Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Oh Give Me Land, Lots of Land....

I just finished a book called "The Mighty Chieftans" about the most prominent leaders of Native American tribes in 1800's America. These were extraordinary men who did their best for their poeple to save a way of life that deep down in their hearts they knew to be doomed. The United States government stole their land to make way for railroads. The buffalo hunters exterminated their main source of meat just for the hides, and left the animal carcases rotting on the plains. The ranchers and farmers laid claim to land that the Indians never thought of themselves as "owning", but as being stewards of for future generations.

"In making treaties white men always assumed that the red men had unsophisticated imitations of their own institutions. The government wanted title to land which the Indians were hunting on, and they took it for granted that the Indians owned it, even convinced them that this was so and they could therefore transfer title. It was hard to accept the notion that Indians might have entirely different ideas, ideals, motives and ways of life. Indians had no more idea of owning land than they did of owning the waters they traversed in their canoes or the air over their heads. It is said that the Indians who disposed of Manhattan for twenty-four dollars were somewhat in the same position as the man who sold the Brooklyn Bridge for ten dollars; they didn't own it, just chanced to be on the island for a week-end fishing trip." (The Book of the American West, Jay Monohan, Editor).

But now to my main beef today, which by the way has nothing to do with Indians. I was just pissed off about the way we treated them and wanted to vent. Today’s real question: Why do we live literally on top of each other in cities like New York when there is soooo much space all around us? I can see banding together for protection back in the day when Indians ran wild scalping white people for stealing their land. (Hey, there is a tie-in to Indians after all.) But today we have no need for such precautions. Ironically, people spend big money on vacation houses so they can get away from the crowded, hectic place they have chosen to live. Why not just live where you want to live and skip the getaway retreat!

If you drive upstate New York, there is nothing but space. Many upstate counties are withering for want of jobs and economic stimulation. Here’s an idea: move the friggin’ jobs to the country. This is not a perfect solution, but one which may be perfected. This idea would encourage home construction, generate small business growth to support the new population centers, and give people all the space they needed for raising families. We could live in bigger houses built on decent plots of land instead of in shoebox apartments or tiny homes on skimpy 40x100 lots. The exodus from the big cities would alleviate the ridiculous overcrowding and traffic jams. The cost of doing business would be greatly reduced by moving excess population out of New York City. NYC services like education, sanitation, police and firefighters could be relocated to the country as well. Everybody’s quality of life would improve.

This holds true for urban centers from Maine to California. Some years ago I drove from Phoenix, Arizona to Las Vegas, Nevada, a distance of about 300 miles. During that long trip I saw 5 tumbleweeds, 2 jackrabbits and a coyote, but no people. I know it's desert land but so was Phoenix before they started developing it. We have to get people out of our teeming cities and into the open spaces all around us. Then give them some training and jobs so we can get them off government assistance and on to the tax rolls. We are turning whole generations of young people into permanent dependents who rely on the government for everything. They no longer want to work, and think it’s OK to live off the sweat of others. They demand free education, room and board and health care, and that someone else pay for it.

Look at the rioting and turmoil in Greece, where socialism and unionism have destroyed a once-healthy economy. This is the end-state for people who believe in something for nothing. They are on the verge of bankruptcy, and world bankers will not bail them out unless the government passes new laws leading to severe austerity. These measures are necessary now because Greece failed to keep its commitments for previous austerity programs. How many fools believe Greeks will keep any new program that is even harsher? Note that Wall Street found great promise in announcements over the weekend that Greece will be offered yet another chance. Isn't that more like offering a drink to an alcoholic, while accepting another promise from the same drunk to stop drinking?

One final thought to tie up this disjointed post…the Indians never asked for something for nothing.


Looking for a worthy charity? Try these folks:
Children's Craniofacial Association

Friday, June 17, 2011

Huckleberry Jim

I began re-reading The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and I think I have a new appreciation for the genius of Mark Twain. Okay, I'm not reading it, but listening on a recorded CD that I play in the car to keep me from flipping off Staten Island's notoriously discourteous drivers. Actually listening is a better way to hear the story because the narrator does a splendid job of recreating the Mississippi River accents that Twain tried so hard to reproduce in the book. A big part of enjoying books on CD is how well the book is narrated. Unlike the written word, sound brings a whole new dimension to the enjoyment of the story, and a good narrator always adds another level of enjoyment. Some authors try to read their own works thinking no one knows them better, but they fail to recognize that as they are masters of their craft, so too are the actors who do so much better as recorded book readers.

 But I'm off the track. One of the gifts that Twain had was his ear. He unfailingly captures the regional language spoken in Missouri by people who lived along the banks of the Mississippi. Their "backward" way of looking at life often reveals a shrewd wisdom not always found among the higher cultures in American society. Twain satirizes the pathetic attempts of ante-bellum Southerners to hold onto a lifestyle that pretty much ended with the Civil War. He also takes a scathing look at the prevailing attitudes in the region, especially racism. The book was criticized upon release because of its coarse language. It became even more controversial in the 20th century because of its perceived use of racial stereotypes and because of its frequent use of the racial slur "nigger", despite strong arguments that the author and main characters in the book are clearly anti-racist.

I don't want to bore you with deep sociological issues, but rather focus on the main character, Huck Finn, who narrates the book. Twain's genius allowed us to look at the world through the eyes of this extraordinary 14-year old boy. Huck's adventures with runaway slaves, con men, Southern aristocrats, river travelers and townsfolk provide the platform for the author's keen observations on life. Huck's ability to make up whopping lies every time he's in a tight spot is highly amusing, as is the dead certainty with which he speaks about things of which he knows absolutely nothing. His flaws can't mask a kind and innocent heart that almost always leads him to do the right thing when push comes to shove.

Reading this wonderful tale reminds me of the differences between 14-year olds in the 1880's and now. In Huck's day, book learnin' was rare, but boys were schooled in a different kind of knowledge...call it outdoor lore for want of a better term. They spent a lot of time outside, and could hunt, fish, cook, handle a boat, navigate by the stars and generally survive on their own. A lot more was expected of them when it came to helping the family, whether it was working on a farm or finding a job that allowed them to contribute to their upkeep. Today's kids are far brighter academically, but often don't get the chance to loosen those apron strings until they go away to college.

It's fun re-reading some of the books we were made to read as kids. You get a different kind of pleasure as an adult and can finally appreciate why Mrs. Hornburger tried so hard to beat this stuff into my thick skull.


Looking for a worthy charity? Try these folks:
Children's Craniofacial Association

Wednesday, June 1, 2011


To all the guys who creep along the highway and then speed up when you try to pass them, may an army of fire ants crawl up your play station.

Why do people dump things like old appliances in vacant lots in the dead of night when all they have to do is put them out on the curb. I think they like the feeling that somehow they are "getting over". Morons.

A helicopter mom (always hovering) was in the paper recently suing the Girl Scouts of America because they don't make gluten-free cookies. The GSA says there just isn't enough  demand. Here's an idea lady, buy your kid some gluten-free cookies and shut up.

My tolerance for stupidity was never very high, and as I get older, it just gets worse. After being in the workplace for 40 years, I learned to play nice by censoring myself whenever I encountered a jerk. It's just easier than going to war every time. Now that I'm a senior citizen, I don't care any more what people think of me. I'm a lot more likely to say exactly what's on my mind and let the chips (or my teeth) fall where they may. I'll still make an effort, but not much of one. Recently, while playing a round of golf at a charity outing with two younger guys, we were asked by the starter if it was OK with us if he added a single player to our group to make it a foursome. This happens all the time, and since golf is a game steeped in courtesy, people have no problem having a stranger join them. Most golfers are genuinely nice people you don't mind spending a few hours with. There are exceptions.

This guy was initially greatful for us allowing him to join the group. I explained that my two young companions were novices at the game, and that if that would be a problem for him, he could hook up with a more experienced group. He assured us he was a terrible player and that it was fine. He lied. He was a very good player and his impatience with my companions hitting their balls all over the place soon boiled over. He began giving unasked-for advice to my friends, embarassing them and making it clear they were slowing him down.

He then began yelling at the group in front of us for playing too slowly, something we all experience occasionally, but being gentlemen, we grin and bear it. If you saw Caddyshack and remember the Rodney Dangerfield character, you know what this guy was like. At one point this guy says to me: "I know my behavior puts people off, but I don't know what I can do about it." With my moron meter in the red zone by now, I told him straight out: "Why don't you just stop acting like an asshole." He blinked and then said: "You're right." See, that was easy...nobody ever told him he was an a**hole before.

I try not to pick on people who don't know better or who couldn't be different if they tried. They're stupid and there's not much anyone can do about it. I save my venom for people with an attitude who should know better. They need some push-back once in a while to remind them that not everyone will meekly take their crap. I should hand out silver bullets like the Lone Ranger after dusting someone off who badly needed it. I consider it a social service and I'm happy to contribute.


Looking for a worthy charity? Try these folks:
Children's Craniofacial Association