Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Marijuana - The Premise is Wrong

I had lunch at Market Street Grill the other day and ran into the Sheriff and one of his Detectives. We chit-chatted for a while. I told him I disagreed with a recent interview in the local paper in which he stated that we should not consider lessening the penalties for possessing marijuana. Told him I thought it should be legalized, regulated and taxed.  That would help the country's deficit since pot is one of the largest cash crops in the U.S. It would mean that every joint sold would reliably be what it claimed to be, just like every shot of Jack Daniels is the same as every other shot. I said if I was still in the market for getting high, which I'm not, I'd much prefer smoking to drinking, all things being equal.

Both the Sheriff and the Detective were adamant that I was wrong. Their main objection to marijuana is that it is a "gateway" drug, leading to ever worse addictions. The Detective stated this as an absolute fact.

He is probably 25 years younger than me. I was out running around in the 60's and 70's. Back then, society and law enforcement were tolerant of weed. You could almost light up in front of a cop and he (all  were "he" then, of course) would simply shrug and wave you on.

I told my Detective friend that he would be surprised at who smoked grass back in my day. It was people who are now his banker, his lawyer, his doctor, his secretary, his insurance agent, some of them are even cops! They smoked in their youthful, party days and now they don't. It didn't lead to snorting cocaine or shooting up heroin or injecting meth.

Did some people I knew become "potheads"? Yep, some of them did. It made them dreamy and shiftless and unproductive until they decided to back off. One of them is a college professor now.

Did some people graduate to harder stuff as the Detective indicated? Yes. But some portion of the population are addictive personalities and they will find their fix no matter what laws are in place. For some some addictive types, moving on meant coke or speed but for most in my circle, it meant becoming full-fledged alcoholics.

Of course, law enforcement is invested in the drug war, so I suppose you'd expect them to hold a hard position against legalizing any type of drug and be able to cite the reasons why. In my opinion, it is more likely that if marijuana is, in fact, a gateway drug now, it is because we put people in jail for possessing it. It isn't the pot itself that is the gateway, it is the incarceration. It is condemning youthful users to undeserving criminal records. It is forcing them into the company of others who truly are hard-core abusers, people who will teach them how to navigate a more dangerous world and make it seem desirable. It is inculcating in them a distrust of society, the legal system and law enforcement, all of which caused them untold pain for a minor transgression.

The Sheriff and Detective believe that smoking marijuana is the contributing factor to higher crimes but actually, it is the consequences we inflict that are the real cause.

Marijuana is no worse than alcohol. We should treat the two the same.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Danica Patrick - You Go, Girl!

Well, what we've all known was going to happen is finally official: Danica Patrick is coming to NASCAR. Lots of fans, including me, are thrilled and excited about the only woman who has won an IndyCar race, come closest to winning the Indianapolis 500, finished higher in one of NASCAR's top series than any other (a 4th at Las Vegas in the Nationwide race).  Now we'll get a chance to see what she can do running full-time in Nationwide for JRMotorsports (as in Dale Earnhardt, Jr) and part-time in Sprint Cup for Stewart-Haas Racing (as in Tony Stewart).

Immediately after the announcement, the Twitter feeds lit up. Not so surprisingly, a lot of the good old boys are petulant and negative about a girl invading their territory. (And the good old girls too, for that matter. It's also not unusual that women are often harsher on their own sex than men are.)

It's not that they don't support women in general, oh, no, it's just this particular woman. They love them some Jennifer Jo Cobb and Johanna Long and Chrissie Wallace - the perpetual backbenchers (not necessarily because of lack of talent but lack of sponsorship). You know, they can bolster their non-sexist creds by playing up their affection for the non-threatening females.

They dislike Danica because of how she got where she is. She's sexy and beautiful and she's played on both those attributes. She posed for Sports Illustrated's swimsuit edition and she made risque ads for her sponsor, Danica is the exact opposite of the often caricatured butch female athlete. She's tiny and feminine. When not on the track, she dolls up in make up and long curls and high heels and be-sequined, low-cut dresses.

She's taking a ride, I'm told, that would better go to some worthy kid running on a dirt track in Podunk but, oddly enough, NASCAR fans who scorn Danica's path into auto racing as undeserved, nevertheless cheer on the boys who got their slots through inheritance. Dale Earnhardt, Jr son of Dale, Senior (who was the son of Ralph). Kyle Petty, son of Richard (who was the son of Lee), Dale Jarrett, son of Ned Jarrett. Steven Wallace, son of Rusty Wallace. And just coming on the scene, Austin and Ty Dillon, grandsons of team owner, Richard Childress (who both appear to be excellent drivers but can anyone deny they'll have had a head start by being given the best of everything by Grandpa?) I could go on and on naming drivers whose entry into NASCAR was bequeathed to them. Did some of them go on to earn the honors they received? Yes, but that doesn't change the fact that they were on a glide path to their dreams from the start unlike that kid from Podunk.

Or Danica. She didn't have that option so she had to create it through guts and determination and yes, chutzpah. To me, that's even more admirable and honorable than using families and connections.

She beat the men at their own game by using what our male-dominated society has deemed important. It isn't women who worship at the alter of  tits and ass, it's men. Danica just took that persona and hung it around their necks like an anchor. "This is what you want from me, fine, I'll give it back to you in spades".

Okay, maybe this isn't her attitude at all but it is mine. Men set the standard but then when women actually use it, they cry foul.

Too bad. Probably if Hillary had looked like Danica, she'd be the president today.


Friday, August 19, 2011

Is This the God You Believe In? Really?

There's a new post going around on Facebook. It goes something like - a little boy asks God why he allows bad things to happen in schools and God sadly replies, "because I'm no longer allowed in school".

I realize the post is trying to make a point but I'd be a ashamed to copy it. Is this wimpy God, who accepts his rejection with his head down and his tail between his legs, really the Supreme Being you, as a Christian, believe in? If not, why do you want to give the impression that you do, even as an ironic statement?

Have we really gone so far down the road toward seeing everyone as a victim that you even want to present God himself in that light?

For Pete's sake, People, if you take your own Bible literally, yours is a God of power and yes, wrath - willing to kill off a whole generation of male babies, sending plagues of locusts to wipe out entire crops, turning a woman into a pillar of salt for looking back at her home, killing all but a few living creatures in a flood -  all without a moment of remorse. Does this sound like a God who would submissively stand outside the school house door, meekly accepting his fate? Wouldn't that God inflict the Supreme Court with a scourge of agonizing boils instead?

The fact is that if what you believe is true, your God has always allowed bad things to happen - at school and anywhere else he deemed necessary. It isn't your place to assign reasons for that, especially when your reason portrays a God who has been handcuffed and shackled by earthly authority.

This is all a farce anyway because God isn't banned from schools. Your children can pray any time they like. They can send as many pleas to God before the big test or the big game as they choose. They just have to do it in private. And, ah, that's the rub, isn't it?  Certainly you believe that God hears all those silent prayers but that's not enough. What you actually want is for everyone else to have to join in whether they believe in a different God or no God at all. Even at the risk of weakening his image by posting nonsense on Facebook.



Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Free At Last!

I walked out of the office on Monday for the last time without a qualm. Yes, I'll miss some of the people I worked with. Maybe, I'll even give a thought now and then to some of my more memorable clients, wondering how their situations turned out. But then, once I found them attorneys (or more likely, didn't find them attorneys), I rarely knew the final resolution of their cases anyway. All those desperate mothers....all those furious fathers....all those sorrowful grandparents. I'm more than ready to walk away, having gone far beyond my quota of heartrending stories.

Retirement feels like one of the great plateaus in life, like graduating school or getting married or having children. I actually sat and tried to write down all the places of employment I've had in my life but it was an impossible task, one I gave up on fairly quickly. I always envied the stable people who lived in one town and married one spouse and worked at one profession but that definitely wasn't me. I've lived a will-o-wisp life that included two husbands, many states and innumerable jobs.

I've bartended and filed and drilled. I've baby-sat chickens and made pizzas and underwrote insurance policies. I've soldered and sold real estate and secretaried (or in later years, administratively assisted) high school principals, industrial relations managers and deans of Arts & Science, mayors and sheriffs and prosecutors. I've punch-pressed and performed blood draws and peddled sweepers. I've had titles like Paralegal and Plan Administrator and Womens' Advocate, all of which sounded more important than they really were.

I started my working life with manual typewriters, calculators and cash registers. You corrected errors by erasing, totaled figures by pulling an arm at the side, made change in your head. I learned to operate a switchboard by means of plugging in cords. When I worked for Aetna Insurance, our production rate was monitored by accumulating the little tickets that were paper-clipped to each endorsement. I got my first computer in 1985. It send my column to New York at the heart-stopping rate of 1200 baud.

When I began working, the minimum wage was $1.05 and you accepted that all your bosses would be men. All the librarians might be women but the Head Librarian would be a man. Every teacher might be a woman but the Principal would be a man. Postal clerks might be women but the Postmaster would be a man. When I first bar-tended, women weren't allowed to sit at the bar in Indiana. Doctors were mostly men and so were lawyers. When the first women marched and sued and burned their bras (which never really happened but it is so much a part of our belief system, it might as well have, rather like Al Gore saying he invented the internet), they were scorned as rabble-rousing "women's libbers" but today's women should appreciate them for the changes they brought about.

In all those years of doing all those jobs, it seems as if you'll never reach the end of the road until, finally, you do. All that remains is the one calling that has brought the most joy and the one title that brought the most pride, which is Writer. But it is all the deductions made from all those other paychecks that allow me to focus now. The dream that is left is making the transition from Columnist to Novelist.

Onward and upward to new challenges.


Thursday, August 11, 2011

Out of Balance

The most important element of a successful society is balance. Since the beginning of time, life has been a tug-of-war between the Haves and the Have-nots. I don't expect this to ever change unless we become much more highly evolved than we currently are because most of us don't think in long-range societal terms but in short-term personal ones.

Henry Ford thought that the ideal ratio between management salaries and production worker wages was seven percent. Thus if the punch press operator made $7 an hour; the vice-president in charge of sales made $49 an hour. That gave plenty of room for executives to be rewarded with what was considered affluence in their era.

Today, the ratio of pay between the board room and factory floor is roughly 344 per cent. In other words, lunch bucket employees now have to work almost a year to earn what the CEO is paid in a day!

In the on-going struggle between the Haves and the Have-nots, the Haves almost always win. In fact, I can't think of a time or a place where they didn't ultimately prevail. Even in countries overtaken by revolution, whose new political leaders rallied under the cause of "power to the people", the end was the same, no matter what political ideology was professed. Did "the people" gain power in Cuba? Did they gain power in Russia? Nope, the new Haves might have had different faces than the old Haves but unfortunately, their greed and lust to accumulate power and wealth resulted in the same old-same old behavior.

Most Have-nots are satisfied if they can live their lives with some semblance of security. Give them enough to feed their families and provide a decent home, send their kids to school and have a few little perks on the side and they generally won't make waves. The Power People can go about their business of buying influence and running the country pretty much as they please. Just keep your corruption at a tolerable level. Give your employees a little pat on the head now and then in the form of a raise or an extra holiday or even just a freakin' plaque to commend them on their attendance and they'll hang right in there with you.

The country runs most smoothly when there is a large contented middle class. That was the case during most of my working years. The Auto Workers and Steel Workers were the elite of the blue collars but the rest of us made enough to buy cars and make house payments and go on vacation now and then.

But the collective Haves, by their very nature, are never satisfied. They always want more and resent having to share. So employers discover that they can hire temps in place of permanent employees and save on benefits. They can mandate overtime rather than expanding their work force. They can hold their workers up on give-backs on their hourly rates. They can renege on the pensions and health insurance they promised their retirees. They can force out the 50-Somethings (and thus, save oodles on health insurance costs). And if all that isn't enough, hell, let's send the jobs to Mexico or China or India where workers are happy with slave wages and we don't have to be bothered by our demanding American employees at all!

And while Management is doing all that, Business jumps whole-hog into the screw-the-people pool. Bankers devise slick tricks to sell bogus mortgages. Insurance companies write the small print to exclude pre-existing conditions...and they get to define pre-existing. Pharmaceutical companies sell pills for $10 a piece that cost them a penny to produce. Instead of 50 ways to leave your lover, credit card companies compete to come up with 50 inventive ways to raise your interest. ("You let your library book go overdue, we're raising your rate!" - whee, isn't this fun?) The predators further lobby the ever-buyable Congress to make it more difficult for their prey to go bankrupt to escape from the entrapment of  massive medical bills and usurious credit card fees and ballooning mortgages.

Until, finally, the Have-nots are on the floor with the boot of the Haves on their neck.

But what the Haves always forget is that the relationship between us and them is symbiotic. Each side needs the other to prosper. If they no longer require our services as employees, we are still necessary as consumers. When we are dumped out of the labor market, we no longer buy cars and clothes and carpet. We no longer go to movies or stay in motels or attend sporting events.

Now, instead of paying our way, we're a drag on society. We're collecting unemployment insurance and living in subsidized housing and buying our food with food stamps. Our kids are in the free lunch line and we're going to the emergency room when we get sick.

We're paying less into the coffers of our country and state and county and city although we're taking more out of them.

It's a vicious freaking circle but in their arrogance, the Haves don't see that, believing as they do that everything begins and ends with them. Because of their selfish short-sightedness, consumer confidence is down, the Dow is dropping and the deficit is rising. Unemployment is at 9+ per cent (with the "real" rate being closer to 16).  Our houses are worth less than we owe on them. The newly-graduated are burdened with backbreaking loans.

And we, the Have-nots, are getting angry but here is what seems to be somewhat different in the U.S. in 2011 than I ever remember before. It used to be that a majority of the working class supported one another. Thus, unions struck and picket lines weren't crossed. Poor people marched and their fellows cheered them on. The Have-nots voted for politicians who seemed sympathetic to their causes.

Today in America, we have a militant and influential Tea Party crowd who have thrown their lot in with the Haves. They have more sympathy for Bill Gates and his onerous taxes than they do Joe Six-Pack on the unemployment line (even though, ironically, Bill himself doesn't think he pays his fair share of taxes). They side with Management against the Unions. They decry entitlements in favor of survival of the fittest.  "Down with Social Security! Bring back the Poor Farm!"

To me, their beliefs are in total opposition to their best interests. Have they never been unemployed and frightened for the future of their family? Have they never been sick and scared and without insurance? Do their parents not depend on Social Security to live a dignified old age? Would they let their children go hungry before they stooped to accept food stamps? Are they so sure of their own superiority that they don't believe they could ever end up in that place or do they believe that the over-$200,000-year crowd will reward them for their fealty, like the Squire who gives an extra helping of porridge to the peon who betrays his fellows in their revolt?

So, once again, as so many times in history, society is top-heavy in favor of the Haves. As we should know from past experience, our economic situation will remain dismal unless we change that equation. For that to happen, both the Haves and their Tea Party sycophants have to believe that is a desirable goal. I don't see any signs of that yet.


Monday, August 8, 2011

Jimmie Johnson, MSNBC and the New York Times

I'm a liberal-leaning, Democrat-voting, social security-collecting female. I don't drink beer or hunt deer. I don't belong to the NRA or the Tea Party. I don't camp out or ride a Harley. I'm in favor of gay marriage. I'm pro-choice.  I live in the flatlands of the midwest. My ancestors never ran moonshine as far as I know. My absolute passion is NASCAR. I think the sexiest sound in the world (right in front of screaming guitars) is the roar of 43 engines starting. I think there is no thrill like seeing your driver (which in my case happens to be Jimmie Johnson) take the checkered flag. I jump up from my chair and scream like a teenager when that happens.

NASCAR is the second most watched sport after the NFL. At the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis two weeks ago, sportscasters decried that "only" 128,000 people showed up. Isn't this a larger crowd than ever attends the Super Bowl? Or the World Series? Or the NBA playoffs?

So, in light of this, how's come the television stations I watch most frequently and the newspapers I read most often act as if NASCAR doesn't even exist? Is it because NASCAR isn't politically correct enough for Morning Joe? Does the New York Times accept the generalization that all NASCAR fans are booze-swilling, low-intellect rednecks (as opposed, of course, to those pillars of intelligent rectitude - football fans?)

Is that why they will go into detail about curling contests and tiddley winks trials and cheerleading championships and mention nary a word about NASCAR? It doesn't appear that the more left-leaning of the news stations are especially enamored of any form of auto racing but they will occasionally stray from stick and ball sports to give a word to Formula One or IndyCars, which I guess, they consider the aristocrats of motorsports.   But, NASCAR? It takes a really horrendous wreck to get their attention and then it's covered with a sort of "can you believe the Neanderthals who enjoy this stuff?" superiority that is worse than ignoring us altogether.

Perhaps, it is because NASCAR appears on their competitor station, Fox Sports, but if so, that is a narrow-minded attitude for a professional news organization to have. A sport is a sport and deserves to be covered in proportion to its number of fans no matter where its events appear. Does NBC pretend football doesn't exist because the games are shown on ABC? (I may have this wrong but I neither know nor care).

Last year, I paid special attention after NASCAR's last race in Homestead-Miami where our champion was declared. That happened to be my driver, Jimmie Johnson, and it happened to be his fifth consecutive championship, a feat no other NASCAR driver has ever achieved.

Surely, surely, this would be a news-worthy story, even for Morning Joe. I mean, come on, for Pete's sake, Joe Scarborough is a southerner, proudly hailing from the Redneck Riviera of Florida. His son attends college in Alabama. You'd think that would be enough to get him to suggest to his producers, "how about devoting a sentence to NASCAR?" but nope, they'd fall all over the winner of a spelling bee before they saw fit to honor our champion. (The same guy, by the way, who was named Athlete of the Year by the Associated Press).

This presents me with a dilemma. I despise Fox News, believing as I do that their reporting is so biased as to be a total farce. They screw over my side of the political equation with such regularity that I don't believe a word they say.

On the other hand, the stations I'm more inclined to watch for news are equally as prejudiced against my sport which makes me distrust them as much as I mistrust Fox.

Ditto the New York Times.

A news organization is either "fair and balanced" in ALL areas or its not fair and balanced at all.



Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Our Priorities are SNAFU

Well, well, well, in the middle of all the hysteria and hoo-hah about raising the debt limit ceiling, we hear that the HSBC banking group is planning to lay-off 30,000 employees....and what do you think happened to their stock? Why, it went up 4 percent, of course. If that doesn't tell you that Wall Street and Main Street have very different visions, I don't know what would.

To me, average American in a red state small town, that is the single most telling statistic in all the tsunami of political information we've been subject to in the last few weeks. People like me sit here and watch the disappointing job figures, the continued high unemployment rate (actual rate = 20 percent - not the 9 something the official figures say it is) and feel despair about what Wall Street celebrates.

Politicians on both sides of the aisle love the phrase - "the American people want...." which they then follow with what they want. But I believe that what the American people want is jobs, something that appears far down on the priority list of most of our representatives. Some of whom want debt reduction; some want no new tax increases; some want more revenues; some want less government spending; some want to protect the poor and elderly. Oddly enough, the one thing that would give them all what they desire is putting Americans back to work.

More workers means more tax revenues even without raising taxes, thus improving the deficit. Higher employment means more consumers so sellers would sell more and also pay more taxes in a cycle of improving fortunes for everyone. An expanding work force would mean less government spending on social welfare programs, freeing more dollars to go toward the hard-core poor and the elderly.

It seems to me that our first priority at the start of this recession should have been a mega-jobs program,  jumpstarted by federal dollars. Not only would it have provided paychecks, it would have meant desperately needed improvements to our infrastructure as well. (Unless we just enjoy the entertaining spectacle of bridges collapsing beneath us, of course). The initial salaries would be spent to buy houses and cars and refrigerators and go on vacations, thus causing contractors and car manufacturers and refrigerator producers and hotels and restaurants and airlines to take on new employees themselves, adding more salaries to the economy.

And if we want to give tax breaks to corporations, it should be in the form of rebates for every job they add to their payroll (in America, that is) along with other creative incentives for increasing their workforce.

All this seems so elementary that I figure there must be personal for-profit reasons that our representatives don't want to do it. Maybe we should form a working people lobby and pay them off like the big pharmaceuticals and insurance companies and banks do.

To be fair, some of our politicians did speak out for job creation policies but they were in the minority. A jobs program as a way back from recession never even came close to making the cut. First, we had to rush in and spend billions to save the banks, then we switched to deciding that the deficit was The Issue. Thank you, Tea Party. How fucking short-sighted can you be?

The plan that now looks as though it will pass (at this writing, the House has passed it and it seems a foregone conclusion that the Senate will do the same) will do nothing for unemployment. If anything, it will make it worse....which will mean more people on welfare, on medicaid, not spending on consumer goods, losing their houses, not being able to send their kids to college, not going on vacation. And when the Super-Committee is named and starts looking to wrench more deficit reduction out of the economy, they will include the military, and what do you want to bet those cuts will be mostly in the area of personnel and not the pet programs in the districts of our congressional representatives. So then the ex-soldiers will be added to the unemployment rolls too.

I was a Hillary supporter during the primaries because I wanted a warrior for my president and I thought she would be one. I guess we'll never know about that (although her courage about speaking out as Secretary of State indicates that I was right) but we do know for sure that while Barack Obama may have a lot of good qualities, a warrior he is not. And so we end up with this pathetic piece of legislation that won't do a thing for the American working class....but, hell, we should be used to that by now.

And, meanwhile, I guess Wall Street will see more companies shedding workers and rejoice.