Take Another Shot Of Courage


Chris stepped down onto the platform, the air parched and seared his skin, sweat dried before it had time to roll down his face.  Yuma is not a forgiving town, its geographical location known for its being inhospitable to the average American.  Not that any Mexican or Mexican American fared any better.  Here the climate made no distinctions among individuals.  A suitcase made of little more than laminated cardboard and cloth held what few personal items he owned.  Such was the physical history on our subject.  But as light holds promise, so too, does our young man.  For young men always hold promise until such time as all goodwill is forsaken.  The young man took a breath and started on his way to the bus counter inside.  Chris called to mind the need to call his uncle and let him know when the bus would arrive in Tacna.  After a few minutes walk he reached to ticket counter.  “Let me have a ticket to Tacna, please.”

“Round trip or one way?” came the voice on the man behind the counter.

“One way.”  Chris’s voice sounded non committal, almost passive.   “What time does the next bus leave?”

“Two thirty.  You should get to Tacna about four this afternoon.  You got a job there by any chance?”

Chris ignored the question and paid for the ticket.  Then he went to the bench by the bus gate to wait.  It won’t be long now.  Better call Uncle John as he noticed the  telephone in the nook by the exit.  Glad I don’t have to walk far as he approached the phone, put in the quarters, and dialed the number.  After the fifth ring he heard the receiver being picked up.  A woman’s voice, a bit on the old side, answered.

“Hello.” Was all he heard.  He felt slightly unnerved,”Aunt Martha, is that you?”  A woman responded, “Chris, is this Chris?  Your uncle was expecting your call earlier today.  Where are you?”

“Aunt Martha, I’m here in Yuma at the station.  The train had problems and they had to attach a new engine.  Would you tell Uncle John I’ll be in Tacna at four this afternoon?”


The ride to Tacna was dull, boring, uncomfortable.  The seats were confining and the landscape will filled with either empty cheap housing and RV parks for the snow birds or barren dessert with the occasional irrigation track among the ruins of bus stops decades older than the interstate.  Half lost in thought Chris was thinking as the bus rolled on, this is a lazy land, nothing to see or do and it’d be too hot anyway.  Can’t be any worse than juvie, maybe better.  I don’t know.  Can’t say as I care, really.  He looked at his watch.  Can’t remember if this place is in the same time zone.  I swear, this state is at least fifty years in the past.  The bus started to slow and the driver announced “Tacna”.  Chris sat up in his seat expecting something but didn’t know what.  Why is the bus stopping, there is no traffic.  Now he’s making a left turn.  guess we’re going into ‘town’.  The voice in his head was tired.  Tired of traveling, tired of waiting, just tired.Now the driver made another turn and stopped the vehicle in front of the post office.  Chris read the sign with a sigh of tired resignation.  Great, population 400.  Yeah, and I bet it’s all old people.  He picked up his suitcase and walked down the aisle to the door.  “Have a good day.” was the sound that came from the driver.  Startled, Chris turned around and just nodded.  Then he stepped off the bus and started to look around.  The door closed behind him and he heard the release of the air brakes as the bus started to pull away from the curb.  A horn sounded from the side parking lot and attracted his attention.  In a moment a tall heavy set man got out of the lone pickup and started to walk towards Chris.  Must be Uncle John he thought.


“Howdy Chris, you’re late.  What happened?”  Uncle John’s voice was direct and forceful but not loud.  He had a voice that was use command and respect.

Are you kidding me? Chris thought he was being targeted. Why’s he jumping on me for?  Suddenly the answer jumped up like a scared jackrabbit,”The engine broke down on the way and they had to get another one.  Don’t go blaming me for that.”

“Throw your bag in the bed and get in, I’m behind schedule.” was all Uncle John said as he and the boy started to the truck.  No sooner than Chris had placed himself in the seat and shut the door then the truck started and Uncle John quickly backed it up and sped out of the parking lot slinging a bit of gravel.    The irrigated fields went by counting the minutes of silence as the truck cruised down the county hardtop.  for chris the silence had almost become comfortable.  “Chris, I didn’t ask you for an excuse.  I asked what happened.  Let’s get one thing straight between you and me and Aunt Martha.  We aren’t here to blame you for anything.  Your aunt and I require two things from you.  The first is that level with us, be truthful.  Lies don’t build trust and respect in a man or woman.  The second is that you take responsibility for yourself.  That means when work needs doing, you do it whether we ask you or not.  This is a hard land.  You can’t afford to lay around and let it kill you.  What you make of yourself is how the people around here will treat you.  Do you understand me?”

Chris’s mind was alive with thought he was being disrespected, Wow, what’s this old man trying to shine on me.  He must think I’m an idiot.  Who is he to tell me how to live my life?  Finally he gave a simple “Yeah, ok” in a voice that sounded bored and almost disrespectful.

Uncle John hit the brakes real hard, almost throwing Chris into the windshield.  The big man place his right arm on the back of the seat and turned his body and head to fully face the boy.  Now his voice boomed out.  “Boy, your daddy skedaddled and left your mother when you were six.  She had a hard life doing right by you and it cost her.  Dying of cancer ain’t a whole lot of joy.  Particularly knowing that you were in juvenile hall because you didn’t want to grow up.  Now you hear me real good.  I aim to do right by my sister.  That’s the only reason you’re in this state and out here.  I ain’t shading the truth when I say this land can kill you.  Now maybe you can lit out for Yuma or Tuscon and any part of California you think you can make in a couple of days.  But you’re soft, boy.  You don’t have the skills you need to survive into your twenties.  I can teach you a lot of skills, ones that will see you make something of yourself.  And I don’t mean for me or your mother.  I mean for yourself.  But understand me real good, boy.  I won’t take attitude off you.  And you don’t want me all over you like shit on a stick.”  He paused for a few more minutes then turned back to face the steering wheel.  “We’ve got another half hour to go to the next job.  I gave my word that the job would be done before night fall, so you have plenty of time to think about what I said.”  With that Uncle John put the truck in gear and sped on down the road.


Chris was deep in though as Uncle John let the truck glide into the driveway and turned off the engine.  “You hungry?  Your aunt’s been keeping dinner warm of the stove.  I usually wash up out here before I go in.  Sort of an old habit I just can’t break.”  The two figures stood at the large wash basin soaping up their hands and arms and faces.  Each poured one of the two pitchers of water over the soapy areas and then over their heads.  Chris thought the water feels good, just cool enough to take the sting of sun and dirt out of my skin.  Air is still hot yet, wonder if it ever cools down at night.  Uncle John interrupted his concentration.  “Come on Chris, supper’s waiting.” Then he went through the door and stood by the table.  “I hope we’re not too late Marth.  I know you were inconvenienced.”

“John, it’s no bother at all.”  Her look of admiration was evident to Chris.  “Thank you, Chris, for helping John.  I can tell he’s pleased.”  This friendly acknowledgement caught him by surprise.  My god, he thought to himself, no one’s ever said that to me before.  Then he stammered a reply, “Uncle John did all the work, I just helped a little.”

“You did good, Chris.  I would have been out there another hour without your help.  We’ll go out tomorrow, I’ve got a couple of jobs lined up.”  And with that, Aunt Martha put supper on the table and grace was said.  As Chris lay in bed his mind gave way to the possibilities of living here.  I’ll give it a chance, see what comes.  Still, I rather be in LA.  This place looks desolate, man, not ever a backwater town.  I wonder if there are any girls here?  Probably real hicks with cow licks.  He chuckled at that thought.  Sleep crept in soon enough and eased the tiredness of body and mind.


He was rudely awaken the next morning by Uncle John.  The door opened and his uncle uttered, “Time to get up, we’re burning daylight.”  Burning daylight? Wasn’t than in a John Wayne movie?  Burning day light?  What the hell? as the sleep cleared out of his head.  He pulled back the curtains, the first light of day was upon the sky.  His aunt came in to advise him, “Dear, I washed you clothes last night so you’d have something clean to wear.  Breakfast’s on the table.  Better hurry, John tells me it’s going to be a busy day.”  As she closed the door Chris pulled back the covers and sat up.  Sure enough, clean clothes were on the chair.  So he pulled on his clothes and went into the kitchen.  John was sitting at the table drinking black coffee and spearing a piece of thick slab bacon with his fork.  “How many eggs do you want, Dear?” Aunt martha was poised with one in her hand ready to crack the shell and slip the raw egg into the skillet.  “I usually do them easy over but if you want them different…” her voice trailed off.  “Uh, sure, easy over’s good.  Uh, two thank you.” was his reply as he sat down.  Uncle John reached for the pot, “Want some coffee?  we have mild if you’d rather…”  “Sure, coffee’s fine.  I take it black, please.”  Chris was amazed how polite he was being.  Maybe they had more charm than he thought.

For several weeks this routine continued.  His uncle was teaching him simple repairs and would leave him unsupervised at times.  The effect on Chris was quite visible.  He went from a hostile young teen to a young man more sure of his capabilities.  By the end of the fourth week the transformation was almost complete.It is said that to change one’s habits requires a minimum of three weeks.  The same is true of living in a new place, after three weeks it starts to feel like “home”.  And Chris was starting to feel at home and comfortable with the new changes in his life.  But for ever three steps forward one must be prepared for that one step back, expect it in due course.

September was upon him and the need to complete his basic education.  Rather than send their school age children sixty miles to the nearest public school the local families had established a coop of home schooling.  Several of the the men and women were retired teachers and ready to donate a few hours each week to the education of the young.  At any one time there were no more than sixty to seventy primary and secondary school students.  Thus student to teacher ratios were often single digit.  Chris had not graduated from high school.  In fact, he was way behind due to the precarious family situation and run ins with police.  So Uncle John informed him that school would begin next Monday.  “Don’t worry about going.  I sometimes come and teach welding and machine repair to the boys and a couple of girls who want to learn.  Just remember, there are no secrets in this community.  Everyone knows why you are hear and a little of your background with the police.  But they don’t know all the details and that is as it should be.  So tell them as little as you can.  Just take it slow and after a while they’ll accept you.  You got to build trust with them, right?”

“But Uncle John, what do I need with high school?  You’re teaching me how to make a living, aren’t you?”

“Because it’s a big world out there and you need to know more about it.  Math and science and reading and writing.  These are the tools you always have with you.  No one can borrow them and no one can steal or take them from you.  You’ll see.  For me the work slows down as winter closed in.  That’s when I read and maybe write in my journal.  You need something like that.”


Well, the subject was closed as far as Uncle John was concerned and Chris knew it.  So he went to school dutifully and tried to fit into the school and social scene.  Aunt Martha was often at the school with a few of the other mothers.  It was agreed that she was one of the best cooks in the town and taught the girls and a few of the boys how to survive on bare necessities.  For those who wished more accomplishment in the art of cuisine.  Lunch was a combined effort of parents and students.  One learns well the art of patience when a first grader is given the task of placing peanut butter on one slice of bread and a second grader the task of placing the jelly.  Some of the fathers came by each week to spend a leisurely lunch with their children or teach on the topic of growing crops or how to build irrigations ditches or some other subject like accounting.  Fact was, Chris and the other boys were getting courses in practical education they could never have achieved in a regular public school.


Christmas in small communities can be a very joyous time of year.  The lack of commercialization and absence of heavy vehicle traffic patterns keep the peace and tranquility, if not the spirit, of the holiday.  But the ghost of Christmas Past visited Chris two days before school let out.  As Uncle John had point out several times the adults in the town knew about problems Chris had with the police but were not aware of the particulars.  He also warned that a few of the teenagers knew that same information.  So it came as no surprise that one of those teens, an older boy, managed to search the internet and find a couple of newspaper articles about the particulars of that involvement.  For the first time Chris was confronted with his past and was unprepared.  The teen’s name was Will Graves and regarded as something of a troublemaker.  “Hey Chris, look what I found!  You’re a jail bird, a thief.  You’ve spent time in juvenile prison.”  The words immediately froze Chris in his seat and filled him with fear.  Will continued, “Look everybody, I have copies, pass them around.  We got us a thief and jail bird in our school.  He’s a gang member.  Read it!”

Before he could think words of protest leaped out of his mouth, “No, that’s not me.  It’s a mistake.  You’re wrong…”  His voice trailed off as he started to remember Uncle John’s admonitions.

Will started in again, “Liar, your picture was in the paper.  Liar, liar, we got you dead to rights.  You’re just a filthy thief and a liar.”

Those words landed with heavy blows against his psyche.  All Chris could think to do was run, run out of the room, out of the school.  Just run, run as far as he could.  Down the road, under the interstate, past the auto repair shop, into the dessert.  The chill air cooled his burning cheeks as he traveled several miles toward the Mohawk mountains.  Finally he stopped and sat down, leaned back on a boulder and held his face to the sky.  Over and over he kept asking himself, why.  I was happy here.  Why did it have to end now?  Where will I go, what will I do?  Night fell and the air turned frigid.  Chris had no coat and felt chilled to the bone as the cold imposed a strong numbing sleep upon his brain.


One of the mothers called Aunt Martha, “Is it true?  Did you nephew spend time in jail?  How come you didn’t tell us he was a thief?  Well, what are you going to do about it?”

“Hold on Judy.  Calm down.  Now tell me what has happened.”  Aunt Martha’s inner strength was her coolness under pressure.  She had a way of exerting calm in her presence.  Judy related part of the story.  “I’ll be down directly, Judy.  Wait for me.”  Then she put on her coat and hat, opened to door and left for a ten minute walk.  The incident weighted heavily on her mind.  I hope Chris didn’t try to lie his way out of it.  I’ll see what I can do.

When she entered the small school the three teachers and four of the mothers confronted her.  Generally the comments ran on about how could she and her husband do this to them and isn’t the boy dangerous and how they would have to start locking their doors at night.  But Aunt Martha’s unflinching warm smile and calming influence won out even when Will poked a copy of the newspaper story to her face.  “I’ve seen it dear, I know all about it.”  As if to further make her point, she tore up the papers and let them drop to the floor.  “Will, did you enjoy hurting Chris?  Wouldn’t kindness be a better way?  As my John always says, ‘No matter what you think of a man, never needlessly make him your enemy.’  Do you think that would be a wiser course of action?”  Will, gently chastised, retreated from the circle of women and sought his seat.  Aunt Martha continued,”Where is Chris now?”

One of the mothers said he has bolted out the door and was running towards the Interstate.  Aunt Martha looked around and saw the coat on one of the pegs.  “Oh my, he didn’t take his coat.  John won;t be home for another hour or so.  Well, I better go wait for him.”  As if to reassure them before she left she added.  “Now that you know more of my nephew’s past, please judge him by the progress he’s made since.  His life wasn’t easy.”


Uncle John drove up in that easy way of his and quickly washed up.  Martha had filled the basin with hot water only minutes before and the warmth felt good on his hands and face.  Martha’s face told him something was wrong.  “Chris was confronted with his past in school today.  Will Graves found the newspaper articles online.  Now Chris has run off.  No one knows where.”  Uncle John thought for a moment then dais, “I’ll call the garage, maybe they saw him.”  Yes, Don Woods remembered seeing the boy running.  “He was jogging, really.  Had his head down most of the time.  I thought is a little odd, myself.  He in any trouble?”  “No, no trouble, just doesn’t know what to do.” Uncle John left it at that.  The word would get around soon enough.  No, he had to find the boy.  It was dark now, and cold, suppose to hit freezing tonight, maybe lower.  “Martha, get me a couple of blankets and I’ll get a bottle of brandy out of the cupboard.

Uncle John spent the better part of the night looking for Chris.  That is often the way with lost sheep.  The sky was getting light when he stumbled upon the boy, the body tightly curled and looking like one of the boulders.  He picked Chris up and bundled the boy in the blankets.  Then as he held the boy in his arms walked the three miles back to the truck.  He placed Chris gently onto the seat then went round to the driver’s side and started the engine, mildly racing it to build up the heat and let if flood into the cab.  Then he took a shot glass and filled it with brandy, held it to the boy’s lips and got some of it into the boy’s mouth.  His skin had that bluish tone from the long night’s exposure to cold.  Chris started to stir.  “Chris, take a shot, you need the shock of alcohol to get your blood going.  Come on, now.  Drink it.  Good, okay now, one more, just one more.”  The cab was beginning to feel warm, the heater fan was on high, and the boy’s skin was losing its bluishness, turning more pale white.  Uncle John put the cap on the bottle and eased the truck into gear.  I’ll phone the doc when I get Chris to bed.  Have him come over and check him out.


Chris was well enough a few days later to get out of bed and into his clothes.  Aunt Martha was a very good nurse.  As she told Chris, that is how she met John.  “I’ll tell you that story another time, when you’ve got a sweetheart of your own.  John will be home in an hour and I’ll have supper on the table.  We’ve missed having you at the table.”  As if by some mysterious communication John was home to that very hour.  Supper was laid and they all sat and ate the leftover roast beef.  Uncle John didn’t like turkey, said it slowed him down, made him feel sleepy.  About half way through the meal Uncle John spoke directly to Chris.  “Well, son.  You learned a lesson the hard way.  Running away from your problems damn near killed you.  It’s always better to face a problem directly.  Be honest with about it.  Many years ago when I was a young man, a little old than you, I faced that situation.  And like you I faltered.  I tried to lie my way out of it, pretended it didn’t exist.  I came up shot in life and my running away almost killed me.  I had to go back and face the people I had lied to, had let down, had failed in their trust.  To me, I would rather have died that go hat in hand and beg their forgiveness.  Humbleness comes when you overcome the need for false pride.  Chris, that’s where you are now.  You’ve got to the make the decision.  Don’t do it for me or Martha.  You got to do it for yourself.  I’m going to suggest to you that you and I go round to groups of the families here and you make amends.  You apologize for lying and betraying their trust.  You ask for their forgiveness.  You tell them why you ran.  There’s no shame in honesty.  And by the way, Mr Graves dealt with Will.  Perhaps a little too harshly for my sense of justice.  But son, Will’s not your enemy.  Don’t treat him like one.  He, like you, has his faults.  You let me know tomorrow what your decision is.”  Then turning to Martha, “I’m ready for some pie.”


The next evening at supper Chris revealed his decision.  “I’m scared, Uncle John.  I’m really scared of what they think, what they might say.  I’ll try but I don’t know if I can do it.”

“Chris, it takes no courage to tell a lie, never did.  But it’s truth that gives us the courage to say what is true.  You’ve taken a shot of courage to get this far.  Martha and I will be with you.  We’ll stand behind you.  And when you’re ready to speak, just take another shot of courage.”


Nothin From Nothin

We all have people in our past that have made an impression upon us in one way or another, some for the good and some for the not so good. I’ve never been close to those who went on the fame or glory but I( have know a couple of individuals who had run ins with authority in one way or another.  I was in my early thirties when I met Marshal Fields, no, no that that Fields of retail fame, possibly a very distant relation but we shall leave it at that.  The circle I traveled in was wine oriented at that time.  I worked a great deal of overtime and I could afford very excellent wines, mostly the older French, German, Italian, Spanish, and Portuguese.  At the time the American dollar was very strong and could buy a lot of classic wine.  I was holding an informal wine tasting at my apartment one Saturday night and one of my friends brought along a young man of twenty two.  That was the first time I met Marshall and he made quite the impression on me.  I had collected half a dozen third and fifth growth Bordeaux for the evening’s fare, the vintage was 1964.  I am always astounded that in the mediocre and poor rated vintages the lesser growths seem to invariably make some very excellent wines.


There were eight of us, nine with Marshall, and we held semi regular wine tastings, opportunities to open a couple of bottles, sit back and examine the wines and generally socialize.  Usually I provide some imported cheeses since on of my friends managed a franchise retail establishment called The Cheese Shop.  His brother in law owned the property and John found himself with a profession by way of family appointment.  I met his brother many times, a very nice man.  The shop also sold wine, hence the connection.  You know how it is, you pick up friends from your interests of hobbies.  Paul was the assistant manager of a corner delicatessen and small wine shop.  He and Marshall had been childhood friends, so Paul asked if I wouldn’t mind the extra.  He promised to bring a bottle of something interesting, which meant it would be very good or not so good.  Alan Bilter was there, holding court, as usual.  He was a wine salesman for one of the major wholesalers and had many years of training in wine.  I mean, the man was damn good, as good as any of the illustrious wine critics, maybe better.  He was our teacher, our instructor, and our friend.  This circle of friends ever expands and I have come into contact with many in the industry of the older days, before wine became a religion in California.  But that is neither here nor there.


Marshall was an impressive young man.  He rated at the master’s level in chess.  He regularly practiced with a professional soccer team who was always after him to join their team.  He was taking a degree in mathematics at the local university and had a wide knowlege on many subjects.  His nose and palate were very good and he knew food as well as wine.  Most of all, he was charismatic.  By that I mean that when you and he held a conversation you felt that you two were the only ones in the room.  His focus was that damn good.  If ever there was a young man destine to great things, Marshall was that young man.  And to top it off, he could exude a sense of humility, common man stuff.  I’ve met only one other man who came halfway near to Marshall’s abilities.  But to continue our party, we all sat around and did our swirling of wine in the glass, sniffing the bouquet, and tasting in sips each wine throughout the night.  Ah, the joys of a good wine.  Opening the bottle, letting breathe a bit, the initial contact and examination, and then carefully the wine develop over the course of an evening.  It is truly a thing of beauty and we all loved beauty.  Of course we seldom had women to our tastings.  Nothing is worse than a woman who wears more than a hit of perfume.  The wine virtually suffocates in her presence, DOA, as it were.  For centuries the French had banned all women from their cellars to keep the wine safe from being hijacked by odors not natural to wine.  And that goes for men who wear more than a hint of aftershave or cologne.  Now if you have before you some two buck chuck in gallon jugs then any addition of foreign aroma is bound to be an improvement, but better wine deserves respect.


So we imbibe and talk.  Not just sealing wax and things.  No, we talk of wine and wineries and vineyards and business and politics and art and literature and , well almost everything except sports or television.  Towards the end of the evening I pull out from my cellar, such as it is, a couple of bottles of a German riesling and finally a bottle of vintage port complete with the Stilton, the slices of pippin apple and walnuts.  Maybe some cognac as a nightcap for those who wish to sleep over and the evening ends about two am.  Wimps are not welcome to these affairs.  Before I remarried I had a more enjoyable seven years of contentment.  To this day I wondered what happened to it.  No use crying over spilt wine unless it’s 52 La Tache.  That the second marriage was not.  Shame, I had such high hopes.  But I digress.  Yes, wine appreciation is sometimes considered a competitive sport for non athletic men but I have seen not a few women bent on catching up to the “old boys” and bully for them.  They earn their scars the hard way, just as we did.


So a friendship developed between Marshall and myself, including his girlfriend, Bebe.  Bebe was an interesting woman, perhaps a year, maybe two, older than Marshall.  She had gone to the professional culinary school in a nearby city and was trying to develop her own catering and cooking school business.  I come by cooking, or being a chef as I like to call it, in a most natural way.  I seem to understand food and seasoning.  Bebe helped to perfect my abilities when I hosted dinner for eight at my place.  Unofficially my dinners came to be known as the four-thirty club because they rarely ended before four thirty in the morning.  It was quite an affair since the wines, all top notch, were paired to the courses, all seven or eight or nine, depending on how you wanted to count them.  She and Marshall often attended my dinners.  sometimes she even helped in the prep work which would start two or three days in advance.  The making of stock takes two days.  and Marshall would often invite me to dinner somewhere.  It might be local or it might be at some winery or even a California sparkling winery with commercial restaurant.  I remember when eight of us helped Bebe buy a table at the Picnic at the Opera charity event.  My contribution was a jeroboam of a very good grand mark champagne and a salmanazar of a vintage Pomerol, premier cru, of course.  That took a big chunk out of my overtime pay.  But hey, just the doing of something grand is worth the effort and even the cost.  Bebe had prepared a feast that made the upper class matrons look positively middleclass with their red and white checkered table clothes and hot dogs on a white bread bun.  I swear, many of those people have little or no taste.  Bebe should have won first prize but she was allowed second for the simple reason that one couldn’t argue with the fare or the decorations.   That was a night to remember.


I remember that a good deal of my life was that off the wall living and experience.  I suppose I am a walking oxymoron, be that as it may.  Marshall came into a bit of inheritance and bought a failing delicatessen and wine shop.  Bebe planned to do a cooking school and catering for it had the facilities for such an endeavor.  The location was good, upscale clientele and walk in traffic.  As I said, Marshall was the kind of guy one expected to make a success of life in a big way.  He had millionaire written all over him.  Yet, like Achilles, he had a mortal point of weakness.  Marshall was afraid of failure.  I could never figure that out.  Here was a guy whose IQ was above mine, and I am in that fifth deviation from the norm (some people claim I am just a deviate and perhaps they are right) and he has every thing going for him.  He’s hansom, athletic, highly intelligent, the list goes on.  But he is afraid of failure.  I mean, literally afraid of failure to the point that he often withdrew from his university classes for fear of failing the final.  I mean, he could do the work but he suffered from that testing paralysis that destroys so many gifted individuals.  I think that is why he never turned professional in soccer.  He had the talent but was afraid of failing come game time.  Now I have that problem of commitment.  That is, I take my time before I commit and then I jump in the deep end, sink of swim, do or die.  I too, have a fear of failure.  But I will take the chance, try to do what I perceive as impossible and then do it.  It’s a difficult feeling to convey to others, I assure you.  But Marshall would never jump.  He would never take that chance to do or die.


We might look at his family and start to see some of the answers.  Dear old Dad was successful from what I have been told, amassed a few million in fortune.  Older brother John started an electronics company, was one of those geniuses whom the university had little to teach him.  Even sister Sarah found a sort of fame in the social sciences.  Marshall was the youngest and perhaps that is what made the difference.  Marshall turned to drugs and drug dealing.  He went through his share of the family fortune is a few years and found his business had gone bankrupt.  I wonder why.  Eventually Bebe left him.  funny that she turned to real estate as her method of supporting herself.  She left for another city and I never saw her again.  The last I heard of Marshall was that he was on the run from the one of the Colombian cartels, had burned some cartel underlings and was wanted by the feds.  After that he was supposedly doing ten years in federal prison and in some informant program and who knows what.  the friends, both childhood and adult, have never heard from him since, and that was thirty five years ago.  Sad, all one can say is, sad.  I am several states removed from that old circle of friends, only a few remain known to me.  I live more modestly these days, I am retired and no overtime nor millions in savings.  The old day are gone.  Would i welcome Marshall back into my life?  Perhaps, but I would ever be wary.  He burned his closest friend and I was lucky not to be among them.  But I don’t expect to see him here, in this state.  It’s too far from his memories.

Where Fools Rush In

Did I ever tell you about “El Conejo”, that is Ron “The Rabbit” Spear, a real dandy of a foremen. Ron came from the line crew about five years ago and the Construction Manager, Karl Menger had promoted him to splicer for a couple of years prior to making him a foreman. Ron was a real comer, a man going places.  Or so it seemed.  El Conejo would ride around to the various job sites and ask that same dumb question, which is how he got his name.  “When are you going to be done?  Think you’ll finish today?”  And he would always get the same answer reply.  “Yeah, Ron.  I’ll let you know when I’m done.”  Menger always counted on Ron to push his men to greater productivity.  Typical old management thinking that never got results.  Pushing on a rope would be more like it.  But Ron the Rabbit never learned.  He tried spying on his people but they always found him out.


Now I should tell you the rules for any crew worth it’s salt.  Every job had work units assigned and depending on the crew’s task those work units may be ten units an hour for routine work and forty units an hour bor buried work.  The foreman’s job was to parcel out the work in an effective manner so that each man could make his units and if the craftsman was a nice guy, ten percent more to make the boss look good.  But piss your men off and you weren’t going to get that bonus.  The bonus was a point of honor among craftsmen.  The work units were for the average pace and the average individual, and since we were union, as long as management got average they had no complaint as far as we were concerned.  Of course most of the men did the average and a little more.  How much more was the measure of esteem they had for their supervisor.  Lenny Ramirez was the most popular foremen in the garage.  He always managed to make fifteen percent more work units per hour with his crew and it was hard to get on his crew.  I mean, you had to be real good.  Come Christmas his crew would chip in and give him an expensive present.  Lenny always stood behind his men.  I mean if anybody bothered his men , even the third level manager, Lenny was on them like a shot.  Having a really good crew gave a foreman the edge needed to face down almost any manager.


Ron never got a Christmas present from his crew.  I think that sums up the crew’s attitude very well.  He also never got more than five percent extra in work units, if that.  Well, for being such a bright boy, and a dandified dresser, what can I say.  there were times he even work a suit and tie in the office.  I mean, we’re outside construction, it’s dirty work.  Karl gave him all the rejects and it was Ron’s job to make them productive.  In fairness, two of those men were worthless and should have been fired years ago, but management incompetence reigns supreme.  Bill was one of those misfits, a young man who’s big sin was that he tried too hard to fit in and thus made the mistakes from trying too hard.  He wasn’t a very popular individual in the yard. Karl had tried to fire him but was checked by the union.  The problem was that Karl just wasn’t smart enough.  He came up through the ranks and because of his size he could settle any argument by taking it out behind the tool shed, and so he got the next leg up.  But Karl had reached his level of incompetence, as it were.  He really wasn’t a bad man, just used to the old ways and those days were long since gone.  A lot of the new guys had spent time in the service and had been to Viet Nam.  The old threats just didn’t work on these guys.  Bill was one of those new guys and had a hard enough time adjusting to civilian life, no instruction manual to tell him how to go about it.  Ain’t that always the way?


But Bill was smart.  I mean that guy knew stuff and could figure out stuff pretty quick, know what I mean?  He had that instinct for gaming the system, something a few of the guys picked up in the service.  Only Bill could do it better.  I remember the look on Ron’s face when he came back in the office after trying to track Bill down.  Yet when Bill came in at the end of the day he just handed Ron a list of work orders he finished.  Ron started asking where bill was all day and Bill cut him short.  Hell, Ron, I just gave you two days work for one day.  What’s your problem?  You start complaining and I’ll do less work.”  Ron and Karl made a game of giving Bill the worst assignments and this guy could figure out how to do it faster and better.  Hell, he even has the gas company doing some of his work for him in the housing track and that crew and their foreman loved him for it.  Man, you don’t mess with someone like that.  Well, a supervisor is superior in every way to a craftsman or he wouldn’t be a supervisor, right.  Sounds like the same argument I used to hear from the friendly sergeants in the service.  The higher your rank the smarter you must be.  Yeah, go tell that to the NVA.  So the showdown was coming.  Everyone on the crew and those on the other crews could see it coming.  It felt like a homecoming game in high school, only we didn’t have a king and queen.  I heard some guys were placing bets.  Don’t know what on, but there was an air of anticipation.


So we came into the office the next morning and sat and drunk our coffee.  A few jokes here and there, a little banter about the coming games this weekend, you know, regular guy chat.  Bill, as usual is sitting in his chair and reading a book.  That man always has a book handy.  I don’t mean trashy novels by Louis L’aMour either.  Something on science or economics or something like that.  And don’t make the mistake of asking him about that book or you’ll get an hour’s lecture on the subject.  Yeah, the man is out of place but he is a marvel of workmanship and production.  He can take a two hour job and complete it in half an hour.  I mean, the man is good.  Why would you want to mess with him?  That makes no sense.  And yet, that is what Ron was going to do.  Now we heard from Lenny that old Karl put the order out to watch Bill and catch him doing something, anything wrong.  so It was no surprise when Ron the Rabbit came out and told Bill that he was going to quality his work that morning.


To those of you wondering what that means, the foreman will come out and observe the craftsman at work and write down any deviation from the normal procedure and write the man up for not following established procedure.  Well, he might just as well slapped Bill in the face.  That was one of the few times I have seen that man angry.  I mean, if looks could kill, Ron would be lying on the floor dead about now.  Bill and I were working in the same new housing tract building the terminals for the service to the houses under construction.  So I followed him out to the job site.  First, of course, we stopped for a Mcdonald’s breakfast and large coffee.  Then we drove to the housing track under construction.  I parked my van about a hundred feet down the dirt street and waited.  Bill parked his and commenced to eat his breakfast, waiting for “El Conejo” to show.  Ron was a few minutes later than we had expected.  He parked his supervisor’s pickup and walked over to Bill’s van.  Bill got out and the first thing he did was to place the two orange work cones in the front and back of his van.  Then he broke out his Men Working warning signs and the three orange cones require as warning for the sign.  Then he stood and watched what little traffic came by.  Ron started to ask him what he was doing when Bill interrupted. “First thing we do is safety first, place the cones front and back of the vehicle and then place the warning signs.  Then we watch the flow of traffic to determine that we have places warning signs and cones in their necessary places.”  You could have knocked Ron over with a feather.  Then Bill went back to the van and pulled out his work order and checked to see that he was at the right place.  That determined, he went back to the van and pulled out a shovel and walked over to the exposed cable loop.  Then he proceeded to dig a little and level the dirt around that loop.  Next he pulled out his seat box and took it to the cable loop.  Ron was about to say something when Bill spoke. “I have determined that this is the correct location according to my print and work order.”  Then back to the van again where he pulled out one tool and went back to the cable loop.  I mean this went on for at least an hour as Bill was using a tool then putting it away and doing another operation.  Did you ever see a man use just one tool and then put it back and get another rather than have all his tools handy?  It like to drove me crazy watching this parade of fools.


Finally I heard Ron yell, “I can’t stand this anymore!”  He left in a hurry, almost hitting another vehicle.  I went over to Bill as he was quickly finishing his job.  “God damn idiot, cost me an hour this morning.  It’s coming out of his bonus!”  I just had to marvel at what he had done.  He didn’t just beat the system, he strangled it.  When we got back to the yard Ron was nowhere to be found.  But the buzz was thick.  Seems he came back in hopping mad and just a yelling at Karl.  There would be no more attempts to quality Bill again.  And a lot of guys were grinning at Karl when he dared to show his face.  The worse thing about it was that Bill always gave extra work units, said it was the price he paid to sit and read or do whatever he needed to do on company time.  You never look a gift horse in the mouth else it’ll bite you.  Know what I’m saying?  As it was, Bill’s status among the yard increased measurably, he become one of our leaders.

Idiots, Halfwits, And Morons

For good or bad, the internet has been a boon to the mews and opinion media.  True, there are very few of the ilk of Walter Cronkite  reporting, or at least presenting the news of the day.  Walter had integrity in the industry even if he has a bias.  One could at least respect his opinion.  So I look for sites that have intelligent writers.  Notice that I did not say writers with whom I agree.  If one only reads the reports that confirm one’s thinking or biases then one remains uninformed and truly unable to distinguish truth from lie.  an important part of the process of learning is challenging what you believe.   If you are familiar with the physical sciences as well as some of those social sciences that actually subscribe to the model of scientific enquiry, then you are well aware that the hows and whys of experimentation are often questioned rigorously.  A great many results of the many experimentations have been called into question after failing the duplication process.  It is a part of the need to affirm scientific knowledge that leads us to constantly question what we know.

If you reflect on the pseudo sciences such as political science, sociology, and some of the psychological sciences, as well as philosophy, then you know that such assertions as they may make are always on shaky ground.  They suffer from the inability to prove their claims.  Economics is one of those sciences which can prove some of its assertions by means of empirical data but other assertions are completely absurd and false.  Economics, as a body of knowledge, has yet to thoroughly clean house of the deutritious of stupidity.  Trying to popularize these pseudo sciences hasn’t helped their images as sooner or later the truth will out.  The result is the collateral damage from untruths, non truths, half truths, and outright lies is severe.  But then ignorance is always a crime against humanity.

So I make a habit of seeking new sources of information and opinion.  Opinion cannot be evaded.  Opinion is frequently loaded with bias.  And opinion is often little more than ignorance hiding behind the mask of self righteousness.  and my god, there are plenty of those people out there.  As it is, I often stumble across the run of the mill stuff.  Peoples thoughts, their plans for happiness or their general disagreement with the world.  I may or may not leave a comment.  If I do it will be something positive and short.  When I run across a blog that is more substantial then I take an interest in what is presented.  Now some of the people I have read are intelligent to a point, usually I can tell if they are out of their depth.  They sound good but their writing reflects a certain lack of competence in that subject field.  These people mean well, they just lack the necessary background to really understand their subject matter.  One learns from them, there is always a lesson somewhere.

A few others are written by intelligent people who have a passion to express.  The funny thing is that politics is like religion.  If one is a socialist or a communist or a believer in democracy, one tends to treat its tenets as religious belief.  It has been said that to be an atheist is to believe in nothing, but that is not really true.  The use a Freudian term, we often compensate when we lack in some aspect in out lives.  Religious converts are often over zealous in their faith and so try to convert friends and family.  This often happens is science.  When string theory came out in physics it was like a new religion was converted.  Lately, that conversion has become something of by gone era as string theory has not made the leaps and bounds it promised.  Ten years ago if you were a grad student in physics and in the string theory group you were watching your investment in time, money, and learning melt before your very eyes.  Of course there are a lot of nice science blogs out there.  I am amazed at how many different ways one can present the same material and still make learning appear special.

Back to the political and social side of the house.  The problem with these subjects, unlike science, is that they tend to assume a top down perspective on human behavior. If all men are equal then they all act the same. They must all want the same things in life. All men are capable of governing their own affairs. But the reality of life suggests otherwise. Like the ideal of a free market were providers of goods and services compete with each other for buyers and buyers strive to make the best deal, very often as the number of participants rise competition becomes more and more stifled until some authority steps in and interferes with the free mark by issuing regulations and laws. Research has shown that when crowds gather in the streets and most of the individuals within these crowds are relative strangers to each other, that promise of anonymity gives vent to behavior of violence and destruction. When an individual feels that there will be no consequences to his action he may give way to violences, looting, and other acts of criminality he normally would abhor. Hence, political and social theories break down because they tend to state the general and apply it to the particular. However, the ideal is usually derived from the particular and generalized. Our idea of a normal and rational individual is based upon us, not some stranger we have never met and who may not think like us. If you are a psychologist conduction experiments on the need to achieve, what group of college students would you choose to best amplify your hypothesis? Students measuring in business. Do you think that would skew your results? If you wanted to show support for a politicalized system of fairness would you want business students, athletes, or social science students? Who would most likely the have more liberal attitudes?

I’ve read enough research, meaning experimental studies, from sociologists, education departments, and social psychology departments to know that these people are very weak on methodology. The average experiment is not well thought out, it tends to lack a more rigorous control of variables, lacks the true random choice of participants, and the actual administration of the experiment is mediocre. These people are idiots. They mean well and they want to do good but they lack the mental wherewithal to actually conduct scientifically controlled and valid experiments. Over in the political science camp halfwits and morons for they idea of science is to come up with a hypothesis and go searching for evidence that fits while ignoring evidence that doesn’t fit. Political theory proceeds from moral philosophy. The fun part of moral philosophy is reading the assertions made by these philosophers. The assertions are not always made on the best of premises, premises that may be only partly true or false altogether. And no matter how closely reasoned such arguments for the support of said assumption, it will always be false.

So back to blogs. As I have said in the beginning, I read a number of blogs that I disagree with in content. I make a habit of it, thinking that someone may v=have a new argument worth considering. Some are much better than others at stating their case. And sometimes I will make some comments, usually on points where they have failed to consider the import of their arguments. Perhaps they were generally ignorant of science or history or other subject and thus reached an incorrect conclusion. We all make mistakes, we all are ignorant on some subject or its level. But I don’t comment often as there is no profit in debating morons. If all you have is an angry and emotional rant without so much as a shred of evidence, let alone one single thought, I stop by the end of the second paragraph, if I get that far. The internet allows a great deal of exchange of ideas as well as the expression of rabid ignorance. Unfortunately there is far too much of the latter. Back in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries men of leisure and usuall learning, had the time to take their world apart, so to speak, and converse with other individuals of similar situations. They exchanged correspondence and published tracts, pamphlets, and even books at their own expense unless they were in great demand by a wider array of readers. In a way, we have come back to that period and our choice of publishing is the internet blog (god, I hate that word). This also allows those who have little experience with the basic through processes to express their total ignorance in so often a savage manner. These blind followers are the real menace to society for they so very often act without thought of consequence. They are the crowd of supporters that go along with the lynching of ideas, the debasement of ideals for which their forefathers fought and died to defend. And when they pass the threshold of death leave little of worth or significance behind. These are the average population, they often mean well but live very short of their promise. These are the same people who elect or otherwise choose governments to rule over them. As the masses increase in density, the average man cannot be trusted to look after his own affairs the the exception man cannot be trusted to look after the affairs of the average man. What a conundrum.

Will Black Lives Matter In the Future?

Ah, I guess one might call the title click bait, but unlike all those writers who give lip service to the movement in one way or another i intend to provide a more comprehensive answer.  The short answer is no, in the next five years Black lives will not matter as a movement.  And no, this is not some racist rant.  To understand my short answer we must look at the pieces of the puzzle as there is no picture on the box that tells us what it is suppose to represent.  The movement, Black Lives Matter, is a political movement and rests of confrontation as its means of existence.   Without confrontation there would be no real reason to pay much attention to those who carry the signs.  The present movement channels Saul Alinsky and his book, Rules For Radicals, although he was not the origination of such rules.  Radicals through the centuries have evolved these rules for radials.  Alinsky merely redefined them a little and even then his editorial work was little more than cosmetic.  One can discover many of these “Rule” in the Communist Manifesto and Mao’s Little Red Book among the many selections from which to choose.  Alinsky was not very original in his ideas.  But he did spart several generations of activist and radicals into action.  Of course most of his attempts at wresting power from the “establishment” and “Powers That Be” were failures.  There have been very few positive results on that score.

America was never a hotbed of radicalism, practice or theory.  If one looks closely at the Declaration of independence one sees apart from our declaration of certain inalienable rights, an indictment of King George and Parliament.  It is filled with grievance after grievance that calls for the legal redress of suchs torts or wrongs.  We allude to some criminal behavior on the part of the King and his government but most is confined to civil wrongs or torts.  Perhaps the boldest part of that language is that we tell the King that it is our way over here or the highway.  Indeed, roughly a quarter of the signers of that Declaration still believed that reconciliation could occur.  Many colonists wanted to retain their British citizenship and stay in the empire.  The closest this country has ever come to radicalism was the aftermath of the war between the states in which the radical Republicans would have turned this country into a fascist state and the great depression when many Democrats has that same idea.  Yes, we endured a few excesses during those times but the American people were not greatly persuaded to join in such self destruction.  Today we seem to be engaged in a similar contention and only time will tell if we fall prey to such easy blandishments.


One of the time worn means of bringing change, particularly in local governments is the mass protest.  I say mass because one needs a sizeable number of the voting population to make the point that change must be at least considered if not accomplished or there will be a change in some or all the incumbents.  Such mass demonstrations must be organized over a longer period of time, often a few months, if they are to be effective in change.  The problem with the protests in Ferguson were that they relied on outside agitators and far fewer of the local population.  If the local population, in particular the large Black majority of the city, had desired change, then local organizers should have gone literally door to door and church to church to make the case that not only was change needed, but what change should occur.  But mass protests that do little other than to try an assert mob rule and mob justice have very little effect in the longer run of affairs.  One may stoke passions and inflame hatreds but constructive actions are usually the first victims of such attempts.  Such protests are seen as attempts at intimidation rather than attempts at finding solutions.  The other problem is that such protests become unwieldy and often violent, causing destruction and personal injury.  Those businesses that were looted and destroyed in Ferguson are more than simple collateral damage, they leave scars both physically and emotionally that resist the influence of mass protest.  When a non violent protest turns violent is loses it moral authority as well as its original purpose.  Those in power, both locally and at higher levels view such protests as having no legitimacy and their only purpose in negotiating with leaders of such protests is to buy them off as cheaply as possible.  No real change is ever accomplished.


When one thinks back to 1967 and 1968, the riots in Detroit and Chicago were really long term disasters for the Black militants.  Both cities today are bankrupt, the one finally permitted to file bankruptcy and the other is one the verge but needs the state legislature’s permission.  Both are still run by corrupt politicians, corrupt public employee unions that include police, fire, city workers, and teachers and educators draining the city coffers.  Crime is still exceptionally high and more Blacks are murdered by Blacks than by cops.  Where is Al Sharpton to protest against those in the community who perpetuate these crimes?  The schools have not been made any better, in fact, they are worse than before.  Crime is worse than prior to 1967.  True, the Black community has elected more of its own to the seats of power in the city and more Blacks are employed by the city, but they represent the few.  More and more businesses, from factories, large corporations to small business owners have left these cities.  One might ask, what good is more political power when there are fewer jobs for the populace at large and those who do have jobs, particularly with the local government, are paid in excess of what the cities can tax?


Do you see the point?  Protests that are more about wresting power away from those incumbents rarely do more than change the order of the fiefdom.  The problem with Saul Alinsky and his ilk is that they see power as the prize that must be wrested by great struggle from the other side.  That one uses power to secure cooperation from those who lack power.  And that power is the end all and be all of all political exercise.  Yet that old maxim still applies, if power corrupts, absolute power corrupts absolutely.  The problem with must of what is called political science and thought rests on the idea that power is some force that leaders must wield in order to make their will be known and their actions work well.  Yet that is far from true.  It is the top down approach to social order in a society.  It is membership in a group that counts for the individual.  This is the basis of most disputes.  This is the problems among many groups of poor, whether they are Black, Latina, Chinese, or any other group (one does not need to be a member of a traditional minority group).  We could tomorrow spend a great deal of money making all the poor “ghettos” habitable.  Let’s raze the old structures and build new ones.  Then life would be great, new housing of good quality and life will improve.  Except we tried that once and it was an abject failure.  All those highrise apartments became prisons to house the poor and a few inmates took over to terrorized the inhabitants.  But, But, the best and the brightest of our liberal and progressive leaders said it would work.  Seems that everyone benefitted by the poor regardless of their color.


I think what bothers me the most is that those who profess professional expertise in the welfare of the poor are so attached to institutional solutions particularly when show that such solutions don’t work.  the current welfare system only makes those who depend on it dependent on those who operate it, who expand it, who control it.  But the system is not responsive to those who live under it. And all to frequently the police are brought into contact with such inmates and are theus seen as part of the problem in the lives of the poor.  It is the classic case that those with good intentions rarely think through their actions to the possible conclusions.  Again, political theory tends to see the solutions as more laws and more money thrown at such problems.  And to make matters even worse, the inmates see the problem as “The Powers That Be”, mainly the white population, as their collective reason why they, the inmates, can’t get ahead.  It is interesting that those same liberals and progressives who push a welfare system on a group of people would also push the idiocy of “White Privilege” as the reason why the poor, many of whom are Black and Latino, can’t get ahead.  Even poor whites are thought to have that same privilege and yet it has done them little good, if any, they are still poor.


The real problem is that if we can’t not borrow our way to wealth (actually, with the Fed policy of QE, some do, but most can’t) then we can’t blame our way to achievement in life.  Blaming others, The Powers That Be, for my lack of education, my lack of skills, and my lack of opportunities for work doesn’t automatically solve the problem.  I still lack education, I still lack skills, and thus my opportunities for work are slim to none.  If I protest for justice, what is my expectation?  That by some magic proclamation I shall have this good life on my terms?  The fact is, welfare is a system of co-dependency.  We judge its success by the perverseness of how many “customers” we serve, not by how many people we send back out into the world to survive on their own.  Dependency is not justice, it never was.  So you see, Black lives will never matter in terms of real change, real “Justice”, and real opportunity.  so much of local government has been usurped by state and federal government agencies.  Education use to be under local control and should be put back there again.  But just try and wrest that control away from the government institution of the “factory style” education thinking process.  You, the parent, are not equipped to make even the basic decision of what your child should eat for lunch, so no brown bagging for your child.  We’ll tell you what your child shall learn and how your child shall think or we’ll bring charges of child abuse against you.  But as long as such movements such as Black Lives Matter want to bring in Federal coercion then they will never matter for they have surrendered their legitimacy and power to the very “Powers That Be” that work against them.

Saving The World From Itself

Lies that we tell ourselves and others.  We all have some guiding set of principles we believe in and more or less try to live.  Not that we have examined these principles too closely lest we discover them to be false or contradictory.  I was watching the film In Bruges last night, one of those overlooked gems in a world of extreme special effects and celebrities posing as actors with scripts written by a warehouse full of monkeys with typewriters.  We don’t dare trust those monkeys with computers, just think of the harm they could do in the real world.  One of my favorite posters is one with a ten year old child and his pet chimpanzee on a rope around its neck.  The chimp has an automatic weapon in his hands.  The caption is: No matter how trustworthy he looks, never give a chimpanzee your weapon.  Now substitute a cop for the chimp…well, I digress.  Back to the movie.  The two main characters are hitmen and they have been sent to Bruges to enjoy the former medieval fairyland.  And indeed, Bruges is a wonderful place to visit, a theme park that predates Disney.  Had old Walt gone there first he might have altered his plans for L.A.  The boss has sent the two men there for a reason.  One of them, in completing the hit of a priest, we don’t know why the priest had a contract out on him, accidently shoots a small boy and kills him as well.  Now the upshot of the plot is that the boss is incensed that one hitman who killed the boy did not immediately commit suicide on the spot.  therefore the other hitman will have to kill the one who messed up.  Of course familiarity breeds resistance and the boss decides to come to Bruges and finish the job.  He feels his honor is at stake.  During the course of the shooting the boss kills a bystander who just happens to be a midget in a primary school uniform (a low budget euro trash film is being shot in the square).  The boss, who holds his principles never sees that he has shot an adult and not a child.  So the boss commits suicide there on the spot.  If only our politicians would hold their honor so dearly when they fail.  Of course the idea that life for children is so sacred while for adults it’s not seems to stretch the idea of principle.

So we endure calls to soak the rich and give to the poor.  Yet if the real problem of society is a lack of jobs, of opportunities for good education and skill training, simply moving money from one set of hands to another with no more thought that it all should be equal will accomplish almost nothing.  If we give a math test and only two or three score a hundred out of a hundred and most of the class scores less that fifty each, merely redistributing the points from the brains of the class to its dummies does nothing.  Besides, there aren’t enough points to rob from the smarties to pass the others.  Well, how about we lower the standards?  My god, we have been doing that for the past six or seven decades.  Where has that gotten us?  You send your kid to college and they spend the first two years receiving a remedial education that they should have obtains in the public school system.  Meanwhile we constantly hear from those educators and administrators that they don’t make enough money and need more, lots more.  And we need bigger schools, large campuses with lots of bells and whistles because that is how children learn.  Well, tell that to any Nigerian who has scrimped and saved enough to come to the US and is already better educated and speaks better English that Tupac.  They do more education with one and two room school houses and basic cheaply printed books than we can do with our billions.

Why is it that every politician who is so terribly concerned with education of the poor wants to build edifices to him or herself?  Centennial High School in east San Jose was complete in 1976 and I think Gerald Ford came to dedicate the facility.  This high school had everything.  There was a state of the art electronics laboratory.a full size olympic swimming pool, a gym that was larger than the one for San Jose State University, an auto mechanic’s shop with all the latest tools, a planetarian, a student center, a facility center with a wet bar, a state of the art theater better than anything else in San Jose or the surround cities.  The enrolment was expected to be initially excess of two thousand students.  There was a daycare center for unwed mothers.  There was a health clinic.  And around this two block long monstrosity was a eight foot high chain link fence with two feet of ribbon wire on top.  Do you think there was a problem with the collective vision of the school board and the educators in general?  Hell, even the police had a detention center on campus.  Do we not understand the contradiction in terms here?

Our problems around the world is not the divergence between rich and poor.  It never was.  It is about the lack of opportunities available to the many and yet restricted to the few.  Yes, it is a political problem of our own making, of our own stupidity.  Somehow children are deprived if there are thirty of them of varying ages stuck in a one room school house.  You know, I’ve never seen the research that positively correlates lack of learning in such situations.  So here’s what we do.  We put limits on growth.  Bigger is not better.  We put caps on personal income.  Quarter of a million dollars a year is more than enough for any one.  We put caps on the size of houses.  Why do you need more than 3000 square feet?  Why do we need corporations?  We will not allow the formation of any more corporations and those in existence will have ten years to sell themselves off, whole or part to partnerships and sole proprietorships.  The owners can make all the money they want but they will be taxed on what they withdraw.  And they must withdraw at least one twentieth of the business income as personal income.  If that personal income exceeds $250,000, then we take the excess.

As for schools, we will tear down all those industrial factories of education.  Schools will be located in neighborhoods and will be very small.  No more than one grade of twenty students each.  You want to stop drugs in schools?  You want to stop the violence, the sexual misconduct?  In small classrooms everyone knows everyone else.  You stop the bullying, the stupidity of social competition.  Everyone wears a uniform, including standard footwear.  There will be no public service or teacher unions.  Parents will be expected to contribute to the maintenance of the facilities.  They will help to paint, repair, or pay for repairs.  Books will be standard and reproduced cheaply.  Now if you are a private school, I don’t care how you spend your money.

Banks will no longer be allowed to issue credit based on nothing but good credit scores.  The bank may only lend one dollar for every dollar of assets.  The banks will no longer be allowed to lend more that 70% or the appraised value of any asset, such as a house or machinery being financed.  Automobile loans will finance no more than 50% of the car’s used value.  Now why do this?  Because it is the issuance of credit, which has turned into debt, that is totally out of control.  When credit is issued there is a corresponding affect on inflation.  This is why the price of houses has exceeded any possible or reasonable value.  This is why the basic transportation of a used car cannot be made affordable to those with limited incomes.

Put a cap on the incomes and assets of those who run for elected office and those who are appointed to public office.  It is not the job of the taxpayer to make these people millionaires.  And there will be no public service unions, police officer associations, or any other fraternal organizations by which income and benefits can extracted by collective action.  There many more ways we can reduce the size and cost of government.  The fact remains that in order to increase the number of opportunities for all individuals we must reduce the size of our activities.  Economies of scale only benefit the organizations that engage in such actions.  Yes, extremely large tractors pulling extremely large tilling devices and ever larger harvesters can produce huge numbers of bushels of wheat.  But when most people lack work, then who will buy the crop?  When you do more with fewer employees, then you employ fewer people and fewer people have jobs.  At some point there ceases to be any gain at all.  Economics, the economy of the world, is a zero sum game.  All the national economies are in a form of competition with each other to see who can steal, in the name of economic growth, the most from each other.  Kill off the global corporations, insist on a gold and silver standard, restrict banking practices to one dollar of capital instead of excessive credit creation, restrict private capital accumulation for the simple purpose of personal enrichment.  That is how you do it.  Stop the bigness.  This means deliberately changing our cultures to value smallness.

Simply Irresistible

I like writing on a wide range of subjects, it is such a challenge to draw upon past and present knowledge while doing the occasional research that adds to my storehouse.  I joke to my wife that my mind is a index sequential relational database and then proceed to prove it when asked about something and it takes me a few minutes to retrieve the information.  It’s just one of those things that happens all the time.  I remember a film or a song and then I can visualize the answer in the person or the scene I am trying to recall and yet it takes a while for the works to finally make it to my conscious mind and get spit out.  I would believe that most of us have that relational database organization for our memories, I mean it makes sense.  Memory is either rote and associative.  Many of us were made to learn out maths tables for addition and multiplication.  Subtraction and division didn’t need tables since one works backwards.  But associative memory is a different animal, if you like.  Relational databases rely on keys.  For instance, I could store information about an individual by telephone number, by name, by address, street address, and a few other pieces of data.  By using one of those pieces of data, called a tuple, I can access all of the information on record.  Like the War of 1812, Battle of New Orleans, Andrew Jackson, John Lafete, British defeat, 1814, and so forth.  One of the things that happens when we learn with a diverse amount of information available is that we assemble a richer associative record.

Of course one of the key components is writing, which reinforces the learning process.  It’s that old hand eye coordination thing that seldom is practiced in today’s public schools where the emphasis is on memorization of answers to be spat out on demand, often using multiple choice.  Yet how long is such information retained in memory.  One can memorize answers for a test and promptly forget such information quickly after such a test.  On the other hand, learning is a different process.  One must pay attention to what is to be learned.  Then one memorizes the information.  After which one tries to use or manipulate such information so as to place it in different contexts.  That is like telling a child to take a paragraph and rewrite in his own words.  Hell, simply inverting the word order does wonders for learning.  It is that thought process that leads to learning.  When I was in that fifth, sixth, seventh, eighth, and ninth grade class that required that I write some report, I naturally took to looking up some encyclopedia reference and then copy that reference by changing word order.  Yeah, I’m sure the teacher could tell that I was plagiarizing, I mean it was obvious.  But come the test and I could score an A fairly easy.  If I were a teacher I would teach this method to many students just to get them to learn without knowing that is what they were doing.  Sure, the writing gets a little stogy for an eight grader but you know, it does teach you something about writing.  I mean, if I were an English teacher in the public high school system I would have my students practice rewriting paragraphs in different ways.  Imagine, one could take a sentence that was independent clause and dependent clause and have it reversed in order.  Try writing a passive sentence as active and vice versa.  Man, you’ve got to play with language and with its structure if you are going to learn to be its master.

Now this method of rewriting sentences backward doesn’t work well with music as exhibited by playing the Beatles White Album backwards tends to result in devil worship.  Mathematical equations read the same, frontwards or backwards as long as there is an equal sign in the middle.  And reading history backwards is not necessarily the antidote to repeating history again, and again, and again….broken record.  These days I have a strong tendency to associate learning with writing.  Maybe because it has become very simple for me, the learning and the writing.  I like the idea of critical mass theory to learning.  Once you have memorized enough facts and other information then learning can begin.  In a way it is like learning another language.  You struggle to learn the words and the verb tenses and all the syntax rules but it isn’t until that day when everything comes together.  You start to have an understanding of what is being said without playing translator.  One goes from hearing a phrase or two and getting some sense of what someone is speaking about to understanding quite a bit more of what they are saying without that delay process.  The same thing happens with mathematics.  It starts to make sense to you, you see what the operations are trying to tell you.

The same things happens in history.  When you read a number of sources and then start to think and reflect a patterns starts to emerge and one starts to make sense of the events and the time and the people.  I really loved reading about Bismarck, the German Chancellor and not the capital of North Dakota ( I had to look that one up since I get the two Dakota capitals confused.  Pierre is the capital of South Dakota.  Maybe the key here is to remember that Bismarck was the superior to the French Pierre.  That might work, say it three times and its yours.  So it goes, you look for patterns that work.  I love to read many of the older fiction writers because I learn so much from them, but that is another post.  No, as one gets older and keeps learning and thinking and reading and writing the more the world becomes your oyster.  That is the message and the process is really is simply irresistible.  Like being addicted to love, we are Robert Palmer in so many ways.