Archive for August, 2011

Chinese Tennis

Tuesday, August 30th, 2011

Listening to the commentary on the early rounds of the U.S. Open (tennis), I listened to a bunch of speculation about why Li Na, winner of the French Open, has not won two consecutive matches since then. There was this and that reason put forth, but the elephant in the room was never mentioned.

I’m a big tennis fan, so I know who Li Na is, but many of my 4 readers may not. It doesn’t really matter. Tennis is not the point. Li Na won the Women’s French Open title this year. This is a big deal, like about one fourth of winning the Super Bowl. She is one of the best women tennis players in the world.

She is also a citizen of the PRC, the People’s Republic of China, i.e., red China. She has become one of the Chinese Communist Party’s most valuable assets, for international branding as well as internal pride. Of course she doesn’t live or train in China anymore, but she is nevertheless controlled by the Party.

Not long ago, the Party decided to let her start keeping a substantial portion of the money she earned. Not as much as she would keep as a citizen of Monaco of course, but still, she gets to be rich. I have no way of knowing if it is true, but I would be surprised if there were not a Party member in her entourage, as there always is, living in every tiny neighborhood of Shanghai, a city I have visited several times.

If Li Na is not insane, she wants to leave the PRC and become a free citizen of a Western democracy, not only for more money, but for the freedom to be anybody and do anything. Assuming this is so (she doesn’t look crazy to me), the Communist Party in China will do whatever it is in their power to do to keep that from happening.

Is her money in Switzerland, or is it in China? At the very least, the Party will steal her money and threaten all of her relatives remaining in the PRC, with extreme unpleasantness should she dare to escape. The Berlin wall was not the last of the Communist prisons.

Of course, in the TV commentary, there was no hint of any such factors possibly affecting her tennis game since the French Open. That wouldn’t be polite to our Chinese U.S. Treasury bond holders, and consumer/industrial product manufacturers.

Hell to Pay

Sunday, August 21st, 2011

I don’t care what any Presidential candidate thinks about:

gay marriage
global warming

My dream candidate for President is not someone who agrees with me about all of these subjects. My dream candidate for President is someone who believes that none of these matters are in any way a part of his or her job description. That makes Rick Perry my first choice. I only agree with his positions on three quarters of the above listed issues. He is my first choice because he said, “I’ll work to try to make DC as inconsequential in your life as I can.” A sentiment worthy of my hero Calvin Coolidge.

My worst nightmare of a President is one who believes that abortion, gay marriage, global warming, and evolution are problems that require the attention of the Federal government. I fear we have just such a chief executive in the White House currently.

The press is of course obsessed with Governor Perry’s and Congresswoman Bachmann’s opinions about these irrelevant questions, because the press and the Democrats always do their darndest to portray all popular Republicans as dangerously ignorant dunces. They have always done this, from Abraham Lincoln to Dwight Eisenhower to Barry Goldwater to Ronald Reagan to Sarah Palin to Rick Perry.

Until they’re dead. Then the press and the Democrats pine for the days when Republicans were so much smarter and more reasonable than they are today.

I pine for the days when Republicans like Lincoln threw copperhead Democrats in jail for treason. Only when absolutely necessary of course.

I want a Federal government that maintains a strong dollar, provides for the national defense against enemies foreign and domestic, enforces the Bill of Rights and Amendments 13-15 for all American citizens, and does the absolute minimum necessary to keep the free market as free as possible. Leave the rest of it up to state and local governments and the free citizens of the Republic. Any attempt to expand the power of the national government beyond this should ideally be subject to the extreme skepticism of an alert polis.

I know this is an idle fancy. As Devo says:

Freedom of choice
Is what you got
Freedom from choice
Is what you want

We are no longer primarily a country of people who want to be free. We have become a nation of people who want to be taken care of.

Having said that, President Perry better not mess with my social security and medicare, or my son’s unemployment checks and food stamps, or my mother-in-law’s veteran benefits, or my mother’s U.S. Air Force widow’s health benefits, or there will be Hell to pay, Hell being a place in whose existence Rick Perry may actually believe.

Peyote and Me

Thursday, August 18th, 2011

Me and Victor would order the green peyote buttons, several dozen at a time, from Lawson’s Texas Cactus Gardens. They came with planting instructions, but we never planted any of them. This was 1965 in Iowa City, Iowa. The buttons cost a quarter apiece. When a shipment came in, we would put out the word to our friends who would come over to “the mission” for a peyote party. The mission was what we called the crash pad where I and a bunch of other people were living on communal pots of Kraft macaroni and cheese dinners.

We knew nothing about peyote. Victor had read something somewhere about it and found out you could order it through the mail. So we did. Somewhere we learned that you should first clean out the white fuzz that supposedly contained small amounts of strychnine.

Everyone would sit around with sour expressions on their face, munching on fresh, green peyote buttons. The only record we had at the mission to play on our cheap portable record player, was Bob Dylan’s Highway 61 Revisited. I must have heard that record at least a hundred times, in all states of consciousness.

These peyote parties became a fixture in Iowa City for a couple of years. It was never a large crowd. Everybody knew everybody very well, as well as it is possible for people as young as we were, still blank slates, to know each other.

I married Susan that year and soon after we had a son, Jason. I was working at Component Homes on a pre-fab housing assembly line. It was brutal work for a 6’2″” 145 lb weakling. Ten hour days, and a half hour for lunch. I would go to a nearby bar and order a boilermaker, a bottle of beer and a shot of bourbon, and that would be lunch. After work I would buy a quart of beer to drink when I got home. I loved Jason. I would hold him in my arms and carry him around our apartment, pointing out its features and explaining the world to him.

After a little while, we moved to Ames so that I could finish my degree at Iowa State. I needed to make up two flunked PE courses, a beginning accounting course, and a sophomore literature course. I worked at the Student Union, washing dishes and setting up chairs, and Susan’s folks helped us out. After I graduated, I got a job as a programmer trainee at the Iowa State Highway Commission, which was not far from the house we were renting. And I got it because of peyote.

One of the regulars at the Iowa City parties was a guy who had a girl friend in Ames who used to come over to Iowa City for the parties. She was beautiful and smart and sweet. Everyone loved her. And she worked as a computer programmer at the Iowa State Highway Commission. She hipped me to, and recommended me for, the job. I took a programmer’s aptitude test and scored 100% in half the allotted time, and my career in software development was launched.

Peyote got me another job, many years later. Sometime in 1995, when we were living in San Francisco, in a little row house in the Sunset district, I got involved in the Native American Church, attending all-night peyote ceremonies in a tipi. I invited my old friend, John, from The Farm communal days to one of these meetings. At that time he was the manager of the San Francisco Chronicle’s newborn, experimental website, The Gate.

Before the meeting we talked about it. The Gate was John’s only topic of conversation in those days. He was having trouble finding a tech guy who was competent and communicative and trustworthy. I gave him a detailed run-down on just exactly what kind of person he needed. Coincidentally it was a perfect description of myself. In the morning when we emerged from the tipi, all peyotied up, having undergone an intense bonding experience, he offered me the job of Technical Director. I was there for five years and built the first major newspaper website’s technical underpinnings, almost single-handedly, from the ground up. It was a major milestone in my checkered career.

Workin’ at the Heinz Plant

Sunday, August 7th, 2011

It was 1966 in Iowa City. Susan and I had just gotten married and our first child was on the way. We were flat broke. Victor said he knew where I could get a job. He had worked there before, at the Heinz plant in Muscatine. It was tomato season, and anybody could get a job there. Victor and I worked there for two weeks, which made us some of their most reliable employees. Most guys didn’t last that long.

We worked 14 hour days on the assembly line, stacking boxes of ketchup onto palettes. The pay was $1.65 an hour, no extra for overtime. We slept in the barracks and ate in the company cafeteria. A charge for room and board was deducted from our pay. Ketchup and mustard were free though.

The barracks had a communal shower and a big room with bunk beds. The migrant workers in those days weren’t Mexicans. They were middle-aged white guys who followed the ripening of fruits and vegetables around the country, from Oregon to Iowa, what we used to call hobos. It was hard to get much sleep for the constant sound of coughing all night.

The compound was surrounded by a high chain link fence topped with barbed wire that pointed inward. After our shift, Victor and I would crawl under the fence at a hole we had found, crawl over a culvert across the creek, and hike into town. We only had time for one beer, but it was worth it. Then back under the fence and into bed. If everyone else was more or less asleep, sometimes we would go into the shower room and smoke a joint. The sound of giggling in the shower room and two guys coming out sometimes got us a few funny looks.

We had three guys on our box-stacking crew, me, Victor, and another guy. Victor had worked there before, and he had a system. By working together and stacking the boxes in a certain pattern, it made it so much more efficient that we could do it with only two men. So we took turns wandering around the plant, stealing pickles, having a smoke.

Eventually the foreman noticed that we were doing the job with only two guys, so he came over and took our other guy away. Victor told me to just stop and let the boxes fall off the end of the line and smash on the floor. Pretty soon we had a pile of cardboard, ketchup, and broken glass at our feet. When the foreman came around again, Victor threw up his hands and said, “We just can’t handle it with only two guys.” We immediately got our third man returned to us, and life was good again.


Wednesday, August 3rd, 2011

I had resolved to lay off the political rants, and just post stories from my actual life, like the two previous posts here. But I just couldn’t stand to keep my mouth shut about this whole debt ceiling farce. Everyone is buying in to the big lie that this compromise has something to do with spending cuts. Fox news, Speaker Boehner, Harry Reid, Nancy Pelosi, the New York Times, all the pundits, everyone.

THERE ARE NO SPENDING CUTS! There are huge increases in spending, and there are not quite so huge increases in spending. Even the Paul Ryan plan, which was totally beyond the pale, too extreme to even consider in the current debate, even that proposal increases spending.

Those who advocate slightly smaller, but still huge, increases in spending are being dubbed terrorists, suicide bombers, and hostage takers, by the Democrats and the media. The only prominent political figures, that I have seen, who dare to tell the truth about the fact that THERE ARE NO SPENDING CUTS, are Ron and Rand Paul, and Michelle Bachmann, all three of whom are routinely and inexorably portrayed as nut cases in the mainstream media, including Fox.

Well, crazy is as crazy does. Michelle Bachmann’s position is that we should not raise the debt ceiling. Instead we should cut spending such that we don’t need to raise the debt ceiling. That’s what I would do. That’s what I have done in my personal, over-extended, life, as so many others have been forced to do, by reality. We could do that by freezing federal government spending at the level needed to quit borrowing more money. We could do it gradually, over, say, the next ten years, so as not to cause too big a shock to the economy. How tough is that? How CRAZY is that?

Yes, it would require a very slight shrinking of the federal government. I don’t know about you, but, as a taxpayer, I don’t really feel like I have been getting good value for my money. Assuming you are a member of the minority who actually pay federal income taxes, how have you been feeling? Are you happy about how much of your money the feds have been taking, and how righteously and efficiently they have been spending it?

Obviously the lesson has not yet been learned. The political class knows only to increase spending, thereby increasing their power. The electorate, you and me, know only to keep electing those who promise to keep borrowing money and distributing it to us, after they take their cut. This is the case with every bourgeois democracy in the world, Europe, the U.S.A, the UK, Australia, (Canada not so much). Apparently, once we humans get the vote, we vote, on average, to make our grandchildren pay for our indulgences.

Unless this changes, democracy is doomed.

Crazy is as Crazy Does

Monday, August 1st, 2011

For awhile I worked as an attendant on the day shift at Psych Hospital in Iowa City. It was 1965. I was 21. Psych Hospital was part of the University of Iowa. They only accepted patients who had some reasonable prognosis of being returnable to society, no hopeless schizos, no catatonics. I worked on the women’s ward. There were mostly manic-depressives and depressives, a few schizophrenics, and a few teenage girls and young women who were committed by concerned relatives for what were really moral transgressions. The depressives got shock treatments, after which they were somewhat confused, disoriented, and missing part of their memory, but were generally less depressed. The manics and the schizophrenics we just had to deal with, although they were of course thoroughly thorazined and lithiumed.

The primary therapy at Psych Hospital was to inform the patients who really wanted to get out, that there was a way they could make that happen. They were essentially trained in how to act normal so that no one would know that they were crazy. If, after a certain amount of time, they didn’t get “better”, they would be sent to the big house, the state mental institution at Clarinda. It was a very effective therapy. I witnessed many miraculous cures of mental illness.

One of the patients on the ward was a young woman, mid-20’s, sexy. She was in for f**king a priest. She liked to f**k, and had been committed by a concerned relative. You could do that in those days. I was forced to resign from my post on the day shift at Psych, partly because of her. I had applied to be transferred to the night shift, where I had several friends. After submitting my application, I was called into the office and told my services were no longer required. The two reasons given were that I had been having an affair with the afore-mentioned priest-f**ker, and also, that I had been distributing communist literature to the patients. I was entirely innocent of these disgusting crimes, but, it so happened, I knew the two guys who were actually, respectively, guilty. They were friends of mine. They worked on the night shift. What could I do? I didn’t much like the job anyway.

While I was still working there, a good friend of mine wound up as a patient on the men’s ward, across the lobby from where I worked in the women’s ward. Bob Costler (the name has been changed) was someone I had known from my years at Iowa State. I was an Economics major, but all of my friends and associates were writers and poets in the English department. Costler was the best of the poets. He was short, stocky, red-headed, freckled, from some little Iowa town, and he had a lyric gift. He wrote ornate,evocative poetry, kind of like Dylan Thomas.

He moved to Iowa City awhile after I did, and one night, after ingesting some peyote or mushrooms or something, he had a psychotic break. I wasn’t there when it happened, but later I went to visit him across the hall at Psych Hospital, where he had been committed. We were sitting on a couch in the visiting area, a big room, about twenty people. He leaned over and said, “You see that guy sitting there on the other side of the room?”. I said, “Yeah, I see him.” “Is that me?”, he whispered. He was quite serious.

Later, in the mid-70’s, after Bob got out for good, I saw him a couple of times in California. He had a job at the Shell oil refinery in Richmond and had married an extraordinarily square woman. The sense I got from him was that he was as crazy as ever, but had learned an elaborate discipline which allowed him to pass. There was no more poetry. He considered it part of his illness. I sensed a fierce determination in him to never ever fall back into whatever the dark, fearsome place was that he had worked his way out of.

I think that’s how it is, for most, if not all of us. We learn to mask our insanity. Some of us are better at it than others. It’s called civilization.