Monday, August 31, 2015

Book Review: FIVE

I'm more inclined to be kind when reviewing first novels. But Ursula Archer's first effort, Five, doesn't need any forced kindness; this is a first-rate suspense thriller, even if the ending is somewhat ragged. I have some friends that are into geocaching, and this is the glue that welds the plot together. There is some dogged police work that smacks of authenticity taking up the middle third of the book, and the main character's personal life is skillfully weaved in with the plot, as well.
But it is the story, the plot, that makes the book. And I'm not sure that I've ever read a thriller with an idea this original. Once the book is concluded, one can marvel at the skill with which the plot was executed, and this is one of the few mystery/murder/suspense books I have read in the last couple of years where I absolutely did not see the ultimate solution coming. The two quibbles one might have with it is that there are the ultimate villain seems almost too monstrous for words, and that the connection that puts the main character in danger seems a bit forced. But for a first novel, this is fantastic.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Ups (Most of the Night) and Downs of Being On-Call

I eventually managed about five to six hours of sleep last night--with the last two after the sun came up. Welcome to being on-call for the entire agency. The first couple of times I was on-call, I've gotten calls late in the evening or just after midnight--but they've been calls dealing with a kid already in our care, and thus it was just a matter of following procedure. Last night, though, I got not one, but two calls, at 11 PM and 1 AM, from on-call DSS workers in counties not near here, looking for emergency placements of kids into foster care.
Which means a lot of phone calls, a lot of messages, a lot of explaining of circumstances--and ultimately, a lot of frustration. Between the heavy lifting and the documentation of the calls, it was nearly 2 AM before I could step away from the phone and computer, and of course by then I was wide awake and jacked up a little on adrenaline. And I actually had caught a break; the second call came in while I was writing the summary of the first one, so I didn't have to go through the entire roster of available homes again, and had already left messages with homes that were available to contact me when they got the messages. It would have been a worse experience had I managed to go back to bed and dozed off before the phone rang again.
This is the down side of being on-call. So far, it actually, during the day, it hasn't been bad; only four or five calls, and nothing serious (knock on wood) to this point. But the middle-of-the-night, looking-for-a-home situation is the reason that foster care, and emergency crisis programs like my own program, exist. I was on-call for my own program more often than not for over a decade, and while we didn't get true crisis very often, the once or twice during the year when I did have to deal with finding someone a place to stay in the middle of the night are the experiences that stay with you. Foster care is different than what I do, and I'm not still not totally convinced that I should be part of the on-call rotation, since 99% of the calls we get are foster care calls--but obviously I'm very conversant with what foster care is like and also with crisis response, and I certainly like the larger paycheck that comes the week after being on-call, so I deal with it and do it.
And it could have been worse. Sabrina slept over a friend's house last night; I could have been logging all that time talking on the phone with her in the next room. As much as being on-call for the entire state is nerve-wracking at times, if an actual live-body response is required, I'm not the one that is going to have to do so--which is a (welcome) change from being on-call for my own program, where I had to go to places like Margaretville, Oneonta, Lockwood, and Smithville Flats over the years in the middle of the night (there is nowhere in the world that is more nowhere than Margaretville, New York, in mid-February at 2 AM on an early Saturday morning. I will never forget that night, and that long-ass drive, as long as I live. People who think that Binghamton is nowhere have no idea of what "nowhere" actually is. Margaretville makes someplace like Walton look like New York City. But I digress). And being on-call and dealing with a foster care situation means that at some point, you are usually dealing with some other poor sap working for their county's DSS that is stuck being on-call in the middle of the night as well; you never get a hard time from anyone, even when it turns out, like last night, that you can't help them. Foster parents, too, generally, are not testy or obstreperous, at least on late-night calls. And law enforcement officials are the same no matter what time of day or night you are talking with them.
So I ended up falling back asleep somewhere between 2:30 and 3, woke up at 6:30, woke up for good at 8. Which is actually about how long I normally sleep, hours-wise, during the week. It's the actual time of day that I was sleeping that's off, and this is on top of also having normal sleep patterns disrupted on Friday night, too (an 11 PM call led to me not falling asleep until 1 AM or so). The coffee has done its job, and I am wide awake now, and will probably make it till mid-afternoon before starting to run out of gas. Sabrina works tonight, and I sincerely hope that it all breaks in my favor this evening--get her home by 9, talk to the Queen hopefully while Sabrina is at work, and get myself to bed and sleeping by 10. Monday is the last day of the month, and my supervisor returns from her vacation; I am sure, before the working day is done, that the recent adventures of me and our Finance Department are going to be gone over.
But for the morning, it's time for a little food, a shower, and the morning meeting. Unless the damn phone rings again.

Saturday, August 29, 2015

Book Review: THE INVENTION OF FIRE

Last year, I read a great first novel, by an American professor named Bruce Holsinger, called A Burnable Book that was a beautifully constructed mystery set in late fourteenth-century London, featuring historical personages such as Geoffrey Chaucer and John Gower as major characters, and bringing to life the reign of Richard II, years before the events portrayed in the eponymous Shakespeare play. The Invention of Fire picks up where the first book left off, and again, the book is, simply, fantastic. Gower is the main character, and he spends the entire book trying to figure out who killed sixteen people and dumped them in the sewers of London. The investigation is set against a background of intrigue and in-fighting among the nobles of the realm, the king, and an imminent invasion by the French. Historical fiction done well is, in my opinion, the very best kind of fiction, and a feature of it is that the plot line remain plausible and interesting, and this story, although centered on real people and real events, uses its secondary characters to bring to life several subplots--everyday life and justice in the London of the time and place, and a pivotal but relatively unappreciated moment in history--when handguns first were invented and used.
And to those of us with a nodding, long-ago acquaintance with the Shakespeare play, the nobles and king featured in these books come to more vivid life. The events that led to Richard's deposition in 1399 had their genesis in his childhood and early reign; like the protagonist of the other series of English history I've been reading recently, Conn Iggulden's Wars of the Roses series, all sorts of power struggles and infighting are born when children inherit the throne, and Richard spent his entire reign trying to work through the labyrinth created when he took the throne at ten, even though his father's four brothers were still alive and wielded extensive power and influence. The lords in opposition to the king in this book were contributing factors to what eventually happened thirteen years later, and their descendants were the actual combatants in the Wars of the Roses. Holsinger's books are a nice complement to Iggulden's, in forming a seamless narrative of the searing crisis that tore England apart for nearly a century.
And the murder mystery that is the thread that holds the book together is first-rate and constructed magnificently. And like any well-done mystery, the reader would do well to look past the blatantly obvious and focus on what is also in plain sight. The eventual resolution was a surprise, but totally logical and broadly hinted at very early in the book; much of the drama here comes from Gower, a very intelligent and somewhat arrogant man, realizing the limits of his own mind and the price that many nearly had to pay because of it. Chaucer, although not a big feature of the narrative, plays an important role, too, and a fascinating subplot of Holsinger's books has been a blow-by-blow accounting of how The Canterbury Tales were written and put together. The book is set many decades before Guttenberg and the invention of the printing press, and obviously writing and publishing was a very different endeavor at the time. Chaucer's classic is extremely long, as anyone who has read it or been exposed to it remembers, and it was of necessity constructed piecemeal, and it is fascinating to read even a fictional account of how the various chapters became known as they were written. Gower, too, was a poet of some renown, and the events that take place in these books were the eventual soil that his own major works took root in.
I have been rather distraught to see the publishing industry move almost entirely to serialization--nearly every successful writer has to feature the same characters in book after book in order to make a living. But this is one series that I am enjoying, and I sincerely hope that Holsinger has more to offer in this saga.

Friday, August 28, 2015

Ten Brief Thoughts

I don't have it in me this morning to write an in-depth post on anything, but I have a few sentences in mind on many things, in the news and otherwise. So here goes nothing:
1) The Ashley Madison hack has made news because it appears that a number of conservative social figures and politicians were hypocrites, publicly posing as upright citizens and moral giants while actively seeking clandestine sexual activity outside their marriages...YAWN. Of course, to the approximately sixty percent of Americans who aren't socially conservative, this is not a surprise. The indignation that you hear is that of another set of cherished illusions cracking and facades coming down. Conservatives are, almost always, gigantic hypocrites. The sooner we all come to realize that, the better off we'll be. And, in a related development, maybe some long-standing social problems will actually have a chance of being solved.
2) Jared Fogle. I guess what kills me about this rather revolting development is that people forget who Jared Fogle was before he became Subway's main public figure--a gigantic, enormous man with few if any chances, or realistic opportunities, for "normal" interactions and relationships in a romantic or sexual way. I'm not about to check, but my guess is going to be that he was very heavy as an adolescent, and this predilection that is coming to light now was likely born then, as most people interested in children in a sexual way are, bottom line, seeking sexual gratification from those that they can imagine having power and control over. The people who are amazed that someone "successful" can have this much of a dark side don't seem to understand that the child is father to the man. Jared Fogle might have changed his outside appearance after adulthood, but the internal Jared was still whoever he was as a child and teen. You can't look at someone and say, "oh, there's a sexual predator"--but there are some cases that are much less surprising, after exposure, than others, and this is frankly one of them.
3) Donald Trump and the Clown Car Posse. Mainstream media and the political "establishment" are just having it dawn on them just how far out of touch that they are with the reality of both American voter psychology and the havoc that the changes in this country over the last 30 years have wrought. I do think that most of the traditional power brokers are horrified at the thought of a President Trump, much more than they are horrified at the thought of a President Clinton  or even a President Sanders. I have thought for many years that there are limits to the patience that the oligarchic kleptocracy will exhibit with the rather cumbersome and expensive political system, and that if there continue to be electoral results that they are not down with, the formalities of American "democracy" will be dispensed with. It will be the supreme irony if this happens as a result of a Republican somehow getting his hands on the Presidency, but it is looking at least possible now.
4) Bernie. I have few illusions left at this point in my life. Bernie Sanders is the first person running for President that I have substantially agreed with on virtually every issue important to me. Ever. And judging from the way his candidacy has taken off, the experience is novel for a whole bunch more of us, too. I still do not think Sanders will be President (and the cynical side of me thinks that even if a miracle does occur, he won't be able to do anything he wants to because Congress and the Supreme Court are still dominated by the rich and unresponsive). But, continuing the thought listed above, if we somehow end up with a Trump vs. Sanders contest, it will be the ultimate kick in the balls to the moneyed interests that have hijacked American politics so nakedly in recent decades. And it will increase the likelihood that the machinery of democracy will be dispensed with.
5) Just a few years ago, I had an abiding, almost unhealthy interest in the sports world, as virtually every team and individual I have any rooting interest in was pretty good and a contender. Now? Sadly shaking my head. This has been a very long summer, in that the Red Sox are firmly rooted in last place, and the other major summer sporting interest, NASCAR, has all but disappeared from my radar as Jeff Gordon is having a stuck-in-neutral farewell season, and I am finding I really don't care all that much for any other driver. I barely look at the sports sites anymore, and when I do I find myself looking at hockey items. The Bills are the Bills; I don't think Rex Ryan is going to materially improve a 9-7 team, and the team as currently constructed has a ceiling of 9-7 and could regress significantly. My Premier League soccer interest, Everton, has gone in two years from solid contender to slightly-below average. I don't really have an NBA team that I care about; I suppose if I had one, it would be the Nets, but they're not good and are going to get worse. Syracuse basketball barely interests me anymore; the move to the ACC sits within me like food laced with botulism, and the troubles with the NCAA ensure that good seasons are not in the offing for a few years. That basically leaves the Rangers--and while they should still be good, the window of opportunity has closed, and the key guys are that much older. It only goes downhill from here. Ouch.
6) We tend to be concerned about the effects of climate change here in our part of the world. But the rest of the world is having their problems, too. I read this morning that the Middle East, which saw temperatures over 100 degrees regularly when the climate was "normal", now routinely has days when the heat index is hotter than 150 degrees. An Iraqi government just fell because it could not provide a steady electricity flow to power air-conditioning in a country where the nighttime temperatures are in the 90's. Lakes are drying up around the world, and drought is affecting many more millions than terrorists, floods, or political upheaval. I've said it before and I'm saying it now; there is no way that our children will live as long as our own parents did. And there is going to unimaginable chaos as parts of the already-overcrowded planet become uninhabitable for human beings.
7) The stock market has been very volatile in the last couple of weeks. Effect on most of us? Zero. Next news item, please.
8) As bad as the current heroin epidemic is, it is having one positive effect: it is drawing the idea that the "War on Drugs" is the way to combat addiction more and more into serious question. It is an indication of how deeply flawed and divided American society is that what should have been obvious many years ago is only now being taken seriously because young white people are being affected in large numbers; jail for drug users apparently is a palatable option only if the druggies are "those people." But at least the evolution of attitudes is starting to occur, and maybe, just maybe, the huge damage that the "War" has done can start to be alleviated.
9) I was talking with my intern yesterday about the above item. He is in his mid-30's, and he had no real idea of when and how the War on Drugs started. He absolutely refused to believe that George Bush I had given a nationally televised address and showed the nation a bag of crack as a sign of imminent apocalypse. I had to show him the video on You Tube before he would believe me. This is a common reaction among many of the 35 and under set; they have been so brainwashed by the mainstream media of their lifetimes that they really have no idea of their own history. My daughter's generation is much more informed and open-minded than the generation immediately preceding theirs. The children of the time from about 1985 to 9/11 are, to my admittedly prejudiced mind, almost addled as adults; they bought into the bullshit they were spoon-fed en masse and are only now discovering, in some dim way, that they do indeed need to take into account the man behind the curtain. And true to human nature, most of them are doubling down on their ignorance. I don't get into Generation naming, but whatever this bunch is called, it truly is the Lost Generation. Thank God for the Internet; it has its flaws, but at least the youth of today have sources of information that are not total bullshit, and a good many of them are developing the ability to think for themselves.
10) To those that are loudly decrying the lack of "outrage" over a black man killing two white TV personalities, I will summon up the last reserves of patience I have and explain it to you briefly. The reasons that the outrage is not on the same level are thus: 1) the murderer was clearly unhinged, and was caught before he killed himself. Karmic justice was served, and if it was not going to be, legal justice would have been, and 2) there is a world of difference between a malefactor committing a crime and those that are supposed to be the upholders of law and order committing one. There is no doubt in anyone's mind that what the shooter the other day did was wrong and constituted murder. There is no army of nitwits, in other words, claiming that race, police misconduct, official lying, and subversion of the legal process that regularly takes place when police and authority kill our people for no reason are somehow justified, denying that the crimes that they were and are take place. That's the difference. Sorry this had to be spelled out for you so vividly. Now let's put our crayons away and move on to the first grade, shall we? Sheesh.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Yesterday's Executions

The world, or at least this portion of it, was shook up yesterday by the murder of a TV journalist and her cameraman while doing a live interview in Virginia. The shooter, it turned out, was a former reporter for the same station that harbored grudges and resentments against that reporter, but also against the station in general. The shooter is also dead, after fleeing the scene and driving a couple of hours away before getting caught by cops and then turning his gun on himself.
And the bodies were still warm when the event became fodder for political viewpoints. There were the renewed calls for gun control, equally fervent responses by the gun (enthusiasts, lobby, nuts--pick your term), and in general a lot of people were free with many opinions before any of them really knew a whole lot. Which is not unusual in general, and in particular is becoming less unusual after "news" events. I suppose people always have done this--it used to be a source of wonder how quickly word of mouth spread outward. Now it is even more so, because of the prevalence of communication devices and forums that enable people to instantly give their input to literally thousands of people at a time.
After 24 hours, it seems that this is not quite the seminal, unique event it seemed possible it could have been in the minutes after the shooting. It appears to be a fairly standard, if one can legitimately use that term, murder-suicide. The shooter sent a 23-page message to ABC News the night before that shows that this was not random, and there is a lot of evidence that the shooter had been nursing grievances against at least the woman reporter, and the station that fired him in general, for a long time. Which moves the crime from the "senseless massacre by any nutjob that can get a gun" to the "unfortunately all too common in this country" category. The only real line that was crossed was that the shooter chose to do his work on live television and posted videos of the killings on his own social media pages immediately afterwards. Anyone that carries any murder has serious power and control issues, but psychopaths take this to another level, adding intense narcissism and attention-seeking behavior to the mix, and I'm not sure I've ever seen this before. The guy, whatever his problems were, was a media professional by trade, and certainly had a better understanding than the "crazed loner" stereotype did of what would cause a sensation and draw attention to his deed.
And for what it's worth, I think we as a nation should be paying more attention to that aspect of these killings than the fact that it was another instance of gun violence. The need for attention, the craving to let everyone in the world know what we are doing at any given moment, is something that may have always been present in human beings, but has literally exploded in the era of Facebook, Twitter, smart phones, and selfies. And the problem has reached critical mass. There was something I saw yesterday that I ended up sharing on my own Facebook page--something that said that one reason Donald Trump is enjoying the run that he is on is because he is a troll section come to life. And yesterday's killer is another mutation of the same phenomenon--the intemperate, self-absorbed, immature overgrown adolescent that needed to set up a target rather than face his own shortcomings. The only difference between yesterday's killer and the average troll that we all read every day is that the killer's sand wall between rhetoric and reality broke down.
And I suspect, as time passes, that we are headed for more, not less, of this sort of thing. The fact that much of America is armed to the teeth is almost irrelevant to the real issue. The true problem is that we have become, even more than we have been historically, a narcissistic, self-centered, self-absorbed society. We have put a shiny gloss on this tendency for centuries, calling it "rugged individualism" and other benign-sounding terms, but the reality is that this has always been a culture of sociopaths. Most of the Europeans that came here arrived because they were either unable to get along in their home countries or had made themselves unwelcome there. We conquered the country from its native inhabitants; the main difference between the written history of the United States and that of other places in the world is that we don't usually acknowledge the obvious, and when it is acknowledged it is justified, to an extent that one does not encounter when reading accounts, say, of how Hungary came to be populated with Magyars or how Turkey came to be Turkish. We bullshit ourselves that we have been a largely pacific nation, when in fact we have been engaged in some sort of conflict or another for all but a few years of our history. We have a long, long history of oppressing certain groups of our own population, and the levels of intra-societal violence here have always been sky-high compared to other cultures. And the current technological revolution underway has been driven by Americans, popularized by Americans, and indulged in by Americans. Other cultures are not immune, to be sure, but only we take it to the extent that we do.
And only here is violence considered an acceptable option to dispute resolution, literally from cradle to grave. And those that do not engage in actual violence feel free to engage in rhetorical violence openly. The result is that there isn't really much of a barrier between action and rhetoric any longer, and the levels of violence that we see around us are growing. I know that the "official" crime statistics have gone down in the last 30 years, and I am beginning to suspect that this is the result of some sort of denial. After all, our jails are full (and there are a lot more of them than there once were), there seem to be incidents of this sort almost every week anymore, and we've gotten neatly around the fact that law enforcement routinely practices extreme violence by not terming it "crime." And with narcissism now more or less socially acceptable, even necessary--well, the problem is going to get worse, not better.
Yesterday is not going to be the only instance of live executions on television. It was a pioneer, not an outlier.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Hump Day

I get the origin of the phrase; most of us work a five-day work week, and Wednesday is still the midpoint of the time we work for us. I've never really liked using it, but this week it seems quite a bit more apt, because I'm not sure I've struggled with returning from a vacation like this ever before. The last two days have been the equivalent of struggling through a deep depression, and today isn't starting off a whole lot better.
There are few reasons that fueling this funkiness. One is that there is the shadow of the grant award hanging over me; I simply do not know whether I am going to have a job in October, and while this is the fourth time I've gone through this particular waiting game in my career, it's much more foreboding to contemplate the ending of something when it has taken up a quarter of your life and when you're 52 years old. The grant was turned in months ago, and there isn't anything to do now but wait, but waiting has never been something that comes easily to me. And a related factor is the hassle I've been going through at work regarding the music snafu at the recent Beat The Heat. I've done what I was supposed to do from the time it happened, but there is always a residual nervousness when one deals with the top of the corporate food chain when you have to explain and take remedial action for something that has gone wrong. So far, there is nothing to indicate that there is going to be anything for me to be concerned about professionally--but when you're already on edge, you would like to remain as invisible and anonymous as possible within a large organization. And yet another related factor is that my life goes on hold again for a week in a couple of days; my turn in the on-call rotation is coming up again starting Friday afternoon. I will certainly like and appreciate it after it is over and the much-larger paycheck gets deposited in mid-September, but first I have to actually do it for seven days. There always seems to be one day of pure hell during the week, and even when there isn't much going on, you still have to be aware that the phone can ring at any time.
And I have discovered this summer that the day after visiting the Queen is always a bad day. It's a sign, ultimately, of the strength of the relationship, and it bodes well for the future--but it's very deflating and depressing in the present to come home without her, and it was made doubly worse this week by the knowledge that, due to on-call, I'm not going to see her again until the day before Labor Day. Yes, I talk to her all the time, but it's not the same as actually being with her. There is light at the end of the tunnel--but again, the ground has to be covered; there is no magic, blink-and-you're-through-it way to cover it. There's a part of me that simply does not want to admit, or feels foolish and juvenile for doing so, that I can be emotionally affected by something as simple and raw as missing someone.
But one reason this is turning out to be a different sort of relationship than any of the others that came before it is that I am not putting up any masks or fronts in it. I tried to be too cool for school, too diffident, too concerned with appearances, for my entire life--and it didn't get me anything but eventual pain and misery. I'm done pretending to be feeling--or not feeling--emotions that I am not. I don't have to let those feelings paralyze me, and I don't have to let my feelings become an excuse and justification to engage in manipulative or injurious behaviors--but I can acknowledge them and feel them, not stuff them and/or pretend that they are not there.
So it's been kind of a perfect storm this week, made a little bit worse by not being at a meeting or talking with others in the program for a few days. But my home group is tonight, and I'm going to try to meet with a sponsee, too. And I realize how fortunate I am to have this fellowship in my life: it has not only served as a source of support and fraternity, but it's where I learned that it's all right to feel what you feel without having those feelings take over the direction of life. I've been in a funk for a couple of days--but I've gone to work, done what I had to do, been a responsible parent and son, kept up around the house, and have a to-do list for the day.
I'm not laying in bed with the covers over my head. I'm not mooning for lost love all over Facebook, and I'm not looking or seeking a substitution to kill the feeling (well, all right, I could lay off the potato chips, but as substitutions go, that's a relatively harmless one, and I've only put back on about three pounds of the thirty I've lost). And I feel like by discussing this stuff openly and honestly, in a more or less public forum, I might help others that are feeling similarly but, out of embarrassment or shyness or fear, are afraid to say so. It's all right. There's no reason I shouldn't be feeling the way I do--professional viability is serious stuff, and enforced absence from a loved one is something that ought to cause feelings.
And it is Hump Day. This week will pass, as all of them eventually do.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Book Review: GLACIERS

Subtitled "The Politics of Ice," Jorge Daniel Taillant's Glaciers is actually two books in one. The odd-numbered chapters detailed the efforts in Taillant's native Argentina to write and pass legislation to protect glaciers from intentional destruction by business interests (yes, a gold-mining company based in Argentina and Chile was intentionally destroying and melting glaciers in the Andes in order to get at veins). The even-numbered chapters were about the characteristics of glaciers, how they form and where and such. The problem is that neither book is particularly interesting. The chapters about the byzantine workings of Argentine politics were simply unreadable, and the other chapters were all right, but somehow disappointing. I think there might be an interesting book about glaciers out there to be written--but this isn't it.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Life In The Fast Lane

I've spent a lot of time on the road in recent months. I've probably driven five thousand miles in the last two months, and will likely drive close to five thousand more before November, and much of this mileage has been and is going to be on the expressways and highways of the state of New York. And, me being me, I've noticed a few things:
1) I have no idea of why gas prices vary by as much as thirty cents a gallon within a thirty mile radius. More to the particular point, I have no idea of why gas prices are lower in the middle of the large circle than they are in either one direction of the other. Generally, the closer you get to a large city, the higher the gas prices are--except gas in the middle of nowhere is usually very high-priced, and the lowest prices in the state currently are actually right here in Binghamton. I paid $2.47 a gallon the other day to fill up. It was $2.59 in Corning yesterday, when I needed a few dollars in order to make sure I got home. It was $2.79 in Roscoe, $2.75 in Westchester County, $2.69 in Windsor, $2.65 up by Rochester... you get the idea. Why the variations? I really don't know. If pressed, I would say that prices are relatively lower here because Pennsylvania, with its lower gas taxes, is merely ten miles away--but that doesn't necessarily hold true, because there are some chains around here that are routinely five to ten cents higher per gallon than places like Kwik Fill and Hess (excuse me, Speedway; can't wait to see what havoc that corporate takeover is going to wreak).
2) I am going to assume that the New York State Police is going to get their Broome County barracks' new vehicles soon. Broome has the only blue-colored cars and SUVs left in the entire state; every other place has moved on to black. And I am sure that the move to black is not a coincidence. This is not the time or place to address the current controversies surrounding law enforcement, but the state police in this state were a lot closer to the storm trooper model long ago, before the rest of the state, and America for that matter, became much more of a paramilitary force. And the black cars and SUVs definitely look more intimidating than the blue vehicles do.
3) I hadn't been out past Corning in a while, until yesterday. When did US Route 15 become Interstate 99? The conversion of New York Route 17 to Interstate 86 has been going on for years and has years left to go, but the job is pretty much complete west of here, to the point where Route 17 signs are off the green overhead highway signs and have been pushed off to the side along the road itself. And the next major highway overhaul in the state really needs to be Interstate 390--unless it is Interstate 84. Both roads are in really bad shape, capable of shaking you out of the seat. It's more jarring for me because I remember when 390 was brand-new, when I was attending Geneseo, and it was as smooth as the proverbial baby's bottom. No longer.
4) And now comes the Grumpy Cat portion of the blog this morning...other drivers. I'm aware that I drive faster than most other drivers. I am prepared to take the chance of getting a speeding ticket in exchange for spending less time actually driving, and the highways that we drive on are more than capable of allowing drivers to operate their vehicles at speeds well over the speed limit--after all, our law enforcement and emergency vehicles drive much faster than any regular driver regularly in the course of their duties without incident. The speed limit is 65 most places, 55 around urban areas and on portions of four-lane roads that are winding and/or tend to be slippery or prone to major fog issues. Police generally do not issue--generally, I emphasize; I do not want you blaming me should you get a ticket--tickets unless they catch you going at least fifteen miles an hour over the limit, which is one reason I normally drive 80 MPH on the highway. But the major reason I drive that fast is that I want to get where I'm going faster. And with that in mind...
Other drivers out there, you do not have a divine right to set your cruise control on 68 or 72 miles per hour and never take it off. I am beyond tired of seeing some pompous-looking jerk nosing his Altima or Forester out in front of me in the passing lane when I am moving at 80 MPH and then taking their sweet time getting around the granny or the kid going 65. I am even more tired of the same type of people moving into the left lane three quarters of a mile before a lane actually closes, slowing down fifteen miles per hour in the process, and then getting upset when people go around them with the lane closure looming. It was a pleasure driving yesterday morning before the sun came up, with hardly anyone else on the road. It was most decidedly not a pleasure coming back, and the biggest reason was these morons that will not take the cruise control off for any reason short of a nuclear detonation ahead of them. And there was one particular beauty that pulled her little shitbox Aveo out to pass two tractor-trailers 3/4 of a mile before a bridge with a lane closed, right in front of me so that I had to hit the brakes hard--and then didn't move it off 68 as she passed the trucks. It was a good thing the truck drivers were paying attention and slowed down enough to let us both in, because the nitwit in the Aveo belatedly discovered that there wasn't the usual two miles to get the car safely in front of the big bad trucks before getting over. And yes, that driver got the one-finger salute and the Egyptian horn serenade when the bridge was past and I could get by. It's not the fast drivers that are the problem on the highways; it's the drivers that are oblivious to changing conditions and the vehicles they are sharing the road with.
4a) One of these days, I am going to take the time out to perform a public service and follow one of these bozos that is operating a car or, more likely, an SUV with ear buds in their ears until they get where they're going--and slap the stupid right out of them. You are not driving your vehicle at 75 MPH in a vacuum, and sight is not the only sense that you need to safely operate a motor vehicle, you self-indulgent little f***.
5) I understand that tractor trailers are a fact of American life, and it has been a long time since I saw a truck driver operate a truck unsafely or recklessly. What I didn't get at the time, and what I really don't get now. is the SUV fetish. Most of the people driving these monstrosities will never ever drive off the road unless they miss their own driveway while pulling in, shit-faced, at 3:30 AM. They are impossible to see around, they take up far too much room in their lane, and they are about as stable as a flag in windy conditions, which makes them very dangerous to drive behind. And it's really, really frustrating to get behind one of these things that is going at least ten miles an hour slower than the prevailing rate of traffic; SUV drivers tend to act like they are the only ones on the road. And they are the overwhelming main offenders of the cardinal sin of highway driving--those drivers that never move out of the left lane. I guess sitting nine feet high isn't enough to ease whatever nervousness you feel about putting your two-ton monster into actual traffic; you have to keep an eye on the rest of us by disrupting traffic patterns by driving slow in the fast lane, too? If you're that nervous behind the wheel. perhaps you really ought to reconsider the whole idea of driving anywhere. You have no right to expect the rest of us to act like a timid teenager just learning to drive. Get...the...f***...out...of...the...fast...lane, unless you are actually passing someone.
And 6) I understand that there are a lot of geriatrics out there that still have their licenses. And most of the time, they are more annoying than dangerous, in most cases. But on expressways--I am willing to bet that the root cause of at least 80% of all accidents is some old guy or old lady that simply will not maintain either actual highway speed or a distinct driving lane. And these guys are never driving a Focus or a Prius; it's either some big-ass relic of the 90's or what passes for full-size these days. And they get themselves in the way, and are totally oblivious to their effect on traffic. I have never been terribly patient with older drivers, but I really and truly believe that after the age of 65, people should have to retake their drivers' tests every three years. And think of the revenue that would raise, since old people, at least around here, seem to have more money than most of us. It's a win-win--more money for the state, safer driving for the rest of us.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Book Review: KLANDESTINE

Klandestine, by Pate McMichael, is a rather incisive look at not only the involvement of several Ku Klux Klan people with James Earl Ray before and after the Martin Luther King assassination, but of the general involvement of the Klan in Southern politics, and in particular around George Wallace, in the 1960's. The matter of Ray is rather easily dispensed with; the conspiracy claims that Ray espoused after his arrest and to the end of his life are shown to be a fabrication of his Klan-affiliated lawyer and a journalist of the time that was looking to make some money off Ray. There is or was no "Raoul," nor CIA involvement, in King's death. What there might well have been was some Klan involvement, because the Klan was active in many violent murders and attempts at resisting desegregation all through the 1960's. In fact, the Klan was nothing more or less than a domestic terrorist organization, and even though the radical racist right is no longer openly active in the nation, it's not hard to make a surmise that they've never really went away.
And reading this book, fifty years after the events it chronicles, one can't help but be disgusted--or at least I would hope that you are--by the pure virulence of these people. The willingness to resort to violence, but also by their willingness to act on repugnant beliefs, to fabricate evidence, and to lie often and with a straight face all were readily apparent, and it isn't hard to hear echoes of virtually everything said at that time in today's news--and going back in time, in the pre-Civil War era as well. I've never been a fan of Southern "culture" and native Southerners, and after reading this book, I am more convinced than ever that the South is a national boil that we as a nation should have committed ourselves to lancing after the Civil War ended. That we did not do so has major ugly and malevolent consequences today, and will continue to do so until whenever the final day of reckoning comes.

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Of Relationships, Politics, and Realities

In no particular order or importance:
1) There is an old saying that if something cannot continue, it will not. And looking around the political scene not just in the United States, but around the world, we are starting to hear the rumblings and see the ground begin to move a little bit that are signals that the heretofore pliable masses, distracted by bread and circuses for the last four decades or so while the global kleptocracy has looted our collective coffers and consolidated their grip on traditional power centers, are growing restive, with an eruption possibly brewing. In Europe, there is an increasingly fractious, almost bizarre, struggle within the opposition Labor Party over "electability" quotients of the party leadership--where those that have run the party over the past twenty years, that have essentially become an arm of the ruling class, are suddenly desperately trying to cling to their perch in the wake of a challenge from a younger, more traditionally "socialist" figure. In Greece, the people spoke very loudly several months ago that they wished the country's leadership to tell the European Union to go fuck themselves, found that those they elected were co-opted by the EU, and are now about to go to the polls again to try to throw the betrayers out of office. A massive chemical explosion in China is turning into an avenue of protest against the Gilded Age capitalism that has both brought a level of prosperity and a level of pollution and disregard for quality of life that has reached the breaking point; censorship has dulled the noise abroad, but it's become clear that the Chinese are sick of shitty air quality, chemicals in the water, corruption and cronyism, and environmental degradation, and unrest is growing. In Africa, the warlords of West Africa were more or less forced to cease firing for a time by their population's insistence on getting treated for, and obtaining an experimental vaccine against, Ebola.
And in the United States, in both major political parties, the grip of the traditional elites is shaky at best right now. Donald Trump is establishing a clear supremacy in the ludicrously crowded Republican presidential contest, while the supposedly unelectable Bernie Sanders has made up a huge amount of ground against anointed candidate Hillary Clinton. I am getting some flashbacks to 1988, when the Jesse Jackson candidacy took off for a few glorious months, and there was a lot of the same feel back then--whatever Jackson may or may not have been, he was undeniably not "more of the same," and he ended up driving Al Gore out of the race before the traditional power brokers coalesced (disastrously) around Michael Dukakis. Sanders is not as flawed as Jackson was, and is actually one of the few American figures in politics that regularly speaks to concerns that the great majority of us have-which explains why his support keeps going up, and also why the attacks on him by those currently benefiting from the status quo are growing increasingly shrill and desperate. Clinton must be having a sense of deja vu; the support that The Empty Suit garnered in 2008 had a lot of the same motivations behind it. Obama was more or less an unknown quantity in 2008, and as a result has turned to be anything from somewhat to a major disappointment to a majority of those that voted for him looking for serious "change."
Sanders is the real thing; he has been consistent in his advocacy of policies for thirty years. And the fact that he is drawing more and more support is making more and more of the kleptocrats nervous. My gut feeling is that we are not destined for a President Sanders--because I think he is going to end up becoming the frontrunner, and then I honestly believe that we are going to see our first assassination in decades. He may end up being what every great cause and revolution needs, though--a martyr. I could be wrong. I could be overly pessimistic about the chances of his success. I could be overly pessimistic about the willingness of the kleptocracy to engage in extralegal measures to hang onto their power. I could overly optimistic about the sense of "fed up" in the general public, and of their willingness to challenge the status quo. But I don't really think so. And I am glad to see these developments. My biggest nightmare, my biggest fear, was that the general torpor about the slide into penury and subservience that has taken place in my adult years so far was going to continue for the rest of my life, that our marginalization was going to be meekly accepted and solidified for the balance of my life. I don't really feel that is going to happen any longer. There may not be any ultimate triumph--but in the words of Jack Nicholson in the forgotten classic One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest, "I tried, damn it. At least I did that."
2) My vacation time is winding down (although it will be somewhat extended next week, as my supervisor will be off, meaning that I am going to be under no real pressure or deadlines for my first week back). I didn't get half of what I wanted to get done done--but it was a great week nonetheless, simply because my batteries recharged after a summer of very, very draining activity (and the added burden of a debilitating physical condition for over a month, as well). And one positive development has been the solidification of Sabrina's place in the world of working people; she has her own money, and as a result I am getting a little relief from my own budget woes. Circumstances are dictating some pressures on my cash flow that, while not permanent, are real, and believe me, every little bit helps. The biggest issue, frankly, is the uncertainty regarding my job status--if the grant does not get awarded, it's going to be real hard around here come autumn. But for the moment, I am managing to keep my head above water and land in sight, even if not necessarily getting any closer to shore.
And I would rather struggle in this fashion than adopt more radical measures trying to ease the pressure. I saw a note in the paper this week where three relatives, two brothers and a cousin, robbed a house of $24K--and went on a shopping spree of epic proportions with the proceeds. I knew about this before it hit the papers because of the peripheral involvement, with one of the brothers, of someone I know. There are a million thoughts that go through my head when I see stuff like this, most of them fleeting and many of them either not helpful or relevant. But one that did go through my head when I heard it was that I am really grateful that I do not have the stomach to do something of that nature. I've been in jail in the distant past, and I have too much, even with financial pressures that seem without end, to lose to contemplate going back there for any length of time. I simply am not willing to take that risk. The struggle might be real. But whatever the solution is, it does not involve my committing crimes to resolve.
3) I was surprised, in one sense, when I saw what happened in the item I was talking about above. One of the three people has been in a volatile, off-on relationship with someone I know for a long time. I thought that they had finally cut the cord with one another months ago, because there was a lot of sturm und drang on social media and in other forums regarding order of protection and blocking and fake identities and--you get the idea. Which got me to thinking about how relatively calm, even in times when I didn't feel so calm, my own domestic life has been for years now. Up until a couple of years ago, I had never once, in my entire life, done the back-together shuffle with anyone I had been involved with--when I was done, I was done, and with one or two exceptions, when women were done with me, they had no lingering doubts about their decision, either. That changed a couple of years ago for me, and I can now say I've given two women a second chance. One didn't work out so well--but given it was a sequel, I got out with a lot less pain and consequences than I did the first time, and time has shown that I got a blessing when it didn't work, for two reasons. One is that her life is a complete train wreck, as far as I can tell, and I can only imagine the misery I would be dealing with had I gotten what I thought I wanted at the time. The second is that it opened the door for something better--the other instance of a second chance. Circumstances are not ideal there, either--but they're getting better, the future is much brighter than it ever has been, and most importantly, that future is secure--those circumstances have forced a confrontation with doubts and fears that have resulted in decisions, for both of us, to make the major commitment. The circumstances have, in an odd way, resulted in a bit of a throwback, old-fashioned type of courtship/relationship-building. We have talked to each other more in less than two years than I have with any other woman I have ever been with, including someone I was with, between dating and marriage, for a decade. And I have gotten to know her inside-out as a result, and she me, as well. With the physical aspect of a relationship off the table for long periods of time, you are forced to actually get to know who you are spending time with, and to not only hear their words, but see their actions in a context where there are few or no distractions or complicating issues. And the result has been that I have become very sure that my instincts were largely correct about her, and I have also become sure that she is worth the time and effort I have committed to her. And her doubts and fears have been addressed and resolved as well.
I am mentioning this because I see so many other people that, for whatever reasons, have not--because they have not had to--put this kind of effort into building their relationships--and so they go through a lot of pain, a lot of drama, and a lot of bumps as they get to know the person they are spending time with. I long ago came to view the Sexual Revolution as a decidedly mixed development, and my experience in the last several months has really even further shifted my thinking to the point where I truly feel that, as much as I hate to say it, the conservatives and moralistic types were and are largely correct in their distaste for the new norms. The foundation of any good, lasting relationship is communication and honesty--and the more of it that occurs before actual commitment takes place, the better that you know who you're dealing with, and the less likely that you will be making a commitment to a mask or a front. One simply cannot hide their true nature, their true colors, forever; at some point, you are going to see who you are really hanging with. I actually discovered, during this year, the person that I used to be, that I wanted to be, as far back as high school, before sex and drugs had ever taken root and worked their nefarious charm on me. It was hard for me to remember when I was cheerfully and totally loyal and monogamous, when I could say what I felt without feeling foolish, when I could trust the other person wholeheartedly.
When the noise in the head wasn't there.
And it's been absolutely wonderful to rediscover that feeling, and that man. Is it going to last? Probably not completely; there are going to be pressures when circumstances change in a few months. But I am also reasonably sure that the pressures are going to be less forceful, for both of us, than they were the first time we were with each other. For one, we know who we are with a hell of a lot better than we did two years ago. For two, there has been bitter confirmation for both of us since then that not only is the grass not greener, but it's not even grass--it's a freaking turf rug with a very hard concrete bottom right underneath the surface. And for three, both of us, despite a significant difference in time spent on earth, have come to a point where we simply are not willing to suffer the consequences of what we used to do. My absolute bottom was much longer ago, but hers was much lower. And as much as I have enjoyed rediscovering the man I wanted to be and in many ways used to be, she, too, has discovered the woman she wanted to be that went by the wayside during recent years, and is very happy to be able to become who she really wants to be once more, too.
And I realize, looking around me, how fortunate I--we, actually--have been. The last year has not been easy, more so for her than for me, but one of the truisms of the recovery process is that when we do the right thing for the right reasons, the blessings will come. It's been my experience that God works in mysterious ways, but more importantly, that God can work His will in the most unlikely and trying circumstances--if we are consciously living by and employing spiritual principles and actively moving in His direction. I have been living, in the last year, a story that literally no one could have written. And it has sprung forward largely because we were more or less forced to play the attraction/relationship game by different rules than almost all of our peers-and we ourselves, if it had been up to us--have and do.
But it's been worth it. I guess there was a second chance--it's actually a third; once she moved away from me, and once I pushed her away--because the affinity, the attraction, was real. I always thought that "love at first sight" was bullshit, and I can't say that "love" has been on the table since the first time we met. But I do believe that there is someone for everyone. For a long time, I actually had believed that whoever my someone was, that I had blown it--that it had been a past relationship that had ended, and that it was 99% certain that it was my fault. I don't feel that way now. Time will tell if this is the "someone." But I feel a hell of a lot more sure that it could be than I have about anyone else in a long, long time. And that is mostly because I am nearly totally sure of just who I am in a relationship with, because of the circumstances that we have had to endure.
And I see so many of my friends and acquaintances put themselves through a lot of grief and pain because they have no real idea of who they are emotionally committing to before they make those commitments. I, too, suffered for many years. I may yet suffer in the future, too; I could be wrong about all this, or unforeseen things may happen. But I have a lot more reason to believe what I believe than I ever have before. And the proof that I'm in new, uncharted territory is that lack of noise in my head and the microscopic levels of insecurity in my heart.

Friday, August 21, 2015

Factz of Life

I have become a lot more sympathetic in recent years to those who are in relationships with people who have legal issues, both because of personal experience and because I have become much more tolerant and open-minded about other people and their motivations in general. And I have also become much more jaded about how the "justice" system operates, at least in areas where drug use is involved. The War on Drugs is a war on people, not drugs, and like any war, there are a lot of people that lose--and not all of them are the fatalities or the prisoners of war. Few people in jail or prison exist in a vacuum; they have families and partners and children. With very, very few exceptions, they are not completely defined by the crimes that have landed them under guard, either.
Knowing this now is why I really cannot bear to read the troll section of virtually any news story anymore that has to do with crime or punishment; there are far too many people out there that either take delight in other people's misery or succumb to the temptation to sit in thunderous judgment on people in order to mask or come to terms with their own shortcomings and sense of place in their life. The fact that the people in the news have families, friends, and loved ones--who have been accused of and are guilty of nothing, in a legal sense, by the way--does not occur to most of these people, and to those it does occur to, they dismiss those who are close to those they excoriate as stupid, guilty-by-association, and/or delusional.
This isn't another post about the general repulsiveness of the trolls, as much as they bother me. This is a post about those that are in the justice system, and those that are connected with them... Someone got sentenced the other day to life in prison for essentially low-level drug dealing, and someone he is close to, a woman who I used to know when her kids were in the same school as Sabrina and whom I am still friends with on Facebook, posted a long, impassioned, and pain-filled missive on social media decrying the injustice of it all. I read it, and I had some sympathy for her. I know what a burden it can be to be involved with someone that is incarcerated. I know that the temptation to compare the case of the person we know with others that seem to catch unwarranted breaks from the "justice" system is overwhelming at times. I know that there is a tendency to find reasons to minimize the conduct of the person we know, to find mitigating factors, to find reasons for optimism.
And yet, there comes a point when the scale tips in the other direction, and one has to face the reality that no matter how the person is when he or she is not engaged in the activity that has landed them in legal trouble--and I know others that know this guy and swear that he is not by nature thuggish or predatory--the fact is that there are legitimate reasons for authority to come down hard, too. In this particular case, this was the fourth charge the guy has had for selling drugs; he had violated probation and parole in the past; there were some other unsavory aspects to the record, too. In other words, this guy long ago embraced the lifestyle as a professional, if not necessarily personal, choice. This is what he does, and it has been my experience that people that get to a certain age--mid-30's, usually--do what they do because to a degree, that's who they are. People in their teens and twenties make "mistakes" and have to go through "experiences;" people in their forties have chosen to be the way that they are, and to do what they do. And any choice brings rewards but also risks--and the risks of living the way this man was were spending a long time in prison if he ran afoul of authority again. Which he did. Was it necessarily fair? No, probably not. But is it a flaming injustice? No, it isn't that, either. It's a chance one takes, especially when there were opportunities to change at points in the past that were not taken advantage of.
And yes, it does suck and it does hurt when someone you care about deeply ends up with a long sentence that will ensure that that will be elderly when they emerge from prison--if they even do. And the burden of making choices then shifts to the person on the outside--is is worth staying involved with this person? Are the rewards going to make up for the burdens? Is the commitment to the person incarcerated worth the effort it is going to take? Because for the person on the outside, it is a huge commitment to stay involved with someone on the inside, and I really cannot imagine doing so when there is no end date in sight. I think that is at the heart of the poster's pain and anguish--the idea that they feel like they are now locked into their own life sentence, of putting money on commissary and weekend visits to remote prisons and finding money for phone accounts and a more or less permanent single-parent status.
It's an colossal, tremendously daunting idea to confront, one that cannot be decided in an instant because it is literally too much to contemplate in one sitting. As trite as it sounds, I feel her pain--it is nothing more or less than a confrontation with the decisions she has made over years, and an accounting of the costs and benefits of them. And those type of reckonings are never pleasant or quick.
And the last thing that would be helpful is a crowd of people on the sideline either jeering or cheering. I know someone else that faced this decision about ten months ago, someone that I am much more friendly with and that I see regularly--and she decided that after fifteen years of repeated recidivism, and staring at the prospect of another seven years of the routine, that she had had enough, that she deserved more out of her life. I wish I could tell you that she has emerged happy and joyous and free, but more often than not, she seems pensive, even lost at times. It is difficult to face up to the reality that one has made a commitment for many years that one has to let go of in order to merely stay healthy--and when one realizes that it was all ultimately in vain, that there will be no happy ending, it may be a relief in some ways, but it is not a happy experience. Healing does take place--and there is some solace to be had, some good things to take away from the experience.
But there is also crushing doubt, searing pain, a whole bunch of "What have I done?" moments. It shakes our very emotional foundation to the core. And while a bystander can be as certain as many are that they would never find themselves in that situation, and want to pass judgment on those that do find themselves in that situation, there are only two things to say.
One is that you don't know what the future holds for you. I can't think of a single person I have known for more than a few months that was sure that they would never face a particular situation or issue--and ended up having to face it at a later point.
And two is that rather than sit in judgment on those that are going through those kind of situations, take a moment and ask yourself, "What am I getting out of this? Why is it so important to me to add to this person's misery? Why do I want to announce to the world that someone I don't know deserves to be executed for a crime they committed, and that I believe that the person's family, friends, and loved ones are beneath contempt, indeed sub-human?" Why is this necessary? What good are you doing, and on a basic level, what are you getting out of doing this?
I am a rather late convert, I suppose, to the cause, because I weighed on many subjects and many situations over the course of my life that I had no direct stake in, and in doing so, caused a lot of upheaval and pain unnecessarily. And I can tell you when the change started to occur, when I saw the light, when I began to understand that compassion and tolerance was the more humane, the more useful, and the more spiritual way to go. It was when I became close to someone with recurrent legal issues, and I began to understand that those with the issues are human beings, not straw men. I began to understand that little is black and white in this world. I began to understand, finally, that the way to build myself up is not by standing on the wreckage caused by tearing someone else down.
We don't have to approve of the choices of others to acknowledge that they are going through legitimate pain and suffering. And I would rather spend ten thousand hours in the company of someone that is crying about "injustices" that may or may not be injustices than ten seconds around someone that delights in demonizing people that are paying the price for their misdeeds and crimes. I can only hope that those who are quick with the "kill the scumbag," "let him rot," "piece of shit" comments never find themselves in a situation where they need a break given to them, where they need compassion and understanding and solace and support given to them in times of extreme difficulties.
And if they do find themselves in that kind of situation, I really hope and pray that they don't run into or seek it from someone like themselves.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Looking Into The Crystal Ball

It is almost amusing to listen to the current noise that certain candidates for President are creating about immigration. Donald Trump, odious as he is, has ridden the issue to the top of the polls on the Republican side of the spectrum, and his pronouncements on the issue, while morally repugnant to anyone with a functional cerebral cortex, also have an element of over-the-top satire to them--does anyone really think that a Great Wall of Mexico would ever be built? By Mexicans, no less? And few if any have actually thought through what the fantasy of mass deportations would mean in practice--lots more detention facilities, a even larger bottleneck of immigration hearing backlog that would mean these people would spend many months and even years incarcerated, and an assumption that the home countries would welcome back thousands and even millions of people. It's a fantasy born of frustration (at best) and wet dreams of open and closet racists (at worst). There is no way that this proposal is going to be workable, even if the supposedly unthinkable happens and Trump or one of his ilk ever gets into a position of power.
I don't think it is likely, but I am learning that the ignorosi are a lot more numerous, especially in other parts of the country than the Northeast, than I had thought. The near-monopoly of conservatism, conservative propaganda bitching about the "liberal media" notwithstanding, in the mainstream media over the last thirty years, combined with the tendency to intellectual laziness most people exhibit on a regular basis, means that there are a lot of people out there that believe that the bullshit that conservative political views are is believed by a lot more people than logic, and even a modicum of critical reasoning, would seem to dictate. If there is a feature that the television/microwave culture has instilled in the American mindset over the course of our lifetime, it is that judgments and opinions are formed in instants, upon impressions and images and sound bites that may or may not stand up to rigorous examination. But most people are not willing to give their ideas that sort of examination, and therefore the impulsive, initial view is set more or less in stone. And given the natural propensity of people to not change their minds when challenged due to perceived threats to their self-esteem (God forbid that we should be wrong about something, and that someone else actually know what they are talking about), we end up with a situation where there is a rather large number of people that are seriously incapable of thinking through virtually any public policy issue--but their vote, unfortunately, counts the same as someone that does take the trouble to be informed and knowledgeable...The next time some barstool bozo starts pontificating about the "intentions" of the Founding Fathers about America, remind him or her that those that were actually present in Philadelphia in 1787 built into the Constitution what we would regard as insufferable limits on the franchise to vote--for exactly that reason, that the ignorant would have too much of a voice in politics.
But that's not the crystal ball I'm looking into this morning. In the news recently as well, although off the front page, has been the news that Antarctica and Greenland's ice sheets have been melting far faster than even the most pessimistic forecasters had anticipated. It is now likely that in the lifetime of my teenage children, sea level is going to rise catastrophically--around the entire world, including the United States of America. There is some variation in the numbers I've seen written, but it is becoming increasingly likely that the oceans are going to rise by around ten feet--not inches, feet--by 2060, and that noticeable increases in sea level--ten to twenty inches--are going to be seen within a decade. And that means, my friends, that a whole lot of people in this country that live in places by the ocean are going to have to move to higher ground.
And that higher ground is not unoccupied.
Can you imagine what is going to happen when the populations of Miami, Jacksonville, Tampa, New Orleans, Houston, Norfolk, Washington, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, and Boston are going to have to move? The demographic changes of the American urban scene since World War II mean that the majority of people that now live within the danger zone are exactly the ethnic composition that fear and loathing of are fueling the rise of Trump and the Tea Party, and that are the base of the conservative political base as it now stands. Do you really think that the suburban inhabitants of mid-New Jersey are going to welcome the residents of Newark and Jersey City with open arms. Does anyone really think that the millions of people of Hispanic descent in all of Florida's cities are going to welcomed into Alabama, Georgia, and other points further inland? How about Philadelphia's population moving into Appalachian Pennsylvania? The African-Americans of Houston moving further inland in Texas?
Well, we saw a bit of a preview a decade ago this month in New Orleans--and it wasn't pretty, at all. Imagine the displacement due to Katrina on an unimaginably larger scale--and then try to imagine the rest of the country trying to deal with it responsibly and humanely.
I can't, to be honest. I think it's far more likely that the fabric of our society is going to be torn into shreds, and actual repression and even warfare is going to result. If a rather large number of people can get themselves into this kind of frenzy over "undocumented immigrants," imagine how much frothing at the mouth there is going to be when huge numbers of people they regard as "undesirable" are going to be on the move.
It's going to be ugly.

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

One Week Isn't Enough

One thing has already become clear from this vacation I am on; one week off isn't enough. I remember I used to hoard my time off several years ago, in order to take off three weeks in a row at the end of the year,and all things considered, I still believe that's the best way to take time off--in a huge bloc. One week is better than one day, to be sure, but with only a week, my mind still isn't completely away from the office. And with this new smart phone that my job gave me, unless I shut the damn thing completely off, I still know when I get emails whenever I am in the house, and I'm not wired so that I can ignore that siren--I have to look, and in some cases, I respond. It's part of what makes me a good employee, I'm sure, but it isn't really conducive to the idea of a vacation. 
Traveling isn't the option it used to be, either. For one, I'm not a summer person; I don't really like hot weather, and most resort or tourist spots are hotter than home is. For another, I'm a land animal--while I can and have enjoyed myself at seaside or lakeside places, I don't have any special affection for them, either, and the idea of spending a week or longer by the ocean isn't something that fills me with unrestrained joy. Three, I have enough trouble sleeping at home, and I never sleep well, or sometimes at all, in hotels--and the idea that you come home from a vacation more tired than when you went on it seems whacked. Four, my kids are all older now, with jobs and responsibilities of their own, and coordinating time off is a hassle, frankly. Five, I do not fly--I'm not afraid of it, but I punctured an eardrum many years ago, and every time I have flown since, the air pressure changes have re-torn it, and I'm just tired of having to deal with the consequences of that. I haven't flown this century, and I would be fine with never stepping on an airplane again--but not flying limits my out-of-town choices to basically a square with points at Boston, Washington, Pittsburgh, and Watertown, and I've done most of what there is to do in that area many times already in my life. And lastly, I do not get bored or tired of living my regular life; my biggest complaint is that I do not have the time to do the things I like to do. On time off from work, I am perfectly content to work on the yard or the garden, or go to movies, or browse in stores for a couple of hours, or just sit out in the back yard and read all day. My leisure pursuits, such as they are, take more money than I have to spare now--I am going to going back to Watkins Glen one of these years for the NASCAR race, and I would gladly go to a Rangers game in the winter time, but I simply don't have a thousand dollars to risk losing going to Belmont or Saratoga, especially since even when I played horses for a living, I never left the latter place with more money than I arrived with. And going to Belmont would entail driving through New York City, with its $30 in bridge tolls ($14 one way on the George Washington Bridge, $8 both ways on the Throgs Neck) and $40 in gas that it would take to get there and back. I just don't have it like that anymore much of the time. 
Going with somebody would be a different story, and perhaps next summer that will be in the cards--but this year, it isn't. So this year, it's a staycation, like the last few years have been. And I'm really fine with the concept. As I said earlier, the problem is that a week isn't really enough time. Although the stupid, arbitrary rule that a former supervisor put in place--that unless you were leaving the country or on a honeymoon, she would only approve one week off--isn't applicable anymore, I didn't ask for more time because I have an eye on how much time I will have accumulated by the end of September, in case the grant doesn't get renewed--and I want to get paid the maximum amount of unused vacation time the agency allows when a job comes to an end. So a week is what I took. It's better than no time off, and to be honest, I've been taking days all summer to go see the Queen, because I could (from here on out till she comes home in three months, it's weekends only). 
But it would be nice to not think about the office, to not even give a shit about the office and the job, for a few days. And a week off just isn't possible for that. I have a to-do list today, and not everything on it is casual/non-work stuff, unfortunately. And I already know that some crap is piling up that is going to have to be dealt with on Monday when I return. And looming over it all is the knowledge that I go through the gauntlet of on-call a few days after I return. Yes, I will like the huge paycheck that comes after on-call--but it still has to be done, and it is still a major pain in my ass for a week. At least this time, the last day of it is not a holiday, and I can shed it at 8 in the morning instead of dealing with it all day on the last day I am scheduled. 
And I am up entirely too early on a vacation. I am not up willingly; my calves cramped up at 2 in the morning, and I couldn't go back to sleep afterward. It's pretty bad when I am yawning as I am drinking my fourth cup of coffee--but my right leg still hurts like hell, and I am limping when I walk. I suppose this is God's way of telling me that since I feel like a week of vacation isn't enough, I should be out of bed spending more time doing whatever it is I want to do. But at four in the morning, I want to sleep. That didn't happen today, so I will deal with it--but I sure as hell don't want to be posting anything at 5:30 AM the rest of the week.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Tired of Dangerous Values and The People That Espouse Them

I am getting ready to do a major purge of friendships, Facebook contacts, and relationships within the larger community. I have gotten to the point where my tolerance for the nonsense that people not only say, but apparently believe, has reached saturation point. I could rant for hours about this, but I have enough self-awareness to know that I am not infallible, either, and that there are some views that I do not hold that are nonetheless viable and intellectually sustainable, and thus not evidence of a fatally flawed, terminally moldy soul on the part of those that hold them. But there are three subjects where I feel like it is an indication of a deformed, twisted, and unfortunately diseased value system that I simply cannot abide or make excuses for any longer. They are corporal punishment, "guns for everybody", and any dingbat that truly believes that a Christian God rewards righteousness with material success (or huge amounts of money, to put it in terms the simple can understand more easily).
The last is the most easily dispensed with. I could write for hours on just the passages in the four Gospels that clearly, unequivocally state that the pursuit, acquisition, and hoarding of material goods and riches, including money, is toxic for the soul. Anyone with even a passing acquaintance with the New Testament knows this--knows this--to be the case, and yet we have public figures and people that we all know in our lives that insist otherwise. I am not saying that everyone that is materially successful is morally compromised to the point where they are hopelessly awful human beings. But material success is something that is meant to be used as a tool, as something that can used to make the world a better place. Far, far too many people view material success as an end unto itself, which is bad enough, but then also use it as evidence that the less fortunate and talented and "successful" are inferior to them and don't deserve to be lifted up--don't deserve to even have efforts made to have them lifted up. I am sick to death of lame excuses, justifications, and acceptance of greed and injustice, but I am moved to rage by hearing religious belief invoked as a legitimate basis for those excuses. It is an intellectual perversion on the level of bestiality and incest; it is morally repugnant beyond words. And I am not going to willingly have anyone holding these views as a part of my life any longer.
The militant gun crowd is more numerous, and somewhat more understandable. I think the base motivation for most of them is, when all the layers are stripped away, fear--they are afraid of dealing with a world where much cannot be known or controlled without the illusion of safety and security that being armed provides. I have dealt with my own fear of that in a different and, in my own mind, better way, but it does not mean I have no empathy for those holding those views. There is also a legal, of sorts, intellectual justification of holding the view--the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution. The wording of the 2nd Amendment is somewhat ambiguous, and in the context of time and place, I believe that it is clearly referring to the right of states to raise and arm their own militias--but I will concede that the language, in particular the phrase "the right of the people to keep and bear arms," is open to interpretation. But what I cannot concede, what I cannot bear, is the idea that somehow this means that there can be no justification for any sort of regulations on the purchase and owning of guns.
Open carry is vigilantism run amok. The idea that if everyone is armed, then everyone will be safe is as discredited by the evidence as trickle-down economics and capital punishment being a deterrent to crime (and yes, those examples were chosen deliberately because there are significant numbers of people that still believe, despite mountains of evidence to the contrary). We have more violent crime in this country than anywhere else in the "civilized" world because of the prevalence of guns. We are not someplace like Somalia only because not everyone has guns. Guns make people less prone to following laws and direction, and more prone to trying to impose their own will. And you can see it even in a forum like Facebook; the rhetoric that the gun nuts spew out is devoid of reason, compassion, decency, and virtually any other characteristic other than "I'm going to do what I want, and I am going to use my gun to make you do and think what I want, too." It's animalistic, and it's dangerous.
And it's nothing I want to be exposed to, much less part of my life.
The third thing is those that somehow think that if we beat our children when they misbehave as children, that it will somehow make them more respectful and prone to abide by the wishes of authority as adults. I work with teenagers, and I have raised children, and I can tell you a few things about what corporal punishment really does and is about:
1) It is a lazy way of parenting. Good parenting takes effort. Hitting a child for misbehaving takes a few seconds, and does not teach the child anything about why their misbehavior was unacceptable. The only behavior it will change, in the long term, is the child's allowing the parent to view the objectionable activity.
2) It instills the idea in the child that violence is an acceptable solution to a problem.
3) When a parent resorts, regularly, to corporal punishment, it is a signal to the child that physical domination is a path to obtaining desired results in other people. This approach, when exhibited by adults toward other adults, gets people hurt and/or in jail.
4) If your preferred method of disciplining your child is corporal punishment, what are you going to do when the child grows into someone that is your physical equal or superior? You have spent a decade-plus teaching your child that it is OK, even preferable, to use physical superiority as a means to enforce your will--and now the person you've been teaching that is your physical equal or superior. Are you still going to go there? I have asked many parents that are proponents of corporal punishment whether they still engage in the practice with their kids when the kids are 15 or 17--and the answer is invariably no. Some grouse about the law taking a different view of the practice with kids that age--but some freely acknowledge that trying to do so would turn the dispute into a fracas--and one they would probably lose. So they tend to resort to other methods--the ones that should have been used from the beginning, the ones that might have had some beneficial long-term effect had they become part of the child's value system. But now, you've raised someone that has been shown for years that you use violence to impose your will--and the response to an attempt to use reason and persuasion in the present is "Get out of here with that shit; I'm going to do and say what I want to and you can't stop me."
Congratulations on a job well-done. The only thing you've succeeded in instilling in your child is that submission to authority that can impose its will on you is wise in the short term, to avoid consequences. You have taught nothing about values, nothing about why one should act and believe in certain ways, nothing about right and wrong other than sheer physical force and the ability to impose your will on others. And you wonder why this world is full of intractable, unresolved, unending conflict.
I'm just getting to the point where I can't deal with this sort of thinking anymore. I've been trying to find accommodations with it for five decades, and it's just not worth the effort anymore. I know enough to know I can't impose my will and my values on others, either--but if I can't change the world, I can change my little corner of it. And those that believe in this kind of crap are not welcome in it.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Book Review: WARS OF THE ROSES: MARGARET OF ANJOU

This is the second installment in Conn Iggulden's latest series of historical fiction, an account of the English Wars of the Roses in the fifteenth century. As is true for most of Iggulden's books, it is very readable, and he brings history alive in a way that makes the figures from our school years become people that you and I can recognize as vibrant, real human beings. This book focuses on a pivotal point in English history, when the rivalries among noble families during the long reign of the weak, sickly Henry VI exploded, and the nation saw several pitched battles among armies of warlords attempted to gain or consolidate power. Margaret, queen during this time, was the one figure that best managed her husband's cause, and by the end of the book, has successfully managed to end the life of the main rival claimant to the throne. But at this point in history, a more dangerous alternative--Richard of York's son, the eventual Edward IV--emerged as a potent force in his own right, and Henry's reign was even more imperiled than it had been, which no doubt will be the focus of the next book in the series.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Torn--And Torn Up

First of all, I needed to sleep in today like I've needed to on few occasions in my life. I slept almost ten hours, which I haven't done since very early recovery and I had about a year's worth of sleep to catch up on. I'm feeling somewhat refreshed, and almost--almost--like I'm actually on vacation, which I officially am. But there are a few loose ends that have to be tended to, and some other things that are cropping up that I cannot afford to ignore.
One of the loose ends has to do with our event yesterday. The skateboard contest went off without a hitch, and was a huge hit. Our community awareness bit also went more or less smoothly; we ended giving away at least a hundred T-shirts, and most of the rest of our stockpiled promotional material. I am glad to report, and former supervisees Danielle and Laura will be shocked and gratified to learn, that the last of the infamous water bottles have finally been dispensed with. About eight years ago, we ordered a large number of water bottles with the program name on them, and the order--about eight cases of them-- came in with the program name misspelled. The company sent a replacement order with the correct spelling, and I and those that have worked for me have lugged cases and cases of water bottles around to three offices and countless outreach events over eight years, trying every way imaginable to give them away/use them/otherwise dispense with. Yesterday, an entire case was given away within two hours, and all that I have left are the ones we put labels on and use as fundraisers at holiday times. Our storage room will never be the same...The music portion of the day was a fiasco. One of the things I am torn about is what to say and do about it. There is a part of me that wants to blow up the individual largely responsible, and there is a part of me that says that's not a solution or anything that is going accomplish anything positive. I will say this much; never again will I say to myself, when doubts and reservations creep in, "Well, this is what these people do for a living, and I guess I should trust them." And like a friend of mine says, "I need to stop saying 'yes' when I want and need to say 'no.'" I knew a week ago that things were going south in this area, and I chose to not follow my instincts and instead continued to hope that somehow it would work out; and that sense of impending-doom knowledge became doubly certain three days ago. I should have pulled the plug, didn't, and as a result, we had what we had yesterday... Lessons ignored turn into lessons repeated. I should have paid more attention to the fact that the guy's company is named after a mythological figure that, due to hubris and recklessness, came to a bad end after achieving something that human beings normally can't do.
And on another hand, it has been a difficult summer--difficult 2015, truth be known--at home with the other resident of this home. I think I have been a very good parent in trying circumstances for many years, but this year, I have really felt wobbly, as I am finding myself increasingly at odds with her on subjects I either am truly powerless to effect any solace--her mother, the way she was treated on varsity softball, her reaching some limits of her academic prowess in school--or that we are getting locked into increasingly fierce combat about. I understand that it is difficult for any kid when a parent gets into a relationship that evolves into a commitment. I realize that there are many surface aspects of this one that would cause questions in a kid about whether the commitment is worthwhile. But I think that my record over the years has largely been good in this area, at least in the sense that it has not affected her life negatively in any way, that I do not make commitments that disrupt our life in any significant way. And I also would hope that a kid would take into account that 1) a parent's happiness is something that should at least somewhat matter to the kid, 2) that a parent's choices in their own relationships should not be aimed at finding a replacement mother for the kid, and 3) that parental decisions regarding adolescents are not directly tied to the adolescent's views on the parent's decisions. Or put more bluntly, because there is a significant difference in age between the parent and the person they are in a relationship with does not justify the adolescent making unacceptable choices in her own personal situations. Period. And while I am sympathetic to her turmoil, while I have tried to remain open to input,, while I have tried to alleviate her distress over some aspects of our reality now and her projected fears of the future--there are some things I simply am not going to bend on. And I, with a lot of dismay, am being reminded daily that, as much as I have tried to raise her differently, that she is the child of two addicts, even if one has been recovering for the length of her life, and I am seeing addict behavior from her that I really never even dreamed she was capable of--severe manipulation, a huge helping of self-absorption and self-centereness, and the foresight of an earthworm in some areas about decisions being contemplated that offer extremely temporary relief from uncomfortable feelings in the present that will cause huge, unpleasant, and deeply damaging long-term problems in the future. Some of this is common to all teenage minds--but some of this is simply addict mindset, too. No, she is not using drugs--but addiction is a disease of the spirit, not caused by substance one uses.
And there is one thing I have been painfully aware of for a long time that has become painfully obvious now, and that I have no way of addressing. Much of my own journey was shaped, I discovered in my own recovery process, by having a concept of God and a higher power instilled and imprinted upon me in youth and adolescence that I knew I didn't believe in, and it has taken me many years of work and diligence to come to my own understanding of God that I find I can believe in and rely upon for guidance and support. And after a few failed and flawed attempts when she was in grade school to provide some sort of spiritual background for her--or in English, attending a few churches that I simply could not even fake, for any length of time, any sort of real belief in the tenets of, and so I made the decision to not attend any, because one of the things that fed my own disbelief for years was seeing my parents' hypocrisy in spiritual matters, of the contrast between what they professed to believe as a part of their chosen religion and what they actually did the other 167 hours of the week--I have left her largely on her own, with the fellowship (which she has attended more or less regularly, without pushing from me, for several years, not participating but certainly listening to and ingesting) the only real source of spiritual input. And it has been more successful than one might think--for a sixteen-year old, she has a rock-solid belief in right and wrong, a very developed moral code that one usually doesn't see in kids her age, that she adheres to more or less rigidly. That has been a pleasant surprise, and it makes her stand out in her peer group. On balance, I believe it's a positive.
But the flip side of a rigid moral compass is a tendency to self-righteousness--and OH EM GEE. I feel partially responsible for this tendency in her, because it is only in the last two years or so that I have made deep inroads against my own tendency to self-righteousness--and between being a parent to three daughters and working with teens for a living, I know better than almost anyone that the values parents exhibit before a kid enters middle school become the youth's default value system. And the self-righteousness I regularly displayed and exhibited, especially circa 2006-9 when her own value system was taking shape, is coming back at me in spades from my now-16YO. There is no quarter given to others, no allowances made for human fallibility, and no gray areas recognized, much less taken into account. Everything is seen as either right or wrong, and woe to those who fall on the far side of that divide...even if for many years and in hundreds of ways the same people have been on the right side of the boundary in every conceivable area.
It is exhausting to deal with. For both of us. And the saddest, most awful part of it for me is seeing the toll it has taken on her. This wonderful daughter of mine has become deeply unhappy, and she simply cannot find her way out of the morass. I am enlightened enough to know that much of her pain is not due to me or caused by me--but I am the one in front of her, and I am bearing the brunt of her reaction and lashing out. And as I type those words, I am awash in emotions, most prominently a sense of revulsion regarding my falling short in at least one area of parenting.
Because this is was what my father did to me, for the thirty-seven years we shared on this earth. And this is something that I have done, not constantly and not on every subject, but far far too often when I have felt frustrated and angry about problems, temporary and intractable, in this house during her lifetime. Maybe it is a human characteristic--one of the most enduring and accurate axioms out there is that "you always hurt the ones you love." But seeing your own shortcomings, your own flaws, reflected back at you and feeling the searing pain that they cause, no doubt, in others is a feeling that I not only do not want to experience, but one that I honestly and truly believed that I was going to be spared from experiencing.
And it is doubly painful to see and feel my illusions and denial shattered into shards.
And triply painful to see, on a daily basis, the effect the illusion had on my child, the one I love the most in this world, the one I would do anything at all to keep other people from hurting.
Recognition is necessary to resolution, but action has to follow. One thing that we did agree on last night is something I have suggested for months that she was resistant to for a long time--that she could benefit from outside counseling. In retrospect, one of the reasons she developed as well as she did in the grade school years was the presence of the social workers in the grade school--she went through a lot of emotional turmoil in those years, but had some independent way of dealing with it, someone to talk to that was not directly involved in the turmoil. As she entered adolescence, she developed a disdain both for talking about her feelings in general and for any belief that an outsider was capable of helping her. For her to concede last night--and actually for a few weeks now--that she might benefit from having an outside person to talk to is a big step for her. And with me off from work this week, and Family & Children's Center a few blocks away, there is no reason we can't go down there and try to set something up. I still have insurance that I think would handle this, and even should the worst happen and funding for my program (and thus my job) vanish in October, F&C has sliding scales that I would be very willing to meet. I tend to forget about the vital role that a counselor I was referred to as part of the service plan developed so long ago when Sabrina was an infant and her parents, in early recovery, were trying to get her home to us was a recommendation for counseling. MOTY, as was her wont then and now, tried to use the counseling as a jury and a way to impose her will on the system and on me, and blew it off once Sabrina was totally released from foster care--then and now, the honesty required for counseling to be effective is not present in her makeup. I ended up continuing with it for over a year on my own--and it helped me navigate many choppy waters, from the breakup with MOTY to the entire relationship with Lila, and was a major factor in my finding both the faith that I had enough going for me to make the change and the courage to actually make it to let go of my father's business and make a living on my own merits and skills. That was probably the most important--and best--decision I have ever made, and even though Aldo and sponsorship was probably the biggest factor, those weekly sessions with Paul were a factor, too, one I have tended to discount over time.
And as far as my daughter is concerned--it can't hurt and it might help, and if she is willing to consider it--and it is a measure of desperately unhappy she is that she is willing to consider it, because her mantra for several years has been "I can handle this and I don't need help"--then I am going to follow through with it. And maybe the flames that are starting to engulf this household can be quenched.
Because there is nothing more depressing than seeing and speaking with your child when she gets up in the morning and discovering that she is still so angry and hurt and full of pain.