Thursday, July 30, 2015

The Anti-Vacs

When I was a wee lad I got the measles and I’ll never forgive tWhe damn virus. As a result I didn’t get to the Saturday matinee that week. Never mind the movie. It was the serial I missed. The Lone Ranger was going to take off his mask. For my remaining days I’ve had to live with the uncertainty if he had a nose in the middle of his face like the rest of us.

Thirty years later my children were vaccinated assuring them all of seeing the Lone Ranger’s nose. We now have a loud group of parents who don’t care about their kids or other people’s kids missing such seminal moments.  

All you guys in favor of measles get over there.

I’m trying hard to hold my tongue. I really don’t want to call these folks misguided morons because many of them are university graduates and otherwise enlightened. Some are even friends of mine. But something has gone wrong with their brains.

There are among us those who conflate big pharma with science and government with conspiracy. These are otherwise rational thinkers who don’t know the difference between causation and correlation. If someone gets hit by a run-a-way trolley car while taking a medication their unfortunate demise is not a side-effect of the drug.

The case for autism caused by the MMR vaccine quickly fell into disrepute. It was shown to be an elaborate fraud but that has not deterred a large number of alarmed parents. When Mama and Papa get their hackles raised they lose their smarts and regress to some reptilian mind state. A perceived threat to the child makes some folks act as if possessed by the Furies causing a temporary loss of good sense.

Many thoughtful people cannot live with unanswered questions. Progressives join with trailer-trash smelling collusion among politicians, corporations and science as if they’ve gotten together to produce a vaccine heedless of consequences.

Let Nature take its course, they proclaim. Natural does not confer harmlessness nor should the spread of microbes be left as is. Three million is the estimated number of measles-deaths before the vaccine was instituted in the late 60s. Natural products abound on store shelves gobbled up by gullible consumers…as if opium, lead and arsenic were not also natural.

To the anti-vacs I say, get a grip. The world is not flat even if Science says it is round, nor is climate change some government hoax. Give your kids protection against the dreaded measles and consider the threat you pose to the community. Both Tonto and the Lone Ranger, I’m sure, would agree.

Monday, July 27, 2015

The Evil of Two Lessors

In my earliest memory I am 3 ½. It was on a Tuesday. I remember the green curtain of the voting booth behind which my mother had disappeared. I was crying my head off.  Separation anxiety? Perhaps. I’d prefer to think I was contemplating FDR’s troubles with the Supreme Court, the Dust Bowl and rise of the Third Reich. More likely it was one of my chronic ear aches which occurred regularly until I grew into my semi-circular canals.

In later years tears would generally come on election night when the results came in. I never got to vote for Roosevelt or for Henry Wallace but I did for a long list of losers from Adlai Stevenson to John Kerry. It’s almost Pavlovian. With or without green curtains, show me a voting booth and my lachrymose glands well up in anticipation. 

In the coming election of 2016 I’m planning to cast my lot with Bernie Sanders. Particularly if Hillary has California sewed up anyway. The prospect of a President Trump, Cruz, or Walker etc… is enough to bring back visions of green curtains and uncontrollable weeping.

One more time we shall probably be faced with the evil of two lessers.  The Clintons have redefined Democrats as Centrists moving the spectrum far to the right. It doesn’t take a Sherlock and Whatshisname to trace her money trail directly to the wallets of billionaires to whom she would be accountable. John Maynard Keynes said it well, Capitalism is the extraordinary belief that the nastiest of men for the nastiest of motives will somehow work for the benefit of all.

Bernie Sanders would be a corrective. Whether or not it makes sense to register a protest vote for a lost cause I leave to the moral philosophers. In any case his candidacy, at this point, articulates the agenda of a lost constituency and might alert Hillary to issues such as a single-payer healthcare system, unconscionable student loan debt and disengagement of military adventures overseas. 

Watching clips of the Republican candidates makes me wish for a return of my early ear problems. And to think we have to endure this noise pollution for another 15 months.

Maybe I’d have an entirely different take if my mother had left me home that November Tuesday in 1936. I might have been a happy child pondering the little red engine that thinks he can and thinks he can.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

The Loneliness of the Solo Goalie

Give her a name, Hope Solo. 
You couldn’t make this up.
A sentinel at the gate of her domain. Keep out.
Let others scramble the field 
like upper body amputees.
She’s got their 20 arms like tentacles, 
snatching, deflecting; a snarling Cerberus, 
beware her tooth and claw.
Hope, where there’s life there’s always….
Alone she prowls from pillar to post
strutting and fretting in her petty space.
She is Garbo slurring, I vant to be alone.
Then, Virginia Woolfing a room of her own.
Solitary as a poet leaping stanzas, stretching 
the orb of a word, the bounce and roll,
In another century she was Coleridge in his
Stately pleasure-dome decreed , uninterrupted
by the person from Porlock barging in.
Is she Kubla Khan dreaming Xanadu? No,
she is Euclid thinking angles 
down measureless caverns
imagining apertures into her habitat.
Zig-zagging a solo sax from the Bird
or Ornette Coleman out of the box,
out of his mind, with a mind of his own.
She’s faster than dwarf Pluto coming at her
She gets in the kicker’s head, freezes her.
Hope faces the Axis, World War II. Like Rosie
she rivets, blitzes Germany, sinks Japan,
drinks from the Woman’s World Cup.
Futball they call it. Soccer, we say 
and are exceptionally alone.
We have our own football played with arms
and got the bloody word from the Brits... 
Soccer, from AsSOCiation Football. 
Then they dropped it but we didn't 
because we are exceptional. 
You can’t make this stuff up.

Saturday, July 11, 2015


For those of a certain age (mine) or TCM addicts the actor George Raft is almost a household word. He was a star in mostly B-movies through the 30’s and 40s; an actor whose greatest claim to fame was what he didn’t do. His one-dimensional acting was only overshadowed by his misguided decisions to turn down roles in three films that catapulted Humphrey Bogart to a top place in the cinema history.  

In their infinite stupidity Warner Bros. offered Raft the starring roles in The Treasure of Sierra Madre, The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca. Each time he opted out. Cinephiles are the beneficiary.

Raft was a well-paid property, possibly because of his Rudolph Valentino nose, but not too bright. At one point the studio offered him $10,000 as a buy-out. He misunderstood and wrote them a check for $10,000. The suspicion was that he was functionally illiterate. He may have declined those starring roles because he couldn’t memorize so many lines.

His range as an actor was from tough guy in the mob to tough guy tracking down the mob. He looked like a hoodlum from Hell’s Kitchen in NYC because he was one. In any case if Raft’s life on the big screen was a leaky flotilla he still out-lived Bogey by 27 years proving that longevity does not suffer from bad career-moves.

Not everyone has a George Raft in his life to lead by negative example. I’ve long felt that anyone following my real-estate ventures over the past 60 years would be a multi-millionaire today……if they had done exactly the opposite. It takes a certain Raft-like skill to not have made any money buying and selling property in Southern California.

My first house was purchased for $15,000 and sold five years later for $15,500. It took a year to find a buyer because the 405 freeway would be built behind it. I bought my second house for $30,000 in 1960 and sold it for the same price two years later. It is now worth about half a million. And so it goes. A mountain getaway house we picked in 1986 for $98,000 later rose in value to $350,000 but that was after we sold it for what we bought it for.

I needed a George Raft to show me what not to do. There are people put on this earth for no other purpose. But it takes a Bogart to make something out of it.

I can claim a bit of Bogey also. I took my Letters of Transit. He got Lauren Bacall and I, out of all the gin joints in the world, got Peggy, my Sierra Madre Treasure, my Maltese Falcon, African Queen and Sabrina. We are living happily ever-after in our rent-controlled apartment without a care what the house next door is going for.

Monday, July 6, 2015

The Impeded Stream

It’s not a bad thing to write when I have nothing to say. Or to state the converse, Why write when everything appears solved or resolved. As Wendell Berry put it, It may be that when we no longer know what to do we have come to our real work. The mind not baffled is not employed.

I’m baffled. My daughter, the youngest, has tapped into the demons in my psyche. She’s overwhelmed by the forces of society and I’m overwhelmed by her. Janice has a congenital, profound hearing loss. She has gotten by understanding about two-thirds of what’s going on and faking the rest. She makes me wonder how much I fake.

For 52 years she has been living in a muddle having developed great survival skills. Now she has lost her job and must deal with government bureaucrats.  And in Texas yet where every agency is under-funded.

Unable to fill out the unemployment forms she lost many months of compensation. Her Social Security Disability payments have been reduced by a third because of a miscommunication. The Department for Assistance and Rehabilitation has determined she needs no help unless the Psychological Services Dept. deems it necessary. And so on. All this and she refuses to let me speak on her behalf.

It is Kafkaesque. My recurrent nightmare is being in a pharmacy with thousands of prescriptions coming at me which I’m unable to read or process with a computer I can’t figure out how to use. I have appropriated Janice’s imagined labyrinth.

The impeded stream is the one that sings, writes Berry. I’m hearing an Edvard Munch scream. Now a groan. I’m longing for a hearing loss. I’m trying to write my way to a good night's sleep.

Janice is singing her own song. If I listen hard enough I can hear it. She has told me off, to get out of the way. That’s when I have become deaf. I can’t walk in her shoes. My feet’s too big.  She is fiercely independent and I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m still looking for the mid-distance were I can be not up close…. but personal.

Friday, July 3, 2015


A funny thing happened while writing this page. In fact it’s a mystery I count on. Bits of information, anecdotes and images attach themselves to a beginning idea. A passage in one book sends a tendril to another on the Internet and that connects to a story told by the person who cuts my hair. These lateral leaps correspond to the vertical leaps from high above ground.

David Brooks in his new book, The Road to Character, writes about the defining moment in the life of Frances Perkins. While having tea, among DAR friends in a lower Manhattan apartment in 1911, she heard fire engines rushing to a nearby building. She followed them to the scene of the Triangle Shirt Factory just as women were hurling themselves to their death from the 8th floor. The sight turned her life around. From then on, she devoted herself to the long struggle for improved working conditions serving as Labor Sec. in FDR’s cabinet for his full term in office.

I then came across a report online noting a 27% surge of deaths by euthanasia in Belgium. I remembered once reading about a town hall in Brussels erected in the 15th century. The architect, Phillip the Good, noting that the tower was off-center, was so distraught, he jumped from the belfry to his death. If rowing toward Eden is what we’ve been doing our whole lives I know of no better place than Bruges as a stand-in for Paradise. Memo: best not to go with a high fever and hacking cough.

This was followed by a footnote that the great Czech novelist, Bohumil Hrabel, was killed at age 83 when he fell out of a 5th story hospital window while feeding some birds. For an instant he may have found a wind-draft, sprouted wings and then swooped with a colony of gulls as his final vision. As Wilbur Wright put it, No bird soars in a calm.

I might have to revise my wish for a last hurrah: sliding home with an inside-the-park home run... my demise coming in a cloud of dust called out by the ultimate ump.   
I have no memory of ever suffering from bouts of depression. If I had I might have considered jumping out of the window till suddenly remembering I lived in the basement.

Heather, my hair-cutter, told me today that her whole family including her 78-year old mother and father went sky-diving last week at 14,000 ft. Other than the view I can’t imagine why…. even if one landed in Bruges.  

The more I think about it the greater my preferred mode of descent: the elevator, the lift...which says nothing about the drop. We walk into a small room eleven flights up and walk out into a lobby. No gasping for air, no sweat and such an affirmation of trust. 

Truman Capote, writing about his cousin, said she imagined she could leave this world with today in her eyes. She had been looking for God and here he/she was all the time.

I came across a passage in the Character book that Gen. Eisenhower wrote a press release taking full blame in case the landing at Normandy had failed. Of course it was never published until his memoir. Peggy has taught me not to rehearse bad news. If it happens you’ll always think of something.