Friday, March 30, 2012

Happy birthday John, Norah and Eric

John Astin is 82 today.

Norah Jones is 33 today.

Eric Clapton is 65 today.

Happy birthday to all!


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Sixty years ago . . .

Cartoons copyright © 1952, 2012 The New Yorker

The new phone

Sally was sitting at her laptop auditioning ringtones for her new cellphone. "How do you like this?" she asked, as "Oh, Canada" blared from her speaker. Sally's father was Canadian. "Great," I said, "except you'd have to stand with your hand over your heart until it stopped ringing."

Sally called the cellphone company a week or so ago and complained about paying $80 a month for her phone and mine (since I rarely use it) for 400 "free" minutes a month. She told them we're retired and on a fixed income. Without missing a beat the girl on the other end gave her a new phone and a new monthly contract with the same minutes and a phone for me, now at a new rate of $50 a month. It pays to call and complain. Most companies would rather give you a discount than lose your business. I can't imagine Sally without her phone. It is with her constantly. She takes calls for her business and no matter where she is she wants to be accessible to our son who lives 2000 miles away.

The cartoon from a 1952 New Yorker is more typical of a time that is not gone so long, but long enough it seems quaint: girls hanging around the house waiting for the phone to ring. An invitation to the prom, or a friend calling with gossip about boys or their most hated female rivals. I don't think a teenage girl of today would even recognize such a situation. Cellphones have now been around longer than the teenagers.

A few weeks ago we needed a new landline phone, so I bought an AT&T base phone for the living room and a handset for the bedroom. The total set-up cost about $35.00. Sally and I have our home phone as part of our cable TV/Internet/telephone bundle, so when it rings a banner shows up on our TV screen with Caller ID. Nine out of ten calls are solicitors, and we don't answer. Sally asked, "Why do we need a landline anymore, anyway?" Frankly, I have no answer for her. We've had the same phone number since 1975, but that's no reason. Many people are giving up their landlines and going exclusively to cellphones. It's why the yearly ritual of getting a five-pound phone book on your porch is a thing of the past.

I started using a telephone about the time the New Yorker cartoon was published. If the phone rang you picked it up without knowing who was on the other end. You said, "Hello." Chances were good it was someone you knew.

It hasn't been all that many years, but some of us can still remember having to find a payphone to call home in an emergency or to ask a question of our spouse ("Do you want white bread or whole wheat, and 2% milk or skim?") The cell phone has changed that. I also knew an era was over when I saw the exact style of Western Electric/Bell telephone I used for twenty years in my house sitting on a shelf in an antique store.

"It hadn't yet been invented."

In 1952 it was a gag situation having a man blow leaves off his lawn.

Very few of my neighbors bother raking leaves. They just blow them into their neighbor's yard. The neighbor in turn blows them into someone else's yard. If they hire a Mexican yard crew they actually pick up the leaves, throw them onto a big pile in the back of a pick-up truck, and cover it with a tarp for its journey to the landfill. My dad used to burn our leaves, but back in 1960 or '61 a county ordinance was passed, and there was no more burning because of smog and air pollution. I have a leaf blower, but it broke after one season and rather than buy another I've gone back to the rake. I swear, one of these days I'll hire a crew of Mexicans and sit inside, drink iced tea and watch them through my front window. As it is now, before raking I swallow two Aleve to fend off backache.

Bristles no longer mean "bum."

The last cartoon is more of a fashion statement. A man with bristly whiskers is no longer a hobo or panhandler. Or even a guy who works in a cactus store. Things change, and sixty years from the 1952 date of this cartoon a guy with those bristles is now in style.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Mitt Romney steps on his dick with both feet

A recent article in The New Yorker told us that Mitt Romney is an excellent businessman, but he's also a square.

Mitt Romney is a multi-millionaire who has no common touch. Good businessman? Sure, but I'll bet he never hobnobbed with any of his employees, or anyone below his own level in the organization. He does not know anything about "regular folks," only his rich cronies. His success has earned him a pass with his peers, who are probably used to him, and ignore his tortured speech.

I truly do not think Mitt Romney knows what he says until he says it. Then someone has to tell him he's done it again, committed a faux pas.

We're all just waiting for the latest self-humiliation from Mitt. We know he'll say something stupid because his mouth is moving.

Consider last night and today. On The Tonight Show with Jay Leno Romney gave his idea of a health care plan, that excludes anyone who has an illness and has not been on a health plan before that illness. He said, if a 45-year old man who has not had health coverage tries to get coverage because he's developed a heart condition well, then, tough. "We don't play those games," is how Romney put it.

Didn't the right-wingers go on and on about Obama's "death panels" in his Affordable Health Care Act (so-called "Obamacare")? In that plan patients would be able to sit down with a physician and realistically discuss end of life matters, which the pea-brains immediately took to mean that someone would be deciding whether your granny would live or die. (Typical obfuscation of facts, as has been typical of all Republican discussion on Obamacare, until no one, especially their base, knows what the hell the act is even about.) Now Romney is saying in effect, yes, his plan for health care will include death panels because no insurance company would have to cover a client with a pre-existing condition, if he hadn't already been covered. You know that a person in that situation will become a ward of the state; as his ability to pay decreases with sky high medical bills, he will go on state assistance, and we will pay for it. At least if he wants to get coverage he'd have to pay for it, wouldn't he?

But then, that's how ignorant Romney is. Smart in business--his own business, if not the healthcare business--an ignoramus in just about everything else. Especially when he opens his mouth and out come the words that hoist him on his own petard.

Today on a radio show Romney shared a "humorous incident" as he called it. When his dad, George, ran for the Republican nomination in '68, he had a problem. He had been head of American Motors (no longer in business). He had closed a plant in Michigan and moved it to Wisconsin, putting folks in Michigan out of work. So when they had a parade for George in Michigan, a band that was playing in the parade couldn't play the Michigan fight song, because they only knew "On Wisconsin," the Wisconsin fight song. Romney was really getting revved as he was telling this story. George Romney's handlers were trying to get the band to quit playing because--ha-ha!--they didn't want to remind Michigan voters--guffaw!--that he had closed a plant in their state! Wow! That's the kind of story that should have 'em rolling in the aisles.

When George Dubya Bush was President his staff had "cringe-worthy" moments, when their boss made some public gaffe. ROMNEY DOES THIS ALMOST EVERY DAY! His staff must be crippled by now from apoplexy. Story after story, statement after statement from Romney's own mouth lets us all know he's not one of us, will never be one of us, does not know how to talk to us, and is a flaming idiot. You really want a guy like Mitt Romney with the heads of state of the world, telling them his funny stories?

Romney is developing quite a list of dumb things he's said. His wife's two Cadillacs, "I'll bet you $10,000," "We should let the auto companies declare bankruptcy," saying he knows the owners of sports teams. Those are the ones I can think of offhand. He says so many stupid things I can't keep up with them.

My old first sergeant, who minced no words, called these personal mistakes "stepping on your dick." It seems that Romney can't go too many steps before tripping over that member.


Sunday, March 25, 2012

Gun crazy

I've had a bad cold all week, so I've spent more time than usual on the couch, listlessly watching TV. I haven't been able to get away from the Trayvon Martin story. It's a parent's worst nightmare. A son goes out one night on an innocent errand and they get an early morning call that he's been killed.

A dangerous, self-appointed neighborhood watch guy, George Zimmerman, who was armed, shot and killed the 15-year-old. 911 tapes showed clearly he was pursuing the boy, who was unarmed except for a can of iced tea and a bag of Skittles candy, by invoking some bizarre law called "Stand Your Ground." It assures people who are threatened that they don't have to run, they can just shoot the people they feel are a threat. Then it's considered justified.

Sanford, Florida, where it happened, apparently has Keystone Kops for a police department. No investigation was done of the shootiing, except for taking the shooter's word for the event. That's despite 911 tapes which give our ears quite a different version from that which he is claiming. The dead boy was tested for drugs and alcohol—which they didn't find—but they didn't test Zimmerman.

This seems to be an example of the law of unintended consequences, from the passing of more and more gun-friendly laws by local legislatures. The right wing agenda, which is apparently to get guns into the hands of everyone in the country (well, except for criminals, who already have them), fueled by the NRA's money and massive lobbying power, which has successfully waged war on gun control laws enacted since the 1960s and 1970s.

I'm on record as saying that gun control in America has failed. There are so many guns now it would be impossible to call them in, even if the big bad bogeyman government the NRA hates so much were to send soldiers to every house to collect them. (A paranoid fantasy the NRA has successfully implanted in the minds of gun owners.) The problem isn't the guns, it's making them easier to carry and to use that is the problem. I have absolutely no problem with someone owning a gun for self-defense, target shooting or hunting. I have a lot of problems with people using guns to solve problems that can be solved in ways other than lethal force.

Law-abiding Americans who love guns should be happy not to live in Japan. In an article, "With All Due Respect" by Peter Hessler, from the January 9, 2012 New Yorker, I read, "In Japan it's a crime to own a gun, another crime to own a bullet, and a third crime to pull the trigger: three charges before you even think about a target." Of course, Hessler also states, "Japan has "some of the lowest murder rates in the world, on a par with Iceland of Switzerland; the odds of being murdered in the United States are ten times higher."

Gun ownership is almost a second religion to some Americans, given their use of hyperbole such as "God-given right to keep and bear arms."

In 1970 I remember the buzz around the movie, Dirty Harry. It's a right-wing polemic about liberal court decisions of the 1960s, but it's also a modern Western. The sheriff, Clint Eastwood, rides into town and with his big gun cleans it up. It's a fantasy Americans have always lived with and thrived on. It's like we're thinking no matter the problem, we can always shoot our way out of it.

With the Trayvon Martin killing, now more attention is being paid to laws regarding guns. My opinion is there has to be some sort of middle ground. Having laws that people have a waiting period to buy guns in a store, so a background check can be made, but allowing a person to buy a gun at a gun show or in a private transaction with no background check doesn't make much sense.

Having laws that encourage people to stand and shoot it out rather than retreat is plenty macho, and in some cases, plenty stupid.

I have a theory that I hesitate to use, because when I speak it, it tends to get shouted down. I can't really prove it, even though years ago I had a coworker admit to it. I believe some people are looking for a legal way to kill someone. If it means invoking a law like Stand Your Ground they'll use it.

Copyright © Oliphant 2012

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The surprising daily comics

It's been an interesting week in the world of newspaper comics.

The hot topic has been Doonesbury, with a sequence dropped by about 100 papers due to its satirical take on the Texas law requiring women seeking an abortion to have a sonogram.

Here's the one that got dropped:

Our local editorial cartoonist responded with this. This is just an excerpt:

(Sorry, due to the litigious nature of my local daily newspaper, which guards its online properties with the fury of a mother grizzly, I am not allowed to show you the whole editorial cartoon. But you can find a link to it here.)

Editorial director George Pyle explains the little bespectacled fat guy with fat lips is Bagley's generic Utah legislator. The hot tub reference is to Kevin Garn, a self-righteous legislator whom, when a nude hot tub party a couple of decades before with a then-15 year old girl was revealed, basically ended his political career. However, when he resigned before the body his fellow legislators hypocrites gave him a standing ovation.

Here's the story of the hot-tub legislator's resignation, if you're interested.

For me, just as interesting as the buzz over Doonesbury is the non-buzz over two more daily comics, which could just as easily cause outcries from groups of readers.

In a strip from March 16, 2012, Luann wonders if her friend, Gunther, is gay because he is "an only child raised by [his] mom and [he is] into sewing."

The Pardon My Planet panel, also from March 16, shows Jesus in a situation that could upset religious Christians.

Why would editors of newspapers, shy about offending anti-abortion forces, not feel the same about gay activists or the religious right?


Monday, March 19, 2012

The strange story of Pearl and Olga

Pearl Lusk and Olga Rocco didn't meet in any kind of friendly or even a formal way, but in an act of violence choreographed by Olga's husband.

In 1946 Pearl had moved to Manhattan from her parents' home in Brooklyn. She loved life in the city. For a time she worked a holiday job at a department store, but was laid-off shortly after Christmas. On a subway ride one day she saw “the most handsome man she had ever seen.” She resisted his advances at first, but on a subsequent subway ride she agreed to meet him. He told her his name was Allen La Rue.

Allen La Rue was a private eye, he told Pearl. He did insurance investigations, and right now he was investigating a suspected jewel thief named Olga. He offered Pearl a job as an assistant and she jumped at the chance. Her assignment was to get to know what Olga looked like. He knew where Olga worked as a secretary for a hat company. He sent Pearl in there to look at her so she'd recognize her again. Pearl completed her first assignment. Her second assignment was to take a box that was wrapped like a present, but had a hole in it for what he told her was the lens of an x-ray camera. Pearl was to get as close to Olga as she could when Olga got off the subway, then pull a cord on the bottom of the box and take her picture. La Rue told Pearl that he suspected Olga was wearing the stolen jewels around her waist, under her clothes, so Pearl was to aim low before pulling the cord. Pearl did what she was told, and gave the box back to Allen. He told her later the picture didn't turn out, and he had to get another camera.

Some days later Pearl shadowed Olga again on the subway. Olga even noticed the girl sitting near her with a box wrapped like a present, with a hole in it and something sticking out that looked like a camera lens. As they got off the train, Pearl, right behind Olga, did as instructed and pulled the cord. There was a deafening explosion and Olga fell to the ground, a gaping wound in her leg. As a policeman approached to find out what happened Pearl told him, “I took her picture and at the same time somebody shot her!” Actually, it was Pearl. The “camera” she was carrying was a sawed-off shotgun, and the blast cost Olga her leg.

Olga was expecting something to happen. The man Pearl knew as Allen La Rue was actually Olga’s estranged husband, Alphonse Rocco. Since leaving him Olga had received several death threats, and had even been shot once before. One night while helping her mother fix dinner, Olga felt a stinging pain in her leg. When she looked down she saw blood streaming from a wound. A bullet, fired through the window, had gone through her leg.

Rocco kidnapped Olga a couple of times, also, taking her to a tourist cabin in the hills, where he kept her against her will for several days each time. (We aren't told what he did to her, but it probably wasn't pleasant.) Rocco was an outdoor type. He loved hunting, loved camping, loved guns, and had several. Because of all this Olga pleaded with police to help her. Each time she called them she spoke to the same detective who told her “not to worry.” But worry she did, and for good cause. Her unanswered pleas for help went on for quite some time until the terrible day when na├»ve Pearl was used as Rocco's surrogate in permanently maiming his wife.

After the incident Rocco took off for the hills. Police found him camped out, and he engaged them in a gunfight in which he was killed. Olga later sued the New York City Police for failing to protect her. A judge reluctantly dismissed her case because while he found her sympathetic, the police would have been looking to protect Olga from Rocco, but not from Pearl Lusk.

The story is told in a straightforward and reportorial style by the late writer, St. Clair McKelway. McKelway worked for The New Yorker from the 1930s through the 1960s. His reporting on the Pearl-Olga story was published originally in a 1953 issue of the magazine, then reprinted in a compilation of his best work, Report From Wit’s End. The book is currrently available, and besides the story I just related to you—without McKelway’s wonderful prose, alas—he tells a story of Mr. 880, an elderly counterfeiter who made $1.00 bills in his apartment, and drove the Secret Service crazy for years trying to catch him. His bills were so poor that he even misspelled “Washington” as “Wahsington,” yet because of their low denomination most people who accepted the bills in stores didn’t look at them.

McKelway also tells the tale of his own time as a public relations officer for the Army Air Corps. At one point McKelway actually sent out a press release calling Admiral Chester Nimitz, who was head of the Pacific Fleet, a traitor! And he got away with it! It's a complex story you just have to read to fully understand.

There are eighteen stories in the book, each of them fascinating.

McKelway died in 1980 at age 75. He left a wealth of material, of which this book, even at a hefty 619 pages, is only a fraction of what he wrote for The New Yorker.


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Utah tea party Nazis get their orders from headquarters

On March 14, 2012 Salt Lake Tribune columnist Paul Rolly detailed one rightwing group's plans, from a memo to its members, on how to hijack the local political process to get what they want.

Utah, with its system of caucus meetings for selecting candidates, was the first state to oust a sitting Republican senator in favor of a tea party candidate. Senator Robert Bennett, who was a moderate, was the first in a long list of politicians targeted by the far right, and nationally it caused quite a stir in 2010. Replacing him proved it could be done, that very small but well organized groups could override the will of the majority.

Now Utah's senior senator, Orrin Hatch, has the bullseye on his back, thanks to a group calling itself FreedomWorks (and if ever there was a misnomer, that's it). Their memo, according to Rolly, tells its members to “go early to caucus meetings Thursday and dominate all the seats in the front of the room. That’s because there often are more people than seats, and if the right people hog all the seats, the others will get tired of standing and leave before voting starts.” Rolly continues, "[The memo] tells the minions to make sure they are the last ones nominated as delegates because that means they will be the last ones giving speeches."

There are other tactics: "When the group gets the chance to ask questions, the minions are told to have their stooges there ' to ask you friendly questions,' and to have others ready to ask questions 'to flush out those who think differently than we do.'" (Emphasis mine.)

Rolly’s column goes on to list what makes FreedomWorks mad, which is the usual list of sins committed by elected officials, such as voting for the auto industry bailout (thereby saving hundreds of thousands of jobs), and pork-barrel earmarks (like most Republicans, including Rick Santorum, use), etc., etc.

These tricks work. Personally, I'm sick of Orrin Hatch and his 36 years of living in comfort as my senator, but I'd prefer him to any of the nutcakes the tea partiers want in his place. After all, Bennett's replacement, Mike Lee, is the idiot who has vowed to oppose everything Obama wants voted on, just to show his total disdain not only for the President, but the people of his own state and citizens of America.

American politics usually finds a way of correcting itself, because the great majority of people in the country are moderate. They're worried about jobs and day-to-day stuff, not about moral issues or whether contraceptives can be covered by health plans administered by religious groups. Such issues cause even moderate folks consternation, but not at the expense of what is important.

If the belligerent anti-Obama, anti-voting public tea party groups were confronted by far-left groups who used their tactics, and those tactics worked for them, the tea partiers would be shouting to the mountaintops that the communists were taking over. They wouldn't think it any more democratic than those of us who are just left of center find their dirty tricks. This legal but unethical takeover of the system will come back and bite them, I'm sure. Maybe 2012 will be the year that it does, or maybe it'll be in 2014. Thanks to Paul Rolly for publishing those items from their memo and exposing them for what they are.

I'm reminded that it was a very small group of National Socialists who took over Germany through various underhanded means during a time of great national turmoil. It looks to me as if this revolution the far right is pulling off comes right out of the Nazi playbook. Oh, wait..."Nazi" is a loaded word, isn't it? We mustn't call even our political enemies such things. They certainly don't think of themselves as Nazis. They think of themselves as patriotic Americans who want freedom (a vague term even they have trouble defining, since their ideas of freedom usually mean trouble for everyone else by passing more laws against things they hate). They like to name their groups using words like "freedom" and "American" or "patriot," but I've noticed such groups are actually none of those.They are tiny factions who are using the system and subverting the will of the greater public for their own ends. You know, like Nazis.


Friday, March 16, 2012

More muggings

I spend way too much time looking at booking photos from the local jail. I can't help it. It's so entertaining.

The day a person goes to jail and gets his picture taken is usually not a good day, and the pictures reflect that. They show that all kinds of folks end up in jail.

Even people with silly haircuts.

Speaking of hair, is this side hair thing a style?

This one has the unicorn look.

I like that this guy looks much the same upside down as he does right side up.

Have you ever watched guys with these really big mustaches eat? They usually have to dedicate at least one hand to parting their whiskers so they can shove the food in. I'm sure they'll be entertaining the other inmates in the mess hall.

This schmuck is telling us he's fit to live only behind bars. His racist, skinhead tattoos are a billboard of his hatred for society. He's going to make sure by marking his beliefs all over his head of his ultimate failure to live in a world beyond that of incarceration.

This Einstein, from the national website, shows how social networking makes stupid people even more stupid. He stole a judge's nameplate, then posted his picture on Facebook.

These people are all showing their displeasure at being arrested.

The frown:

The glare:

The baring of teeth:

On the other hand, these people all seem really, really happy to be going to jail. I'm not sure why they're all smiles for their booking photos. Maybe they think they're getting a driver's license.

More mug shots here and here.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Game Change

There's a scene in the HBO movie, Game Change, where Sarah Palin watches Tina Fey do a comedy bit on Saturday Night Live, based on her. "I can see Russia from my house!" Fey exclaims. It's at that moment I believe the real-life Sarah Palin lost credibility with the American electorate. Pointing out someone's foibles is one thing, but making a laughingstock of them is another. Just ask Dan Quayle.

The thought struck me: What if Sarah Palin (the real one), was looking at Sarah Palin (as portrayed by Julianne Moore) watching Tina Fey? How weird would that be? I got my answer yesterday when I heard Palin announce she wouldn't watch the movie. John McCain said the same, although the movie treats him much more kindly than it does Palin.

And it doesn't do a cartoon-like character assassination on Palin, either. Not like Saturday Night Live or political cartoonists did in 2008, anyway. Julianne Moore does not play Palin as a caricature, and even somewhat understates her personal "hockey mom" rah-rah vocal style. I think it gave the portrayal a bit more verisimilitude, rather than having Moore do a caricature of Fey doing a caricature of Palin.

I had to look closely when I went to find pictures of Palin and Moore-as-Palin. The resemblance is close, although Palin has a much squarer chin.

Game Change has gotten a lot of attention, much of it positive. But there are harsh comments, also. Those pundits who haven't seen it and are dismissing it automatically owe it a look-see. In real life Palin was in over her head, unable to handle the instant fame and notoriety. The movie portrays it well in scenes where Palin suddenly becomes a diva, demanding to do "what I want to do when I want to do it," rather than be manipulated by McCain's advisors.

I believe Sarah Palin is a narcissist, who feels that God has chosen her. There's a line of dialogue in the movie where she says that, and whether it happened in real life or just in a script-writer's mind, it rings true. It may be why rather than fade into obscurity (Dan Quayle, again), she continues to hammer away on television. She's gotten more media savvy, but her personal worldview is still out there in Cloud Cuckooland. There was talk of her running for President this year, which she wisely chose not to do. She kept everyone guessing, riding around in her bus, stirring up her base, all for naught. But come Republican convention time, if Mitt Romney doesn't have enough delegates to make it on the first ballot, who knows who will show up at the convention, glad-handing and throwing their hat into the ring?

The movie is a must-see for anyone interested in American politics, and especially the historic election cycle in 2008. Because an African-American was his party's nominee, and he had been running neck and neck with a woman (Hillary Clinton) for the nomination, and because of Palin's own self-destructive ignorance, it's overlooked that Palin was only the second woman chosen to be on a Presidential ticket. (Here's a pop quiz...can you name the other?*)

I'm sorry that Game Change is available only on HBO. I'd advise them to put it out on DVD and Blu-Ray immediately to cash in on the curiosity factor.

Ed Harris was good as John McCain, and Woody Harrelson as Steve Schmidt was excellent, but the real star was Sarah Palin, as channeled in such an uncanny and accurate performance by Julianne Moore.

*Geraldine Ferraro (1935-2011) ran on a ticket with Walter Mondale (1928-) against Ronald Reagan in 1984.

Happy birthday, Albert Einstein

Albert Einstein is 133 years old today. Happy birthday, Albert!

Monday, March 12, 2012

I dream of ghosts

As an agnostic who sometimes strays over the line into the realm of atheism, only to cross back over into agnosticism (I really can't make up my mind what I don't believe), I don't put much stock in the supernatural. Tales of ghosts are interesting, but I don't expect to see one. Occasionally I dream of the dead, and my wife, Sally, tells me she believes that spirits of the dead visit us in dreams.

I find that a romantic thought. It conjures pictures in my mind of our dead loved ones or acquaintances wanting to say howdy. Unable to do so in the corporeal realm, they come to us through our dreams. It doesn't mean I necessarily believe what Sally believes, but let's just say I really like the idea.

I've been "visited" a couple of times by my late father-in-law, and several times by a deceased female coworker. Also my former boss, but I'll get to that.

Jan was the hardest working person I knew. I met her in about 1994 at the school district where we both worked. She was a rover, a custodian who was called on to fill in for regular school custodians when they were sick or on vacation. Jan was very slim and slight-looking, but she was strong. Many a healthy male custodian would leave jobs for her to do when they knew they were going on vacation. Like furniture moving, for example. They abused her in that fashion. But it was her willingness to work and work hard that eventually earned her the job as District Office custodian, which was the highest paid custodial job in the school district. Unfortunately, she worked too hard, and you might even say she worked herself to death. Because she was so tired after a really long day at work she made a fatal error driving home. She turned in front of a truck in an intersection. It broadsided her and killed her.

Jan has come to me in my dreams to ask me how things are going, how're my grandkids, everyday things like that. I've never asked her what she's doing in the afterlife. I have to assume that for the purposes of my dreams these visitors of mine are still in existence somewhere, but I never think to ask where. In the last dream I had of her Jan had started to tell me a dirty joke. Jan was famous for her raunchy jokes, which she told at the drop of a hat. For a woman Jan had a filthy mind, which of course endeared her to me. I don't remember what the joke was, but if you look back at some of my postings of "dumb jokes you can tell at a party," they were exactly the types of jokes she could reel off one after another. She was a sort of walking library of ribald humor. I'm still waiting for her next visit to me so I can ask her to finish the joke.

My father-in-law, Ray, was a curmudgeonly sort, but I liked him anyway. Ray had fought through the Battle of the Bulge, was one of the first soldiers across the river and into Germany where, he said, the Army was met by "old men and boys"charged with defense of the homeland in a futile attempt to repel the Allied invaders . Ray was never very talkative, and very seldom told a war story. The two dreams I've had of him are of him talking, though, and this last one he was talking to me from a balcony. Maybe next time I can get him to loosen up a little and tell me more about his time in the war.

Of course these are dreams, and many of my dreams just evaporate in the morning. Details I may remember clearly at the time have become fuzzy.

I've only dreamed of my deceased father a couple of times, and of my mother, who died in 2008, never. Maybe they are visitors whose visits leave me upon waking, or they just aren't interested in chatting.

The last ghostly visitor I got was the most unusual of all. My ex-boss, Phil. Phil and I worked together for over 20 years and we never got along. It was a shouting match with Phil in July, 2008 that made me announce to Sally, "I'm going to retire at the end of this year." And I did. I had often said that if my relationship to Phil had been a marriage I would have gotten a divorce long ago, but it was something more awful than a bad was a bad supervisor/employee relationship, with neither of us willing to give an inch to the other.

Phil dropped dead on Labor Day, 2011. He had been dragging for a few months, felt ill, missed work, which according to his secretary, "he never did." He had taken his three granddaughters to a local state park. He felt ill, threw up in a garbage can, then sat on a bench and died. The troubles I had with Phil suddenly evaporated, although I still wrote about him. This post is a confession: I killed him with voodoo.

Since that post I had this dream of Phil: he's standing next to a white couch, and he's dressed all in white. White suit, white shirt, white tie, white shoes. He says to me, "So how are you doing? How's it going?" I tell him I'm a three-year cancer survivor. He says, "Good, good." I ask how he's doing, and he tells me, "I've never felt better." I remark he's never looked so good to me. He is much slimmer and has a huge smile on his face. I rarely saw him smile in real life. Phil turns and leaves the room. "Well, good luck to you," he says.

I'm left to think that if by some chance Sally is right and the dead visit us in dreams, that maybe I was a loose end in Phil's life, a conflict unresolved. He was that for me. I had a very peaceful feeling when I awoke that morning, and unlike most of my dreams, since it happened it's stayed fresh in my mind .

Phil was the reason I went into therapy in the mid-'90s, the reason I went on anti-depressant medication. Both helped me a lot, and of course at my current age I've mellowed quite a bit, anyway. Things that used to bother me a lot don't bother me as much now. Don't sweat the small stuff, the man said. But Phil and I would fight over small stuff all the time. We both sweated the small stuff. And now the small stuff is too small to worry about. It's true that since that dream of Phil I'm more inclined to think of him without bitterness; kindness, even. His "visit" had something of a healing effect on me.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

“An older man, past his prime, takes a walk amongst lovers, in the springtime...”

A pantomime in eight pictures, drawn by cartoonist Claude Smith.

Copyright © 1952, 2012 The New Yorker

Psycho Street

Copyright © 2011 The New Yorker

This might help explain the behavior of many people on Wall Street: according to CFA magazine and author Sherree DeCovny, one in ten people on Wall Street is a psycho.

Psycho is a strong word, although people misuse and overuse it. But according to the opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal Sunday from March 4, 2012, writer Al Lewis talked to one ex-Wall Streeter (who refers to himself as a psychopath; takes one to know one, I guess) who says one in ten is too low. For Wall Street, according to Sam Antar, former chief financial officer of the infamous Crazy Eddie, an electronics firm engaged in stock fraud in the '90s, the number is more like eight out of ten. Wow, that's pretty amazing—or depressing, as the case may be—to think that the money in our retirement and investment portfolios is being managed by the same types of guys who, given a deadly weapon rather than a ledger book, could be Jeffrey Dahmer.

Psychopaths and sociopaths are those people who have no conscience. They're the ones who, when going after what they want, don't mind stepping on people, or even crushing them. They sleep just fine because they don't see other people as being human.

Perhaps all the wealth of this country was built by people without consciences. Perhaps all of the wealth in the world was built by the same psychos who sit on top of huge piles of cash on Wall Street. Can it really be that simple?

Copyright © 1953, 2012 The New Yorker

The Ronald Reagan trickle-down theory is right in one respect, the madness trickles down from those who have acquired the wealth by hook or crook, to those politicians who apologize for or protect them.

In a way knowing this makes me feel better about myself. I've never cared much about money beyond meeting my basic needs.* I don't have an all-consuming desire to accumulate riches. I've always wondered what it was in me that lacked that drive to get more $. I don't dislike rich people if they seem otherwise decent, but I've always looked at those with great power (i.e., money) as being an alien species, fascinating, but I wouldn't want to hobnob with them. Their values are just so different from mine. Now I know why. They're psychos and I'm not!

Maybe Wall Street is just one big mental hospital.

*Plus my HDTV and my high-speed Internet and my Netflix account, not thought of as luxuries but necessities (by me, anyway). As long as I'm going to live at or just below the poverty line, I might as well entertain myself.