Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Score: Good news 2, bad news 2

Let's be uncommonly perky and start with the good news.

Over the past week our DVD player has grown increasingly cranky. It's been a while since I used the lens cleaning disk: found it fallen out of its jewel case, and in a state that would do more harm than good. So I popped for new cleaning disk for about $9, and voila, it worked! No need to rush out and spring for a Blu-Ray player...yet.

Next, having done my homework I went out and bought new hiking boots to replace the Yosemite disasters that I left with my kid in California. She brought them to a nearby Goodwill store, and told me to consider that the illegal immigrant harvesting my produce was possibly wearing my boots. May they do better by him than they did by me.

What I bought are Timberland Mudslingers:

They meet all the advice I have found about what Morton's toe owners should do before they see the podiatrist. They're a half-size bigger than usual. They have major footbed support and steel toes. They're work boots, not recreational models: the thinking is that boots for people who wear them for 40-60 hours a week get more design attention than those for weekend warriors. So far, I haven't taken them off, like a kid, and so far they're comfortable. Hiking next. Also, I bought them at Pennyworth's in Lynn. They offer the rare distinction, these days, of having a competent person who actually fits your footwear to you. What a concept!

Now the bad news. I rarely mention work here, and I still won't give the place a name. However, my part-time job there is steadily becoming more part than time. This renders the second vexation more serious: a red-light violation.

I have my doubts about this one, but moving violations are like NFL penalties: there must be sufficient evidence to overturn the penalty. My sterling character and good intentions are insufficient. Not only have these things become more expensive ($100): they are, like speeding tickets, gifts that keep on giving. Remember insurance surcharges?

Drat...but I have hopes for the boots.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Well well

Just now I was reading, elsewhere, that one should not conflate the unrest in the Middle East with that in Wisconsin and growing list of Republican states. The grounds for this, we are told, are that comparing the unrest of the prosperous against their duly elected representatives with people fighting for life against tyranny. We are told that the comparison is naive and facile.

(Pause to adjust my historian's robe and hood.)

Wrong. That may be the popular notion, but the brutal fact of sudden political change is that unlettered masses don't accomplish it, and those who do don't achieve it out of nothing. It is accomplished in the first place by learned people who understand that there can be something better. Reaction is the fuel of revolution. Its tinder is the ressentiment of people, once prosperous in their own eyes, who perceive that their comfort and prosperity is being taken away. Revolutions that don't draw upon such ressentiment generally succeed; those which do not generally fail.

In my younger days, I earned my bread and pursued my principles in the then-new field of public history, which concerned itself with the lives of common folk, not great men. One such figure who got much of my attention was Paul Revere. (That no doubt surprises anyone who knows nothing of the man beyond the words of 19th century poets and 20th century debunkers, both mythmakers in their own way and with their own intentions.)

The myths have little to do with the man. He was of modest, somewhat comfortable, means until very late in life. As a silversmith, he was very much a creature of the age of mercantilism (silversmiths were integral to a colonial society with little or no capital) and on paper had everything to gain by supporting the status quo.

Instead, he became one of the prosperous expressing their unrest against the duly elected government of the British Empire. When following this modest career, it occurred to me that when the British lost Paul Revere, they had already lost.

My spouse, a public employee of modest means and many years of conscientious service, has inhabited the sidelines of political life for all those years. Tonight, her union called to invite her to a conference call in solidarity with the unions under attack in other states by the forces of reaction.

Tonight, she answered the call.

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Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Keep the red flag flying

Such were the lyrics that my grandparents sung at Welsh labour meetings in the 1920s. And even though Fox would blow a gasket, it wouldn't be a bad libretto wherever American labour is trying to bring the global revolution to life in this reactionary country.

The protesters seem to have realised the need to trot out new lyrics, because the case is much broader than it may seem. Wherever it began, it is no longer about privileged public sector employees vs. the public. Public sector unions are the last bastion of a much-beaten and bloodied American labour movement. Pull them down, and all workers finish the march back in time to the 1870s, when working people had no rights at all, serfs struggling at the whim of their employers.

Why do you think the republicans are working so passionately to do just that?

Watching the signs in the demonstrations, I'm seeing a shift in labour's message in the right direction. One of the best simply said "end the war on the middle class." The American middle class, distinct from the traditional European bourgeoisie, exists because of unions. Rather than being a bourgeois entity, it's more properly a prosperous and autonomous working class.

Is this flippant or trivial, compared with the struggles in Egypt and Libya? Not exactly. Employment and eventual prosperity in those nations is ironically dependent upon sustaining prosperous working classes in the developed world. Take away the latter, as the republicans and business so want to do, and the global economy falls like a house of cards. Then the revolutions of this winter and spring will look like playground games by comparison.

We are backing the Middle West uprisings in this house, just as we support those elsewhere in the world. Such global stirrings have happened before, and we can only hope and do our part to see that these, unless some in the past, don't end in defeat and repression.

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Monday, February 21, 2011

Senatorial surprise

Why does this story not surprise me? It may surprise our brilliant junior Senator, who has already been surprised by public response to his revelations of childhood sexual abuse. He is surprised, and angry, that some people compare his story with his support for Jeff Perry and find hypocrisy in the contrast. Sucker-punched you on that one, didn't they, Senator?

He seems surprised that the revelation has become the tail that is wagging the dog of his autobiography. I'm not sure I can attempt reading any political literature these days, but in the interest of fairness I may try this on: Just to prove my hypothesis that, apart from this nugget, the autobiography will take the genre to a new level of somnolence. The brilliantly original title sets us up for what to expect. Who in hell was his ghostwriter, Horatio Alger? It's been done, Scott.

I bet Brown will also be surprised that his former summer camp "came forward." Come on, Senator, once you start the gravy train of professional victimhood, everybody will want to jump on it. It's only a matter of time before we have the biography of the offending counselor. Camp Good News, indeed: Victimhood is big business.

Disclaimer: I know whereof I speak, save only that my life story is rags to rags. Letting the monsters out of the closet is one thing, if it does you internal good. Making money or political capital off them is another. Whatever Brown's motivation here, if he's into surprises he'll find plenty as the hangers-on jump onto this little engine.

Actual sexual abuse is one thing that isn't on my resume, but the exposures of the past few years put a name on one unsettling episode from my childhood. By some odd chain of events a friend of mine, whose family weren't practicing Catholics, got lined up for a recruitment visit at a prominent Catholic boy's camp in New Hampshire. He was encouraged to bring a friend and chose me. We were somewhere around ten to twelve at the time.

Our day trip happened on a cloudy, drizzly day that did nothing to put the place in its best light. Counselors showed us around the place, which had all of the usual amenities. I lingered behind the group at one, and the chaplain appeared out of nowhere and began to ask me questions, and crowd me a little. At the time I took them to be hard sell for the camp: now I wonder.

This priest served in my home town, and had the unfortunate (or at least apposite) luck to have a name that included two nicknames for the penis. I wasn't quite old enough to share the adolescent hilarity that arose from these names. All I felt was rather crowded, so I made my excuses and caught up with the group. I had never had any intention of going to this camp and only went along to keep my friend company.

This business got shelved in long-term neural storage. I was never quite comfortable around this priest thereafter, but once I moved away and had other things on my mind, I forgot about it. When the clergy sexual abuse scandal broke out, I recalled it. This priest was long gone when the scandal erupted. It is possible that his intentions that day were indeed no more than a hard sell for the camp. Thinking about it, and now reflecting on Brown's misfortune, it strikes me that the memory—with all its opera buffa trappings—opens a window into how easy it was and is for a person in authority to hit on an impressionable child: however innocent the first steps may be, they lose their innocence very quickly.

Senator Brown may be about to lose his social innocence if more people and institutions leap to share his victimhood. Meanwhile, I shake my head. Of course it was a religious camp: one begins to think pederasty was on the curriculum at seminaries of every variety of religion. Although secular camps with a specific focus are one part of the solution*, I think we need some atheist summer camps, to point kids in the right direction without the molestation.

*Eventually I went to one of these and enjoyed myself hugely. No groping there, either.

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Friday, February 18, 2011


The commentary is likely to spill over into Saturday, especially as observes Zulu time.

First political thought for the day:

Q: what's the difference between a republican and an anarchist?
A: a trust fund

Second ditto. Why is it that when the rest of the planet appears to be moving to the left, that any nation whose chief language is English seems determined to move even further to the right?

Third: tonight's news seems to be equally divided between coverage of unrest in the Middle East, and unrest in the Middle West. Considering that the Republicans have been making noises generally supportive of autocratic reactionaries, whatever they get in this country from those objecting to their domestic policies is just what they deserve. The punditocracy doesn't have enough spine to bring up an awkward and ever-more-obvious fact. The conservatives in the USA are the Democrats. The republicans are reactionaries of a particularly noxious stripe, who deserve to be treated exactly as Middle Eastern reactionary autocrats are being treated at the moment. Reaction of this sort has, in the past, led to only one outcome: revolution. It is much to the credit of the Middle Eastern revolutionaries that they've accomplished what they have so far without resort to the guillotine. One wonders what will happen here as long as our home-grown reactionaries keep their feet on the brakes.

And then we have the horrors (?) of men wearing skinny jeans, quite as if men had never worn skinny jeans. Let's crank up the WABAC machine and drop in on any moment between James Dean and the Beatles' Rubber Soul album. We will find men wearing skinny jeans in profusion. We will find sartorial reactionaries trying to ban them. What I remember most fondly is that the reactionaries insisted on banning blue jeans. Levi Strauss, never one to miss an opportunity, began to market skinny Levis in colours from pale khaki to white. "White Levis" were a contrarian badge for several years before bell bottoms. Jeans of a cut evidently acceptable to today's fashionistas were the emblem of dorks.

When the whites come back, I'll know the wheel has turned 360 degrees.

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Thursday, February 17, 2011

Didn't I already say this?

February sucks, even for healthy people, in this climate. Well, it sucks for those of us who have to stay indoors most of the time.

To dispense with Beast news first of all. We seem to be at a draw. This will delight my PCP when I next see her, and also spare me more drugs...I hope.

To reach the stasis I've achieved, one must a) remain indoors most of the time b) be wrapped up beyond anything an Inuit would consider normal when outside c) take many, many pills. Mind, this doesn't cure anything. It does change the character of Beastly assaults, so that I get several days off between episodes. During all the time I've had TN, I had been puzzled by the comparison of the sensations to electric shock. I've had electric shocks, and I didn't see the analogy. I thought it was more like someone rapidly firing nails into my head.

I understand it better, now that things have changed. I get the electricity, but at longish intervals. However, let's put aside the thought that the quiet days will have to be paid for. We take what we can get.

I've been making good use of those days off with good reading. My default literature has been Mark Twain's autobiography, a delightful Christmas gift. It's structure is such that one can read portions at a time, put it down, then pick it up some days later.

The other thief of my time has been Abraham Verghese’s Cutting for Stone. Although this novel, by a physician, has a good deal that engages those of us with some clinical training, I'm finding it is as much of a page-turner for laypeople. Most of it is set in Ethiopia, and I bring more than a casual interest to that country. I came within a hairs' breadth of going there in the Navy, to Eritrea actually, at a moment when neither side exactly welcomed US presence. The context I struggled to understand 40 years ago is somewhat clearer now.
I'm an inveterate repeat reader, so I'll be going through this again.

There's work, too, but I'm holding to my policy of staying off that subject in the blogosphere.

Anyway, here I am.

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