Sunday, May 1, 2016

Combine May Day with Naked Gardening Day!

For people like me, May Day just might as well be considered a High Holy Day. It is an Eco-Socialist's dream day. Too bad so few celebrate it. Although May Day has a rival now: May 2nd has been designated "Naked Gardening Day". That holiday should be scrapped and the nakedness should just be added to the May Day celebrations. Although Fidel Castro might not approve. Nor is imagining the old Politburo reviewing the military weapons parade in their birthday suits very appealing.

You can trace the Pagan holiday of Beltane back to herding and pastoralism of the Celtic people from pre-agriculture days thousands of years ago. They celebrated Beltane on May 1st. Modern day Pagans tend to be Earthy sorts of people and you can find them in Urban Bohemian areas building a bonfire on this evening. These Modern Day Pagans have a randy saying: "Hurray, Hurray, it is the First of May; Outdoor Fucking begins today."

That seems a whole lot more fun than spreading fertilizer and hoeing while naked in a garden.

It was a bit more innocent of a holiday when I was a child. We would make a May Basket and then find a person of the opposite sex with whom we were enamored. You then would leave the basket at their front door and ring the doorbell.

And then you ran away. The person who got the May Basket is supposed to chase you down and give you a kiss. This is a child's game that needs to come back into style.

But the reason why we really don't celebrate May Day properly is because of its connection with the struggle for an eight hour work day. For this I borrow from an article written in the IWW newsletter:

"On May 1, 1886, more than 300,000 workers in 13,000 businesses across the United States walked off their jobs in the first May Day celebration in history. In Chicago, the epicenter for the 8-hour day agitators, 40,000 went out on strike with the anarchists in the forefront of the public's eye."

May Day has its origins in the United States. It is a holiday for labor agitation. It is a holiday created by American Socialists, Communists and Anarchists. Later Brezhnev and company stole the holiday and used it for displaying their military might. They usurped an American tradition. May Day is as American as apple pie. Bring it back.

Saturday, April 30, 2016

Nine Years in the Mud Hut

Nine years.

It was nine  years ago today that I looked at this house. We put an offer in on it immediately. I slept on our deck that night in a sleeping bag, excited to be out in the "middle of nowhere".

Nine years is the longest I have ever lived anyplace since I left the nest at age 18. It takes the record by a longshot as, I think the longest I have lived in one house previous to this place was three years.

I like it here. Yes, the area has become much more settled with all the pot growers that have moved in. This is temporary and they will be gone when 1. it is legal everywhere and 2. Butte County continues to get strict about land use and ending the commercial cannabis business in decent wildlife habitat.

It has been quite an adventure. The girls hate it here. Joni doesn't enjoy it as much as I do. This place isn't convenient. And we haven't always had the budget, or the energy, to do the things we planned on doing.

I don't know how many years we went without hot water. Three? And I think it took us two years to get a heat source. For the first couple years, all four of us slept in the 350 square foot cabin (I slept in the incomplete addition as long as the temperature was above forty degrees).

Has life been hard here? Yes. Especially for Joni. I've experienced some judgment from her friends for living out here in the middle of nowhere without the normal implements of luxury you find in town. My defense? I am a poor man from a poor family.

Now that I am the top of the family pyramid, my inheritance from my father was one very rusty van that I plan on turning into a chicken coop when it dies; I also inherited a rocking chair. My father always said that you should spend less than you make. That's the way to get ahead. That's what this frugal, simple structure give us the capacity to do.

For the last two years I have worked taking care of the elderly, visiting them in their homes. This has been an eye opening experience as I have seen the extremes of comfortable retirement living and also those who are dirt poor, suffering. I've had to buy food for clients when they wouldn't have any food in the house for another week. Poverty does not appeal to me one bit. Poor people die younger; are less happy; have more health problems; and experience much less joy.

Getting old requires planning. When you don't have a job that provides a retirement (like a cushy government job), or if you come from hardscrabble Peasant stock, you have to be even smarter. Such is the story of wealth in America. As America has become incredibly unequal when it comes to wealth, the rules have changed in order to keep the wealthy, wealthy. It is called the "Born on Third Base" phenomena. Think of it this way: we currently can inherit 1.6 Million dollars tax free.

I inherited a rocking chair. Therefore, living in an inexpensive house in the middle of nowhere not only allows access to beauty and critters--- it also affords me an opportunity to save money. I have to earn money the old fashioned way: I have to earn it.

Left Wingers and Radicals often have an uncomfortable relationship with money. We generally have a bit of disgust for the rich. So many of us Lefties fall into two camps: The Trustfunders and the "Poverty is a Virtue" Crowd---otherwise known as "voluntary poverty". I am not a Trustfunder and I learned long ago that Voluntary Poverty has a nasty way of turning into mind numbing, plain ole' poverty. I have no interest in being poor. And no Left Winger should tolerate anyone having to live in poverty.

This house has made it so that we could raise a couple of kids in later middle age and save a decent amount of money with a very modest income. Perks of simplicity. Joni and I didn't have a lick of savings when we moved out here. Now, we are on track to living a bit more comfortably. That's what a Mud House has done for us.

So for my critics: those who think I have done damage to both spouse and children by living in the middle of nowhere in a Mud Hut. Tell me how I could have done it differently and still had a few shekels to rub together in retirement? I think this was the right decision. Hard as it is sometimes.

Friday, April 8, 2016

This Presdidential Race Needs a Dr. Gonzo to Cover It.

Can you believe this Presidential race?

On one hand we have the resurrection of a real Left Wing political movement in the Democratic Party, where Bernie Sanders valiantly battles with the worn out Corporatist Wing of the Party.

Meanwhile, the Republicans have a race between a Billionaire Celebrity with a bad hairpiece versus a Texas Religious Shithead who has no friends even in his own party.

The Democrats reach new heights of real debate and the Republicans sink to ever lower depths of, well let's call it what it is, Fascism.

Oh I wish I could read a real writer/journalist's take on the race. Alex Cockburn is dead. If Hunter Thompson knew this presidential race was gonna happen, he might not have eaten that slug. And Hitch, what would Hitch say about it all? Oh to get their take on the race. There aren't any decent radical journalists left in the US on the campaign trail. Most of them have retired to the Ivory Tower where the health benefits and pension ensure a decent retirement (if they quit drinking and smoking soon enough to enjoy it).

 MSNBC covers this race with some intelligence but without really saying what is going on within the Democratic Party. And MSNBC has borrowed the FOX formula by having only attractive female reporters following the Presidential Candidates. I don't mind. They all seem to be named "Kate" or "Kasie". They do an admirable job of reporting on their subjects. My favorite is Kasie Hunt who, I hope, ends up with her own program when she is done chasing Bernie Sanders around the country. Kasie is spunky and sounds a bit like a female John Chancellor as she, with very proper posture, reports on the days events.

Of course none of these reporters can stray too far outside the Network MSM "Box". That box might be a bit more liberal at MSNBC than it is at Fox, but both of them have boxes that shall not be breached.

I haven't turned the dial over to FOX to see how they are covering this race. I've been too scared to do that. And CNN? S.E. Cupp looks great in those glasses and their graphics are awesome, but the commentary is a bit tired with the same faces giving the same schtick over and over again.

If I were a rich blogger with press credentials, I'd love to follow along with this race. It'd be a hoot to cover. Rich in nuance. I mean look what is happening: We have the redevelopment of a viable Left Wing in the Democratic Party at the same time that the Republicans devolve into a dangerous cesspool of racism and hate.

It is a dangerous and exciting year. A time for real Fear and Loathing. If only I could find some decent radical commentary on it worth reading. You would think that with the rise of a viable Left Wing in the Democratic Party, we would  have some talented Left Wing writer out there who could fully chronicle what is going on and present it to us in readable and punchy prose. I can't find anybody worth reading. Have you?

***Addendum: John Nichols of The Nation writes a good campaign blog worth reading. It misses a bit of flare and I don't think Nichols gives Sanders enough credit for reinvigorating the Left in the US. You can read it here

Friday, March 25, 2016

Extreme Moderation and Meniere's Disease: My Struggle.

Two years ago in May, I was at work on the Psych Unit in St. Helena when things started to get a bit wobbly. I felt a weird, heavy sensation in my head, followed by a rushing noise in my ears, followed by a "spin". The world was spinning so fast, much like a Tilt-a-Whirl at a carnival, that I had a hard time walking. A kind colleague walked me down to the Emergency Room (where I did the psych evals) and helped me into a gurney. The doctor there said it was just "vertigo" caused by a recent cold that I had had. An inner ear disturbance. He gave me meclizine and told me to take a couple days off and rest. He got it partially right; it was inner ear related.

A couple months later, it happened again. And again after a couple more months. And so on.

I had started calling them "attacks", these vertigo spins. They lasted for up to two hours, but generally they are over after forty five minutes. Joni was concerned.

Then last April I had one while driving on a busy section of highway 99 about ten miles outside of Chico. This attack was a bit worse than all the others. Joni had to come rescue me (from 45 miles away) and the spin was still going. I fell into the van and endured the spin. She went to the grocery store while I continued to spin in the back of the van; when the spin just wouldn't subside, she took me to the Emergency Room. In the Emergency Room waiting area, the spin continued and I started to vomit.

 I was hospitalized for the weekend.

They ruled out a stroke and a heart attack. But I didn't get the diagnosis until I saw an Ear, Nose and Throat MD a week after the hospitalization.

I have Meniere's Disease. It sucks.

Meniere's Disease is a disturbance of the inner ear where, they think, the fluid builds up over time and then bursts, causing the motion center of the ear to become unstable. The result is the classic "spin" or "vertigo attack". The attacks last for an hour or two and, unfortunately, affect your hearing. Hearing loss to the point of deafness is not uncommon.

Meniere's Disease has three components: Tinnitus (ringing in your ears); vertigo attacks; and hearing loss. Nobody really knows what causes it. Once you have it, you have a life-long chronic illness. There is no cure.

I've always had Tinnitus. I always thought it was from playing music too loud in my teenaged years. I liked my Beatles and Larry Norman to be played at rock concert decibel levels. That certainly could be the case, but, more than likely, the tinnitus has been a prodromal symptom of my Meniere's Disease.

The ENT checked my hearing (minor hearing loss in the upper registers, not enough to warrant a hearing aid) and told me to come back in a year to check my hearing again. He also told me to come back if the attacks became unmanageable. He put me on HCTZ, a diuretic, and told me not to eat salt.

I continued to have attacks over the next nine months. They started to get more frequent, and I started to fear for my safety while driving. I drive about six to eight hundred miles a week for my job. I get about a minute's warning with the heavy head sensation and the weird feeling and the whoosh in my ears that an attack is imminent. Once the attack happens, I am helpless for the next hour or two. So that gives me about a minute to find a safe place to park the car and ride out the spin. I started to carry a lounge chair in the trunk of my car so that I could set it up and ride out the vertigo. I carry meclizine (motion sickness pills) at all times. After an attack, I am exhausted and generally need to sleep for the rest of the day.

With attacks starting to happen every two weeks or so, I finally got around to getting serious about this disease. Disability seemed like more than a possibility. A car accident certainly seemed within the realm of possibility too.

I got serious about my salt intake. Turns out there is salt in everything. Eating out isn't possible anymore. I try to keep my sodium intake to be under 1,500 milligrams a day. A quarter pounder from McDonald's has 1,200 milligrams of sodium in it.

Over the last two years of "attacks", I've come to realize they happen towards the end of the day at the end of the week. The attacks seem to be triggered by, what I call, the THREE S's:  Sleep (or lack thereof); Salt (too much); and Stress (too much). If you have Meniere's, you have to get lots of sleep, give up salt and reduce/manage your stress. Yeah, right.

I ordered a half dozen books on Meniere's and did my research. It is a relatively obscure disease and the literature out there tends to be self-published by those of us who have the disease. Around 40,000 people are diagnosed every year in the US with Meniere's. I'm one of the unlucky members of the class of 2015.

After reading the books, I discovered that you need to go a bit farther than just eliminating salt, getting sleep and reducing stress. In order to reduce the number of attacks, you also have to give up CAFFEINE, NICOTINE and ALCOHOL. Nicotine isn't a problem, but giving up coffee? Beer? Wine? Scotch? Is there anything left to live for?

So I got serious in January. A couple of the books suggested that after you get a diagnosis of Meniere's, you should take two years off from work to learn how to manage the disease. Must be Trustfunders, because I need money or I will end up sleeping under a bridge. But I did start to get serious about this illness. There's plenty of incentive. Can you imagine living without music? Hearing birds? Hearing the squabble of children? I'm not interested in becoming deaf.

So I greatly reduced the caffeine and pretty much gave up alcohol. I had a couple beers on my birthday at the Sierra Nevada Brewery and a couple glasses of wine about a month before that---and that's it. Caffeine I have pretty much given up except a latte' as a treat now and then.

As I write this, I haven't had a Meniere's Attack since January 28. That's 57 days. With any luck, I hope I'm on my way to managing this disease. It ain't fun. I'd love to have a potato chip. Just one. I'd love to have French fries with salt on them. But I can't. I like listening to Abbey Road too much to jeopardize that by eating a potato chip.

But oh, to have a glass of Scotch every night before bed in the winter, like I used to. Forced into sobriety, I am. It ain't all that bad. And with any luck, as I learn to manage this illness, I might be able to have a potato chip or a glass of Scotch now and then. I am learning to practice Extreme Moderation.

57 days and counting without a spin. I can't tell you how exciting that is for me.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

Trump and Wallace

Both George Wallace and Donald Trump exploded their political careers into the national spotlight by focusing on race and walls. Race: George through Segregation; Donald through Birtherism. As for walls: Wallace barricaded the halls of a University to stop Black students from opportunity; Trump through his outlandish claim to build a wall on the border (and end opportunity for poor Hispanics).

Wallace and Trump were both populists. They both tried (and try) to appeal beyond race. But race is what they will both be remembered for. And the racial insults of Donald Trump automatically disqualifies him from being a serious presidential candidate.

Both Wallace and Trump could entice and entertain. Here is Gonzo Journalist Hunter Thompson writing in 1972 about Wallace when HST interviewed a Polish factory worker:

"This guy is the real thing" one of them said. "I never cared anything about politics before, but Wallace ain't the same as the others. He doesn't sneak around the bush. He just comes right out and says it".

Thompson goes on to write about a Wallace rally:

"It was the first time I'd ever seen Wallace in person. There were no seats in the hall; everybody was standing. The air was electric even before he started talking, and by the time he was five or six minutes into his spiel, I had a sense that the bastard had levitated himself and was hovering over us. It reminded me of a Janis Joplin concert. Anybody who doubts the Wallace appeal should go out and catch his act sometime."

There are a lot of George Wallace's political genes in Donald Trump. They are both populist racists separated only by 50 years of history. They both represent the worst, most awful, political impulse the American people are capable of. Yes, there are some good things in Trump's program: his critique of exporting jobs to other countries and his opposition to TPP. Even the devil has good qualities. But when you boil Trump down to his basic essence, you find the stench of racism.

American people: Wake up!

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Ammon Bundy, Joni and Me...

The government's response to the Right Wing Occupiers up in Oregon, where disgruntled Yeehawistas have taken over a bird refuge, is quite underwhelming. Whereas it is reported that the Bundy clan and other armed, anti-government cowboys aren't well liked by the locals, I have seen photos of the local sheriff shaking hands with the lead Bundy, Ammon--even offering  him safe passage out of the state.

No SWAT team has been deployed. No National Guard. Where are they?

I had my own little Occupation a couple years ago. When the government closed down Lassen National Park, I climbed Mount Harkness within the Park's boundary ignoring the park's closure order. I did it to write a story about for the CNR about Ed Abbey, as he completed his seminal work, Desert Solitaire, in the Mount Harkness fire tower back in 1967. If you ever get the chance to be the only person in a national park, I suggest you take advantage of the situation. It was glorious.

The Lassen National Park Rangers didn't take my silly little occupation lightly: they dispatched a Ranger, on the government dime, to drive 5 hours round trip to drive to my home in order to give me a ticket for illegal camping and refusing to obey a park closure rule. I had to pay two hundred fifty dollars.

A year before that, I had a Modoc County sheriff threaten to arrest me for simply trying to cover an illegal coyote hunt on federal land up in Aiden, California. He even threatened to throw my 12 year-old granddaughter in jail for trying to buy a soda.

My spouse had her own Occupation of federal land. Back in 1992, the forest service was going to allow logging on a huge grove of 500 year old Englemann spruce in Colorado's South San Juan National Forest. The trees were located at 9,000 feet; a replacement stand of trees would take hundreds of years to reach any considerable size. Joni didn't care much for this, so she climbed a tree and zipped around the tree canopy, frustrating logging attempts and holding back the operation for a few days. The forest service brought in a SWAT team, armed with automatic weapons and night vision goggles, to apprehend one tree sitter (my wife) and break up a small support encampment of a dozen hippies with bongos. Joni ended up going to prison for a month.

Both Joni and I have gotten more severe penalties from the government for our lowly occupations than the armed Oath Keeper's and the Bundy's have received thus far. But then again, Joni and I are left wing, unarmed enviros, the sorts of people the government has no problem arresting and ticketing. We must be dangerous people.

Let's hope Ammon Bundy has to pay a fine of at least $250. Actually, I hope they send him to jail for a long, long time. The birds deserve that.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

Some Words in Defense of Jesus...

Drive around Paradise, California and you will see more churches than fast food restaurants, thrift stores, and pickup trucks combined. The churches are everywhere. The biggest one is called the "CMA", and it is monstrous. It is probably the biggest building in Paradise and is certainly in better repair than the high school that serves 1,200 students. The church is so big, they have their own gym. The parking lot is gigantic enough to host a farmers' market every Thursday with ample parking.

On the Church's website, spend some time poking through the sermons archive and you get a nauseating combination of self-help tripe combined with simplistic steps to take to solve any problem. It is a church for white families who own Chevy Tahoes. It's one of those popular churches that are in vogue for people who are lonely and find life without meaning. A meaningless, lonely life sucks and I don't think it is an awful thing to go to church to place a little salve on it.

What I do object to is the ostentatiousness of the Church. Turns my stomach. I'm not so certain that Jesus wouldn't be nauseated by the whole thing too.

I consider myself a Christian. Although I find most of the post resurrection stuff about Jesus as a work of fiction. Dead people do not become alive again. Atonement for sins is silly. I don't want anyone paying the price for my sins but me: I deserve it. It is called cause and effect. To me grace is just luck.

I don't believe Jesus was born of a virgin while three wise men followed a star to his cradle. That's a beautiful story, but it is a myth.

I don't believe Jesus rose from the dead. In fact, I doubt any body was ever recovered. Generally crucified people were fed to the dogs.

I don't believe Jesus is coming again. I don't believe he was God. Some say he didn't even exist. I think he did.

That doesn't really leave much of the Apostle's or the Nicene Creed to recite. All that stuff comes from the Post Resurrection Jesus. The Post Resurrection Jesus is responsible for a whole lot of problems. I like the Pre-Resurrection Jesus. The historical Jesus. The one that Jesus scholars have been uncovering, like an archaeological dig. That Jesus excites me. That Jesus makes me proud to say I'm a Christian.

So what is there to love about Jesus? Jesus was a poor, Mediterranean peasant who preached radical egalitarianism, was critical of the rich, and was full of wisdom. He practiced free healing and the one ritual he created was a common meal. What's not to love about fish, bread and wine? What's not to love about making a ritual out of such a simple meal? What's not to love about providing access to healthcare?

Every indication states he was a practitioner of non-violence. He resisted becoming a Che' Guevara to the Roman Occupation. That doesn't mean he didn't rebel against it: it was the Romans that ultimately killed him.

The stories in the gospels are thrilling. Some real; many fictional. What is real, I believe, are his humble upbringing, his healing, his wisdom, his charisma, his common meal, his devotion to service, his devotion to his God, his poverty, his travels by foot (he was a hiker), his act of civil disobedience in the Temple that led to his death.

He was a real man. Not some fictitious character that overcame death and lived as a god. Somehow that cheapens the story for me. A real Jesus, standing up to the temple, to the Romans, to the elites of the Temple who take in the donations and side entirely with empire---getting pissed off in the Temple, causing a demonstration and then dying a political death because of that: that is real. That is courage. That is worthy of worship. A man like that is worth following. That's not the man they worship at the CMA Paradise Alliance Church in Paradise.

So that's who I follow. I don't mind celebrating such a person's birth at this time of the year. Even if all the nativity sets have wise men there. Wise men and women will listen to this man's powerful story and, hopefully, emulate it.

And for hikers, there is a new "Jesus Trail" in Galilee that connects Jesus' two home towns: Nazareth and Capernaum. That's an adventure for the bucket list.