Monday, August 31, 2015

What's The First Word That Comes To Mind When I Say Fox News?

The last couple of days have served to reacquaint me with Fox News.  It’s always interesting to see what they’re up to.  Not that it changes much.  Fox is like a soap opera:  you can miss a few weeks and come back in right where you left off.  

On Saturday morning alone they mentioned Bangazi six times, usually apropos of nothing in particular.  The Hillary bashing is to be expected, that’s their bread and butter after all.  It’s no surprise that Fox doesn’t like Bernie Sanders either.  He’s a socialist!  And not like that sneaky President Obama either, Bernie is proud to describe himself as a socialist!  No, the only surprise this time around was how much time and effort Fox is putting into slinging mud at one of the Republican candidates for president.  Only one, the other twenty-two are fine.  You know which one they hate. 

Yes, The Donald. 

One of the newer smear techniques on display was a “word cloud” graphic made up of verbal  information gathered in some kind of poll.  The pollster would prompt the pollee, “what’s the first word that comes to mind when I say . . .” (name of a candidate).  The most common words offered in response were the most prominent in the word cloud, set in the biggest type, and so on down the line. 
Amazingly, but not surprisingly, the resulting descriptions of the candidates lined up perfectly with the Fox News propaganda line.  (Amazing because that it such a bold faced display of moral corruption; not surprising because Fox News is famous for that kind of thing.)  

Hillary is a liar!  She’s dishonest!  The Fox News party line since they went on the air.  What’s the truth of the matter?  The odds are that she’s no angel, but she’s running for president, not pope.  We’ve had one angel as president in my lifetime, and most people did not appreciate his goodness.  (Jimmy Carter, of course.)  Hillary happens to be competent, cool-headed, resilient and experienced.  Qualified, in other words.

Trump is arrogant!  A more recent development, but these days all of the extensive Fox coverage of Trump is negative.  Is he arrogant?  Well yes, he is all of that, and more.  He is also wildly unsuited by temperament for the presidency, and wildly unqualified by experience.  Oh, and he’s dangerous too, he’d be a huge liability in the job.  Fox is not anti-Trump because he would be a clear and present danger to the country though.  Most of the other Republican candidates would be dangerous too.  Fox is on the attack because Trump is trouncing the candidate who is the obvious choice not only of Fox News, but also of the Koch brothers et al.  Which brings us to . . .

Bush is experienced!  The negatives in Bush’s word cloud were limited to the ambiguous “Bush” and “dynasty.”  Experienced is a big stretch though, I mean, come on.  He’s experienced like his brother was.  He’s experienced at getting his way without much effort.  John Bush, like George before him, is a mediocre rich kid legacy with a wild and demanding sense of entitlement.  John and George have always been coasters, coat-tail riders, and total jerks.  The power brokers can only love him because they have decided that he has the best chance to beat Hillary.  What else could it be? 

Here are my quickly noted responses to the poll:

Hillary:  strong, confident;

Bernie:  smart, ethical;

Trump:  abrasive, moronic, rude, selfish, overconfident;

John Bush:  stooge, wimp, lightweight;

Cruz:  maniac, ugly, mediocre;

Huckabee:  phoney, duplicitous;

Carly F.:  unknown;

Marco R.:  desperate, hopeless;

Ben Carson:  ungrateful, uncaring, unqualified;

Scott Walker:  asymmetrical, fascist, hateful;

Rand Paul:  liar, plagiarist;

Bobby Jindal:  anchor-baby.

I must have left out a few.  Oh!  Chris Christie!  (Fat, creepy, bully.) 

I left out Joe Biden too.  Is he in the race?  If he is, it’s only because the Democrats are as afraid of Bernie Sanders as the Republicans are of Donald Trump.  The Republicans already have twenty-plus alternatives to Bush lined up.  (I say Bush, he’s the obvious choice of the Republican party and their money people.)  If something happens to Bush, like some unfortunate campaign airplane crash, somebody, probably Kasich, could step in.  But so far the Democrats are limited to Hillary and Bernie.  If someone shoots poor Hillary, an unpleasant but not entirely inconceivable eventuality, the Democrats would be left with Bernie.  And Bernie scares the Democrats.  So they need Joe Biden as backup. 

I’m home now, so no more Fox News for a while.  Not on my cable, thank God.  I can only take it in small doses.  Only fifteen months before the election!  Man, I just hope that it goes by quickly. 

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Be Nice To The Help

In almost any workplace there are a small number of important employees who really make the decisions.  In court, it’s the judges.  In law offices, it’s the lawyers.  In hospitals, it’s the doctors.  Most businesses of any kind have executives that fill the role.  In all of these places, there are a greater number of people who perform more or less routine tasks.  I’ll call them:  The Help.

I’ve had over fifty jobs in my life.  I know that that sounds unbelievable, but believe me, I hardly believe it myself.  They ranged from easy to hard; sedentary to physically demanding; interesting to mundane; safe to somewhat dangerous.  At all of my jobs before the age of forty, I was always “the help.” 

Being the help is not easy.  I worked for almost ten years in warehouses, handling cardboard boxes and wooden pallets, often loading and unloading trucks.  I wore out a couple of pairs of work gloves every year, but the jobs still took a toll.  Upon returning home in the evening the first thing that I did was wash my hands.  This was quite a ritual, it took about twenty minutes.  First give them a thorough washing with the Lava soap; then half-fill the basin with warm water; soak the hands; wash with milder soap; repeat; finally check my splinters (up to half a dozen or so at all times); maybe try to expel a splinter that looked ready to come out.  So yeah, being the help is not easy.

I started law school at the age of forty, graduating at forty three.  I passed the California bar exam and from then on I was one of the decision makers, one of the big shots.  That’s a bit too self-aggrandizing.  I was small-fry, after all.  But I did stand somewhere above the staff.  Much like being an officer as opposed to an enlisted man.  So regarding the issue at hand, I have looked at working life from both sides now (“from win and lose, and still somehow it’s [working] life’s illusions I recall, I really don’t know [working] life at all.”).  Who wrote that song? 

Here’s something that I can tell you for sure:  the help can help you. 

I learned great empathy from having been the help myself, so even before law school I generally treated people well if they were in a work situation.  I took that attitude with me as a lawyer.  Lawyers go to hundreds of law offices and courtrooms on a regular basis, it’s really amazing to count it all up.  My habit when visiting the office of opposing counsel was to write down the names of the receptionists and secretaries, I’d write them right in the case file.  In court, I’d make a note of the names of the court clerks and maybe the court reporter.  This came in handy many times.

If you call a law office and greet the receptionist by name, you’re already ahead.  She, probably she, answers phones all day, and she is likely to be impressed if this happens: 

“Hello, law office.”

“Hi Barbara.  This is Fred Ceely.  Is Phil available?”

“Hi Fred.  No, he’s out at a depo.”

“Well, do you think I could talk to Kathy?”  (Phil’s secretary.)

“Sure, I’ll check.” 

Some lawyers that did a lot of filing paperwork gifted the filing room staffs at courthouses that they frequently used.  I knew a guy who would buy a big box of tamales from a famous Mexican restaurant and drop them off about once a month.  When he showed up with papers, everybody smiled and jumped up to help him.  If he had a time problem with a filing, someone would go with him on the walk through.  Other guys would bring boxes of donuts. 

It’s a great technique, you should try it.

It’s not only at work that you should be nice to the help.  It makes your life sweeter in hotels and restaurants, for instance.  Tip the housekeepers at the hotel and you get more towels.  I always try to become a regular at restaurants that I like and tip a little bit high.  It’s very nice to be greeted with a smile, and maybe by name, and sometimes you might even find out that the fish you want is getting a little old in the tooth, maybe better to get something else, or that the regular chef is out, and the replacement can’t cook a steak to save his life.  “What do you recommend?”  If they don’t already know you and like you, the answer to this question will always be what they are desperate to get rid of.  

This is especially important if you find yourself in the hospital!  The nurses are everything!  Here’s a technique that I used during an especially uncomfortable week in the hospital long ago.  Every nurse that walked in the door, I looked at her name tag and greeted her by name.  After she, probably she, left, I’d write the name in a notebook.  I always said, “thank you!”  Even if they had hurt me.  The list gets long in a hurry.  I’d frequently check the list and make sure that I remembered all the names so that I could greet them without checking the tags.  I’d make notes about what their concerns were and what we had joked about.  Within a couple of days I was patient number one.  I got great advice without asking; I got extra gowns and pillows; I was visited before I had had a chance to put the call button down.  And in the middle of the night, when it was slow, they’d check to see if I was awake and maybe sit down and talk.  All of that makes a big difference in the hospital. I’d like to think that I made a difference for them too.

Thinking about all of this, it occurs to me that we should just be nice to everybody, all the time.  Even if there’s no real advantage in it.  That taxi driver that you’ll never see again?  Be nice, and give him, probably him, a decent tip.  What’s a “decent” tip?  In America, it’s an extra buck.  If two would be okay, give him three dollars.*  Unless you take multiple cab rides every day you’ll never miss it.  To the driver, though, it tells him that you value his efforts and appreciate his help.  It’ll get a big smile, and a sincere “thanks!”  It’ll give the driver a moment of happiness in the middle of a difficult shift.  How nice is that? 

Besides!  It’s the Golden Rule!!!

*Ha! I drove cabs thirty-five years ago, and it shows!  I guess now that all cab rides are twenty bucks anyway, tip the guy seven instead of four.  Something like that.  It still gets a big reaction.  Where else can you buy a smile for three bucks?  

Sunday, August 23, 2015

So, What's With All The Politics?

Politics, oye, vey ist mir!  I apologize for all of this venting.  If I am loathe to inflict it on family and friends, even Facebook friends, why should I try your patience so?  It's not polite.  All blues all the time is a dull palette.

So, sorry.  It won't happen again for at least seventy-two hours.

Decorum, Collegiality, Compromise, And Simple Human Dignity

I teach a university class called “American Legal Institutions,” and somewhere in the first lecture I talk about compromise.  I tell my students that democracy is all about preventing abuse of power and learning to work together.  Democracy is impossible without compromise, the working together part.  The checks and balances that are built into the American constitution are there to force the different branches of government to talk together and work together.  That’s the dream anyway.

The reality?  The constitution is a wonderful thing, in its way, but American politics has always been messy and contentious.  There were duels at the beginning, for crying out loud.  Burr shot Hamilton dead.  Mockery, furious anger, and nasty personal attacks have long been commonplace.  Hell, we even had a Civil War!  Vicious partisanship was the norm, near coups d’├ętat periodically threatened, and more recently McCarthyism nearly ripped apart the social fabric itself.  So in reality there have always been shenanigans of all kinds going on in American politics.  It is some kind of minor miracle that somehow they have managed to work together and make compromises when it was time to get important legislation passed.

The Fifties and Sixties were certainly not ideal times.  There were big problems, domestic and international, that needed to be addressed.  There were many mistakes made, money was wasted, and people got killed.  Our politicians got us into a major war unnecessarily, one that went on for ten years and got a million-plus people killed (counting the opponents, which is only fair).  But somehow the congress and various presidents managed to pass Medicare and the Civil Rights Act, among other things.  Compromise was still possible.  Congress, especially the Senate, was still a collegial body.  Sure, they were rough on each other at election time, but when it was time to go to work, there was some sense of decorum.  Those guys attended parties together, had dinner together, got drunk together.  There were friendships.  Wow.

That all seems like a lost dream to us now.  At some point between the resignation of Dick Nixon and our new political age a winner-take-all mentality took over American politics.  The Reagan Republican party recognized that while they were able to win in presidential elections, they remained the minority in congress.  This was partly because people are cautious, and voters believe, like the writers of the constitution, that it is better to spread power around as much as possible.  Another reason was that senators and congressmen tended to get re-elected, and the Democratic majority had seniority.  So the Reagan clique wondered what to do about that.  The solution that they came up with was to claim that “government is the problem.”  Running against Washington became a thing.  “Kick them out!”  If a few Republican stalwarts got zotzed in the process, well, let’s hope that a new Republican wins the primary or something.  Most of the long-servers were Democrats, so the strategy would work to the Republicans’ favor.  This was, in retrospect, a real “what can go wrong?” moment.  We have seen, over the last thirty-five years, that this slogan masquerading as a strategy is still plaguing us, and the mischief has only gotten worse.

“Winner take all.”  What could be more antithetical to true Democracy?  One of our political parties is hopelessly lost in this point of view.  We want to win, they say, and then we want to move heaven and earth to insure that we stay in power indefinitely.  And if we lose, we will never, ever, work with you on anything that is not 100% our idea to begin with, and we will do everything in our power to insure that you never succeed at anything, and that you fail as frequently and as embarrassingly as possible for the entire time that you are in office.  (And when we win, even by one percent, we will accept that as a mandate to do whatever we want.) 

You can’t work with people and compromise with people that you have so thoroughly demonized.  Why, it would be tantamount to treason!  At least in the eyes of your voting base.

Witness the presidency of William Jefferson Clinton.  An almost unmitigated success, by all counts, and remembered fondly by every American who is not an extreme partisan of a certain stripe.  He did it largely on his own too.  Was there any decorum in the way that Clinton was treated?  Was there any, well, you won fair and square but now let’s see what we can accomplish together?  No there was not.  He and his wife were tarred with the worst brushes available, investigated by a partisan hack of a special prosecutor and accused of everything up to and including murder. 

Move forward to the presidency of George W. Bush.  Elected in the most dubious such contest in a long time, W. began to embarrass himself immediately after the election.  “It’s your money!”  (Squandering a much needed budget surplus and replacing it with growing deficits.)  Does anyone recall that incident half-way into the first year when an American submarine sunk a Japanese research ship?  By ramming?  Lost lives a’plenty?  Bush’s apology amounted to shucks, this shit happens.  I’ll bet that a lot of the Japanese still remember it.  Anyone remember the huge tax cuts that went to people that already had more money than they knew what to do with?  And then all of the stupid swaggering after the World Trade Center incident.  “Bring ‘em on!”  And the stupid war mongering.  And the stupidity that let Mr. Osama get away.  And the lying, and the bombing, and the invading.  It just went on and on, and it all ended terribly.   The deficits, the national debt . . . we’ll be paying for it for the next hundred years, and with nothing to show for it.  Well, except the people who became billionaires.  

And when anyone would raise a hand and cry out to God to make the stupidity stop they were accused of “Bush derangement syndrome,” like it was a mental disease to hate Bush when he was actually such a great guy. 

And on the decorum front, what kind of politician was W?  Did he play fair?  Was he collegial?  You can ask John Kerry.

Mr. Kerry is no favorite of mine, I have complained about him herein, frequently and bitterly.  I suppose he can’t help it that he is such a poor, wooden thing.  He must have more to recommend him than meets the eye.  I can’t see it, myself.  But I digress.  The issue before us is:  how was he treated in the 2004 election, when he was the Democratic nominee?  Horribly, as it turns out.  I don’t like the man, but I very much respect the fact that he joined the Navy Reserve in 1966, when it was not a pleasant prospect, requested posting to Vietnam, and served on those absurdly dangerous riverine craft with zero armor and lots of machine guns.  In the course of a tour abbreviated by wounds, he was awarded a Bronze Star, a Silver Star, and three Purple Hearts.  When he got out, he had the good conscience and considerable courage to become a leading light in the Vietnam Veterans Against the War, which gets him a lot of respect from me.  Look up “Swift Boat Affair” to see how this all was played by the Bush crowd.  Hint:  They made Kerry look like a fool, a fop, a dilettante and a coward. 
Reminiscent of how Nixon treated McGovern.  There are no shortage of examples.

Were the Democrats fair with W. Bush?  All you hear these days is, “they’re all the same.”  To prove the lie in that statement, compare the treatment of Democrats by Republicans, and Republicans by Democrats, when running for president over the last four decades.  Kerry, for instance, took the high road.  Imagine W. Bush being characterized with the same vicious glee that the Republicans use on their opponents.  W. Bush gave people a lot to work with, too, if they chose to take the low road.  Things came out, but it was in the newspapers, and not from Gore or Kerry.  Remember newspapers?  About Bush there were cocaine stories, AWOL incidents, drunk driving convictions, years of really annoying public alcoholism, repeated failures in business, serious allegations of insider trading . . . somehow Bush was blessed with opponents who would not stoop to using these things against him.  Bush himself had no such qualms.

And then came the black president!  Did anyone think that it couldn’t have gotten worse?  Well, it did!  Lots worse!  Another Democrat who will be remembered fondly as a hardworking, intelligent man who got very good results in spite of the fact that he got zero cooperation from congressional Republicans, and precious little from congressional Democrats too. 

Obama said, early on, “my father was a black man from Kenya, and my mother a white woman from Kansas.  I’m married to a black American woman who carries the blood of both slaves and slave owners.” And he went on to say, approximately, that there was no other country in the world where that could happen.  Mr. Obama came to the presidency ready to make a sincere effort to make the best of it.  He obviously has a big heart and a forgiving nature.  (Or at least he knows that it is in his own best interest to always give the impression that he does, and he can carry off the dodge, which is just about the same thing.) 

So what kind of reception did this talented, sincere man get in Washington?  I’ve been over this ground, so I’ll be brief.  Decorum?  Zero.  Collegiality?  Zero.  Compromise?  Zero.  Common human decency?  Ask his “Wookie Wife” what she thinks.  How they can bear up so gracefully, I don’t know.  Unless it’s just the fact that lifetimes of harsh experience inure American blacks to this kind of thing. 

Now we have this 2016 presidential race to deal with.  It all wears me out, I’ll admit it.  Presidential elections bring out the worst in me.  The worst fears, the hardest feelings, the least flattering emotions, frightening eruptions of bad language.  A Facebook Friend recently called me on it.  I was starting to post too much political stuff.  “Come on, Fred,” he wrote, “everybody on Facebook has made up their minds already.”  Of course, he’s right.  He finished with, “you’re better than that.”  I thought that last was a swell thing to say, if perhaps a stretch, and I decided to take his advice.  Here on the blog though, it’s a different story.  I’ll be keeping the politics in the picture; I’ll just try to avoid beating dead horses. 

This shit is nuts, isn’t it?  We frequently see the Republican contenders referred to as the “Republican Clown Car.”  That, my friends is partly a gross understatement, and partly a slander on actual clowns.   And the voters that they are trying to impress are obviously just as ridiculous, based on who is leading in the polls.  And he’s leading by a lot, too!  Yeah, him!  Imagine how the other Republican wannabes feel getting their asses kicked by him?  (So far.)  What are there now, twenty-two or so guys and girls running for the Republican nomination?  Mostly white men (the “Wolf”), with a couple of Cubans to impress Mexican voters (oh, that will work), and a black American and at least one woman (the “Sheep’s Clothing”).  Anybody find one of them that you would trust to walk your dog?  (“Why pick up poop when I can sell this mutt to a laboratory for a cool thirty bucks!”) 

Keep your prescriptions filled, people.  Yes, this shit is nuts.  They’ve already started in on Hillary, the “presumed Democratic nominee.”  We won’t be returning to decorum, collegiality, compromise or simple human decency any time soon. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015

Spin Easy Time!: Dangerous Political Times

Here's a re-post from right before the 2008 election.  I hate to say "I told you so," but sometimes I can't help patting myself on the back. 

Spin Easy Time!: Dangerous Political Times: One hundred hours left before polls start to close on the presidential election of 2008. There are many possible results: Democratic Presi...

Thursday, August 20, 2015

hayabusa vs R1.wmv

sI wouldn't recommend that anyone go out and try this, but it does look like fun.

I have loved motorcycles since I was a teenager.  That was the Sixties, and it was a very exciting time in the motorcycle world.  Honda put radical new technologies on the racetrack, technologies that still rule the field.  Multiple cylinders and impossibly high-revving motors.  The bikes in this video are the huge, powerful descendants of those bikes.

The best thing about riding motorcycles is that experience takes over all four corners of your awareness.  You have no room left for worries or regrets.  100% attention is demanded, or else, you know, you get a flying lesson.  So it's relaxing, in a way.  Meditation of a sort.

The analog speedometer in the video reads 290 KPH at some points.  That translates to 174 MPH.  The digital speedo reads a little less at 270.  That's "only" 162 MPH.  Either way, these guys are booking.  The video also displays a phenomenon that I well recall.  When they reduce speed to 120 MPH or so (200 KPH) it looks like they're just lazing along, casual like.  I never went as fast as these guys, but I can tell you that if you've been rolling along at 100 MPH and then reduce speed to 80 MPH it feels very slow.  You almost feel like you could open a newspaper and read it off the handlebars.  It's interesting.

Monday, August 17, 2015

Happy Birthday! And A Word About Divorce

Happy Birthday!  To me, that is.  Sixty-seven and counting.  Counting with great interest, as will happen when one reaches one’s late sixties. 

The early sixties are the hump.  Insurance actuaries tell us that if we make it past the early sixties our life expectancy jumps by about ten years.  For example (not actual figures), if your life expectancy at age 59 is 77, by age 67 it jumps to 86.  Because you made it over the hump. 

My birthday is more famous for deaths than births.  Elvis died on my birthday in 1977.  Robert Johnson, considered by many to be our greatest bluesman, also died on my birthday (1929?).  Bela Lugosi, my birthday.  The great Babe Ruth not only died on my birthday, he died on the very same day, in the same city, just a half-hour before I was born. 

I’m still alive, but I’ll admit that at this point I only feel about 75% alive.  I’m down to twenty-three teeth, but you wouldn’t know it.  All of the gone teeth were in the back, so my smile, such as it is, is intact.  I had a major checkup last week and all of the results were fine.  Some minor complaints, but all typical of people my age.  Blood pressure issues, cholesterol a bit high, “moderately” enlarged prostate.  Typical for guys who smoke, drink and use bad language anyway.  (All in moderation, and usually not in mixed company.)  Oh, and I have a gallstone.  A one centimeter gallstone if the report is to be believed.  Good to know.  If I get the pain, I won’t have to worry what it is.  Just go to the hospital.  If they’re right about the one centimeter thing, it’ll be an operation for sure, that thing ain’t going through no duct.  If I had duct-work like that, my blood pressure would be lower. But I feel good; I get around okay; all of the objective signs are good.

Subjectively though, I feel like an old photograph that is fading in the sunlight.  It’s a lucky thing that I have a new life that I enjoy, because in my old life I am fading from memory as though I were already dead.

“My old life,” he said.  If you live long enough, events will overtake you.  An event that overtakes many of us is divorce.  This is increasingly happening after thirty, forty and fifty year marriages.  (Forty plus in my case.)  Examples are everywhere, even poor Al isn’t married to Tipper anymore.  Has anyone noticed that most of the negativity surrounding divorce is usually attributed to the husbands?  This usually happens on a hunch.  I reserve judgment on other people’s divorces.  As I have said herein:  the one thing that is certainly true of any married couple is that only the two of them have a hope in hell of understanding what is happening to them.  That’s if even they know.  Most of us are strangers to ourselves.  But I wouldn’t be so quick to blame the husbands.  I can guarantee you that many divorces are driven by the distaff side.

Here’s some free advice (worth every penny):

If you see a divorce on your horizon, begin damage control right away.  Formulate a flattering narrative and begin furious lobbying immediately.  Or sooner.  This narrative can be a mix of the totally true, the vigorously spun, and the plausibly deniable.  Elements that are actually untrue will be counterproductive and should be left out.  If you can afford it, hire a professional PR firm to represent you.  Only good PR, done by you or by an agent, can prevent you from being demonized by your soon-to-be ex-spouse and cut off by your family.  It’s bad enough that you will lose your spouse in the divorce.  Don’t lose your entire family in the process if you can possibly avoid it.

You want to be nice about it?  Good for you!  It’s nice to be nice (to the nice).  Be as nice as you want, but watch your ass too.  I’m not suggesting that anyone should be mean or underhanded in any way, not at all.  Be nice, be fair, but make damn good and sure that your family, your relatives, your neighbors and your friends are not being sold a bill of goods by the soon-to-be ex.  It’s probably true in all circumstances:  a competing narrative is imperative. 

Follow this advice and you will thank me.  Fail to follow this advice and you may end up like me.  That would be 1) demonized; 2) slandered; and 3) ostracized.  If the worst happens to you, I hope that you have a Plan B available to you that is as felicitous as mine.