Thursday, March 31, 2016

Still Inadequate

The local media is filled today with the unveiling of the County's "new" plan for dealing with the opiate addiction crisis in the county. In essence, it is a low-budget version of what the DA put in place several weeks ago; the main differences are terminology (instead of "angels", those community members that are helping those seeking help are called "volunteers"), and there will be no referrals to out-of-town treatment providers for detox and in-patient rehab stays. The main essence of the plan seems to be that from this point forward, two beds in the local addiction crisis center, which already has substantial wait times for admission, will be reserved for referrals from the sheriff's office.
You've got to be kidding.
First of all, as I mentioned, there is already is a major shortage of beds available for those in substance abuse crisis. So basically, what is being done is to insure that law enforcement becomes the vehicle for people to get help. I'm not sure this would be an effective strategy in any case, and there is widespread (and justified) skepticism in this area particularly that the sheriff's office has any interest in helping addicts; I can guarantee you that anyone who has entered jail in the past in active addiction has vivid memories of huge numbers of people in the sheriff's office not even pretending to give a shit about anyone in their "care" going through withdrawals, or that has any medical issues for that matter.
Second, the practical effect is to already shrink a tiny proportion of beds available to those that want help--and even more so for those who might have issues with substances other than opiates. The main complaint with the addiction treatment protocols in this area is that demand far exceeds supply, and this only exacerbates the problem.
Third, this proposal does nothing--nothing--to address detoxification for those going through withdrawal. There are no provisions for additional access to suboxone, or for anything more than what is already being done (which is basically give someone Tylenol for withdrawal pains, administered by a nurse rather than self-administered, and charge insurance companies or Medicaid for the privilege of suffering in a rehab setting instead of on your couch).
Four, there seems to be an undercurrent of a misunderstanding of what "volunteers" that are part of twelve-step programs are supposed to be able to do. We can provide support, but we cannot--indeed, should not--babysit people in acute crisis. There is a general principle that "12-Step calls" (our term for trying to help someone in active addiction in crisis) should not be undertaken alone, but that is exactly what this proposal seems to envision. It's not terribly likely--there doesn't seem to be a lot of interest in at least one 12-Step fellowship in the early going to become volunteers in this program--but the end result may be an increase in the number of people with problems; the majority of those that are going to have the time and inclination to get involved on this level are going to be people with relatively short periods of time clean themselves--and a general rule of thumb is the shorter the amount of clean time, the more susceptible to relapse. Not to mention, many people in recovery are on paper (probation or parole) in some form or another, and are prohibited by the terms of those conditions from contact with active drug users or people with criminal histories, as many people both in and out of the fellowships are. Police contact of any kind for people on paper is also prohibited, and a large number of people on paper of one form or another have curfews, which certainly limits the ability to work with someone in crisis in the best of circumstances.
Five, this is another example of this county administration trying to do something on the cheap. This initiative's main benefit is that it doesn't cost anything to the county. I'm not totally sure what the answer is with that; no one in office likes to spend public money. But being a responsible and effective leader means that sometimes, you have to buck the yahoos and look past the rhetoric to be effective. Almost everyone is always going to bitch about taxes; it's a given. But people get more upset when they believe that their tax dollars are spent ineffectively than they are about paying them. Honestly, even the yahoos are coming around to the view that the current approach to the drug abuse epidemic isn't working, and that we can't jail our way out of the problem. The good thing about the program the DA has in place is that it will ship those needing treatment out of the area for detox; this program is expressly designed to "keep it local"--except that it doesn't add any capacity for local providers, so in essence all it does is make people wait longer for help, with the very limited proviso that legal consequences might be stayed or eliminated (although at the cost of explicitly informing law enforcement that you have a problem). That's not helpful, nor a solution.
This announcement comes on the heels of the recently announced Democratic candidate for county executive's proposal to turn the recently-closed Broome Developmental Center into a detox/rehab. That proposal has a lot of advantages: 1) it wouldn't require a large investment to make the facility ready to accept patients; it's already in place; 2) it's close enough to the city itself to be make integration into the community feasible, and yet isolated enough so that leaving on foot is daunting enough to make one pause; it's not like the existing crisis center or the inpatient rehab, which are on the same blocks as some of the worst drug-infested neighborhoods in the area; 3) it's an opportunity to implement a different approach, one that at least has a chance to be somewhat effective;4) the facility is large enough so that it will draw referrals from other underserved areas of the state, which in the long run will be an economic benefit; and 5) it will provide a place for the increasing number of people that are gaining chemical dependency treatment degrees in institutions of higher learning locally and across the state to practice their trade, which will also be an economic boon in the long run. The question, of course, will be where the funding comes from for this. The answer is that the state is starting to provide more money for this problem in any event, and also there is the huge $500 million pot of money recently awarded for development purposes for the region. Making this happen would cost a lot less than $500 million, and it has the potential to be a positive long-term factor in the economy of the region. Is it a guaranteed winner? No, nothing is guaranteed to work out the way it is envisioned. But at least it's not a way to tweak and refine an approach that has been found wanting and ineffective over a period of decades, it actually addresses a very pressing issue in a substantive manner, and it finds a use for a potential white elephant of a facility.
And it would eliminate the need for more room at the jail, and lessen the need for more cops and corrections officers. It would be cheaper to care for people in treatment than it would be to care for people that are incarcerated. Will everyone that goes to this facility put the dope down and never return to it? No, that's not the nature of the beast. But a hell of a lot more people would put it down and keep it down than are doing so now. And that's the biggest benefit available to all of us, not just those that seek and need treatment and detox.

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Once More, With Feeling

There's a Facebook meme going around that says "Relationships work best when Facebook isn't a part of it." While that's somewhat unfair to Facebook, the essential point is that one can control what one puts on your Facebook page. Indeed, one can control what one puts out on the Internet in general, and I've become, in the last four months or so, much less open about what is going on in my personal life. In general, it has led to a lot less drama and a lot less noise, and it also has given me and the other party time to work through some differences and develop a way forward. And today marks the official beginning of the new phase.
I'm not going to get into details here. I do not know what is going to happen in the days, weeks, and months to come. But I committed to changing myself a couple of years ago, and the biggest part of that change has been to be more understanding, more forgiving, and more cognizant of the way I affect others (especially those that matter to me and that I matter to). Those changes have helped sustain me in a time of intense storm, and they have also served as a beacon to some others that have never felt acceptance and never felt supported.
So today, at least, the crown goes back on. Whether it stays there remains to be seen, but it feels like the right thing to do, at least just for today.

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

The Revolt Gets Results

A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a post here about the superintendent of the Binghamton City School District and how a petition was going around to urge the school board to fire her. I was in support of it, even though I didn't end up actually signing it because of a pending job application (which ended up being superfluous, as I have obtained employment elsewhere). But the petition was a factor in the school board deciding that the superintendent needed to be fired. Last week, at an emergency meeting of the board, Ms. Martinez was sent packing, effectively immediately, and a longtime but retired Binghamton school official appointed temporary superintendent.
Reports were conflicting, and I'm not totally sure what the real story is regarding the money this woman was making. Initial reports suggested that her contract required that she paid for sixty days following the firing, then a subsequent report claimed that she is going to be paid for the balance of her contract, which originally ended sometime in 2018. Since her salary was nearly two hundred thousand dollars a year, I sincerely hope that the latter reports are not true. We should all find our opportunities so abundant, to be fired for incompetence two years before the end of a contract and get paid for the balance of it. Even professional athletes usually don't have fully guaranteed contracts, and they have the most powerful unions in the country.
But regardless of whether or not she gets a windfall, the damage done by Marian Martinez is going to take years to undo. The one things that has directly affected my daughter, or at least is the most visible, were the bullshit changes to disciplinary policies that took place when Sabrina was a freshman. I don't know if it was put baldy on paper, but the upshot was that non-white students were no longer being given suspensions for infractions committed in the school, because there had been noise made that minority youth were being disproportionately suspended. It's a subject that no one really likes to talk about, and there is some reason to believe that there was a little bit of fire to the allegations being made. But I can also tell you that there is should be nothing race-based in suspending a kid that uses physical violence on other kids or on teachers. There should be no tolerance for youth that threaten and bully, of any race. And apparently this is what was happening, certainly in the high school and, judging from the petition and the noise that reached the media's ears, in East Middle School as well. My daughter is involved with sports and has a small, academically responsible coterie of friends--but she spends next to no time in the hallways of the school, and has told me that her way of dealing with provocations from youth looking for trouble is to ignore them--but provocations happen regularly. And most disturbingly to me, a kid that loved going to school in elementary and middle school now cannot wait for graduation and spends as little time at school as possible.
Academically, Binghamton is a bit of a mess, too. The high school has been implementing IB--International Baccalaureate--programming as its core study program, a supposed improvement over Advanced Placement and one that is supposed to better place Binghamton youth in the future in the competitive arena for college placement. I'm not totally sold on it, from what I have been able to see of it, but it does have its merits, to be fair. But I'm thirty-five years removed from high school, and one thing that disturbs me is the amount of grading on a curve that goes on. I don't recall any of my high school classes being graded on a curve, not a single one. And there is something seriously wrong with the educational system, if not the world, if a large majority of high school  kids are not capable of doing what seems to me, from what I can see of it, challenging-but-not-impossible coursework without artificially inflating the grade.
I can't write a cogent post about the reasons why our children aren't as well-informed as we were as youth; people can and do write entire books on the subject. But I have noticed that there seems to be only a threadbare connection between what was taught through grade 8 and what is being taught in high school. I would rather the district made do with a few (or a lot) less administrators and invested that money in more teachers in elementary school that helped kids learn to read and comprehend the printed word more effectively. I understand that a love of reading is largely instilled by parents--but a minimal level of proficiency should be able to be implemented even among kids whose households have never seen a book. I would prefer to see programming in elementary and middle school that emphasizes finding out how particular kids learn best--some are visual learners, some are more hands-on, some learn best through listening, etc. It would be a change, but it also would be more effective, and it would lessen the alienation and effect that outside forces have on teens that end up causing issues in academic settings.
The biggest problem with Martinez, though, wasn't any of her policies; it was the way she treated staff and parents. And this is something that never ceases to amaze me, because it happens more frequently that one would think. You mean to tell me that someone was so glib, so smooth, during the hiring process that no one, no one, could see that she was historically arrogant and heavy-handed, incapable of according other human beings even minimal respect? These people are not getting hired right out of college; they have records, they have pasts. I know from personal experience the last six months of so that most employers do extensive background checks on prospective employees; you mean to tell me that not one school board member dug into previous districts where Martinez served and at least got a clue that this person's had no ability at all to get along with others? I'm sorry, I find that hard to believe. There are very few people out there that can totally mask their inner asshole for any length of time, especially in mid-career; there are footprints in the snow, for those that care to look. And that's the most frustrating thing about these sorts of episodes--that the people responsible for bringing her to the district are going to be entrusted with choosing her successor--even though they did a crappy job the last time they had the responsibility of finding a superintendent.
There are reasons both for and against bringing in complete outsiders to run organizations. But few things can do more long-term damage than an outsider put in charge that cannot cope with those that have been part of a organizational culture for many years. It is an axiom that persuading people to go along with what you want to do works a hell of a lot better than forcing them to, of telling people that they are idiots or wrong for opposing you. And yet these sort of people always seem to end up in charge of things.
Let's hope that the board learns from this fiasco, and that we get a superintendent with some ability to get along with others as a replacement. Because whatever the policy changes might end up being, none of them are going to be effective if teachers, lower level administrators, and parents aren't onboard with them. Dictating changes never works, not without a security apparatus at your beck and call, and the school district doesn't have an army of black shirts at its disposal.

Monday, March 28, 2016

Book Review: SECRET WORLD

Secret World is the second of a series by British author MJ Trow that focuses on Christropher Marlowe, famed Elizabethan playwright, as a sort of detective/blackguard solving mysteries and acting as an agent of the British secret police of the time. The mystery here is that people that own a series of small silver globes commissioned by Sir Francis Drake are starting to end up dead, and Marlowe spends much of the book trying to figure out the significance of the globes and who's responsible for the killings. There is also a recurrent subplot in this series, that Shakespeare, a contemporary of Marlowe's, was a talentless oaf who was in need of professional "rescue" by Marlowe in the form of editing his early work, a notion that seems rather farfetched. More to the point with this book, the quest for the globes peters out without any real resolution, either to the significance of the globes or the murders--and I'm sure, series or no, I've never really seen this in an alleged suspense/murder tale before. It's almost like Trow had a deadline to meet and turned in what he had done up to that point. I wouldn't say the book is awful; it's more like it's incomplete, and I would have been very irritated if I had paid money for this book.

Sunday, March 27, 2016

The Stone Rolls Away

Today is Easter Sunday, the date on which the world's Christian religions mark the occasion when Jesus of Nazareth is supposed to have come back to life after he was executed by the Romans in first century CE Palestine. I have my opinions on the subject, and used to be rather free with dispensing them, but sometime in the last fifteen years, I realized that the essence of Christianity lies in how one lives their life on a day-to-day basis and how one treats the others they share this world with, not whether they believe that particular events happened in a time and place. Whether or not someone believes that a dead man actually, long ago, came back to life doesn't really make any difference to me, nor, I suspect, does it to God. But that's my view, and it's largely pointless to argue about it, because there is no way any of us are going to know whose view is right until we're dead. And I suspect most people can identify with my belief that I have my hands full living my present life, that I have enough things to concern me and worry about than whether Easter is an echo of an actual event or a mythological construct.
The idea of a resurrection, of a personal or spiritual renewal, is much more germane and relevant to me, and to most of us, if separated from an actual event. I have had a few renewal/resurrections in my life of a spiritual nature. The most obvious and most important one was the end of my active drug addiction and all the changes that have occurred as a result of that, a process that is still ongoing today and hopefully will continue to grow and take flight until the day I actually stop drawing breath (and no, I'm not planning on coming back, nor do I want to). There have been several occasions that I can see in retrospect were turning points, rebirths of sorts when the direction and focus of my life changed drastically, and, at least since October 1998, for the better in the long run. And although this is one of those concepts that only appears clear looking backwards, it has become more and more possible as the years pass and the journey progresses to become aware that a resurrection and/or renewal is happening as I am actually experiencing it. And it isn't real hard for me to see that I am passing through one of these phases right now, during Easter 2016.
As I prepare for my last week among the unemployed, I firmly believe that the ending of my former job qualifies as an ending of a life, metaphorically. I have spent the last five-plus months exhausting a cushion built up over a decade, relearned that "financial security" is a mirage in the best of circumstances, and that the key to leading a truly fulfilling life does not lie with the amount of money you can spend/save/accumulate. I have learned once more that we are all in this together; when I have truly needed help in these few months, I have gotten it, whether through friends and family or through intervention in other ways. It is a staple of the recovery process that if one lives by spiritual principle to the best of their ability, one's needs will be taken care of (and conversely, a lot of enlightenment takes place internally about what is truly a need and what are actually wants and desires). This is not the first time that I have had this experience, only the latest, but my needs were and are being met, largely because I have done the right things in a broad sense for a long, long time--and quality people respond positively when people that mostly do the right thing need and request assistance. If the message of Jesus of Nazareth could be distilled to its essence, it is what I just wrote, that "we are all in this together." I have spent much of the last two decades doing my best to foster that sense of community. I have fallen grossly short at times, because I am not divine and at times I am prone to turning away from what I know is the direction where God can be found, but my general direction and motivation has been largely in trying to help myself by helping others. And when it was my turn to be helped, people were willing to extend it to me, because I had been willing to extend it to others when I was able to. It's not rocket science; it's a loop, not a linear process.
And even as material circumstances changed drastically over the last six months, I was finding I was still able to contribute to the loop in other ways. I've made a commitment to not being as open in this space about personal matters (mostly because I had to relearn something I first became aware of sixteen years ago, that once you put something out there, you can't control how it comes back at you) but I will say this much. Being out of work for six months has allowed me the time and the ability to make the effort to repair the relationship I've been in for a couple of years now and that was badly stressed, to the point of completely fracturing, five months ago. And the way events have unwound has allowed us to work through several issues that were causing problems, both between us and independently in our minds and hearts. I used to wonder whether she was attracted to me mostly because of a level of affluence I had; that question has been answered. She had reservations about what degree of changes were needed in her life that got answered definitively; there is no way around changing people, places, and things. We both realized the depth of the emotional commitment we have to one another, and have worked through things that I (and she, too) have never been able to work through. And I doubt this would have happened if I had had to be adjusting to the demands of a new job during this time (and if she had not had to pay swift and unwanted conseuqences for some of her actions, as well). I don't believe that too much in life is coincidence, and the fact that the job search ended at this point in time is not a coincidence. Without getting too metaphysical or detailed, I really have come to feel that it was more important for me, in the larger scheme, to be present and supportive of her in a very dark time than it was for me to working at a job that wouldn't turn out to be anything more than a stopgap, a temporary position, when it was not yet absolutely necessary to take a position like that. I'm not sure we're totally out of the woods; we will find out soon enough. But regardless of the eventual outcome, it is now clear to me that the expectations for both of us in November were very unrealistic. They are much more grounded now. And regardless of whether this leads to Happily Ever After, the benefits of what has happened in this time period are going to last permanently. I didn't know I had this level of understanding, of moving past hurt, in me. I can't speak definitively for her, but the best evidence I have is that much has changed for her, too, for the better. And there is a lot more reason to be optimistic than there was five months ago for the long term.
And more to the point, I grew emotionally and spiritually without losing my way. There was temptation, and one of the benefits of this period has been the resolution and shelving of lingering what-ifs, and (as much as I hate the term) closure regarding some aspects of the past. The personification of Nightmare for me was finally put in the burial vault (not literally, although she is going to end up there sooner rather than later, if something doesn't drastically change soon)--and realizing that nothing changes if nothing changes was a large factor in motivating me to do my part to repair and renew the relationship I was already in. Relationships are not disposable, or at least should not be, and I am glad that I was able to swallow pride and douse anger before I said and did things that could not be unsaid and undone.
 I also have struggled with my commimtent to the recovery process, and have emerged with a renewed gratitude for being a part of the fellowship, even as much is happening around me that I do not necessarily like or that does not sit well with me. Recovery is a way of life now, and has been for a long time. One simply does not walk away from a life casually. And more to the point on this particular day, this has been the only environment in my entire life where I have found a genuine and lasting path to God, and the rewards of following that path have far, far outwieighed any temporary annoyances and disquiets. And every conflict, every windbag, every irritant has always turned out to be temporary. And the beauty of being a part of this particular fellowship is that it works for others, too. One of the best developments of the past few years has been watching other people change and grow for the better, people that I, in a more judgmental and less tolerant phase of my life, thought were terminally self-absorbed and messed up. The miracles that have happened for me truly are available for all of us that embark on and continue to move forward on the journey. There's an expression that "pain shared is pain lessened," but the converse is also true, that the joys and pleasures of living this way are also shared, and can be absorbed by those around us, too. The whole can be, and often is, greater than the sum of its parts.
And so, on an Easter Sunday, I can relate to the idea of a resurrection without having to believe in a particular event long ago in a land far away. Perhaps the idea of a spiritual "death" is an exaggeration, and "resurrection" is not necessarily the right term. But the idea expressed metaphysically--it is not a coincidence that this occasion is in the springtime, when the seemingly lifeless always comes back into bloom--is more than relevant. Parts of my spirit may have gone dormant over the winter of discontent, but they did not die permanently. And with the renewal, with the break, with the flowering, a new way will be forged again, and more will be revealed as time goes by. I don't know what lies ahead, necessarily--but I am very grateful that I have been afforded the opportunity to move forward, and that I have been able to find opportunities for growth and happiness even when drastic changes were occuring. Wounds have healed, toxins have been excised, nourishment has been sustained, and perspective and appreciation gained. My personal stone has been rolled away, and the sun appears to be rising outside. I don't know what awaits, but I do intend to step outside and see where the path leads to.
Happy Easter, everyone.

Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: WRATH OF THE FURIES

A few years ago, I read a book that is a part of Steven Saylor's series set in the world of ancient Rome. Although it didn't compare to Colleen McCullough's treatment of the time period--nothing ever will--that novel was readable, and quite honestly more plausible than most "thrillers" set in the present day. Wrath of the Furies picks up where The Seven Wonders left off, set in 88 BC just as Rome's war with Mithridates of Pontus is heating up. The young Roman that is the main character in the book is lured to Ephesus, part of Asia Minor (modern Turkey), just after Mithridates took the city. The absolute hatred of the locals for the Romans is palpable and the main force driving the narrative. It also is something that modern Americans would do well to understand; it is impossible to read this series without thinking of the average American ignorosi plaintatively wondering "Why do they hate us?" The general plot of the book focuses on the desperate attempts of a few to prevent Mithridates' most monstrous act--inciting the massacre of every Roman citizen in Asia Minor in 88 BC. The specific plot of the book is the way the hero manages to infiltrate the city trying to find his former tutor, and the adventures and dangers he faces. It is a quite readable tale, accurate as near as I can tell in its historical detail (the portrait of Publius Rutilitus Rufus is drawn somewhat differently than Colleen McCullough's portrayal in her Roman series, but not so much so that it is jarring to read, and at this historical distance it is impossible to know what his stance truly was). And the parallels to many events in our lifetimes are too numerous to ignore or wish away. People have been awful to one another forever and a day. And the end result is always the same: death on a large scale.

Friday, March 25, 2016

Voting Fraud: It's Not Coming, It's Here

If there is one thing that this presidential primary season is proving, it's that the great mass of us are slowly starting to figure out that our alleged democracy really doesn't put people in office that work in the best interests of most of us. I keep saying this like a phone menu recording, but this is the reason why we have viable Trump and Sanders candidacies, and why the vast majority of people polled in the supposed Greatest Country On Earth don't approve of the job our legislators are doing. It's pointless to read and listen to the astonishment of the media that people have the views they do; all it does is prove how much the mainstream media is a tool of (and a part of) the elite that actually run and own this place.
But with the massive discontent bubbling up to the surface in the limited fashion allowed to us, we are now seeing the kleptocracy's responses. I'm not even talking about the Republicans' running around desperately trying to deny Trump the nomination, although that is karma on a cosmic scale and can't help but bring a smile to many faces, including mine. I am referring, in part, to the chicanery on my side of the fence. The Democratic Party, such as it is, is supposed to be the party of the little guy, the party that is supposed to champion the interests of the vast majority of us, the party that is actually supposed to give a shit about us. And it has been not only frustrating, but increasingly infuriating to see how rotten and corrupt its establishment really is as it attempts desperately to stamp out the Sanders rebellion. Examples are legion from the past few months, and point to a severely compromised process that has effectively gamed the result:

  • Four scheduled debates between the candidates, all explicitly designed to get minimal media coverage
  • The "Superdelegate" scam, in which nearly a third of all the people that cast votes at the convention were never voted on by actual Democratic voters
  • The outsize influence that Democrats that come from states that have not been run by Democrats in decades have in the selection process
  • The huge discrepancy between the vote percentages of ballots cast ahead of election days and the day-of-the-vote totals
  • The complicity of the media in anointing Hillary Clinton as the inevitable nominee, and calling primaries for Clinton long before the actual results are in and while people are still trying to vote
And this sort of crap is happening on the side of the supposed "good guys."  It's enough to make an informed, intelligent voter that still has a shred of idealism left contemplate visions of guillotines and gibbets at the national convention. 
And in a general sense, the Great Disenfranchisement is underway. It was most obvious in Arizona this past week. Per "reform" legislation passed in recent years that was supposed to combat "voting fraud," Arizona had over a hundred less polling places open than there were in 2012 (almost all of them in urban areas that tend to vote progressive Democratic), leading to lines stretching for blocks. There was time-consuming "check-ins" that required special ID in order to vote. There were thousands of documented instances when the voter information on the cards did not match what was in the computer base they were being checked against--lifelong Democrats were told, by the thousands, that they "were not registered," or that they were registered as independent or Republican. People were discouraged by voting monitoring officials from casting provisional ballots, and many in line were told that polling had closed when it had not. This does not even take into account the people that could not get the new ID's, or that are now barred from voting because of misdemeanor convictions, or that could not get to a polling place because the ones that they've been voting in all their life no longer are open. 
The legislation passed in Arizona and other states, in other words, doesn't prevent voter fraud. It institutes it. The rise of Trump and Sanders is even more remarkable when one considers that the people that would be most likely to cast ballots for candidates that are not card-carrying members of the Establishment of both parties can't even vote. 
And then there is the suppression effort of last resort: the actual counting of votes. Anyone that believes that "electronic voting" is totally, completely honestly tabulated and recorded has a field of view limited to their own large intestine. We are seeing billions--not millions, but billions--spent in political advertising and PACs. We have seen the rigging and gaming of the system of voting, and voting restrictions put into place all over the country. We have seen courts packed with "judges" that "interpret" laws to ensure the primacy of corporate America. We have seen the national surveillance state instituted and unapologetically kept on even as the alleged need for it has been exposed as fraudulent. We have seen all the things listed above, repeatedly, all over the country, We have seen the prevalence of the Big Lie and propaganda machines take over the media, to the point where there is an entire cottage industry of "fact checking." And, most relevant to this particular point, we have seen exit polling in state after state be inconsistent with the results that are actually "official," which means a hell of a lot people that took the trouble to vote decided, after voting, that they were going to lie to the media about who they just voted for.
Sure they did.
The headlong rush to "electronic voting" over the past fifteen years is yet another and ultimately most effective tool of the kleptocracy. There is no way that the established powers that be are going to spend this much time, money, effort, and influence on the electoral process--and then leave the outcome to a honest tally. There is no area of American life where the tentacles of greed and power haven't reached, and that reach invariably is used to benefit those already in power. Invariably. If you believe that the machines and other electronic means that now count the votes are on the level, you're a fool. I can't be any clearer than that. 
And what is proving most remarkable about this primary season is that in spite of all the gaming and rigging, we are getting the results we are. Trump is the most likely winner on his side, and Sanders, despite the increasingly obvious screwing he and his supporters are getting, is still breathing on his side, and will likely gain momentum in the weeks to come as the political scene shifts to states more likely to vote (if they let an honest vote be counted) his way. I'm lucky, in that I live in a state where the vote is, to all appearances, still relatively undoctored and the process still more or less totally legitimate. But far too many of us now live in places where this is no longer true.
When I was younger, we as a nation used to be so self-righteous in condemning other countries and their flawed, rigged "elections." You don't hear that anymore. Because we've ended up worse than most of those ever were. We don't even bother to put a gloss or try to explain it away now that the suppression efforts are the law in places like Alabama, Arizona, Texas, and Florida. 
And that's why, as much as I dislike the man and what he stands for, I am rooting for Trump to win the nomination on that side of the fence. Because I can't wait to see the next level of suppression in places like Texas. So far, the voter suppression stuff has made it into law because a lot of white people have been on board with it. But when the reduced electorate brings about a result like this, so anathematical to the kleptocracy--well, they're not going to be allowed to vote anymore, either. And I can't wait to see what the "reasoning" is going to be.
Or maybe they'll just hire a Blackwater-type private army and dispense with the mirage altogether. The question Lincoln asked in the Gettysburg Address is still an open question, and it appears more and more that government "for the people, by the people" is going to vanish from the earth, after all. 

Thursday, March 24, 2016

LIcenses To Steal, Part II

A few months ago, I wrote a post about the curious way that banks tend to post checks, fees, and credits--ways that are designed to maximize the possibility that an overdraft occurs so the customer can get slapped with a fee that further complicates already-marginal solvency issues for many of us. I'm sure it's just coincidence, but ever since I wrote that post, M&Fee Bank has played straight with my checking account, and I've almost--almost--got to the point where I don't worry unduly about getting messed with. But after the first of this year, it seems as though a class of financial institution that had more or less played by the (new) rules Congress enacted six years ago have finally figured out a new way to get into consumers' pockets, a way that has affected me three times already in this short year-to-date.
The institutions are the credit card companies of America, who had been so brazenly open in their rapaciousness that Congress enacted some relatively paltry, but still necessary, reforms to the industry in 2009 (the last Congress, by the way, when Democrats controlled both houses, which I am sure is just a coincidence). For the past six years, other than the occasional jacked-up interest rate, the credit card companies have been much more transparent and relatively honest in their dealings with the public. Until the beginning of this year, as I mentioned before. The new scam is for companies to claim that mailed checks are "late" and the application of huge late fees to an account. This has happened to me three times already this year, and the alleged "lateness" is, I am 99% sure, total bullshit.
How can I be so sure? Because I am a very organized person, and I have a payment calendar. I have paid the same bills on the same day of the month for at least the last decade. Am I seriously expected to believe that a bill that has been mailed nine days before the due date for the eight years I have had this one card and never once got there "late" is now taking twelve days to get credited to my account, so this outfit can tack on a $49.99 "late fee?" The first time it happened, it was December's bill, and I thought maybe--maybe--it was due to Christmas mail volume or something. But then it happened with January's bill, too, which has led to some interesting conversations with bank representatives working in a city in America's banana republic, Texas, and eventually has led me to send a letter with this month's payment stating that I am not paying their $99.98 late fee total and that they can have their card back if they insist--and then they can spend years pursuing me to settle for 40 cents on the dollar five years down the road. Why not just keep me as a customer and stop playing games with the account?
The third instance was a new card. I didn't really intend to apply for the account, but in November, I was in a higher-end chain clothing store with the Queen and I was encouraged to apply for the store card immediately. To my surprise, I got a card. I made a couple of payments, only to find, in the January bill, that the second one allegedly was four days "late"--even though the statement clearly said that the payment was received a day before the due date. I reread the billing statement, and it clearly says that payment must be recieved, not posted, in order to avoid a late fee. I pointed this out to the lackey that called me, who then proceeded to call me a liar and threatend me with "legal consequences." I had the bill in front of me, and the amount in question was thirteen dollars--I told her to go ahead and sue me for thirteen dollars and hung up on her. The store is Bon-Ton, and the unpleasant individual that was calling me from Comenity Bank, the outfit that issues their credit cards, was named Tina Lundy, calling from Columbus, Ohio--these people want to play foul, they take the risk of being outed. Ms. Lundy then started calling my phone two, three times a day, for several days--until I finally realized that in this day and age of cell phones, it was possible to block her number, which I did Monday and have enjoyed a week of peace.
I repeat that I have not missed any payments--indeed, have followed practices I established years ago that have to date never caused a problem with any payment for any outfit arriving late. I seriously doubt that the United States Postal Service has suddenly been staffed by utter incompetents throughout the land, and it isn't like financial institutions in this benighted country haven't indulged in predatory practices and outright skullduggery like this in the past. And I am less tolerant and less accommodating than usual with this sort of stuff, because of being unemployed for five months, the money doesn't go as far as it used to. I can't simply write off fifty or thirteen dollars like I used to be able to.
And more to the point--I haven't been and aren't paying late. The outfits are being dishonest, on top of the game already being rigged in their favor. There will be posts in the days to come detailing other ways that the power structure in this country is reasserting their control in the face of challenges in what passes for an electoral process in this land. But like any major war, there is fighting on more than one front--and this bullshit about "late fees" is a small action that proves that the bastards want all your money and more besides, and they don't care if they have to lie about what transpired to get it. I just read a book where the prevalence of linked information was decried--because when all is said and done, information isn't as important as who is the one that is controlling the system that collects it. I am sure that few outfits are as sloppy as Comenity and actual print on their bills that they held on to your money for four days before depositing it. And the ultimate aim is to stop customers from mailing checks at all and "banking" online--which would give the bastards instant and unquestioned access to your bank account.
I will hunt and gather in the wilds of Borneo before I voluntarily give them that access. The financial institutions of this country have spent the bulk of lifetime proving that they will stick it up my butt at every conceivable opportunity without remorse. I'll be damned if I'm going to make it easier for them. Part of the vampire legend is that the vampire has to be invited into your home to attack you.
Not happening here.

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Book Review: ZEROES

After taking over a week to read a long non-fiction history, it took me a day to race through a new thriller. I've been a fan of dystopian suspense yarns for some time, and Zeroes, by Chuck Wendig is one of the more interesting new entrants into the genre. A number of hackers are essentially kidnapped by the US government and set to work on a super-secret project, hidden away from public view (in a welcome bit of local interest, the complex is not far from where I live, in the Poconos less than two hours from my house). Eventually, the group, nicknamed Zeroes by others in the complex, succeeds in hacking into a particular system--and unleashes an apocalyptic, all-knowing artificial intelligence program that rather quickly wreaks havoc in the world, and takes the rest of the novel to (temporarily; there clearly is going to be a sequel) subdue. As always in these sorts of books, there are a few plot details that don't quite add up--it's very unlikely that the group could stay off the radar to make two cross-country trips, and there is the usual miraculous, instant recovery from bullet wounds. But the plot zips right along, and the reader finds themselves reluctanct to put the book down because one wants to see how it all ends--which is the point of any suspense novel.

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Book Review: THE END OF THE COLD WAR

When I first got clean, I first became acquainted with historian Robert Service, a British academic that has spent a career writing about the Soviet Union. I specialized in Eastern European international relations when I was in college gaining a political science degree, an education rendered more or less useless by The End of the Cold War. Service's previous biographies of Lenin and Stalin were highly readable, for someone with an intense interest in the Soviet Union, and this volume, too, is an exhaustive but highly interesting and accessible study of the years when the world fundamentally changed.
One of the problems of the modern world has been brought home on a daily basis at present; the unreliability of the media reporting on current events. And in the 1980's, this book makes clear that we, the public, were not getting the full story at the time, either. Of course, the Soviet archives are now available to historians, and the press of the time did not have access to the information presented here regarding what was happening in the Soviet Union at the time. The book details US-Soviet relations from the time Reagan took office in 1981, and the early chapters detail the incredibly frustrating period when the USSR had four leaders in barely three years of real time (Brezhnev, Andropov, and Chernenko all died in office while I was in college, and Gorbachev took over in 1985). The competing factions within the Reagan administration had a huge effect on policy, as the leaders of the camps, Secretary of State George Shultz and Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, fought for influence with the President. Reagan, for all his rhetoric, genuinely wanted to rid the world of nuclear weapons, much more so than anyone else in the United States government at the time, and this desire coincided with the rather pragmatic wish of Gorbachev, who was looking to revive a terminally ill economy by cutting military expenditure, to do the same.
The details are left to the reader, but the ups and downs of the process are fascinating to those interested in details like I am. I didn't like Weinberger when I was living through this period, and my impressions were confirmed here; he was, simply, a reactionary, dangerous man. The players on the Soviet side are a little harder to keep track of, but Gorbachev, too, had his factions, and he did well in juggling them for several years. The reason the Cold War came to an end was not so much because of ideological shifts, but mainly because the Soviet Union's economy could not keep up the costs of empire, and strategic retreat became necessary. The second half of the book is largely a chronicle of the breaking away of Eastern Europe, and the basic inability of the Soviet Union to prevent it because it needed Western money to function.
There are a few curious aspects to the narrative. It's always interesting to read work by someone of a different nationality; Iran-Contra was a huge and lasting deal here, but the British writer dismisses it in a couple of pages; I'm not sure whose impressions are more right, but my view is that it had a bigger effect than the author seems to realize because the more hawkish elements of the administration lost influence and power because of it. And this book paints the efforts of George Bush as President in dealing with a world changing by the day in a much more positive light than I remember him being credited for at the time; in retrospect, it was probably better to have someone with a cautiious, unimaginative nature in charge of this country at the time, because events moved at a dizzying pace.
The Soviet Union is a part of history now, and in retrospect, it seems strange that such an inherently unwieldy ideology could have ever held the allegiance of a third of the globe. But then, we get reminders on a daily basis that combinations of force, denial, and intellectual vapidity have an outsize effect on human affairs. This book is a wonderful account of how one such aberration died a more or less natural death.

Monday, March 21, 2016

The Best Story in Sports--Ever

Americans are notoriously self-absorbed, not knowing a whole lot about what happens in other countries. This is true with sports as well as every other area of culture; although on occasion, we do pay attention to something like the Olympics or a World Cup, in general most of us have very little idea of what is happening elsewhere in the world, even more so if the sport in question is not one that is considered "major league" here. And in March in the United States, it is safe to say that most of the country's sports fans are consumed with NCAA basketball.
This year, compelling as the basketball tournament is turning out to be (it is not the chalkfest that previous editions have been, and three double digit seeds have made the Sweet Sixteen), I am writing this morning about the greatest sports story in the world, a story that really has no parallels here, something so remarkable as to be unprecedented in the long, long history of the sport. Soccer is the world's most popular sport, and nowhere more so than in Great Britain. The Premier League, the top league of English (with a few Welsh teams thrown in) "football," is something I grew interested in a few years ago, and it generally transcends American prejudices about the sport, in that it is generally exciting, full of intrigue and different strategies, and actually much more interesting than your average baseball game or NCAA football games to watch. The English soccer leagues have a history going back to mid-Victorian times, and they have their storied franchises, rivalries, teams that are always good, occasional interlopers, and other elements familiar to the American sports fan. But it has significant differences, too, most notably the idea of promotion and relegation. English soccer is structured like a ladder, and in every league but the Premier League, the top teams after a given season is concluded are "promoted" to the next level for the following season, and the bottom teams are "relegated" to the next level down. I would absolutely love to see this idea adopted for American sports leagues; we can't because of the minor league player development system currently in place, but it would be great if, say, in baseball, the Phillies, Reds, and Braves got to play next year in Triple A baseball, and teams like Syracuse, Buffalo, and Louisville got promoted up to the National League. It would require that teams on all levels be independent, and for that reason it has zero chance of happening here.
But that's not the case in soccer around the world, everywhere but in North America in fact. The English Premier League is awash in money, even more so than the NFL. And one thing it has had in common with American sports leagues is that due to cash flow imbalances, the same few teams always seem to be in contention for championships. Up until this year, there have been only five clubs that have been in year-in, year-out contention for championships--the two Manchester teams, Liverpool, and the top two London teams, Chelsea and Arsenal (and to demonstrate what can happen to badly run teams, the only team to win a championship in the last twenty-five years that was not one of those teams, Blackburn, has been in the second-level league for five years now and is closer to the bottom than the top of that league as I write). And there was little reason to suppose that this season would be different; last year, Chelsea won in a runaway, and all five perennial contenders looked to field strong teams this year.
And now a little background. This video is from the 2012-13 season, in the playoffs for the Championship (second-level) league. The team in yellow is Watford (another small-market team that is unexpectedly staying up in the Premier League this year), the team in blue is Leicester City, and Leicester City has only to convert a penalty kick, soccer's equivalent of a free throw, to move on to the next level:

How much of a stomach punch is that? That's on the level of the Buckner game. 
But... somehow, Leicester licked their wounds in the off-season, and won promotion to the Premier League the following year. But most teams that win promotion to the Premier League struggle to stay there; half the teams in the last ten years that have gotten promoted have ended up being relegated back down to the Championship League within one or two years. And this time last year, Leicester, with nine games left in the Premier League seasons, sat on the bottom of the standings, seven points out of the safety zone. 
They have lost four games since. 
The team went 7-1-1 to shoot up to 14th place, four above relegation, at the tail end of last season, but no one, and I mean no one, thought that it was anything more than a hot streak that postponed the inevitable. But the instant, unlikely turnaround has continued this year, and with seven games left in the Premier League season this year, Leicester City is leading all comers, with a five-point (essentially a game and a half) cushion over their nearest pursuers. And their remaining schedule is not overly difficult; they only have one game left against any of the teams currently within shouting distance of them. 
It's going to happen. And England is losing their minds about it. This is the greatest team underdog story of all time, a David dispatching a crew of Goliaths on a weekly basis for a full year now. The only things that even remotely compare to this are the British Open golf tournament a few years ago, when a 59YO Tom Watson came within a blown putt of winning the most prestigious golf tournament in the world, and the first Butler run to the Final Four six years ago. But those two things were lightning flashes, taking place over a period of days; this has been ongoing for an entire year. It's truly the most remarkable sports story I've ever seen, and it just goes on and on and on. 
Of course, things can go wrong. The enormity of what they are accomplishing is not lost on the team, and they have struggled to put away inferior teams in the last few weeks. But I do watch some of this league's games on occasion, and this is a hugely entertaining team that wins by creative offense--they won 1-0 in their last game on a bicycle kick, for God's sake. Are they lucky? Sure. Soccer has a few analytic stats, and Leicester doesn't project to "champion" based on possession time and shots/shots allowed data. But they've been successful now for a year  on a historic scale, and the ride shows no signs of ending.
And the implications are staggering. European soccer in general is even more about big money than our TV-fueled leagues here, and the amounts of money that teams like Manchester United and Chelsea spend on players is unbelievable. For a team with a piker's budget and whose main players are teams let go by other teams--leading scorer Jamie Vardy came from the depths of the English soccer system, almost quit the game three years ago, and isn't even on the English national team--this is the most unbelievable outcome imaginable, and those throwing billions--yes, billions--around in pursuit of trophies are rethinking their priorities as the upstarts leave them behind. Chelsea and Liverpool fired coaches this season, and the Manchester teams are probably going to do the same after the season ends. The TV networks in England are apoplectic that a small-market team like Leicester--it is the country's eleventh-largest city, with a population roughly that of Corpus Christi, Texas--is going to win the championship. But the fans, even the hardcores of perennially successful teams, seem to have the attitude of "if we can't win, I hope they do." 
This is really something historic happening. And after March Madness ends and before the NBA and NHL playoffs shift into full gear, we should devote at least a few glances to what's happening on the other side of the pond. Because it's literally a once-in-a-lifetime event playing out in front of our eyes. 

Sunday, March 20, 2016

Junk Email

I remember back a couple of millennia ago, it seems, when I was a member of the middle class in good standing and married with two young kids and disposalbe income. My ex-wife was a catalogue shopper, and every day when I would come home, the mailbox would be stuffed to overflowing with what used to be called junk mail--catlalogues, offers, all sorts of crap that I never once looked at and that every week filled half of another novelty item of that era, the recyclng bucket. I couldn't believe that there were people, many people, in America that actually read this pile of crap religiously--I mean, there had to be, right? Or else the companies wouldn't bother sending it? And getting on these mailing lists was worse than getting a tattoo, as far as permanence; it didn't matter if you ever ordered or called or responded, the mass always kept coming.
The snail mail isn't like that anymore. But email is, even though email is also becoming a bit of an outmoded, dated form of communication. I have a pretty good setting on my junk email filter, but I still check it every day now that I am looking for employment---and every day, I get twenty to thirty emails that are junk. "Stephen, so-and-so is interested in you." Job alerts in Tanzania. Job placement ads. Scam ads. "Great savings" from places I buy from once a year. The usual crap from Nigerian scammers. Mail order brides. All sorts of useless crap.
Who reads this stuff?
I guess you can't get rid of it. All you can do is set the junk folder filter as high as it will go. But it's absolutely infuriating. What a world we live in, when people go through all these effort to get in contact with complete strangers with the aim of getting them to part with, or grant access to, our money. Too bad there wasn't more honest work out there.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

More Adventures On The Road

I am wide awake, even though I went to bed late for me and don't have a pressing reason to be up this early, is because when I woke up a little bit ago, I did what has become commonplace for me--checked out a couple of quick sites on my phone. Normally I can do this and go back to sleep. However, this morning, when I scanned the headlines--I do this every day because, silly as it is, I don't want to sleep through something truly important or apocalyptic if I can help it; yes, I know it's crazy, or "cray," as the young 'un's say, but I'm nothing if not a hundred (man, I have spent too much time around millennials recently) and that's the real deal--the first thing I saw was "plane crash."
And that jolted me totally awake, because my daughter, my sister, and my brother-in-law boarded a plane at Newark last night and are currently on their way to London. Yes, fortunately (for me at least; I feel bad for those whose relatives were on the Dubai Airlines flight that crashed in Russia), it was not their flight, and as far as I know, they are peacefully sleeping as their plane approaches Heathrow as I write--estimated time of arrival is an hour from now. But I have to tell you that was the first time in a long, long time that I had an adrenaline burst like that; I went from barely conscious to instantly hyper in milliseconds. And I will totally OK if it never happens to me ever again.
Anyway, because of Sabrina's trip, I spent a portion of yesterday driving on a road that I have not driven over in some time--81 South heading toward Scranton. I have driven a lot, in the last year, on the other major artery that leads southeast (ie towards New York City) from here, NY 17/future Interstate 86. Sometimes on the latter route, I get a little frustrated at some drivers, especially once one gets past Monticello, that routinely drive at speeds twenty-five or more miles an hour over the posted speed limits. I don't poke along, by any stretch; I'm usually on cruise control about ten miles an hour over the limit, and on 17, I pass more cars than pass by me. And the reason, I found out yesterday, is that compared to other places, New York highways are monitored like a jail visiting room. I have not once gone on the journeys I have on 17 in the past year without seeing at least one trooper looking for speeders, and on a typical day, I see at least three on the way to Westchester County, even before the sun comes up--somewhere around Windsor, in Delaware County around Hancock, leaving Roscoe heading west, around Exit 97, and between Middletown and the Thruway are all places that you have a good chance of seeing a cruiser laying in wait for someone flying by. I'm sure that the motivations are not totally or even mostly altruistic, for safety reasons--most of New York's municipalities have become dependent on fine money to balance their budgets, and the "court costs" fiction that is legalized extortion goes a long way toward covering the state budget, too. But there are two undeniable beneficial results to this aggressive policing: 1) It is very rare to see someone going over 80 miles an hour on a New York highway, and 2) New York's roads are in pretty decent shape. The only stretch of 17/86 that is a little rough on your car is between Hancock and Roscoe, in Delaware County, where the road really could use a repaving--but even that isn't cratered or particularly rough to ride over, just a little bumpy for a few miles.
But yesterday, I was meeting my sister at the end of I-380, about a half-hour south of Scranton, so she could collect Sabrina before heading to Newark for the flight out. I drove like I normally do now--cruise control was 9 to 11 miles over the speed limit, which meant I was traveling about 75 miles an hour for most of the journey (side note: the posted speed limit just south of Scranton, when Interstates 84 and 380 run together for about five miles, is 70 miles an hour. I've never seen that on any highway in New York or Pennsylvania before).
And from the time I crossed the Pennsylvania line a few miles south of Binghamton until the time I arrived at Pocono Summit, I felt like I was driving a Model T. Everybody, on both the way down and the way back, was going at least 80 miles an hour, and a good many of them were going at least 85 and even 90. I did pass a few trucks, but I seriously do not think I passed more than a couple of passenger vehicles, and I was getting passed like I was standing still at least twice a mile, and often more than that. And coming into Scranton, the speed limit dips to 55 for a few miles, and I dropped down to 65 accordingly--and not only got my doors blown off, but people were flipping me off as they went by. I am reminding you that I was going ten miles an hour over the speed limit, not under it. I saw one cop during the trip, on the way back from there, and he had a car pulled over that had passed me a few minutes before like I was standing still. But if Pennsylvania was serious about raising revenue, state troopers issuing tickets for a couple of hours on these stretches of road would net millions. Millions, I tell you.
When I used to go to New York regularly in the 80's and 90's, I-81 wasn't a speedway, because it was forever undergoing construction/repair, Well, they need to do it again, because the other side of how fast everyone was going was that the road itself is actually in poor shape. There are a lot of spots where there are potholes and bumps and even craters, at least in the right-side lane; I'd be afraid to go more than a few miles over the speed limit because it would tear up my tires or my suspension. But these people seem to be oblivious to the condition of the road... perhaps because, much more than in New York, the roads are full of SUVs. Hey, folks, the 90's are over; SUVs aren't cool or a status symbol anymore. But apparently drivers in the Keystone state haven't got the memo yet (although a fair number of the NASCAR wannabes had New Jersey plates, to be fair, and I already knew from my experiences when Sabrina was doing travel team softball that Jersey drivers routinely approach triple digit speeds on highways).
Anyway, I know now how my sister gets here from Washington in the time it took my father to get here from New York when we were kids. Seriously, if you tried to drive the speed limit in Pennsylvania, you'd get run off the road... there are a lot of reasons why living in New York is problematical. But it has its benefits, too, and one of them is that people don't drive like they're Formula One racers on the highways. Quite honestly, 75 miles an hour is more than fast enough to get where you're going.
And there is two particular dynamics I am seeing with more and more regularity that is fast making it onto my pet peeve list. I don't how many times in the last year I have gone to pass someone that is clearly comfortable traveling a few miles an hour less than I am going--until I get alongside them in the passing lane. Then all of a sudden, they turn into Ryan Newman, a NASCAR driver who is notorious for doing the best he can to obstruct and create issues for anyone trying to pass him. It happened again a couple of times yesterday. For Christ's sake, if you've been going 70 for miles and someone isn't zooming by you at 90, you don't have an obligation to step on the gas and match their speed. And the second one is the guy that is going 70 or 75 for miles, and then suddenly starts going 85 and ducks in ahead of me--only to get off at the next exit. Why is it necessary to zoom ahead and then duck in? Why not just keep cruising at the speed you were at, especially since I already passed you going faster than you are, and just get off at your normal speed? Unless you are suffering from amoebic dysentery or about to wet yourself, there's no reason to do that, other than sheer spite. One of these days, I'm going to follow one of these SOBs (and people guilty of this particular transgression seem to be exclusively men) off the highway and find out what the hell he was thinking when he pulled off this kamikaze maneuver.

Friday, March 18, 2016

The Sun Also Rises

Twelve hours from now, my youngest and I will say goodbye to each other for a week. At 17, she is being given the opportunity to do something I never have done: travel to the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, and will be spending a week there with my sister and her husband. I am fully appreciative of them making this possible, and Sabrina is totally excited and giddy with anticipation, strep throat notwithstanding (she will have four doses of antibiotic in her by time she gets on the plane, and will be able to take it during the week she is gone. We'll see how she is when she wakes up, but even last night, she was a lot better than she was at 6 AM yesterday).
I have not gone a week without her presence since she was 4 years old. I have not gone two days without her presence in over three years. I'm going to miss her terribly, especially after the first few days. On the other hand, I am being realistic about it; she is, after all, coming back, and it is only a week. And this will be the sort of experience that every kid should be able to have, and that damn few--and getting fewer by the year--should have. She's already a pretty worldly kid, in that she is much aware of what goes outside of her chosen areas of interest than many of her peers. She actually has well-formed opinions on matters like politics and religions; has at least a basic idea of national and world geography; and has an appreciation for other cultures (as long as they are not too much different from hers; hey, she's only 17, and I can't realistically expect her to be that open-minded). I am very happy that she will be able to see firsthand what life in another place is like--and truth be known, in another place that isn't that different from here. People in the UK speak English, and the culture doesn't harbor endemic, pervasive anti-Americanism. And it will be good for her to soak in another country's media for a week and see how this country is viewed elsewhere in the world.
And it marks an end to the Winter of Discontent, in more ways than one. I got a conditional job offer, contingent on a few things that I can't imagine will be an issue (drug screen, reference checks), for an agency that I have a lot of respect for, at a wage that I can at least touch financial solvency at. The once and future queen is returning home soon, as well, and while I am wary, I also have good reasons to have hope that it will be a lot different this time. MOTY is working for the first time in 4 1/2 years, and one of these weeks child support will start coming in again. I am actually working out the details of a new child support arrangement with my ex-wife for my two older kids, as well.
And most of all, I have discovered that my reserves of resiliency and perseverance are deeper than I ever dreamed possible. I have not lost my way. I have learned that friends and family will do what they can to help in a time of need. I have managed to stay afloat in a strong storm financially; the storm couldn't continue much longer, but I haven't gone under. The events of the past few months have both stripped me of illusions about my personal life, and reinforced the basic commitment to being a better man. My ongoing education in what is the best way to be visible on social media continues.
The new sun isn't quite up yet. But the horizon is definitely lighting up. And as hard and difficult as the fifty-second year of my life has been in many ways, it also has strengthened me and changed me for the better. I am two weeks away from turning 53, and the potential is there for a better life to get underway and take its own momentum. It's the sense of relief and determination one gets when the blizzard tapers off, when the hurricane-force winds stop blowing, when the floodwaters start to recede. Relief that the worst appears to be over, and determination to get started on cleaning up and moving forward.

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Poor Kid

My daughter has been given the opportunity of a lifetime by my sister. Her job requires her to travel all over the world (she is some mid-to-high level functionary of the Commerce Department specializing in marine fisheries, and as such as been to pretty much every North American, European and Asian country that has a fishing industry over the course of her career), and as such has developed a liking for going abroad. And plans were made months ago for her to take Sabrina with her to Great Britain this spring break; Sabrina may never get another chance to go, considering that I don't like to fly in the best of circumstances and that my financial situation will not allow us to go anywhere for the foreseeable future.
To say Sabrina has been looking forward to this is a massive understatement. So it is with great dismay and horror that we are dealing with, over the last 36 hours, a very serious flu/cold here. This is one sick kid--low-grade but persistent fever, throat sore and swollen, nose stuffed up so badly that even hot 20-minute showers are not helping unclog her passages, and a general achiness that has left her largely bedridden for two days. She is still sleeping, of course, and the only place she will be going today is, if she does not show at least marginal improvement by about 10 AM, is a trip to the walk-in. But this is a stroke of bad luck that I almost can't believe.
And if she doesn't show improvement today, I really don't know what to do. It's not like you can postpone the trip. But it's not like she can fly in the condition she is in, either. I haven't told my sister yet about what's going on, because the point of reckoning hasn't come yet. But this is the sort of complication that no one needs but has been showing up in our lives far too often recently. And last night was a double whammy around here; for a bit of time, I had acid reflux so badly that I actually was seriously wondering if it was a heart attack, to the point where we were actually in the car on the way to Wilson before symptoms eased... I need to start eating smarter (and less), and I managed a pain-free night after returning home, with only the vaguest lingering discomfort now that I am up and awake (coffee probably isn't helping, but not having coffee in the morning is not an option here).
But this is going to be a crucial day, for both of us. And even if she does improve and is able to travel Friday night well on the way to recovery, I'm not sure how I am going to cope by myself for a week. I have not gone a week without Sabrina in the house since her mother took her to Florida in 2004 to visit the maternal grandmother. It's going to be strange.
Fortunately, I don't have that busy a day ahead. I have one job interview in early afternoon, but it's two blocks away. So in a way, this will be a bit of a return to earlier years, when Dad kept vigil over a sick little girl for as long as it took to nurse her back to a semblance of health. And I never pray for specific outcomes directly, but I am really, really hoping that God's will for us entails her regaining her health in the next 24 hours.

Wednesday, March 16, 2016

Revolt in the School District

Last week, I mentioned that there was a petition going around for parents of kids in the Binghamton School District to sign. Yesterday, the school board met, and the teachers union presented the board with a no-confidence vote regarding the superintendent, with a supposed 97% vote among union members asking for her removal. The superintendent seems oblivious; she issued a statement saying, in effect, that all the unhappy people are unhappy because they aren't comfortable with change, and she intends to forge on with her agenda.
OK, you do that. Her contract runs through July 2017, and I guess if she isn't actually removed by the board, we're stuck with her until then. But I can't imagine that she will be rehired, and I also can't imagine that anything that she wants to do is going to be accomplished. When you run a school district, and both parents and teachers are dead set against you, I can't imagine that anything that you want to do is going to get done.
My brother, generally liberal in many areas, has always fulminated about teachers and teacher unions as the primary cause of his angst regarding his tax bills. In the years I ran the youth program that I did, I found it much more gratifying and easier to deal with the people in the actual school buildings than in the school administrative offices. In Binghamton, the amounts of money that most of those in the administrative positions get paid borders on the obscene.
It must be nice to have a job that pays well over a hundred thousand dollars a year when everyone that you affect hates you and is counting the days until your contract expires. We should all find our opportunities so abundant. This situation is reminiscent, on many levels, of what happened recently at the University of Michigan, when an arrogant, clueless athletic director alienated so many students, alumni, and supporters that he eventually resigned with years left on his contract--but not after he did an incredible amount of damage first, some of which is not going to be reversible. And that's my fear here. Binghamton already has enough troubles as a city; we don't need an already-shaky school district going completely to hell. When a best-case scenario involves basically a lame-duck for a year and a half--that's not good.
The board really needs to summon up the courage to cut our losses now and give this woman "opportunities to find more fulfilling employment," as the human resources say. Whatever this woman's niche is, running the Binghamton City School District isn't it.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

All-American Rot Shows Itself in College Basketball

Every year, the NCAA basketball tournament selection process comes under scrutiny, as the decisions made at the tail end of the field--deciding who gets in and who gets left home--inspire all sorts of passionate arguments and attempts to dissect the reasons why teams get in and some teams do not. For years, there was some logic applied, and with few exceptions, there weren't any blatant, completely head-scratching selections. Sure, some teams that were deserving were left out, but almost always, the teams that got in ahead of those that got left out had legitimate cases for inclusion, too. There were very few times when the smell of a rotten, corrupt process for selection could be discerned in the air.
Until this year. The outcry around here is muted because the closest thing we have to a local NCAA basketball power, Syracuse, was one of the beneficiaries of the fishy process this year. But another team from upstate New York, St. Bonaventure, was royally screwed--more like sodomized--by the NCAA this year, and another small Catholic institution out west, St. Mary's in California, was also somehow left out of the field despite winning 27 of their 32 games. The Bonnies won a share of their league title (and the Atlantic 10 is a major conference, not a Power 5 but certainly top-level basketball), were 22-8, and even though they lost in their conference tournament, it was to a decent team, not some basement dweller getting hot at the right time.
And the big problem with those schools being left out is who got in ahead of them. Of the 68 teams in the field, Syracuse was probably number 67. Syracuse hasn't even won 20 games. Syracuse stumbled down the stretch like a drunk trying to find dropped keys in the grass, losing five of their six including their only game in the ACC tournament. Syracuse's case for inclusion came down to two factors. One is that they were a better team when Jim Boeheim was behind the bench. Duh, you might say; Boeheim is closing in on a thousand wins in his career. But he was gone for nine games this year, serving a suspension for some kind of chicanery the program was involved in in years past, and the team was 4-5 in those games. While I suppose that's a semi-legitimate position, the fact that it occurred at all should scream out that Syracuse should not, at least for the near future, get any benefits of the doubt. This is a program that not only took shortcuts, but got caught doing it. The team self-banned itself from consideration for the tournament last year, supporters say--but big whoop. I'm not so old to remember when programs were penalized for two years at a minimum, and when coaches (huge resumes or no) were fired for presiding over misconduct. I don't remember Jerry Tarkanian getting any breaks like a nine-game, in-season suspension. This "reasoning" is suspect at best.
The second reason has a lot more to do with the eventual selection. Syracuse is now part of the ACC, perhaps the most prestigious conference in the land. And ACC teams, in college basketball, are the ultimate "haves." They get preferential treatment year in and year out from the NCAA regarding the tournament--favorable seeds, favorable arena assignments, (during the games) favorable officiating, and most of all, a pass on their program's warts. The reason? Money. Lots and lots of money. ACC fan bases travel well, drop lots of money, and make lots of money for the NCAA. Teams like St. Bonaventure and St. Mary's do not.
The 68th team in the field, Tulsa, is an even more egregious choice. Tulsa's resume was underwhelming; they were the fifth-best team in a league that wasn't as good as the Atlantic 10. They not only lost in their conference tournament, they got their heads handed to them. And yet they they were on the board Sunday, causing all sorts of puzzled looks and howls of outrage, because Tulsa isn't a traditional basketball power. And then Monday came the revelation that the head of the selection committee's best friend and protege is the head coach of the Tulsa basketball team.
Wow. Just wow.
The list of ways that the NCAA is corrupt and unjust in the way it conducts its affaira is too big to recount here; books have been written that make the case a lot better than I can. But it is past time to blow it up. It is a microcosm of the larger society we live in, in that greed and interconnectedness of the elites is manifest, and that it is a massive grift and cancer on the higher education system it purportedly represents. The rot has been more pervasive and obvious in football than in basketball, but both sports are so riven with money-based concerns as to make them irredeemable. That's not news. But rarely has the money grab and the looking out for their own been so blatant and obvious. St, Bonaventure and St. Mary's weren't going to win the tournament title, but they deserved their shots a hell of a lot more than a thoroughly medicore Syracuse team and an obviously undeserving Tulsa squad.
It's getting harder and harder to care about this stuff. I used to be as big a sports fan as anyone, but in recent years, I've been so turned off by what all of them have become that I can barely follow them at a distance. Like in so many other areas of American life, the day of reckoning is coming for collegiate sports. And it won't be pretty, because it has become rotten to the core.
There is one way to fix this issue that would satisfy everyone, by the way, and I actually hope it becomes reality... make the tournament all-inclusive. Every team in the land should get into the tournament. It would add three rounds, which, if done right, would add about two weeks to the schedule. Everyone would feed at the trough. And I'd much rather that these arguments took place over proper seeding than in-or-out.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Book Review: WHY THE RIGHT WENT WRONG

EJ Dionne, Jr.'s Why The Right Went Wrong should be required reading for anyone that is even remotely following politics these days. This book chronicles the descent of the Republican Party into the narrow focus, intensely partisan entity it is now, and why it is unlikely to change substantially into what it used to be. The change started a long time ago, and the ultimate catalyst was the Goldwater candidacy in 1964. That much is generally accepted and known, but the author also shows that along with the hard turn rightward, the incredible opposition to Obama that has been present since the beginning of his term actually dogged Bill Clinton, too. And the biggest reason that we have a lot of awful laws in this country now is that the two Democratic Presidents were slow to realize that the traditional ways of getting things done--compromising--isn't possible with today's GOP.
The good news is that the Republican Party is doomed to irrelevancy if we remain a functional democracy, because as presently constituted, its base is older whites, a demographic that is shrinking by the year. Its current ideology holds no appeal for people of color, ethnic minorities, and young people, and this is playing out again in this year's election--Trump notwithstanding, no one on that side of the fence is likely to appeal to a majority of American voters.
The bad news is that the partisan divide in America is more or less permanent, and in places where Republican control is set, it is often, through gerrymandering and population quirks, set in stone--and the damage it has done while in power is not going to matter, because to too many people, actual facts don't matter or are subordinated to fears of minorities and other bogeymen. There is going to be no way to bring back places like Kansas, Oklahoma, or even Wisconsin from the hellholes they have become. The South, bound to race-based factors as it is, is as solid for Team Red as it was for Team Blue for a century.
And the X factor is that the Republicans themselves are divided. Dionne makes a half-convincing case that the original cause of the anger of the Tea Party was the bailout brought about by W in his last months in office. I'm not sure I buy that; it seems to have a huge race-based component since Day One. But we are seeing now the huge abyss between the average Republican voter and the party establishment. It might be news to the media that conservative ideology doesn't really matter a whole lot to voters, and a few of them even have been moved by the rather obvious fact that thirty-five years of effective Republican control of the political agenda have not only not delivered the promised good results, but have made things much, much worse for the average American. Trump's raw angry rhetoric draws the most attention, but the most resonant part of what he is saying--and the most correct--is his opposition to NAFTA and free trade, and, at least before he figured out he could actually win the nomination and started throwing sops to the establishment with a tax plan that out-Bushed Bush's, the fact that you can't run a government without revenue.
The bottom line is that the government has been cut about as much as people can stand, whatever they may say. The ignorance of people that say things like "Keep the government's hands off my Medicare" aside, the bottom line is that a majority of American voters are never going to vote for someone that wants to cut Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, or a large number of other government services. It has come to mean too much to too many of us. The current restrictive voting laws, huge donor money in politics, obstructionist politics--all of them are holding actions, doomed to (on a field where the usual rules are observed) eventual failure.
I have believed for several years now that the Republican Party has elected its last legitimate President. It is not capable of nominating someone with enough appeal to anyone other than its zealots to win a national election. Whether it will attempt to illegally hold onto the power it has in the coming decades is an open question, but for now, it has such a narrow base that it simply cannot compete on a national basis.

Sunday, March 13, 2016

More Random Notes, Mid-March 2016

1) First of all, it's 7:30 AM on the clock, but my body is telling me it's 6:30. Because this is one of the two Sundays during the year when all sorts of time/space continuums are breached and logic is taken for a ride, After a few months of standard time, we are now officially back on Daylight Savings Time, one of the most inane concepts ever to have gained widespread acceptance in the history of humanity. The primary reason for engaging in this practice seems to be giving people more time to do things after work while the sun is still up. In this day and age, when so many people work irregular hours or from home or non-traditional jobs, is it still necessary to go through this charade every year? There is a growing movement afoot to dispense with this silliness; a dozen states have proposals on the table to switch year-round to either standard or daylight time and not have to go through this anymore. I'm not uptight or OCD on many matters, but this one is one of those little things that drives me up a wall. It's so unnecessary.
Or maybe because it's just such a hassle to change the time on the clock in the car...or the thermostat. In this day and age of high technology, why does anything that keeps time not have a way to change the hours and minutes separately?
2) Pot Calling The Kettle Black Department: I think even the wingnuts and yahoos stopped taking Sarah Palin seriously a long time ago. But her most recent outburst was still breathtaking in its chutzpah and hypocrisy. She, an avowed supporter of Donald Trump now, took Ted Cruz to task for being a "half-term" Senator "with no accomplishments." Ummm... technically, it's probably accurate. But Cruz, if he even deigns to replay, ought to say that if there's an expert on serving half an elected term and not accomplishing anything, it's Palin, whose utterance is a neat summation of her own political career.
I think, out of all the things that irritate me about the state of American politics and the people that are involved in it, this very common total lack of self-awareness is what kills me the most. The finger-pointing is unhelpful enough, and the willingness to go negative on other people running for office has always been distasteful. But increasingly, there are a lot of instances like this, where people accuse others of doing and being the same things that they themselves are doing and are. The lack of self-awareness is astonishing. The lack of integrity is sickening. And most of all, the level of contempt exhibited for the audience the comments are aimed it is infuriating--except that it is also reasonable because apparently many people are too stupid to connect the dots.
3) Speaking of Trump and his supporters, I see now where Trump wants the protesters that now show up at each and every one of his rallies to be arrested. Umm... Donald, first of all, you're not President yet, and the First Amendment, despite your wishes, is still the law of the land. Unless and until expression of opinion breaks a law, which, in all the videos and accounts I have seen of the mushrooming number of incidents at his rallies, I have yet to see, the protesters have done nothing that justifies arrest. You can have security remove them, which you do, but there's no reason to arrest them. As a matter of fact, the only ones that have been arrested at your rallies are those using force in an attempt to silence the protesters. His people.
I still am inclined to think that Trump, in a neutral context, is not as bad as many people think he is and would be. But that neutral context is slipping into the abyss more and more on a daily basis. If there has been one constant to Trump's career in the public eye, it is the enormous ego that he has displayed since he was a young man. And now, with the ultimate prize (as he views it) at least dimly in reach, he is truly losing his mind over any possible resistance to his grabbing that prize. Never mind being a bully (which he is): he's a baby, a grown man with the temperament of a toddler, who cannot stand any gainsaying or impediment to his willfulness. And yes, this is very dangerous to contemplate. I really don't think that he can win the Presidency in any circumstances--but I would love to insure that he doesn't, if the Republicans can somehow manage to deny him the nomination, because sure as the sun comes up, he will run as an independent if not as a Republican...We are watching something we don't often see; an extreme narcissist with a plausible chance, but not as large as he thinks it is, of getting what he really wants--nearly unchecked power. And this saga grows more and more compelling, because we can see the battle inside Trump himself, between the guy that knows he has a chance to get what he wants if he can just summon up the patience to wait on it happening organically--and the ego that cannot allow his will to be thwarted even temporarily by those that are relatively unimportant in the larger scheme.
And I think that the ego is going to win. It will be fascinating to watch how he implodes in the coming months.
4) Speaking of rich guys who can't stand not to have their way... One of the Walmart second-generation heirs owns the now-Los Angeles Rams of the NFL. The Rams have been non-competitive for a decade (actually for about twenty of the last twenty-five years; before this current run of futility dating back to 2004, there was a similar decade of awful play from 1990 to 1998, as well). This guy--Stan Kroencke, married to a Walton--held St. Louis hostage for several years before getting Los Angeles to give him a windfall for relocating the team. Not content with the sweetest of sweetheart deals to move the team, it has come to light that the standard player contract that the Rams players are being asked to sign now still states that the team's employees--ie the players--are being held, by terms of the contract, to the labor laws and statutes of Missouri, not California.
The difference between California labor law and Missouri labor law is like the difference between a UAW contract of the 1960's and a sharecropping contract in Alabama circa 1910. I don't know who discovered this little bit of chicanery, but the NFL Players Association is now aware of it and is advising Rams players not to sign contracts until the language is changed. So far, Ram management has not commented publicly. But this is just another example of the contempt that rich people in general, and the Walton clan in particular, have for the people that work for them. Their ideal, which they move heaven and earth to make happen, is to welsh as much as possible on any obligations they have to their workforces, and to rig the game in their favor whenever and however possible.
I suspect, actually, that their true ideal is slavery, but that's another discussion. And yet people worry about ISIS, gay marriage, and abortion...
5) And this has nothing to do with national concerns, but has been occupying an unwelcome amount of time in my life, due to others feeling compelled, for either altruistic (trying to look out for me and keep me from being hurt again) or dark (some people do just like to stir up stuff to see where the crap lands) motives, to make comments and inferences about my domestic situation, or trying to give me information that they think I don't know. To forestall any further attempted revelations or inteventions, I'm going to say that all aspects of the matter have been thoroughly discussed by the two people that are the most concerned, and the decisions that have been made are not the product of wishful thinking or delusion or ignorance.
And in a general sense, there are risks to be considered in any decision. Even the most publicly open people do not put everything on public display or make everything public knowledge. And there are others out there that are dealing with PTSD and other mental health concerns while attempting to find their way in a world where positive input and support has been severely or completely lacking for the length of their lives. In addition to a journey of the heart, this has been a learning experience of the mind, too, about what being with someone with PTSD really entails--and realizing that I'm dealing with it myself, too, as much as I would like to pretend I'm not. A lot of my behaviors and attitudes are due to things in my background that I never really thought of as "traumatic"--but damn, all the described symptoms and tendencies are like reading a biography. Yes, they were traumas, childhood and addiction and some other things. Because they left their emotional scars, deeply enough that I keep, effectively against my will, reliving them.
Time will tell soon enough. If I want different results, then I need to do things differently, and the bottom line is here that I am trying to change the way I deal with serious issues. I don't often talk in these terms, but I do try to follow an ethical, spiritual path through life now, one that makes practicing spiritual principles--all of them, not just the ones that feel good or that are convenient for me to practice--paramount and the key to the life that I lead. Some, like integrity and gratitude, were relatively easy to incorporate, and I did so years ago. Some, like taking responsibility, acceptance, and fidelity, came less easily. And some, like forgiveness, compassion, and perseverance, still come, after 17 years of trying to live this way, with difficulty, especially if my emotions are deeply engaged.
And that's what I'm trying to do now. There have been commitments made on both sides of this situation, not just mine, and it's not possible at this point to see where the path leads to. But it's a path I've never, ever traveled before, and one of my commitments has been to keep moving down this way to see what lies ahead. I already know what's behind me, and I already know that I've shied away every other time I've ever been on this journey at this point along it.
Not this time.

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Violent Rhetoric Becomes Real

Power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will. 
Those words of Frederick Douglass, uttered in the immediate aftermath of the Civil War, are providing a fascinating backdrop to today's politics. Much has been made of the Donald (and to a much lesser extent, The Bern) and his challenge to the established political order. And Trump, used to getting his own way in every sphere of his life since he was a child--and for getting a free pass on everything he has said and done because, basically, he's rich and white--is not going to change his ways, especially since he has found fertile ground in the angry white men that make up the core of the modern Republican party. And in the last week, both the crowds at Trump rallies and those mobilizing to combat his influence have started to get seriously violent.
What I am trying to figure out is whether the violent undertones unleashed by Trump are cause or effect. Truth be known, while Trump's violent rhetoric is more stark and open than usual, the use of dog-whistle racist appeals has been in place for my entire lifetime, dating back to the first presidential election held when I was a sentient human being in 1968. Nixon, Reagan, Bush I, Bush II all used racist imagery and code words to inflame their supporters and motivate them to vote. Clinton and Obama became President largely because they were able to mobilize those that are seriously anti-racist and get them to vote.
It is tempting to dismiss this latest round of violent behavior at Trump rallies as something entirely new. But it isn't. For one, "security" forces have been violent forever and a day, dating back to the nineteenth century. More recently, even the most ignorant people in the land are aware that police departments all over America are under increased scrutiny--and drawing more resistance than ever--for their use of violent, repressive tactics. Five years ago, the dominant images in the news were police pepper-spraying Occupy Wall Street protesters. A few years ago, I remember a crowd at a Rand Paul event beat up a protester in a wheelchair. This escalation has been a long time coming.
And those that think that denying Trump the nomination somehow is going to stop the growing violence are mistaken. The vein he has tapped into has been one that many others in the GOP establishment have been stoking for years--without delivering on their promises to beat back the forces that threaten the "good old days" of white, male dominance of the political and economic system of this country. The Republicans have been riding angry whites to power for three decades, but the demographic changes of the country are relentlessly marching forward, and angry white males--and angry white people; there are a lot of blue-hairs in Trump crowds, too--are not taking the prospect of marginalization sanguinely.
This is both a racial and a generational conflict. There is increasing resistance to the views and tactics of those supporting the Trump message, and not only is conflict inevitable, but it will likely grow worse and more violent as time passes. We're not quite at the point of 1930's--or the immediate post-
World War I period--Europe yet. But it's possible.
Power has been challenged by demands, and is reacting. Whether it gives way is an open question that will take years to answer. But this is a watershed, a time when the momentum toward violence as an accepted and open part of our political world that has been building for decades is finally bursting forth. And the question asked often nearly fifty years ago--"Which side are you on?"--will become more relevant. The answer enough gave back then--the side of "law and order"--was given because those making the promises to keep law and order were supposed to reward their supporters with material affluence.
They have spent the last 35 years reneging on that promise and enriching themselves while successfully blaming "others" for the lack of following through. That tactic is still in play--that's the anger fueling Trump's supporters. But a lot of others, and especially the young, have seen through the facade, and their anger is at an entire system that has thrown them overboard.
The violence, once unleashed, is not going to go away, Not without major change or major repression. And likely both.