Monday, November 30, 2009

Glad To Be Here, Part Two

Part II: Spiking the Guns  (part I is here)

Drug deal, less than twenty feet away, after ten at night, one way street:

--I either have to back into Zoo traffic or drive past them. That’s if I can find the anti-theft device key and then the ignition key on my key ring before they see me.
--I can cower in the seat. But they can also walk by and see me, hunched on the floorboard or lying down on the seat, acting like a cornered witness. Blam.
--I can run, but then they know I’ve seen them doing the wrong. I also have to find the key to the front door (metal) and front door (wood) before I’m safely inside. Not enough time. Possible shot in the back. There is no other place to run, no other refuge.
--I don’t have a cell phone. This was before everybody had a cell phone. Anyway, there’s no time to explain: it’s happening Now.
--I can sit and watch: no, no, I don’t want to do that. They haven’t exchanged yet--

The flowers.

I pick up my purse, my bookbag, the vase of gladiolas. I unlock the car door and I get out. I slam my car door, hard.

“Guess what happened to me?” I call out to them, loudly. I walk right up to them. They’re surprised by this. “I got these flowers at my work, absolutely free, but there’s way too many. I want you to have some.”

Oh, my god, this is my stupidest trick yet.

They stare at me. Years of neighborhood interaction are possibly in my favor, but they don’t necessarily count this minute. I grab a bunch of gladiolas. “Here,” I say. I hold them out, and one of the guys’ hands reaches out to accept. Then he puts his hand back down.

“No, baby,” he says. “My girlfriend’s in the shelter, and it’s closed right now.”

“No, please,” I insisted. “They were free to me, and they’re free to you. If you can’t give them to your girl, then give them to a different stranger. Just—spread the happiness.”

He takes them. We look at them in the glow of a far-off street light, although, I’m really looking past the blooms and at his face. The park’s trees hide most of the light, but the flowers glow with goodwill or perhaps divine intervention. If this doesn’t work—

“I know,” he bursts out. “I’ll take them to my Mama’s house.”

“Yeah, she’ll love them.” I hand them over. “Have a great night!”

The other guy is not part of the deal at all. He doesn’t want any flowers, waves them away.
All I know is that one hand out of a possible four is not aiming a firearm at me, and I believe they are both distracted. I turn my back on them because I have to, in order to go to my front door. I walk as naturally as possible.

I unlock the metal door, the wood door. I step inside and lock the metal door, the wooden door. I run down the hall, unlock the door to my apartment and slam it shut. I run upstairs. My husband is asleep.

If I had failed, I would have been in the RiverTown newspaper. People all over the city would say what a dumb cluck I was. Fortunately for me, I was the only one who had to know it.

You know, I would say that the Club on either my truck's or the Caliente's steering wheel have nearly been the death of me at least twice--
or you could say an entire spectrum of substance abuse ruined my day--
or, you could say, ah, that was my stupidest trick yet.

Image: Watercolor by Cecilia Price.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Four Officers Killed in Washington State

This is not right: there are no truly good words. So just a minute.

May the investigation be swift and accurate. May justice be done. For the grieving spouses and children, I pray that people near and dear to you refrain from saying stupid things. That they serve you well at this difficult time.

I offer my condolences to the surviving families and colleagues of these four officers.

Glad To Be Here, Part One

Scene I: The Gettysburg Address, or, why I ended up where I was--

My bookstore hosted a Southern Writer’s night. Each author’s table had a vase of white gladiolas, one or more stacks of books. Any of twenty Southern Writers will gladly autograph a book. They take turns reading aloud from their works on the balcony into the store. The audience is appreciative, social, friendly.

Really they’re all waiting for the Twenty-First Author.

A Southern Gentleman of the Old School sits in the office. He is known as a very intelligent, compassionate historian. He has huge charisma. I’ve been at other events where this man sat on a panel. People were too awed to address him directly.

But he lives in a charcoal-filtered, aged-to-perfection world. He won’t autograph books unless you know him already and he finds you worthy. He will not “mingle”. Tonight he will read from one of his novels, but not into a microphone. The office door stays closed for Old Granddad.

When it is his turn to read, he stands on the balcony, completely incomprehensible. We are standing below. He’s probably coherent, but we can’t hear a word he says.

The friendly crowd turns angry in two minutes. A fantastic event goes South.

Afterwards, we stack rented tables, cloths, and chairs. Twenty glass vases of white gladiolas have nowhere to go. The Events Manager gives me one to take home. She shoves extra stems into it. She’s grateful for my support, my fourteen-hour shift, my crowd control.

After nine p.m., I’m out the door. I make good time until I hit the end of the annual Zoo family event. Now RiverTown Road is the zoo. It takes me an hour to get home. Four to five miles: forty-five minutes for one mile of it.

Once home, I put the anti-theft device on my car, twisting the lock shut. Then I drop my keys. As I pick them up, I look out my windshield. Two guys have walked up; they’re starting a drug deal right in front of me on the street. Not twenty feet away oh shit.

Just one world to the next. But it’s all the same world.

Part II of II, tomorrow--

New Investigations

I've been thinking a lot about the way that our words don't cover the need. I get this from my “Difficult Jobs” blogroll (and I read their blogroll after that). I see this vast disconnect between international knowledge and local knowledge when it comes to application. Two of a hundred examples:

Example A: How does the knowledge of international anti-terrorism translate to law enforcement on the curbs of a beleaguered neighborhood? We know crime and terror are related, but what kind of tools or training apply from the international to the local? What discourse helps?

Example B: Public schools know that they’re on the front lines for preparing a work force. When a teacher faces thirty students, half or more that don’t know how to read, and tries to teach Shakespeare or mathematics, how does international competition for jobs come in?
I don’t mean the teacher should talk about offshore labor; I mean, when these kids fail, they’re in a bad position to capture a prosperous adulthood in a healthy community.

Or put it another way: How can the long view be inserted into the particulars?

It seems to me, that for first responders, this disconnect from the international to the local feels like a two-tier system. The locals have the drudge end, working with not enough tools. And I read this in some blogs or accounts:

1. sometimes the venting of accumulated frustrations,
2. sometimes a report of how a policy isn’t working (immigration, for instance)
3. sometimes an attempt at self-education in political science or international issues,
4. most often national/international programs that dribble down according to one priority or another, change every four or eight years, become paper-wasters.

So, instead of despairing over the general, I thought: study something. Figure it out. Try to connect them. I picked gangs, because by and large, they are a significant inner-city employer, a dangerous feature of the schools and neighborhoods.

And I am right back where I started. Gangs are international, but they are also relentlessly local. So I have to think about it some more. I have to do more research.

Image: An Art Print, "Frustration" by Brooke Sajer, at the Minerva Union. Ms. Sajer, this is gorgeous.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Courage Not Luck

 . . . you should pray for a sound mind in a sound body.
Ask for a heart that is courageous, with no fear of death,
that reckons long life among the least of Nature's gifts,
that can put up with any anguish, that is unfamiliar with anger,
that longs for nothing, that prefers the troubles and
gruelling labours of Hercules to the sex and feasts and
downy cushions of Sardanapallus. I'm showing you
something you can give yourself. There is no doubt
that the only peaceful life lies through goodness.
Fortune, you'd have no power, if we were sensible:
it's we who make you a goddess,
it's we who give you a place in the sky.

Juvenal, Satire 10, lines 356-366,
(Trans. Susanna Morton Braund, Loeb Classical Library)
A historical note: Sardanapaulus according to Diodorus "the thirtieth from Ninus, and the last King of Assyria, exceeded all his in sloth and luxury;" and therefore incited his own overthrow.) h/t Wikipedia.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Crazy Landlord Story No. 4.

When we moved to Austin, neither of us had jobs. But we wanted to live there.
Actually, I had a minimum wage job. My husband, being the professional of the family, was putting in applications everywhere in town, and working at a temp agency.

We rented a duplex unit. The other occupant of the duplex lived in a back unit. He was red-faced, blonde-bearded man who regularly put busted furniture out on the curb for trash pickup. Drinking and breaking, man oh man. Fortunately, we did not usually penetrate his haze. And the rest of the neighborhood was very respectable.

The duplex had old-fashioned gas heater, the kind that burst into glorious blue flame and will set your bathrobe on fire if you rush by. You buy an old pan at the thrift shop, fill it with water, and put it on top. The humidity helps warm the house. Also, all the skin on your body will not dry up and crack off.

But it had only one heater. In the winter, my makeup froze in the bottle, a crisis I had never before encountered but learned to overcome. We got through winter, and then it was spring.

In the summer, the refrigerator died. My landlord was a female real estate agent, attractive, but operating under an alcoholic buzz. She would not answer our calls. Finally my husband got through.

“The refrigerator isn’t working,” he said. “We think it needs coolant, but somebody needs to check. It may just be shot completely.”

“Well, if I had a refrigerator and it wasn’t working, I’d call a repairman,” she said.

My husband waited a beat. “It is your refrigerator.”

The repairman came the next morning.

Photo: (ours was bigger, and flat-topped)

In the City of HotWinds, Explosive Developments

Life is getting exciting where I live.
1. Yesterday, they arrested someone for (allegedly) throwing a Molotov cocktail four blocks from my condominium. He was protesting, but he didn't stick around long enough for anyone to read his placard. He was apprehended, but now they won't say what his issue was. (Maybe ambivalence.)

2. Five days before, Maryland police arrested (thank you very much) 19 members of the Royal Lion Tribe of the Latin Kings for (allegedly) throwing Molotov cocktails at a house in a Hot Winds satellite city called Rockville. In the spirit of interstate cooperation, NYPD also arrested a few of those 19 up in their city.

The article at the Washpost looks like it was longer, and then butchered to fit. It therefore makes no logical sense. While my guess is that this house was bombed over drug distribution, or perhaps consolidation of leadership, the article does not say.

3. But, apparently the spirit of interstate cooperation is alive-n-well for the gangs, too, since the new improved Maryland chapter of the Latin Kings recently visited  LK headquarters in Chicago and New York.
Marylanders, felicidades! We're all hooked up. The state flag is even the right colors: Yellow, black, and red. I wouldn't be surprised if it started showing up on the street in decorative apparel.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

November: Good Stuff

I'm early, because the illustration was too good to pass up.
To the simple & super humans I keep checking daily in the blog world (most of you are both):
Thanks for some incredible posts and valuable insights.
May all your turkeys be on a plate and not the road.

--One grass-roots reformer in one Brooklyn neighborhood. And what law enforcement costs in BlastedVille. Hat Tip, NYT City Desk.
--People die from fires in illegal apartments, but NYC can't crack down.
Berlin became one city in 1989, and The Bronze remembers.

Something Hilarious, Something Funny:
--Crass-pollination talks about the twodoods. She also links to the funniest post of 2007: the emergence of sumdood.
--In DC, they're talking like idiots. No, no, on the street.
--Coming clean about rehab and conviction in the classifieds, at Johnny Law Chronicles.

Oh, Hell:
--At AfghanQuest, straight talk about back-o'-the-line B.S., Public Health, and really bad lodgings.
--War of the Stats: So long as Ruralshire's constables are fighting Blandshire's, nothing need get done.
--NYC Taxes at Work: Calling 911 to be rescued from a house cat on 'roids at gothamist.
--The fog, the real fog of rescue, at Report on Conditions.
--You could learn Spanish, but--the last guy was from somewhere else.

--Everyone's favorite constable now has a column in the newspaper. Go, Hondo's pard! I'll be checking the Vancouver Sun!
--And the Army LPN is headed home. Safe travels!

Working to Effect:
--NYT resurrects an article on civilian response to crime and terror.
--More than one kind of traffic jam out there. This one's in Jalalabad, from Free Range International.
--More PD to FD cooperation, this time saving a life. From Statter911.
--The moral choice is the right choice, at Report on Conditions.

Down Time: What Down Time?
Time-savers for first responders and their support in all fields.
--The SGT says watch out for drunk drivers in unusual places, at unusual times.
--Check out my Top Ten Shopping Tips for Holiday Perspective. (Also linked at top left.)
--Check out my Directory for Shopping Safety, Mailing Dates, and Checking Out the Charities. Slamdunk links to some holiday cheer in the comments. Check 'em out!

Illustration from ac-nancy, and they also wish you Happy Thanksgiving, in a more generic way, of course.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Oil: The Alaskan Issue

I am not enthusiastic about drilling the ANWR, but I think we’d be better off drilling it before the panic than after, when we will desperately grant every concession and overlook any abuse.

Conundrum No. 1
If I am right, then it would be better for a “green administration” to do the oversight on the  “Not-green” thing.

Conundrum No. 2:
We could only hold fast to green conditions during a market upsurge in price, because green drilling is more expensive to accomplish—the price has to make the effort worthwhile. However, a price upsurge means panic mode, when we want product and don’t care about method.

Conundrum No. 3:
If I was in charge, I would drill the ANWR as greenly as possible, and commandeer it as part of a strategic reserve for the Pacific coast and Hawaii. This would make sense for the nation, but private oil is a more efficient upstream operator, and they won’t want to have anything to do with a plan like that.

So the USG would join a joint venture with independent oil companies (many partners, but one turnkey operator), where the U.S. takes its lease price in barrels. That is what the rest of the world does, and it works.

Except the government has this huge deficit, and the invitation to sell oil rather than bank it strategically would be huge.

By looking at these three conundrums, you can extrapolate how our polarized politics is not doing us any good at all in many critical areas—not just energy. But I’ll take it further:

Conundrum No. 4:
The answers to the first three conundrums lies in getting a statesman rather than a leader or a politician. However, it’s still politics, and the political capital spent on this one would be massive. Your statesman must be a politician, or she won’t be a statesman very long.

So we will drill the ANWR when it is expedient and we are desperate and don’t pay attention.

Therefore, I am not enthusiastic about drilling the ANWR . . . but . . . .

Anti-Drilling, ANWR: Defenders of Wildlife site, and there are others, none of whom appear to study economics  . . .  .

Pro-Drilling, ANWR: Independent Oil's site, which, how efficient of them to get the .org site that signifies non-profits . . . . Map courtesy US Fisheries & Wildlife Service.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Bad Starts & Second Chances

My husband grew up in the hippie years. He married the first time in high school, and you know why.

They went to college on his dad’s money, but that marriage fell apart. His ex-wife straightened herself out and went back home with their child. She eventually married a very nice man and lived in her old neighborhood.

It took my husband longer to grow up. Dad's money abruptly dried up. So he worked in a convenience store, a grocery, drove a delivery truck, other jobs. One year he was fired from three different jobs. He said it got his attention, at last. And he started up a road, past the things he hadn’t handled well.

He could tell me that he’d been clueless as a father, but he was too ashamed to tell me that he didn’t pay child support for a number of years. He told me everything else around it, though, so it wasn’t hard to figure out.

When I met him, he was working on a Master’s degree and then getting a Psych Associate’s license. He’d made many mistakes, so he wasn’t horrified by people who’d made mistakes. He also had a streak of sensible a mile wide. He was a good counselor.

Starting before we dated, he took off for a month every summer to go camping with his son. They did it every year, and it was not conflict-free, but they managed to joke that out and be happy. They had a deal: one night, my husband picked the camp site. The next night, his son would. My husband always wanted to go to nature preserves or state parks. His son wanted to go to commercial camp grounds that had soda machines and pretty girls. But a deal was a deal. They stuck with it.

Eventually his psych work didn’t give him the chance to help people as much as he wanted, and he went to medical school, an older-than-average student. It was like watching a rocket get rocket fuel. It gave him everything he needed to pursue his calling. That was a ten-year journey.

In the middle of medical school, the mother who had raised a good son got lost letting him grow up. She couldn’t let him go, to make his own mistakes. And he started making even worse ones, to pay her back and assert his independence. Finally he lost his driver’s license. That meant no job, no effort, no relief for either one. No independence.

We took over then. My husband didn't waste any time on blame for past actions. He said life was doing that, and his job was to point out opportunities. That's not to say there wasn't direction, anger, sarcasm:

 "I would think, seeing how you've been booted out of one home, that gratitude would propel you, almost Against Your Will, to the sink to wash those dishes."  They laughed. Dishes were washed.

So his son learned to save, cook, do laundry, apply for jobs. Within months, he got work, moved out and supported himself. He rode a bicycle my husband bought used and they fixed up, until his driver’s license could be re-issued.  He had no phone. He couldn't afford it. But he was happy, independent. He made friends.

All my stepson needed was that finishing experience. He went back to college for a little while. Married a nice lady and got a steady job, a promotion, a house, and a cat bigger than most dogs. He later gave his sister a similar safe haven for the false starts.

Your high school counselor and your television tell you it goes one way, in one order. But life goes in all kinds of order and can still have a good result. It’s real life, still successful, maybe more so.

My stepson and my husband both found the life they wanted.

But that must have been hard to imagine, in the year my future husband lost three jobs, all of them for laziness, when he had a child to support.

Breathing Life into Science, Society

In “The Structure of Scientific Revolutions” Thomas Kuhn argues that science operates under a more-or-less “unified theory” until it has too many exceptions, footnotes, and explanations to be simple any longer. Then the bulk of knowledge held at the gate by a fossilized scientific academy floods in, transforming that academy into a new one.

An easy example:
For instance, astrology and astronomy were, at one time, the same profession. Scientists have tracked planetary movements since Neolithic times (that’s what Stonehenge is, an observatory) in order to gauge solar and lunar movement, for agricultural timing. The heavens were thought to circle earth.

Eventually planetary movement was documented more fully. Observers noted that Planets were somehow backing up (going retrograde) in their orbits before moving forward again. The geocentric system was too complicated to sustain, and astronomers questioned it. Then Galileo (Copernicus, Kepler, etc.) showed that the geocentric system was not only complicated, it was wrong. Their model simplified planetary movement. And it changed medicine, botany, the belief in a human-centered order.

Though Kuhn was talking about science, the nature of ideas in social studies, including politics or international relations, is very similar. We cling to a worldview until it no longer works for us, but before we move to the next worldview, we have complication after complication. It becomes harder to describe reality. Mercury is in retrograde.

Possible New Example:
In my opinion, the problems of “political correctness” (already partly considered in previous post) in speech or thinking are expressions of a system that is rapidly over-footnoted and exceptionalized. We have learned a whole lot more about social structures, and the wealth of information doesn’t fit the model we have.

Many of our dissatisfactions stem from the fact that everybody has to use a complicated language to say the disagreeable, or to advance their cause. And it’s become a game, where words get pitched around and re-defined. Too many people are having too much fun throwing sand in a sandbox.

We are complicating a dialogue about how to treat each other. I am hoping like hell for a transformative model, a new way of understanding. I don’t know what it is, but I see a lot of people suffering with reality and no satisfactory way to explain it. That includes soldiers, law enforcement, fire fighters and E.R. nurses. That’s people who run cash registers, collect rent, wait tables, or just have to deal with a disenchanted public, day after day after day.

So I guess this is not about political correctness. It’s about developing a way of looking at the misery that we see, feel, breathe, detest, and perpetuate. If we could get the right model, we could solve some of the problems.

Lest you think this is too weird, we’ve been theorizing social models since Plato’s Republic. Unfortunately, I am no Plato. I'm not Karl Marx, either--I was thinking of complexity theory . . .

Afghanistan: Let Our People Work!!

As usual, people on the ground know best. Go to Free Range International, and read as much as possible on The Tribes, which are more complicated by "official classification" than by motivation, and about military CYA in the upper ranks.

These guys have it figured out pretty well. I've studied a hell of a lot on Central Asia, and I would listen to any of these gentlemen straight up, no bark on the wood, no bullshit in the paragraphs, no hesitation in my recommendation.

Ann T.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Better Holidays: Top Ten Shopping Tips

From a retailer with 20 years' Seasonal Experience:

Keeping It Real
1. No one that loves you wants you to go broke. Your budget should not send you close to your charge card limit. This is when you start getting surly and lose the holiday spirit.
2. No one wants your cold. No one wants your kids to be tired. You are spreading germs, not generosity.

On the Town
3. Your list should contain a short number of names and a few keywords for each. (For instance: Size 10, likes blue, likes NASCAR). Be flexible; the perfect thing will turn up sooner.
4. Delegate. For instance, take your address book with you, so other people can mail your packages. They have a system worked out. You have errand after errand.
5. If you shop during a weekday morning, you will find everything more easily.

Spouse Gifting
6. Your wife might want a new appliance, but she definitely wants something personal and thought-out.
7.Your husband might want a new boat/car/watch, but he's already picked it out. He wants your indulgence.
8. To save money, spouses sometimes agree not to buy each other anything. This is a mistake. You can limit the dollar amount, but you should not eliminate the giving impulse between two parties in a marriage. Besides, one of the two will renege, which creates an imbalance.

Quality Thought, Quality Time
9. Better one lasting/useful gift than a pile of junk. Make a memory, not a Goodwill box. (They don't need a plastic Santa either).
10. Just because they'll visit your aunt's house for Christmas, doesn't mean you owe them a sweater.

This message has been brought to you by a retailer. Now for a few words from the sponsor:
a. The salesperson/cashier did not author the store policy, so yelling at him/her will not do any good. Furthermore, it makes you look like a butt. Ask for a supervisor if there's a problem. Then step aside.
b. If the cashier asked for your I.D., say thank you and hand it over. They are protecting your money better than you are.

For Marcellous Lindolph, Jr.

Nobody knows which truck which company. Everybody knows he's not supposed to sleep in the dumpster.

So we might not grieve overmuch
a man unknown, a body only,
whose death  was accidental. In life
he learned rain, wind, maybe chess,
generosity and resentment.
Perhaps his goals were all mistakes.
Surely his refuge was the wrong place.
Many men could have said the same
yet died with honors.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

A Review of Political Correctness, Example the Flag

At one time, the term ‘political correctness’ covered behaviors. The issues behind the behaviors had been settled for a long time. For instance, American women don’t properly curtsy to the Queen of England. We’re not her subjects; we’re citizens of another nation. Political correctness meant civilians cover their hearts to the flag but soldiers salute. These behaviors were generally spelled out by Emily Post and the Boy Scout Manual.

This is not trivial. This is agreement.

But that agreement changed. I agree with conservatives that politically correct behavior changed during the 1960’s, and became bipolar. Much was made of the scandalous behavior of huge groups of people. (Everyone was affected by new technology, including illegal drugs, the Green Revolution, and the Pill.) The flag issue was no longer saluting v. heart-covering. Some people weren’t going to respect the flag at all.
And some people put a match to the symbol of our unity and mutual sacrifice, which seemed to be more fragile every minute.

So the flag became a symbol that received overt disrespect but also was trivialized, by both sides. It was neon-ized, oversized, undersized, used as bedcoverings, costume jewelry, curtains, and cloaks for dastardly deeds.

The reaction to flag-burning was flag-waving. In 1968, flag-bearing bumper stickers said: America: Love it or Leave it. For a schoolgirl learning that people came to America to be free of oppressive government, this was a little scary. You could choose to:

1. burn a flag and respect no civilized behavior, or
2. toe a mighty thin line, which included questioning no irony at all, for fear of ostracism.

That year, Robert Kennedy and Dr. King were assassinated. It was a year of unmitigated public hatred. But all years have public hatred in them. In 1968, that hatred was acted out on an unexpected scale.

What I learned that year: parents can be afraid. Later, I learned that pre-existing conditions meet new ones. Everybody has to deal, ready or not. And we’re rarely ready. The pre-existing condition seems normal. The new conditions aren’t fully evident, or their side-effects aren’t.

We are still struggling with this, but the term political correctness is used inaccurately in public discourse. It’s applied, with contempt, to one side of the debate. Yet neither side has given up the moral ground. Both have a view of politically correct language, issues, and behavior.

Emily Post and the Boy Scout Manual, however, will still tell you where we do agree. One has expanded to meet circumstance. One has just waited for us to pick it back up, maybe two sexes instead of one. And with that thought, I think that conservatives, liberals, and former schoolgirls should be comforted. We have a basis for agreement after all.

Better Holidays: A Useful Directory

In one week, all the bird turkeys in the United States will be feeling the heat.
Then the marathon will begin its second lap.
Whether you're feeling happy or blue--whether you celebrate Christmas or Hannukah or Kwanzaa or nada--
something here will improve your luck for the holiday season.

Charities: Give Wisely.
--Charity Navigator: Rates 5448 charities by financial health, donor privacy, and efficient use of contributions. You can search by keyword to get your issue, or by the charity's name. the Better Business Bureau site.
--Charity Watch: An A-to-Z Charity Listing.
--Food Bank Locator: In the U.S.--Find the food bank in your zip code.
--Food Banks Canada, lists by province.

Safe Shopping, Safe Living: Watch Yourself.
--On the street or parking lot.
--Internet shopping. You want your credit information protected with SSL. This site has more tips like that.
--Fire Safety at home.
--Crime Safety at home.

Shipping: Be Prepared.
--If you're sending a package to an APO or FPO, you should send no later than December 3rd.
Otherwise, you've got some time.
--US Postal Service site. lists the dates, the bottom line.
--Canada Post also has mailing dates.

The Holiday Blues: Take care of yourself.
 Ten Steps for a healthy holiday, with a little perspective!
If you need the Twelve Steps, find a meeting. Somebody there needs you too.
A site for U.S. Military Families.

If you are in despair, call someone. If there is no one, there is still someone:
U.S. Holiday Depression : a 1-800 crisis hotline is listed at this site.
Canada: Crisis Hotline number listed here.

Any more useful tips or sites? I'd love to hear. Please add to comments. I may add them to the body of this post.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

And The Ayes Have It

When I was a child my parents took a trip to Ireland. One of the places they went was Cork.
Near Cork, Castle Blarney sits. The famous Blarney Stone sits halfway down a wall in that castle.

My father was Irish extraction and also in sales. He needed to kiss the B.S. for professional development.

Well, I was their only child at the time, and I was along for the ride. My father knew this was a rare opportunity for my own outsized charm and gift with the gab. Unfortunately the Blarney Stone is not in an easy place to kiss. Nothing worth doing is ever easy.

So, they stuck me in a car seat, tied a rope to it, and lowered me down. I was too young then to remember. But apparently I began to get upset and refused to cooperate. So they carefully, slowly, twisted the rope so that my lips turned toward the wall, and touched the stone. Then they hauled me back up.

I am overwhelmingly re-elected as Treasurer to the Condo Board.

It remains for you to decide whether that was the result of the Irish gab I was given, or
a wee bit of a problem from a single impact with a bluestone,
 many feet up a castle wall, near Cork, in Ireland.

bump bump bump: Knocking on the door of the Trust

You know what they say: a fool never shuts up. Yeah.
After I was nearly car-jacked, I told everyone in the neighborhood.
I had several reasons/excuses for doing this.

1. Conversational topic. More chances to talk to the neighbors.
2. Maybe I could retrieve my sorry performance by getting more information on my attackers. Like the make of the car. I didn’t expect anything more than that.
3. Warn my neighbors that violence levels might be escalating.
4. Let people know I was on the lookout for the crap, and,
5. I wouldn’t react like a normal person when faced with it. As events already proved.

Two houses face the park from the other side. I don’t knock on doors in the neighborhood. I might not like what’s inside. Or, they might not want me to see it: good, bad, or indifferent.

One house has no windows and scabrous white paint. I am always curious about this house. People go and come every once in awhile. You can hear the game through the shoddy wooden door on weekend afternoons. The burly guy that lives there appears to fix heavy machinery in the front room or cars in the street. Sometimes he sits in the sun and I say hello. Why not now?

“Did you hear me screaming last night?” I ask him. “Wow, you would not believe.” And so on. “They were parked right there.” I point. “Did you happen to notice any strange cars?”

He gives me this look: assessing the most stupid person still breathing his air. I already know this about myself, so I smile at him. “Well, just be careful. I guess things are going nuts again.”

He acknowledges that with eyebrows. No words.

The lady next door has a house with an automatic gate, a small yard, the only house set back from the street for blocks. She has parking AND grass. Hey, here’s a winner: middle aged, prosperous, a property owner.
I have to wait a couple of days before I see her, going to her car.

“And they were parked right in front of your gate, blocking you in,” I say.

“I don’t know nothing about it,” she informs me. “I didn’t have nothing to do with it.”

“Oh, no, I know that.” I was surprised by this. “I was just hoping you maybe saw something, or that you’d be careful.”

“I didn’t see nothing.”

So I accomplished 1 and 5: Attention! Dumbass lives here! That still may have worked in my favor.

The Great Divide Between One and the Next

Odi et Amo
I hate and love. Why? You may ask but
I know not. I feel it done to me, and ache.

This poem by Catullus (84-54 B.C.) applies to love in duty, too, when one's return gives nothing but torture or frustration.
Literature is one way we grasp what we do not know, or cannot ask, or cannot tell others.
Sometimes we struggle with our own words for the wordless.
Sometimes we need a poet like Wilfred Owen, who had been there, done that, described in detail.
Sometimes one like Catullus, who brought it down to two lines and let us fill in the blanks.
Trans. Ezra Pound

Monday, November 16, 2009

Inefficiency 6,000--Treasurer, Zero

So, I found out this weekend that the condo community is very angry about the upcoming budget hikes.

I am not surprised, exactly. I am now working on a PowerPoint, but I can't help but be cynical. If you have to fight with clip art as your weapon, you're already screwed. It's great for presenting new stuff, but not good to hide behind.

We already had a "Budget Feedback Meeting", but not too many people came. I didn't think they would, but I hoped they would. It was the first ever of such meetings. I wanted feedback. Failing that, I wanted a shield.

The real issue is rumored to be delivery of service, and I am right there with my constituency.  I have pushed, I have prodded, I have communicated daily. I have left management alone to get the work done. Other board members have done the same. But we are a volunteer board. We want our manager to do the prioritizing. And some implementing.

But he's not. And in my opinion, his staff is taking advantage. Grossly. Been saying that for a year.

So, Tuesday is coming: the annual meeting. I am up for election. So are three others.

This is a tempest in a teapot, a little city of 271 homes. 271 small families or individuals who just want hot water, a roof that doesn't leak (!), a garage door that doesn't wake them up at night when somebody comes home late.

So, that PowerPoint . . .

The Public Private Ann T.

I'm posting a lot on this blog and reading a lot in other blogs. It's almost ridiculous, but I have reasons.

I started this blog on private mode, but that doesn't work for an extrovert. I wanted to write something polished, something that could stand up to the final scrutiny, to help me examine my life and all life.

It's working. I've done the smart and stupid. That doesn't change with public scrutiny, I already knew that part. But I'm re-visiting a heightened level of engagement, here and with other writers. I need that heightened engagement back.

So now, off-blog, I am writing about what changed that. Maybe that will show up here too. But not now. It has to stand up to public scrutiny, by which I mean engagement with the world, in the right way. It has to offer something.

So far the stories are all about the past. And they are also about the future . . .

Saturday, November 14, 2009

The Forgotten Outpost in the Outpost

Not too long after the arson, I met an elderly white woman who lived in IrishTown. She was a nun, like a Poor Clare, one of the orders dedicated to serving the poor. She invited me to tea.

“What are you doing, living in this outpost of the devil?” she chided me, as we walked to her house. “This is a place full of sin.”

She didn’t wait for an answer, just chatted about the arson, and told me about her order, and about St. Francis. She did not ask my religious affiliation. She said hello to a couple of people on the street, then switched to the evils of drugs.

Her house was not that far away, but on a tougher street. The space of the front room was, like most of the 100-year-old plus houses in RiverTown, beautifully proportioned. Like most of the old houses in RiverTown, there were few inner doors, a wood floor. The wallpaper was a faded rose, the original stuff. I could see it was stretched onto tacked linen and not the walls themselves: durable work. The only decoration left, and it was not clean anymore, the dust of ages.

She told me the house was donated to her use a long time ago.
“I let homeless people sleep in here,” she said. “God bless the poor.”

She fixed tea.  She was wearing a tan habit, a cross knotted around her waist. We stood in the kitchen—bare, uncluttered—and sipped from our mugs.  I asked her why she was alone. Shouldn’t she have a convent, or a community?

“I’m the last of my order here,” she said comfortably. “We used to have quite a few, you know, but they went on.” Went on where, I wondered. With some other poor people? New orders from the chapter house? Heaven? She did not elaborate.

“Anyway, the bishop forgot about me,” she said. “But I’m doing God’s work.”

Maybe I gave her five dollars. As soon as I write that, I think I remember she refused money, or gave me no opportunity to give it. I don’t remember for sure.

Maybe she was a volunteer nun as opposed to an official one. Maybe stuck in some private fantasy. But not a scam artist.

I would see her from time to time. She wore the same clean habit every time I saw her. She was always walking alone to somewhere, cheerfully. It always seemed odd that the bishop would forget her. Maybe she was also a ghost.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Don't Cry Wolf-Part 3-Complex Interactions, Dead Dogs

More for those in the transition from a good neighborhood to a tough one. There's a Part 1 and  Part 2. But this can also stand alone.

The first summer we lived in IrishTown: one night all the watch dogs were executed. I think we should have had blanket police coverage then. Not because of the poor dogs, (although that’s bad) but because this person wandered the streets, shooting, far longer than an hour.

The police could have blanketed the neighborhood and possibly caught this person. If they had, they would have deterred numerous future crimes. Seeking intervention here, in other words, wasn't crying wolf. Considering how that series of shots freed up the streets at night for drug traffic, it was not small beans.

Not so fast, sweetheart:
Actually, my one-sentence idea (blanket the area) contains one huge step after the next. Each step relies on optimal interaction levels that weren't realistic.
  1. 1. First, a household affected has to call it in to say it’s a dog. Shooting in itself was not unusual. Sometimes it was recreational. Or, if it wasn't, my neighbors didn’t want to know. 
  2. 2. Dog-owners were asleep by then. Or, it was dogs. As long as everybody sat tight inside, they’d live.
  3. 3. More affected people have to call it in. Each person is calling in a single incident, but it sounds maybe like one incident reported over and over. Or a prank. 
  4. 4. Dispatch, or the watch commander, or somebody, has to figure out it’s a pattern, jumping now, and connect it to some conspiracy for after-dark street ownership that minute. Other scenarios were possible.
  5. 5. The PD must have personnel free to work the incidents or make my “blanket” idea work. The neighborhood was full of abandoned houses, where a shooter could hide, or friends/fellow businessmen could hide him. So a lot of personnel.

I didn’t have that thought out at the time. But the next day, I could see that my expectations were outsized to everyone else’s. That shut me up, but I didn't know why everyone was so resigned.

Eventually I learned there was some kind of neighborhood stability, or it would have been anarchy all the time. My husband and I were new, interlopers, not part of that order. We still relied  on it, every waking and sleeping minute. Further out in neighborhood affairs were the police. These we could access more easily than the neighbors--not because the police wouldn't come for a neighbor's complaint, but because, as outsiders, we would make a complaint.

What I Learned/Did
So this was my policy: see disclaimer. I called (or would have called) the police when I saw a crime in progress, or a condition they could verify (house burglary, drug buy central), big dollars lost (car theft) or assaults, blood, sounds of meaningful distress. Annoyances I tried to fix alone or look the other way.

I like to think the neighbors were grateful for our modest stand. But that is vanity. More likely our block just became a place to avoid, and trouble moved down the street.

Frequently new people demand everyone else adjust to a new social order. The previous residents already have 1. their own problems, plus 2. the ones they could live with but the new person wants changed. Then add 3. the crap that used to go down on the gentry block and is now on theirs.

So I guess this is a kind of warning to be nice. I guess this is also a hope held out: you'll have a constructive place in neighborhood affairs if you want it. You can be good for the neighborhood.

(BTW, if you’re wondering, we did call about “shots fired close” that night. Dutch, a Doberman, died two doors down, in a front pocket yard of a house used for work/storage. Two officers checked the complaint, saw no human with either a gun or a gunshot wound, and went onward, looking. Dutch lay undiscovered until the next morning, when the owner came back to work. The executions occurred in a fan-shaped group of blocks, three blocks wide on the North and eight blocks wide in the south. Many of those blocks (say 40, total) were small or deserted. Most occupied lots did not have yards.)

Don't Cry Wolf-Part 2-Annoyances

Like I said in part 1, maybe this will help someone if they ever move from the 'burbs to a tougher neighborhood. (See disclaimer.) I guess this post is how a neophyte turns their high expectations of crime fighting into something rational. The point where you rely on prevention over remedy, a plan/policy over being completely floored every minute something happens and you aren't ready.

Some of the record of diminished expectations is actually a loss. Others build character--

Most of the things I confronted were on the annoyance category, like public urinating in front of kids or drug dealers scoping out the front hall. Any one of the confrontations I undertook could have been dangerous, if you added a gun. But I didn’t call the police for annoyances because:

1. Inbetween noting the annoyance and calling it in, the annoyance was over.
2. Inbetween calling it in and police response, the “annoyancer” was long gone.

3. Trust: It’s just my word to say the annoyance occurred. Small beans, a lot of hours from everybody for no result. In behavioral terms, I think the immediate response was best.

4. Diplomacy: Calling the police for annoyance-level stuff would have changed the tone of my more pleasant interactions in the neighborhood. Though my level of tolerance was very low compared to my neighbors, you know I still compromised. Often.

Take my Husband's Bike, For Instance: oh.
5. Institutional overload: Take bicycle theft. My husband lost three. All of them were locked to a structure behind a tall gate. The thief was strong, limber, and had tools. He also had one or two partners. Otherwise, it couldn’t have occurred. Scary, but we don’t call 911.

You called in, M-F 8-5, to get your stolen bike on a list by license and bicycle serial number. You received a theft report by mail in return. The bike license was a sticker, reasonably easy to remove.  I am sure the stolen bike list was never consulted by anyone.

6. Secondary economy: Most bike stores in town sold hot bikes. Ah, used bikes.
a. Trust: I’m the one who says it’s missing. Maybe I really sold it yesterday.
b. Deniability: The bike changed hands any number of times, and the person with the bike (if, by some miracle, found) can say they bought it from someone in good faith.
c. Discretionary judgment: My husband could afford a bike. A kid in the next neighborhood over, not so much. Think long-term, wide-range, big picture.
d. A lot of work for a low-value item that may be ruined when it’s found. Small beans.
Everyone had given up on this one. Except the city administrators. See, if you didn't buy the license, you couldn't report the theft . . . . .

So far, so good in the Neighbor-Hood . . . & some serenity achieved.

Don't Cry Wolf-Part 1-Limits

Maybe this post will be useful to future gentrifiers. I don't know.
I said in a previous post that calling the police was my remedy of second-to-last resort. The last resort is, to me, agreeing to be a victim. But there were a lot of things I tried first, or victim situations we accepted. To operate under suburban expectations would have been impossible. To call for help that often would be like crying wolf.  Like one false alarm after another. My reasoning for this came from more than one set of observations.

We were not the high crime neighborhood. Homicides occurred mainly in the projects, about ten blocks down and a half-world away, plus, ten blocks north and a half-world away (not to mention other high-crime sites even further away).
The police had little. The cars didn’t have their headlights, their hub caps, their motors tuned up. I didn’t see the interiors, so who knows what else was wrong—communication equipment, steering, whatever. It implied they were short elsewhere too, like personnel, for example.

Maybe the city administration thought a hubcap or ding is small beans if the car still runs. I don’t. This doesn't mean I know about police work. I know about management.
a. Respect. It looks like city gov doesn’t respect its police, so why should anyone else?
b. Trust. It looks like the police can’t take care of themselves, let alone you.
c. Morale. Institutional slop eventually becomes personal slop. Example: A police officer is supposed to spiff up, but his unit’s not spiffed up, so the effect is lost. Or, after a day of one annoyance after another, some that feel like betrayals, that last hour is just spent on anger management.  You don't have to think policeman to find an example of this. Just check out your own experiences.

Anyway, the final piece of this part of the equation was on the ground. The problems seemed huge. The beat police weren't there--even after a newsworthy double-arson/drug war incident down the street. I knew I'd stepped into a new world, and I was going to have to revise my expectations of the institution and of myself.

So far, so good . . .

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

for our Veterans: Archilochos of Paros, 680-640 B.C.

These are short poems translated by Richard Lattimore of the University of Chicago from the Ancient Greek. I think they are about the living soldiers, from one who has been dead a long time but knew the score.

I am two things: a fighter who follows the Master of Battles,
and one who understands the gift of the Muses' love.

By spear is kneaded the bread I eat, by spear my Ismaric
wine is won, which I drink, leaning upon my spear.

4. (On a Willing Woman)
Wild fig-tree of the rocks, so often feeder of ravens,
Loves-them-all, the seducible, the stranger's delight.

I don't like the towering captain with the spraddly length of leg,
the one who swaggers in his love-locks and cleanshaves beneath the chin.
Give me a man short and squarely set upon his legs, a man
full of heart, not to be shaken from the place he plants his feet.

Heart, my heart, so battered with misfortune far beyond your strength,
up, and face the men who hate us. Bare your chest to the assault
of the enemy, and fight them off. Stand fast among the beam like spars.
Give no ground; and if you beat them, do not brag in open show,
nor, if they beat you, run home and lie down on your bed and cry.
Keep some measure in the joy you take in luck, and the degree
you give way to sorrow. All our life is up-and-down like this.

I will make nothing better by crying, I will make nothing
worse by giving myself what entertainment I can.

The fox knows many tricks, the hedgehog only one.
One good one.

It sounds like Archilochos probably did a lot of weeping, or else he would not have addressed it so often. Thank you to all veterans, for all your service to our country and its people.

Bump Bump Bump (Point)

I have a paper due tomorrow. The computer’s acting up. I have to go to Bizmo’s to finish up. It’s dark outside, about ten-thirty. My husband is asleep.

I pack everything I need into a tote bag. I don’t juggle things on the street anymore—I want a quick in and out, especially at night.

Downstairs, I open the door to the entrance hallway. I don’t turn on the light to walk the long hall. I open the wooden door first, but leave the metal one locked. I scan for trouble automatically now. It’s not a wide-angle view, but you can also hear people.

I slip into my husband’s huge car with power everything. I lock up after myself and take the club off the car. The dome light stays on, longer than usual, I don’t know why.

There’s two of them. One’s knocking on the window, pointing at the lock.

bump bump bump (point)
That’s why the dome light is on: they’ve pressed the handle, trying to get in. Both of them have guns. Both guns are pointed at me. (I start screaming no, no, no)

both of them are young-they look fourteen-that doesn’t matter-young people have less impulse control -they will shoot-both of them are short-just a little taller than the car-the one behind is shorter and stockier than the one in front-both have Afros-the one in front has a longer one, unkempt-he is light brown-his gun is really tiny-almost like a toy-that doesn’t matter-Mom has one that fits onto a belt buckle-it’s still real-this one’s real too

bump, bump, bump (point) 
they have point-blank range for a head shot-my keys aren’t in the ignition-I can’t drive off

I move to the passenger side.

they still can’t miss but maybe they will-this screaming is worthless nobody can hear me outside the car-if I get out then people will hear me-no, I’m not getting out-they’ll shoot me on the street or take me with them and I don't want to go

They run off. They don’t shoot. (I stop screaming no, no, no)

Nowadays, I think I was their first try, and they weren’t ready to kill anybody for a car yet. Of course I have no way of knowing for sure.

I open the passenger door. My purse spills into the muddy gutter in front of my house, spilling everything.

roaches down there and broken glass that you can’t see in the dark-if you lock the car your keys will be inside but there’s another set upstairs

I fall out and grab the billfold, throwing it into the car at the same moment, slam the car door shut. I scream at the top of my lungs, where at last someone can hear me, as I jump up.

this is my neighborhood I don’t know them they’re not from here they don’t belong here

I take off in screaming pursuit across the park. And I almost catch up, but I don’t want to: they still have the guns. They pile into the back of a car on the next street over. It peels off. Now I am chasing the car until they turn right onto News Street. I don’t get the fucking license plate number. I’m furious.

I march back across the park. The window slowly goes up on the second floor.

“Hello,” my husband calls out. “Is something wrong out there?”

I’m standing in the street, legs apart, fists on my hip. Gary Cooper is nothing compared to me. I don’t even need a six-shooter to take it on. Adrenaline is great stuff. If you know what you're doing.

I give useless descriptions of the perpetrators, escape vehicle, and guns to the RiverTown police officer who takes my complaint. She keeps a poker face through the whole thing. Maybe every once in awhile her mouth twitches closed a little harder.

“So then I chased the car,” I tell her.
“Do you know what kind of car it was?”
“No, a sedan. American. Four-door. Not new. Ah, maybe light brown, but there’s not much light over there. And I didn’t get the plate, I’m sorry. I did try, but I couldn’t keep up.”

She nods and makes another notation on her clipboard—probably a big fat zero.

“So, I guess that more or less completes my story of one stupid move after the next. They headed downtown.”
“Hmm-hmm-mmm.” That’s a sound that covers a wealth of possible statements. “Not everything you did was stupid. You did one thing right.”

Even though I knew better, I had hoped it was more than one.
“What was that?”
“You didn’t unlock the car when they wanted you to,” she says. “Go inside now. I’ll make sure you’re all in before I go. Thanks for giving us a call.”

So: I was thinking fast--bump bump bumped up to hyperdrive--but not getting to the (point). I resolved to do better next time.
See disclaimer

Monday, November 9, 2009

RiverTown: Demolition Derby

The nicest car we ever had was a stunner, and it cost us the value of a trade-in. My father-in-law used it on Texas interstates, and it was definitely a Texas kind of car: 1980 something Oldsmobile Toronado Caliente, dark red with a white vinyl (not rag) top. I’m going to describe it in full. I also found pictures of one EXACTLY the same, except beige. So think red.

  • Vee-Eight 5.0 liter engine, Automatic transmission, A/C, Cruise Control
  • Power steering, brakes, trunk release, locks, and safety dome light feature
  • Dual 6-way power seats In Red Leather
Can anybody say, Gang Ride? But I don't want to talk about that yet.

The Competitive Sport of Crime Avoidance

The sidewalks of IrishTown were paved in auto glass. I had a Nissan, grey, modest--and like all my cars, sorry--a little dinged. I hated the Caliente. It made me conspicuous on the street.

Part of our initiation into the neighborhood was the search for guns or drugs or sound systems in our cars. And, as at Warrior Poets, if you locked your car doors, a determined prowler was never deterred. Therefore, being prudent was expensive. This is one of the first principles of being poor in America.

The Rules and the Strategies
We rapidly learned that you could not leave anything in your car. Not CDs, a penny on the floorboard, not a 69-cent rubber duck or a take-out bag from fast food. They learned we had no guns or drugs, and there would never be any food left in the bag. So, okay. After the initial flurry of break-ins, things slowed down.

Also in the car break-in thing, we were there long enough to get the nuances. There's a big difference between paying for the windshield and paying for a back window, for instance.  There's also a big difference between getting your window smashed Sunday night when you have to go to work on Monday, and getting it smashed Friday night when you're not due anywhere on Saturday, and the auto glass place is still open.

Now combine these two. Windshield + Sunday night=pretty hostile.
Side panel window + Friday night=business almost as usual.

Of course the Caliente was the greater magnet. He lost windows all the time. I lost two--in the Nissan, and two later in the truck.

I won on numbers. He won the style points: calm, collected, a man with a plan. He'd call the mobile auto glass. The guys would come out with their truck-mounted vacuum, and take care of everything. He would write a check, and move on. Of course he was moonlighting, for this and other reasons, but remember: we had no car payment.

Suddenly, the Stakes Go Up
So, I did not have a clear win in the Crime Avoidance Derby until one day, my husband came in, seriously peeved. "There's some kind of crap on my car window," he fumed. "What the hell is that about?" He lost it. Under many instances of cheerful disregard, anger had been biding its time. So we went out to inspect.

Yup, it was brown. Eventually, we determined, fortunately, it wasn't crap. It was chewed-up milk chocolate, like a Hershey bar, well soaked in spit, and then blurped all over the windshield.

I was relieved, but for some reason, this upset my husband even more.  Since he once contemplated lighting a paper bag of dog-poop on the front porch of a man who refused to make good on several minimum-wage paychecks, maybe this makes sense to you. But chocolate is a kitchen mess to me. We washed his windshield and it was over. For me.

Back inside, he was still ranting. Finally he turned to me. "Why doesn't any of this stuff happen to you?" he demanded, arms waving. "Why does it happen to me?"

Well, there was the trophy aspect--which car would be more defaced when blurped with chocolate--you know. Maybe chocolate-blurping is also a competitive sport.

"You don't say hello to people," I finally said. "The neighbors watch out, or know who belongs, but you're not friendly."
"I say hello to them if they say hello to me," he snapped back. I shook my head.
"They don't go first," I told him. "They've been ground down too long by too much. They don't take risks like that. You're a prosperous white man, you can slam them with a word."
He sat down and thought about it. "Okay," he sighed. "I can do that."

Maybe this sounds prejudiced. I think of it more as a diplomatic issue.

Thanks for buthard.wordpress for the pictures of the Caliente. Their post is here.

Don't Bring Me Down

Every morning I drive by this,
right before I get to the mayonnaise factory,
and make a hard right away:

Paid groundsman pick up burger wrappers
in the grass of the projects. The unwrappers watch.
Inside the garage of an automotive repair,
(still prospering) in a strip center across the street:

Positively no tools LENT!!!

Saturday, November 7, 2009

Oil: Three Re-readings of History--the Third One

This will probably make more sense if you read the First Two First.

Another Perception: The Poetic Justice of Oil and Terrorism
In 1979, we guessed Iran’s theocracy would try to destroy us. And we were still looking at international affairs as a matter of states in competition. But states are losing power on all sides. The market for ideas—socialism, theocracy, democracy, utopia, perceptions of “boom” and “bust”. The lust for power, which nowadays is less about “ownership” (the state) than about “decision control” (markets). Markets for money, fuel, risk-reduction/insurance, and ideas all transcend borders. In the words of the late great political economist Susan Strange, “states are working a holding action” against the greater power of international markets.

According to anti-oil-war screeds, we’re being punished for our greedy lifestyle; we’ve paid good money for our own destruction. That’s kind of poetic, but it doesn’t provide a solution that anyone can live with.

More accurately, we needed oil. We pay money to people who may or may not like us, but need to sell it. We do this all the time, and not just for gasoline. Sometimes we pay thieves or oppressors, knowingly or unknowingly, and that goes for all markets, from fast food on up.

In the 1990’s, Osama bin Ladin’s share of the family money funded his choices, and he chose exile from his family, his nation or any nation. That didn’t mean Bin Ladin was cut off, or had no place to go: he had plenty of transactions, technologies, and safe houses available to him. He chose crime, another international, interlocking, transborder set of markets, in order to promulgate an idea, or his own power, or whatever horrible motivation it is.

He may be in Afghanistan. That doesn’t make him an Afghanistani  nationalist. He may call us the Great Satan, but that's just a screen. His actions have not been confined against one country.

He and his followers chose a set of heinous transactions that hurt us and others in other parts of the world. In 2001, they blew up our skies. They have transformed our politics, and continue to do so. But in a way that we barely see, what they do has little or nothing to do with the state. What they are really involved in is markets.

Note: I have used Susan Strange’s far-reaching ideas in The Retreat of the State and other texts; I have borrowed some terminology from R.G.H. Siu's The Craft of Power.)
Tgace, if you're reading this, that Craft of Power might be something you would like. John Wiley and Sons. Might be out of print. Might be too business-oriented, try to check it out first . . . .

Honest Scrap: Scrapping

Christopher over at the Warrior Poets tagged me for an Honest Scrap: Ten True Things about me. Yikes!! Here goes nine, that's plenty:

1. I have had many jobs. My first one was at Dairy Queen when I was fourteen. For six months I remembered no un-jumbled single event from that job, a kind of shift amnesia. I do remember, I finally learned how to run the mellorine machine on my third day of work, making 5-cent cones on Fourth of July Weekend. (Hell!) No other job, under any stressful condition whatsoever, has caused me shift amnesia.

2. One day I told a co-worker I was taking a psychological test to find out if I was an extrovert or an introvert. She smiled a tiny smile and walked away. Two minutes later, I found her and said, “I guess I don’t need the test. If I was an introvert, I would never have told you that.”

3. For many years, if I woke up in the middle of the night, I would hold my husband’s shoulder and pretend he was a dolphin, taking me down into the deep. I would fall asleep instantly.

4. If he left for work before me, I could wake up and know what his mood had been that morning. If it was bad, I would call him.

5. Whatever the received opinion in the room, I am against it. Not because I like to argue, but because I think the room has left out something important. If they only stick with one platform, conceding no rightness to others, then I really want to leave. I struggle with this.

6. Another central struggle in my life: how to tell the truth and still be kind. How to be kind and still be accurate. And when to shut up.

7. Eventually the student must be the teacher. Eventually the novelist must try for publication. I can do the first one, right away, but I am deathly afraid of the second one.

8. I believe in empathy, right up until someonesteals my purse. At which time I pursue them, screaming at the top of my lungs, until four guys, one in a suit, two in coveralls, and one from the parking garage, land on his butt.(Thanks, guys!) I will then press charges: Merry Christmas, dumbass, although, that’s not what I called you at the time.

When they find him, after he ran away, I went to the grand jury. They thought it was the funniest thing they'd ever heard. He went to trial, and I still have my favorite hot-pink handbag, at the time with less than fifteen dollars in it, plus the litter of change I scraped out from under his hand as he lay prone on the pavement. He did not get a nickel out of me.

So now, readers, you know: that largeness of spirit I have been pretending to is tempered by, ah, a temper, and some pretty small change.

9. I am starting over, halfway down a road . . . .

Anyone who reads here and wants to do this, send me  a note and I will tag you for it!

Oil: Three Re-readings of History--the First Two

The study of oil is the study of a major market in “political economy”. Politics adds emotion, mis-step, and conflict to a reasonably straightforward set of supply and demand curves.

A. The 1967 Energy Crisis and the Arab Oil Embargo (1973)
Around 1967, U.S. domestic oil production left no surplus capacity: we were using everything we could pull out of the well. By 1973, the U.S. market status tipped. We were no longer an oil-producing nation but an oil-consuming nation. And we entered that buyer's floor with a heavy step.

The title “Arab Oil Embargo.” is partisan, and the way it's noted, at least in the West. But it’s equally justifiable to call it the year of “American Buyer Domination.” Certainly we crowded out a lot of little buyers. And we know which of these two conditions has proven more lasting.

1973 was also a year in the oil market’s economic cycle that coincided with “disinvestment.”  There was no surplus capacity world-wide, either. The oil market turned into a seller’s market, rather than a buyer’s market, for the first time in history.

Oil Market Cycle
The oil market cycle is historically a decade long. The high point: high demand creates a high price, but there's not enough infrastructure to bring in needed supply. The oil companies start investing in greater infrastructure so they can deliver. Supply increases, and price travels down to the low point. The oil companies slow their investment and cap wells—after all, there’s no sense in building, or keeping a staff around, if you can’t make money. Prices eventually travel back up to a new high.

In periods of high demand, when it looked like buyers might cooperate, OPEC (the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries) always talked about how to gain buyer concessions, or, more plainly, leverage something for themselves. This is a normal human behavior as well as normal cartel behavior. They certainly talked about it again in 1967, when the U.S. was running close to the wire. But in 1973, Arab members of OPEC (OAPEC) decided that they wanted to leverage politics. The embargo supported Egypt against U.S. intervention for Israel in the Yom Kippur War.

In sum, the price was bound to go up—a lot—according to every free enterprise/market model we have developed. The embargo added panic and further reduced supply: it sounded like an abrupt cutoff. It wasn’t, but it was still serious enough: OAPEC reduced its crude sales 5%, and said they would reduce supply a further 5% per month. So the price didn’t correct into sky-high, it went into orbit. Or, it felt like it.

Oil companies were already trying to meet contracts and adjust world distribution. But democracies have voters. States have national security considerations. So Panic added government interference (France needs it! Britain needs it! Ship it here first! We will nationalize our oil companies!). Adjusting distribution became complicated, quickly.

In the meantime, oil companies were also out locating new supply, consistent with a period of high prices/new investment in their cycle.

The Iranian Hostage Crisis (1979)
Jimmy Carter did not nationalize our oil companies, unlike many leaders of free market economies world-wide. He did institute price controls in an effort to reduce citizen panic (politics), which was a bad idea for getting supply in (economics). He also instituted the U.S. Department of Energy—long overdue.

Carter was smart, but not ruthless. We elected him because, after Nixon, somebody harmless sounded good (politics). He was a hairsplitter at a time when we had double-digit inflation but no gasoline. World-wide, people were afraid to take chances (market perception), so the economy tanked instead of adjusting.

In 1979, Iran fell, which raised the real price of oil to refiners higher than any other event before or since, including the Oil Embargo/American Buy-Up and the fall of the Twin Towers. We had hostages there. They had a theocracy, anarchy, an anti-American leader who was not a communist—but who could tell for sure?—Ayatollah Khomeini.

Our oil companies lost significant assets (the market for energy, the insurer’s market took the hit). The U.S. froze Iranian assets in its borders (the market for money) and went to the U.N.'s judicial system, protesting the violations of international law governing embassies and ambassadors (politics). Khomeini flipped off the courts, the U.N., and the U.S. one more time. Iran started to go to hell—participating in neither international politics nor international markets. Our hostage rescue failed.

So we elected Ronald Reagan, who was inspiring and yes, ruthless for American interests (politics). He also believed, absolutely, in market-based, rather than government-based, pricing. That worked for us on the energy front. Iran released our hostages but not oil company assets. We didn’t release their assets either. But people calmed down. States with government-run oil companies and no hostages also calmed down—and—why is this?

The supplies newly located since 1973 came on-line and were distributed (economics).

We have never forgiven Carter for being who we wanted him to be. We have never had gasoline under a dollar a gallon since 1973. That’s not Carter, OAPEC, or even Khomeini. This is all demand and supply.

(Note: I have over-simplified Daniel Yergin’s great history, The Prize; Susan Strange’s far-reaching ideas in The Retreat of the State and other texts. I recommend these books. None of them is a beach read. The oil cycle theory belongs to E.L Morse at HETCO. He is also brilliant. The opinions and any inaccuracies are of course my own.)

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Fort Hood: And Eyes that "Flash and Burn"

Walt Whitman, the great American poet, also wrote of his experiences as an Army nurse in the Civil War. The Memoranda During the War (1875) is about the best prose I have ever read by a non-participant in the battles: some knowledge, but not all. Inexhaustible compassion. It is not a great work, it is "memoranda" of things small. For instance, Whitman talks about buying ice cream for soldiers and how they enjoy it. And some darker things. This is from page 5.

Future years will never know the seething hell and the black infernal background of countless minor scenes and interiors (not the few great battles) of the Secession War; . . . the fervid atmosphere and typical events of those years are in danger of being totally forgotten. I have at night watch'd by the side of a sick man in the hospital, one who could not live many hours. I have seen his eyes flash and burn as he recurr'd to the cruelties on his surrendered brothers . . . .
Such was the war. It was not a quadrille in a ball-room. Its interior history will not only never be written, its practicality, minutiae of deeds and passions, will never be even suggested. The actual Soldier, North and South, with all his ways, his incredible dauntlessness, habits, practices, tastes, language, his appetite, rankness, his superb strength and animality, lawless gait, and a hundred unnamed lights . . .

But if I can't know, I can still try. My "Difficult Jobs" blogroll doesn't have everything, but there's Free Range International, Mudville Gazette, and LPN with an M-16, all written by people of incredible dauntlessness and language . . . .

I am lighting an unnamed light for the soldiers at Fort Hood tonight . . . every last one of them.

Eight Things About the Oil Business

I wrote a thesis in this subject. So this is not a rant for any side of the question. It's my public service--trying to make educated voters.

1. There is upstream oil, that’s the well. Midstream oil is the pipeline or tanker. Downstream oil is the refinery and distribution thereafter. You mostly hear about upstream, but you have to think about each aspect if you’re considering the market.

2. It takes four years from the time of discovery/speculation to drill down to oil on land and seven to ten or longer to drill for it offshore. That does not include a time allowance for war, politics, glaciers, alligators or boa constrictors on-site. So if an oil exploration company finds crude in outer Whazoo, we’re still not getting it right away. And during the drilling process, wars, politics, glaciers, and boa constrictors don’t go away.

3. You can’t just pump oil at any rate you like. Each well has a different pump rate. And when oil wells get old, you have to baby them. Oil wells in Eastern Iraq (and Mexico’s Cantarella Field) have been compromised through over-pumping. Repair takes a lot longer than proper maintenance. As with anything else, it costs plenty to fix what’s ruined. And sometimes repair doesn’t work.

4. Distribution has been worked out by the oil companies to minimize costs. Therefore, most of the United States’ oil supply comes from non-Arab states. That would be 1. Canada and 2. Latin America and 3. Western Africa. Europe and Japan get most of their oil from the Persian Gulf and from Russia or other former Soviet states.

5. Because we get our oil from Latin America and West Africa, we should pay more attention to what goes on there politically, economically, and for that matter, weather-wise. To do this, you have to read British Broadcasting Corporation news articles. The U.S. news is about starlets with love problems.

6. Just because we aren’t in direct line to the Persian Gulf for oil, doesn’t mean those events don’t affect us—because—they do. (Ask anyone military.) West Africa’s crude, for instance, could easily ship to Europe for a premium price if the Arab states could not ship. Russia’s price would go up. The supply is a world supply, and a knock in one place reverberates everywhere else. As of 1973. That’s just the way it is.

7. Worldwide distribution (tankers/pipelines) is pretty stable overall, by which I mean it corrects quickly to meet those knocks. But any local distribution is precarious: inside Iraq as it traverses ethnic divides, across Azerbaijan or Georgia when Russia is on its way in. Past poor people in hovels on its way to developed countries. This is a fact, and we need to consider it when thinking about deferred costs in our life with oil.

8. U.S. distribution is a lot more precarious than you guess. Most refineries are on the Gulf Coast. So is the nation’s Strategic Reserve. My proof is Hurricane Katrina. The issue with gasoline prices and other oil-related supply for the nation had far more to do with refineries out of production than Oil Platforms getting blown about the Gulf of Mexico. Then there is the U.S. pipeline network, also concentrated on the Gulf--and the less-networked pipelines from Western Canada to the North Central States. In the event of shortage, the further you are from the Gulf, the longer the wait for relief.

And I have at least two more posts planned on U.S. oil. I’ll do this again, inbetween other philosophies and memoirs and tales . . . .

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hannibal Lecter's Treatment Plan

You can imagine the arguments of a psychiatrist. Sentences were always deconstructed with an eye to finding my Freudian slips. All issues would descend to a word choice. On the good side, my husband had a lot of low-key sensible advice.

1. Even if you’re running late, you have to fill the gas tank when it’s empty.
That probably tells you more than enough about the bad side of living with me.

2. He said the secret of treating adolescents with drug problems was never getting stuck on why they did it.

“People always ask this,” he said. “They never get the real answer back, and they wouldn’t want it anyway. The answer is, it feels good and it’s fun at the time, at least at first. I never ask that question. I already know what I’m up against. I go straight to the consequences they’re facing and how they’ll stop.”

So there you go. Some questions convey hurt, but they can’t be answered to relieve it.

3. He is working late during his psychiatric residency. I am watching the Silence of the Lambs, alone, which, considering how I am about horror movies, is a stupid idea.

He calls. I tell him about the part where Hannibal Lecter is forced to listen to a televangelist all night as a punishment.

“I wouldn’t waste any time on that,” he says. “The guy is twice as smart as most or all shrinks, and not going to change his behavior. He likes what he likes and that’s it.”

“Well, what would you do?” I ask him. “If you were Hannibal Lecter’s therapist and he did something wrong or insulted your dignity or whatever?”

“That’s highly unlikely, that I would get a patient like this,” he scoffed. “He’s a fictional character. Most patients aren’t like that.”

“Yes, I know, but what if???”

“I’d do therapy for the staff that has to take care of him,” he says. “I’d make sure they were doing okay at home, and had no conflicts at work that would distract them from protecting themselves or each other.”
He is absolute about this. “The staff comes first, always. It’s mostly important to make sure they’re okay, and not distracted. Then security procedures and patient care in that situation are more likely to happen the right way.”

Monday, November 2, 2009

One Night Stand

When my mother was a child in Florida, they used to post meetings of the KKK on the telephone poles. She has some KKK membership application framed now, somewhere in her house, but I’m not sure it’s from Florida. She’s not a Kluck. I think to Mom it means that she saw something of the passage of history and has an artifact to prove it.

When my dad was a young man, he used to be a Disc Jockey. This was when you used to type up your playlist before the show and give the carbon to your boss, checked off, after the shift—long time ago. He was from Ohio and he was Irish Catholic on his mother’s side.

He took a summer job spinning platters in some southern town, Unspecified. He had a nice landlord, an upstairs one bedroom unit that was part of a house, and a very nice boss who made all these welcoming arrangements for him in advance.

His first night, someone called in. He was asked to give a radio announcement of the local KKK meeting over the air.

So he gave it. Then he invited all the local blacks, Jews, and Catholics to attend as special guests.

The phone rang: “Boy, you get back on the air and you take that back.”

My father got back on the air and announced the meeting again. He told his listening audience that he had been told to take his ad-libbed portion of the message back. Then he said,

“On the contrary, I will repeat it.” And he did.

When Dad came home, the landlord had already packed the trunk of his car with all his worldly goods.

“Bye, now. You be safe. Don’t stop for anything until you’re past the county line.”

The way my dad told it, this had nothing to do with his landlord being KKK. He didn’t want any trouble on his property. No burned house, no dead platter-man in the yard.

I don’t think my Dad’s stand was based on a position about racial equality or even Catholic Emancipation. I think he didn’t like being told what to do. In the defiant category, we are a lot alike.

It's worth deciding whether he won or lost. I would think that answer could be long and complicated. Or, really short: he lived to tell the tale.

I don’t know what he did for the rest of the summer.

October into November

I've been reading posts that Halloween is hell in Anytown, U.S.A., as the drunks come out with extra gimmicks and twice the stupidity. (Here and same blog, here, glad you made it!) That was true in Rivertown also--people like costumes there. They spend more than a little time on them.

The next day was All Saint's Day. The day after that was All Soul's Day (all the dead, saintly or not). That's in the Catholic calendar, and in Rivertown and many cities all over the world, believers go to cathedrals those days. They clean up the grave sites of loved ones. After the abandon to death and revelry, there is duty to the dead and to family.

They bring white paint for small mausoleums, or colors to refresh the robe of a concrete saint. They bring plastic roses, usually pink, standing for the Virgin Mary but also practical: not quite the passion of a red, not so quickly dirtied as a white or yellow rose. Perhaps they bring hedge clippers and trash bags.

There's a fine Italian tradition of low maze-type boxwood on a grave, being trimmed carefully to keep the pattern, that I think has become a tradition in parts of both Americas. Then even sometimes a picnic: some cold beer or wine, cake, bread and hard cheese. It's okay to sit on a grave, your family's place, and eat and drink when the tasks are done. And I think that's a much better tradition in a graveyard than one that inspires gothic respect such as "watch your step".

This dutiful tradition seems to be dying out. Harder to believe, when it's such a commercial success, but Halloween seems to be dying out too. The costumes only fit one age group (small) and are awfully like product placement. The costumes for the other age group (newly drinking) caters to the one-night stand (very Dionysian) but like a hangover, only looks like a mistake or otherwise valueless the next morning.

And we gave up trick or treat a long time ago. Instead of an interactive game with real people in it--a kind of gleeful extortion--we have a cute-but-annual candy tax.
The tricks are either too much like vandalism or nonexistent--they always were a pain in the butt, such as soaped windows, but we stopped having patience for this before I was a child. The treats somehow became too dangerous to give or receive.

Treats and tricks, costumes and masks, became something bought not made. They're less likely to forge connections, give us a period of relief, build for us a memory.

I'm generalizing. But perhaps we get hangovers because not too many of us live where our ancestors rest any longer.  I think it's mostly because so many of us have duties that have become so constrained--holiday and otherwise--that they inspire no devotion at all.

And on the other hand, looks like some people had a great time . . .