Saturday, October 3, 2015

Homelessness and the Inheritance Tax...

Chico has a homeless problem. That much is obvious. The whole region has a homeless problem. Today I walked my dog on the trail in Paradise where a homeless couple smoked cigarettes and drank beer, hiding in the shade of a tree. Drive anyplace in the region and you will see men with backpacks, sometimes with dogs on a leash, walking and thumbing it on the side of the road. And we've all seen the "Hungry" and "God Bless" cardboard signs held by sometimes very young people, often with dogs in tow, who also are subjected to the life of wandering. Unless it is all one big scam.

The Chico City Council adopted a "get tough" approach to the problem of homeless camps and trash. Many letters-to-the-editor have been written, both for and against, the new "get tough" approach. People are passionate about the issue because it involves everything from public safety to environmental degradation.

But isn't it obvious that with our low wage economy, we would have a homeless problem? The roots of this crises can be traced back to trade policies and the fact that the minimum wage doesn't enable anyone to survive. Over the last 35 years, we have done away with inheritance taxes and have let the minimum wage lie dormant. It is almost as if the cultural elites think a job is just a hobby; the real money comes from inheritances.

Call it class war, of sorts. Working for a living is devalued; investments are barely taxed and inheritances aren't taxed at all. Isn't that just the way a person from an upper class background would like it?

And so the poor you see out there, scraping by, all have different reasons for being homeless. Substance abuse? Sure. Inability to hold a job or a desire not to work for peanuts because you wind up homeless anyway? Probably.

But one thing unites all of the homeless: They probably don't have an inheritance check coming in the mail.

Saturday, September 26, 2015

My Take on Hunter Thompson

I've been trying to figure out why people have a fascination with Hunter Thompson for a couple of years now. I used to work with another nurse who idolized Hunter. He even looked like Hunter and his idea of a "flight of wine" was to get three 750 ml bottles of wine and drink them in quick succession. Spending a night with this nurse friend, or once, a drunken expedition into San Francisco, was like spending time with the real Doctor. He even mumbled, when drunk, like the his idol.

I just finished a couple of biographies of the real Hunter Thompson. And I also got around to reading "Hey Rube" which is a collection of his sports pieces from ESPN. Hey Rube is worth it solely for his often quoted sage-like musings the day after 9/11.

Thompson wrote:

The towers are gone now, reduced to bloody rubble, along with all hopes for Peace in Our Time, in the United States or any other country. Make no mistake about it: We are At War now — with somebody — and we will stay At War with that mysterious Enemy for the rest of our lives.
It will be a Religious War, a sort of Christian Jihad, fueled by religious hatred and led by merciless fanatics on both sides. It will be guerilla warfare on a global scale, with no front lines and no identifiable enemy.

We are going to punish somebody for this attack, but just who or what will be blown to smithereens for it is hard to say. Maybe Afghanistan, maybe Pakistan or Iraq, or possibly all three at once. Who knows? Not even the Generals in what remains of the Pentagon or the New York papers calling for WAR seem to know who did it or where to look for them.

This is going to be a very expensive war, and Victory is not guaranteed — for anyone, and certainly not for anyone as baffled as George W. Bush. All he knows is that his father started the war a long time ago, and that he, the goofy child-President, has been chosen by Fate and the global Oil industry to finish it Now. He will declare a National Security Emergency and clamp down Hard on Everybody, no matter where they live or why. If the guilty won’t hold up their hands and confess, he and the Generals will ferret them out by force.

So why the fascination with Hunter? Because he helped to create a genre'. For Hunter the story was found in getting the story. Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas is the classic exaggerated high point of the genre' and also the best example of this literary device. Every writer in every alternative weekly (including this free-lancer) owes him a bit of thanks for creating his gutsy GONZO style when Thompson took up shop with Rolling Stone. Hunter is every journalist's ID, as in the Freudian term. And his opinion of most everyone, except those he saw as being pure (McGovern and Carter are on that list)---are that we are just sex starved, power hungry degenerates who long for that next drink, orgasm, or line of coke. We are all fiends in Thompson's view.

His celebrity got him connections. He was kind of like the journalistic version of Paris Hilton. Once a following is created, he could publish most anything and make it sell. His behavior on the expense accounts of magazines is legendary. And real.

Thompson wrote the way many journalists wish they could. No holds barred. Just bear down and write whatever comes to mind. Let your imagination fly----helped along by a whole shitload of pharmaceuticals. I'm sure many straight news writers, bored to tears by keeping themselves out of the story, using whatever connections they have to quote, responsibly, and with no malice or bias, BOTH sides of a story---wish they could just once, do a line and type what they really think. Journalism suffers from this silly idea of neutral, sterile balance. There are always just two sides of a story. Never three, four, five or sixteen sides of a story. Always just two.  Balance, they call it. Boring. It's the ying/yang of news. A dialectic borrowed from Hegel and all those other emotionless, stoic German Rationalists.

Along comes Hunter playing the role of the independent free-lancer. And succeeding at it. The rest of us need day jobs, usually teaching English or Journalism. Some stoop to becoming an editor---a chore that destroys any love of the English language. Editors are good people; it's just hard to edit and then go home and write something decent after following all the rules from the Hegelian paragraph above.

I do think Hunter Thompson was a bit of a psychopath. He was nearly arrested for vandalism by the FBI as a young child. He almost went to jail once after some youthful burglary but was told to go into the military instead. If not a psychopath, he was, at the very least, unscrupulous with other people's money (witness Fear and Loathing), with his fascination with things that blow up, and with his penchant for young women (a trait shared with Edward Abbey).

The women of Thompson's life? Always the 24 year old assistant leggy female journalism student hired to research, read and edit his stuff. The relationships always ended acrimoniously (with the exception of his first marriage). The 24 year old wouldn't be able to keep up with the lifestyle and the partying and would move on only to have her (and it was always a her) job filled by another 24 year old, female journalism student.

Yes, Hunter was an original. He became part of the journalism's upper tiered tribe. Lucky SOB. A great drinking buddy for the 60 Minutes set. And the Hollywood Elites (their roles are more and more mingled: just witness the guest list of the annual Journalist's Washington Dinner).

Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail from the 72 race is every Lefty/Liberal political junkies favorite campaign book. Or at least it should be. He could be wildly inaccurate and sometimes dabbled in downright kookdom, such as his friendly words he wrote about George Wallace or at the end of his life when he dabbled a bit in what was to become the 9/11 Truth Movement. The kind words for George can be traced to his working class, white kid Kentucky Roots; his 9/11 conspiracy thinking must be nothing more than drug paranoia.

Reading through every letter and exchange that is published out there by Hunter is like wading through a garden of clovers looking for one with four leaves. It takes awhile, but you will find one eventually.

What a lucky guy. He arose in the afternoon to peruse all the major newspapers. That's followed by conversations with pundits and connections. All while drinking and carrying on from his holdout in the Rocky Mountains. He'd start writing around midnight and would continue writing, and calling friends, until dawn.

And the suicide? A natural conclusion to a life filled with substance abuse and guns.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

The Death of a Boyhood Home.

My life hasn't been a stable one. I've had more than my share of change: cities, states, partners, friends, names, family, geography. I don't think I could list all the different addresses I've had since I turned 18. My brother, many years ago, wrote my address in his Address Book in pencil so that it could be easily erased. I remember one time when I first moved to Reno, that I had four moves in a couple of months. Change has been a constant feature in my adult life.

But for the first 18 years of my life (except a couple of summers), I lived in one residence. My mom and dad's home in Rushford, Minnesota. How we ended up living in this monster beheamoth Victorian is unbeknownst to me; our family income certainly didn't match the house. It was a Victorian in a sleepy little river town in southeastern Minnesota. A town filled with Victorians and amazing architecture.

Rushford had around 1,000 people living in it back then. Rural. In the "Driftless Area" meaning that, for some inexplicable reason, the last few glaciers didn't squish the place flat. What was left behind were "bluffs". From a child's perspective, they were mini-mountains. Hardwood forests and "open space" (in the words of city planners) abounded. I crawled all over those bluffs. All of them surrounding the town of Rushford. Some of the bluffs had names: Magellson's (I don't know who Magellson was, but there is a city park on top of the bluff); "Star" bluff was where the "star" was that was lit up at Christmas. I used to carry my tent in a pack up to the top of that one and camp out, looking out over the town below. No trails back then: I just grunted the stuff straight up the bluff.

It was an idyllic childhood with lots of time playing in creeks and hiking the bluffs. Rare was the day that my friends and I weren't out hiking. My huge leg muscles were developed from such exploits.

Life was stable back then. The economy was good. Rushford was supported by "The Plant". This was a factory that made heater switches for GM. Two shifts churned these things out, day after day. It gave a decent wage to hundreds of workers who could live very inexpensivlely  in this town. My mom was one of them who worked in the factory from the day it opened nearly up until the day it was dismantled and shipped to Mexico courtesy of NAFTA and Bill Clinton. Voters for Hillary, be warned.

Our town of 1,000 people boasted three grocery stores, a butcher shop, a fantastic bakery, three diners, a local dairy that made their own ice cream and butter---in short, this was a localvores dream. And it still existed 45 years ago. Affluence had its downside too; much of the beautiful downtown architecture got torn down in order to modernize. Rushford lost many of its historic buildings. Other towns that weren't so prosperous, like Lanesboro, were discovered by Yuppies from the Twin Cities and became a tourist destination with fancy restaurants, a theatre (acting kind) and newly restored downtown buildings turned into B and B's.

That was Rushford in the 60's and 70's. I miss it.

Of course, I couldn't wait to get out of there. I dreamed of going to the city, then moving all over the place, eventually settling in California after a bunch of craziness. I've lived in Vegas, Reno, the Napa Valley, and the western slope of Colorado. From my upbringing, the one rule I've had is that I want to live in a place of physical beauty. Vegas was a move out of desperation for a job--but there is beauty there if you look for it.

But now that that house back in Rushford is gone, I find myself immensely sad.

It is said that to have a sense of "Place" you need Space and Culture. Space and Culture = Place. Now that almost every place looks the same; the same restaurants, the same gas stations, the same architecture, the same Box Stores---it hardly matters where you live. We've lost the culture part. Or rather, the economics of Corporate Culture destroyed all that was local.

Except for where the rich congregate. They can afford to have a sense of place. Witness the Napa Valley with their "NO CHAIN RESTAURANT" rules. Or Lanesboro, Minnesota.

One of my places is gone now. That bedrock of childhood yanked away by Alzheimer's and the need to pay for care.

I fear I will never get over it.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

You'd be a fool to let the Lotus Guide you...

The Lotus Guide is a free publication distributed in Northern California. It is filled with the normal New Age fair: meditation and past life regressions, rebirthing and homages to Yogis and Yodas. You will find the usual Woo stuff there. I've read it a few times. Not all that impressive. Most of the content in the magazine sells you some sort of enlightenment. Enlightenment is usually for sale from an Ayurvedic Healer or some other peddler of New Age Goofiness. The Advertisements are for "Life Coaches" (usually Trust-funders who haven't a clue as to  how to manage their own life, called upon to tell you how to manage yours) and various dietary claims.

And so it is with curiosity that I picked up the most recent copy where the Publisher named Rahasya (really?) Poe. He names his piece "Disinformation and Misinformation: What’s the Difference And Why Does It Matter?: In it he states:

"I recently read in two local newspapers who published two separate stories that were specifically meant to be disinformation pieces, meaning that they were deliberately published to mislead their readers.

The first one was on vaccinations, giving them approval in a way that was meant to persuade parents to vaccinate their children but that left out pertinent information most parents should have to make an “informed” decision."

He doesn't identify my piece on vaccinations as the one he is talking about, but I have seen this guy elsewhere exclaim his disgust for my article. Frankly, he should have the courage to acknowledge who he is responding to so that people could go and read the article and decide for themselves whether the piece was intellectually honest.

Rahasya then goes on to quote VAERS (the vaccine injury reporting system) to point out just how dangerous vaccines are. He claims the Measles vaccine has killed 108 kids. (It hasn't). When it comes to Misinformation, his article is the one that is guilty of the act.

My tolerance for New Agers gets less and less the older I get. The fact that a New Age Magazine is opposed to vaccinations is not very surprising. New Age Religions are pretty much narcissistic, selfish exercises that ignores the needs of the majority. You won't find much talk about "no greater love than this, that a man lay down his life for another" from a New Ager. Nope. New Agers are about their own Enlightenment and to hell with everybody else. They seek their own path. And if others are trodden upon or lethal disease is spread or reawakened? Big deal. More than likely they would argue that their own Immune System is arrogantly superior to the disease. Too bad for those lesser humans who die. If they only were Gluten Free and ate Organic, they could handle the disease.

If vaccinations are safe (they are), effective (they are) and if Herd Immunity is real (it is) then an Anti-Vaxxer has no moral ground to stand on in their opposition to vaccines. It is immoral to oppose them.

A final note, the other article Mr. Poe objects to is one that is critical of those who believe in Chem Trails. Need I say anymore?

Lenin wrote that one must strive to be as radical as reality itself. The radical thing in some circles is to stand up for Vaccinations (they work!), or to state that some things are unreal, a mere fiction (Chem Trails!). Or state that Bush didn't blow up the Twin Towers (which is absurd). Or that cannabis farming is disastrous to the Pacific fisher population and is destroying some of our last wild areas of California (because it is). Liberal Orthodoxy can be pretty bizarre. But Radicals need to tell the truth. Even if it hurts. We need to be as Radical as Reality itself.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Murder: Chicago and the Northern Sacramento Valley Compared

Chicago made national news when they had 7 murders last weekend.

The 45 mile patch between Orland and Cottonwood in California suffered 6 murders from 4 separate incidents between July 2 and July 5. Just guessing, but I would put the population of this area of California at, tops, 40,000 people.

Chicago has 2.7 million people.

The murder rate in the northern part of the Sacramento Valley must be close to Guatemala or El Salvador's in the early 80's. All 6 of the unfortunate victims were killed by guns. Two of the incidents were family violence: an ex-husband killed his ex-wife and ex-father in law; a 19 year-old female in Orland killed her 16 year-old sister and her father and then turned the gun on herself. The 19 year -old lived but is in serious condition having shot herself in the head.

The two other incidents? A teenager from Chico killed by a gun in Orland (three murders in Orland over the weekend). Orland has a population of just under 8,000 people. A 28 year-old man was killed by a gun in the small town of Corning. Corning's population is 7,600 people. So far, the motives behind these two murders are a mystery.

So what to blame? Guns are dangerous things to have when our emotions are challenged by a situational crises. This rural part of California is awash in guns. The NRA dinners are well attended. Guns are loved. Cherished. Worshipped. Available.

When we don't teach emotional intelligence, when we don't teach people how to withstand tough emotional problems such as divorce, betrayal, jealousy---and when we add easy access to guns to the mix---people die. People Die.

And they died in this rural, agricultural breadbasket of California over the last weekend.

And yet, the gun worship continues. We need a cultural shift when it comes to guns. Soon. If you have a friend going through a tough time, check in with them. Figure out if they are unstable. Ask to take their guns "for awhile", until things simmer down.

We license drivers; it is time to license gun owners.

Saturday, July 4, 2015

Three Huge Decisions and the Big Three's Response.

I wrote the following for a Facebook page I admin. on Butte County Media.

Three huge events occurred in the world of politics over the last week. Two national issues involving the Supreme Court with marriage equality and Obamacare, and one state issue regarding mandatory vaccinations.

So how did the the Big Three (Chico ER, Chico News and Review, the Paradise Post) deal with this? You can learn as much about a paper by what it omitted, rather than by what they chose to comment on.

#1. Marriage equality: The Chico News and Review (CNR) lauded the Supreme Court's decision to extend same sex marriage to all 50 states. They called it "about time". The Chico ER's editorial board was silent on the issue. They did publish a couple letters to the editor, both pro and con. The editorial board of the Paradise Post had a first paragraph where they said they were happy that gay people can get married, then they went on to publish extensively from the dissenters, bringing up concerns about an activist court and polygamy. Jim Chastain, columnist for the Paradise Post went much further and outright condemned the decision. He called the Supreme Court an "American Politburo".

Overall, CNR (pro); Chico ER (avoidant); Paradise Post (mostly negative).

#2: The opinion pages of all three newspapers avoided Obmacare being upheld. The Chico News and Review did have a small news blurb on the story. So far, no letters-to-the-editor, nor columns mentioned it. Nor were there any editorials on the fact that Obamcare was upheld. Quite the omission on such an important decision.

Overall on the Supreme Court decision? The Big Three avoided the topic.

#3. In a surprise move, Governor Brown signed SB277 on Tuesday, which requires school aged children to receive vaccinations from 10 diseases in order to attend public and private schools. The Chico News and Review devoted a feature story in May to the issue, and have been editorially friendly to vaccinations, but they were quiet on its passage--probably because it happened close to press time for them. The Chico ER has been very pro-vaccination since the Disneyland measles epidemic. They ran an editorial applauding the Governor's decision to sign the bill. On this issue, they have strayed from the positions of Sen. Nielson, Assemblyman Gallagher and Assemblyman Dahle, who all voted against SB277. The Paradise Post has been silent on the issue so far. And there have been no columns or letters to the editor on the Gov. Brown signing the legislation. Yet.

Overall on SB277: CNR (silent); Chico ER (pro); Paradise Post (silent).

So what to make of this? The Chico ER's position on vaccinations is refreshing. The ER occasionally departs from the conservative lockstep regarding important issues. Their silence on Marriage Equality is a bit disappointing. As is their silence on Obamacare.

It is interesting that the CNR had nothing to say editorially on Obamacare. The ACA isn't popular among liberals because many support Single Payer. When the Public Option was lost from the bill, most liberals lost their enthusiasm for the law. They still support it because something is better than nothing, but it is hard for Lefties to get excited about it.

When it comes to Obamacare, the silence of the Chico ER and the Paradise Post is deafening. Conservatives don't want to admit that this law is now codified and will be very difficult to repeal. They are beyond anger and outrage and have settled into a quiet acceptance (and depression?) regarding the law, thus completing their stages of grief on the issue.

Overall, this was a very interesting week reading the Big Three. Some of these topics might be taken up in subsequent weeks.

Friday, June 26, 2015

Two Days that Changed the World....

Sometimes life surprises you. Like the Assembly passing SB277. Or the Supreme Court deciding that marriage is just marriage. Or the Supreme Court saving Obamacare. Twice.

For those who think there is no difference between the parties, all of the above came about because of Democrats. Democratic Supreme Court nominees made the difference. The Democrats carried SB277 in California.

And I was surprised to see I had the Guest Comment in the CNR last week. That was a surprise when I opened up the page to see my smiling mug.

It has been a good week.