Saturday, July 31, 2010

How to Stop Raising Small Children

Years ago, I left home to go to the University of Houston.  Technically, I left my job working along the Mexican border to go home, pack my belongings, and then leave home for Houston.  Whatever, at some point I remember standing in front of my father, saying goodbye as I left home for the last time.   This must have been very difficult for my father.

“You can’t go off to college yet,” he said. 

“Why not?”  I was pretty sure I that could, as I distinctly remembered having been finally being granted parole from high school.   My life time sentence had been commuted after only 12 years of brain washing in a horrible penal colony.

“You don’t have a typewriter,” my father answered.  Obviously, he was using the first thing that came to mind. 

I didn’t understand at the time, but if my dad thought I needed a typewriter before I could go to college, I would oblige him.  I don’t remember where I went, but I bought what I think was a used Remington portable typewriter.  I put it in my car with the rest of my belongings and drove to Houston.  At the time, I didn’t realize how upset my father was.

Today, however, I know his anguish only too well.  My son, The-Other-One, is being transferred out of town.  And, being totally selfish, he is taking my granddaughter, the Munchkin and her mother, the Leprechaun, with him.  This leaves me standing on the driveway trying to think of reasons why he can’t leave.  I wonder if he would believe me if I sent him out looking for a typewriter.  I wonder where he would find a typewriter in this digital age.

My other son, What’s-His-Name, already lives several hundred miles away, and while I’m not exactly happy about this, when he left, there was still one boy in town.  After all, for years I have been telling the two of them that one of them was just spare parts.  If either of them pissed me off, my wife and I would keep him around just in case the remaining son ever needed an organ transplant.  Now, not only are they both gone, but they went several hundred miles in opposite directions.

I really shouldn’t be surprised that this boy is running away just about the time he started being interesting.  I remember his first day of school.  He was terribly excited, could not wait, and was just dying to ride to school on the bus with his brother.  Finally, the school term started and he ran to the waiting bus with his brother.  Not once did the little bastard look back at his mother and me, left standing there in the yard with our mouths open.  When the bus rounded the corner, I felt so faint that I had to sit down in the grass with my head between my knees.  I wonder if that is what my father did after I drove off towards Houston.

This empty nest syndrome crap is not very funny.   I keep having dreams where the boys are about 20 years younger and running across a park.  No matter how fast I try, I can’t catch up with them.  I wake up in a cold sweat, but the reality of them both being only several hundred miles away is not much comfort. 

It doesn’t take much insight to realize that I am worried about losing my little boys.  I really do know better: if my sons did not leave and go out on their own, they would probably not be worth keeping.

Neither of them has actually lived in this house for years, but suddenly the house seems ridiculously empty.  Where are the toy cars with chipped paint?  The little airplanes?  Why in the world do we own a pool if there is no one squealing with joy while splashing around in it?

Maybe some good can come from this tragedy.  Maybe this is a opportunity for my wife and I to grow closer, to start planning a life without children.  I look over at the Doc, my wife, and she has taken off her glasses, wiping her eyes.  She is having her own empty nest problems.

“You know, Honey,” I say.  “Without your glasses, you look like the young girl I married 36 years ago.”

She smiles, looks at me and says, “Without my glasses, you look okay, too.”

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Preliminary Description of Feature #4

October 21, 3112

An object found while conducting a foot survey of a Historic Twenty-First Century Domicile.

While surveying a historic site, a pre-apocalyptic domicile, members of the crew observed a heretofore unidentified object, labeled in the survey log as feature #4.

The feature, or object, was 45 cm. long, 15 cm. wide and 32 cm. tall. The object was roughly cylindrical, with five appendages. Four of these appendages were fastened to each of the corners of the cylinder, and extended 14 cm. to the ground. The fifth appendage emerged from the upper caudal end of the cylinder and stuck in the air at a variable angle. This appendage, 31 cm. in length, appeared at first to be a handle. When one of the survey members attempted to move the object by lifting it by the handle, he claims to have received positive proof that this is not the correct function of this appendage.

Two pair of sensory devices were located on a rotating sphere positioned on the arbitrarily designated leading, or cephalic, end of the object. These organs were bilaterally symmetrical along the longitudinal axis. One pair were bright yellow spheres that were observed to be photosensitive. The other pair were thin pyramid shaped flaps covering apertures into the cylinder. Nothing was observed to enter or exit from these apertures.

The object is covered by a shaggy form of upholstery consisting of fine black hairs approximately 2 cm. in length. Periodically the object emitted a short shrill cry that was not unlike the sound produced by viciously squeezing an infant. This experiment was repeated by all members of the survey team on a control group of infants, until all members could adequately reproduce a close approximation of the sound. This cry was found to emanate from what was observed to be an intake aperture from the cephalic end of the object.

The location of this object cannot be permanently tied to the archaeological datum point as it seems to be periodically mobile. Independent observations from numerous sightings confirmed that the object does indeed travel. While several locations were returned to frequently, the range of points traveled to include the entire survey site. Some of the locations most commonly frequented included; the top of the television, the kitchen, all window sills, and locations that the observers came to call ‘destruction points.’

These destruction points had a similar pattern; all were the tops or sides of upholstered furniture. Several times a day, the object would approach one of these locations, the selection of which was either random or determined by means not apparent to the survey crew. Upon arriving at one of these sites, the object would begin shredding, ripping, or pulling at the fabric of the chosen object. This destructive act, accomplished by retractable tools from the four primary appendages, would continue for several seconds, when suddenly, the act would cease as abruptly as it had commenced.

Since the object was repeatedly observed ingesting organic material as well as water, this may be the source of power for the object. An alternative theory, based upon numerous observations that the object spent lengthy periods of time in a prone position in direct sunlight, has the object powered by solar energy.

Regardless of the purpose of consuming the organic matter, there can be no question of the end result of the process. From the caudal end of the cylinder, small parcels of partially decomposed organic substances frequently appeared. These soft parcels were cylindrical in shape, averaging 5 cm. in length and 1 cm. wide. The color ranged from light brown to dark black. Unfortunately, all were uniformly odoriferous.

At various times a day, the object initiated a self maintenance program of cleaning and preventive maintenance. An internal, small, wet, pink appendage appeared from the cephalic area of the object that was vigorously applied to all portions of the object. An exhaustive search of the survey site revealed that the only other object present with a similar function was labeled, “Self-Cleaning Oven by Hotpoint.” The possibility exists that both objects have a similar manufacturing origin.

While no proof was available as to the cultural function of this object, the most likely explanation is that this is a self-powered composting machine. The two main functions of this object seem to be the destruction of large objects, rendering them into smaller objects, and the production of the fertilizer packages. It is probable, indeed likely, that left unattended, that this object could recycle the entire survey site.

Saturday, July 17, 2010

R.I.P. Mexico

Evidently, I’m going to be attending a lot of funerals.   Normally, I wouldn’t be caught dead at a funeral.  Years ago, I swore I would never attend anyone’s funeral unless he came to mine first.

But the sheer number of recently dead is absolutely staggering, I can’t ignore them all.  You see, 20,000 friends of mine have died in the last year, and probably that many will die this year, too.  I’m talking about Mexico, of course.  Over 20,000 people have died in the drug war in Mexico during the last year, and no one is discussing an armistice.  This is going to be a long war.

I’m not the governor of Alaska, but from my house I can see another country.  Okay, I have to stand on my roof, and it’s Mexico, not Russia.   I wish it was Russia, because I have always loved Mexico.  I’ve traveled in Mexico for over 40 years; by train, bus, and car.  I’ve worked there and taught courses about the country.  I’ve eaten the food, drunk the water, among other things, and taken advantage of a few other assorted pleasures.  And in every case, Mexico’s peoples have given me far more kindness than I deserved.  This is a beautiful country with amazing people.

It has always been amazing to me that so few of my students know anything about Mexico’s history.  Everyone can name several battles of the American Civil War, but how many can name even one battle from the Mexican Revolution?  This revolution was just a hundred years ago, there were at least a million casualties out of a much smaller country, and a lot of the battles happened right on the US border.  You can see the site of one of them from my roof.

Now, it looks like Mexico is going to have to go through that level of violence again.  And this time, most of the guilt belongs north of the border.  Mexico is suffering and dying from violence because America will not simply recognize the stupidity of our drug laws.

Our drug laws make criminals rich, undermine the legal system of our neighbors, swamp American courts, jail a larger percentage of our citizens than any other country, and put an incredible economic strain on our public finances.  I am at a loss to find anything positive resulting from our drug laws.  Somehow, we as a nation have convinced ourselves that our laws are preventing people from using drugs.  Maybe this is because our government keeps telling us that we are making major progress in the war on drugs.  Stop and think about this, do you really believe there are fewer people using drugs today than 30 years ago?

Several years ago, my son, not What’s-His-Name, but the The-Other-One, told me that within blocks of our home, he would have no trouble purchasing any form of drug or alcohol that he might want, with one exception.  He even knew where to get a Cuban cigar.  What he couldn’t get was a pack of cigarettes.  Now that’s the kind of progress that completely justifies the billions of dollars we have spent on the “War On Drugs” during the last 39 years.

This idiotic phrase, “The War on Drugs,” came out of the Nixon Administration.  That alone should give you a clue about how well the program is really working.  I have no idea why, long after we have rejected almost everything else Richard Nixon stood for, we have continued this idiotic war.  While our government still claims we are winning this war, it should be painfully obvious that if we had fought World War II as effectively as we are fighting drugs, this blog would be written in Japanese.

I’m tired of paying way too much money to fight drugs.  Some estimates say we have now spent more fighting drugs than we spent fighting Viet Nam.  But it’s not just the taxes; fighting drugs costs a lot of money that we can’t really notice.  How much extra is my home owner’s policy because I have to insure against someone crawling in my window to steal my TV so he can buy drugs?  How much extra is my car insurance?  How much extra cost is built into the price of everything I buy to cover some part of a policy that cannot conceivably work?

And forever more, why are we making criminals rich?  Illegal drugs are expensive drugs.  This is why we hear of cocaine cartels and marijuana cartels but no one has ever read a story about French wine cartels.  This is why my son can buy a Cuban cigar and I can’t find a decent bottle of Beaujolais. 

Remember Al Capone?  He got rich because we made alcohol illegal.  As he often said, “I am just a businessman, giving people what they want.” 

Making drugs illegal does not make them disappear, if we can’t keep drugs out of federal prisons, how could we keep them out of Los Angeles?  If drugs have to be in our society, do we really want criminals to profit from them?  Does our government have some secret economic stimulus program for gangs?

Let’s ignore all of this.  Let’s ignore that the government doesn’t have any business telling us what we should do with our own bodies.   Let’s ignore that there are more drugs around today than before we started this silly policy.  Let’s ignore that we jail so many of our own citizens that China has lectured us about civil rights in the United Nations.  Let’s ignore rich criminals and an ever larger police force.  I’ll give you another reason to think about changing the rules of this war; Mexico is losing its war on drugs and my friends are dying.

If we have problems with the present government in Mexico, think what it will be like when the drug cartels take over in Mexico.

Saturday, July 10, 2010

The Lizard Of Oz

Last night, my honorary granddaughter, the Munchkin, and I caught a late night showing of the Wizard of Oz on cable. She was completely mesmerized. I doubt if she blinked until Dorothy was back in Kansas.

This definitely was not my first viewing. When the boys, What’s-His-Name and the The-Other-One, were little, they would become fixated on a single movie and repeatedly watch it until even the cats would hock up a hairball as soon as the boys shoved the tape into the VCR.

When the boys were a little older, they became fixated on Memphis Belle. After a couple of hundred viewings, I had nightly dreams about bombing Munich. This used to make me feel guilty, at least until I visited Munich. Now I wish I could have the dreams again.

I’m not sure how many times we watched that movie, certainly enough for my wife and me to lip sync the parts along with the actors. Enough so that it was not at all uncommon for the breakfast table conversation to center around the various merits of the B-17F as compared to the Lancaster. For several years, however, long before the Memphis Belle, the boys were hooked on the Wizard of Oz, or as the boys called it, the Lizard of Oz.

I know we watched that movie at least 200 times. I got where I could identify individual munchkins. (The guy dressed in green plaid must be the director’s favorite; he is in almost every scene.) All of us, the boys, my wife and I could mouth every part with perfect timing; we could have acted out the entire movie by ourselves, including Dorothy, the witch, and the flying monkeys.

Actually, my wife and I didn’t mind watching the movie as we’ve always enjoyed it. Now that I think on it, I don’t think I’ve ever met someone who didn’t love the movie. If you are old enough to remember phones with dials, shoes without Velcro, or when a one pound coffee can actually contained 16 ounces of coffee, you probably remember when this movie was shown just once a year on TV. The network would advertise it for weeks and on the night it was shown, every kid in America was ready. Just before the show started, the mothers of America would say in unison, “Now if this is too scary for you, you don’t have to watch it.”

Damn straight that witch was scary, but there was no way a kid would admit it to his mother. A thing like that would get you talked about. My mom would tell some other mom about how I had gotten scared, then that mom would tell it to her son, who probably was just as scared, and the next thing you knew your entire year of third grade turned into living hell.

It is amazing the extent that this movie has soaked into our culture. Can anyone go a whole month without hearing one of these phrases?

  • Toto, I don’t think we're in Kansas, anymore.
  • Not nobody, not no how.
  • We’re off to see the wizard.
  • I’ll get you my pretty, and your little dog, too.
  • If I only had a brain…
  • I’m melting! Melting!
  • Ding Dong, the witch is dead.
  • Are you a good witch or a bad witch?
  • The Great and Powerful Oz has spoken!
  • Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.

There is something comforting about an old and comfortable movie. According to my wife, we watched the movie on our honeymoon. And we may have for all I know, that’s not the part of the honeymoon I remember.

After 71 years, think of how the world has changed. When the movie premiered in the summer of 1939, FDR was president and you could buy a new car for under $700 and for an extra dollar, you could buy 10 gallons of gas. Hamburger was fourteen cents a pound, and a new house was less than $4000. In Europe, Hitler was lusting for Poland while the rest of the continent was as nervous as a Chihuahua in freeway traffic.

After all these years that movie is still wonderful. Somehow, the topics the movie deals with; family, home, courage, and the triumph of good over evil, will be with us forever.

One thing has changed however; in today’s world, if Dorothy was to find men without brains, hearts, or courage, she wouldn’t be in Kansas. She’d be in Congress.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Term Limits

Slightly over two years ago, I walked around the house pulling the phones out of the wall. I got tired of people calling me and telling me how I should vote in the upcoming election. I still have a phone line, there are just no working phones in the house. Since then, it has been so peaceful that I’m considering chopping down the mailbox.

I doubt if this would work. Lately politicians have been knocking on our front door. I probably wouldn’t mind if we didn’t have such a sorry herd of candidates. Almost anyone could dig a pit somewhere out in the desert and catch a better crop by accident. Failing this, there seems to only one possible solution to chase the foxes out of the henhouse: term limits.

But aren’t term limits a violation of my freedom of …of …something, perhaps speech? Probably. The whole idea of term limits seem to be that every individual believes he or she alone can be trusted to vote correctly and everyone else is a moron. I don’t think I have ever heard someone lament, “Help! Stop me before I vote again!”

Term limits have been around a very long time. (Do you feel a history lesson coming on?) Ancient Greece placed a limit of two single year terms on a member of the council, while Rome put a limit of one term for a Consul. Both civilizations then barred those politicians from ever holding office again. If we practiced such a system, most of our politicians would be thrown out of office before they could figure out who paid the best bribes.

And term limits have frequently been the case south of the border- a region that has experienced far too many individuals wanting to be President-For-Life. Latin American constitutions frequently limit presidents to a single term, and newly elected presidents just as frequently ignore this. Both Cuba and Venezuela used to have such a provision….

Mexico has had such a limitation since the Constitution of 1917 was written, and no president has successfully broken this tradition. The one president who sat out a term and ran again was assassinated before his inauguration. Assassination might seem a somewhat draconian solution to term limits, but no one can doubt its effectiveness.

For six years, the president of Mexico has almost unlimited power, in the not too distant past, he could even select the next president. The only power absolutely denied to the president for the last hundred years has been reelection. Perhaps Mexico doesn’t actually have a president: this system has been more appropriately called a six year monarchy.

Obviously, this system wouldn’t work in America; we certainly don’t want to give our politicians more authority. Giving more power to elected officials would be as dangerous as giving a wino $50 all at once. You could kill him.

It’s not like term limits have never been tried in the United States. William Penn wrote them into the Pennsylvania Charter of Liberties back in 1682. More recently, in 1951 the 22nd Amendment passed, limiting presidential terms to two. Since then, there has been little traction in passing some form of term limit for national office. This explains why the turnover rate in the U. S. House of Representatives is 7%, only slightly better than the 5% turnover rate for the British House of Lords, whose members serve for life.

I asked a friend, a veteran of Chicago politics, what he thought of political term limits. Horrified, he said, “Absolutely not! Let them serve their full term just like any other prisoner.”

This was an innocent mistake, as my friend probably thought that every state used the “Chicago Term Limits Plan.” This is a simple system, one every state should adopt. From now on, all politicians shall be limited to two terms. The first in office. The second in jail.