We live in interesting times, and I’m glad about that. The past year reminds me of 1968, when George Wallace, the governor of Alabama, ran for President against Richard Nixon and Hubert Humphrey. Now there’s been a fascist coup, wrapped in the flag that Sinclair Lewis predicted. And the revolution is being televised after all, and tweeted.
For me, the question now is how far ought people to go to get what we want? Resistance alone won’t cut it, short of a national strike. The federal government is capable of anything, from entrapment and terrorism to infecting us with syphilis and assassination. We know that, and I’m not counting on their good intentions. The FBI, CIA, and NSA seem to be the most corrupt businesses the feds run, maybe next to the military.
So I think violence from the feds on down is bound to happen. Ask a Native American. We might not have to die for change, but we must be willing to die because governments at all levels are willing for us to do so.
The power elite are greedy and ruthless and rich. Research at the Berkeley Social Interactions Lab suggests that rich people have less empathy than poor people, so we’ve got a lot to look forward to from the new cabinet.
One area that we could give some attention to is our sources of information. I can’t think of a good reason to trust any for-profit corporate news. They don’t serve us, they deliver us to their customers. So I subscribe to news sources that I think actually want me to know the truth—The Intercept, Democracy Now!, Z Communications, and KZFR, for instance. If I’m deceived, I’m inevitably deluded, and the stories I hear are bound to influence what I think about.
Meanwhile, I’m enjoying the hoorah—45 makes me laugh every day—and I’m looking forward to his supporters waking up, as they will eventually. My wife occasionally used to repeat a saying of her mother’s, “The masses are asses.” And they are, or we wouldn’t still have an electoral college and only two major political parties, both of them astonishingly corrupt, and a congress whose decisions affect everybody but them.
The Russian bits sound like an idea I heard first in the sixties—that the Cold War was just a collaboration among oligarchs in the Soviet Union and the United States to make even more money, the reason for most wars.
What I still want most—next to a tropical getaway—is a do-over, a constitutional convention. I want to rethink everything, from who’s a citizen and what that means to how laws are created, deleted, and enforced. Anarchism, to introduce a suitably radical note, doesn’t mean no rules, it means no rulers, and I think some flavor of anarchism is worth a discussion.
Meanwhile I make sure I meditate every day, and you should, too. If we’re anxious and fearful, we lose, no matter what side we think we’re on.Leave the first comment ▶
Here’s what happened. My son is a good kid, kindly and gentle. He has a mental illness, though, and the kindly, gentle part doesn’t always show up.
I was at the kitchen sink a few weeks ago when he came up behind me shouting something I didn’t catch. As I turned around he began swinging at me. He’s a decent athlete but fortunately a lousy boxer, and I fended him off.
“Joe, what’s the matter! Why are you doing this? What are you afraid of?”
It was only a few seconds, also fortunate because I have no stamina and he’s twenty. He changed his mind, or maybe his mind changed him, and he went back to his room and slammed the door.
For the first time I called the cops to deal with another human on my behalf, and it was my youngest son. I hoped that he’d be taken to Enloe Hospital and then to the Butte County Psychiatric Facility, the Puff. That’s what had happened four or five other times. I talked to someone at Enloe, but she would tell me only that he was there and calm.
I hoped being back at the Puff would persuade him to go back on his prescribed drug, although its usefulness leveled out last year. I’m not pro-drug, but if it would keep him calm, it might be his best bet.
Fifty-one-fifty is the number of the law that allows for the restraint of someone deemed to be a danger to himself or others. The police apply for a 5150, and a physician okays it. That’s my understanding, and that seems to be the way things have gone before in this situation, so I was expecting him to end up at the Puff in a matter of hours, maybe the next morning. Butte County should have been notified—he’d been in this fix several times before—and would presumably arrange for his transfer to the Puff. No, just go back home.
My son is also delinquent in paying off the fines imposed by Butte County for his having been convicted of violating a restraining order, and he is presumably subject to arrest. Most recently, the Disability Determination Service Division of the Department of Social Services of the California Health and Human Services Agency scheduled a psychological examination for him with MSLA-Chico, another subcontractor at the public trough. He wouldn’t even read the confirmation form or show up for an exam he feels is unnecessary and probably offensive, so he’s likely not to get a disability income because he thinks he’s alright. If he could deal with the system he wouldn’t need it. Somehow, we voted for this.
Recently he got a letter from Butte County Behavioral Health threatening to wash their hands of the whole schmeer, since he won’t take their drug or talk to anybody. They started to conserve him last year and now they’re done with him. Just after that letter, he got a notice from the Butte County Superior Court to report for jury service. That’s coordination, that is.
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I went to two conferences in the last couple of weeks, one on mental illness stigma and one on the economics of happiness. I keep busy. In the early seventies, I was conferring somewhere most months, usually de facto trying to figure out how to get more money from the feds for local community development of one sort or other, although usually we couldn’t just say that.
I was grateful for the change of pace and scenery, especially since I didn’t have to drive, and I appreciate getting to see all those people with the same intent, more or less, and actually talking to a few. It’s encouraging just to know there are other people trying to do the same thing. Mental illness stigma can be as harmful as mental illness, and self-stigma keeps people with a mental illness from getting help. “Anything but that.”
I wore my lime-green ribbon to the economics of happiness conference the next week, and only one person asked me about it. Apparently, the rest of them didn’t care what my lime-green ribbon was for, and I don’t blame them one bit.
The economics conference was a lot homier than the one about stigma the week before. The mental illness stigma conference was at the Hyatt in downtown San Francisco. The economics of happiness conference was in a church on the outskirts of downtown Portland. Different vibe altogether.
Some of the talks and workshops discussed: From GDP to Happiness and Well-Being, Community as Currency, Corporate Personhood and Trade Treaties, Community Rights in Action, Toward a Caring Economy, The Eloquence of Stones, Envisioning Local Learning, The Genuine Progress Indicator, and The Space Between Stories—some charts, no spreadsheets.
The lead-off man was a stand-up economist, a professor of economics who is a stand-up comedian. I laughed, so I’ll say Noram Bauman is a funny guy, though no doubt many would disagree.
I most liked a workshop about community rights, where local laws take primacy over other laws, specifically including those of the State and federal government that grant the status of persons to corporations, so that communities can control their environments, instead of a legal fiction with no emotional stake in the neighborhood, a little like Wayne Cook.
From an article by Thomas Linzey: “[New community laws] not only prohibit fracking, drilling, corporate water extraction, sludging, or factory farms, they also establish local bills of rights which recognize the rights of residents to clean air, clean water, a sustainable energy future, sustainable energy us, and sustainable agriculture. . . . These communities have come to recognize that environmental and economic sustainability cannot be attained without fundamental changes regarding who the structure of law recognizes as the legal authority to make the rules within those communities. Attaining that structural change means openly defying the laws that got us here in the first place.” Amen to that.
Locally there are ways to give people back the power we’ve ceded gradually and by big jumps to our sorry-assed elected officials and the corporations we allow to exist right in our front yard.4 comments so far, add yours ▶
I watch and listen to a lot of stand-up comedy online, and I’m mostly interested in how the comedians’ values and assumptions show up, what they make jokes about.
Louis CK, for instance, is disgusted by his body, among other things, especially the naughty bits. He’s willing to talk about it for money and is disgusted by it simultaneously, a workable combination for an artist, which he is.
When I heard recently that Amy Schildhauer was gonna do stand-up in an all-woman show at The Maltese, my neighborhood saloon, I went with great trepidation, because I’m especially susceptible to a certain kind of sympathetic agony when people fail. For instance, I can’t listen to a bad singer, like the one I heard at a recital not long ago who sang flat with no vibrato, just after a stunning aria by the class star. That kind of thing makes me want to cry, I suppose because I imagine how awfully exposed and ashamed I would feel in that situation.
I admire stand-up comedians—and performers generally—for their guts, because it takes a lot of nerve to get up in front of strangers and try to make them feel the way you want them to. Some comics I can’t stand. Sometimes they’re too stupid or stuck on ridicule or just uninteresting. I hear the audience laughing, but I’m not. Some female comedians I’ve enjoyed are Amberia Allen, Sarah Millican, Maria Bamford, Chelsea Peretti, Celia Pacquola, Ellen Degeneres, Sarah Kendall, Amy Anderson, Dana Alexander, Sarah Silverman, Paula Poundstone, Moms Mabley, Margaret Cho, Lisa Lampanelli, Morgan Murphy, Kathy Griffin, Kathleen Madigan, Aisling Bea, Sarah Pascoe, and Felicity Ward.
I’m careful to breathe deliberately when a friend asks me to read something of theirs, because I’m afraid it’s gonna be shite and I’ll have to think of a way to say so kindly, not my long suit.
Fortunately, Amy made me laugh. Whew. I don’t know what I would’ve said if she’d been awful, and thank God she wasn’t. She also stood out because she talked about being fat, the only one in the first half of the show who did, although not nearly the only one who could have.
I was surprised at how vulgar the performances were. I don’t mind vulgarity—I often like it—but this bunch didn’t seem to know much of anything past dicks and vaginas. No phalluses, no pussies, no insight, no wit, no wordplay. I remember when sex was about all I thought about, but I’ve gotten used to other things being of interest, and the barrage of dicks and vaginas got old in a hurry. I’m an old fogey and grateful for the variety that allows. It’s not that my dick has no influence, we’re old pals after all, but I feel like I’ve given him his way enough. And he’s so predictable.
I decided that the preponderance of sex observations and jokes was because sex is what they’re still learning about, and nothing’s more important than that at their stage of life, mostly under thirty and unmated. Until we find a mate, or think we have, mating gets most of our attention, males and females alike. Male lives are affected most by testosterone poisoning. I don’t think any of the performers, including the transvestite emcee, was more than tentatively attached to another person, and nobody talked about education or employment or having children or politics or religion or much of anything past swapping fluids. Bless ’em.
They were all energetic and optimistic, which gives me hope for the race, though not always a reason to laugh, and that evening I did a lot of cringing. I’m going back, though. Even if sex isn’t the main thing you think about, try standup comedy at The Maltese, and tell me what you think.2 comments so far, add yours ▶
There’s a movement in Chico to elect Silly Council members by district, instead of at-large. Chico’s mayor would be elected at-large by all eligible voters, rather than by council members, which is completely silly. As it is, being mayor of Chico just means it’s your turn, not that voters wanted you in the job. By-district council members and an at-large mayor. Two good ideas.
I’ve complained before that the way we do things now gets us mostly bland people, not at all who we need. There are good reasons to change our system of doing things, including giving minorities a better chance to be elected and enabling an independent candidate to run a viable campaign without sucking up to a major party so as to be part of its slate.
The meeting I attended at the Butte County Library on First Avenue got a good turnout, and I learned a few things. The presenters said that Chico is about 70 percent white, only three people who aren’t white have run for the council, and only Dan Nguyen Tan won. Randall Stone, currently a Silly Council member, announced that he counts as a minority too, because he’s 50 percent Hispanic. I say “announced” because I had no idea that he was anything other than plain white, although I don’t suppose it had been a secret.
The presenters also expect such a change in process to make elections cheaper for candidates, which I think will help people who aren’t affluent to run for the council, and at the same time likely piss off the hardcore capitalists, since expensive elections are great if you can raise the cash, and they can.
There was some talk about ethnic diversity and Chico government’s lack of it. It seems that the California Voting Rights Act of 2001 requires rather more diversity than we’ve got, and if the city is called on the carpet for being too homogeneous it’ll be expensive, if not especially embarrassing. One old woman was incensed at the implication that Chico could be racist, but I think she’s often incensed about something or other, and of course Chico is as racist as a lot of places in the U.S. and far more than many others.
I’d like to see more ethnic diversity on the council, mostly on principle, since ethnic origin doesn’t mean all that much to me, and thinking that ethnicity is a person’s most important characteristic is the essence of racism. I’ve not tracked any Silly Council member’s voting record, but I bet Stone’s decisions haven’t been particularly Hispanic, whatever the hell that might look like.
There are a lot of things deplorable about Chicago’s voting by ward for its city council, although the awfulness is not so much because of the system as because of the greedy lowlifes who run it. Nonetheless, when something’s off in your neighborhood you know whom to call, you know who’s at least pretending to represent you. When the giant pothole appears in front of your house, you call the precinct captain, who reports to the ward committeeman, who reports to the alderman. Simple and effective. If you live in Chico, every council member represents all voters, which is the same as nobody representing anybody.
I’m much more concerned about the complete lack of economic diversity in city government. I want people on the council who care about poor people because they are poor and know what it’s like, not just because they feel sorry for us.One comment so far, add another ▶
My son didn’t come home that Saturday night, January third, and I guessed what had happened. He’d been anxious lately, and I figured he had been harassing the neighbors and gotten himself picked up by the cops.
The next morning I saw I’d gotten a call in the wee hours from an 800 number, and it turned out to be the Butte County Jail. The number was useful only in that I learned that it was at the jail—inmates can’t get phone calls so I couldn’t get through to my son. I’ve always heard—and you too, probably—that arrestees get one phone call. I obviously don’t know about you, but I’ve thought of it as a free phone call, since recent arrivals at the hoosegow might not have correct change.
You’ll be pleased to learn that should you find yourself a guest of the Butte County Jail, you will be allowed that precious call at no cost to you. You might want to think carefully before you make it, because not only can it make all the difference to your personal experience, it’s gonna cost whomever you call $14.99. Right. One phone call, fifteen minutes, fourteen ninety-nine.
Why would a single 20-mile phone call cost that much money? Because the Butte County Board of Ignoramuses gave SecurusTech.net a monopoly on calls from the jail. Any new inmate has to go through SecurusTech.net for $14.99, a sweet deal for the corporation, not so much for the poor boob who just landed in the slammer, and who now has to remember the number of somebody willing to spend $14.99 to hear what he has to say this time.
I’ve heard that in old Rome some guys would use slaves to carry water to a house fire, and if the owner wasn’t a customer, he would watch it burn until the householder paid him off through the nose. If you don’t meet the terms, you don’t have a house, an elegant gouge, cruel and lucrative.
Access Corrections have their own deal and promise to provide much cheaper calling from the jail, if your loved one is gonna be inside a while. It sounded like just the thing, so I gave them some money. Rash move.
I was thinking he had been in for two days, but I couldn’t be sure because the arrest logs for Saturday weren’t ready yet, maybe because of a weekend surge, maybe because bureaucrats are hard to get rid of. The logs eventually went up on the jail’s website. He was there, and I still haven’t found out why the money I paid Access Corrections didn’t let him call me.
I opened an account on SecurusTech.net and sent my son an email through Access Corrections—to which he could not reply and which cost $5.95—telling him to find out how to make the call on his end. That combination worked, and we got to talk the next day. Securus and Access Corrections are all-American capitalists, getting over like a fat rat on the backs of the poor, as usual, this time with the connivance of the Butte County Board. No matter who thought it up, no matter who gets a piece, the Board of Supervisors approved it.
I went to the hearing, or maybe it was a trial, and he got probation and fines of $402.50, including a $40 Court Operations Assessment and a $30 Conviction Assessment. He’s set to start paying off an $800 fine from last October in a couple of weeks. If he misses a payment, he goes to jail. If he were well enough to earn any money, he wouldn’t have gone where he wasn’t wanted and be sitting with his back to us in an orange jumpsuit. It was hard to hear the judge, but I don’t think anybody mentioned mental illness, although I’d left a message to that effect with someone at his public defender’s office. Public defenders are assigned alphabetically, so he got the same one he’d had before, and for whose services he now owes Butte County $157.50. I thought public defenders were free for people who can’t buy a lawyer. Actually, they’re just cheap.
With time served, he’d be out in four days. That’s what I thought, because he was sentenced to fifteen days, and it was his eleventh day inside. Instead, he fell through a crack in what passes for a system and called me that evening from the Home Depot down the road from the jail. He has a mental illness, he had refused his prescribed injection, and he was turned out in the dark 20 miles from home.
He had no cash, but he did have a check for $25, the money I had put in his account so he could buy stuff at the commissary. I had used a debit card at the machine in the lobby, and it cost $5.95.16 comments so far, add yours ▶
A gang or cabal of humans recently killed several others with whom they were not acquainted because they thought differently. Not only did these poor schnooks think differently from the gang, they drew and published pictures of Muhammad Ali that they should not have drawn to begin with, the pictures were also disrespectful, and the killers thought that killing the people responsible for the images would make them feel better.
Elijah Muhammad is such a big deal to these guys that he’s totally holy and serious and nobody should ever laugh at him. I think organized religions are always crazy eventually, and still some are more compatible with rationality than others. I can’t help thinking, and I’ve tried not thinking it, that outrage and righteousness like that come out of fear that actually the idea you’ve been giving your attention to all these years is horseshit, that all you think you know was filtered by many before you and is just a story anyway. Being that wrong would be hard to get used to, and maybe anybody who says differently from the way I know deserves to die because thinking any other way is so awful for me to think about.
I could speculate about weak-assed gods and the goofiness inherent in venerating anybody. Maybe next week.
Rather than face the truth they can’t face, these lost souls opted for murder, always an option, I suppose. Maybe most people are killed for an idea, sometimes just the idea that the money in your wallet will help me feel better somehow, will make me a little happy, or another billion or two will make me feel secure at last and only a few people died, none of whom was even a Facebook friend.
You readers think, too. Yes you do, you’re doing it now. Keep an eye on that. One Gentle Reader wrote not long ago about my essay on Sid Lewis, declaring that she could never feel safe or comfortable around me again. Chico’s not a big place, and she’s in for some awkward moments.
In regard to the girl Sid allegedly masturbated in front of, she says, “. . . your article erases this girl’s existence and experience.” How could that possibly be true? Have you ever read something that erased your existence? The girl would surely at least have to read it herself, unless the column put a hex or something on her, which was not my intention.
I just think our individual experiences are within our individual control. If I can’t control my thoughts, the rest doesn’t matter. That goes for you, too. My Gentle Reader says she’s been traumatized, and I don’t doubt it for a minute—she sounds traumatized to me.
My Gentle Reader and the guys in Paris who killed all those people at Charlie Hebdo sound similar to me because they’re ruled by their minds and unhappy about it. It sucks to be them.4 comments so far, add yours ▶
Happy New Year
Nothing can happen to you that is worse than living in fear that something could happen to you. Cheri Huber (1944– )
Whatever is said is absolutely not true, including this. Gangaji (1942– )
It ain’t ignorance causes so much trouble; it’s folks knowing so much that ain’t so. Josh Billings (1818–1865)
The soul always knows what to do to heal itself. The challenge is to silence the mind. Caroline Myss (1952— )
You are not your emotions. They flow through you. You feel them. And then they disappear. Seth
If you don’t become the ocean, you’ll be seasick every day. Leonard Cohen (1934– )
Kindness is more important than wisdom, and the recognition of this is the beginning of wisdom. Theodore Isaac Rubin (1923– )
Nothing is more conducive to peace of mind than not having any opinions at all. Georg Christoph Lichtenberg (1742–1799)
Enlightenment is absolute cooperation with the inevitable. Anthony de Mello (1931–1987)
Forgiving is not forgetting, it’s letting go of the hurt. Mary McLeod Bethune (1875–1955)
The miracle of gratitude is that it shifts your perception to such an extent that it changes the world you see. Robert Holden (1965– )
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream.
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life is but a dream. English Nursery Rhyme
Life begins at the end of your comfort zone. Neale Donald Walsch (1943– )
Courage is being scared to death, but saddling up anyway. John Wayne (1907–1979)
The function of prayer is not to influence God but rather to change the nature of the one who prays. Sǿren Aabye Kierkegaard (1813–1855)
There is no place on Earth to spit. Zen saying
Human salvation lies in the hands of the creatively maladjusted. Martin Luther King, Jr. (1939–1968)
The essential feature of quantum interconnectedness is that the whole universe is enfolded in everything, and that each thing is enfolded in the whole. David Bohm (1917–1992)
My definition of a free society is a society where it is safe to be unpopular. Adlai Ewing Stevenson (1900–1965), speech, Detroit, 1952
Obedience is not a virtue. It is an evasion of our responsibility. Rita Nakashima Brock and Rebecca Ann Parker, Proverbs of Ashes; Violence, Redemptive Suffering and the Search for What Saves Us
Everything I did in my life that was worthwhile I caught hell for. Earl Warren (1891–1974)
Tension is who you think you should be. Relaxation is who you are. Chinese proverb
All that we are is the result of what we have thought. Siddhartha Gautama (c. 566–480 bce)
One of the symptoms of an approaching nervous breakdown is the belief that one’s work is terribly important. Bertrand Russell (1872–1970
My feeling is that there is nothing in life but refraining from hurting others, and comforting those who are sad. Olive Schreiner (1855–1920)
We have come to be one of the worst ruled, one of the most completely controlled and dominated governments in the civilized world—no government by free opinion, no longer a government by conviction and the vote of the majority, but a government by the opinion and the duress of small groups of dominant men. Woodrow Wilson (1856–1924)
Nationalism is an infantile sickness. It is the measles of the human race. Albert Einstein (1879–1955)
We are the mirror as well as the face in it.
We are tasting the taste this minute of eternity.
We are pain and what cures pain.
We are the sweet, cold water and the jar that pours. Mevlana Jalal-e-Din Mevlavi Rumi (1207–1273)
Fascism should more appropriately be called Corporatism because it is a merger of state and corporate power. Benito Mussolini (1883–1945)
In the dark time will there also be singing? Yes, there will be singing about the dark time. Bertolt Brecht (1898–1956)
The truth is that all men having power ought to be mistrusted. James Madison (1751–1836)
I have always been an attorney for the defense. I can think of nothing, not even war, that has brought so much misery to the human race as prisons. Clarence Seward Darrow (1857–1938)
If you are depressed, you are living in the past. If you are anxious, you are living in the future. If you are at peace, you are living in the present. Lao-tzu (c. 6th Century bce)
I have no knowledge of myself as I am, but merely as I appear to myself. Immanuel Kant (1724–1804)
Nothing good in the world has ever been done by well-rounded people. The good work is done by people with jagged, broken edges, because those edges cut things and leave an imprint, a design. Harry Crews (1935– )
By definition, a government has no conscience. Sometimes it has a policy, but nothing more. Albert Camus (1913–1960)
There is science, logic, reason; there is thought verified by experience. And then there is California. Edward Abbey (1927–1989)4 comments so far, add yours ▶