Sunday, August 27, 2017

Identity, Community and a Sense of Purpose

   I have struggled for years to understand the draw of such figures as Mao, Stalin, Hitler, and now Trump and Un. In a much smaller sense, I have pondered the draw of thugs like the Bloods, Crips, any white ala WEST SIDE STORY gangs, Yakuza, Tongs, ABZ (Asian Boyz), KKK, Italian, Russian, Mexican and Armenien Mafias ... you get the picture. What? How? Especially Why?
   Reading an article in my daily Internet Time Magazine yesterday there was an excellent piece titled THE ALT-RIGHT HAS CREATED ALT-CHRISTIANITY written by Pastor Brian D. McLaren. The piece was quite short but startling in both what he saw and what he felt as he was in Charlottesville for the now infamous demonstration that showed openly that after 50 years the hate this country has tried to hide under the aegis of Political Correctness (PC) is still alive and well. Today there are even more groups to protest about! I am sure many of you have heard both sides and from what I have seen and heard, even after a senseless death, all sides still feel their cause is right. After 152 years, where this nation sacrificed 700,000 of its citizens, about 15% of the population at the time, to end slavery, we have still to confront a problem created before and enshrined in the Constitution we hold so dear – race relations. Today, there are many more "bad" relations to protest ...straight and  Gay, Muslims, Catholics, Asians, illegal Hispanics, Native Americans, women ... even Jews, the same people we fought a war with Hitler over, among many other things, to end genocide.
   McLaren points out that for the first time in his 61 years he got to look into the faces of these people and was stunned and scared. "... they looked scarily normal." he says. "They're the guys arranging stock at the local big box store or the desk jockeys in a cubicle farm. Decent. Clean cut. Surprisingly young. And white. No doubt I looked into these faces before - on the street, in a restaurant, in church - but I didn't know it because they weren't carrying Nazi and Confederate flags, semi-automatic rifles and shields."
   He continues that after this he saw an interview with Christian Piccolini, a former white supremacist. He was recruited and radicalized by an extremist group, probably not different than what ISIS did to even younger children. It shows, if nothing else, that Muslim extremists have no corner on the market of extremist views! Look in our own backyard! He stated, "There are so many marginalized young people, so many disenfranchised young people today with not a lot to believe in, with not a lot of hope, so they tend to search for very simple black-and-white answers. Savvy extremists ready to dispense those easy answers have no shortage of potential recruits, easily accessible through the Internet." As McLaren noted, are these issues any different in Afghanistan, Syria, Virginia, Ohio, Arizona and ... France or Spain?
   Recent elections in England, Ireland, Scotland, France, Spain and even Canada have shown the deep divide between youth and their elders. Unemployment in France for those 29 and younger is 25%. If you're Muslim, 50%. While we hear about the salaries in Silicon Valley, we don't hear about the non-existent salaries in Appalachia, the deep South or the Rust Belt ... ten times the numbers.
   Closer to home, everyone of the 9 / 11 bombers was in this age group, had college and often advanced degrees, many from the United States, and returned home to find they couldn't get any work. Idle hands often make major trouble! You have to blame someone, why not the Western, especially, American Imperialists? And vice versa.
   Years ago CBS had a White Paper detailing three gangs, before they approached the numbers and sophistication of today. They were white, black and Latin. The surprise to the reporters was that each of these gangs was organized almost exactly alike but even more startling, just like the U.S. Army. Somehow these disenfranchised kids created their own armies and were given an identity, their gang; a community, again their gang; and a sense of purpose, defending their turf.
Are we in the "end of times?"
At times it sure feels like it!
    Piccolini's analysis aligns with the Nazi historian Richard J. Evans' description of young men in 1920's Germany. Examining the rise of Nazism, Evans' saw "desperate and resentful young men being attracted to extremism and violence 'irrespective of ideology.'" He notes they were looking for not ideas but meaning. A former Stormtrooper, reflecting after the war noted, "it (their bonding effort) was too wonderful and perhaps too hard to write about." Soldiers of any era often say the same thing. The military years were the best of their lives.
   One Christmas I visited my German Opa who immigrated to America in 1925. As we talked I asked about his life in Germany. He explained that we had no idea what it was like after WWI. People were paid at lunch and after work ... everyday. Inflation got so bad people used wheelbarrows to ferry their money around. At one point one U.S. Dollar was worth 1 trillion marks. Inflation was so high that the government printed new values on top of older printed money. I had one that said 100 Marks. On top, was printed 1 million. Frantic, the German Finance Minister met with the English, French, and American ministers and they created a new value of their currency against the German Mark in 1924. People had to bring in their old Marks for new Marks and many, though mostly speculators, lost millions. Who did they blame? The Jewish finance minister. Hitler's call, like Trump's, to get all Germans work again got him elected in 1932.
   McLaren goes on to note that the White Nationalist leader Richard Spencer understands this desire for meaning. I mean isn't this what the Boomer Generation started in the 1960's? Compared to their parents and grandparents, they lived in an golden age. They didn't suffer through a depression, didn't fight in a World War. If I heard any one comment over and over again growing up from parents, relatives and adults, was "I don't want my kids to suffer like I did." Yet, I'd bet Tom Brokaw, writer of THE GREATEST GENERATION, would agree that it was this hardship that made them what they were and challenged them to the achievements they achieved!
   "Piccolini, Evans and Spencer are telling us something we need to understand," McLaren writes. "White nationalism isn't simply an extremist political ideology. It is an alt-religious movement that provides its adherents with its own twisted version of what all religions supply to adherents: identity, a personal sense of who I am; community, a social sense of where I belong; and purpose, a spiritual sense of that my life matters. If faith communities don't provide these healthy, life-giving human needs, then death-dealing alt-religions will fill the gap. Aristotle was right. Nature indeed abhors a vacuum. If we don't provide emerging generations with genuine identity, community and purpose through robust and vibrant communities, somebody else will do so. If good religion slumbers and stagnates, bad religion is the alternative.
   After reading this, for me, at least, many of the social and political ills both here and abroad fell into place. Why is there an opioid epidemic? Pot, meth and cocaine addiction. Why do so many people steal and why do they join gangs? Could it just be these very same reasons? Can we separate an extremist of any view from the violence of crime and drug additions without considering these same factors? If we do, I believe we as a society need to address more than just hate but violence, addiction, a sense of entitlement when it is not deserved. Our courts have to be impartial yet fair to all not just a few with money. Policemen can't be arbitrary. Trump clearly saw the frustration and anger of the public,  the 99% and, I guess the word is pandered, to it. This is not an endorsement of Clinton because if there was any complaint about her was that she simply didn't see it. I compared him to Huey Long and her to Lady MacBeth. I still stand by that assessment.
   Discussing the political scene at dinner today, actually with far more action than a daily soap, we all agreed that if any author had written a book about what we see and hear daily, the publisher would kick that author out of the office commenting, what a stupid plot! What were you thinking ... or more likely, What were you smoking when you wrote this crap?
   There is much healing and talking and yes, ultimately understanding that needs to take place in our society today. To lose even one child or adult or immigrant to this sort of rhetoric is to deny that dream not only of the past but the promise we made as a nation in 1776. Our history is filled with immigrants that have changed the way we live because what they wanted to do would not be possible at home. Immigrants have enriched our lives beyond measure. Please remember, we are a nation of immigrants, every one of us had ancestors that arrived from somewhere else, even Native Americans. 
   The time has come for this nation, each and every one of us from the President, Congress, the courts ... every citizen needs to begin discourse and work to resolve fear and hate and despair. Talk is cheap. Yet, as we are finding out yet again, to not talk, to not discuss and yes, argue, to not listen, we, as a nation, will not heal. Don't you think that after nearly 400 years the time has come?
Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Sunday, August 20, 2017

Why Is Walking Though A Book Store Better Than Letting Your Fingers Do The Walking Through Amazon?

Small but mighty book on the

beginnings of the American Revolution

I just finished a book today, yes, a real book that I happened to stumble upon at the nearest Barnes & Noble. For those of you that don't remember, there used to be many, many bookstores where you could touch and pickup a book and thumb through the pages deciding before you bought it and took it home. I have haunted bookstores my whole life and probably own far too many books in fact. Moving them is a real pain in the @#$%!
   Recently after spending far too long at my local Barnes & Noble and after being unable to find a world map the size I wanted, I found about 10 books I really did want to buy and read, grabbed my will by the throat and almost made it out the door. 
    There really is nothing like going through the aisles of a bookstore ... something you will never find online. You check out the new books, then the new sale books then row after row of books by sections ... fiction, non-fiction, history, biographies and at Barnes & Noble racks of discounted books, often and sadly much reduced from the time I bought them, even on Amazon. There are the classics in fetching bindings, recommendations of books you should have read and those you neglected once and now might be ready to try. I was a good boy that day until ...
Nothing beats browsing for books!
   Just as I left I noticed a stand filled with books marked 80% off. I could not resist, I had to look. Thumbing through a bunch of books I would have never, ever read, I found THE CONSTITUTIONAL ORIGINS OF THE AMERICAN REVOLUTION, a dry little tome that caught my eye. 
   I love American history and have read many books regarding the foundations of my country. I realize its faults, the faults of our founding fathers but still, despite all that is going on here today, I love my country. I am sure the arguing discourse of today would make our founding fathers feel right at home. They were a quarrelsome lot as well. In fact, its a wonder The United States of America was even created!
   I thumbed through it and quickly realized Mr. Green was talking about things I had never heard of before. There was as much about the English view of events as the American views. I bought it.
   There was no way I would have ever found this book on Amazon. It wasn't in any of my search criteria. They show you many similar books but unlike the old card catalogs at the library, digital search sadly is as boring and bereft of possibilities as finger marching through Amazon.
   Today, just as I write this, I looked the title up. I found the retail for this quite small book was $25.99. Amazon was selling it for $19.71. I bought it at an 80% markdown for about $5.50. Three reviewers give it about a 4.5 star rating. None were as enthusiastic as I was. Here, in a nutshell were the arguments of the House of Parliament, whatever king was in charge at the time, the views of many of the colonies and basically the conditions of the founding of 12 of the 13 colonies. You see, the argument was over the fact the colonies were creations, corporations if you will, granted by the king and not the Parliament. What became the British Empire was a fledgling creation and Parliament was more worried about Ireland for about 150 years than whatever was going on in the Americas land or sea. When they finally realized there was money to be had they tried to tax the colonies, violating their own constitution that said "no taxation without representation." We all know what that got them.
   More importantly, I would have never found this book letting my fingers doing the walking on my computer. And that, also in a nutshell, is why a book store, a tangible, brick and mortar bookstore is so important, so magical. The excitement of discovery, holding a book in your hand, browsing through it and letting it hook you into submission that is what discovery is all about.
    Several weeks ago I read an article in TIME magazine that the sales of digital books had stalled and in fact were starting to drop. It seems that the reading public, like me, was "rediscovering" a physical book. Yes, I have geeky friends that say they can hold a whole library on the Kindle or iPad. No more lugging a heavy tome around. Yet, when you are reading a screen, is it really a book?
   On a recent trip, a 15 hour flight, I could have read books stored on my iPad but what did I do? I picked through the magazines I brought and finally settled on a paperwork whodunit mystery instead. In one of my frequent get up and walk about trips, I noticed that yes, there were many iPads and such with people reading but this time there were as many holding a book ... a real book.
    Just like the sales of old fashioned 33 1/3 LP's are making a comeback (more were sold in 2016 than in the past 10 years) there is something tangible, something that remains yours when you hold, read and own the property in your hands.
    While I see people secretly photographing a book with their smart phones in a book store, and I must admit I look up a book I read about on Amazon, there is nothing like the real thing. Even better, being able to discover, browse, buy and immediately bring home and read the real thing. Even Amazon can't do that. Nothing beats the immediate satisfaction you get.
A Portland institution it seems forever.  There are even two stores
in the Portland Airport ... one on each end!
  I am planning a visit to Portland, OR this fall. I have told a friend there, a trip to Powell's downtown book store is a must. You can literally spend a day lost there. What's even better is that they encourage you return books after you read them for credit towards more purchases. New and slightly used books of the same titles sit next to each other. Even better, if you can't carry them home for a frightfully small fee they box and ship them to you! I got nearly a $1000 in cookbooks for $123 plus about $12 shipping. Sorry, but even Amazon can't do that!
    If you love books, I encourage, no beg you, to visit a bookstore. There are always discounts and you just, just like me, find a hidden gem you would have never discovered online! You might, just might save a venerable institution that began in the 1440's when Gutenberg printed his first book.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!

Friday, August 18, 2017

I'll Take My Chances: Dyin' To Cross the Street In Palm Springs


Gives new meaning to "In a hurry."
Two miles from where I live

I moved to Palm Springs in January of 2016. A friend had me visit several times before I made that decision. I came on MetroLink to San Bernardino and he would pick me up and drive back to Palm Springs. I didn't get my truck back until December of 2015 and I made several trips here, first to look at a condo rental and then, a month later to move here.
    Let me say, first off, I have enjoyed living here. I have new friends, can be involved as much or as little as I want, and heat aside, love the ambiance and activities that seem now to be non-stop year around. What I don't like is the terrible driving from the multitudes ... residents and tourists. Too many seem to be learning drivers.
    Of course I arrived at the height of the snowbird season and noticed that the driving was, how can I be politically correct here, "different." Those that came from the arctic would often be more numerous that the locals. Oregon, Washington, Ontario and British Columbia, Canada, New York, Maine, even Alaska ... the grey haired set driving often too big and too powerful cars. And their driving was atrocious. Maybe the worst I have ever seen and I have been in 28 countries.
   My dog likes to eat early, 4 am, and we often walk early right after breakfast that on a good day takes 60 seconds. So we walk usually in the dark. Even at that hour, more often than not, I see the tell tale lights of a police light bar somewhere on our walk. Driving during the day, I see more accidents in a month than I saw in years in the San Gabriel Valley.
    My truck was stolen in the complex where I live. It was the perfect gardeners truck. Even at 13 years old, it only had 113,000 miles on it, 5.3 liter V-8 and built in tow hitch. When the policeman came to take the report he asked if I had left my keys in it. No, they were clearly hanging by the front door. Was it unlocked? No, it was a reflex to lock the door as I left. When I described it he noted that I probably would never see it again ... and I haven't.
     This could have been me. Car pulling into you, losing

     control and spinning off the freeway!
    I searched far and wide to find a replacement. I ended up buying my Mazda CX-5 in Temecula as in the Coachella Valley, dealers seem to think MSRP is the discounted price. It isn't. It is so red it nearly blinds you in the parking lot. Coming home after picking it up, just as I pulled astride the Morongo Casino on the freeway, a little old lady in the fast lane pulled in front of me. I found out the brakes were excellent and slamming on them and the horn missed her by inches. She never looked back and drove sedately on. I was stunned. I moved over to the slowest lane and passed her from there and got away from her as fast as I could. She couldn't see a red car ... really? She did have to look of course. She didn't.
    A few days later as I was heading to Ramon Road I passed the strip mall with a grocery store, pharmacy and assorted shops. As I was passing the driveway an old man in a huge old Cadillac pulled out of the driveway (he had a red light) missing me again by inches. Again ... you can't see a RED car? He never looked and never slowed down. He was peering between the dashboard and the steering wheel. I admired his Alberta, Canada plates.
    Yesterday, coming back from a meeting, as I was starting to cross the intersection in front of the airport on a green light, a car that started to turn right, suddenly swung left across 4 lanes of traffic right in front of me. We all sat still, he was gone before we could even honk or move! What made it worse was there was a cop there and he didn't do a thing. So much for traffic enforcement.
Need a push? 
    This Coachella Valley has accidents, serious accidents daily. Every night on the news you see one, two, three, some days the ones I have seen driving about. Why? I don't know. We have a large number of tourists. Maybe they get lost. But cutting across a missed turn is not a solution. This isn't Los Angeles where it is impossible to turn around. Use your cars GPS, your cell phone. I do. My cars navigation is impossible so Siri guides me to new places amazingly well.
    There are also daily accidents along the I-10 freeway that crosses our valley. Many are spectacular in fact. A commission to study this last year so far hasn't seemed to come up with any explanation except the wind. However, just as many accidents occur on normal days. Why? No one seems to know. Going too fast, highway hypnosis or?
You win some, you lose some.
   Motorcycle accidents are also a common sight. You really don't see them until they are alongside or whoosh by you! Don't get me started on the State of California allowing motorcycles to ride the white line on streets and freeways. You see them weaving around cars trying to avoid rearview mirrors going at speeds a car would be ticketed for. I don't know what the statistics here are but I remember seeing a freeway sign in Memphis years ago that in April already had 39 motorcycle fatalities. They urged drivers to be careful. What about the motorcyclists?
    Many of these valley street accidents are caused, I'm convinced, by the impossibly long signal lights. I have waited 4 minutes, once 5 minutes to cross a major street. Everyone knows this and so, they literally take their chances. I have seen cars a mile away make a turn signal while all four lanes wait and the traffic builds up blocks long. They are so long in fact I have seen drivers fall asleep at the wheel. Getting honked at get's them out of their reverie. More often they are looking at their phones texting or ? and the light is green and they are distracted lost in the cellar world ... maybe placing that last order on Amazon. It's that bad.
    Years ago, as the digital age was happening, there was a fear telephone lines couldn't handle this increasingly volume. An article in the paper pointed out that AT&T and then GTE had learned to send everything in packets. We don't realize it but all signals were packaged in blocks of signals and that allowed much more information to be sent without adding new ones. Of course there came a time when they reached their limits. Fiber optics arrived allowing for thousands of times more volume but the same kind of packet made it easy to send ... just more at a time.
Making, or in this case, NOT making the light. This happens too often.
    What definitely needs to happen is a study of signal lights in the valley. Too many times you wait for the signal to change and there is no opposing traffic. Many other cities in the nation, led by Milan, Italy back I believe in the 1970's, have replaced their standard signals with "smart" signals that measure the traffic flow, changing lights according to what is actually driving on the streets. In the first year, in I'm sure in the analog age, traffic flow improved 20%!
    Side streets here they seem to have mastered, except downtown for the walkers. A car pulls up and instantly the light changes ... no accounting for the rhythm of the main thoroughfare. For a small town, it seems there is always someone wanting to cross on these side streets. So traffic bunches up. So while it says you can go 45 or 50 m.p.h. you really can't. There is always a car waiting on an instant signal side street.
    Again, it is design. We can design streets to flow traffic better or we cannot. Maybe, just maybe self-driving cars will finally do what traffic engineers today can't. Make the traffic flow. Hopefully they will also make driving safer no matter how old you are or what you are doing on your phone. It's going to happen and if what I read is any indication, sooner, far sooner, than any of us realize. In fact you may not even own a car at all!

P. S. August 23, 2017

In the space of three minutes this morning I witnessed 3 near misses going to the clinic:
  •  The first near accident was a car turning right into the airport, stops and suddenly veers left across 6 lanes of the traffic in the intersection crossing green light traffic. California driver.
  • Next, one block further, a pickup trucks turns left in front of a fire truck sirens blaring and lights flashing. Again, California driver
  • Last, a car coming out of the airport pulls in front of a car crossing the intersection who had a green light. Could have been a rental car. Still, no excuse to run a red light into incoming traffic.
P.S. August 25, 2017
  • On Baristo Road, at the corner of Compadre Road, at 7:30 this morning, a woman driving a Tahoe SUV, did a California stop and then pulled in front of an oncoming car barely making her turn. My dog and I were a second away from being collateral damage from that crash.

My advice to visitors? Be careful, VERY careful when you visit and drive in Palm Springs. They are out there and care nothing for you. The pictures I've shown are a daily occurrence on the local news.

Thank you for reading my blog. I invite you to take the time to read earlier blogs where the emphasis is to explore the ways art and design affects our daily lives ... and always has. I share with you what inspires me with the hope that it will inspire you as well. Comments are always welcomed! Be sure to check my re-opened ETSY store ... Many of the items talked about here are for sale there!