Monday, October 5, 2015

Big Maybelle - One Monkey Don´t Stop No Show

Some days it is just beyond me why we should begin to care if the world destroys itself, either by fire, or by poison, or by explosives, or by stupid carelessness.

This kind of music may not be your idea of beauty in the world, but it is for me.  I'd bet my tattoo that whatever your idea of beauty is, people don't give a shit about it either.

Sorry About That, Mr. Pope

I try to be good about avoiding knee-jerk reactions to events in the news, especially those concerning subjects that I may be prejudiced about.  But I get carried away sometimes.  Like last week with Pope Francis and his meeting with Kim Davis.

When I read that the meeting had happened, I did a little looking around to make sure that the information was correct.  The Vatican itself confirmed that the "meeting" had indeed happened, and the report that he had offered her some words of encouragement seemed believable.  So there I went, condemning the entire church, as is my habit.  They've been working hard for millennia to earn our distrust, and I'm not one to deny them.

By now it seems that there is much more to this story than initially met the eye.

There's a nice little article by Charles P. Pierce in this Month's (on line) Esquire Magazine with the wonderful title, "The Papal Chase: WTF Edition."  There is considerable evidence, anecdotal and circumstantial as it may be, that the pope was set up by culture warriors and political enemies within the church itself, and no evidence that the pope had anything to do with setting up the meeting or that he ever had a clue who Kim Davis was.  Mr. Pierce makes a persuasive argument that Ms. Davis was brought in for an assembly line meet-and-greet and that the pope's "words of encouragement" were general and merely polite.

Those doing the setting up may have had a dual purpose for the trick, to boost Kim Davis as an anti-gay-marriage icon and to dim the enthusiasm of Americans for Pope Francis.  Mr. Pierce seems to have a favorite word, or family of words.  He got many variations of it into this rather brief article. They were the verb, "to ratfck;" the adjective, "ratfcked;" and one of the noun forms, "ratfckery."  If his own red-capped devils are out for him in this manner, one can only hope that the pope keeps his own ecclesiastic stiletto handy.

It's worth recalling that Pope Benedict is still alive, and worth recalling two additional things about him.  For one thing, he was ultra, ultra-conservative, which Pope Francis is not; and for another thing, he had a thin skin and certainly doesn't appreciate all of the attention and glowing press that Francis is getting.  It occurs to me now that Benedict's last name was Ratzinger, which could be the linguistic genesis of all of that ratfckery.

So I'm leaving in place all of the nasty things that I said about the church itself.  This evident back-room dealing and internecine warfare only make them look worse.  But I'm giving Pope Francis a pass on this one, there being little or no evidence that he did anything in particular wrong.

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Regrets, I've Had A Few

This week a Facebook friend posted something about death care nurses commenting about things that dying people have expressed to them as regrets over the years.  It was pretty typical stuff, things that most of us might regret.  Having done something; not doing something; losing track of family or friends.  I’m guilty of all of those.  What I regret most of all, though, is having gone to law school. 

No offense to my school, they were great.  Getting in was easy, because I did very well on the LSAT and had a pretty good undergrad index.  They were looking for age diversity, and I had it!  I even got a 25% ride on the tuition, from the school!  Law school itself was actually fun.  I mean after getting my first semester grades it was fun, up to that first hurdle no one is sure that it’s going to work out.  They do scare you that first year, and work you hard.  I wouldn’t say that school was easy, but it went fine.  I even finished exactly where I set out to finish:  the middle of the class.  I was number 147 out of 290 graduates, the very top of the bottom half of the class!  I figured that if I could beat out half of those hot shots I’d be doing fine. 

Practicing law though, that was not a good fit for me.  To thrive at it, you need skin that’s thicker than a rhino’s and you need to have your empathy turned way down low.  I didn’t bring either of those skills to the enterprise.

When I started out I was hardly drinking at all and I was functioning pretty well as a husband, father and friend.  After a few years all of those outcomes were in doubt.  Law work is brutally stressful, and it takes a toll.

How stressful was it, Johnny?  You spend most of every day under intense time pressure, and everything that you do is under a microscope.  If any of your clients are unsatisfied with the result that you got for them, they are liable to visit another lawyer for a free consultation.  The other lawyer is almost certain to tell them, “yup, he fucked it up, let’s sue the bastard!”  Judges are a mixed bag of tricks, and the lawyer’s experience of them will vary mostly from bad to worse.  Even the good judges used to be lawyers themselves, so they are all sitting up there assuming that all the lawyers are lying to them, everyday.  Plus, there’s the driving.  People have no idea how much driving lawyers do, especially in a place like Los Angeles.  I frequently did over two hundred miles in a day. 

And the other lawyers!  “Opposing counsel!”  They live to make your life difficult, and in every court appearance they will try to paint you as a numbskull who is wasting the court’s time.  God forbid you should have a big firm on the other side.  I was a solo practitioner, so I was doing everything by my lonesome.  There’s nothing like hearing your fax machine light up at 4:45 pm, delivering some forty page brief and a notice for an ex parte hearing the very next morning at 9:00 am.  The notice includes a recitation of what they did to try to contact you before going ex parte, little or none of which actually happened.  You go back to your desk and you need to write a response on the spot so you can send it to them before you go home.  The usual ten hour days can stretch out. 

Nor did I appreciate getting “confirming letters” for telephone calls that had never happened, the letter confirming that I had agreed to something.  Or the postdated letters, back dated so they wouldn’t blow a response date for discovery or something.  You can change the dates on those Pitney Bowes machines, you know. 

If you’re lucky, you’re in twenty or more fights at the same time.  When one fight ends, you’re lucky if you get into a new fight within a day or so.  That’s called making a living. 

After days like that, most people are in the mood for a cocktail.  I even started smoking again.

The law ended up ruining my relationships with my wife, my friends, and my children, and it could still turn out to have assisted in the ruination of my health.  For twelve years I did it, and most of the work came out okay, but I don't know if I'll ever get over the experience.  I mean, I cooperated in those ruinations, but I can offer an explanation: my temperament was just not able to manage the stress.    

(“I have no excuse, your honor, but I can offer an explanation.”  Good joke:  guy’s at a family party; he’s talking with his brother in law, a lawyer, and the lawyer is always correcting him; guy says, “why are lawyers so exact all the time?”  lawyer says, “not exact, we are precise.”) 

Why would anybody go to law school?  Why did I, of all people, go to law school? 

At the time, I wanted to go to grad school and get myself a career.  At the time, I was forty years old and I had had an extensive collection of nowhere jobs, a list that sounds like something out of a Preston Sturgess screwball comedy. 

As a concession to the brevity of life, I will dispense with a recitation of my entire education history.  But I had finally achieved a BA at the age of thirty-six.  It was a pretty good one, too, in Art History, from Queens College of the City University of New York, with department honors.  I thought that I had finally figured out the school thing and maybe I should go to grad school.  I seriously considered the Ph.D. route to university teaching and writing scholarly articles and books, but I could see that the politics of that were just murder and you had to spend years teaching survey classes in Nebraska or something.  Finally I got the bright idea:  what about law school? 

I liked the idea for several reasons:

1.       I thought that I could do it.  I had become a very well organized student, almost all A's.  (Two B+'s in tough German courses.)  I could handle ambiguity and I could argue pretty well already, and I was a good writer.  I’d always been verbally adept.  Plus, I had spent a week on a jury in my early thirties.  It was a terrible armed robbery case, with a lot of witnesses and evidence.  I looked around the courtroom and thought, “I could do any of this.”  I didn’t see anybody who seemed particularly smart, much less a genius;

2.       I thought that it would all be interesting.  And it was, too!  School, practice, clients, everything, it was all very interesting; and

3.       The law is a bright-line credential.  You have a JD?  It’s a fact.  You have a law license?  It’s a fact.  There’s nothing vague about it, like having a Ph.D in Anthropology, or even an MBA. 

So I did it, I did it to myself. 

It was such a relief to leave the practice of law.  My wife and I joined the Peace Corps and had the great luck to be sent to Thailand for two years (and three months).   I enjoyed that time immensely.  Pleasant work, fascinating surroundings, nice people treating me with respect, lots of travel and beauty.  The damage had been done, though.  Not long after we got home it became apparent to my wife that living with me wasn’t working for her anymore.   It seems to be happening to lots of people these days.  Even Al isn’t married to Tipper anymore.  Sometimes, what goes around does, indeed, come around.

So, the law, that’s my biggest regret, in a lifetime that was no stranger to regret.  For me though, things always do seem to work out.  I'm a lucky guy.  Sometimes it seems that I live in the eye of a huge vortex of negativity.  I can see the cars, the roofs, the cattle, and the trees, swinging around me in the vortex, but where I am it is strangely calm.  For the last eight years I’ve been teaching law at a big university in Thailand.  The subject matter varies, but mostly I concentrate on teaching our students vocabulary and strategies for talking about the law in English.  They all want to be lawyers, and these days they’ll have to learn to discuss such things with lawyers from Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and beyond.  I feel very grateful to have this job, and I feel like I am being useful.  It is my briar patch, and I am satisfied.

My calm spot.  Good luck out there in the vortex.

Okay!  That’s enough work for one Saturday!  Where’s my cocktail? 

Friday, October 2, 2015

America The Beautiful

One morning in the latter half of the 18th Century the American identity woke up and suddenly realized that it had become a thing.  Having been born, it immediately declared war.  After winning the war, it settled down to the less exciting but still very entertaining business of political chaos.  War and political chaos, either in alternation or crashing the same wild party together, are keeping us busy to this day.

The United States is, on balance, a nice place.  American people, in general, are decent, hard-working and friendly.  The record is made up of a very typical mix of gold stars and black marks, the good and the bad, plus the usual predominance of the merely indifferent.  There is the occasional seriously bad report along with many really wonderful historical truths, against the background of a lot of stumbling along.  Being proud of America, or being proud to be an American, is not out of place.  Go ahead, it’s okay.  But don’t get carried away. 

I say, “don’t get carried away,” but many people do.

People who suggest that America is some kind of shining City on the Hill should present themselves at the nearest hospital and loudly demand a shot of Demerol. 

People who believe that America is somehow an “exceptional” place, or that America is called by God to some higher purpose, should consult with a mental health professional as soon as possible.  They have names for that kind of thing and are familiar with different treatment methodologies.

People who believe that America is a Christian nation, or a white nation, or, even worse, a white Christian nation, should go to the woodshed and spend some time with Professor Google.  They are mistaken, and the expression of this belief only embarrasses them.

Right now we are being treated to a low dose of the war medication and a powerful infusion of the political chaos drug.  Bon chance, y’all!  By Christmas, 2016, we will know if it is time to credit America with another black mark or whether we will have pulled another merely indifferent result out of the fire.  I’m just hoping for something not so horrible, there are storms brewing that could cause a lot of damage. 

A gold star is, of course, out of the question. 

Thursday, October 1, 2015

The Pope And Kim Davis

We should thank Pope Francis for secretly meeting with that horrible creature, Kim Davis.  Just as we were being lulled into a false sense of security he went out of his way to remind us that he is, after all, a pope.

The pope is, first and foremost, the guardian of all of the property rights that the Catholic Church has accumulated over the last one thousand, six hundred years.  The pope is also the custodian of all of the theology etc that the church has invented from whole cloth over the centuries.  Some popes are more personally vile, some are more political, at least one in my lifetime has been actively evil, but there is occasionally one that seems to be sincere.  John XXIII was one of those.  Just as we were thinking that this Francis could be another sincere pope, he snapped us back to reality.

We should thank him for that.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Euro-American Men

A great article that I read last year referenced a book called "The Great New Wilderness Debate." (1988)  The authors described themselves in the introduction as:

"Euro-American men [whose] cultural legacy is patriarchal western civilization in its current post-colonial, globally hegemonic form."

Nice of them to tell everybody up front what filters they brought to writing the book!

But really, that's us, isn't it?  We modern American men of a certain age?  It does kind of sum us up.

Spin Easy Time!: Wolken Cuck-Cucks Heim

This is a post from four years ago, and the interesting thing is that I woke up this morning thinking about Wolkencuckcuksheim and recalling this post.  Within an hour I was checking my stats and discovered that this post has received 12 hits recently, it was at the top of the list.  Few things in life are more interesting than coincidence. Is there some quantum alarm network that we don't understand yet?  Or did it just pop into my head on its own, appearing on this day oddly but innocently?

Those questions are over my pay grade.  True though, that in the interim the world has only gotten crazier, and American politics has moved even further from ordinary reality.

Spin Easy Time!: Wolken Cuck-Cucks Heim: German is a language of compound words, so it should be “Wolkencuckcucksheim.” They can really turn a phrase, those Fritzes, it means “Clou...