Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Finding my way

Rayda gave me a GPS for my birthday. She gave it to me 56 years too late. Among the problems of poor spatial skills, besides atrocious handwriting, is a poor sense of direction. I have never had a poor sense of direction because I have never had a sense of direction of any kind. You could put me down anywhere on planet earth and I’d get hopelessly  lost in five minutes. As a child, I envied Hansel & Gretel because they were smart enough to drop breadcrumbs as they walked alone so that they could find their way home. In Jr. High School it took me weeks to be able to find my locker, I’d always end up on the wrong hallway.

 

I don’t know what causes poor spatial skills. It is much more common among women and, according to a Swedish study released this year, homosexuals males. Interestingly, lesbians were found to have good senses of direction. I’m sure that most people who have traveled with me wished that I was a lesbian. The most common things said to me in  car are “left here…LEFT !” and, “you missed it.”

 

What is really bad about people with poor senses of directions is that they can’t read maps either (or do math, but that’s another issue). So when someone passes me a map to help out, they may as well be handing me a monkey wrench for all the good that it will do me. My wife believes that my sense of direction is actually very predictable and that If I will just go the exact opposite way of the way I believe that I am supposed to go, I will end up going the right way. I have tried that. It does not work. I am not shy about stopping to ask directions, but I have found that listening to directions is a very hard thing to do, your mind is always somewhere else and you always want to pretend that you know exactly what the direction giver is telling you, no matter how confusing. My old college roommate and I were lost one night and pulled over to ask directions. An old codger told us to “go down this street and “shafer” on over and then do a half moon.” I swear that’s what he said. Neither of us had the nerve to ask what a “shafer” was, or where the “moon” was. We just nodded sagely and hoped that the other guy knew. The proceeded to be lost for another half an hour.

 

I am excited about the GPS device. I have found through its use rented cars that I will still screw up, but when I do the GPS tells me “Take your next legal U-Turn.” Just like my passengers always do. I will never drive alone again. All of which reminds me of a time I flew into Philadelphia and took an immediate wrong turn after  leaving the rental car agency. I noticed fairly quickly that I was not heading toward the big buildings downtown and that the sky was getting darker (after the sun goes down I can really get lost). I took a freeway exit and got caught in traffic which, as it turned out, was heading to the ballpark. I stayed in line, turned into the stadium and went in to watch the ballgame. I did not particularly  want to see the game, but I knew that it would be three more hours before I could get lost again, and I needed a break. The bad news, of course, was that it took forever for  me to get to my hotel after the game.

 

As we move into the new year, I want to wish you all an excellent sense of direction for 2009, and if you get lost, give me a call, I have the tools to get you there !

Monday, December 29, 2008

Over the speed limit

Tomorrow I go from 55 to 56. 55 has been a cool age. I have enjoyed saying it; “fity five” (I leave out the second f) Fity six does not sound anywhere near as cool, still, it sounds a year cooler than fity seven, although I think for fifty seven I am going to add the second f back in. Fifty seven seems to me to require more dignity.

 

Going from fifty dive to fifty six reminds me of the huge change in  my life when I went from 5 to 6. That was a big year. That was the year I switched schools for the first time. Because I was in the bulge of the baby boom generation, there were never enough public schools for my cohorts and I, although at 5, I’m pretty sure that I did not know that I had cohorts, or how to get rid of them if I had them. What I did know was that my school, Braeburn Elementary was crowded. My Kindergarten class met in a temporary building, or, as it was universally known in those days, a “shack”. Braeburn was an older school, far removed from my neighborhood. I was there only the one semester before the new school, Richmond, was finished. Other than throwing up at our Christmas party, and learning the Lord’s Prayer, how to skip and the great milk, cookie and nap times we had each day, the thing I recall most about Braeburn was their fundraising Minstrel Show. One of our neighbors, Dick Roland, father of my classmate Mark, put on black face and participated in what I bet was the last district sanctioned Minstrel show in the Houston  School system. I had never heard of a Minstrel show before that, and frankly could not understand the whole point. I am still not sure that I understand the point, but that was the last one I ever saw. It was an odd thing seeing the father’s of all of my friends dancing around on stage imitating, in the words of my mother “colored people” (“They like to be called that” she confided). Maybe they did, considering the vile alternatives of that racist time.

 

The longest six and a half years of my life were spent at Richmond Elementary School. There I developed every bad habit and every anxiety which  plague me to this day. Almost nothing good ever happened to me at Richmond, although a lot of funny things did. I think the thing which is most interesting is that despite the fifty years that have gone by since January 2, 1959, elementary school  still looks pretty much the same, it just has  less paddling. The elementary school my daughter went to looked and felt very much like mine. Not even the water fountains or restrooms had changed very much. The cafeteria looked the same, although the food had changed some. The prices for the food certainly had. It was 27 cents for a plate lunch at Richmond in 1959. This included a meat (sort of) a starch, a vegetable and a carton of milk. For two cents more you could get cookies, for seven cents more (later reduced to four cents) you could get ice cream. You could not get a lunch like that for 27 cents today. Even if you could, you would not buy it, it was inedible, which is why many of us just bought four cartons of ice cream for lunch.

 

One thing that has changed, independence. Richmond was a few blocks from my house and as a six year old I walked there every day. I was not specifically in the care of any of the older kids, but there were enough of them around to where my mother did not mind turning me loose.  I can’t imagine people today sending their six year olds, unaccompanied, to school. I would not. But it was exhilarating. Over the six or so years of walks I expanded my vocabulary to include colorful profanity, I learned about sex and figured out how to invent various lies for not having done my assignments. It was time well spent, really, the only thing that was attached in any way to that school that was time well spent. That has changed, elementary school today is time well spent. There are not forty kids to a classroom presided over by a sadistic middle aged woman anymore. They teach you how to think, at least a little bit. Anyone who tried to think for themselves at Richmond Elementary was not going to do well or perhaps even last long. Most years I was sent to sit in the back of the room, away from the rest of the class, for weeks at a time. We were not allowed to talk at lunch. Can you imagine that ? I think that you can talk at lunch in most prisons. We lived for the monthly air raid drills to break the tediousness of our existence, even though we were reminded by them that we would. one day soon, be burned beyond recognition in a nuclear holocaust. As Robert Klein used to say, at least we’d have “an orderly nuclear holocaust”.

 

All of that was fifty years ago. But I swear to you, the 45 years since I got out of elementary school passed much, much faster than my six year sentence at Richmond.

 

 

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Area Man to Complete Breaking 2009 New Year's Resolutions by Today

Sitting in the bar in the Austin Club, a place he had resolved not to enter , and sipping on an expensive scotch which he had resolved not to drink in the coming new year, small time lawyer and little known blogger, Wade Porter, announced to a couple of friends and three or four fellow bar patrons that he was almost done in breaking all of his 2009 New Year’s resolutions. ‘It’s great to enter the new year with the pressure of keeping those damned resolutions already off my back.” Said Porter. The slightly inebriated blogger went on to tell his friends how he had come to the conclusion to break his resolutions early. “I got into a spat with my daughter last night and realized that I had not been listening to her with “love”. Listening with Love referred to a recent posting of Porter’s which had been labeled by some as “sanctimonious, even by his standards".

 

Porter continued to slur,"It hit me that there was no way I was going to be able to “listen with love” to everyone this year, and I started going through my other resolutions to see which ones I could keep. Let’s put it this way, after thinking about it I immediately left my shoes in the den last night when I went up to bed and then did not bother to make the bed this morning. Tonight I plan to come home, plop down on the couch and watch old Andy Griffith shows while my wife cleans up the kitchen from all the Christmas goodies she has made all day. Then, of course, I’ll forget to call my mom and not walk the dog".

 

Reactions to the Porter announcement were decidedly mixed. His mental health care provider, Dr. William Tullis applauded what he called “a bold move.” “Wade suffers from chronic anxiety, the pressure of keeping resolutions that he knows that he will break just add to his neurosis.” Said Tullis, employing a term no longer recognized in psychiatry but felt to be “appropriate for this particular patient.”  Sadness, however, prevailed at the offices of Allensworth and Porter, where the brackets had already been filled out and the bets already placed for the annual, “When will Wade blow it” contest. ‘This was an exciting year” said one young associate, “the over/under on him throwing garbage into the recycling bin was January 16.”

 

Porter has never kept a resolution past the month of March, a fact that he has always attributed to a confluence of “the coming of Spring, my annual trip to Arizona and St. Patrick’s Day.” Until this year, the quickest Porter had ever broken a resolution was at six seconds past Midnight on New Year’s day when he loudly proclaimed, “Shit, 1989 is going to be one great year” ,which broke his resolution not to curse. Some friends mentioned that they will miss Porter’s creative ways to get around the resolutions without breaking them. “I remember one year,” said friend Gaston Broyles, “he resolved not to drink any alcohol. By February he was drinking wine and he told me that he understood his  resolution to have  been to drink no alcohol that had not been consumed by Jesus.” Other friends were relieved that they will now not be subjected to a year of Porter blogs about Abraham Lincoln as he had recently resolved to do. The general consensus is that, other than Onion parodies, Porter’s most excruciating blogs deal with religious or historical figures. Although, as one former reader stated, “Those blogs about his childhood can be pretty grating too.”

 

As the Scotch continued to flow on this Christmas eve, the friends could not find a way out of the argument as to whether it was possible for Porter to break his resolution “not to procrastinate” so early. With that in mind as a future blog topic, the bar was closed and all friends and readers of “Mills of the Gods” were wished a Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Year of the Rail-splitter

2009, as you will hear a few times next year, marks the bicentennial of the birth of Abraham Lincoln. More books and articles have been written about Lincoln than any other figure in history, outside of Jesus and Napoleon, at least that’s what I heard in a speech one time. Whether it is true or not is immaterial, unless you are still collecting royalties.

 

Most Americans know a lot about Lincoln, at least compared to other figures who lived 200 years ago. How much do you know about Charles Darwin who shares Lincoln’s birth year ? See what I mean ? Yet people’s perception of Lincoln change all of the time. While 200 years seems a long time, it is not as long ago as you may think.

 

When I was born in 1952,exactly four score and seven years after Lincoln’s assassination, there were any number of people still alive who remembered him from life. The last Civil War veteran died when I was about 7. The year I was born there were still people living who had been freed by Lincoln. Think about that. The year my mother was born, 1926, there were still people alive who had met Lincoln. Lincoln’s son Robert did not die until the 1920s. O.k. my mom is getting up there in years, but there are well over a million people in this country as old as she is. That means that there are well over a million people who had an attachment to Lincoln that was not in the least remote. Any number would have listened to stories from their grandparents about Lincoln and the war.

 

When I grew up, in Houston, Texas, there was still a division of people who called the war of 1861-1865 by different names. Older folks called it the “War Between the States”. Immigrants from the North and most people under 21 called it the “Civil War”. There was a political difference in the two names. The later smacks of rebellion, the former of a war between sovereign states. As I have mentioned here before, the central circulation  room in the  library of my youth was presided over not by pictures of Washington and Lincoln, but by those of Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee. Yet even then, views of Lincoln had changed in Texas. My father told me that during his childhood, there was a man in his hometown  who would not set foot in my grandfather’s office because there was a picture of Lincoln hanging from the wall. I recall no such nonsense when I was growing up. Lincoln’s birthday was a celebrated  every February 12 at my school. While certain teachers still harbored soft spots for the “lost cause” most had come to recognize that Lincoln had, all in all, done the right thing in ending slavery and preserving the union. It is hard to believe in 2008, soon to be 2009, that people had to even think about those issues. Old beliefs die hard, and people are reluctant to criticize their ancestors.

 

But think about it, almost exactly 200 years after Lincoln was born, a black man will take the oath of office to become President of the United States. Somewhere old Abe must be smiling, as we all should be. We will talk about Lincoln  more in the coming year.

Monday, December 22, 2008

Listening with Love

I heard a sermon about love this last weekend. The speaker had a list of things that we should do with love. One of them was to “listen” with love. I had never considered that before and had to think for a bit about what it meant.

 

For most of us, hearing is easy, but listening is hard. Listening really means “to attend closely.” It Is qualitative hearing. Hearing something so as to discern exactly what the speaker is trying to say, not using that speech as a shuttlecock to immediately bat back over the net. It seems to me that “to listen with love” adds a further dimension, that being that you listen to any statement with an empathetic attitude. That you listen from the speaker’s point of view to try to truly understand his or  statement, not simply as a straight line setting up the punch line of  your own views. Listening is a way, indeed the only way we have to truly get inside another human beings mind.

 

From a personal point of view, I can’t imagine anything harder. Not only was I born with a suspicious and cynical personality, but I was given three years of intense training in law school to listen from a critical point of view and to pick apart, often try to destroy, the idea the speaker has. It is the way I have earned my living for thirty years. It can’t be turned off by a sermon or a Sunday School lesson. Does it need to be ?

 

I believe that listening with love is not something that can be divided up in your life between your work time and the balance of your day. I don’t think that it can be turned on and off like a shower, although I wondered  if, like the shower, you can eventually adjust the hot and cold water to reach a satisfying temperature. I doubt it. You are empathetic or you are not. We have no word in the English language for half empathy. We do use the term “half listening”,  I believe that to be an almost oxymoronic  term, similar to “multi tasking”. Half listening is no listening. You may as well try to half talk as half listen and claim that presenting 50% of your speech is communicating. So what is one to do ? How does one “listen with love” ? 

 

Maybe to listen with love you have to “listen for love”. Every statement that a person makes in life has some component of love within it. The majority of love in statements made by humans is  “self love”. It is equally important to be able to listen for statements of self love, as for any other kind of love, in order to understand the speaker. In fact, it is often a good deal easier. All of us are familiar with self love.99.99% of the people who have ever lived on the earth have spent the vast majority of their days pursuing some form of it. It is what makes the baby cry for his breakfast and it is the single most important component to the survival of the species. That makes it pretty easy to listen for, but not so easy to listen to. Those awakened by a baby for a 3:00 a.m. feeding will know what I mean. Even those of us who nudged our wives to wake up understand it a little.

 

So as we enter 2009, I am going to make an effort to listen for love, so that I can listen with love. That may mean that I don’t speak as much and will certainly  mean that I will not reply rapidly to any given statement. These changes will be noticed and welcomed by everyone who converses with me. I have a sneaking suspicion that it will make life more enjoyable (self love again).We shall see.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

White House Ponzi "Plan" sends markets soaring

Stock markets worldwide all reached record highs today upon the White House announcement that President Bush had pardoned Bernard Maddon of “all crimes both present and future” & agreed that the Department of Treasury would indemnify him in “any civil action”. Upon his pardon and release from custody, Maddon was immediately named to replace Secretary of Treasury Paulson and will begin to translate his successful Ponzi Scheme for providing instant ten percent returns on investments (for a good number of years) to all United States citizens. President Bush also announced an immediate end to the recent recession and urged everyone to hit the malls as it was still not too late to save the Christmas buying season for the nation’s retailers.

 

The Senate immediately approved Maddon’s appointment by voice vote. The only member of Congress to complain was Congressman Ron Paul (R) of Texas who stated that it made no fiscal sense to replace one Ponzi scheme for another.”At least” decried Congressman Paul,” under the government’s current Ponzi scheme it is the Chinese that are left holding the bag after the plan breaks down, now it will be our grandchildren.” Responses to Congressman Paul’s statement were universally negative, best exemplified by Harvard Economics Professor Ferd Burford who said, “What did your grandchildren ever do for you ? This is America, let them come up with their own scheme for any problems they may  have fifty years from now, all of us all be dead.”

 

The administration had been meeting for several days discussing the Maddon appointment. Up until last week it was not felt that a Ponzi scheme (dubbed Ponzi “plan” by the administration because it was felt that the word “ scheme” has unfortunate connotations) could work on a nationwide scale.  Maddon’s fifty billion dollar fleecing of investors has proven beyond the shadow of a doubt that there was no economy so large that it could not benefit from Ponzism. The White House had consulted with President –elect Obama before appointing Maddon.Obama released a one sentence statement this afternoon which simply assured the American people that he too “is a Ponzian” and that Maddon will retain  his job in the new administration.

 

In a nutshell, the Maddon plan will work like this. Instead of one filing date (April 15) for Federal Income Taxes, the nation will be divided up into twelve equal groups of about 25 million people each. Taxes by revolving  groups will be paid once a month. Once the January group pays, that money will be distributed to the next  citizen’s group which will then be used by the February group to pay their taxes after deducting money needed for themselves. That money will then be sent to the March group and the rotation will continue , the December group’s money going to the January tax payers and so on until the end of time (or the collapse of the scheme in about fifty years). In other words, the government will finally begin working like Corporate America ,whereby all decisions are made to benefit current taxpayers, just like companies attempt to benefit only their stockholders. Executives, especially those of the now bailed out American  auto industry were universal in their approval of seeing  the government finally start functioning as a business. “Charles Ponzi was one of the greatest economic minds Italy ever produced, the equal to the American economist   Huey “Everyman a King” Long” trumpeted an official from Bank of America, “it is too bad that it took a crisis like this to finally put his theories into action on a national scale.”

 

The Ponzi Plan now replaces the Administrations much ballyhooed ,and equally criticized, “Fonzie Scheme” and its repetitive playing of the depression era song “Happy Days are here again.” It will be recalled that under that plan, Henry Winkler was to be appointed Secretary of the Treasury and a team of 1950s attired  motorcycle gangs were to spread out  all over America throwing bags of recently printed hundred dollar bills down Main Street in every town with a population of over 5,000.

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Author Escapes Arctic Chill, Flees to Florida

“ I have never set foot in the state of Florida, it is a matter of personal pride.” Candace Bergen, “Murphy Brown”

 

 

For various reasons, some of which I explained in my blogs on South Carolina, I am going to Florida  today. I am not overly fond of the state of Florida, I suppose it began on my honeymoon where it rained every day  we were in the state. As a great author once said, “Florida is the place Americans go when they need to reinvent themselves”. Rayda and I are going to see an old friend who reinvented himself.

 

Eric (not his real name) was an old drinking buddy of mine. I say “was” because Eric does not drink anymore and has not for over a decade. Since my personal belief is that alcoholism is a strong genetic disposition, I have great admiration for recovering alcoholics. I think that it is similar to deciding that after 40 years of being right handed,   you are going to live your life left handed. it is a very, very difficult thing to start and much more difficult to maintain. Eric has done it with aplomb (he had to use aplomb because he does not drink anymore and aplomb was all that was left).I have no friend of whom I am more proud.

 

For several years I was Eric’s boon companion, and probable enabler, for many a happy hour. Eric was a colorful drinker. The stories I could tell would fill many blogs but might embarrass him should anyone figure out who Eric is. I will tell one  though.

 

As stated above, Eric liked to drink a lot, in both senses of that phrase. He was pretty O.K. when he was at Speedy’s on Sixth Street with friends (Speedy’s had a “three for one” happy hour before such gimmicks were  outlawed by the state, often Eric and I would often  go in for “six for two”. It was when he was out on his own that he got into trouble. One night I got the inevitable “one telephone call” from Eric, who had been invited by an Austin Policeman to be a guest of the City’s for the evening, pending bail and arraignment. I quickly put on some clothes and headed downtown to try to help out. I walked into the station and asked to see the police report.

 

From a tactical defense point of view, Eric had done himself no favors. The report said that when he was asked by the cop if he had been drinking, and was that why he was driving n excess of 110 mph, Eric is said to have replied, “yeah. I’ve got a pretty good buzz on.” Hmmm, that might hurt in front of a jury. I was taken back to that cool little room where you get to talk to your client on a phone and there is a glass wall between you, just like n the movies.

 

Wade(doing Bogart imitation)-  ” How are the “screws? treating you in there ?”

 

Eric (laughing)-“they have got me on bread and water.”

 

Wade- “where the hell are your shoes ?”

 

Eric-“I forget”

 

I managed to get Eric out and as we walked, well, I walked, toward the front door of the police station, he looked at the desk cop and then me and said, “Here, give me the keys, I’ll drive.” That was the first time I found out that the Police did not think Eric was all that funny. There was another (another misunderstanding) about a year later.

 

At any rate, Eric and I had a Saturday law firm meeting the next morning, i.e. in about four hours. Now, in those days, to try to cut down on vehicular homicide, the Austin American Statesman newspaper used to print the name and address of every DWI from the previous evening. They eventually stopped this hilarious practice, but it was going strong at the time. Anyway, Eric and I walk into the conference room and see one of the partners reading a section of the newspaper. On the back of the section he is reading, we see the list of DWI arrests from the night before , Eric’s name, prominent among them. A meeting goes awfully slowly when, for the entire time, there is newspaper on the table that has got your name in it as having committed a serious crime.. But no one said a word. For all I know, no one but Eric and I ever saw it.

 

That was a long time ago, Eric is sober and a family man now with a wife and two beautiful children, all of whom I will get to meet tomorrow. I could not be more excited, even if it means that I have to go to Florida to do it.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Old Man Winter holds City of Austin in Icy Grip

The winter of ’08-’09 roared through central Texas with a vengeance last night plunging temperatures to the low 30s and setting up a scary scenario for travelers and commuters on Wednesday as the chill is not expected to rise above much above 50 degrees. Several minutes of snow in some areas last night left the morning rush hour drivers confused when they saw distinct evidence of small ice crystals left on their car roofs and windshield wipers.

 

Burton Fitzsimons, morning T.V. weatherman said “We’re advising people to take it slow, or not come to work at all if they are not really needed. While we have no ice on the streets, there is always a chance the  cold front might confuse people, especially if they try to find out how to turn on the  their  car heaters while they are driving .That’s the kind of thing that really snarls traffic and can even result in a fender bender.”

 

The weather was the talk of the town. “it’s another brutal Austin winter” commented 61 year old William Allensworth as he tugged at a blue pullover sweater he had been forced to wear over his normal polo shirt to protect himself from the cold. “I’d like to hear what those scientists have to say about global warming now.” he sneered, causing uproarious laughter among those drinking coffee at Randall’s Super Market. Several old men in the crowd commented that the young folks today did not know what cold was. “In my day” said one old coot, “we’d have three or four days a winter where you had to wear a sweater, or even a coat if you had one. One year it did not get back into the 80s until February.” A careful check of weather records did not back up this claim.

 

Tuesday had been a normal December day in Austin, with a high of 81, the front caught many people unaware. “I’m out by the pool” said Lila Cummings, “and I noticed that I was not getting much sun. Before I knew it, it was in the 60s out there and I had to rush in to cover up and turn on the heat, even then I never dreamed that it would get as bad as it did.” Austin Police said that those foolish enough to be on the road last night became panic stricken at the sight of white flakes coming from the sky. Several pulled over to the road shoulder and braved the night, even though the snow stopped falling after about ten minutes. The Red Cross rushed in this morning and gave each stranded motorist a coupon good for coffee and a breakfast tacito at the local Whataburger. With three to four abandoned cars left just off of I-35, plans were being made to ask the Governor to declare the existence of a state of emergency and perhaps martial law to quell possible looting.

 

Citizens searched in vain for good news this morning, but the weather man could promise no relief in sight until Friday and even then, the temperature was expected to climb only to the low 70s ”Until then we will just have to muddle through” commented the ever optimistic Burton Fitzsimons,” People up north, in places like Dallas face this every year.” Despite this hopeful forecast, many in Austin are wondering if the time has come to get out of a town where winters can be so unforgiving. Austin’s loss may be  Brownsville’s gain.

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

Politics as usual

So much for change. Rod Blagojevich, the soon to be former Governor of Illinois, but perhaps new resident of Jolliet, Illinois was arrested this morning for trying to sell Barrack Obama’s Senate seat. Under Illinois law, Blagojevich has the sole power to appoint new Senators in  when one leaves office before his/her   term is up  ,as the President -elect just did.  Rather than break with long standing Chicago precedent, the Governor, who for the most part has refused to reside in the Governor’s Mansion  in  Springfield, preferring Chicago ,where the real graft is, put the political job up for sale. The soon to be former Governor, along with his chief of staff (Chicago speech for henchman)have already been indicted and will be arraigned today.

 

I was informed by one of the elderly volunteer tour guides at the Vachel Lindsey home in Springfield that Blagojevich was a creep who would come to no good. I thought that it was just bitter down state Republican talk, but apparently the lady knew a rat when she smelled one. She is smiling today, I bet.

For well over a century, just about every political job in Chicago has been for sale at one price or another, why not  Senator ? it is rare for a Senator to resign and give the Governor a chance at such a big score, these politicos usually get money doled out to them for minor offices, road contracts and subway fiascos. This is something different, the shadowy “candidate 5” mentioned in the Governor’s indictment offered half a million bucks for the job. Not chump change.

 

Followers of politics and sleaze (ah, but there I repeat myself) may recall that Blagojevich obtained his office by replacing George Ryan who is currently serving a sentence in the penitentiary for more than a decade of bribe taking and racketeering. A newspaper once noted that Governor Ryan had changed jobs from selling license plates to making them. Blagojevich defeated Jim Ryan (no relation to George) for the Governor’s job after George Ryan left the scene. Jim Ryan is no relation to Jack Ryan whom Obama defeated for his Senate seat in 2004 when Ryan’s wife, Star Trek Hottie Jerri Ryan, told the news media that Jack made her go to sex clubs and perform sexual acts in public. As far as I can determine, none of them are related to my law partner , Matt Ryan, possibly the only innocent Ryan in the country. Illinois, the “Land of Lincoln”, the heartland of America. I suddenly recall why Illinois had elected no President (before Obama)since Lincoln. All of their contenders were in jail.

 

So, as the prosecutors once said about Spiro Agnew,the poster child of political sleaze, it looks like “they’ve got the evidence cold”. Maybe the Governor can get into the same cell block with his predecessor, although Blagojevich is a little bit of a pretty boy (at least compared to ex-Governor Ryan), the authorities, and his new neighbors at Joliet, may have something special in mind for him.

Friday, December 05, 2008

No one has read "Moby Dick" in years, Association admits

 The American Library Association (ALA), the country’s oldest and largest Librarian group issued a press release today admitting that   “No living American has ever finished Herman Melville’s (presumably) classic novel Moby Dick” . Contacted by several media outlets, ALA President, Miriam Houser stated, “ The lie has gone on long enough, millions and millions of copies of the book have been sold for American Survey Literature classes and it is time to stop the madness.” According to Houser, the ALA has known for decades that no one could get through the novel, but had kept it under wraps, hoping that someone, somewhere would have the fortitude to finish the book. Asked why the Association was now coming forward with this information, Houser stated that the impetus had come from California. “The budget crisis hitting the states has been particularly acute in California. Each of the hundred of libraries out there replaces it’s hard back copy of the book every three years. It seemed preposterous to continue to spend thousands of dollars each year on a book that no one checks out when the money can be better spent on things people really read out there, bodice rippers and graphic novels.”

 

The announcement sent shock waves throughout the nation’s college campuses, but brought relief to many students currently studying for finals . John Alpine, a student at the University of Texas spoke for many when he said, “They told us to read the book but we never discussed in  class. A lot of us were worried that it was going to show up on the final and we would be totally unprepared.” Younger professors in the nation’s Literature Departments were giddy with the news. The pony tailed Professor Drew Wesley who teaches the popular “Classic American Novels ” class at Temple University in Philadelphia said, “This is great, it finally puts the lie to all of those gas bag tenured Profs who said that they loved the novel and would not ever vote tenure for me unless I started using it again in my classes. Who’s laughing now ? “

 

The ALA news release states that the last known person to actually finish the novel was the late Helen Avery who had finished the novel “on a dare” in 1933 at Andover  College.Suviving classmates said that it had taken Ms. Avery the entire four years at Andover to complete the novel. Following her completion of the book, Avery became a resource for literary persons everywhere who would consult her about the book. Ms Avery is best known for the mysterious “Consultant” credit she received at the end of John Huston’s classic film “Moby Dick”.Huston’s daughter, Angelica admitted that for the movie, starring Gregory Peck as Ahab,  her father had written no screen play, but just sat next to Ms. Avery during the filming asking her, “Now what happens ?” every time a scene was finished. Virtually every student  book report since 1956 has been based on this movie which, according to Avery’s notes, is filled with inaccuracies conceived by her in order to “spice up the story” for the big screen.

 

Notes left by Ms. Avery indicate that a great deal was left out of the Huston film because the Melville book just “got so silly toward the middle”. According to the notes, the protagonist Ishmael has his name legally changed , causing Chapter 38 to begin , “Call me Charlie”. Further, it turns out that Ahab is really the evil twin another sea captain named Ezekiel. In the novel, Ezekiel works for a 19th century version of Green Peace and spends his time battling whaling ships (mostly Japanese). Ezekiel is actually the captain who dies in the last chapter (the one chapter many people have read). In the novel, stows away on the Pequot and throws Ahab overboard. Far from trying to kill Moby Dick, he is actually trying to ride the Whale to safer waters as the book ends.

 

While the ALA refused to comment, sources close to the Association say that Hawthorne’s “Scarlet Letter” may also be on the chopping block. While that book is still read in numerous high schools, certain members of the Association feel that the book is “too tedious to continue to circulate”, As one source said, “There is a big difference in banning books and culling books, we don’t take something off the shelf for political or religious reasons, but millions of people look to us as the last defense against being bored to death, have you ever read Hawthorne ?”

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Why We Blog

Arianna Huffington was on the “Daily Show” last night hawking a new book on how to blog. Putting aside the irony of someone writing a book on how to blog, and not a blog on how to blog, I was interested in the interview. Huffington used to be married to a gay Congressman from California who ran as a very conservative Republican. He was not openly gay at the time, although he claims Huffington knew he was.

 

Huffington was known and popular for her very conservative views, she was a darling of the right wing. Somehow after her divorce, she became liberal and Is now a darling of the left wing (we must not discount wisdom because it comes late in life, quote from someone, I forget). Anyway, Huffington is a big believer in blogging since that is how she makes her living now. I was fascinated to hear her admit that she did not write the book herself, rather it was written by some members her blogger “staff”. A blogger with a staff. Most of us don’t even have readers. What in the hell does a blogger need a staff for ? If you have a staff, you have to use them for fact checking, the last thing a blogger needs to do. Accuracy in a blog ? It might as well be a newspaper. Blogs are for truth, not accuracy. Anybody can write accurately if they want to spend half of their time checking facts and the other half typing boring prose that is no fun to read or write.

 

John Stewart is a pretend news anchor who sometimes confuses me by trying to act like a real news guy. It makes me wonder, are we supposed to take his serious questions seriously, or is he still being the fake news guy pretending (for our entertainment) to be a real news guy ? Whatever he is, he gave some mild disparagement, I thought, to blogs which were not up to the standards of Ms. Huffington’s. To her credit, Huffington, who is trying to sell a book after all in order  to get people to blog, defended the rest of us. Huffington thinks that everyone should blog their “passion” and then added, “both open and secret”. Well once you blog it, it is no longer a secret, and maybe that is a good thing. Maybe Walter Mitty needed a blog.

 

A blogger friend of mine, who differs from me in that people read her blog, asked her audience why they blogged. The answers were fascinating. The fact is that they all have the same root. People want to communicate, to themselves or others, to family or strangers, to friend or adversary. There are a million reasons why people want to communicate, but that’s the only one reason why they want to blog. The blog is the antidote for Thoreau’s view that the mass of humanity live lives of “quiet desperation”. Blogging allows them to live lives of “louder desperation” which, in and of itself, makes them less desperate. It is therapy that you don’t have to pay $150 an hour for.

 

I probably won’t buy Huffington’s book (I will wait until it is online), but I do salute her in recognizing the universal appeal of the blog. 50,000 new blogs are begun every day. We ought to welcome each and every one of them.

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Dying Young

Some die young. It is an unspeakable tragedy rendered much more difficult when it is unnecessary and preventable. It cuts short promise and scars those left behind. No words can shelter, no caress can console us from its immensity, but in the end, we carry on the best we can.

 

I am a blogger, not a writer. There is nothing dishonorable about being a blogger, just as there  was nothing intrinsically dishonorable about being Salieri , except in his desire to be Mozart. We must be the best Salieris we can be. But some days only Mozart will do. Some days the blogger must step aside for the true writer. Today is one of those days.

 

  To An Athlete Dying Young

 

The time you won your town the race

We chaired you through the market place;

Man and Boy stood cheering by,

And home we brought you shoulder high.

 

To-day, the road all runners come,

Shoulder-High we bring you home,

And set you at your threshold down,

Townsman of a stiller town.

 

Smart lad, to slip betimes away

From fields where glory does not stay,

And early though the laurel grows

It withers quicker than the rose.

 

Eyes the shady night has shut

Cannot see the record cut,

And silence sounds no worse than cheers

After earth has stopped the ears:

 

Now you will not swell the rout

Of lads that wore their honours out,

Runners whom renown outran

And the name died before the man.

 

So set before its echoes fade,

The fleet foot on the sill of shade,

And hold to the low lintel up

The still-defended challenge- cup.

 

And round that early-laurelled head

Will flock to gaze the strengthless dead,

And find unwithered on his curls

The garland briefer than a girls.

 

A.E. Houseman, “A Shropshire Lad”

 

God bless you Carson.

Monday, December 01, 2008

And Hawaii makes fifty

There was joy at my home this weekend. Rayda produced the new Hawaii quarter, the last of our collection of the fifty state quarters. No longer will I search my change to find needed quarters, only to bring them home and find that we already have the state I have found. The collection is finished, the mission is fulfilled, we can check off yet another milestone in our lives.

 

The Hawaii quarter has a special affinity for me (or rather I for it).I recall Hawaii entering the Union (Alaska too, some months before). In just 30 days we will begin celebrating those states’ golden anniversaries. Fifty years since I asked my father if life would change now that there was a bigger state than Texas.

 

My father was a patriotic fellow, but prudent with the family fortune. Upon Alaska joining the Union, he went out and bought a 49 star flag so that it could fly proudly over our fence on the fourth of July, 1959. In his loyalty to the nation, he temporarily forgot the very temporary  utility of the 49 star flag. Within months Old Glory had fifty stars and my dad was not happy about possibly  paying more money  our local flag dealer (I never knew where he bought our flags) so soon after his 49 star purchase. Being somewhat compulsive (the kind of guy who would spend  years collecting 50 quarters, as long as my wife was responsible for organization of same) I badgered him to get a fifty star flag before July 4, the date of the neighborhood party we always hosted. I could tell that he was not happy about this. To put us back into 1959 lingo, the flag he had purchased was an Edsel. It was purchased  six months early, and a star short.

 

I had given up on the fifty star flag when I returned from playing baseball on the afternoon of July 4, 1959. As I looked up at our fence I saw our forty nine star flag hanging limply in the typical breezeless Houston humidity, but wait, what was that beside it ? To the left of our flag, my father had place a Pineapple. This was a great Ace Porter solution, honoring the country and its new state ,without having to buy a new flag. I never asked him what he paid for the Pineapple. By July 4, 1960, the Porter family was  up to fifty stars.

 

Another reason that I am partial to Hawaii is that I am a taxpayer there. This being Monday morning, and my not wanting to start the work week in a foul mood, I shall not go into the details of that arrangement between myself and the Aloha state. Better to talk about that on a Friday, maybe on a payday, after about three or four drinks.

 

I would hope that the appearance of the Hawaii quarter signaled the end of the great American experiment of coining money without the intent of the legal tender ever entering into circulation. My rough estimate is that there are about 500,000 million quarters, or $125 million dollars  sitting in various collection apparatus (apparati ?) around the country. Maybe more, among coin collectors in other countries. That money could be of great use right now in combating deflationary pressures, but alas, there it sits in millions of junk drawers, forgotten and unused. Our government, in its wisdom, has now disappointed me and upped the ante of money  which will never  be used by introducing dollar coins with pictures of Presidents upon them. Since those have proven to be as unpopular as every other time the Feds have tried this, they have embarked on a huge advertizing campaign begging us to use these coins, I don’t think it will succeed. If it does however,people will collect all of the Presidents aand hundreds of millions of more dollars will be kept out of circulation, just as the Federal Reserve is doing everything possible to make us spend money. Maybe they will release that 700 million bailout to the banks all in coins. Of course, the banks are not lending anyway, so what’s the use ? Aloha.