Saturday, February 28, 2009

A Thousand Splendid Suns - Book

I have just finished A Thousand Splendid Suns (Riverhead Books, 2007), the second novel by Khaled Hosseini, author of the best-selling, The Kite Runner, which I read previously and enjoyed. I found this second attempt an extremely interesting novel in several ways.

First, I cannot decide if I can truthfully say I “enjoyed” it. I did finish reading it, fascinated in a strange way, rather like being witness to a series of horrible events that, while horrifying, also have a fascination about them that makes it impossible for you to give up watching, or, in this case, reading. While the book is a novel, it is also, in a way, a kind of horror story.

I guess you could say it escapes being a horror story because it gives the impression of being a true story, that is, one not created for the express purpose of the horror, but pretending to be real, deals with actual (if fictional) events. For fiction writers things do not have to be “real,” but, rather, “realistic.” That is, they must achieve verisimilitude. Hosseini, I think, is a master at this. You certainly read this novel as if it is a true and believable story, even if it is classed as fiction.

This book is also interesting in that it is written across gender lines. That is, it is a male author, attempting to offer accounts of the lives primarily of women. That is, he attempts to describe women’s innermost feelings, emotions, thoughts, psychology, dress, and so on. Ordinarily I am very skeptical of this kind of writing. But here, again, I find myself not questioning his descriptions of those not of his own gender. I have no way of truly knowing whether he is true to these emotions, etc., or not, but while reading about them, I find no reason to question his descriptions. He seems to me to have pretty well mastered the demands of cross-gender description.

More importantly, and even more difficult I think, is writing for a cross-cultural audience. That is, Hosseini is an Afghan, writing in English about Afghanistan, for an English speaking audience. This form of writing can be fraught with peril, not the least of which has been termed by William Gass, the problem of “nonfictitious nature:”

“Nonfictitious nature has its way about a good deal. If in a story it rains, the streets usually get wet; if a man is stabbed, he bleeds; smoke can still be a sign of fire, and screams can be sounds of damsels in distress. No novel is without its assumptions. It is important to find them out, for they are not always the same assumptions the reader is ready, unconsciously, to make…Do we any longer dare to infer goodness from piety, for example, evil from promiscuity, culture from rank?” (W.H.Gass, Fiction and the Figures of Life, N.Y., 1970).

If one were a serious critic, rather than just an ordinary reader like me, or if one were seriously interested in the psychology of Afghans, or, if one was already very conversant with Afghan personality and culture, I believe there may be some reasons to analyze this book following these strictures. That is not a task I set myself, nor, with my casual reading, can I offer any specific example for examination.

There is at least one more potentially serious problem with writing cross-culturally. It has to do with writing down to the audience and didactism. This can be seen in the following criticism of another work of this type, James Houston’s novel, The White Dawn:

“I should say at once that I enjoyed this story, or essay on Eskimo cultural anthropology, or whatever it is, but I did not enjoy it as a novel…Houston slips an extraordinary quantity of anthropological information into his story: how igloos are built and a bed made of skins, how polar bears are killed and a shaman works his magic. But, as I say, about the time of the walrus hunt I realized that the information was the point of the book. The novel’s didactism finally becomes intrusive--to the point where the story, finally, counts for little” (P.S.Prescott, Review of the White Dawn, Newsweek, 4-26-71).

Reading Hosseini’s novels, one does learn quite a lot about Afghan society and culture, and perhaps about Afghan personality and ethos, if his stories are based even loosely on realities of Afghan life. But his aim is not to offer ethnographic details, but stories. To his credit, he does not fall into the trap of didactism and you do not get the sense that the information accompanying the stories is intrusive. In rare moments he perhaps skirts this tendency, but I did not at any point find it seriously interfering with the elegance of his prose, and the stories certainly do not suffer from it. My only criticism from a literary standpoint (I am hardly a literary critic), is that I think his stories, and particularly the endings, are a bit too contrived. But they are novels, after all.

My problem with this particular book is that I wish I had never read it. I wish it had never been written. I wish it had never have had to have been written. I wish it could not have been written at all. I wish it did not represent what I believe could easily be true of the horrors of Afghan society and culture, especially during these recent years of unremitting violence. Gass would have us believe that authors can achieve verisimilitude simply because of their “godliness:” “Authors,” he says, “are gods—a little tinny sometimes but omnipotent no matter what, and plausible on top of that, if they can manage it.” (1970). But in fact, authors are not gods. They do not create something out of nothing at all. I wish Hosseini was simply telling us fairy tales that he makes up merely out of his writer’s imagination, but I cannot believe that. These stories can never truly have happy endings, no matter how contrived.

Friday, February 27, 2009

What is "American?"

Homeless man arrested for
spending night in department
store trying on lingerie.

If there is such a thing as “un-American,” one might suspect there must be something that is intrinsically “American.” But if you look up American in the dictionary, the primary meaning is an American Indian of North or South America. Our first European settlers, then, were decidedly un-American (which, of course, they were in spades, so to speak). But no one was here before American Indians moved here from Asia, so what might we make of that? Anyway, you might find a definition that says something like “relating to America,” and we are all familiar with “made in America.” You can also find things like American dream, American terrier, American English, American spaniel, and on and on. But you will not find a definition for American that helps you to understand un-American or even anti-American. So if we don’t know what American means, how can we know what un-American means? The best you can do is look up un-American, where you will find something like: “not characteristic of or consistent with American customs, principles, or traditions.” While helpful, perhaps, this merely begs the question.

If we knew precisely what American customs, principles, or traditions were, and all agreed on them, maybe we’d be closer to understanding what is un-American. Un-American usually carries a negative connotation. That is, it is something regarded as undesirable. However, American customs, principles, and traditions are not very consistent across the continent. What becomes un-American obviously depends on what you consider American. For example, many people in the U.S. do not celebrate Thanksgiving, or even Christmas. Most of us would surely regard these as American customs and traditions. But we don’t ordinarily label those who do not celebrate them as un-American. We tend to pride ourselves on the right to “keep and bear arms.” But not everyone does. Are they un-American? Some might think so, most others probably not. We are the land of “the free and the brave.” But we are certainly not completely free, and not everyone is brave. Are such individuals un-American? I guess it just depends. So, are there any customs, traditions, or principles we can all agree with? How about upholding and defending our Constitution? The Bush/Cheney administration for the past eight years clearly violated our Constitution in several ways. I haven’t heard anyone claim they were un-American, even if they acknowledge these violations. Even when it comes to something like torture, which we claim to abhor as not American practices, Bush/Cheney admittedly allowed. Again, I have heard no one describe this as un-American, even if they are outraged about it. We might think that wanting our Government to succeed would be something we could all agree on. But even here there are those who have said they hope it fails. While these people are criticized, they are apparently not considered un-American. People are supposed to be equal under the law, but in practice they are not. Poor people routinely go to jail for offenses that wealthy people do not. Are poor people more un-American than the rich? We pride ourselves on universal free public schools, but many of our leaders actively resist funding for this. Are they un-American? I would think that one thing we value is the fact that we do not believe in the violent overthrow of our government. Yet, at this very moment, on one of our TV shows a question is posed to the viewers as to what method do you prefer for revolution? I would also like to think that as Americans we would all believe that our country should be more important than our person or party, but this does not seem to be shared by all parties (certainly not by the current Republican Party). We do not even agree on universal health care, social security, national defense, foreign policy, equal rights for all, or even on a woman’s right to choose. In short, just what are basic American customs, traditions, or principles (core values, if you will)? To me, violating our Constitution and wishing our government to fail, along with suggesting violent revolution, are clearly, and beyond any reasonable doubt, un-American. Apparently not many agree with me, as these individuals go completely unpunished for what I believe is nothing short of treason. Free speech is one thing, encouraging treason is quite another. And free speech, it seems to me, like many other things, can be abused. The annual Conservative Political Action Conference seems to be conducted for just this purpose, if you look carefully at many of the things said there (think Ann Coulter, among others). Of course some of what is said there is just plain hilarious, like the woman that asserted that Obama is a “communist, fascist, street thug.” I take it this was muttered by a capitalist, socialist, pea-brained, know-nothing, lunatic. This was hardly the only act of lunacy at the CPAC. Joe the Bummer (sorry, Plumber), who now is apparently considered a spokesman of sorts for the Republicans, recalled “the good old days” when, if a Congressman criticized the troops he could be shot, a sure venture into fantasyland. Michelle Bachman (I think that’s her name), from Minnesota, was heard yelling at Richard Steele, “you da man, you da man,” a phrase she must have learned in Sunday School? Ron Paul carried on about something-or-other that had to do with the First World War (I fully expected to hear something like “23 skidoo” or “huzza huzza”). John Bolton suggested there might be an atomic bomb dropped on Chicago, and good old Newt the Coot said Obama was just a continuation of George W. Bush. Much fun, but such talk hardly advances the urgent needs of the country. In any case, as there seems to be no consensus or agreement on just what is “American,” and what is un-American, perhaps we should pay more attention to this. If what is considered un-American is simply relative to what one believes is American, and if there is no agreement on what is American, what does this imply for President Obama’s repeated insistence that above all else we are all Americans?

Speculations and loans in foreign fields are likely to bring us into war... The war-for-profit group has counterfeited patriotism.
Charles Lindberg Sr., 1915

There are seventeen species of hummingbirds that breed in the United States.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Big Trouble - Big Book

I have just finished reading Big Trouble by J. Anthony Lukas (Simon and Schuster 1997). The sub-title of this book is “Murder in a Small Western Town Sets Off a Struggle for the Soul of America.” The murder in question was the 1905 killing of ex-governor of Idaho, Francis Steunenberg, by a hidden bomb, in the city of Caldwell, Idaho. The “struggle for the soul” had to do with the fact that this was more than merely a murder trial, but also a trial that pitted the unions against the corporations that were exploiting them, or, if you prefer, between socialism and capitalism. This was at the time when socialism was a power to be reckoned with, especially as it was so much involved in the labor union movements. The bomber, who confessed, was a man named Harry Orchard, who named “Big Bill” Haywood, George Pettibone, and Charles Moyer, who were all officers in the Western Federation of Miners, for commissioning him to assassinate Steunenberg. It was clear that not only did the corporations, most newspapers, and many others, including even the President of the U.S., want to find them all guilty, they wanted if possible to rid the world of The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) and, if possible, socialism itself.

This is a big book in the sense that it is 750 pages. It is also big because of the unbelievable cast of characters that appear in it, from the famous Pinkerton Detectives like the famous (or infamous) James McParland and Charles A. Siringo, to the defense lawyers like Clarence Darrow and Edmund F. Richardson, the prosecutors, William E. Borah (later Senator Borah), James J. Hawley, and others. One also encounters the President of the U.S., Theodore Roosevelt, the Governors of Idaho and Colorado, and even actress Ethyl Barrymore, baseball pitcher, Walter Johnson and hosts of newspaper publishers and reporters. It is also big in the sense that although it took place in a somewhat remote place, Boise and Caldwell, Idaho, it reverberated throughout the world as the issue of socialism was such a huge and serious problem at that time (indeed, the ashes of one of the union members involved were eventually buried in the Kremlin).
I find it difficult to characterize this tome, other than big in every respect. It is also remarkable, strange, detailed, and laden with digressions of all kinds. One might well argue that digressions take up a great deal of the book in that most of them are not truly necessary for the main theme of the book. Similarly, many of the details are not really necessary either. But the book is fascinating, at the same time, because all of the detail and digressions are in themselves of considerable interest. For example, the pages on the young Ethyl Barrymore’s career and state of mind are interesting but hardly necessary for the ongoing trial that she just happens to visit at that time. Even the histories of Caldwell and Boise are not particularly relevant to the main theme of the book, but they are interesting, as is the discussion of baseball and the pitching of Walter Johnson. Thus, even though the book is long and not particularly easy reading, I found it difficult to put it down once I began. The trial drags on for several months and at times the reader loses sight of it entirely. In fact, I believe it is fair to say that the trial, ostensibly the main theme of the book, is in fact only a rather minor feature, being lost in the detail and the digressions by the time it is finished. But it is also a true tale of the Wild West, from the hijacking of a train in Burke, Idaho, to the dynamiting of the Bunker Hill in Kellogg, Idaho. Most everyone was carrying a gun, fighting, shootings and bombings were commonplace with little or no remorse, gambling and prostitution flourished as, apparently did greed, adultery, bribery and theft.

What I found by far the most interesting feature or message one might take away from this work actually gets little mention. A clue can be found in this quote:

“Finally, the opposing camps in this nasty class war sputtering along the icy ridges of the Rocky Mountains had just about canceled each other out. Operative for operative, hired gun for hired gun, bought juror for bought juror, perjured witness for perjured witness, conniving lawyer for conniving lawyer, partisan reporter for partisan reporter, these cockeyed armies had fought each other to an exhausted standoff.” (p. 748)

The fact is, every major protagonist in this battle, without exception, from the President of the United States, the Governors of Colorado and Idaho, the Detectives, Lawyers, Prosecutors, Reporters, and all, acted at times dishonestly, despicably, unethically and illegally. This was true from the beginning, when the defendants were illegally kidnapped in Colorado and secretly transported to Idaho, throughout the trial, and up until the very end. Because of this there is no way one could conclude that “justice” had been served, and even to this day it is not clear that justice was served by this supposedly “lawful” process (there are some compelling arguments that it was not). Aside from the above quote the author does not comment on this. But what does it tell you about our legal system, both then and now? After all the time and effort, all the questionable and illegal maneuvers on both sides, the case was finally decided by only two factors: a man was bribed to retract his confession, and the Judge’s instructions to the jury.

If you have the time to invest this is an account well worth reading and pondering. I have been told that the author committed suicide shortly after the completion of this work. I wouldn’t wonder that he became so disillusioned with what passes for justice that he just couldn’t take any more.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Another Bill Sali?

Father stabs teenage son
In buttocks for not removing
his hat In church.

I have always known that Walt Minnick is basically a Republican (he was one of only 8 Democrats to vote against the stimulus). But what I did not know is that he is also apparently an incipient Bill Sali. How else could one explain his being the sole Democrat to vote against H.R. 911, a bill “to establish standards and enforcement provisions to prevent child abuse and neglect in residential programs…” I guess I forgot two important facts: (1) he represents Idaho, a state only on the periphery of civilization, and (2) for Republicans, civil rights begin at conception and end at birth. Whatever his reasons were they must have been pretty idiosyncratic as all other Democrats voted for the bill and a large number of Republicans also.

President Obama gave a marvelous speech to Congress last night, sufficient on issues and details, long on hope. Governor Bobby Jindal of Louisiana, chosen to give the Republican response, apparently heard a different speech. He did not advance his quest for the Presidency. In fact, I suspect he ended his quest. It seems that virtually everyone, both Republicans and Democrats, thought he was just plain awful. He seems to have only one supporter – Rush Limbaugh. I particularly enjoyed the camera shots of most of the Republicans, sitting there like a bunch of guilty whipped puppies. I applaud Obama’s great pick of Gary Locke, former Governor of Washington, to be Secretary of Commerce. I don’t know what Obama could have been thinking when he tried appointing Republican Judd Gregg, who fortunately declined on grounds of temporary insanity. We are, it seems, apparently moving forward in spite of the mindless “no” party.

There are those who seem unable to believe that Obama was born an American citizen. I guess they either don’t read or watch TV, or else they believe there is a conspiracy by the U.S. Government, the State of Hawaii, all of the Newspapers and News Programs, and more, to deceive them. This reminds me of a story I once heard, or read: A speaker somewhere was making a speech in which he claimed something was true. A young man in the audience asked if he could produce some evidence for his claim. When the speaker said he did not have the evidence with him, the man said, “if you cannot provide the evidence, I cannot believe you.” The speaker then asked him, “do you have your birth certificate with you?” When the young man said he did not, the speaker said, “You will not mind, then, if a call you an impertinent young bastard.” Am I wrong, or does America truly have more than our rightful share of loonies?

I do not understand American men’s obsession with breasts, or with nudity either, for that matter. I saw today somewhere that a topless coffee shop has opened somewhere in Maine, with three topless waitresses and one topless waiter. Wow! Now that’s exciting! And of course we have our well-known Hooters restaurants. Is it the case that American men are unfamiliar with breasts or the rest of the female anatomy? I have worked in places where all the women routinely go topless. No one pays any attention, even I became totally accustomed to it after the first hour or two. Perhaps it has to do with too much bottle feeding, so it represents some kind of subconscious desire for mama? I can’t believe that it makes coffee or food taste better. Similarly, have most American men never seen a naked female body? If not, where have they been? Nowadays one can see all the naked bodies you could ever desire just by turning on your TV (and apparently a great many men do this routinely now in hotel rooms). And of course nudity is even pretty common now in regular motion pictures, even when there is no ostensible reason to show nudity. Obviously breasts and nudity are in demand. There must be something wrong with me because I just don’t get it. Perhaps I’m just too old. I’m sure I giggled and ogled when I was a teenager. Maybe I’m repressing this. Maybe I just grew up to be a prude. I don’t know, but I don’t get it. When I’m hungry or thirsty I just want food and drink, I don’t really care much what my server looks like. A graduate student just returned from his fieldwork once asked his advisor, a well known physical anthropologist, if he would like copies of any of his pictures. He said, “yeah, gimme one each of the titty pictures and one of the kid pissin’.” Oh, the romance of anthropology! Once when I was a boy, one of our two local theaters was running some kind of adventure/travel picture. They advertised that no one under 18 would be allowed. Naturally we were curious and wanted to attend. Apparently business was bad because after the first day they removed the restriction. The shocking scenes we were to have been denied were native women topless. We were very disappointed. But while I’m on the subject, how many topless or naked white women did you ever seen in the National Geographic? Man,we live in a strange world indeed.

I think on-stage nudity is disgusting, shameful and damaging to all things American. But if I were 22 with a great body, it would be artistic, tasteful, patriotic and a progressive religious experience.
Shelley Winters

Fish do not have occipital condyles.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009


For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, my mind of late has been thinking about addictions, more specifically, the “problem” of addiction. This is a question made more complicated by the idea that addictions can be psychological as well as physical/chemical. When I think of addictions I first think of substances like heroin, opium, and even alcohol, substances that if withheld from those addicted to them cause obvious and severe withdrawal symptoms. Nicotine might be considered here also, as those who quit smoking do experience withdrawal symptoms, but not quite as severe or life threatening as those associated with more powerful drugs. I suggest we consider these kinds of addictions “real” addictions. Individuals who claim to be (psychologically) addicted to things like diet pepsi, mountain dew, chewing gum, chocolate, or even something as esoteric as deep-fried chicken gizzards, for the sake of discussion, I term “false” addictions. They are not entirely false because people who believe they are addicted to them do experience discomfort when they are denied them, but this is nowhere near of the same intensity or actual physical discomfort of the real addictions. Here I am basically concerned only with real addictions and their problems.

It appears to me that the problems of real addictions are twofold: first and foremost they constitute a medical problem, and secondly a social problem. Why and how people become addicted to narcotics and such is a study for people in the medical and related professions. What are the physiological, genetic, or other biological factors that cause addictions to occur in some people and not others, to some substances and not others, in some circumstances but not others, and so on. What are the mechanisms involved in withdrawal and its attendant pain and trauma? These reasons are by no means entirely understood and a great deal of on-going research is devoted to them all the time. As purely medical problems these do not generally demand much attention from those outside the professions of medicine and basic research.

Addictions as social problems are quite another matter, and do demand attention from the general public. As addicts will go to virtually any lengths to acquire the substances to which they are addicted, this results in deception, theft, even murder, illegal sales, smuggling, gang wars, bankruptcies, broken families, divorce, and human misery of all kinds. Interestingly enough, the problem here is not the addiction per se, but, rather, the restrictions, laws and regulations, that stand in the way of addicts acquiring the substances upon which they are so completely dependent. In other words, societies create these problems for themselves. Most of them could be eliminated relatively easily by simply changing the laws. Just as the prohibition of alcohol failed, so, too, are the prohibitions relating to drugs failing. That this is true can be seen in the case of Switzerland where drugs were decriminalized and made available to addicts. This resulted in an almost immediate substantial reduction in drug-related crimes. Heroin addicts and others can visit clinics set up to give them the drugs they need and many come in, get their fix, and then go about their daily lives as productive, gainfully employed citizens. It is well known there have been many people, including some very famous and successful people, who lived as heroin, cocaine, or other drug addicts most of their lives. There are probably many people, especially in professions with access to drugs, who live such lives.

Does it really matter very much if someone is addicted to a drug or drugs they need to allow them to live productive lives? There are millions of people who are dependent upon drugs but who are not classified as addicts, for example, those who have to take drugs to control cholesterol, blood pressure, and such. It is true they can do without these drugs, and probably do not suffer serious withdrawal symptoms, but only if they are willing to take the chances of heart attacks or strokes or whatever. Basically, these people are just as dependent upon drugs as are addicts, but we don’t condemn them or classify them as lawbreakers or drug addicts. What does it matter if someone has to have a daily fix of heroin or cocaine or any other drug, provided they are under medical care and do not constitute a menace to themselves or society? Many of our prohibited drugs are sold over the counter in other countries. Until just after the turn of the 20th century laudanum, a mixture of opium and alcohol, was widely prescribed for virtually every ailment (nowadays it is only prescribed for diarrhea). As far as I know, laudanum was discontinued when the addictive properties of opium were better understood and better drugs became available, not because it was regarded as unnecessarily dangerous or undesirable. It was even spoon-fed to babies at times and I believe that its use was still widespread even when I was a child. Similarly, cocaine was one of the original ingredients in coca-cola, which was originally considered a patent medicine. Cocaine was also used in a wide variety of other patent medicines until probably well into the early 1900’s when, what has been described as a kind of “moral panic,” occurred. Cocaine and other drugs suddenly became considered dangerous and started to be controlled.

It seems to me that it was this moral panic that gave us Reefer Madness and other such nonsensical fears. I suspect this moral panic still survives in our culture when it comes laws and regulations relating to drugs, drug use, and addictions. What was, and should have remained a medical problem, became considered a social and political one, and one that now costs us billions of dollars to no avail, encourages crime, including murders, makes otherwise ordinary citizens into criminals, and fills our prisons with otherwise quite innocent people. Why should we not decriminalize drugs, leave the problem to the medical profession where it rightfully belongs, and abandon our ridiculous and failed “war on drugs?” Here is a serious and expensive problem that could be solved virtually with the stroke of a pen. There are no doubt reasons why this will not happen, but I doubt there are any truly good reasons.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Please trod on us

Five teens arrested for beating
18 year-old to death, claimed
they were “ just having fun.”

“Please trod on us.” I take it this must be the Democratic motto these days. For the third time Karl Rove has refused even to appear before Congress, let alone testify. I am not very expert on these matters, but as I understand it, failure to even show up represents a clear contempt of Congress and could land one in jail. Rove has claimed “Executive Immunity” but that claim has already been discredited. But even if that issue is still to be completely settled it has nothing to do with whether or not Rove is in contempt of Congress, which he clearly is. So the question now is, will Congress do anything about it? Like have him arrested and forced to appear? They could, and they should. But apparently they enjoy having their legitimate authority flouted time and time again. “Wimps” is too generous a term for these spineless insects pretending to be Congresspersons. I want Rove arrested and thrown into the slammer, and the same for Meirs and Bolten and anyone else who is in contempt of Congress. Enough of this pussyfooting about. It is said they are “negotiating” with Rove, et al. There is nothing I can see to negotiate about. It is quite simple. Democrats in Congress simply have to do their Constitutional duty and stop letting these Republican swine walk all over them.

This unhappily reminds me of Waxman, all show and no action. How many investigations has Waxman begun? How many have ever ended? All we ever hear or heard (he’s been kind of quiet lately) is/was that he was launching another investigation into something or other, but as far as I know nothing has ever come of any of these investigations. These Congressional Democrats are really big on threatening things but seem to never actually follow through on anything. You might think they would get tired of being walked on, but apparently not. Perhaps masochism is a prerequisite for Democrats to hold office.

Bobby Jindal, Hailey Barbour, and one other Republican Governor whose name I forget, are making big noises about refusing all or part of the stimulus money. I think the case of Jindal is the funniest. He seems to think that by “standing on principle” it will enhance his Presidential possibilities. He says he will not accept a lot of money earmarked for unemployment insurance (but he has certainly accepted most of the 3.6 billion earmarked for Louisiana). I would love to see him explain to some of his unemployed constituents why they should go hungry for his principles. Actually, it would seem to me if he has Presidential aspirations he is doing precisely the wrong thing (I don’t believe Jindal can ever be President in any case). These Republicans are betting it all that Obama is going to fail. Perhaps he will, but at least he’s trying. Even if he does fail in this impossible task he’ll still look like a giant compared to these absurd mental midgets.

Don’t you begin to wonder where the Republicans find these people they put into office. Think Richard Shelby of Alabama, who just suggested that perhaps Obama really isn’t a natural born citizen (a rumor that was squelched long ago) and therefore might not be a legitimate President. Apparently Shelby neither reads nor watches television. Why should he, Republicans know everything they need to know which is easily summed up in the phrase “tax breaks for rich people.” Republicans day-by-day seem to be digging themselves into an increasingly deep hole from which they will quite likely never emerge. I doubt the hip-hoppers are going to come to their rescue.

Obama is getting a lot of criticism for some of the things he is doing, like apparently continuing some of Bush’s positions (on emails, renditions, Afghanistan, etc.). We “Progressives” don’t like or approve of everything he is doing. Frankly, I don’t understand what he’s doing all the time. But, then, I don’t understand electricity, the internet, certainly not google, or even a billion or trillion dollars. But I don’t let it bother me. Until Obama does something clearly disastrous I’m sticking by him, as, it seems, is most of the American public. Go Obama! I like most of what you’ve done so far.

Frisbeetarianism is the belief that when you die, your soul goes up on the roof and gets stuck.
George Carlin

Playing cards were found in China as early as the 9th century.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

The Journey to the West (10)

Everyone is on the same journey to the west, but each person's journey is unique and fraught with different experiences. As Lewis Black said recently, "We are like snowflakes."

It might seem strange that anyone would feature a pool hall in their memoir, but a pool hall played a very important part in my young life. During most of my time in High School we had no Youth Center or any approximation of one. We hung out somewhat in a Soda Fountain and Candy Store called Saxton’s, congregating there after school for a while. There was a story that Herb Saxon, who owned and operated the place, had lost his penis in an accident. I’m not sure anyone believed it, but it was supposedly common knowledge. We drank coca colas and ate banana splits and played the juke box (you couldn’t dance there) but such a hangout was no substitute for the pool hall, which was an all male hangout where much more important and more adult activities occurred. I don’t remember just how it was that some of us boys started hanging out in the pool hall. Interestingly enough, some boys never ever even entered the place, those being the sons of the local bankers, lawyers, and I guess you could say the presumptively “upper class” of our town. Those of us who were of the pool hall were somehow not members of the upper class. This had no effect on me as I was always involved with everyone and was invited to the dances and such held in the basements and recreation rooms of the more well-to-do. I’m not sure why this was so, but it was so. It might have had something to do with the fact that Henry J’s girlfriend (Henry was a banker’s son) was a close friend of my girlfriend. It may have had something to do with the fact that my father was not a miner and occupied a kind of indeterminate status in the community. And it might have been because my mother was educated and made friends with everyone even though she was deaf. In any case, the pool hall came to be almost like my home away from home.

No one under twenty-one years of age was supposed to be in the pool hall, but the local police and even our parents knew we hung out there, and they also knew that the management did not serve us drinks, other than soft drinks and milk shakes. Of course they also knew we had no other place to congregate and “idle hands were the devil’s workshop.” To understand how this worked it is necessary to describe the pool hall itself. When you entered the front door to your right was an area comprised of four stools at that end of a long old-fashioned bar. There was also a juke box located there. This small area was partitioned off from the main bar only by a small partition that kept you from looking into the bar (but only if you were seated on one of the stools). It was somewhat like a miniature soda fountain where ice cream, milk shakes, and popcorn were available. Beer was not served there. If you were entering, or just standing around, you could see directly into the supposedly out-of-bounds bar itself. In the bar there were some ten or twelve stools occupied mostly by beer drinkers, punchboards, pickled eggs, sausages, hard boiled eggs, and such. You could play dice, double or nothing, with the bartender for beer or snacks, 4-5-6 being the game, played with leather dice cups. On the wall opposite the stools was a pinball machine and, for a time, four slot machines. A large partition and display case separated this area from the pool hall itself. You could enter the pool hall by walking around the ends of this large partition. When you did so, you found yourself looking at the curved stand-up end of the bar, a huge safe, and the pool tables. There was a genuine billiard table first, next to it was a full-sized snooker table, then an ordinary pool table, a slight rise up and then another pool table. Also on this slightly higher level was a huge and beautifully constructed chest of drawers intended to hold cuesticks (although by this time it was not actually used). Each heavy drawer was sculpted to hold cues and was a relic from the days when pool rooms were of much greater importance. I’m certain the cost of such a piece of furniture would have been prohibitive by the time we inhabited the place. Then behind this behemoth, in the far corner, was a poker table. Technically, we should not have been allowed either in the bar or in the pool room. But no one paid any attention to those rules and we spent large amounts of our time there. Above this pool hall was an apartment where one of the owners lived with his family.

The name of this establishment, when I first became a habituĂ©, was Babe and Jim’s. It had an interesting history, or so I was told. Originally it was created by a man named Dude and was called Dude’s (maybe Dude’s Place). Two of the employees were Babe and Jim. For reasons that were never made clear, Dude decided to leave and move elsewhere. As neither Babe nor Jim had much money, Dude told them they could have the place and pay him off when they finally made some money (there were no slot machines at that time). So the place became Babe and Jim’s and did reasonably well. However, Babe and Jim did not get along very well as co-owners. Babe was an easy-going personable guy who did not let much of anything bother him. Jim, on the other hand, was kind of dour, serious, and not very sociable. And he did not want any kids hanging around the place, whereas Babe welcomed and enjoyed them. Finally it was decided that one of them would have to buy out the other, but neither of them still had much money. They were to meet one night and see which one would prevail. Somehow, Babe found someone to back him, and so the story goes, he showed up with $5000 cash in his back pocket. When he put it on the billiard table Jim was unable to match it and so he left. The place continued to be known as Babe and Jim’s for quite some time and Babe eventually settled with Dude. Although I have no way of knowing for certain, I always believed that when Dude created the place it was a genuine old-fashioned bar and pool hall. This impression was reinforced by the occasional presence of a couple of very old men who obviously had played billiards routinely all their lives and possessed elaborate old custom-made cues with ivory and mother-of-pearl inlays. The four stools in front where they sold ice cream, milkshakes and popcorn, must have been a later innovation. Once you became a "regular" it was a friendly place where everyone knew everyone else and for the most part got along well. It played an important part in our socialization and enculturation.

Saturday, February 21, 2009


Man buys coffin, writes his
obituary, jumps in with gun,
fails to kill himself.

When I was a boy it was not at all uncommon for people, wanting to dispose of an unwanted litter of dogs or cats, to put them in a gunny sack and throw them in the river. I also witnessed people disposing of pets without even bothering to put them in a bag. One of my most vivid memories is coming across some newborn kittens casually tossed into about an inch of water on a driveway. A boy with me burst into tears and was upset for several days thereafter (he later returned from Vietnam boasting of how many “gooks” he had killed). As unpleasant as this was it was accepted by most people as a necessity of life. Nowadays, of course, we have pet shelters and such trying to save unwanted pets by finding new homes for them, encourage spaying and neutering, and so on, but even now there are still hundreds of thousands of pets that are “put down” every year. I find this deplorable, but I have no realistic solution for it.

Having to dispose of unwanted pets is one thing, but abusing and torturing pets for no apparent reason is quite another. Just today I saw and item where a young man put a four week old kitten in a microwave. A friend rescued it but too late to save its life. A young woman threw a kitten to its death off a high rise apartment . In the past couple of years I have seen several times where kittens have been set on fire. Just the other day a young man was arrested for throwing puppies out the window of his moving automobile. George W. Bush, as a boy, apparently enjoyed placing firecrackers in the mouths of frogs and blowing them up. I have personally witnessed this done to fish. I don’t know what the motive is for this kind of sadistic behavior, but it clearly isn’t just having to dispose of unwanted pets. There is a genuine element of sadism involved. There is said to be a correlation between this kind of behavior and subsequent crimes, violent and otherwise. If these people are punished it is usually just probation, community service, or some such relatively minor matter. I become outraged at reports like this and I believe these kinds of individuals should be subject to much more serious penalties. I think it outrages me mostly because these animals are so helpless and cannot defend themselves.

But then I think, why should I be so upset about this when the same thing is happening to human infants. I know of one account of a baby being put into a microwave, another of a baby being fried in a large frying pan, still other infants being beaten to death by their parents or babysitters, and so on. In fact, such reports are fairly frequent these days. The penalties for such behavior in the case of humans is much more severe than for similar behavior towards animals. I’m not sure this is entirely fair to animals. In any case, it seems to me there are forces at play in these kinds of abuse cases, for both animals and humans, that go far beyond what we should consider “normal.” There is some sadistic pathology involved that we do not seem to understand very well. I’m not sure we have even tried very hard to fathom this.

Still another thing about pets and their treatment that bothers me is how pets are treated here while millions of people around the world are starving. Our pets eat better than many people do. Ads for cat and dog food, in the context of world poverty, are virtually obscene. “Fancy Feast” and others of that ilk must be horrible for many people to have to endure. Dog and cat shows, and clothing for dogs and cats, along with marriage ceremonies for them, and other such frivolities, must strike many third world citizens as absolutely insane (me too, for that matter). I think much of the problem here stems from the fact that nowadays people keep pets more for amusement than for serious purposes, like controlling mice and rats, hunting animals, and such. As toys I guess they can simply be disposed of when the novelty runs out or one’s circumstances change. This can be seen, I think, in the reports coming in at the moment of thousands, perhaps as many as a million pets being abandoned because of the economic downturn. As this looks like it will get worse, and on a world-wide basis, we should give more attention to it, although I don’t think we need to go to the extremes of PETA.

Women and cats do as they damned well please, and men and dogs had best learn to live with it.
Alan Holbrook

Genetically, the Bushmen of the Kalahari represent the oldest known human population.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Could it, might it, will it?

Woman opens door for dog,
goat rushes in, jumps on counter,
eats her chocolate cake.

Could it, might it, will it? I mean, there is increasing reason to believe that something might actually occur with respect to all the various crimes of the Bush/Cheney Administration. Even Nancy Pelosi has gotten onboard, she who would not even consider impeachment. I never understood her reasons for opposing impeachment. She said at one time something to the effect that “if anyone could point to a case where they had done something wrong…” It was already common knowledge they had done something wrong, like illegal wiretapping, lying us into war, etc. Now she says she is interesting in investigating and even prosecuting anything and everything, except the Iraq war. I find this mysterious and can only conclude that she feels she and other Democrats may be exposed as guilty as well as others. But I think it is great news that Rove and others may really be forced to testify, especially “Fredo” Gonzales. He actually said somewhere recently that he always tried to cooperate whenever he was asked, you can’t get much more absurd than that. Remember when he said 64 times in one day that “he couldn’t recall,” or “I don’t remember?” Anyway, more and more influential people seem to be jumping on the investigate/prosecute bandwagon. I can barely conceal my delight.

It is really difficult to figure out which Republicans are the worst, the hypocrites like Bond and Graham, who voted against the stimulus but are taking the money anyway, or the four or five Republican Governors who are suggesting they might not take the money. It has been suggested that at least four of these are contemplating running for the Presidency and that is why they won’t take the money. I have no idea, but I confess this strategy doesn’t make sense to me. Why would their constituents vote for them after they refused to give them money and had to thereby probably raise their taxes? While they themselves may be true ideological believers, I wonder if their constituents are equally as stubborn and foolish. Both of our Idaho Senators voted against the stimulus. I have not heard as yet whether they want to take the money (but I bet they will).

Michael Steele, the only elected black official in the Republican Party to hold high office (and lead the party) has suggested their strategy to recover from their defeats is to appeal to the “hip-hop” generation, thus proving that the Republicans are even further divorced from reality than we otherwise thought. This can only be described as pathetic.

I have never knowingly listened to Rush Limbaugh even though he is a major feature on our local radio. But I have occasionally heard snatches of his rantings, especially as he is played in some of the offices in our Courthouse, and in some local businesses. From the little I have heard I suspect he is most likely mentally unbalanced (too many illegal drugs?), and I find it inconceivable that anyone could take him seriously. Thus to know that he has an audience of millions is beyond my comprehension. What is worse, it appears that most of the residents of my county listen to him constantly. This accounts for bumper stickers around here that read, “Rush is right,” “Sarah,” or “I love my country, it’s the government I fear,” or “Hungry and out of work, eat an environmentalist,” or “Protected by Smith and Weston,” or “Nuke their ass and steal their gas.” This creates an environment where reason and compromise are simply out of the question. Fortunately there are a few intelligent, reasonable, and better informed people around, a distinct minority, but an anchor of sanity in a sea of incomprehensible ignorance.


Death is a fisherman,
the world we see His fish-pond is,
and we the fishes be;
His net some general sickness; howe'er he
Is not so kind as other fishers be;
For if they take one of the smaller fry,
They throw him in again, he shall not die:
But death is sure to kill all he can get,
And all is fish with him that comes to net.

Benjamin Franklin

Walking on fire is found in many different cultures around the world. It is known to have existed as early as 1200 B.C.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Death watch?

Woman handcuffed, stripped,
diapered, forced to listen to
three days of bible readings.

I have always found death very unpleasant to watch. I think I am now watching my first death that I do not find unpleasant to watch, namely, the death of the Republican Party. While I could, of course, be wrong, it seems to me that the Republican Party can only go further downhill from here, and even here is not a very strong position for them. They have voted 100% against the stimulus bill in the House, and virtually that in the Senate (minus 3 votes that, in themselves, were not really helpful). In California, 42 billion dollars in arrears, one Republican vote is holding up the plan to overcome this terrible shortfall. Perhaps they will get the one more Republican vote tonight, perhaps they won’t. But even if they do it has already been made clear in California and on the national level that Republicans could care less about the nation and its citizens. Ideology is one things, but pragmatism is quite another, and it is in this latter that Republicans seem to have a form of congenital blindness. When you combine their negative vote against helping those in distress with the hypocrisy they are also displaying about it, I cannot see how they can survive much longer. Some Republican Congresspersons are boasting to their constituents about what they managed to get included in this massive bill. But they don’t point out they actually voted against the bill. They are now even publicly being described as the party of “no.” Being ideologically opposed to taxes is one thing, abandoning their country is quite another.

If, having dug themselves into this undesirable position by voting no as a bloc, and even boasting about it, they are now facing a barrage of subpoenas and questions about their recent past behavior. Up until now they have refused to answer questions about possible criminal acts and cover-ups and who knows what all, but It appears they are going to have to face being forced to testify. And if this happens, as we already know they are guilty on many counts, this can only drag their party further down into the sewer of negativity and obfuscation they have created for themselves. If this should reach the level of Bush/Cheney (which it truly should) I would think that would have to be the final blow, relegating them firmly into a final rigor mortis. It just couldn’t happen to a finer bunch (of criminals). I think I might be right about this, but justice moves slowly (if at all).

If this isn’t bad enough, they are presently leaderless, unless you consider Rush Limbaugh a leader of their party. And so instead of going away quietly, they continue to feed us a never-ending torrent of lies. They claim things are in the stimulus that are not in it at all. They claim the stimulus is really designed to allow Obama to take over the country, manage the census, redistrict the entire nation, and on and on, with no connection with reality at all. And they insist it will not work but offer nothing realistic in its place (other than more absurd tax cuts). Not only do they appear to be dying, they appear to actually have a death wish. It is difficult to see how their current behavior can be explained in any other way. No government, no taxes, no compromises, no concern for the consequences, is not a foundation upon which to build a nation. Carried to an extreme it is no less than a form of insanity and a harbinger of disaster. They have led us to the very brink of disaster and are standing stubbornly in the way of any attempt at recovery, smug in their partycentric world view that is leading them over the cliff and into the depths of oblivion. I say go quickly and good riddance.

On my monitor screen at rest is a gorgeous picture of Stonehenge. Some think this was some kind of religious shrine, some think it had to do with healing, some think it had to do with astronomy, some think it was a burial site, some think it was built by people from outer space. I think those who built it did it just for fun so those who came later could try to guess what it was for.

Politics is perhaps the only profession for which no preparation is thought necessary.
Robert Louis Stevenson

The entire life span of a fruit fly is approximately one week.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

When men were men

When friend refuses to leave
host pours tequila on him
and sets him on fire.

Oh, East is East, and West is West, and never the twain shall meet,Till Earth and Sky stand presently at God's great Judgment Seat;But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth,When two strong men stand face to face, tho' they come from the ends of the earth.
Rudyard Kipling

I guess it could be argued that back in “the good old days” when men were men and engaged in combat one with another, or even when two armies were engaged against each other, there might have been an element of romance, or at least some premium placed on personal bravery and skill in battle. But of course technology changed all that a long time ago. It was obviously largely due to superior technology that Europeans so successfully overran the world and established their despicable empires in all parts of the globe. Bows and arrows and spears were just no match for guns and cannons, nitroglycerin and dynamite, and then planes and tanks and huge warships and rockets, etc. Now we are witnessing another chapter in this evolution of technology and warfare. As a simple example let me just mention our unmanned drones that we are now flying over Pakistan and Afghanistan. Operated from a far distance away these planes, equipped with guns and bombs, can fly over and attack targets everywhere with no danger to humans at all. We are, similarly, at this very moment perfecting robots that can patrol streets and whatever and fire machine guns at the rate of 750 rounds per minute. This says nothing of nuclear bombs, biological agents, and other methods of mass destruction that do not risk any loss of our lives. One of the things I find most interesting about this is that it does not require “strong men.” Indeed, the famous 97 pound weakling could operate these things. People trained and smart enough to use the controls are all that is required,computer people and such, nerds, if you will.

Basically, this means that whatever country has the best technology would ultimately win in any contest over time (the Israelis are apparently surreptitiously killing Iranian scientists). As the West, in general, has had the best (we are rapidly falling behind at the moment), we could have imposed our will upon most everyone else (and, in sense, we have tried). What I wonder about, is why we haven’t just killed everyone we don’t like? We could, in principle, wipe a country off the map, so to speak. What keeps us from doing so? Is there some understood ceiling on how many can permissibly be killed? If so, why? I can’t see how or why morality enters into this. I mean, is it moral to kill say 100,000, or a million, or even several million, but not everyone? More down to earth, is it moral to use machines, like drones or robots, to do our killing for us, when our “enemies” cannot reciprocate? How can it be that it is often a crime to kill one person (although not in war) but acceptable, even “noble,” and not a crime to kill hundreds in a different context? Genocide, we say, is impermissible, but how about slow genocide over a long period of time (Palestinians). Morality would seem to tell us that it is wrong to kill, and even in war we claim to have certain rules that must be followed. But it is more than clear by now that the rules no longer apply in “wars” of the past few decades, and certainly do not seem to apply at the moment. What is moral about the use of cluster bombs, or phosphorus bombs, or bombing innocent civilians, which has become commonplace? Similarly, I ask myself, what is moral about using drones and robots to kill people, including innocents? It seems to me that when technology takes over, morality is simply forgotten. It’s as if we cannot resist playing with our new “toys” no matter how deadly or immoral it might become. It’s as if, when technology rises morality rests, and the more impersonal war becomes the more destructive it is. Guernica, I believe, changed us from being warriors into mass killers, and we seem to become worse rather than better. The question at the moment seems to be, will we blow ourselves up first, or just slowly smother in our own filthy nests. I know what we need… more tax breaks.

What difference does it make to the dead, the orphans and the homeless, whether the mad destruction is wrought under the name of totalitarianism or the holy name of liberty or democracy?
Mahatma Gandhi

There are some 350,000 species of beetles.

Monday, February 16, 2009


Memphis man shot to death
for parking too close to
shooter’s Hummer.

Honestly! What is one to make of these Republicans? McCain is claiming the stimulus bill was not bipartisan because Republicans were not consulted. This is not true. Where does he think those absurd tax cuts came from? A couple of other Republicans are boasting about what they managed to get included in the bill, but then did not even vote for it. Now Lindsay Graham is saying things are so bad we may have to nationalize the banks. But I guess they aren’t bad enough for him to vote for the bill. What’s with these guys, did losing the election further addle their already addled brains?

Things do seem to be looking up, if, indeed, it is not too late for that. Some of the predictions for the future I have seen are even direr than dire. Human civilization (if there ever even was such a thing) may be about to disappear entirely, what with economic collapse, global warming, a Democratic President, and Gay marriages. But Hillary’s first trip as Secretary of State is to Asia (an unprecedented good move). The North Korean situation may not be as bad as we thought. It looks like we may actually engage in diplomatic relations with Iran. Obama seems to have learned his lesson about trying to deal with the Republican mafia. He is also rethinking our Afghanistan plans (the fact that he is even thinking about it is a great leap forward from the Bush confusion). It appears that the Yoo rulings on torture are going to be seriously questioned as to their substance and ethics (so that he and his cohorts might well be subject to some serious accountability). Even Karl Rove may be forced to testify. The stimulus bill will be signed tomorrow in Denver so money will start flowing into jobs here and there. Of course we do not know where all this will lead, but it is a welcome change from the past eight years of murder,theft, arson and rape.

Whereas much of what is happening at least looks like it’s taking a more positive direction, the Israeli/Palestinian problem has taken a huge step backwards. Israel has decided to even more right wingish and conservative than ever. If Netanyahu becomes Prime Minister there will be no chance for peace whatsoever as he has announced he will never accept a two party state solution or give an inch on land for peace. If, on the off chance, Livni should be made Prime Minister, she would at least be open to trading land for peace, but is otherwise a real hawk just like Netanyahu. The third candidate, who did better than anyone expected, is even more to the right than the other two. Lieberman is an extremist who would take away the citizenship rights of Arab citizens of Israel, among other things. Of course they would all prefer to see Gaza just disappear and will continue their hard line against that beleaguered and helpless enclave. As Israel has already announced the annexation of 425 more acres of Palestinian land in order to build more settlements, and this is completely contrary to U.S. desires, Obama will apparently have an absolutely impossible situation facing him.

On a whim I just finished re-reading Mr. Blandings Builds his Dream House, by Eric Hodgins. Although this hilarious account was written long ago (1946), I believe it should still be required reading for anyone who wants to buy some land and build a house.

We Americans live in a nation where the medical-care system is second to none in the world, unless you count maybe 25 or 30 little scuzzball countries like Scotland that we could vaporize in seconds if we felt like it.
Dave Barry

The dollar raised to 1.2646 against the euro today, 1.25 is expected.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

The Journey to the West (9)

The outline of my journey continues:

It might be said that my Journey to the West passed one milestone when I finally became a genuine teenager. I believe my teens were perhaps the most important years of my life. This was mostly due to two developments that came at about the same time: I acquired a girlfriend and I discovered the Pool Room. Let me discuss the first of these achievements first. It might be more appropriate to say that a girl I knew acquired me as a boyfriend, as I do not know exactly how it happened that we became a couple, but we did. From the eighth grade until I graduated from High School I had the same girlfriend. There were a few times when we temporarily broke up, but those times never lasted more than a few days. I have never truly understood why this girl chose me as her boyfriend. I was skinny, not very big, wore glasses, and was neither very handsome nor important during our school years. But we were quickly identified as a couple and I am sure everyone thought we would inevitably marry.

I was a terrible boyfriend, sexist, possessive, jealous, and controlling, but this did not seem to matter much to her as she stuck by me no matter what. I guess you might say we were “in love” although I do not recall that expressions of love between us were terribly common or exuberant. She was much more inclined along those lines than was I. I knew next to nothing about romance and even less about sex. And as there was no such thing as sex education in those days, it was all experimentation, trial and error. With a steady girlfriend and teenage hormones it was inevitable that virginity was quickly lost, although for various reasons it was more difficult than you might think. As we were young, had no place of our own, no automobile, nowhere much to spend comfortable time alone, our love life was not only erratic, but creative in the extreme. We managed. That we managed without a pregnancy (except for one frightening false alarm) I thought was most probably miraculous.

At the end of the eighth grade we moved across the street into the ninth grade and High School. It wasn’t much different, we still took English, History, Math, Social Studies, and such, but we also had to take Chemistry and Biology. We could elect to take Journalism, Typing, and Accounting, the latter being the most boring subject I had ever encountered. I was not a good student. I did well in the few classes I liked, but I was hopeless in ones I did not like. Algebra and Geometry, along with Accounting, were just not for me. But High School was not all bad, there were parties and pep rallies and football and basketball games to attend, and frequent dances and lots of laughs. We roller skated with those old fashioned skates that you put on your regular shoes with a key to tighten them. In the summers we fished and played in the mountains and swam in Placer Creek until the city turned our tennis courts into a swimming pool (hardly anyone ever played tennis).The pool was a Godsend and we spent most of the summers there, tanning ourselves dangerously dark. I desperately wanted to learn to do fancy dives but failed anything but the simplest.

The war, of course, dragged on. We were not doing well for quite a long time but eventually it started to turn around. I had my first real job, stacking shelves in our small Safeway store (I still have my original Social Security card). I earned the less than staggering sum of 25 cents per hour. There was no television so we listened to the radio and read whatever books we could find. Amos and Andy were still on in those days. No one ever suggested it was in any way undesirable. And there were movies. We all went at least once a week, on Saturday, and followed the serials faithfully, Hopalong Cassidy, Flash Gordon, Roy Rogers and others that were really corny and far-fetched. Tom Mix and Ken Maynard still survived but were fading. There was in those days a News Program that came on before the movie (Movietone News of the Day). We saw some war footage and received brief reports on the battles that were raging in far off places we had never heard of before. The young Frank Sinatra crooned and loosened his bow tie while hordes of girls screamed and swooned.

I was rarely ill in High School. Whenever I was and stayed home my mother would bring me a chocolate milk shake. She seemed to think chocolate milk shakes had some curative powers I guess, because she never failed in this endeavor. Almost every school day my girlfriend and I would walk home to my house for lunch. Mother would give us soup or sandwiches. She was very fond of my girlfriend and used to caution me about “getting in trouble, but if I did she would always stand by me.” I guess she thought it was comforting, but to me it only caused more anxiety and worry.

It was also at this time that the kids from Burke began attending our High School. The school in Burke only went to the eigth grade, so those students who wanted to continue had to be bussed to our High School. As these kids had a well-deserved reputation for being tough they posed a threat to our status quo. This was especially true for me as one of them had been my girlfriend's previous boyfriend and was rumored to be still interested in her. Problems, problem, the journey to the west is always fraught with them.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Not bad for a few days work

Web site founded to upgrade image
of Muslims forced to close when founder
admits to beheading his wife.

He closed Guantanamo, ended torture, established paycheck rights for working women, defended their reproductive rights, to action on global warming, restored workplace protections, gave a marvelous and inspiring Lincoln Day speech, reversed some threatening environmental policies, and had Congress pass the largest stimulus package in history. Not bad for twenty five days work. Barack Obama, our 44th President, is doing well. But he still hasn’t solved the Israeli/Palestinian issue, the Iran problem, the Afghanistan problem, and hasn’t yet withdrawn all out troops from Iraq. What’s wrong with him, he’s been in office for almost a month. I guess I should have voted for McCain and Whats-her-name. Well, you can’t win ‘em all.

Perhaps the most important development of all, however, is that Obama has restored science to its rightful place in American life. You recall that under Bush/Cheney scientists were given little respect and at times even forced to have their findings changed if they conflicted with what the Bush administration wanted to hear. This was a national disgrace. Obama has now funded and encouraged science to an almost unprecedented level and restored it to its proper place. I don’t think we’re going to be hearing so much about “Intelligent Design” or teaching nonsense in our science classrooms. This is as it should be and is of immeasurable importance to our future. It should help to overcome the mental bankruptcy I have previously mentioned but, of course, that will take time. Scientists meeting at the Annual Association of Scientists are overjoyed, as they should be.

Hopefully, Obama has been cured of his insistence on trying to work “across the aisles” with these recalcitrant and pig-headed Republicans who have now made it clear they are not interested in the welfare of the nation or its citizens. They are betting Obama (and thus our country) will fail, and by thus doing so will return them to power. I don’t think Obama will fail, although I’m sure there will be requests for a lot more money in the near future. In any case, even if Obama and the Democrats failed twice over they still couldn’t possibly be as hopeless and incompetent as the Bush/Cheney bunch. I don’t care how negative the Republicans are being, I see signs of hope everywhere: Afghanistan, Iran, the “war on drugs,” health care, global warming, and more. One exceedingly positive development that makes me believe that Congress is not completely brain dead is the fact that billions for nuclear power were eliminated from the stimulus package. Hurrah! And although Obama himself does not seem to be interested in getting involved in holding Bush/Cheney and others accountable, he is clearly not keeping others from doing so. We may hear Rove after all, lying son-of-a-bitch that he is. For the first time in years I actually think things are looking up!

I repeat...that all power is a trust; that we are accountable for its exercise; that from the people, and for the people all springs, and all must exist.
Benjamin Disraeli (1804 - 1881)

In one year elephants in Kenya killed at least 200 people.

Friday, February 13, 2009

A secret vow?

Swedish police, hearing screams,
break down door and enter, only
to find practicing opera singer.

I think I may have stumbled onto a secret organization. Unfortunately, my only evidence is circumstantial. I know there is a vow that the members must take in order to become full members in this secret band, or group, or whatever you might want to call it. The vow: I ______( name) solemnly swear that I will never allow anything sensible to happen as long as I am a member of this organization. This is known as the NAAS vow (nothing allowed altogether sensible) to those who have taken it. Of course, as in all such secret ideological organizations there is a bit of controversy about this. Some claim it should more properly be the NEAS vow (nothing ever allowed sensible), but these believers are in a minority. I have been unable to unearth the secret name for this group but publicly they are known as the United States Congress. Some of my evidence for the existence of this underground organization is as follows:

It is commonly known that the best, most efficient, and least expensive universal health care would be through a single-payer system. It is also known that our existing health care system is not at all sensible, being overly expensive, limited to those with means, wasteful, inefficient, and far inferior to the systems of most other industrialized nations. This has been recognized for a long time by those who have devoted themselves to a careful study of such things. The NAAS people have been able to prevent the development of any sensible health care system at all.

Similarly, it is commonly known, and even admitted, that there can be no military victory in Afghanistan, “the graveyard of empires.” Thus it would appear to be eminently sensible to withdraw our troops from that virtually impenetrable mountainous country where we are quite definitely not wanted, and attempt a different approach. Our solution to this problem, however, is to send more troops. One senses here the hand of the NAAS, as there would seem to be little in the way of any other explanation.

Another example has to do with the so-called “war on drugs.” This farce has continued now for many years and has cost our country untold billions of dollars. It is known, again by those who have made it their business to investigate carefully, a complete and total failure. After all these years and all the money there are more drugs on the market, and for cheaper prices than ever before. Like prohibition before it, it has spawned nothing but crimes of all kinds: thefts, murders, tortures, and misery untold. This could all be avoided with one simple step: legalize drugs of all kinds and leave the problem up to the medical profession where it belongs, and tell politicians to mind their own business. And being such a sensible solution it would also save us billions of dollars now wasted on a lost cause. Prohibition didn’t work, the war on drugs won’t work. But remember, NAAS!

Still another example, although there are easily dozens more, has to do with our military budget. The amount of money we spend each year on the military and Pentagon exceeds the amount spent by all other nations on earth put together. It also involves spending on many items that are known to be useless for any perceived purpose of the moment or even in the future. We maintain military installations of one kind or another in some 135 countries, mostly military outposts that are not crucial for our defense (but part of our sort of unspoken “empire” that is about to collapse). This is not sensible. Not sensible at all. But this budget has been, and continues to be, virtually untouchable, sacrosanct, hardly even to be mentioned when Congress debates our national budgets. Why is this so? Because the NAAS people, under their pseudonym (Congress), see to it that nothing sensible can be done in this area. Now a courageous Congressman, Barney Frank, has publicly denounced this situation and called for a 25% reduction in the military budget (I would opt for 50%). Although what Frank says about this is the truth, and nothing but the truth, don’t expect anything sensible to come of it.

These are only four examples of problems that could be overcome with a modicum of just plain common sense. There are dozens more. Indeed you could probably characterize all of American culture as being like this. But they have all festered for years because the NAAS group has vowed to not allow anything sensible to happen. Occasionally there is an individual who either has not taken the vow, or has come to their senses and wishes to do something sensible, but they either do not last long within the organization, or they are simply ignored by the majority. And many individuals are not allowed into the organization in the first place, as to qualify at all you must be elected to some public office, and there are means to prevent this. It is rather like a Mens’ Club or a Fraternity, except in recent years a few token women have been allowed to join. It is not that the majority does not have reasons to object to anything sensible, they have many reasons, mostly related to lobbyists and corporate sponsors who are opposed to sensible solutions that might infringe upon their obscene profits or bloated salaries and bonuses. As these kinds of reasons are better left unsaid, and preferably unknown, the front group, Congress, pretends to be something quite different than it really is. They try to promote the idea they are there to do public service, and act for the public well being, while under the surface the real power (NAAS) actually runs the country, stealing from the taxpayers to reward those who have taken the sacred vow. This used to be called corruption, but we know it now as “politics as usual.”

I see in the near future a crisis approaching that unnerves me and causes me to tremble for the safety of my country. . . . Corporations have been enthroned, an era of corruption in high places will follow, and the money-power of the country will endeavor to prolong its reign by working upon the prejudices of the people until the wealth is aggregated in a few hands and the Republic is destroyed.
Unknown, Often attributed to Abraham Lincoln

Billiard balls were originally made of wood, then clay, and until 1869 of ivory, when a viable substitute was first invented because ivory became scarce.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Mental Bankruptcy

Ex police officer arrested
for offering teenage girls
$1000 to suck their toes.

I can’t stand it anymore. I’m coming out of the closet. No, I’m not gay. I’m a (sort of) intellectual. I have advanced degrees, a Master’s and a Ph.D. When I moved here to North Idaho I had retired from UCLA. I did not emphasize or even make public that I had a Ph.D. I did not use that designation when I wrote letters to the editor or in any other context. I was quite content to just be Mister. I knew this was a very conservative community and I did not want to be identified as “a pointy headed intellectual.” I tried very hard not to come across as too knowledgeable, too patronizing, or too elitist, or whatever. But after almost twenty years I cannot take it any longer. The vast majority of the American populace is ignorant almost beyond belief and to the point of national disgrace. According to a Gallup poll a mere 39% of Americans believe in the theory of evolution. Another 25% do not believe in it, and some 36% have no opinion. This is disgraceful. There is no other word for it. What this means is that our near economic bankruptcy is exceeded by our mental or intellectual bankruptcy, and in the long run this latter bankruptcy is going to be far more harmful than the former. The fact that more than 60% of our people either do not believe in evolution or have no opinion, in the context of American culture at this moment in history, indicates that this ignorance not only exists, it is deliberate. All the materials are readily available to any American who can read and write (and think at almost any level) to demonstrate the overwhelming evidence for the theory of evolution. To make no attempt to understand this is inexcusable, but it is not the only evidence for mental bankruptcy. Consider the millions of citizens who apparently get their only information from Rush Limbaugh, Hannity, Beck, Coulter, and the mass of ultra-conservative talk show hosts that virtually monopolize the airwaves. These so-called “ditto-heads” obviously make no attempt to learn anything, contenting themselves to just repeat what these stupid fools tell them day after day, even though the evidence is plain that they are a bunch of ignorant liars that are willing to say anything for money and notoriety. Look at the adulation of Sarah Palin, herself not much more than an ignorant hillbilly. And Joe the Plumber, who is not Joe, not a plumber, and by no stretch of the imagination a well-informed or thoughtful spokesman for the Republican Party (which apparently he now is). And we have Congresspersons we have elected to office who are themselves so ignorant they pontificate on subjects they obviously know little or nothing about. FDR caused the depression, for example. Or even worse, our ex-President who was a complete know-nothing and could barely speak the English language (and seemed to be proud of it). This ethos of anti-intellectualism is largely to blame for all of our current ills. We have shortchanged our educational system for years, mocked our intellectuals, debased our airwaves and television, devalued the pursuit of knowledge, starved our scientists, abandoned our basic Constitutional values, and placed our priorities on the most mundane of human pursuits like shopping, sporting events, and short term gains. Our greed and short-sightedness have virtually destroyed our environment and short-changed our children, and even our childrens’ children. This is the behavior of a race of mental midgets, pointy headed Neanderthals, thoughtless morons, slothful egocentric pea-brains, creatures unable and unwilling to think past tomorrow, both irresponsible and foolish. If this is the majority that is going to pick our leaders we will surely be doomed.

Barack Obama graduated from Columbia University and the Harvard Law School where he trained in Constitutional Law. That is something to be proud of, not something to be suspicious about. Comparing Obama to Sarah Palin on the basis of experience and qualifications was simply laughable, but some did this as though it was a meaningful exercise. It was pathetic. Electing Bush with failure written all over him, because people thought they’d like to have a beer with him, was pathetic. The Bush/Cheney administration was pathetic. They were re-elected. That was pathetic. That the majority of citizens in the U.S., as presently educated and informed, might determine our leadership in the future is frightening and fraught with peril for our nation. For a democracy to continue and to flourish it demands an educated and informed citizenry. We are failing, failing badly.

The optimist proclaims that we live in the best of all possible worlds; and the pessimist fears this is true. -- James Branch Cabell

The dome of Thomas Jefferson’s Monticello home contained a hidden billiard room. Billiards was illegal in Virginia at that time.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Stuff happens

Naked man on motorcycle
hit by Arkansas police cruiser
during inclement weather.

Stuff happens. So we were told by our terrible Secretary of Defense under the Bush/Cheney Administration (who is now widely regarded as a war criminal). But of course he was right. Stuff does happen. And it is happening now at long last right here where it desperately needs to be happening. Eight Financial CEO’s were lined up today like a bunch of naughty children and given a collective slap on the wrist. Actually, it was more than just a mere slap on the wrist, and it was obviously embarrassing for them, but how much change will happen as a result of it is not too clear. Morgan Stanley for example, changed the word “bonus” to “reward,” in order to maintain their practice of handing out bonuses (don’t call them that) to its top executives. Others vowed to change their practices and try to do better. They all more or less claimed to have received the message that ordinary Americans are fed up with them and angry as hell. Barney Frank, Chairman of the proceedings, managed to get them to admit they did nothing to deserve a bonus but took them because of historical developments that began the practice. All in all it was pretty interesting. Among other things a couple of them admitted to having raised credit card interest after having received the bailout. Another admitted that purchasing an expensive Jet plane was a mistake, and so on. The major emphasis was on the bonus situation which was okay, but I fear we may miss the boat on banks and the way they are ripping us off right and left if all their business practices are not carefully investigated. They have created all kinds of ways to basically steal our money. For example, you probably all get those offers to borrow money to pay off your other more high interest cards. They don’t bother to tell you there is a fee for that which basically negates any gain you might receive. Similarly, they often offer to refinance your car or other loan at a better rate, but, again, they don’t tell you there is a fee for doing so that is often higher than the difference you would save. Then there is the question of overdrafts and overdraft protection. They don’t even wait until you are overdrawn to advance you funds to cover any potential overdraft, and then they charge you 25% interest on the money you might not even have needed. Clever bastards, these bankers! The whole banking system is rotten to the core and they should be forced to change. It’s like someone (Will Rogers, I think) who said, “Banks will loan you money to buy an umbrella, but demand it back when it starts to rain.” I could go on about banks but frankly, it gives me a stomach ache.

There is further activity now day to day to maybe, perhaps, possibly, conceivably, mayhap, perchance try to hold Bush/Cheney and others responsible for their obvious crimes. But no one seems to come right out and say what’s what. Leahy and Conyers, for example, want some kind of Truth and Reconciliation Committee where if one of the offenders offers to tell the truth about their crimes they will be pardoned for them. Obama, when asked directly about the possibility of prosecutions, has said if there is evidence of wrongdoing we would prosecute. I guess the flat out admission of torturing by Bush and Cheney does not constitute evidence of wrongdoing. And based on what we already know, how is it possible they would not be able to find evidence of wrongdoing? I understand why Obama, with all of his other pressing, even urgent problems, might not want to waste time investigating and prosecuting anyone, but he is Constitutionally obliged to do so, and to fail to do so will be to forever damage the name of the U.S. and destroy our credibility around the world. Let’s get to it and get it over with.

Do you wonder where the Republicans find all their dimwit members? As you probably know, for years they have tried to claim that FDR did not really do anything to stop the depression, and it was only the outbreak of WW II that brought it to an end. This latter is true, but the former is far from true, FDR did a great deal to help us get over the depression. If this distortion of history is not bad enough, now one of these clowns has claimed that FDR actually CAUSED the depression. I swear in order to become a Republican you must take an oath to distort and falsify history at every opportunity, demonstrate that your IQ does not exceed 75, prove that your first words were “tax breaks,” promise to say “no” to all democratic proposals, and stubbornly deny reality at every turn. Further, apparently nowadays you have to also swear allegiance to Rush Limbaugh and Sarah Palin. What does one do when a large segment of your population actively wants your government to fail, and behaves in such a way as to help bring that failure about? Didn’t we once fight a Civil War over something similar?

LKBIQ (Little Known but Interesting Quotes):
I had a monumental idea this morning, but I didn't like it.
Samuel Goldwyn

TILT (Things I Learned Today):
During the reign of King Leopold of Belgium, in order for a Native Constable in the Belgian Congo to prove he had not wasted a cartridge, he had to produce evidence. This was commonly a severed hand.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Truth and Reconciliation?

Protecting baby squirrel,
Doctor is arrested for
shooting and killing hawk.

The pressure seems to be mounting for the Obama Administration to do something about the war crimes of the Bush/Cheney administration. Much of this pressure is now coming from people with enough clout and authority to perhaps make it actually come about. Patrick Leahy, among others, is now suggesting that we need an investigation “to find out what happened.” I think this is silly, given the fact that we already know more or less what happened, and Bush/Cheney have even admitted to war crimes. The other problem with a “Truth Committee” is that such a committee usually means a kind of cover-up so that no real investigation or prosecutions will occur, just a means of putting off any serious action. When Leahy was interviewed by Rachel Maddow, however, he said that the only way one could achieve any immunity was if they agreed to tell the truth, the whole truth, and whatever. If they were found not to tell the truth, or if they refused to talk at all, they would be subject to prosecution. If this is true, such an investigation might actually work. As Pelosi is now on board, saying she would be interested in an investigation, and as Harry Reid has indicated he would provide funds for such a task, and as other highly placed individuals have expressed support, maybe, just maybe, something may come of this. I hope I can live long enough to see justice done. In this case it would surely be deserved.

The outcome of the Israeli elections has not been finalized as yet. It appears that the right wingers are going to win and that “Bibi” Netanyahu may become the Israeli leader. As his views on what should be done are in direct opposition to what the U.S. position has been, this does not augur well for peace in the Middle East. He has announced that he will not consider returning the Golan Heights to Syria, does not want to see a viable Palestinian state, and will continue building Israeli settlements in the West Bank. In other words, if he becomes the next leader of Israel there will be no chance whatsoever of solving the Palestinian/Israeli problem. Jimmy Carter, in his recent book, has outlined a plan for a solution that seems eminently practical and realistic, and has a lot of support in the Middle East. But nothing will come of it as long as Israel remains stubbornly racist, colonial, and greedy for more and more land and water. I repeat once more: there is no viable plan other than a two state solution. If Netanyahu insists on denying this the situation will remain hopeless forever, short of genocide.

Obama has taken his stimulus plan directly to the people with great success, even in states where he lost to McCain. His positives remain very high. But not so the bailout plan presented by Geithner who was lucky to escape volleys of tomatoes and other fruits and vegetables. “Stimulus” seems to be emerging as a positive term, whereas “bailout” has become decidedly negative. I guess there are good reasons for this, thanks again to Bush/Cheney, who just handed out more billions with no strings attached as usual. Bush/Cheney have done far more damage to the U.S. than Osama bin Laden could possibly do even if he lives to be a thousand. And speaking of bin Laden, do we truly know where he is living and what he is doing? I know we keep insisting he is living somewhere in the mountains of Pakistan, close to the Afghan border. But is he really? I would not be surprised to learn he is living in one of the world’s great cities in luxury and laughing out loud every time he hears of airline travelers having to remove their shoes or going without their toothpaste and shampoo. Think of it, one not very bright guy years ago tried to have some kind of half-ass bomb in the heel of his shoe, and ever since a billion or more innocent travelers have had to remove their shoes. He has accomplished what he set out to do – force America to spend itself into oblivion and become a laughingstock among nations. Even if we ever did catch him he will still have won, thanks to Bush/Cheney and their idiotic responses to 9/11.

Even though I am not usually a conspiracy theorist, I am still not completely convinced that bin Laden doesn’t remain a CIA asset, just as he was when the Russians were attempting to take over Afghanistan and he was on our side.

I recently read The Kite Runner by Khaled Hosseini, that, as you probably know, was on the New York Times best seller list several years ago (it takes a while even for best sellers to arrive here in the backwaters of civilization). Actually, that is not true, but I tend to avoid best sellers as I have found most of them not worth reading. Anyway, I read it and found it to be a wonderful book, although sad and depressing. Hosseini is a fine writer and the book represents what I think may be the ultimate in verisimilitude. My wife is watching the movie of it at this very moment. I refuse to watch because I do not wish to become further depressed. If you haven’t read it, you should.

It is an illusion that youth is happy, an illusion of those who have lost it; but the young know they are wretched for they are full of the truthless ideal which have been instilled into them, and each time they come in contact with the real, they are bruised and wounded.
W. Somerset Maugham

The musky odor from which Musk Ox derive their name is used to attract females during the mating season.

Monday, February 09, 2009

At last, a President

Man acquitted of two
sexual assaults after telling
court he was sleepwalking.

If you watched Obama’s first prime time news conference this evening you should have been impressed. It was such a breath of fresh air. A President holding a press conference where the audience was not pre-selected, the questions were important, and he answered in more than sound bites. It was the difference between a President and the clown that preceded him, smirking and lying his way through questions from his pre-screened audience, sometimes apparently wired to get his prompts. What a contrast! Obama, I thought, was magnificent, threading his way thoughtfully through a minefield of really difficult questions and making a case for his stimulus bill. He managed to do this gracefully and without malicious intent, although he did slyly get in his digs.

I was just reading an article about the thousands of people who have disappeared in the drug wars in Mexico. One man claims that while working for drug lords he got rid of some 300 bodies by placing them in barrels of lye and then subsequently burning the remains. When you realize all of this could have been avoided had we just legalized drugs instead of continuing our ridiculous so-called “war on drugs,” it makes one sick at heart. And now there are reports that they are going to step up efforts in Afghanistan to destroy the poppy fields and traffic in drugs. Of course the people who will suffer the most are the poor Afghan farmers who have to grow poppies to make a living as no other crop seems to compete. Here again, we ignore an obvious and relatively easy solution to a serious problem, legalize drugs. Not only would legalizing drugs do away with this type of violence and killings, it would also provide billions of dollars in savings that could be used for much more crucial problems. There are apparently some hints that the Obama administration may be considering changing the absurd federal laws about medicinal marijuana, which is all well and good, but the fact remains that all drugs could and should be legalized and the problems of addiction and such should be left in the hands of doctors rather than politicians. Expecting our politicians to do anything sensible continues to be merely a pipe dream.

Senator Leahy is suggesting we have a “Truth Commission” to look into the doings of the Bush/Cheney administration. He wants an individual or a group recognized to be non-partisan and fair-minded to see if there were any crimes committed and whatever. A great idea and a much needed Commission, but don’t bet on it. Obama and his people apparently want to avoid having to deal with the obvious criminal activities of the previous administration and just “move forward.” I sincerely hope the American public will not permit this to happen. Bush/Cheney and their criminal gang must be brought to justice if the U.S. is to have any credibility.

Limbaugh is claiming that he now represents the leadership of the Republican Party. Apparently there are a few Republicans who disagree, but there seem to be quite a few who do not disagree. And Limbaugh himself has suggested that Palin might emerge as the leader. I have a suggestion: Palin and Limbaugh could run together on the Republican ticket in 2012. Not only am I suggesting this, I am actually praying for it (and I’m not generally the praying type). If I had a buffalo skull I could pray to the Great Mystery. But all I have at the moment is a deer skull so I pray to the Not-so-Great-Mystery.

It seemed the world was divided into good and bad people. The good ones slept better... while the bad ones seemed to enjoy the waking hours much more.
Woody Allen

On September 25, 2004, the Mayor of Wallace, Idaho, proclaimed it to be the center of the universe. A sewer access cover was designated as the precise location of the center.

Sunday, February 08, 2009

The Journey to the West (8)

My ongoing sort-of-Memoir, The Journey to the West, was set back three Sundays because my computer was, once again, being repaired. That, of course, is trivial, because everyone's journey is subjected to all kinds of setbacks, detours, false starts, road blocks, writer's cramps, and even occasional journeys to the east. The Journey to the West is not a smooth, simple trip without any hitches or setbacks. But it is inevitable and whatever detours it makes does not change the ultimate and entirely predictable outcome. Perhaps as the Spanish sometimes say, "Life is merely an illusion, the truth comes only at the end," the illusion is our reality for the moment. My illusion, such as it is, continues:

For those of us about to become teenagers there was little in the way of organized activities. There was no Youth Center or anything like that. But we found lots of things to do and were seldom bored. As the town was small, it was only a short walk to be on the surrounding mountains. There was a small, clear, and quite lovely stream that ran down one mountainside and formed a small but pleasant pool. We often played there, sometimes making lean-twos and hiding places. We whittled, making little bark whistles and pretend knives and swords, and even primitive spears and bows and arrows. High on a nearby hill was a large wooden reservoir that served as part of the city water supply. We often went there where we sat looking down on our town, telling what to us were dirty jokes, and reflecting upon life in general. I do not recall ever being alone during these years, I had many good friends and no enemies to speak of. Life for us was pleasant and leisurely. Sometimes my father would load some of my friends and me into the big Hudson and drive us a few miles to a place called Stropes Pond. It was a sort of motel that had a fairly large pond where we could swim in the summer and ice skate in winter. Once I fell through the ice so our visit was cut short.

There was a larger creek that ran through town, Placer Creek. Unlike the Lead Creek it was unpolluted and we could fish there for trout. It ran into the Lead Creek eventually. The fishing was not great but we usually managed to catch a few small trout and we learned how to fish both with bait and with dry flies. My friend Bill was the most ardent and dedicated fisherman and always did better than the rest of us. My father also took us fishing in the nearby lakes, Rose Lake, Medimont, Black Lake, and others. We fished for bass and crappies and perch. Interestingly enough, when we first fished for bass we did not use fishing poles, we merely twirled the plugs around and threw them out as far as we could. The line was wrapped around some handmade wooden holders when it was not in use. I assume this was the kind of fishing my father’s family had brought from Norway. We almost always caught fish. It was not long, however, before we became modernized and all had casting rods and fly rods and more desirable equipment (I don’t think we caught any more fish but we felt more pride in what we were doing).

There was no bookstore in our town. There was a store that mainly sold stationery and cameras and such things and where they sometimes had books, but never more than just a few. We did have a library and I quickly exhausted the books that were of interest to me. I particularly remember books like White Fang, Silver Chief, Carcajou, Call of the Wild, and books about horses and other animals. And there were The Hardy Boys and other juvenile adventure stories. I was from the beginning an avid reader but selections were limited. The Cigar Store where my father worked carried by far the largest selection of magazines. I remember browsing there quite often, but we didn’t buy many magazines and subscribed to nothing but the local paper, The Wallace Press Times. In 1995 my friend Bill returned to me a book I had lent him when we were children (65 years late!), Rex, the Wonder Dog. Bill and I read, most of our other friends did not read much and reading was not considered very important.

Of course we played at sports, football, softball, basketball, track and field. Curiously, looking back at it, we didn’t play baseball (hardball, that is). People followed baseball in the paper and on the radio, but we only played softball. I suspect this was because we had such a small playing field we would not have been able to keep the hardballs out of the Lead Creek. As I wore thick glasses I did not excel in sports, although I played. If I tried to play without glasses I couldn’t see well enough, and if I wore my glasses they often broke, much to my father’s displeasure. I finally gave up sports, not only because of the glasses, but because I wasn’t really big enough to compete effectively. It could be said that I became more of a “lover.” I have often wondered how different my adolescence and later life might have been had there been contact lenses at that time. I believe there were unbreakable glasses of some kind but I never had them.

In those days you had to complete the eighth grade before you could quit school. And many of my friends did just that, going to work in the mines or the mills or wherever they could (there were commonly eighty or ninety freshman in High School, but by graduation there were only about forty at most). In the eighth grade we were allowed to take courses like shop, where we learned to use wood lathes and power saws, and other tools. We also took drafting lessons and learned how to draw blueprints and such. Needless to say, intellectualism was not of interest to most, if any, of the residents of our town. But we were, of course, required to take English, American History, Algebra, and Civics, none of which were received with much but apathy (by the time I graduated from High School I had never even heard of psychology). There was diversity, however. Because it was a mining town that drew itinerant miners from all over, we had Germans, Italians, Finns, Irish, French, Norwegians, Swedes, Dutch, and others. There were no Jews, no Blacks, and no Hispanics. This did not mean there was no prejudice against such ethnics, there was. But strangely, the most intense prejudice was shown towards Missourians, as once a bunch of them were brought in as strikebreakers. The same was true of blacks as once a company of black soldiers was brought in to break up a strike. It was said in our town, “the sun will never set on a black person (n......) here.”

Girls, too, were now taking on an entirely new perspective and importance. We didn’t date quite yet, but we met in groups to play “spin-the-bottle,” and kiss and giggle, and talk of imaginary conquests and encounters. We learned to dance to juke boxes and records played in the wealthier kids’ basements, and of course learned all the new songs, that in those days were often sentimental and had to do with the war. “Don’t Sit Under the Apple Tree,” “I’ll be Home for Christmas,” “Saturday Night,” “Coming in on a Wing and a Prayer,” and other such favorites. It was the era of the big bands, Stan Kenton, Woody Herman, Tommy and Jimmy Dorsey, Les Brown, and many others. We learned to jitterbug and dress in pegged pants with key chains and had crew cuts and in general had a good time in spite of the war. In many ways I think these may have been the best years of my life.