How do you go on when your other half departs this world?

July 30, 2010

How do you go on when you lose your life partner? Someone who was not only your wife, but someone whom you actually moved from advanced teenhood into adulthood and into the beginnings of senior status with?

And I don’t think that I am alone in this — that is to say, I feel that as a baby boomer, a child of the 50s and early 60s, and as someone who by some measure is more of an introvert than the opposite, I have lost my link with a world I once knew but that has moved way beyond me.

Yes, I blog. And yes, I talk on a cell phone. And yes, I don’t read newspapers as much as I used to (and I once worked in that field), and yes I surf the web.

But all that aside, I have been feeling increasingly isolated in the world in which I live.

And now I feel guilty about bothering to comment on my loss and isolation. I’m the survivor.

Just as my spouse had her health problems and demons, I have my own — a lingering and ever-threatening cancer, Waldenstrom‘s Macroglobulinemia, a rare form of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, which is incurable — and that sense of isolation.

But I am alive and she is not.

(And married people take heed. I have witnessed this before in life. My wife worried a couple of years ago that she was going to lose me. But she died first. My dad worried at one time my mom was passing when she had to have major surgery. He died at 85. Mom is still alive at 99. My mother in-law feared she was about to lose her husband, but he survived her.)

I was on the road when my wife died. I had seen her 24 hours earlier before coming home to find her passed away.

My only consolation is that at our last brief meeting and parting — she brought me a meal in Tupperware and a plastic bottle of milk — things were pleasant and I gave her a parting kiss and thanked her for staying with me all these years and promised to leave the road behind (both of us knowing that such a promise would be hard to fulfill, though theoretically not impossible). My being gone on the road as an over-the-road truck driver was a continuing source of friction.

We were married as mere children — nearly 43 years ago.

After our life experiences neither one of us would have recommended marrying as young as we did.

But I look back with only one regret and that is that I could have not shared more years with her.

Together we started a new generation, and the light of her life was getting to see and take care of the latest addition of the still next generation, who is just more than a year old, and to be with his two older siblings.

And such is the way of the world — a new life begins and an older one ends.

But I did not answer my original question — how does the survivor in marriage go on?

I don’t have the answer, but she was there beside me that first lonely night in spirit and my eyes played tricks on me and I actually saw her.

And I know she will never really leave me.

P.s.

And I have never been able to come to grips with whether there is a Heaven or afterlife, but I want desperately to see her beckoning hand when at last I take my final breath.

Joan (Geeter) Walther, Dec. 11, 1950 to July 28, 2010

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21st Century version of Pentagon Papers paints a devastating picture of U.S. involvement in Afghanistan…

July 26, 2010

Is the handwriting now on the wall? Could we now be seeing the beginning of the end of our war in Afghanistan?

I’ve only read the headlines so far, such as the one in the Huffington Post: ‘ A devastating portrait of the failing war in Afghanistan’, and read a few lines into the stories in the among other places, The New York and the LA Times and Washington Post — all from some 92,000 leaked and classified documents published in the online Wikileaks, but it seems like we now have the 21st Century equivalent of the Pentagon Papers (also top secret government documents) that helped turn the tide of public opinion against our involvement in the Vietnam War.

I know, the my country right or wrong and always support war crowd will call it treason, but I call it public disclosure to a citizenry who has a right to know the truth about the war it is obligated to support (at least via taxes) whether it wants to or not.

The reports are only raw intelligence we are warned, and I am sure they are open to wide interpretation, but they also seem to indicate what we have been led to believe already might well be the case — our nominal ally Pakistan may be supporting our enemies and civilian casualties are higher than our own government has admitted to.

Oh there was a cry of treason from the Vietnam War hawks way back when, but the majority of the American public thought the real issue was that it had been systematically lied to about the war and when not lied to directly, deprived of information that was not secret to the enemy but secret to the American public.

And I can only surmise that may well be the case this time around.

Already I have been hearing hints from the right — usually doggedly for war no matter what — that it is starting to question our long drawn out quagmire in the Middle East.

It’s becoming a harder and harder sale all the time — and meanwhile if you are still paying attention, the American casualties mount week by week.

P.s.

And as far as I see it, it is not treason as long as you are not disclosing battle plans and troop movements before or during the fact.


Out of work? Change occupations (if there are any left)…

July 25, 2010

I’m not a jack of all trades by any means, not even close, but then again when I compare myself to some who have basically done only one job or one kind of work their whole life, then I feel like one.

And I bring this up because I have been hearing of late that there is a greater upheaval going on in this economic crisis than in those in the past, save for the Great Depression, or maybe even more than then. That upheaval is the phenomenon of the disappearing occupations — we’re not talking about no more need for buggy whip salesmen here; we’re talking about much of the work world as we know it going down the drain, what with automation — not just in factory work, but in office work. And even outsourcing plays into all of this.

The point is many many jobs are not only in the lost category right now but they are never coming back, or at least so we are told.

Well, if we have indeed reached that utopian stage where no one is needed for work, we really are in trouble, because, generally speaking, work is the only way most of us get those tickets called dollars that allow us to continue to keep having food and shelter and all the other things we consider life necessities and even luxuries.

But what I really wanted to write here, and as usual got off track a little, is that when I read or hear about someone out of work for a long period of time and not being able to find a job I automatically wonder if they have realized that they might have to change occupations and that they might not even make as much money as they did before. And then again they might actually find something more suited to them and something that pays more than they ever made before.

I suppose a lot have, thought about changing occupations — of course they have. I know from personal experience how hard that is to do. And if we really have reached the point of automation where huge numbers of people will have nothing productive to do, well I don’t know what…

The only bright idea I have in the employment situation is for the government to do anything it can to promote domestic production over consumption in order for more jobs to be created and maintained. People who are employed will consume.

And one crazy thing I read from time to time are those stories about highly educated people who cannot find work. What precipitated these words was a story about a woman reported to be a bilingual PhD who had a secure job at some university but took a chance on another job and then found herself out of work because the Great Recession hit and now she’s been out of work nearly two years and has exhausted her savings and has no prospect of work.

For one thing, she should not be too shocked. No doubt in her studies she has read some literature and history and should know that many famous and learned people spent years, sometimes whole lifetimes, in near poverty.

And for another thing, it would seem she could step down from her ivory tower to do some lower kind of work for awhile. I know there are barriers to that because employers don’t want to even speak to over qualified people. So what you do is you don’t sell yourself with those old qualifications (you might have to lie about your past — and I wonder, could you then later be fired for not disclosing that you were intelligent?).

Not quite the same thing, for sure, but when I was finally forced to leave my so-called career in journalism, I also had to hide the fact that I ever was a journalist – that’s a definite turn-off to most employers for a variety of reasons.

But this idea that many jobs will never come back has surfaced in the recent debates over extending unemployment insurance, the idea being that it may be pointless to hold out hope that we are just tidying over folks till they get called back to their old job — it ain’t coming back.

And we have to ask ourselves as a society how practical is it to have or force a major portion of our workforce to be forever on the move and forever unstable, not knowing how long any job will last and whether one will be able to pay the rent, much less a mortgage payment. But who asks these questions? — not the employers — the politicians (more concerned about their own jobs and retirement at taxpayers’ expense).

But, personally I still think there continues to be a demand for skilled workers in a wide variety of occupations, but many call for a whole lot more diversity these days, and I mean diversity in skills and abilities, not equal employment (although that too).

While in some lower level employment the trend has been to dumb down work so employers can get cheaper labor, the other trend is to make things more complex so it takes a higher level of skill and even variety of skills or skill subsets and understanding.

So education is becoming more vital than ever. But when we say education we may mean technical more than the standard liberal arts, although that standard study of literature and history and such continues to be vital for what I would call the thinking occupations, and Lord knows we need more people who can actually be creative and think.

Meantime, many of us are just left to bumble along.

In my work life my lines of work have included:

Soldier, wood products manufacturing plant worker, farm tractor driver, irrigator, cow milker, newspaper photographer, newspaper reporter, radio reporter, worm farm worker, newspaper editor, substitute teacher, big truck driver — and I may have missed a couple.

Currently I’m a truck driver (have been for 15 years). Could I, would I, go back to any of those previously mentioned occupations? Maybe not unless I was somehow forced to, and then only maybe, due to age and attitude and ability and just plan practicality or lack thereof.

So to displaced workers — I feel your pain.

P.s.

The public school system needs to take heed. Students need two things: One, a solid education in the basics and liberal arts (I’m calling that one thing) in order to understand and appreciate the world around them and to be responsible members of society, and two, technical skills to enable them to get and hold a job in this modern ever-changing world.

Please let’s drop the everyone gets a participation ribbon and feel good training and get down to business.

I don’t think all young people are soft. I do suspect some of those in charge of preparing them for the world are, though.


Bank bailouts and bonuses at the taxpayers’ expense enough to make me a one-issue voter…

July 24, 2010

I’m not usually a one-issue voter. I mean I don’t think I ever decided not to vote for someone over their stand on one issue, such as gun rights, abortion rights, school prayer, gay marriage, and so on, you know, the hot button topics.

But this bank bailout — history I know — but to realize from the latest news that taxpayers, which is all of us, were the benefactors of some $1.6 billion in bonuses to fat cat bankers who were bailed out by the federal government and that they will not be forced to pay them back is really enough to make me a one-issue voter.

I admit that I am often bewildered by the subject of economics. But on the one hand we were all told that the whole economic system of the United States would collapse if the government did not bail out the banks. So the banks took the money and then rewarded those who oversaw the near collapse of the economic and banking system with the bonuses, bonuses made possible by taxpayer funds.

From the very beginning, when George W. Bush proposed the bailouts and on through Barack Obama’s continuation of the bailout program, I blogged that it was wrong. Let the banks go bankrupt or be reorganized through existing government rules.

You see, economically challenged as I may be, I understand that what happens in capitalism is that while some capitalists fail, the void will be filled by others. I don’t think capital disappears, it just moves from one hand to the other.

It is true that holders of capital will sit on it for a while until they see the right timing or in times of change, such as now, until they know what the rules going forward are.

The government should be the watchdog over the economy to see that everyone is playing by the rules, and there does need to be rules. The government in lo these past many years has failed in its watchdog capacity and it did discard some of the rules.

And I am not too sure but what the Obama administation has made a mistake in enacting too many new rules with its latest reform legislation, but that is not my point here — the business community at least will now find out what the new rules are, although that will take time, I understand, as the new law goes into the administrative rule making process.

It is a mistake to have the government run the economy. Only the market can do that.

It is a mistake to think that no one should lose out. If no one lost out, no one would win.

In a robust economy, though, it can almost seem like everyone is a winner. Certainly, in that case, everyone has a chance.

What we are suffering from now is the battle of the extremes, with social elitists on one side trying to create a system in which no one ever suffers and special business interests on the other side who want the whole economy to work for them.

We need to go back to a more centrist approach in which business can thrive and the government can carry out its watchdog activities to ensure fair play in the market and fair play, but not direct subsidy, and safety rules for those who depend upon wages paid by capitalists, as well as modern environmental protections for the preservation of our planet and the safety of all.

A straight forward and far less arcane tax system would be of great benefit too. Too much capital is expended in enforcing the present tax code and too much revenue is lost in the process.

And I still believe that our continuing war exploits do little to ensure our defense and in fact only promote more hostility and may ultimately bankrupt us.

The Soviet Union spent many long wasteful years in Afghanistan and went bankrupt due to its military intervention there as well as the failure of the Soviet economic system itself.

But those bailouts and the idea that while everyone else is told they must tighten their belts, we must at the same time sit back and watch the bankers laugh all the way back to their banks with our money.

(And I realize that not all bankers fall into this category.)

Maybe the Tea Party is right on this one. We should throw out the whole ruling class and start over.

Whoa, that kind of sounds like what I’ve read about the French Revolution (I would hope we could do this at the ballot box and avoid the violence.)


Obama administration falls into race baiting trap; racism is natural, though…

July 23, 2010

I am almost incredulous that the Obama administration could have fallen into the trap set by right-wing race baiters concerning the Shirley Sherrod affair.

A blogger posts a misleading video on the internet, taking some remarks out of context, and the administration ousts the Agriculture Department official who made the remarks, without first even asking her what it was all about.

Oh, to be sure, racism is not confined to the right, but exists at all points on the political spectrum and in society in general.

And who knows? Maybe it is only natural, a kind of tribalism.

When I was a teenager taking a vacation with my folks and siblings we were sitting at a lunch counter in Winston-Salem North Carolina, as I recall, and a red-haired and red freckled white man with a stingy brim hat, who looked to be some kind of salesman, who was sitting on a stool next to us, volunteered, without us asking:

“If God had meant us all to live together he would have made us all the same color”.

We as little kids used the N word freely but not against blacks, but against each other or we just said it. I don’t think we really knew why we used it or what the full implications of it were.

I recall feeling bad when I saw on TV police in the South using dogs against peacefully demonstrating blacks in the 1950s and 60s. That made me mad at white bigots.

I did not feel any better when I watched blacks rioting in big city ghettos every summer it seemed in the 60s and looting stores. That made me mad at the blacks who did this.

While I don’t know personally how it feels to be black and be the victim of white prejudice, I do know how it feels to be white and be the victim of black prejudice — I served in the U.S. Army in Germany between 1968 and 1971. White officers and white NCOs for the most part in the unit in which I served were scared to discipline blacks because they would A not respond (and might resist) or B they would play the race card.

I have spoken to white soldiers and sailors who wanted to make a career of the service but decided they did not like the racism and favorable treatment given to some over others.

Am I racist? Only when racism rears its ugly head against me or when some of my resentment from a time in the past comes back. But what I noticed then and notice today is that members of different races ignore the differences in many cases, but in certain social situations they are inclined or feel compelled to slip back into racism.

It’s of course not just black and white, but brown and yellow and Middle Eastern and so on.

The most ugly and blatant racism seems to come from poor white trash and ghetto blacks, but it can be just as bad at other levels of society too, but maybe a little more subtle, or not, but just as destructive.

(The Tea Party reportedly has a lot of well-to-do whites in it and some of them do not seem to be subtle about race, but it is hard to identify who is saying what in that nebulous group.)

But speaking from the white perspective, what does stick in the craw is the idea that while if you are what we currently call a minority it is okay and even expected that you have pride in your race. But if you are white that is politically incorrect.

Affirmative action also is hard to take. While I don’t think I have ever suffered from it directly, I have relatives on my in-laws’ side who have. One was told flat out by a government fire service official that he need not apply if he was not black or American Indian. I don’t care how you look at that, even taking the fact that minorities of the past were discriminated against in employment, reverse discrimination does not solve the problem. Discrimination is discrimination.

(In the 50s and 60s when my family used to go to San Francisco, our former home, for a visit, I always noticed that the bus and street car operators were mostly black, as well as the bridge toll takers at that time. That was evidentially some kind of affirmative action going on well before the Civil Rights Act of 1964.)

But resentments of past racial discrimination have to be put behind and so does race discrimination no matter which way it goes.

We do have a black president — something that I swore would never happen in my life time.

I haven’t seen any indication that President Barack Obama made the move to oust Sherrod over the apparent misunderstanding of her remarks, but someone or ones in his administration did. He has since called her and said the decision was wrong and she has been offered her job or even a better one back.

It seems the administration was so scared it would be seen as racist that it fell for the dirty work of a blogger with ulterior motives. The motive was to discredit what the ultra and reactionary right sees as its enemy.

I personally have neither seen the original video nor the full video that supposedly vindicates her. In reality I think the whole affair is much ado about nothing, except it gave a chance for me to vent a little about my own frustrations with the race issue.

ADD 1:

Actually white pride is accepted in certain traditional American ethnic celebrations, such as St. Patrick’s Day and Oktoberfest, but in general it is not politically correct to be white and proud of it, while it does seem to be so to be black and proud of it or to go around saying si’, se puede. A white person entering the U.S. illegally might be thought to be a Russian agent, but a Latino entering illegally is an “immigrant” in the parlance of political correctness.

ADD 2:

The irony of course in the Sherrod affair was that she is black and it was implied that by her own admission that she was racist against whites and that an administration led by a black man (well half black — Clinton, of course was our first black president — just kidding — I guess it was his cool sunglasses and his ability to play the sax and his appetite for sex), Barack Obama, rushed to judgment, showing its own vulnerability in questions of race.

P.s.

And why does my computer freeze up when I try to write this blog? And why does my spell check not recognize Obama and wants me to write Osama and why does it not know the word blog or blogger?


Unemployment insurance is needed, but it can be a drag too…

July 21, 2010

As I post this, I see that it looks like the Democrats are going to be able to overcome Republican resistance to an extension in unemployment benefits — and yes I know, the conservatives claim they are not against the extension, they just want it paid for — that is what they say.

There was a time when you were out of work, when your usual occupation dried up, you went to doing something else — most anything. Of course, most anything did not necessarily pay enough to keep you and yours in the lifestyle to which you had grown accustomed — but that was the way it was. Then federal and state-run unemployment insurance came into being. You still did not make the money you made at your regular job but you did not have the expense and trouble of trying to work at something that did not pay enough and kept you from getting back into your regular line of work — and sometimes there really was, or in the present tense, really is no work.

Most of the time, a requirement to draw unemployment insurance is that you actively conduct a search for work. There are exceptions to this. Over the years it became a practice by seasonal workers to apply for unemployment benefits out of season. That, on the face of it, seems kind of strange in that one knows from the get go whether an occupation is seasonal and so should not expect to get paid for being out of work when he or she knew that would be the case.

(I need to insert here that a lot of people I have heard justify being on unemployment with the comment “I paid into it.” As far as I understand it, though, such is not the case. Employees do not pay into the government unemployment programs, but employers do.)

But in any case, unemployment officials have accepted the practice of paying out benefits to seasonal workers and not requiring them to seek employment, but instead wait till the season starts up again. This is of course amounts to a government subsidy for seasonal employment.

I don’t know all the details of unemployment insurance, but from time to time, over the years, congress has voted to give the program extensions so people on unemployment can receive payments beyond the normal time limit.

Republicans, possibly more out of politics than real concern, or maybe not, are balking at an unemployment extension, with some being so bold as to charge that it simply discourages people from looking for work. Others say they would be willing to vote for the extension if corresponding cuts can be made in other programs to offset the increased cost to avoid piling on to the already astronomical national debt with more borrowing. And that’s not a bad argument. However, one wonders if those same people thought about cutting government programs in order to justify the Bush tax cuts for the rich. A well known political tactic of the neo-conservative movement is to fight social programs by simply “starving the beast” via tax cuts, rather than risk political capital by opposing popular programs, socialist though they may be.

Personally, I wonder why we do not have a slightly less arcane system of unemployment insurance that simply pays you decent compensation, albeit not your normal salary, for a long period of time, but with the requirement that you conduct an active work search in everything and anything you may be qualified or capable of doing. In addition, it might be appropriate to allow, but not require, an employee contribution to unemployment insurance that would qualify the unemployed worker for additional coverage.

And those who insist that cuts in other areas of spending are needed for extending jobless benefits may well be correct, but they ought to have the guts to suggest where they would cut.

Unemployment insurance is needed for stability in society and the economy. I’m not at all sure that having the government subsidize seasonal employment via unemployment insurance is such a great idea, though. Seasonal workers should plan to work at something else in the off season. Many long years ago I worked for a time in a wood re- manufacturing plant and in the winter some of the log truck drivers would work in the mill. I don’t know if they were required to by the employer and/or unemployment officials.

There is a segment in the business community that has nothing but disdain for unemployment insurance, and don’t even mention minimum wage. They want to see workers have to accept whatever they are given and be happy with it. I don’t agree with that hard approach, but it does seem that it would be somewhat more practical for people to accept that there is a certain supply and demand rule going in labor and sometimes there is an over supply and an under demand and that can mean lower wages for a time. And sometimes one has to move on to something new. To some extent unemployment payments create an artificial system that seems to encourage people to be idle rather than to move on. Eventually most have to move on and the delay does not help them.

In addition it is not fair for part of society to constantly have to carry the other part, and a large idle population puts a crimp on the overall economy.

Mixed in with all of this is the supply of illegal foreign labor that depresses wages and working conditions and competes with citizens in need of work.

I don’t know if I have ever brought this up, but one of my bright ideas has been to create a government labor pool made up of those who cannot find work in the private sector. This labor pool would be available for various public works projects, such as litter cleanup, park projects, and various things that do not usually get done due to budget constraints or priorities. A labor pool would provide the unemployed with something productive to do and at the same time might be an encouragement to go out and find a better job or become an entrepreneur. Okay, I admit, that is probably basically what FDR did — maybe I just mean an updated version of something like the 1930s  CCC that might be a permanent part of the system.

To those who do not need unemployment insurance because they are skillful in something that is in demand and because they have made wise life decisions, I say go ahead and pat yourself on the back and encourage a young person to do the same, that is get skillful and make wise life decisions. At the same time, don’t be too smug — financial calamities can happen to anyone (can you say CANCER?).


Letting outlaw states proceed with nuclear programs is suicide for civilization…

July 16, 2010

Dr. Bill Wattenburg, the late night know-it-all of KGO Radio, San Francisco, makes a good case that we should all be afraid — very afraid, if, no, that is to say “when“ Iran constructs a crude nuclear bomb and possibly lets it get into the hands of terrorists who might deliver it to the U.S. in a cargo container and set it off.

And it will not take “years” for them to build it, as some experts or spokesmen for the U.S. government maintain. Iran is already dangerously close to having the right amount or grade of enriched uranium to construct a bomb, Wattenburg maintains, and he insists with vigor, that the idea it would take years to build is hogwash because the info is so readily available and the process is relatively “easy”.

And then all hell would break loose. “Your life will not be the same” he warns. A blast, likely to go off in some U.S. coastal port, would not only kill and injure a lot of people, it would send the public and even the police and firemen and others on whom they depend into a panic. In short, civilization, as we know it, would cease to exist. You’d be lucky to be able to find your children at school in all the chaos that would ensue. There would be no stores to sell food open, no water, no electricity.

At the same time, there would be tremendous pressure from the panic-stricken public on our government for massive retaliation on anyone and everyone even suspected in such an attack. For that reason, it would be better to bomb or otherwise destroy or convince the Iranians to discontinue their work on a nuclear bomb (something they claim they are not building — nuclear for electrical power and peaceful purposes only, they insist — but their tone sounds kind of like a routine Ellen DeGeneres used to use in her stand-up comedy — yes I am — no I’m not, yes…).

Now keep in mind, Dr. Bill can sound a bit like a blow hard at times and he comes off as some kind of self-proclaimed or at least self-assured genius on subjects ranging from how to get a caterpillar tractor stuck in the mud unstuck to building a nuclear bomb. He claims to have been in on the design of various nuclear weapons, and the San Francisco Bay Area Rapid Transit System or BART, as well as some freeway interchanges. He also offered a suggestion recently on how to at least partially plug BP Gulf of Mexico oil leak — something about stuffing giant steel golf balls down the hole.

According to the latest news reports, BP has finally stopped the flow of oil and hopefully for good. And, interestingly, I just read a blog that suggests the design for the containment cap that BP used and that seems to be working may have been designed by a plumber.

Wattenburg holds a doctorate in electrical engineering. To be fair, he often suggests on his radio talk show that everyday people often have great talent and knowledge (Potential callers beware, though, Wattenburg is not one to suffer fools.)

But back to the main point here — I have heard Wattenburg on the radio for years and I can attest or concede that he knows much, even if he abuses his knowledge and status at times in furtherance of his own fairly right-wing ideology.

When I think about his warning on Iran, I think about how unprepared our government has shown it is for disaster — 9/11, Katrina, Gulf of Mexico oil spill, need I write more?

Letting outlaw states proceed with nuclear programs is suicide for civilization.