Thursday, April 30, 2009

Pablo Neruda - book

I have just finished another biography: Pablo Neruda A Passion for Life, by Adam Feinstein (Bloomsbury, 2004). I know virtually nothing about poetry, so why did I read a book about a poet? Experience has taught me that the lives of poets are most often of great interest, even apart from the poetry. This book is no exception. Indeed, the stuff of Neruda’s life would lend itself just as readily, perhaps even more readily, to novels and adventure stories.

Ricardo Eliecer Neftali Reyes Basoalto, born in 1904 in Parral, Chile, lost his mother two months after being born, and against the wishes of his strict and pragmatic father, grew up to become Pablo Neruda, one of the most internationally acclaimed poets of all time. As a child he was sickly and often bedridden, but blessed with a stepmother who doted over and encouraged him. His first published book of poems, Crepusculario, when he was only nineteen, was well received, but his second book, Veinte poemas de amor y una cancion desperado (Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair, i924) made him famous. This book in particular was republished so often and translated into so many languages it sold over a million copies during his lifetime (and probably that many more by now).

Reading this book about his life leads me to believe that he was actually born to be a poet. He wrote poetry all his life, no matter what his circumstances or situation. It must have come easily to him and he established a reputation of being the finest poet of love in any language. The idea, or the concept of love, seems to have been the most driving force in his life. You might wonder what love meant to him, given his three marriages and untold affairs. He seems to have fallen in love easily, but he did apparently distinguish true, more permanent emotion, from the promiscuous sexual affairs he often engaged in. I believe he was genuinely in love with his three wives, and although he left each one for another, often in unpleasant and devious ways, it was apparently because he could not keep them all at once. Although he treated his second wife very shabbily (she was twenty years his senior) when he met his third wife, I believe he wanted desperately to cling to both of them.

The emphasis in this book seems to be primarily on Neruda’s love life, along with his love of life in general. Once he overcame his initial poverty and began to earn money from his fame he spent much of his time time partying, greatly enjoying food and wine, and being with his many friends and admirers. He was generous and helped many young authors as they struggled to become known. He is often described as being childish and even helpless in the everyday process of life. It is tempting to quote H. L. Mencken’s claim that “A poet over forty years old is simply an overgrown child,” but this would do a terrible disservice to Neruda, as he was far more than merely a poet. He served his country successfully as a diplomat, was an active politician, had an in-depth knowledge of wine, and his hobby of collecting seashells, and was an astute observer of nature. He knew and was friends with most of the major poets of his time, as well as with Picasso and many writers. He also arranged a ship for 2000 Republican fighters to flee Spain in safety after their defeat at the hands of Franco, not a task for a petulant child. Nor can his legendary and difficult flight over the Andes to escape political persecution be considered juvenile, or the months he spent escaping the authorities on another occasion.

He was always a man of peace, but until the Spanish Civil War, he was basically apolitical. He was in Spain when the war broke out and witnessed the horrors of Fascism first hand. When his good friend, the fine Spanish poet, Frederico Garcia Lorka was murdered by them he became dedicated to Communism, a dedication he clung to for the rest of his life, even after the horrors of Stalin, although he did, towards the end, recognize those horrors. This political stance changed his poetry dramatically and he began to write more for the people than for other poets. As for the terrors of Stalinism, he wrote in towards the end in one of his poems:

Forgetting is better
In order to sustain hope…
We found the light
And we recovered our reason

His attitude towards his writing can be seen in what he said in an interview with a Mexican newspaper:

“You cannot be happy if you do not fight for other people’s happiness. You can never abandon the sense of guilt of having something if others do not. Man cannot be a happy island.”

Of course it was his dedicated Communism that both sustained him and threatened always to destroy him. He traveled widely to many countries, especially often to the Soviet Union where he was treated royally. He was important to the Communist party and was feted at their meetings everywhere. It was only because of the help of Arthur Miller that he was allowed to attend meetings in the United States. And, as an avowed Communist, he had many enemies that tried to destroy his reputation. But he triumphed in the end, winning the Nobel Prize, the first (and only?) Chilean to do so. He was a staunch supporter of Salvadore Allende, and enraged at the meddling of the U.S. in Chilean affairs. Interestingly, he did not like Castro. His death from prostate cancer could not have been more miserable. Not only did he slowly wither away in pain, it coincided with the Pinochet coup that brought death and destruction to his native land.

I must say that I enjoyed this book, but I did come away somewhat unsatisfied as I think there was so much more to Neruda that his biographer gave us. I think there was too much emphasis on Neruda’s sexual and marital exploits, and on his supposed childishness (he certainly was childish in many ways), as well as on his poetry, and not enough detail on his many other accomplishments. Also, I find it most interesting that a poet could have gone so far and accomplished so much in Chile. Such a thing could not have happened in the United States, where poetry is something only impoverished poets or beatniks do.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Dawdle - story

Do you really want to hear anymore about the first 100 days? I didn't think so. Here is a short, short story I wrote for my little boy (when he was a little boy, long ago).

This is a story about a little boy called Dawdle. His real name was Benjamin B. Benjamin, but everyone called him Dawdle, because that is what he did best. Even his mother called him Dawdle. When they went to the grocery store she would say, “Come on Dawdle, don’t dawdle.” But Dawdle couldn’t help dawdling any more than he could help his unruly red hair or his bright blue eyes. By the time his mother was buying bread, Dawdle was still staring into the meat counter. When she arrived at the canned goods, Dawdle was still looking at the bread, and when she got as far as the vegetable counter Dawdle had only arrived at the canned soups.

“Hurry up Dawdle, I’m ready to go,” his mother would say. Then she would have to wait by the door while Dawdle examined the cleaning supplies, the fresh flowers, the candy display, the ice cream freezer, the breakfast food, and finally the exit itself.

“He’s as slow as molasses in January,” his grandmother observed. “When I come to stay with him I wonder how you put up with it. He won’t even come in for lunch. He just sits out there watching this and that and only comes when he’s ready. I’ve never seen a child dawdle like that in all my life.”

“You can’t even take him for a walk,” Dawdle’s father complained. “He stops every few feet and examines everything: every leaf, every stick, every rock, every blade of grass. I just don’t know what to do with him”

Dawdle, of course, was always late for school. When his friends walked quickly so as not to be late, Dawdle fell behind. “Come on Dawdle, we’ll be late.” They urged. But Dawdle did not seem to hear them, so intent was he to watch the wind in the trees or the leaves falling silently to the ground.

“Dawdle,” said his teacher, “Why are you always late? Everyone else gets here on time. Why can’t you be like everyone else?” Dawdle did not answer. He just stood there looking out the window at the falling snowflakes.

“You can stay after school again today,” said the angry teacher. “Perhaps you’ll be on time tomorrow.”

All the other children liked Dawdle. But no one could understand him. When they chose up teams to play games Dawdle was always the last one chosen. “He’s too slow,” they said. “He doesn’t pay attention. The ball goes right past him. He’s not there when you need him. He daydreams.”

Older boys made fun of him. They called him slowpoke. When they passed him on the street they sang, “Yankee Doodle Dawdle,” or Doodle Oodle Dawdle All Day.” No one could make him change.

“Go sit in the corner,” ordered the teacher. Perhaps you will pay attention next time.” The other children laughed as they always did. Dawdle didn’t care. He sat there calmly studying the corner itself. Then, after a time, he smiled his secret smile. He didn’t mind what they said about him. He had seen the end of a rainbow. He knew how the spider spun its web, where the field mice made their homes, where the squirrels stored their food, where the birds made their nests, and how the baby birds learned to fly. He knew how the little tadpoles grew into frogs and where the deer hid their babies. He knew how flowers grew in the Spring, and where he could find the first pussy willows for his mother. He liked it when she picked him up and kissed him.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009


To protest unpaid wages and
lack of food, Serbian union official
cuts off his finger and eats it.

The whole dream of democracy is to raise the proletarian to the level of stupidity attained by the bourgeois.
Gustave Flaubert

One might well argue that in our current democracy the goal has been to keep the proletarian from gaining the level of stupidity of the bourgeois. But the larger and more important question is, it seems to me, do we want everyone to have the same level of stupidity when it comes to voting? This is a question that seems not to be raised or discussed, I suspect because it raises painful questions of elitism and discrimination that are better left alone.

There were, at one time, qualifications for voting rights. These have been given up over time so that now virtually everyone has the right to vote, provided only they are legitimate residents, not felons (in some cases), and so on. For a long time one had to be a landowner to vote. You also at one time had to be white, and male. These qualifications have been struck down, rightly so, as unfair and discriminatory.

Universal voting rights are not, it seems to me, without potential and rather important problems. Let me mention the first of these problems as exemplified by my Mother-in-law (bless her). She always and invariably votes Republican. She does this because she and her (now deceased) husband always voted Republican. This is the sole reason for her vote. She does not follow politics in any way, does not watch the news or make any attempt whatsoever to be informed as to who is running or why or what it might mean to anyone or the country. If you try to engage her in conversation about coming elections she refuses to talk about it. If a political discussion starts to become heated she immediately leaves the room. She does not want to talk about it (or know about it), period. I’m quite certain that she is not alone in her ignorance of politics. I know there are many other people out there just like her. She is not a bad person. Indeed, she is quite a nice person. But in my opinion she should not be allowed to vote. I do not say this because she votes the Republican ticket, those in similar circumstances who vote Democratic are equally as guilty of mindless voting. Whether there are more Republican votes of this kind than Democratic ones I cannot say. There is, under our current system, nothing that can be done about this. It would probably be possible to institute some kind of short, one-time course in voting that everyone would be required to take (if they insist on voting), but you can well imagine how impossible that would be.

Then there are those who vote a straight ticket (either Republican or Democratic) because they make no attempt whatsoever to hear both sides. The classic example (here in North Idaho, at least) are those who listen exclusively to Rush Limbaugh (or perhaps Beck, Hannity, or others of that ilk). These people are not referred to as “dittoheads” for nothing. They vote as they are told by their right-wing mentors and take great pride in doing so. And they believe passionately their votes are “just as good as anyone else’s.” And given our current system, perhaps they are. The evidence, such as it is, suggests that the wives of these voters vote exactly how their husband’s tell them to vote. An anecdote from the last Presidential election gave me a clue as to why I thought Obama might actually win. A woman was going door-to-door discussing the coming election and asked a woman who she was going to vote for. The woman yelled loudly to her husband, “Who we votin’ for this year?” The answer came back, “The Black guy.” She dutifully reported, “We’re votin’ for the Black guy.” This is basically similar to my Mother-in-law situation but is quite likely more widespread.

All of this raises another question that I think is much more difficult, and certainly more awkward to deal with: should all votes be considered equal? Of course they are all considered equal, but how realistic is this? This brings up the question of Colleges and Universities. We often hear the complaint (mostly from the right) that our Colleges and Universities are packed with Liberals (aka Democrats, Socialists, Communists, and whatever). I believe this is true. The Majority of University Professors are almost certainly Liberals (or certainly more Liberal than most). If this is so, why is it so? Could it not be that individuals who make their life’s work the pursuit of knowledge, and attempt to understand how society and culture work, inevitably come to the conclusion that a Democratic, Liberal view is superior to others? For example, is the view of an Economist, who has studied economics for years, not a more informed and better view than that of someone who spends most of his time listening to Rush Limbaugh? I should certainly think it is, but there is a strong anti-intellectual tendency in American culture to deny such things. You know, “pointy-headed intellectuals,” “those who can’t do, teach,” “ivory-towerists,” and etc. I do not think that University people necessarily know more than others, provided those others are as well informed and/or experienced, but for the most part they are not.

This sort of thing would not be a problem if we were true to the ideals of Democracy. That is, a Democracy can only function properly if there is a well-informed populace. We are unfortunately far from that ideal. We have “dumbed-down” and starved our public schools shamelessly, and in recent years have placed higher education out of the reach of most. We should have a much better funded public educational system, with better paid and trained teachers and, more importantly, we should have a free University system where anyone is free to attend classes as they wish, where the pursuit of knowledge is a goal in its own right, and does not necessarily have to lead to a degree. And everyone should be encouraged to attend classes according to their interests and time. Finland, I believe, has such a system, and I believe a few other places do as well. Classes in government and society should be readily available and perhaps even mandatory. Given the current attitudes towards education in the U.S. this would be very difficult to institute, but I do not think it impossible in time. It would make a monumental difference in the way our Democracy works and would level the playing field for all.

Liberty without learning is always in peril; learning without liberty is always in vain.
John F. Kennedy

One cure suggested for enuresis in the past, among many others, was eating a fried mouse.

Monday, April 27, 2009

It doesn't matter

Suspended two weeks for birth control
pill in school, girl discovers penalty
for heroin possession is only one week.

Waterboarding is torture. It has been so defined and accepted as torture since the Spanish Inquisition. It was a problem when we fought in the Philippines. We punished very severly Japanese soldiers for inflicting it on our soldiers. A Sheriff in Texas was even more recently punished for it. There simply is no cogent argument that can make it into something else. Republican attempts to deny this just do not matter.

For example, one of the claims they have tried to make is that, according to the legal advice provided to Bush/Cheney waterboarding is not torture. The fact is that Bush/Cheney hired lawyers to specifically change the legal definitions of torture so they could (presumably) go ahead and do whatever they wished. Because these lawyers were hired to do what they were told to do, their interpretations simply do not matter.

Then there is Republican, especially Cheney’s attempt, to argue that torture (enhanced interrogation methods) worked. It will, I am sure, be impossible for them to prove in any meaningful sense that it worked. But even if they did somehow prove that it worked, it simply does not matter. Torture is torture whether it works or not. This is an argument so juvenile and absurd as to not be taken seriously.

These Republicans who want to try to justify torture also say that Democrats were informed about it and so they are just as responsible for the torture as Republicans. I don’t know what Democrats were informed of, or whether they bear any responsibility or not. What I do know is that even if they do, it just plain and simply doesn’t matter. You cannot justify torture by saying others were aware of or engaging in it.

These are all just pathetic attempts on the part of the guilty to obfuscate and confuse everyone in order to try to make these accusations go away. Bush/Cheney/Rumsfeld/Rice and others deliberately conspired to bring about legal excuses to justify something that has been blatantly illegal for centuries. Now they have been caught in the act and have no reasonable justification for what they did. I cannot believe that in the United States, in the year 2009, people are actually arguing about whether torture is torture and whether anyone should be punished for it. Even the argument that they were merely doing what they felt was their patriotic duty is false and does not matter. In fact, they did not do it out of patriotism, but, rather, out of their need to justify attacking Iraq, a known war crime. There is no way any thinking person could possibly believe these people have been acting patriotically for the last eight years, rather than in their own and their party’s self-interest.

Even the argument that we should just let bygones be bygones and not prosecute anyone because it will cause divisions in the body politic and look like revenge, does not matter. It doesn’t matter because our own laws require that it be investigated and, if necessary, prosecuted. We can refuse to do this but only by breaking the law ourselves and becoming a party to these criminal acts. As we boast of being a nation of laws, I do not see how investigation and prosecutions can be avoided without destroying whatever little credibility we have left in the world. Are we really willing to do this?

I understand why President Obama has to pretend to not want to pursue this because he is otherwise too busy or does not wish to appear revengeful or create more division in the nation. Although I understand it, I personally think it is wrong. I believe he should just stick to the truth. These people did horrible and illegal things and should be held accountable. He should just say so, and let Holder and Congress get on with the details. Pretending and procrastinating will quite likely just make things worse.

What the world needs is not dogma but an attitude of scientific inquiry combined with a belief that the torture of millions is not desirable, whether inflicted by Stalin or by a Deity imagined in the likeness of the believer.
Bertrand Russell

The largest American alligator ever recorded was 19 feet, 2 inches.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

The Journey to the West 18

This afternoon while I was inspecting a cherry tree that is about to burst into blossom, with my neighbor and good friend, word arrived that the wife of my oldest friend died last night. I have known her for 65 years. Her journey to the West is now complete. My own journey, for reasons I cannot fathom, continues its erratic and inevitable path.

My first couple of years at the University were so chaotic and mostly unpleasant that I do not recall very well everything that happened, or the precise sequence of events. I know that the first year was taken up with courses that were required: English 101, American History, Zoology, and some Physical Science course that was basically designed for Dummies who didn’t really want to take science courses, and, of course, the ROTC requirement that I could always depend on for an “F.” I think I took an Introduction to Sociology course that spent most of the time on the question of race, and I dimly remember maybe taking some kind of Art Appreciation course and something having to do with Literature. The grades I received in the courses I liked made up for my failures so I knew I would be able to return the following year.

That summer (1948) I returned home and worked as a laborer. I first worked for a contractor called “Hurry-up-Johnson.” He was nicknamed that for obvious reasons as time was, of course, money. My first day on the job required me to carry heavy bags of cement and load them on a truck. As I was thin (135 pounds), and not exceptionally strong, I thought I might perish before the morning ended. As it turned out that was the easiest part of the job. We were to build a cement foundation under an apartment house that had been raised up to make it possible. There were forms to take the cement all around the building and a 12” plank walk on which to wheel loads of mixed cement in wheelbarrows. To access this narrow walkway there was a narrow, fairly steep ramp. A wheelbarrow full of liquid cement is quite heavy, and very difficult to manage on a narrow plank. I managed for about two hours when I suddenly found I could no longer even lift the wheelbarrow. I was then put to the task of simply mixing cement which was much easier. When that job finished we moved on to an ordinary ditch-digging gig. As I was unused to such work, and not very big, I managed, but hardly distinguished myself as a ditch-digger when compared to my older, stronger, and more experienced co-workers. It became apparent to me that (1) I did not like this line of work, and (2) Hurry-up-Johnson didn’t think much of my performance. I quit after just a few days. My only positive remembrance of this job was when one of my co-workers threw a muddy rock at another, who ducked, thus causing the rock to accidentally hit Hurry-up in his white shirt right in the stomach.

My closest friend, Bill, was working for the Montana Power Company and managed to get me a job working with him. This was also basically a laboring job but there were many different things to do that were not quite so difficult. I guess we were technically known as “Grunts,” assistants to Linemen who climbed the poles and such. We stayed on the ground and sent things up to the Lineman as requested. For a time I worked with a Lineman who had a harelip and whose diction was less than perfect. If I made a mistake and sent up the wrong thing he would throw it back down at me, cursing in some strange language of his own. He was a nice enough guy otherwise and taught me to climb the poles with the “spurs” they used, although I never got to be very good at it. Then I got to work with Bill under the supervision of a kindly old Swede Foreman. Whenever something went wrong or broke he would say, “vat do ve care, ve don’t own it.” This did not make work much easier, however. Once we had to clean out some huge transmission containers. This involved getting down inside them in a narrow space and cleaning them with gasoline. I am absolutely positive this would not be allowed today and we both almost passed out before finishing. Our next job was to move some “stubs” up a power line to reinforce the existing poles. This was really a job for horses but the terrain was so steep and rocky that would have been impossible. These stubs were heavy and could not be carried, so we had a gadget that would hook onto them, sort of like a giant pair of ice tongs, and then, with one of us on each side, we would drag them up the mountain, just like a team of horses (I don’t remember what this tool was called). This was not easy, but compared to the next job, it was breeze. The power line went up a very steep mountainside in Burke Canyon. Some of the crossbars on the poles had to be replaced. This was long before the ready availability of helicopters, which meant that we had to carry them up, one on each shoulder. They were heavy and awkward to carry. I recall throwing them down every little way and threatening to quit on the spot. But with Bill’s encouragement (he was a bit bigger and stronger) we finally managed. I was beginning to understand the benefits of a University education.

Every day after work Bill and I would stop at Babe and Jim’s for drink and a snack. We couldn’t drink beer but we were allowed to sit in the bar and have cokes or whatever. And everyday Babe would hear me complaining about the rigors of my employment. One afternoon he suggested I work for him as a bartender. He needed a bartender and for some reason thought I would suffice. Of course I wasn’t old enough to tend bar, but everyone knew me and no one seemed to care. This was a lifesaver as far as I was concerned. I eagerly accepted. This simple decision came to play an important role in my life.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

The General Welfare

British Columbia officer finds
naked couple having sex
in noisy, rocking dumpster.

Waterboarding is torture. Torture is illegal, a war crime, and a crime against humanity. Those who instruct people to do it, and those who do it, should be investigated, held accountable for it, and prosecuted if necessary. This all seems very simple and straightforward to me.

With that aside, with all the right-wing blather about Obama being a socialist/communist/fascist/Muslim/etc. (contradictory claims that indicate to me these people have no idea what they are talking about), I have been contemplating the responsibilities of government. If you abstract from our founding documents you come out with responsibilities something as follows:

1. Form a more perfect union.
2. Establish justice.
3. Ensure domestic tranquility.
4. Provide for the common defense.
5. Promote the general welfare.
6. Secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity.

Obviously these are highly abstract goals. There seems to be differences of opinion about all of them, but in general I suspect most Americans would agree with these basic aspirations. Of course those states who are now mindlessly threatening to secede are not helping in forming a more perfect union. Similarly, those who would engage in illegal wiretapping and politicizing the Justice Department are not helping to establish justice. Domestic tranquility can hardly be achieved when the top 1 or 2 percent of the population holds more wealth than all the rest combined. While everyone would agree we should provide for the common defense, some of us think we have overdone this to the point of insanity, although it is sort of understandable when you take into consideration the military/industrial/political complex that controls the country. But even with these caveats it probably does secure the blessing of liberty, at least in some sense.

It is in the area of promoting the general welfare that we appear to have the most, and most important, disagreements. President Obama wants to have a system of universal health care, aid to the public schools and universities, an energy system less dependent upon foreign oil, attention paid to the problem of global warming, help to ailing banks and auto companies, and create job opportunities (among other things). In order to achieve these goals it will be necessary to impose various restrictions. To me, these seem to all be programs to promote the general welfare. The Republicans say “no” to all this and accuse Obama of trying to change our society into socialism rather than capitalism. Keep in mind these are supposed to promote the GENERAL welfare, not simply the welfare of generals or corporations. To me it is inconceivable that anyone in a so-called “civilized” society would not want workers to have decent wages and benefits, including universal health care and the means to a desirable and worthwhile education. Republicans apparently do not think so. I guess they prefer the earlier practices of child labor, minimum wages, no benefits, and little or no education (you know, something like Victorian England at the beginning of the Industrial Revolution). They recoil in absolute horror when they hear the word socialism (which they have trouble separating from communism, and, I guess even fascism). As near as I can tell they seem to prefer a society in which we maintain an overly strong military (so their corporate masters can turn out more and more museum quality armaments at great cost) that will defend a territory within which we are allowed, even encouraged, to cannibalize each other. You know, social Darwinism, only the strong will survive, nature raw in tooth and claw, rugged individualism, no welfare, let ‘em fail, and so on (while at the same time they happily collect their various subsidies and benefits).

Much of the current Republican position stems from one of the most idiotic statements ever made, which they are fond of mindlessly quoting: “Government is not a solution to our problem, Government is the problem.” It is difficult to comprehend what Ronald Reagan actually meant by this. He clearly did not believe that we should not have roads and policemen and firemen, or no laws at all. What he apparently had in mind was any kind of Government regulations that would make corporations act for the general welfare. Apparently any attempt at all for the Government to regulate industries or profits in any way was socialism, as was any institution run by the Government rather than the private sector. I do not recall if he said anything about our socialistic Postal Service, but he clearly was opposed to any form of welfare (remember the “welfare queens” driving up in their cadillacs to pick up their welfare checks). Social Security was just another form of welfare to Reagan. He was also not very generous when it came to our socialistic public schools. Environmentalism was anathema to him. Far from the “Saint Ronnie” his Republican followers believe him to be, he was mostly a kind of evil twit who occasionally read his speeches from the wrong cue cards and sometimes confused reality with motion pictures. His fervent anti-communism (that I think he learned later in life from Nancy) led him to name names to the House Committee on Un-American Activities and thus deprive some of his colleagues of jobs and reputations. He ran up the national debt shamelessly so his followers can claim he single-handedly defeated Russian communism. His participation in the terrible Iran-Contra scandal has never been made entirely clear. He ignored the problem of Aids until it became much worse. We are now reaping much of what was sown during the Reagan years. Whatever he left as a legacy certainly does not include promoting the general welfare.

Ronald Reagan is the most ignorant president since Warren Harding.
Ralph Nader

The term borborygmi, for stomach gurgling, is an onomatopoea that started with the Greeks.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Crazy Good - book

I have just finished the book, Crazy Good The True Story of Dan Patch, the Most Famous Horse in America, by Charles Leerhsen (Simon and Schuster, 2008). This book is to Seabiscuit about what harness racing is to Thorougbred racing. This is not meant in a disparaging sense, merely that there is considerably more interest in the latter form of sport. But it was not always so. What makes this book of more than just passing interest is that it takes one back to a time most of us have never thought much about, the time before the automobile, the time when horses were as important to life as the automobile is now, the time during which the Standardbred Dan Patch was the most famous athlete of his day.

When most people think of horses today they probably think first of Thoroughbred race horses, then perhaps the famous Budweiser Clydesdales, and, especially if they live in the West, perhaps Quarter horses. I doubt that most people today have ever heard of Standardbreds, light harness horses that were the important source of power that drove the wagons and carriages that were the major mode of transportation prior to the automobile. For the fifteen years at the end of the 19th century, and the first fifteen of the 20th century, harness horses and harness racing were as important as NASCAR is today.

Dan Patch, from a most unlikely beginning, rose to become the superstar among harness racers, and during his career earned millions at a time when major league baseball players made only a few thousand a year. For a time, virtually anything that could be sold might well carry the Dan Patch name: washing machine, cigars, sleds, breakfast cereals, dinner plates, rocking horses, watches, knives, and so on and on. Crowds of as many as 100,000 people turned out just to get a sight of him. He had his own railroad car fitted out in such luxury it was once compared to a fancy bordello. He never lost a race, kept breaking records, and his eventual record time for a mile of 1:55 (breaking an arbitrary standard of 2:00 that was believed to be virtually inviolate) created far more excitement and fame than Roger Bannister’s famous breaking of the 4:00 minute mile. This record for two-wheeled sulky racing has been equaled but never broken.

The Standardbred horse was a uniquely American creation, a horse created out of a mix of Thoroughbred stock, common farm horses, and it was also said, “dumb luck.” Some of these horses were natural born trotters and some were pacers, but both were eminently suitable for the purpose of drawing the many varieties of vehicles that existed for transportation at that time (there were more than 30 varieties of “buggies, some much fancier than others). Dan Patch was a natural born pacer who quickly outshone the somewhat more desirable trotters.

Dan Patch was a miracle horse in many ways. His dam, Zelica, had been purchased by mistake by a merchant owner who was considered a laughingstock for having paid an outrageous price for her. When he was born, Dan had a somewhat deformed hind leg that prevented him from standing to nurse. He was almost euthanized before he was helped to nurse and then to stand. His sire, a famous harness racer named Joe Patchen, was so dangerous a stallion he had to be kept in chains toward the end of his life. Dan’s owner was also ridiculed for having bred Zelica to him, as it was felt nothing good could come from such a match. While Dan Patch eventually proved faster than his illustrious sire, he shared none of his other features. Unlike Joe Patchen, Dan Patch, although a stallion, was gentle and exceedingly well-behaved. He seemed to thrive on the attention he received and even small children were safe on his back or petting his nose. And unlike most other horses he traveled well. Almost unheard of for a racing horse he would actually lie down and sleep on the train. Wherever he went records fell and huge crowds would turn out to worship him. He clearly was, as the subtitle of the book claims, the most famous horse in America.

Of course with the rise of the automobile, harness racing virtually disappeared. Standardbred horses were no longer required and the fame of Dan Patch eventually faded. This marvelous animal, after being shamelessly exploited by a greedy businessman owner, and ruined before he should have been, was finally retired and eventually carelessly buried in an unmarked grave. As a stud he sired many offspring, none of which even remotely approached his speed and fame.

There is a Dan Patch Historical Society that attracted some 10,000 people at a meeting in 2008, and there is still a market for Dan Patch memorabilia. This is an interesting book about an interesting time and well worth reading. Most horses now, except for race horses and a few draft animals, are kept merely as (relatively expensive) pets, ridden or used perhaps a few days a year at most. It was not always so.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Republican immorality

Homeless man, called “ungrateful bastard,”
as he throws gift cheeseburger back
at benefactor and demands money instead.

The latest Republican suggestion that torture may be okay to use because it “works” indicates to me a lack of morality so profound as to make me wonder where these people came from. Cheney, in particular, seems to imply that if further memos were released proving that their “enhanced interrogation techniques” “worked” that would somehow justify their use. They are apparently incapable of understanding that IT DOESN’T MATTER WHETHER THEY WORKED OR NOT (and I seriously doubt they can show that it did), they still constitute a war crime, a crime both against U.S. law and International law. I gather that according to this view if something “works” it is therefore acceptable. So if I wish to rob a bank because I need money, and I successfully do it, it’s okay. Or if I were to rape someone and succeed it would be okay. This is an idea so absurd I cannot believe anyone would even suggest it. But it is perfectly consistent with Nixon and Bush claiming that “if the President does it, it’s not illegal.”

And it is precisely this kind of immorality the Republicans have been employing since they tried to bring down the Clinton Presidency. For them anything was okay as long as it might “work” to get rid of Clinton. You will recall they spent years and hundreds of millions to try to “get Clinton.” They accused the Clintons, especially Bill, of just about every crime possible, including even murder. When all of their false claims failed they brought in the sleaziest, most biased lawyer (Starr) they could find who ultimately stooped so low as to bring out a pornographic account of a private sex act between consenting adults that had nothing whatsoever to do with how well the Clinton administration was doing, and, in fact, greatly hindered it from doing much of anything. This was completely unprecedented and quite likely would have easily brought down previous administrations. One does not have to admire or defend Clinton’s sexual behavior to understand this sordid episode ushered in a new political climate that changed the Republican Party from a legitimate political entity into what has become under Bush/Cheney little more than a criminal conspiracy (what I have previously referred to as the Brafia – the Bush/Republican/Mafia). This criminal enterprise, employing slogans from the Reagan era, managed to change laws and manipulate Congress into a system of deregulation designed to effectively siphon away taxpayer money into the hands of equally immoral corporations and obscenely rich individuals. They stopped at nothing, an unnecessary and criminal “war,” war profiteering, no-bid contracts, outright theft, endless lying, the killing of innocent civilians, the use of illegal weapons, and yes, even torture. We can see now where this criminal activity led us.

But according to this new Republican idea of morality, it was all okay because it worked, they got away with it, at least up until now. Now that their criminal behavior is about to catch up with them, they are squealing like a bunch of stuck hogs, “Everything we did was for the good of the country,” “We kept the country save for eight years,” “What we did worked.” The Bush/Cheney years constituted the greatest criminal heist in the history of the world, a criminal conspiracy so vile and immoral as to be almost beyond comprehension. Billions upon billions of dollars, either borrowed or stolen from taxpayers, simply vanished into the coffers of the military/industrial/political complex, or, in some cases, just vanished completely. Millions of people killed and injured, millions more dislocated and thrown into misery, many tortured, and some even “disappeared.” And for what? What have we as a country gained from this? Nothing but collective misery, unless you belong to the relatively small insider elite that now possesses more wealth than all the rest of us combined. During their nightmare years of terror and crime they spat on the Constitution (“Just a goddamn piece of paper”), ignored our laws, illegally spied on us, did away with habeas corpus, ignored the Democratic opposition and refused them even space for meetings, and tried to establish a dictatorship of the Executive Branch. Now we are supposed to thank them for keeping us safe after 9/11, which, in fact, they haven’t even done? They believe they shouldn’t be held accountable for their behavior as it would be “divisive,” and after the fact, and etc. They expect bipartisanship, a concept they seemed totally unfamiliar with until now. If all this were not so unbelievable and awesomely terrible one might well think it was merely an episode of “Clowns at Play in the Fields of Fantasyland.” There are some I guess who still believe that the Attorney General might not take action against them. I cannot see how that is possible, given that the Attorney General is sworn to uphold the law, and the laws against torture and murder are pretty clear. As far as I am concerned no punishment would be too great for these immoral ghouls that have destroyed the lives of so many millions. Granted what they have done falls far short of the achievements of Hitler or Stalin, their goals were more modest. But who knows what might have happened if they had actually achieved the dictatorship they were striving for. The entire world knows what they did and waits expectantly to see what we will do. Thus it behooves us to act honorably and show the world that we do not condone war crimes and are, indeed, a beacon on the hill as we once were.

There is no den in the wide world to hide a rogue. Commit a crime and the earth is made of glass. Commit a crime, and it seems as if a coat of snow fell on the ground, such as reveals in the woods the track of every partridge, and fox, and squirrel.
Ralph Waldo Emerson

Pigs do not have functional sweat glands, so they use water or mud during hot periods.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

No turning back

Road rage leads woman to
accidentally set her car on fire
and burn to death.

The more we learn about the Bush/Cheney torture program the more everything seems to make sense. For example, I was wondering why they began developing their “enhanced interrogation techniques” so early in the game, even before they had anyone to torture. It turns out that the aim of the torturing had little to do with learning what prisoners might or might not know, but, rather, with how to get them to confess to a relationship between al Qaida and Saddam Hussein. In fact, it seems they were rather desperate to get such evidence as they needed it to justify their illegal “war” on Iraq, and the more they failed to find such evidence (they had been told by the CIA there was no such evidence) the more frustrated they became and the more they ordered torture.

We now know beyond any reasonable doubt that the orders to torture came from the White House, primarily through Donald Rumsfeld, who personally signed off on the specific methods to be used. I always wondered how it was that a few enlisted personnel could have figured out precisely those techniques that were believed to be the most efficatious against Iraqis, and also how it was those same techniques became so ubiquitous, both in the CIA and the Army. It was obviously because the orders came from the same source. Rumsfeld and others tried to pass the torture off as just a “few bad apples.” It was a few bad apples…at the top.

We also now know there was resistance on the part of some to employing these illegal methods. The FBI, for example, very early in the game, objected to what was being done and were told, in effect, to “butt out,” which they did. We know that one of the legal advisors to Condi Rice wrote a memo suggesting that the legal basis they were using was unsound and was ignored. There was also at least one case where one of the enlisted personnel refused to participate and was transferred at his request. Rumsfeld (and Bush/Cheney and others) had to know they were doing something illegal, but went ahead and did it anyway. At one of their White House meetings discussing these methods Ashcroft reportedly said, “history will not look kindly on this.” When one of the torturers reported that he didn’t believe they could get any further information and wanted to stop the torture he was ordered to continue. As one of the prisoners was waterboarded apparently six times a day for a month, one wonders why this should have been required. I cannot explain it except perhaps as just plain sadism.

There is no doubt now that the lawyers who drew up the legal rationale for torture did so on orders from the White House, and in fact were helped by Condi Rice and Dick the Slimy in what to say. They knew what they wanted to do and what information they needed and the whole scheme was developed with that in mind. This was a conspiracy at the highest level of government to break the law by using faulty legal documents pretending to legalize what they were doing. As far as I know this was completely without precedent, creative perhaps, but illegal as hell. These monsters should never be allowed to escape punishment for the terrible murders and misery they caused for so many.

It appears now that perhaps they will face justice after all. This scenario has played out just as I believe it should have, seemingly choreographed by a master craftsman. First there was the (I think) feigned disinterest in pursuing any form of action, on the grounds of so many other important things to do and the necessity to just look forward. Then Obama said the actual perpetrators of the physical torture should not be prosecuted (thus placating the CIA) even though “acting on orders” has not been an acceptable defense. Then it was suggested that Obama didn’t even want to prosecute the authors and planners of the program. But then, as if they had conveniently forgotten the obvious, it is not up to the President to make such decisions, but, rather, the Attorney General. Then the question was/is will the Attorney General actual do anything. And of course he will because he will have no other choice but to follow the law. If he appoints a truly impartial independent investigator(s), and if they follow the law because they must, Obama and his administration cannot be blamed for partisanship, revenge, retribution, or whatever. This was/is a beautiful scheme that, although politically unwise, had to be done. At this point it is unlikely that this process, having progressed this far, could now be stopped. There will be no turning back. Do I believe Obama had this all figured out in advance? I think so. I think so because I cannot believe that Obama could conscientiously do otherwise. You would have to believe that if Obama truly was opposed to this he would have had to be both immoral and willing to ignore basic principles of law and the Constitution for purely political reasons, and he also would not have released the incriminating memos. Obama is a politician (a consummate one it appears), for sure, but he is also a loyal American and a Constitutional lawyer. What we have (I think) is a conspiracy to bring about justice trumping a conspiracy to violate it. What is the world coming to these days, what with evil being (hopefully) punished and good triumphant? Personally, I will not be happy until I see some of these miserable sadists behind bars. No one could deserve it more.

No man is justified in doing evil on the ground of expediency.
Theodore Roosevelt

Rabbits are distinguished from hares by being altricial (having young that are blind and hairless).

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Dick Cheney

Husband hits security guard
in face, as his wife makes off
with a package of diapers.

Dick the Slimy, Prince of Darkness and Secrecy, has embarked on a strange campaign to have more torture memos released. He has been appearing on as many talk shows as he can, arguing that the release of more memos would prove their enhanced interrogation techniques (torture) worked. I think he is running scared and is now flailing about for anything that might save him from arrest or worse. I believe you can even see it in his facial expressions these days. I also doubt very seriously that any memos will demonstrate that their torture “worked,” unless he has a different definition of worked. If they worked so well why was it necessary to waterboard one prisoner 183 times in one month? Does that mean that it only worked on time 183? Another prisoner was waterboarded some 90 or more times. I find this puzzling in the extreme. Part of the reason I find it puzzling is that at least one lawyer who worked for Condi Rice wrote a memo questioning the legal reasoning behind the torture memos. He was not only ignored, copies of his memo were gathered up and (presumably) destroyed. But they were obviously aware that waterboarding was considered torture and went ahead with it anyway. I guess they did not want any dissenting opinions about their disgusting behavior. Another thing I learned is that at least on one occasion the torturers sent a message saying they thought they already had all the information the prisoner could provide and did not want to continue the “enhanced interrogation.” They were instructed to continue. This suggests to me what I mentioned previously, I think there must have been a real element of sadism involved. Another thing that puzzles me about this has to do with the 183 instances of waterboarding in one month. This would indicate to me that the technique does not work as well as Dick the Slimy wants us to believe it did. It could, on the other hand, indicate that it is nowhere near as traumatic as it is said to be. But as waterboarding has been condemned as torture for an extremely long time, and as those who have undergone it say it is torture, and as we hanged Japanese for using it, I have to continue to believe that it is, indeed, torture. Perhaps the people who were performing it were just not very competent. And remember, waterboarding was only one of the tortures inflicted.

Cheney wants us to believe that these tortures “worked.” So what if they did work? Does that mean that torture, widely defined as a war crime, ceases to be a war crime because it “worked?” This would seem to be the age-old argument that the ends justify the means. But if the means is a war crime in the first place, how could it be used to justify anything? It should not have been used. Anyway, I’d like to see the memos that Cheney seems to think prove that it worked. So far he has offered no evidence of his claim, no example, no proof, nothing but unverified claims. Cheney’s insistence that more memos should be released so the public can see them is completely contradictory to all of his previous behavior. All his appearances allow him to attack Obama as being “soft” or making us more vulnerable to attack, and so on. Yet here again he offers no proof of these wild accusations, none at all. As he has been wrong virtually 100% of the time I don’t understand who it is that listens to him, or why they do so. The MSM certainly feature him every chance they get.

Obama has done just what I thought he would do, he’s left it up to the Attorney General to decide whether or not to investigate war criminals. I do not see how Holder can possibly not name an independent investigator, nor do I see how it will be possible for him to just let bygones be bygones. If there is an independent investigator, truly neutral, and if he and Holder stick closely to the laws of our country, this cannot then be seen as simply revenge or a partisan attack on those responsible for these atrocities. Let us all make certain that Holder is aware that we want some action, and soon.

All human beings should try to learn before they die what they are running from, and to, and why.
James Thurber

Billy Eckstein was the first romantic black male singer in popular music.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Can't stand the truth

Irate man stabs friend
for permitting girlfriend
to use his bathroom.

Sad, but true, the U.S. apparently cannot stand the truth. We did not attend the UN International Conference on Racism in Geneva because we feared someone would castigate Israel as a racist nation, and the U.S. for uncritically supporting Israel. So what do you do when you do not want to hear the truth – you just refuse to hear it. It can no longer be doubted (if it ever could) that Israel is a blatantly racist country. And that we have more or less uncritically supported Israel in its racism for years is also not open to dispute. This conference was attended by some 186 nations, all of whom supported the agenda for the meeting, and all of whom are concerned about racism around the world. But the thought that poor old put-upon Israel might be singled out as racist was apparently too threatening for us. When Ahmadinejad said Israel was a cruel and racist nation virtually the entire room walked out (they, too, do not want to hear the truth about a situation they have refused to act on and hence feel guilty). We, however, did not even have to hear it. We weren’t there. Ahmadinejad’s words may have been a bit rough but what he said was basically true. No one wants to hear the truth when it comes to Israel, a racist nation attempting the slow genocide of the Palestinians, a pariah nation that has violated more UN regulations than any other nation, while the whole world (and especially the U.S.) has just stood by seemingly helpless, and certainly unwilling, to do anything about it.

If you don’t want to hear the truth about how we broke the law and tortured people, just say you’re looking only to the future, and this is not the time for retribution. Hope that the issue will somehow just disappear even though no one was held responsible for it. Obama’s position on this is not only wrong and blatantly illegal, it is also absurd. He says he has banned it and now our nation will be stronger for sticking up for our values. Since when was deliberately looking the other way when war criminals are right in front of your eyes an American value? If Eric Holder and the Justice Department do not investigate and prosecute I guess we will truly have established war crimes as an American value.

If you also don’t want to hear the truth about how Western Europeans have shamelessly exploited South and Central America for the past five hundred years, just refuse to shake hands and talk with Hugo Chavez and other South American leaders. Just pretend they don’t exist, or, if they get right in your face, talk down to them and tell them what’s what. Refuse to accept a book about it from them. George W. Bush certainly kept them in their place. He wasn’t “weak” like Obama, and of course would never have shaken hands with anyone as frightening as Hugo Chavez. I think there is little doubt that at this very moment Chavez is building an Army, Navy, and Air Force for the express purpose of launching an attack on the U.S., now that he knows how weak Obama is. Not only did Obama shake hands with Chavez, he even smiled and joked with him. Armageddon must be just around the corner.

Would someone kindly explain to me why anyone pays any attention whatsoever to the “Windbag Emeritus” (Rachel Maddow’s term) Gingrich. His attempt to resurrect his political career makes about as much sense as Rudy Giuliani now claiming to represent traditional marriage. I find what these two hypocrites are doing so utterly dishonest as to be beneath contempt. But no doubt there will be Republicans who will fall for it. Watching the current Republicans is like watching the death throes of an angry wounded water buffalo, thrashing about wildly in a vain attempt to somehow survive, crazily moaning and bellowing at the top of its lungs, announcing its imminent demise to the world.

I find the claims of a few states that they want to secede from the union absolutely hysterical. Like Perry of Texas, objecting to the “oppressive hand of Washington D.C. on the state of Texas,” that oppressive hand that is trying to force them to accept billions of dollars to help their citizens. Of course this is all nonsense, none of them would secede even if they could, and the very idea of secession is so totally impractical and ridiculous as to make you wonder if they are even sane. But I guess this kind of insanity appeals to their base of the mentally handicapped. As near as I can see, they are just mad because they can’t lynch anyone anymore.

Thus the metric system did not really catch on in the States, unless you count the increasing popularity of the nine-millimeter bullet.
Dave Barry

Orangutans are the most arboreal of all the great apes. They spend almost all of their time in the trees.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

The Journey to the West 17

My rather pathetic journey to the west continues. I think the first few years after you graduate from High School may well be among the most difficult and unpleasant of all. Certainly they were for me.

I cannot imagine anyone more unprepared for the University experience than I was. First of all, I did not really want to go. Second, I knew absolutely nothing about it. Third, I was a terrible student. And finally, I was burdened with not only my father’s feelings of inferiority, but my own as well. Of course no self-respecting University would have admitted me. But our University, a Land Grant College, was required to admit anyone in the state who had graduated from High School. That, I had finally managed to do. So, one fine day in September of 1947, my father, having arranged for me to have money enough, drove me the 150 miles or so to Moscow, Idaho, where he left me on a street corner with one large, ugly, green metal suitcase. I knew no one there, had never been there, did not even know where the University was located, had no place to stay, and was about to turn 18 years old. I found a local paper, looked in the ads, found a room for rent, called, hired a taxi to take me there, and found myself in a pleasant enough house, with a pleasant landlady, who, bless her, immediately pointed out that we were about as far from the University as it was possible to be, and there was no adequate bus service available. She wondered why I had not found a dormitory room. Living in a dormitory had never even occurred to me as, in fact, I had never heard of such a thing. But after one night in her home I managed to find such a dormitory room. It was in Pine Hall, a large, not very well constructed dormitory, built on the periphery of the campus, and even further from the center of University life. But it was okay, and not only that, I discovered immediately that someone I knew was also staying there. Leonard W., one of the boxers from our High School team, had been awarded a boxing scholarship. I had known him all through High School and although we were were never truly close friends, we were friends. We decided to share a room in Pine Hall. It was a perfectly adequate room although certainly nothing fancy. The cafeteria food was edible, certainly for us, as we knew no better. Leonard was from Burke and was no better a student than I was. I soon learned that his Brother Norman, also a boxer, was also there, as were a few kids from Kellogg, our traditional rivals in the Panhandle of Idaho.

University registration at that time was a nightmare. It took place in the gymnasium where rows of tables were set up with faculty members handing our registration cards for various classes. It literally took up to three days to complete, especially if you were a freshman. You had to take whatever courses were open at whatever times were available with whatever instructor was available. Somehow we managed to register. Leonard and I were in the same English 101 class that all freshman were required to take. We had managed to get an early morning class three mornings a week (somehow escaping a Saturday morning one). On the first day we sat together in a class of about 40 students. I do not know how the topic came up, but the instructor raised the subject of the Jews, and what did we think a solution to the Jewish problem might be. Thinking back on this, I believe it probably had something to do with the creation of Israel. Anyway, I was far too inhibited to say anything, but not so Leonard, who said out loud, in front of the class, the Jews should be lined up and machine-gunned. There was a stunned silence, and although I was scarcely more sophisticated than Leonard, I knew this was not a proper thing to say. I wished fervently that I was not with him. We managed to get out of class without further ado. I cannot claim to any particular insight into prejudice or its causes at that time as, frankly, I had not thought much of anything about it. It was an interesting introduction to the subject because I knew that Leonard, having come from a large and poor Irish family living in Burke canyon, could not possibly have known any Jewish people, and, in fact, could not reasonably be believed to have ever even seen a Jewish person. I wondered how he could have such an intense prejudice.

I managed to pass English 101, barely, even though at one point, when I had to read a paper I had written out loud in front of the class, I had stage fright so bad the instructor told me to sit down before I could finish. This was terribly embarrassing to me. I also was required to take a class in American History. This class was taught by an older Professor who always seemed to wear a red, white and blue tie of some kind. It was a large class, probably about a hundred students, and was, hands down, the single most boring class I have ever experienced in my entire lifetime. The old guy didn’t lecture, he droned... on and on and on, with names and dates, until it was virtually impossible to stay awake. To pass the tests you were expected to regurgitate the names and dates and that was about all. I passed, living in dread fear I might have to take it over again. I don’t remember what else I took during that first semester, except ROTC, which I failed, miserably. As a Land Grant College we were required to take two years of ROTC. We were issued uniforms and lockers and three mornings a week were expected to show up spic and span and ready to learn to march and bear arms, and whatever. I loathed it. I despised it. I hated the uniform, hated the classes, and just plain refused to attend. So I failed. I believe I finished the first semester with a D average, continuing my stellar performance as a student. I was put on probation. My parents, for whatever reason, seemed to pay no attention. I guess they thought that having sent me there, their responsibility ended. I don’t know why they did not supervise me more carefully, but they didn’t.

Pine Hall was, of course, the equivalent of “the wrong side of the tracks,” as far as University life was concerned. We did not participate in exchanges between dorms or sororities and fraternities, had no dances or parties, or whatever. We did participate in intramural sports and did well, especially as many of the “jocks” resided in Pine Hall. Although I was aware of our second-class citizenship, I do not recall being particularly upset over it. Through Leonard and his brother I began to meet football and basketball players on scholarships, many from places as far away as Alabama and Tennessee. Virtually none of them had any serious interest in academia or learning, they were there to play whatever sport they excelled at, and they did not waste a lot of time on their schoolwork. I was the only non-athlete among them but I got along with them just fine. While I did not do well in my classes, I did have an interest in at least some of them, and, as I had done in High School, I did well in some and terrible in others. I discovered things like psychology, sociology, and anthropology, subjects I had never heard of in High School, and subjects I found of considerable interest. Philosophy, too, was new to me, and appealed to whatever little bit of “love of learning” I might have begun to experience.

My next lesson in prejudice came about in my zoology class (that I had to take). We all had lab partners and mine was a football player named Dombrowski. I think he was from Michigan and was an end on the football team. Unlike most of his colleagues, Dombrowski was smart, and he was interested in his education. In zoology we had to dissect things and observe things through the microscope and such, and then draw pictures of what we saw. I didn’t like it at all, but I did what was required and submitted my drawings that seemed always to get a “B” grade. Dombrowski did the same and his drawings always received a “C.” Even students as green as Dombrowski and myself could not help but recognize that his drawings were superior to mine. So we decided to switch them. And sure enough, our respective grades stayed the same, I received “B’s” and Dombrowski received “C’s.” After three tries we confronted the teacher about this, a kind of strange but pleasant enough woman who was in charge of the labs. She finally confessed that as Dombrowski was a football player, she merely assumed that he and his coaches would be perfectly happy with C’s. University life was beginning to become downright educational.

I confess that my memory of my first few years at the University is not as good as I would like it to be. Nonetheless, I don't believe I am truly falsifying anything. Some of the chronology might not be perfect, and some events may have occurred either earlier or later than I think they did, but all in all I believe it is coming back to me fairly distinct. After my second semester I did well enough to at least get off probation although, again, I failed the hateful ROTC. Although I was aware that I would never graduate without it, I still could not bring myself to attend.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

"Cool Hand Barack?"

Man sues police for making
him walk home in his polar bear
pajamas after false arrest.

President Obama released the most revealing and terrible torture memos in spite of the objections of four former CIA heads. This was an act of incredible political bravery. Does this sound like the act of a man who it is said would prefer that the torture issue just be ignored so we can move ahead? I don’t think so. This is a most interesting situation that makes one pause to try to assess just what is going on and just what Obama is trying to do. There is, of course, the possibility that he truly doesn’t want to deal with the issue of torture. Personally, I do not find this credible. Torture is illegal and a war crime. Obama knows this. According to our own laws and Constitution, we are legally obliged to investigate and possibly punish such activity if it occurred. Obama has to know this as well. Some seem to think that by releasing the memos he can also placate the CIA at the same time by announcing that the CIA operatives involved who were merely following orders will not be prosecuted. But it was clearly established at Nuremberg that “I was just following orders,” is not an acceptable defense. Obama has to know this. Even so, is there a possibility that by not prosecuting the agents and others actually responsible for these illegal and totally disgusting acts he can thereby maintain good working relations with the CIA? Doubtful, because unless Obama has dictatorial powers we don’t know about, it isn’t really just up to him to decide not to prosecute. This would be a violation of our own laws. It is most probably the job of the Attorney General to decide whether these people should be prosecuted or not. Obama might order him not to do so, but he would be violating the law. I would assume that Congress might, itself, want to insist on prosecution, and the American Public, too, might insist, in which case Obama could not realistically object. Obama has to know this as well. Then there is also the possibility that some have said that Obama has left the door open to prosecute those who actually wrote the memos in question as well as those who ordered the torture to be carried out (Rumsfeld, Cheney, Bush, Rice, and others?). I think this is quite likely what is involved, but someone other than Obama himself will have to insist on an independent investigation and possible prosecution. I’m sure Obama is also aware of this. I believe Obama believes these prosecutions should occur but does not believe that he should be the one to instigate them, as it would be too divisive for the country and he would appear to be vindictive. If the American Public, Congress, and/or the Attorney General insist there be an investigation and possible prosecutions it will probably happen and Obama will be not seen as entirely to blame (of course there will be some who will blame him not matter what).

There is another aspect of this torture business that puzzles me greatly. Unless those who ordered the torture, and those who actually carried it out, were incredibly uninformed and/or stupid, they must have been aware that the evidence is pretty overwhelming that torture just does not work. So either (1) they were unaware of the evidence against torture, or (2) were aware of it but refused for some reason to believe it, or (3) they knew it didn’t work and just did it anyway. As I cannot believe they could have been totally unaware of the evidence against torture, I conclude that both 2 and 3 were involved. This disturbs me greatly as it indicates (to me, at least) there must have been an element of sadism involved on the part of both the creators of the memos and the practitioners. Indeed, I suspect that in all cases of torture there has to be an element of sadism involved. There were and are cases of individuals simply refusing the order to do such things (just as there are conscientious objectors and such). I find it strange, for example, that people like Richard Armitage and Colin Powell, and no doubt others, did not resign over this. I find even more bizarre and difficult to explain the behavior of the Doctors and Psychologists who were involved in this totally unacceptable, repugnant, inexcusable, and unforgivable behavior. Individuals capable of doing such inhuman and brutal tasks seem to somehow emerge when the (perceived) need arises. Where do they come from? How does this process work? In this case I have an image of Cheney, Bush, Rumsfeld, Rice, and the others sitting around in the White House discussing their collective sadism, sending their order to the CIA, who then know just the people to select for such work, not an image I relish, nor one I wish to see repeated. I do not believe these people should go unpunished for their vile and illegal acts, and I want desperately to believe that Obama agrees with me.

On a much, much lighter note, I spent all of the afternoon yesterday, “Among the Gently Mad,” that is, book people (see Nicholas A. Basbanes, Henry Holt and Co., 2002). Happily, before joining the mad throng at the book sale, we had a fine lunch at CafĂ© Campagne, a French Restaurant near the Pike Place Market. I had Penn Cove Mussels that were quite delicious. Linda had Oeufs en Meurette, which thrilled her to no end, although I don’t understand how a couple of poached eggs on a piece of garlic toast could bring about such ecstasy (it was the red wine, veal stock, and dried cherry reduction sauce). After lunch we took our trusty folding chairs and joined the line of those foolish patrons of this annual event. We joined the line about 1:00 p.m. even though the sale did not begin until 6:30 p.m. (I told you they are all gently mad). About 5:00 p.m. I enjoyed my dinner, sitting in the car. I had an expensive American meal, a plastic container of carelessly cut melons and fruit that were all unripe to a degree seldom attained even by our modern supermarkets. This was accompanied by the piteous and constant whining of a Whippet left locked in his master’s car (you can’t win ‘em all). Then the scramble was on, hundreds of eager book buyers crawling around on the floor of an abandoned airplane hanger, peering into boxes of books, and banging into each other in narrow lanes of books on tables, each looking for their own special bargains, the equivalent to them of the statue with the emerald eyes. It is always jolly fun (in my case I do it for love). We accomplished our task quickly this year, didn’t really do very well, but beat it to the hotel with our two huge boxes of books with a huge sigh of relief. Unfortunately, this ridiculous event occurs twice a year.

On the way to our hotel I witnessed something that almost brought tears to my tired old eyes, and reinforced my belief that this is, indeed, the best country on earth. We were parked at a street light, waiting to proceed. But just then some special theater event for young children let out. There were two police officers directing traffic so we had to wait. There was a lot of traffic with cars waiting to go in all directions when the officers waved them on. The children had to cross these busy streets. Three very cute little girls had to cross right in front of us. I watched them as they gingerly approached the curb and looked carefully around. They then spontaneously held hands and started across: one Black, one Asian, and one White. This was not in response to any directions from adults, truly a sight to cherish.

A military operation involves deception. Even though you are competent, appear to be incompetent. Though effective, appear to be ineffective.

Eating Polar Bear liver can be fatal to humans because of far too much vitamin A.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009


Miffed at neighbor, woman
subscribes to pornographic
magazines in her name.

We are going to the annual Seattle Library book sale so I will not be blogging for a couple of days. Pray for sunshine.

Where were the “teabaggers” for the past eight years when Bush/Cheney converted the huge budget surplus into the largest deficit in history through their profligate waste of money? How is it that it is only now, when we desperately need to overspend to jump-start the economy, they are protesting? And why are they protesting now when Obama has just reduced taxes on 95% of our taxpaying population? Can they really be that upset that Obama wants to raise taxes on the filthy rich by a measly 4%, and do away with some corporate loopholes? Yes, apparently they can, and this so-called grass-roots protest is really being organized and promoted by corporate interests. You may have noticed that of all the things they seem to be concerned with, few, if any, included the bloated pentagon budget. No one seems to be interested in taking on the military/industrial/political complex that is robbing us blind and wasting our money on military junk that isn’t even needed. I dislike paying taxes as much as anyone, but I wouldn’t mind half as much if they were being used for useful public projects like highways or schools, or entitlements like Social Security and Medicaid. But I resent like hell having to pay for more and more armaments and equipment to kill innocent people to protect corporate greed and American imperialism. I want us out of Afghanistan and Iraq NOW, not twenty or thirty years from now. And I want our hundreds of overseas bases closed and those troops brought home NOW. I do not want an American empire, period. While I admire Obama and believe that most of what he has done is in fact in the public interest, I think his Afghanistan and Iraq plans are stupid.

I saw today that Newt Gingrich, probably the world’s greatest hypocrite, to say nothing of the world’s greatest pontificating windbag, has been accepted as a possible Republican candidate for President in 2012. This should be taken as an indication of just how desperate the Republicans have become. Don’t forget this is a guy who confronted his first wife with demands for a divorce when she was hospitalized for cancer. And don’t forget it was this guy who said he would criticize Bill Clinton in every speech for his immorality when he was engaged himself in precisely the same thing at the time. I am pretty sure that it was also Gingrich who first said he preferred oral sex because it didn’t constitute (at least in his mind) adultery. What a guy! In the words of the immortal moron, bring it on! It’s really too bad there is no cure for idiocy, without it the Republicans are doomed.

Hooray for the Spanish! They have apparently concluded that the U.S. is not going to follow its own laws and constitution and bring charges against our known war criminals, so they will begin the process themselves. Will this shame Obama and Holder into doing what the law requires them to do? And will the process eventually get around to Bush/Cheney as it should? How I hope so. I hate seeing such evil go unpunished. Over 4000 of our best young people killed, probably a million Iraqis killed, two or three million more displaced, misery beyond belief, multiple war crimes including torture, and apparently the U.S. doesn’t mind a bit, and would prefer to just let bygones be bygones. Frankly, I think this is sick, and if Obama doesn’t see it and do something about it, he is himself sick. And don’t give me that “it’s politics” crap. Since when in any decent culture does politics take precedence over murder and war crimes?

The opening line today of a piece in what passes as our local newspaper read: “Glenn Beck, the latest Fox News sensation…” If Glenn Beck is a “sensation,” it ought to be fair to ask, to whom? If Beck is not actually insane he is a great actor, and I guess he appeals to those who are just as pathetic as he is. But what do you expect from a newspaper that pretends to be more or less bipartisan but supported McCain/Palin in the last election? Remember Palin, that other Republican sensation? I must say I am impressed that there are so many sensational Republicans these days: Palin, Jindal, Steele, Gingrich, Romney, Huckabee, Sanford, Perry, Barbour, Keyes, etc. I don’t see how they will ever be able to pick one to run against Obama. Time will tell, unless they all drown in their sewer of lying incompetence, still clinging to their lone credo…cut taxes, cut taxes, cut taxes…

There is a theory which states that if ever anyone discovers exactly what the Universe is for and why it is here, it will instantly disappear and be replaced by something even more bizarre and inexplicable. There is another theory which states that this has already happened.
Douglas Adams

The largest horse ever was called Sampson. He was 21 ½ hands high and weighed 3,360 pounds.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Mencken - book

I have just finished reading Mencken The American Iconoclast, by Marion Elizabeth Rodgers (Oxford University Press, 2005). This is further subtitled, The Life and Times of the Bad Boy of Baltimore.

If you are an aficionado of biography, as I am, I doubt you will ever find a finer example of the genre. Rodgers has done a superb job with a subject of enormous complexity, H. L. Mencken. It is carefully researched, thoughtfully and clearly written, and manages to present the genius that was Mencken in all of his marvelous contradictions and prejudices. The most basic features of Mencken’s life and work might be most easily summed up by his unflagging and persistent insistence upon free thought, free speech, and a free press. He opposed censorship at all times and hated hypocrisy above all. While he is not much in the forefront of our minds at the moment, his influence on American literature and American language is monumental. His early championship of Theodore Dreiser changed the face of American literature for all time. He also was almost solely responsible for the rise of Afro-American writing in the United States, and his book, In Defense of Women, was influential in the ways we came to perceive the rights and obligations of each other (although some women thought it was condescending). His book, The American Language was definitive and written before the rise of modern linguistics. As a newspaper reporter he was without peer. He had an important role in bringing about the famous Scopes trial and was present and reported on virtually every major event for almost 50 years. As a magazine editor he either discovered or promoted all of the major American writers after Dreiser: F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolf, Sinclair Lewis, John Steinbeck, Ernest Hemingway, and more. He was close friends with Joseph Hergesheimer (who was considered one of the greatest American writers at that time although now is virtually unknown) and also James M. Cain, as well as with the publisher Alfred A. Knopf. He was, in short, a giant in the literary world of his time.

Henry Lewis Mencken was born in 1890 and lived for 75 years in Baltimore, most of the time in the same house with his mother. He was a man of enormous contradictions, absolutely detested by many and adored by many more, no doubt partly a result of his striving to tell the truth about things as they were, and his constant exposing of hypocrisy. A student of Darwin, he also admired Huxley, and believed in both social and physical evolution. A student of Nietzsche, he believed that some groups of people were superior to others, and yet he championed civil and equal rights for years. His fights against censorship were legendary but of course resulted in animosity between himself and what he often called the “booboisie.” His opinion of the American public was far less than flattering, as expressed by his often quoted remark, “Nobody ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.” Although he believed that some groups were superior to others, in his dealings with people he dealt with them as individuals rather than as stereotypes. He railed at times against the institution of marriage but when he finally married, rather late in life, he was a model husband who worshipped his wife. He was an unrepentant agnostic but insisted he felt no animosity towards those who were religious, although much of his life was spent opposing “do-gooders” and those who attempted to force their beliefs on others. As H. L. Mencken, famous iconoclast, “bad boy,” curmudgeon, master of the poison pen, acerbic critic, and deadly opponent, he was feared by those he felt compelled to attack. As plain old Henry Mencken in his daily life he was friendly and gentle, a loyal friend and benefactor to many, lover of children, and boon companion to many lifelong friends.

Mencken was probably never more in his element than in political conventions in which he delighted. He covered both Republican and Democratic conventions and always had strong feelings about the candidates. Here, too, his tongue was always sharp and sometimes devastating. Consider, for example, his comment on a speech by Warren G. Harding: “The worst English I have ever encountered. It reminds me of a string of wet sponges; it reminds me of tattered washing on the line; it reminds me of stale bean soup, of college yells, of dogs barking idiotically through endless nights.” When asked why the speech was so bad he replied: “When Dr. Harding prepares a speech he does not think it out in terms of an educated reader locked up in jail, but in terms of a great horde of stoneheads gathered around a stand…an audience…of morons scarcely able to understand a word of more than two syllables, and wholly unable to pursue a logical idea for more than two centimeters.” A lifelong foe of socialism and communism, and with a hatred of Franklin D. Roosevelt surpassed by no one, Mencken supported Wendell Wilkie and criticized the New Deal endlessly, although he recognized FDR as an extremely clever politician.

Perhaps the most misunderstood of Mencken’s contradictions had to do with his German heritage. Although born in the United States, he was German to the core. Some of his ancestors had been well-known German academics, a fact of which Mencken was proud, and he viewed Germany and German culture as superior to most others. He visited his homeland on several occasions and thought it a beautiful and wonderful place with hard-working citizens and orderly lives. Thus when the First World War was about to break out he was entirely sympathetic to Germany and not at all pleased with President Wilson. He was in Germany for a while just before the outbreak of hostilities and was aware that most of the information Americans were getting about the situation and Germany was filtered through England and was mostly propaganda. He thought this was decidedly unfair and said so to the point where he was accused of being pro-German at a time when that was not at all acceptable (sauerkraut was renamed “freedom cabbage” at the time, among other things). As a German sympathizer he was subject to a great deal of discrimination as the war proceeded. In fact, it was this experience of discrimination that later led him to champion the rights of blacks and others. More importantly, however, this early experience blinded him to what was occurring prior to and during the Second World War. He could not bring himself to believe that things were as bad as they were in Germany or that the Jews were being treated so terribly. He thought Hitler was merely a simple buffoon that could not last and was essentially harmless. He believed the problems were the result of the terrible and stupid conditions Germany had been subjected to as a result of losing the first war. He resisted reality until Kristallnackt made him realize the truth. He then became outraged that none of the allies would accept Jewish refugees, including FDR, and tried to get the U.S. to accept some of them. Although here, true to form, he thought there were good Jews and bad Jews. The good Jews he thought should be accepted into the U.S., the bad Jews he suggested should go to Russia. Thus the accusations that he was anti-Semitic were true even though he spoke out on their behalf. For the most part, however, he remained pretty silent about the tragedy that was occurring.

Given his cynicism about politics, and his opinion of the American public, he predicted what would eventually happen, a prediction I think that came true in 2000:

“As democracy is perfected, the office of the president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart’s desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron.”

This is a truly fine book about a time and a place and a brilliant but flawed character, who fought the good fight irrespective of the personal consequences, and managed to make of America a better place.

Monday, April 13, 2009

Good guy/bad guy?

When not allowed to buy beer, 26 year-old
woman buys pint of ice cream and
hurls it through plate-glass window.

Is President Barack Obama a good guy or not? I confess I cannot understand what appears to be some of what he is doing. On the good side, for example (at least what I think are good things), he is slowly reducing the absurd restrictions on Cuba and allowing more people to visit, visit oftener, and send more money. But he still hasn’t done away with the over-all sanctions that have been a failure for 50 years. He appears to be standing up to Israel and insisting on a two state solution, even in the face of their current rejection of that solution, and he also seems to be resisting their insane idea of bombing Iran. But so far he has not said much about their illegal settlements in the West Bank or cutting back on the billions we give them every year.

Similarly, he has closed Guantanamo and insisted that habeas corpus be restored and the prisoners there be given fair trials or released. But he is opposing the same fair play for the Bagram Air Force prison. Does that make any sense? I would like to believe there is a reason for this contradictory behavior but I do not know what it might be. Likewise, on the one hand he acknowledges that we cannot win in Afghanistan but at the same time seems to be embarking upon a very long-range program of sending and keeping more troops there. He says that anyone who is guilty of war crimes should be punished, but he is doing nothing to bring that about. It may be possible that he wants Congress to be responsible for this, but if so, it is not obvious that he does. On Thursday he is supposed to decide whether the most revealing torture memos of the Bush/Cheney era should be released. I think this is an absolutely critical test of whether he really wants to see justice served or not.

I realize that all of these problems are complex and there may well be reasons involved that I do not know about. If so, I wish he would better explain the rationale for what he is doing so a poor soul like me can understand it better. It seems to me that in the case of Bagram, at least, he owes us an explanation for what seems to be an entirely contradictory policy. And if we are to stay in Afghanistan for the long term I would like to know what purpose is being served. For the most part I think Obama has done a great job, quickly and sensibly, but these contradictions need to be explained.

Could there be a better example of Republican sabotage than the Franken/Coleman situation? After months of counting and recounting, and giving Coleman more chances than he deserves, and even now after Franken has been confirmed the winner, Coleman wants to take it to the Minnesota Supreme Court. If he fails there he will most probably want to appeal it to the Federal Supreme Court. Apparently he is banking on the possibility that he will find a Republican court that will somehow magically declare him the winner. In the meantime Minnesota goes with only half of their representation in the Senate. This, along with the Michelle Bachman lunacy, makes one wonder if the Minnesotans are paying attention.

The state of Alaska doesn’t seem to be doing much better. Palin, in addition to engaging in a very public dispute with the 18 year-old “fucking redneck” who knocked up her daughter, and now having further embarrassed herself by suggesting for Attorney General a man who thinks men should be able to rape their wives, and in addition holds religious beliefs reminiscent of the 18th century, and has had to back down on her refusal to accept stimulus money, still somehow thinks she may have a run at the Presidency. I mean, how ridiculous does it have to get before the citizens of Alaska, as well as Republicans elsewhere realize just how absurd this is? Oh, I forget, Republicans have no sense of the absurd.

If the above isn’t absurd enough, consider their current “tea bag revolution,” that seems to have no clear-cut or obvious goal in mind. That is, it is ostensibly (I guess) supposed to be protesting taxes, in spite of the fact that Obama is reducing taxes on 95% of the population, and only increasing taxes on the filthy rich by 4% (where they were during the Clinton administration). Does this make any sense? Some have claimed this is also part of the Ron Paul anti-tax plan to eliminate income tax altogether and return to the gold standard. Quite frankly, I have no idea what these people think they are doing and I doubt very much they do either (other than mindlessly opposing Obama).

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.
Mark Twain

Baboons in captivity have been known to live for 45 years.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

The Journey to the West 16

I'm certain my journey to the west has been more difficult than some and far less difficult than many others. As I grew older my life became more complex, more plagued by sometimes bad decisions, more consumed by problems, and less satisfying both to me and to those who knew me. As it progresses it also becomes more embarrassing to write about. I am learning just how impossible it is to write a thorough and completely truthful autobiography.

Paddy, Paddy…you homely little son-of-a-bitch, I love you.” It was 2:30 p.m., “Chicki” (her professional name) had just awakened and greeted Paddy. She did not seem surprised by my presence in their hotel room. I’m sure Paddy had told her about me. It was a large room, with its own bathroom, on the second floor of a building that housed an old, well-established corner cigar store, with a long restaurant counter at one end. Like most such stores of that time it sold all kinds of magazines and newspapers as well as cigars and tobacco. The upper two stories were hotel rooms similar to the one we were in at the moment, extra large rooms obviously meant for the “sporting crowd,” people who did not really live very domestically and who never cooked, but merely used them as temporary abodes. People, I surmised, much like Paddy and Chicki. Paddy had registered under an obviously French name. When the landlord said “French, huh?” Paddy responded “Yeah, I French a little.” He thought that was hilarious.

I thought Chicki was very pretty, with long dark hair, large brown eyes, lovely soft olive skin, and a trim figure. She looked like she might be a Latin, although her real name was not at all indicative of that. She also appeared to be intelligent. I wondered why she had become a prostitute. I wondered even more what she saw in Paddy. I don’t know what transpired between the two of them, I never saw any conspicuous displays of affection other than a kind of gentle banter. I assume Paddy had convinced her that he truly cared for her and wanted to stay with her and look after her. Presumably after they saved enough money she would give up whoring and they would do something else. Paddy’s immediate goal seemed to be simply getting enough money to buy a “baby Cadillac.” I think this was not an uncommon occurrence in those days, a man would make some money with a woman to get a grubstake to do something better, rather like young men were doing selling drugs in the 1960’s. And although Paddy’s appearance was hardly that of a matinee idol, he did have a kind of charm. Chicki’s weakness seemed to be shoes, she must have had easily fifty pairs, all expensive.

I never knew anything about Paddy’s family. He could well have been an orphan. He had worked in the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) for a time, somewhere out in the woods, building roads and I think also a Forest Service Camp. I learned this one day when I asked him about his strange tattoos. On his left arm, beginning at about the wrist, was a series of the most primitive tattoos I had ever seen. They were difficult to identify but the first one was apparently supposed to be a baby. He explained their origin. None of the young men that worked in his CCC camp owned much of anything. But one of them had a rather nice leather jacket. Paddy had a two day leave so he borrowed his friend’s jacket. He returned without it, explaining to his friend that he had traded it for a tattooing set. As he didn’t know how to tattoo, he practiced on himself. He soon gave it up. His friend was not pleased, but Paddy, who was as wiry and strong as a feral cat, and also had the morals of one, didn’t worry about such things.

Anyway, I saw Paddy frequently during the summer, and I came to know Chicki a little better. Paddy sometimes played in an all-night poker game. When he knew he was going to do that he asked me to meet Chicki when she got off work at 4:00 a.m., which I did a few times. She was always ravenous so we immediately went to a nearby all-night restaurant where she ate heartily. I have no idea what the regulars there thought about a skinny 17 year old kid with glasses sitting there with a whore at that early hour. From the looks of them I think they were probably only interested in their own immediate problems. Chicki would go to bed and I would try to sleep a bit in a nearby bowling alley. Later in the morning Paddy and I would meet for breakfast in a restaurant at the Davenport Hotel. Paddy always ordered “Poached Eggs Vienna Style,” which looked to me like a combination of milk toast and poached eggs. I thought it looked disgusting. Paddy thought it made him virile.

In spite of my friendship with Paddy I somehow managed to finish my course at Lewis and Clark High School. Summer was almost over. One day I was standing on a street corner waiting for the light to change to cross over to the bowling alley. I was wearing at that time a kind of brown suede jacket that was popular and had a cigarette in my mouth. An expensive car stopped for the light and an elegant well-dressed woman looked at me with such utter disgust I never forgot it. She was quite right, I looked like a punk. My break with Paddy came shortly after that. We were walking back from breakfast when Paddy stopped me and said, “Do you see that woman crossing the street with that brown bag?” I said I did. He then explained that she crossed the street there every morning with the proceeds from some business. He proposed we steal a car, he would drive it, while I would grab the bag of money. I said, “I don’t think so, Paddy.” That was the last time I saw him. I was told by Babe years later that Paddy was selling kitchenware door to door in Louisiana. I don’t know if that was true. I also heard that Chicki left him when she found out he was trying to get another whore working for him. His explanation that he was only doing it for them, apparently fell on deaf ears. Chicki was no fool.

The summer came to an end. I knew I did not want to be a gambler. My claustrophobia was so intense I knew I could never commit a crime and risk going to jail. It was time for the University. I still did not really want to attend. My father’s sense of inferiority over his lack of education motivated him to insist. I had no excuse for not going but I was not ready for it. More potential disaster awaited.