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July 9th, 2017

Notes On Train Travel

Last week I went to Walt Disney World on a wee vacation. I needed to renew my annual pass, and the July Fourth week seemed a good time to go. Florida is getting hot this time of year, but that just means the water parks will be inviting. But the road trip down I-95 and back isn’t fun anymore. There are more and bigger traffic knots these days. And where before I could just stop anywhere for the night and get a motel room wherever I happened to be just then, now it’s a race between me and all the other drivers to get the last remaining rooms. Last three trips down I’ve had to use the motel apps on my iPhone to make sure I could get a room at the town ahead of me. So between traffic stress and motel stress the road trip down wasn’t the fun and relaxing start and end to my vacation it used to be. Worse, last January coming home I hit a major snowstorm between North Carolina and Virginia that cost me an extra day travel and…almost…a car wreak.

So this time I took the train. And it was perfect, even allowing for the fact that we were nearly nine hours late getting back to Baltimore because of a derailment in Virginia. I haven’t traveled by train in decades. The last time was a trip down to Florida to visit a friend after he’d graduated from college and found a job in West Palm Beach. But before that, before Amtrak, mom and I traveled by rail down to Florida several times, to Lauderdale By The Sea. So when I stepped onto my train at Penn Station here in Baltimore it all came back to me. Well…most of it. And the fact is I haven’t enjoyed a Disney World vacation like this in too long of a time. So I’ve pretty much settled on this mode of transportation to and from Florida for the foreseeable future. Let me explain why.

  • Flying was pretty much out.  I have traveled by air many times on business, and where I used to enjoy the view from above very much, the airlines have made traveling such a miserable experience now I just don’t want to deal with it. I am not a very big guy and I feel cramped in those seats. I can’t imagine how big or tall folks manage it. And I keep hearing way too many airline horror stories. It seems as if not a week goes by but that some fresh new hell is being visited on passengers. The last time the Institute sent me somewhere (Boulder Colorado) I negotiated a road trip out of it instead of flying. Someday I would like to travel the world. I am seriously considering doing that by boat.

  • Time is not critical when it’s your vacation. Or at any rate it shouldn’t be. Your vacation ought to be a time when you can forget about the clock and just let time pass and the days be whatever they will be.  One of the most common complaints about passenger rail travel is here in the United States the trains are frequently late. More about that below, but for now just hold this thought: time isn’t always critical. For my vacations I just want to forget about the clock and let my day be whatever it is going to be. And by the way, this is why I maintain an annual pass for Walt Disney World. It gets me a whole year to be wherever I want to be in the parks, whenever I feel like being there. It takes the pressure off needing to get the most for your money out of your tickets. This trip, I booked a seat on the train and didn’t particularly care when it got me to Orlando, just so it was sometime during my check-in date. For the trip home I scheduled a train to get me back to Baltimore a day early, as I have always done on my road trips, because I like having that extra day to unpack and relax at home before heading back to work.
  • You can get a room of your own on a train. This was a big deal for me. It’s what makes train travel utterly unlike any other mode of overland transportation, unless you are very rich. Even doing the RV thing isn’t the same, because you’re driving that thing down the highway and you can’t just park it anywhere you want when you need to rest or sleep. Amtrak offers these little spaces called Roomettes, which are basically just barely big enough to two people. But you get privacy and the ability to take a snooze whenever you feel like it and you’re not in a cattle car full of other noisy people and the lights don’t go out until the conductor says they do. If you can afford it, there are full sized sleeper rooms with their own private bathrooms and showers. On the east coast routes the Viewliner roomettes also have their own sinks and toilets. On the long distance western routes the double decker Superliner roomettes don’t have sinks and toilets, but those cars have three bathrooms on the first level and one on the second. All the sleeper cars have showers the roomette passengers can use. 
  • Long distance trains have dinning and lounge cars. If you get a room on the train, meals are included. You make your reservation for a seat in the dinning car and when you’re seated you get asked your room number and they give you a ticket to sign and that’s it. But remember to leave a tip all the same! The food on my train to Florida and back was excellent. If you have a room you can ask your car attendant to bring you your meal (tip your car attendant at the end of your trip!). But a big advantage trains have over everything else but ocean liners is you can get up and walk around, stretch your legs and move about. And the roomettes are pretty tiny, so it’s nice to be able to get out and take a stroll from time to time.

    The Amtrak lounge cars these days are your basic snack bar and some seats for reading, fiddling with a laptop or smartphone, or just watching the scenery go by. I was hoping for a bar that served mixed drinks too…this was standard for lounges back in the golden age of passenger rail service, but not so much now. I judged from the menu that all they had were a few assorted miniatures and no cordials, so I skipped it. If you have a room you can pack your own liquor and snacks, which I did. But watching the scenery go by was so entrancing I never bothered opening my bottle of Grand Marnier. (That bottle’s been to Florida and back twice now and not been opened, poor thing…)

  • The train was not that much more expensive. Make your reservation early enough and the prices are very reasonable. I worked the numbers…a roomette only cost me a couple hundred more than driving it would have accounting for fuel, food, wear and tear on the car, and motels along the way. And now I’m being driven, I can just kick back and enjoy the scenery the whole way. And having the room of my own basically eliminated the worry about getting a room at the end of my day’s travels. My room was traveling along with me.

    If you think you can handle coach the tickets are very cheap and you still get most of the advantages of having that train you can stroll around on, and the dining and lounge cars. The dining car isn’t exclusive to the people with rooms, coach can use it too, but it’s pricy if you don’t have that room ticket. So alternatively you can get your basic snacks, hot dogs, chips and soft drinks in the lounge.

So that’s my rational for taking the train to Florida now, and for the foreseeable future. I will probably still do the road trip thing for my western travels. Next month I’m driving to Kansas to visit a friend and see the solar eclipse. But for now…I’m loving the train.  Here’s some more notes on that…

  • It’s not for everybody. I was introduced to long distance train travel when I was a young boy, so a lot of memories all came back when I boarded that train and for me there were no unpleasant surprises. But I can see where it might not be so much for others. The big thing is the motion of the train would take some getting use to. Doubly so if you’re doing an overnight, whether in coach or in a sleeper. You would think gliding along over two shiny steel rails would be the smoothest ride on earth, but actually it isn’t. The rails have switches, intersecting sets of tracks, and various other joints and dings that make themselves felt as you ride. And sometimes the track beds aren’t in the best of shape. That’s because of a fact of life regarding rail travel I’ll go into more below. But my point now is riding by train can seem a lot like sea travel. The train rocks and rolls. It moves side to side, and when you’re walking from one car to another and the train hits a curve you need to be ready to steady yourself. You develope your train legs, much like a sailor gets their sea legs. And much like a set of sea legs, your train legs will persist for a while after you have deboarded.

    I’d forgotten that last as I arrived at Walt Disney World. I had a rental car waiting for me at the station, and I drove it to my hotel which was just across the street from Disney Springs. After I settled into my room I took a walk over to Disney Springs to get my annual pass renewed, when I suddenly began to get wobbly feet. It felt for an instant as if the sidewalk was moving, or I was loosing my balance. Then I remembered. Oh…yes…the train is still moving… 

    It all came back to me as a pleasant, lovely even, re-experiencing of a childhood joy. But I can see it surprising and maybe even disturbing others. And especially so if you’re doing an overnight. If the sensation of being in motion would keep you from getting a night’s sleep, then maybe long distance train travel isn’t for you. The train rocked me to sleep and I loved every minute of being on my trains there and back. Your mileage may vary, but let me say this: if you can manage it, there is nothing else quite like long distance train travel and you owe it to yourself to experience it at least once. You might come back for more.

  • There’s a reason why our country has substandard passenger train service compared to other developed nations, and even some third world countries. The rail companies came first, before the automobile, before the airplane, back in a time when travel was by foot or by car or by boat if there was an available waterway. The railroads were the miracle of the industrial age and they bridged the continent, made it possible to move people and goods from one coast to the other in mere weeks that once took wagon trains months, if they made it at all, and ships having to round Cape Horn but only if the weather and the sea looked kindly on your ship. The rail companies were the wonder technology of the age. And they were, and have always been, privately owned for profit corporations whose rails were private property. During the western expansion the rail companies (like a lot of companies back then) were predatory as all hell, and much of what came to be government intervention in the economy came about as a reaction to that predatory capitalism of the times. But the rail companies goosed the economy with their ability to move people and goods at fantastic speed and the nation grew and its economic infrastructure grew along with it, but in that same capitalistic mode where everything in the economic infrastructure was privately owned.

    Then came the Great Depression and the second world war and for the rail companies two significant things changed. First, there was Dwight D. Eisenhower, who before he became president, before he became leader of the allied forces, was a soldier on a convoy traveling along US Route 30, or as it was called, The Lincoln Highway.

    From a military perspective that convoy was a disaster. Bridges could not accommodate the equipment, long sections of the road were unpaved and equipment kept getting stuck, the convoy traveled at a snail’s pace. Good thing they weren’t rushing to reinforce a battle line somewhere. Years later Eisenhower, a soldier in that convoy, now the supreme commander of the allied forces in Europe, led his armies into Germany to defeat the fascists. And there he beheld the Autobahn. It must have seemed to him like he was seeing a new world. And he knew right away why Hitler had it built and it wasn’t to give German drivers a faster more scenic way to get from here to there.

    Years later as president, he pushed for something like it to be built here in the U.S.A. and so the Interstate Highway System came to be. And also why the island of Hawaii has an interstate highway. Yes, it’s a state surrounded by the Pacific ocean. You can’t throw a bridge across it to the mainland. But no, the Interstate is not pork barrel. Look at H-1 on the map. It’s on the island of O’ahu, and it connects the military bases, airports and naval port. It is a fundamental part of the specification of the Interstate highway system, that its roads, bridges, and tunnels can support and accommodate tanks and other military equipment.

    But why goodness gracious that also means it can support passenger cars. And…heavy trucks. And now the rail companies have competition over freight traffic from the trucking industry and passenger traffic has an alternative to long distance coast to coast rail travel. Motels began to spring up along the Interstates. And restaurants and truck stops. And it was built with taxpayer money, for public use, to be owned by the people of the United States. And since the great depression, that public ownership for a public good wasn’t considered unusual or immoral anymore. Except by a certain subsection of the American pews that never got over or forgave FDR and his communist New Deal. But there was another blow to come and it came from the sky, once again by way of the Germans.

    The jet airplane. And once again the military beheld a new world, and once again they made it happen, and once again new businesses followed. And the airports and the air traffic infrastructure that serviced the new jet set were built with public money, to serve a public good because now the public good wasn’t a dirty thought anymore. Except among the usual suspects. And now the rail companies, which once counted their passenger lines as status symbols, allowing travelers to cross the country in mere days in comfort and luxury, began losing money to an industry that could fly passengers coast to coast in just a few hours. It took another decade, but it was the end of the grand passenger trains. Bulk freight was the one area they were still profitable because no other mode could compete there but the freighter ships and they had to take a detour through the Panama Canal to go from coast to coast. So the rail companies, instead of competing with the new modes of passenger transportation, bailed. And you could have seen it coming because their business model from the beginning was about preventing competition, not meeting it head-on and winning customers. Where the Super Chief ran, no other railroad could because the railroad owned that property. Same for the California Zephyr. Yes they both ran from Chicago to California, but by different routes servicing different points along the way. Competition such as it was during the western expansion was for territory because if you had territory you controlled the traffic there. Rail companies gobbled up huge tracts of land, largely to keep other rail companies out so they could charge the local farmers and ranchers whatever they damned well pleased that the market would bear. So when actual competition hit them they walked away from the market altogether.

    I think they could have done it. They had enticements the others simply could not match if they wanted to exploit them. But actual competition was not in the cultural DNA. 

    Which is why we have Amtrak now. Otherwise there would be no long distance passenger rail service at all. But it’s also why Amtrak is at a disadvantage compared to passenger rail service in other nations, and why the airlines and the auto industry and all the ancillary service industries for the road traveler are doing a good business, while passenger rail is hanging on by a thread. Elsewhere, that public money for public good thing isn’t considered immoral. Here it’s a deeply held religious belief that government should not interfere with business. Well…for the public benefit. For private profits it’s just nature’s way because what else are congressmen For? It’s no random happenchance that the man remembered most for saying “The public be damned” was a railroad tycoon (he was complaining about having to run a city passenger line for less than costs because his competition wanted those passengers too). For decades since Amtrak was established the republicans have been trying to kill it like they’ve been trying to erase everything about FDR’s New Deal because socialism. Sure air and highway travel are way more massively subsidized than Amtrak ever was. But the trucking industry, the auto industry, the airline and aircraft industries, the hospitality industry, all have money they can throw at congress. And so can the rail companies which hate Amtrak because it’s using their rails and that’s not only socialism it’s big government stealing from private property owners. Amtrak only has its passengers to speak for it. But so far that’s been enough to keep it running. 

    But not enough to build it into a world class passenger rail service. What we have now is good…much Much better than it was when it was first established and all it had was the cast off equipment the rail companies didn’t want anymore. The new engines and cars are wonderful. But it all runs on a set of privately owned rails and the rail companies don’t give a shit about passenger traffic.

    The rest of us need to. In all the talk about fixing, repairing and maintaining the national infrastructure, we need to pay more attention to the rail infrastructure too. But that’s a problem because of the nature of how it all came to be. The rails were and always have been private property. The rest of the transportation infrastructure is publicly financed and publicly owned. Difficult as it is in this era of Donald Trump republicanism, it’s still lots easier to have a discussion about what to do about the highways than it is about the railroads because the railroads were never a public resource and they still have that public be damned thing in their DNA.

    Milton Friedman, the darling of Randians everywhere, famously said that the only responsibility a corporation has is to increase shareholder profits and that everything else is socialism. We as a nation need to get over that mindset. Big business in this country is subsidized by the public in nearly everything it does and if that isn’t socialism too then nothing is and socialism is just a scarecrow they wave around when they want the public benefit without the public obligation. It’s time private industry acknowledged that no corporation is an island, and gave some equal concern to nurturing the democracy and the social infrastructure that made their business and their profits possible. There is after all, no free lunch.

 

by Bruce | Link | React!

February 1st, 2017

No…The American Dream Will Not Go Silently Into The Night Mr. Bannon…

…it is bigger, richer, more urgently felt than you could ever know…

 

One thing I love about this ad is the open acknowledgement of how immigrants were treated even back then. It’s so refreshingly honest about our history compared to the rainbows and unicorns version I got back in early grade school. We were so proud of our little melting pot back then…back when we were competing with the Soviet Union for the hearts and minds of the rest of the world. Not so much anymore.

If a certain German someone and I were still on emailing terms I would have loved to share this with him. But now I’m not even sure he’d appreciate the sentiment in it. It’s one thing to be determined to follow your dreams. It’s another to be determined not to have any. But some of us still believe in our dreams…rough hewn and broken though they may be… Here’s to you Herr Busch. Here’s to you Herr Anheuser. Prost!

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on No…The American Dream Will Not Go Silently Into The Night Mr. Bannon…

January 30th, 2017

Trust Us, This Doesn’t End Well

There was a joke I saw making the rounds just after the election…In the U.S. you call it the Alt-Right, in Germany we call it why grandpa lives in Argentina.

It’s stunning to me how, every German I know, and every born American of German descent with family living in Germany, all of them are so emphatically warning everyone about what is happening now…

Do we have to learn the hard way too? I guess we’ll see…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Trust Us, This Doesn’t End Well

January 20th, 2017

Oh Say, Can You See…?

A friend on Facebook who shared this said it felt like the funeral procession for our country. It’s the slower tempo they’re singing it at that gives it a more somber tone. But a more beautiful rendition of the national anthem I have never heard and I refuse to hear it as the closing number on the American experiment in democracy.

No. I hear it in the way I used to listen to the old Baptist hymns in the pews when I was a kid. This is the national anthem as a spiritual, and the faithful are not beaten down or cowed by the ruthlessness of predators. The heart is stronger than the fist. America isn’t a place on a map, it’s a dream of liberty and justice for all, and we Americans are the people of the dream, wherever we happen to live.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Oh Say, Can You See…?

January 16th, 2017

They Still Hate Him

…even some of us white Americans. This came up in my news feed this morning from the New York Times…

Which Martin Luther King Are We Celebrating Today?

“Every year on the third Monday of January, Americans of all races, backgrounds and ideologies celebrate the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He is rightly lionized and sanctified by whites as well as blacks, by Republicans as well as Democrats.

“It is easy to forget that, until fairly recently, many white Americans loathed Dr. King…”

Until fairly recently??  On what planet?  But never mind…  I lived through that period. I was an eighth grader when he was murdered. They hated him more than all the others back then. Malcolm X…Stokely Carmichael…Huey Newton… they hated King with a passion totally absent from their fear and loathing of the others. Because King claimed the moral high ground, and spoke from the roots of his religious faith in a completely authentic way that the segregationists could not.

Most of all they hated him for that.

Read this Times opinion piece for its clarity of the history of conservative appropriation and inverting of King’s activism…turning it against the very struggle for civil rights and equal justice that he championed, and eventually gave his life for. In the software trade we have a phrase to describe what the republicans did: Embrace, Extend, Extinguish.  

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on They Still Hate Him

December 11th, 2016

No More Excuses

If you vote for the racist because you think he’s better for your wallet, how is that not racism? If you vote for the sexual predator because you think he’s better for your wallet, how is that not enabling sexual predators? If you vote for the hate monger because you think he’s better for your wallet, how is that not enabling hate?

This is what pushes my button whenever I see otherwise decent people trying to excuse the election of Donald Trump on the basis of voter economic insecurity. For one thing, he didn’t win the popular vote, and that by a non-trivial margin. For another, he won the electoral vote by, so I’m told, a majority you could have fit inside Chicago Stadium. So it isn’t like an army of the economically disenfranchised suddenly decided to vote republican. Time and again we’ve read polls showing that Trump’s support was largely a middle and upward economic base. It wasn’t economics.

But even if it was, there’s still the man. There is unambiguously still the man. If you vote for the racist because you think he’s better for your wallet, how is that not racism? Bambi eyes and I’m not a racist because I never personally lynched a black man doesn’t get you out of that gutter, if you’re willing to enable the racism that gets black men killed, as long as it doesn’t get you killed too. But how certain are you that it won’t? The predator does not play favorites. We are all prey.

My frustration…let me tell you about it. Back in 1980 Jimmy Carter was running for reelection against Ronald Reagan…another vacant tool…who liked talking about welfare queens. Reagan kicked off his 1980 campaign with a speech about states rights just a few miles from where three civil rights workers were murdered by klansmen for helping black people register to vote. Carter called him out on the racist dog whistle and our feckless news media had kittens, slamming Carter as though he’d committed some below the belt personal foul against Reagan, and never mind that a halfwit could have seen what Reagan was doing there. But the myth of the liberal news media dies hard. By then in the elevated testosterone atmosphere of the newsrooms they’d taking a loathing to Carter as a weak kneed wuss, and admired Reagan’s manly pose and they eviscerated Carter, and Reagan, not initially seen as beating Carter, won in a landslide.

If they’d called Reagan out on his racist dog whistling maybe we’d have a different America now. But the pattern held. Whenever a democrat called out republican racist dog whistling for the next eight shining city on a hill years they were summarily slammed by the establishment news media. But in 1981 Lee Atwater, who was working in Reagan’s White House at the time, admitted they were doing just what Carter and the democrats said they were

“You start out in 1954 by saying, “Nigger, nigger, nigger.” By 1968 you can’t say “nigger”—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like, uh, forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.… “We want to cut this,” is much more abstract than even the busing thing, uh, and a hell of a lot more abstract than “Nigger, nigger.””

My frustration: dig it…in 1981 Atwater laid it all on the table…yes, we’re actually doing all that…And For The Next Several Decades our feckless rotting zombie corpse establishment news media kept treating the calling out of republican racist dog whistling as some sort of dirty politics, not the dog whistling itself.

And now we have a dangerous hate monger just days away from having his finger on the national security infrastructure, let alone the nuclear button And they’re still insisting everyone look the other way at republican hate mongering. Trump won because he spoke to the forgotten workers of America. Kindly ignore the firehose of raw bigoted hate he sprayed everywhere he campaigned.

For decades…arguably in fact ever since the Civil War…this country has not been able to have an honest conversation about race hatred, let alone the rest of it bubbling and churning down in the American gutter. We still can’t. Oh yes, we the hated Other talk about it. We try to get the attention of the popular culture to look at it. Every now and then we succeed…for a time. Matthew Shepard. Proposition 8. Pulse. But then the spotlight wanders off, and hate resumes its attacks on our lives out of sight, out of mind.

Now we are on the threshold of seeing that wilful blindness end the American Experiment. And I have no patience at all…none…for people who want us to keep making excuses for the elephant in the room. The time for fucking around is fucking over. It was fucking over when Ronald Reagan walked into the White House on the graves of Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner.

I repeat, If you vote for the racist because you think he’s better for your wallet, how is that not racism? Trump played a bigoted game. He spoke directly, unambiguously, to the hate that’s never been far from the surface of American politics. And that is how he won. Barely. We will never save the American dream, if that’s even possible now, by trying to find some way not to have to deal with that fact.

At long last, can we, finally, deal with the fact of hate in America? Or do we just shrug our shoulders, reassure ourselves that haters will just keep hating, that we have to work around it…somehow…and dream of what might have been, while the fire next time burns it all down.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on No More Excuses

November 20th, 2016

Ruling Out Decency

This is rich…follow along for fun and games…

First NBC News PR tweets this:

reince_muslim_registry

And cue the boilerplate right wing outrage! The tweet is misleading! They left out the Important Part!

reince_muslim_registry-full

Well that clarifies it. The effortless way Reince doublespeaks that is. But one supposes that’s a requirement for the job of Chairman of the Republican Party. So which part of that statement he gave was incorrect…the part where he says he’s not going to rule out anything, or the part where he rules out something?

But that’s not even close to the totality of the mendacity going on here. The statement is even more sinister when you consider how many of them on the white nationalist right have been saying for years that Islam isn’t a religion, it’s a political movement. A good follow up question would have been “Is Islam a religion?”

But it was Chuck Todd asking the questions…so…

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Ruling Out Decency

October 9th, 2016

You Knew What Trump Was, Because There Was A Little Of Him Inside Of You

Jim Burroway, of Box Turtle Bulletin, posted his reaction on Facebook to something that’s bugged me long before the current Trump dump…

jim-burroway-trump-as-a-husband

That. All those criticisms of Trump from his former supporters that start out as a husband and a father… blah blah blah. In one sense I can see how horrified the one who has a daughter of their own might suddenly feel hearing Trump’s casual off-handed just talking among the boys leering predatory attitude toward women. On the other it’s pretty hard to understand how anyone could have been that oblivious. I’m a gay man. I have no children of my own, no daughter. I had no girlfriend. I will have no wife. I don’t need any of these, and neither did you, to see Donald Trump for what he was and be disgusted. But be honest; are you really shocked or is this something more like the feeling of a guilty conscience tapping you on the shoulder? Donald Trump’s character is a whole cloth of ego and contempt, greed and malice. If you didn’t notice, it’s because you were excusing it. Perhaps because you recognized some of it in yourself.

Maybe it was the racism. So uncouth where yours is genteel, and perhaps just ashamed of itself enough to make you think yourself the better man but not enough to make you actually try to see yourself in a black man’s face. Perhaps it was his xenophobia. So blatant where yours is more diplomatic. Your own grandparents were immigrants after all, but they were from a more civilized country. Perhaps it was his sexism. So vulgar compared to your mannerly chauvinism. Real men treat the weaker sex with respect. Whatever it was, you made excuses for Trump, because you made them for yourself. But that does not make you the better man. It is making you little by little, step by step, more like him.

Now suddenly it hits home. But you need to understand this: When he was talking about the black man, the brown man, the muslem, the gay man, the Other, he was talking about your wife. When he was inciting violence at his rallies, he was inciting it against your daughter. The predator does not play favorites. We are all loot. When you gave him your support despite everything you could plainly see about the man within, you gave him permission to grope your wife and daughter. If he finds them attractive.

Take a good hard look at what you will become if you don’t stop making excuses. Because the day is coming when you will be making those excuses for what a government run by Trumps will do to you, your family, and everything you ever held dear. And you will help them do it. And you will say afterwards that you didn’t know, still making excuses that nobody believes because how could you not. Never doubt it, there is where you are headed. Turn away. Now. While you can still be shocked by what he does.

donaldtrump

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on You Knew What Trump Was, Because There Was A Little Of Him Inside Of You

July 27th, 2016

Losing My F*cking Patients!!

So this happened this morning…

trump_democrat

 

Once again, distilled from a previous post here:

  1. If Trump wins, don’t blame me I voted for… won’t cut it. Don’t blame me I voted for the democrat, I tried to stop him…, is only marginally better. But this is our country, all of us. We are all to blame for what it becomes. In a time like this, it is not enough to wave the flag and strike a pose.

  2. I appreciate how it is that involving yourself in politics can make you feel morally dirty.  Perhaps this is why the old time protestant fundamentalists here in America so ostentatiously kept themselves out of worldly matters. But for those of us who care, and who cannot look away at injustice, that is not our destiny. At its best politics is still mostly compromise and consensus and you are presented with choices that you probably don’t like, but can live with, in order to get one small good thing accomplished. At its worst it is a bitter knife fight in the human gutter where you find yourself making decisions and backing choices you desperately didn’t want to make, in order to save ground you know you absolutely cannot afford to lose.

    But that is our lot in life. If the fight to make this a better world isn’t making you feel dirty, you are not in the fight. 

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Losing My F*cking Patients!!

July 25th, 2016

I, Tool

In 1980, little Libertarian dweeb me voted for Ed Clark. Embarrassment keeps me from naming his running mate. I seriously believed I was helping a new movement which would transform America. We didn’t get Libertarian government (thank goodness), but we did get Ronald Reagan, who kicked off his presidency by breaking the air traffic controller’s union with the help of military air traffic controllers. I was shocked. Nonetheless,I did it again in 1984, voting for Bergland and Lewis. I was dedicated to the cause. I was a useful tool.

My awakening from my Libertarian slumber began in 1986 when Hardwick v. Bowers came down, and nearly all my fellow freedom fighters gave it their hosannas. Freedom it seemed, ended at the state line. That was June. In July of that year came the moment, though I didn’t know it at the time, which I will always regard the climax of Reagan’s presidency: the moment he laughed at Bob Hope’s AIDS joke during the re-dedication of the Statue of Liberty. In a nutshell, that was everything about the Reagan years. I was a useful tool.

Maybe there simply weren’t enough votes for Carter back in 1980, or Mondale in ’84, for those of us who voted third party to have made a difference anyway. But Reagan taught me a lesson about politics, one which the Sage of Baltimore neatly summed up when he said an idealist is someone who, upon noticing that a rose smells better than a cabbage, concludes it will make a better soup.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on I, Tool


Blame

I appreciate people have strong feelings about Mrs. Clinton as the democratic candidate. I completely understand how Mr. Sander’s supporters would be feeling angry at how the process went. I’m not exactly thrilled myself. Was the process rigged against him? You can make a strong case that it was. It’s harder though, to make an equally strong case that he’d have won the nomination if the playing field were level, or that he’d be any more likely to win against Trump in the general. You have to make assumptions in each of those cases that are nowhere near as certain as I’m hearing said in some quarters. But okay…I can see the disappointment and anger.

I have policy disagreements with Mrs. Clinton that are deep and profound. All in all I would rather it was Sanders than her. But I am getting really, Really tired of the she’s as bad as he is if not worse claptrap I’m hearing more and more of now…again in certain quarters. There’s a cartoon making the rounds now of a guy holding up a baby and asking another guy to choose between one of two horrible deaths for it, and when the other guy says nether the guy holding the baby says “lesser of two evils man!”

I’m going to be blunt: if you really believe that’s an intellectually honest comparison either you have not been paying attention this past week or you’re insane. It’s one thing to say that on this or that policy issue you cannot be moved, and another to say both these candidates would be equally that destructive to this country and the world at large. That’s not merely stretching a point, it’s claptrap.

I appreciate the moral quandary here. I’m not absolving myself of the moral implications of the choice I am making. But there’s an element of exactly that in the rhetoric I’m hearing now in some quarters. If Trump wins don’t blame me, blame the democrats for not running a better candidate. But it is not that simple. It’s one thing to take a moral position. But morality is not a cocoon. It is not absolution. It’s about choices. And responsibility. We are always to blame. The question is, did we fight the good fight, or just strike a pose. If the fight isn’t getting you dirty, you are not in the fight.

Most third party groups act like the presidency is all there is to government. But look at how the tea party has operated in recent years, regrettably to great success. They go after the local elections, the school boards, the city councils, and from there they have wielded great power, beyond their actual numbers, in the statewide offices. They go after the governorships, and the statehouses. Now they have congress, and enough strength in the Senate to stifle nearly everything president Obama has tried to do.

Where are the Greens? Where are the Libertarians? Beyond a handful of down ticket elections, they’re nowhere. And I can say as someone who collected signatures for the Libertarian candidates in the 70s, they never were. It was always the presidency and then when their candidate predictably lost, back to the media of libertarian magazines, think tanks and discussion groups and bellyache about how horrible Washington was. That is not a political movement, it’s a cult. And that mindset, that aim for the presidency first and foremost, is what keeps voter turnout appallingly low in off year elections. Not a presidential election year? Then who cares anyway. And there, in the elections few Americans pay enough attention to, the extremists have caused enormous damage.

If you can’t vote for Mrs. Clinton because her involvement in the human catastrophe in the middle east is too much, I respect that. But Trump’s rhetoric about keeping us out of foreign wars can’t rationally be regarded as anything more than another one of his empty promises, especially if he delegates policy to Mike Pence the way George Bush delegated to Dick Cheney, and Mrs. Clinton at least is much more trustable with the nuclear codes. But the fact is, she’s more trustable in a broad spectrum of policy issues that have a direct bearing on the lives of everyday people here and abroad. If your intentions are to help improve the lives of the common man and woman, being effective matters. Don’t be mocking all those republican thoughts and prayers every time there is another mass shooting and then vote for someone you know perfectly well cannot win, and allow a thug and his mob to burn everything down, that so many have died for to get us even this far.

Don’t blame me… If ultimately your argument is sometimes things have to get worse before they can get better, then you are not merely accepting that the worst will happen, you are making that it must happen a part of the plan. There’s your blame.

 

[Edited a tad…]

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on Blame

July 20th, 2016

The Gutter Speaks

Gavin Newsom, former mayor of San Francisco, talks about what he saw at the 2016 Republican National Convention in a video. I’d embed it here but Facebook makes that tactically difficult. But visit the link if you can, it’s worth listening to his passionate disgust at what he saw. And there’s no mistaking it, the republicans, just slightly more than a year after the Supreme Court acknowledged our right to equality in the marriage laws of this land, have written the most homophobic platform in their history. It is a snarling, in your face growl of contempt toward sexual minorities. But then, taken in context with the rest of it…the racism, xenophobia, hatred of women, hatred toward the poor and handicapped, it is of a piece. This is a convention of the human gutter. 

Newsome talks mostly about the conversion therapy plank, and you can argue that if any one of the anti-LGBT planks says it all it’s that one. I have a running thread of posts here on this blog about how reparative-conversion-exgay therapy was born in the blood of innocents. That’s not histrionics, it’s a plain statement of fact. The first exgay ministry was Love In Action, founded originally in San Francisco and later relocated to Memphis Tennessee. It’s first three clients included a young man named Jack McIntyre, who killed himself because the stress exgay therapy could only exacerbate within him became too much. That’s not conjecture, he left a suicide note that said in part:

To continually go before God and ask forgiveness and make promises you know you can’t keep is more than I can take. I feel it is making a mockery of God and all He stands for in my life.

What people need to understand is that lethal self loathing is the intention. Not necessarily that it kills, but that it is complete and overwhelming and crippling. It must be a ball and chain on our lives, on our souls. We have to hate ourselves. Because then we are good homosexuals. We hide, we apologise for existing, we don’t expect basic human dignity, let alone assert that our hearts are not there for them to scribble their graffiti on and our lives, our hopes and dreams are not their stepping stones to heaven. We have to bleed, so they can feel righteous.

To call forcing kids into it child abuse is imprecise. It is the rape of the soul. Adults and children alike. And in Cleveland now, these are its advocates. Unsurprisingly, they are also racists, xenophobes and misogynists, grifters, thieves and swindlers, sociopaths and paranoid cowards. Simply put, the human gutter. For generations, we have been dying for their sins because even the blood of Jesus Christ was not enough to get them clean.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Gutter Speaks

May 4th, 2016

The Last Clown Waves Goodbye To The Crowd, And The Darkness Outside The Circus Tent Deepens

On CNN Now…

Sources: John Kasich to drop out

Well…okay. Fine. As horrifying as the potential of a Trump presidency is, I feel this as a little tiny ray of light in the darkness. The corporate media kept presenting Kasich as a more sane breed of republican and that he is patently not. So good riddance!

But we’re not out of the woods. If anything now, the woods are closing in. President Trump…  Stand in front of a mirror and say it while watching the fear in your eyes deepen. If Mrs Clinton can get enough of the disaffected republican vote to offset all the disaffected democrats who would rather shove a rusty ice pick in their ear than vote for her, we might not have to witness Donald Trump taking the oath of office next January. But at this moment in time I’m not at all sure that’s going to be enough. Mrs. Clinton’s supporters are still vastly misjudging the degree of antipathy toward her and the DNC in the grassroots, and I strongly suspect that’s at least partially due to cocooning. The disaffected are doing it too. And none of it is helpful. This nation…and the world…might be in for the sort of wild ride it hasn’t seen since the 1930s.

I’ve been what they used to call a Yellow Dog Democrat, ever since Connie Morella voted for the Defense of Marriage Act (signed in the dead of night by You Know Who!). And yet, if I had to choose between Ronald Reagan and Lyndon LaRouche, and it looked like LaRouche had a clear shot at winning it, god help me I’d have voted for Reagan. But then…I’m a cold war baby. I remember doing my duck and cover drills, and the sound the air raid sirens made at 11am on the first Saturday of the month when they were tested, to make sure they would be in working order at Armageddon o:clock.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Last Clown Waves Goodbye To The Crowd, And The Darkness Outside The Circus Tent Deepens

December 3rd, 2015

A Recurring Theme Of Violence

This came across my Facebook stream this morning…

times_comparison

This comparison is worth noting, but I’m sharing this for another reason. In the arguments over gun control, and people (men almost always) who commit acts of violence with guns, I keep seeing this one thing popping out at me: a history of domestic violence or brutality toward women, sometimes children, sometimes animal torture. And also this…look at how the Times phrases it: “…who occasionally unleashed violent acts toward neighbors and women he knew.” It’s like they’re describing a charming little eccentric personality quirk and not a scary indicator of a deeply rooted predatory nature that should have everyone concerned.

The NRA. its constipated culture warriors, its jittery paranoid drunken Ted Nugent following would howl loudly about it but I see an eminently reasonable basis to deny someone the ability to legally buy and own a firearm right there: domestic violence. Of course there would need to be due process, a right to appeal and have your case heard. Fine. But if that’s what you are then the rest of us have more than enough cause to be afraid of what you might do with that gun.

I’m saying this as a gun owner myself, and as someone who believes the right of individual citizens to own their own firearms makes sense in a democracy. Overall gun violence is down. But these mass public shootings are on the rise and, in my judgement, they’re showing a common theme that isn’t necessarily about religious fundamentalism. Background checks won’t prevent all shootings, but if done seriously and diligently they’d be a help. But this also needs to be taken into account: if children can’t trust you, if your lover can’t trust you, then who can? I would say this is even more telling about a person’s potential for violence than a criminal record.

Look at it in the context of the overall mindset toward women, particularly among GOP politicians these days. The shooting at Planned Parenthood and the smear campaign against it are of a piece. You would have to assume, given the number of chest thumping runts now walking the halls of congress and the statehouses, that inconveniencing people at the gun shop, who occasionally unleash violent acts toward neighbors and women, would seem baffling to them at the least, if not an attack on their rights as men. Boys will be boys… The stereotype of the gun owner as having small dick issues is crude and misses it. It’s not their dicks that are small, it’s their hearts. The gun isn’t a dick substitute. The dick is a heart substitute.

Bullies will be bullies. Guns don’t matter. I realize to many that seems an outrageous thing to say but I keep finding it to be true. They say guns don’t kill people, people kill people. Fine. But what kind of people? This ultimately I submit, is precisely why they imposed a funding ban on research into gun violence; because it is exactly what they don’t want science to pin down. They can already see themselves in that mirror. It’s not the gun that makes a person dangerous. It’s the lack of heart that makes a person dangerous. And you really see it in how they treat their spouses, their lovers, children, neighbors. There’s where it tells you that someone is not to be trusted. And maybe not just with a gun either, but also with a seat in congress. There’s the big red warning sign. A criminal background check is not nearly as telling as that is.

 

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on A Recurring Theme Of Violence

November 11th, 2015

The Ones Who Went To War

I’d post a photo of my maternal grandfather Albert (whose name mom gave to me) in his uniform but I still need to scan that one in. He served in the Philippines in the late 1800s…I don’t know if he later served in WWI or not. But oddly enough even though he died long before I was born, I owe much of the career I have now to him. After the Army, he ran his own business building and servicing radios and whenever mom saw something in me that reminded her of her dad she encouraged it…which is why I got a taste early in life for fiddling with electronic gizmos, which led to my building my own computers back in the IBM-PC/DOS days, and why I’m earning a good living now as a systems software engineer (my job title).

But I did scan this photo of mom and her first boyfriend, and fiancé, Morris. Morris was Jewish, and my granddad Albert, according to mom, didn’t much care for Jews until he met Morris. According to mom he came to like Morris very much and approved of them getting married.

But Morris was in the Navy during WWII, and so I was told, his ship sailed into Nagasaki harbor after Japan surrendered. He later told her that his ship was unable to move for a time, due to the number of bodies floating in the water. Whether it was the sight of that, or other things he saw during the war, or whether it was a thing that would have happened to him regardless, he fell into severe mental illness after the war and his family had to institutionalize him. So mom lost her boyfriend to madness, and if the war alone didn’t do that to him, it definitely contributed. Before his family took him away mom said, he used to scare her fondling his big army knife, stroking his face and arms and body with it like he was going to cut himself, talking about the corpses he’d seen with their guts spilled out.

So when we remember and honor our service men and women, let us please also dedicate ourselves to supporting them after the war too, and their widows and widowers, and their orphans, because our thanks are hollow otherwise, and especially to dedicate ourselves to not sending anymore of our neighbors to war, if it is humanly possible to prevent it. The wars don’t end for them merely because the shooting stopped.

by Bruce | Link | Comments Off on The Ones Who Went To War

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