend a lot of time around me; it's been a long, long time, and I'm only now beginning to realize that twelve years of ambivalent women so wounded that they are incapable of any significant commitment, alternating with manipulative and fundamentally dishonest players, took an emotional toll on me. It feels good to be obviously liked and cared about, but it's pretty novel and it's taking some getting used to. We're all adjusting, and the adjustment period is changing yet again as Shannon's mother is, hopefully as I speak, on a plane back to the Pacific Northwest (she was supposed to depart Link Field at 6:30 this morning), which removes a very complicating and negative factor from her life but also is necessarily going to leave a void that will at least partially be filled by us. I don't dread that, not at all, but I'm also very cognizant that caution is necessary, even more so for two people in recovery. I've been in a relationship where the two of us got so wrapped up in each other that our recoveries nearly didn't survive. It was thirteen years ago, to be sure, and I'm a lot smarter and more aware about the dangers than I was then. But the danger is still there, especially since she is not as connected with the recovery community as I am, having both a lot less clean time (a few months short of two years) and having switched fellowships only a few months ago. I'm keeping my expectations level and realistic; I can remember where I was in my recovery with twenty months clean, and I was a lot closer to the using addict I used to be than the person I am now. But it's certainly taken the application of patience and understanding of others to a higher level than I have historically had to practice. I don't mind doing it; obviously she and her kids mean a lot to me or I wouldn't have made the commitment to them that I have. But it is a change.
And with the de facto responsibility of being the primary male presence in two preschool girls' lives now becoming larger every day, it's causing a rearrangement of priorities on other levels, too. I am not making the number of meetings  I was even a few months ago, and those I do make I'm not talking as much. And without getting into too many details, I've decided that I don't need to get involved with the knuckleheads at the Saturday morning meeting regarding their views on what a "closed" meeting is. I'm not going to thrash out the matter in this space, but suffice it to say that 1) the basic immaturity and danger of some of the people involved there has already been shown very clearly to me, and the apology notwithstanding that came at the Candlelight last night--one that was taken on my part in silence; foul is foul and saying "I don't want to fight with you anymore" doesn't begin to address how fucked-up her escalation of the dispute really was--I've really think I am better off staying away from them and that meeting for a bit, and maybe forever. Shannon and her kids go to church every week, which leaves me the Sunday morning meeting to attend free and clear, and I also can go to the noon meeting most days should I need to. I don't need to waste time and energy fighting with people that don't know what they are talking about and are aggressive about remaining ignorant. I've also been considering rearranging my sponsorship situation. I'm not getting a whole lot out of working with my current sponsor; I'm really beginning to see that in many ways, he's more unmanageable than I am, and some of the actions he's taken recently, I have frankly found appalling from a spiritual and practical standpoint. Concurrently--and probably not coincidentally--I've talked more with Aldo in the last month than I did in the previous three years, and he's really been stressing things that I need to hear more--that it is about trying to find God's will in given situations, not my own, and that application of principle is much more important than anything else. It has certainly helped keep me moving forward without being wobbly in a time when a number of people dealing with major stresses--Sabrina, Shannon and her kids--are depending on me to be stable and level-headed and strong.
There's a small part of me that feels put-upon. But only a very small part, the immature, child-like part that still longs for the carefree simplicity of the world of a toddler. There's too much conscious enjoyment of the life I lead today to shirk added responsibility when it presents itself. This is what Luke 12:48 was referring to: "from everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked." There is no free ride.

Friday, January 17, 2014

Why It Doesn't Work

I went to the Endicott meeting last night for the first time in weeks. My thought was that the same four or five people that usually are there would be there, and I would be able to vent and carry on and rant for fifteen minutes about all the things that I've been having a hard time accepting and/or dealing with in the last couple of weeks: problems with both the Friday and Saturday groups I belong to, the problems with Sabrina's mother, the issues surrounding the toxicity and looming departure of my lady friend's mother, financial pressures, and chronic gasbags and relapsers wasting an hour of every meeting I attend anymore with their misinformation and straight-up bullshit. Aldo was in contact with me all day, trying real hard to turn me around and remind me that we are in the service of something greater than ourselves in recovery, and he hoped that one of the few who have actually taken this program completely to heart--me--wasn't about to bag it or stop setting a positive example. I heard him, but I still wasn't feeling it.
And then I got there, and there were eight newcomers there. And when it got to be my turn...well, the imperative to share a message of strength and hope won out. Funny how God works that way. If someone's first impression of Narcotics Anonymous is someone with fifteen years clean ranting about what a bunch of ignorant blowhards he has to deal with--well, I wouldn't come back, and I wouldn't think too many others would, either. And that's the point, ultimately, of the entire process. It isn't about me anymore. It isn't about what I feel should happen, or whether I am right or not, or whether other people are full of shit, or any other First World problems. Because issues with home group formats and group clean-up policies and relationships going to the next level are luxury issues. Homelessness, despair, not being able to stop obsessing about getting high, legal problems--those are real problems, ones I thankfully don't have as part of my daily life anymore, and ones that many people in Narcotics Anonymous do deal with every day. It's not my job or role at a meeting to convince people, through my own litany of luxury problems, that it never gets better, that life is just one long series of problems and that it's still awful when you've been clean for a long time. It's about demonstrating that it is possible to put active addiction behind, build a better life, and find meaning and purpose in our existence.
And to share how that happens.
And more than anything else, that's what frustrates me and eats at me and drives me up a wall. I have come to firmly believe that the most important word in all of NA literature is "and." In dozens of places in our books and informational pamphlets, it spells out what we need to do to gain the full benefits of recovery--and it's never just one thing or even two things. It's "stop using drugs" and find a home group, and get a sponsor, and work the Steps, and get involved in service, and help other people. The bottom line is that if one cherry-picks, if one only does one or maybe two of things, then the full benefits of a recovery program don't happen for you. It's pretty simple, actually. And I don't know how many people I have seen who only want to stop using--but won't get a sponsor or work steps, and who remain chaotic and messed up and whom eventually go relapse. It has to be in the thousands by now. This is why people don't stay clean, why they stay stuck, why they are in a revolving door, why it doesn't happen for them. I can understand not wanting to; I don't think anyone really wants to, at least in the beginning. But if you wonder why you can't keep it down--there's your answer.
There are two chronic relapsers, one in each of my home groups, and despite both coming up on their third decade since their first meeting, neither one has ever done anything more than trying to stop using and go to meetings. And neither one of them has ever managed to put much time together, and yet both of them are still trying to make the same old tired approaches work. One, to his credit, is trying some different things this time around--he does have a sponsor and works with him. But both of them are still struggling because they still pick and choose which aspects of the program they are willing to do. You can't be in recovery and sell drugs. You can't stand on "principle" about minutiae in the literature and beat people over the head because they aren't doing something--when you yourself routinely ignore a dozen suggestions every day. Some suggestions never seem to get followed by these guys--how about the one of suggested sharing time of three to five minutes? How about the one when you don't leave the meeting until it's over, instead of running out to have a cigarette? How about the one about having a year clean to hold certain positions? I stress that I am not knocking them, or trying to be mean; what I am saying is that if you're going to be all concerned about where other people fall short, you need to look in the mirror and examine what you're falling short, too. And more importantly, when you find out where you're falling short, doing something about it. Three or four relapses ago for one of these guys, I told him I would really start to believe he was serious about changing when he could get through a meeting without telling us all about how much he was going to change, for seven or nine minutes at a time. And it's something he's still doing, and I don't what it's going to take for him to connect the dots that this is a big reason why he can't ever keep it down.
I'm thinking harder than I normally do about this stuff today because I am going to hand out a medallion at the Candlelight tonight. My sponsee is picking up his first black keytag. He doesn't work a perfect program, by any means, and he's not an angel, and he's not all that, and he will be the first to tell you that. But what he does do is show up every week, and answer the questions in the book to the best of his ability, and discuss the other literature we work out of honestly, and he shows up to the groups he attends every week, and he is involved with a couple of subcommittees, and he has a circle of friends that are also in recovery. In other words, he's getting two years tonight because he's not taking any shortcuts, because he has embraced the need to work the entire program.
Because he does his level best all the time to incorporate and follow all the "ands" in our literature. It's not rocket science. If you do that, you're pretty sure to hang around and not relapse. That's how it works. And if you're not doing that--all that--well, that's why it doesn't work. It's not a mystery, and one doesn't have to engage in six degrees of verbal masturbation to unravel it. If we knew so damn much about how to do any of this stuff, we wouldn't need to be members of Narcotics Anonymous to begin with.