Category Archives: Hope/Inspiration

I can get a little dark at times. But, I’m also an idealist. I can be Quixotic. This category is when I’m trying to make the world a better place. Or, when I’m trying to convince myself it can be a better place.

Aspergers Are Us: an interesting documentary

I just watched a documentary called Apergers Are Us which I enjoyed. I have a family member who is diagnosed as being on this spectrum. My wife says she thinks I am, too, but my therapist disagrees. Since he has the medical degree, I go with his diagnoses even though my wife is super-intelligent and rarely wrong. I make it a habit to never disagree with her unless I am very certain I am right. In this case, I am very certain my therapist is right.

I must add that this digression probably bolsters my wife’s argument. But, really, it’s not a digression. It may help to understand my interest in the documentary. I’d like to understand my family member better and the fact that my wife thinks I am on the spectrum means I am interested in it to see why she thinks that.

But, back to the documentary. This is a film about four young men who are autistic and formed a sketch comedy troupe. If you’re unfamiliar, Asperger syndrome is a kind of autism. It’s part of the autism spectrum.

As a pervasive developmental disorder, Asperger syndrome is distinguished by a pattern of symptoms rather than a single symptom. It is characterized by qualitative impairment in social interaction, by stereotyped and restricted patterns of behavior, activities and interests, and by no clinically significant delay in cognitive development or general delay in language.[31] Intense preoccupation with a narrow subject, one-sided verbosity, restricted prosody, and physical clumsiness are typical of the condition, but are not required for diagnosis. –Wikipedia

All of that being said, this is not a documentary about Asperger syndrome, or even autism. It is about some guys who are on the spectrum, that is, they have Asperger syndrome to one degree or another. And, they perform sketch comedy. The documentary is centered on how they are preparing for a “final show.” It turns out it was not their actual final show because if you go their website, you will see that they are still performing. That doesn’t detract from the documentary, to me, though. I rather enjoyed it because, ultimately, it’s a glimpse into the lives of these four men. And, it tells us something about how they think and interact with the world.

A quote from their website gives some insight:

We’re the first comedy troupe composed of autistic people. We’ve performed original absurdist and satirical sketches since 2010. We do not poke fun at Asperger’s and we did not form to prove that autistic people can be funny. We formed for the same reason anyone does comedy: To make you laugh! Please do not expect us to be anything like The Big Bang Theory or anything else that relies on making fun of people. Expect silly deadpan sketches that appeal to Aspies and sympathetic others alike. 

In much the same way, the documentary isn’t about Asperger’s and it’s not trying to prove they are funny. But, I think it does want you to understand these men and get an idea for how they think. Like any good film, especially documentaries, it’s about the people, not the topic.

One of the men, Noah, is both autistic and a counselor, or teacher, I’m not very clear about that, for other autistic/Asperger’s people. I wasn’t unfamiliar with Asperger’s in general prior to this. But, I enjoyed seeing how he worked with the other three. For example, he talks to a young boy who is clearly autistic, most likely Asperger’s, and notes how the boy covers his ears so he can keep reading without Noah talking to him. He just accepts this. Of course, being Asperger’s himself, he continues trying to talk to the boy. But, he accepts the boy’s fixation on the train schedule. Later in their show, there is a sketch about “train schedule man” whose super power is knowing all of the train schedules and always being able to produce a train schedule on demand. A dubious super power, and funny. And, one can see where it came from.

Acceptance. It’s something that keeps up for me. In this case, accepting people for how they are without needing to change them or judge them. In another instance, New Michael (That’s his name. New Michael. When he was 18, he changed his name from “Aaron” to “New Michael.” That’s what he wanted to be called and what people call him.) is having a hard time dealing with rehearsal because they are at his house and his sister is home. He feels self-conscious about rehearsing with her around. He gets overwhelmed and has to leave. Noah accepts it. He doesn’t get angry. It just is the way things are.

It’s a very interesting way to think about life in general. What if we could all just accept each other? I realize we still need norms for how to interact. Society should still have rules. But, at the same time, maybe it would be a better world if we didn’t get so bent out of shape when people didn’t conform to those norms. I don’t know. It’s just something I’m thinking about. As a teacher, I am often confronted with situations where students don’t conform to how I think they should behave. On some level, it’s my job to teach them to conform to those norms. In a way, that’s what grammar is all about. It’s a set of rules we use to make sure everyone can understand us. And, yet, I believe that those who study semiotics would say that grammar doesn’t really matter as long as people understand what you say. I understand that point of view, but at the same time, I think it’s fair to make a judgment about people who don’t use grammar correctly. Carelessness or a lack of education both tell you something about someone.

While a grammarian and semiotician debate might be entertaining, at least on some level, and maybe to a few people (two or three, certainly), it really isn’t the subject of this post. Some of the acceptance has to come from understanding. When you understand that a kid on the autistic spectrum might get overwhelmed sometimes, and might need a break, then you don’t have to get so angry about it. It seems to me that many people get very angry when others don’t conform to their ideas of how to behave, or think.

Maybe I’m too romantic or optimistic. I’m not naive, though, that’s for sure. But, it seems to me that most people are trying to do the right thing, or at very least, do what is beneficial to themselves. There are people, of course, that are broken, and they are the kind of people that hurt others. I think they are more rare, though. Most might hurt someone in the course of trying to do what they need to do, thinking it is what is best. But, they aren’t trying to hurt someone on purpose. The key is to see what people want, what they are trying to do, not necessarily what the outcome is. If you can see what people want, it makes them more relatable, more human.

When you can understand how people think, you can see them for who they are. And, this was the interesting thing about the documentary to me. Being able to see, for example, that Asperger’s makes someone self-centered because that’s just how they are, how their brain works, and not some defect of character, gives you the ability to be less judgmental and more empathetic. And, interestingly, Noah seems to have developed some empathy for others. He recognizes when others need some space or are indulging in their specific interests (A characteristic of Asperger’s is having a deep interest in topics that might be unusual; for example, as seen in the film, trains and their schedules.). To me, I would think it was rude for someone to just have to leave, or to ignore me while reading something. But, it might not be their intention to be rude.

In any case, I appreciated the opportunity to learn something about the four guys in the film. Even if you don’t know someone with Asperger’s or autism, or who is “on the spectrum” then you still might find worth watching. I think it’s a good film in it’s own right.

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Orcas, lately

I’ve been reading about orcas lately.  Since I was very young, I’ve always been interested in marine biology and marine mammals.  As a kid, I loved going to Marineland and Sea World.

Blackfish is a documentary about killer whales in captivity.

Today, I won’t do it.  I am even against going to regular zoos.  If an institution or park is holding a primate or other mammal that has demonstrated, scientifically, near human intelligence, I think we need to boycott those businesses.

Orcas, for example, have been scientifically observed exhibiting complex social and cultural behaviors. So have the other smaller dolphins.  (Orcas are not “whales” though they are cetaceans.  They are the largest of the dolphin species.)

I think that if an animal can be cognizant of its captivity, it should not be held captive.

Death at Sea World is a book that helps explains this.

Did you know that orcas, killer whales, have matriarchal societies?  They organize matrilineally, with sons and daughters actually spending their entire lives alongside of their mothers.  Males will leave the mother for days, or even weeks, to forage, or mate, but they always return to their mothers.

Knowing this, it makes me think maybe orcas are actually smarter than humans.

Building Some Stuff

About a year ago, I got a bit crazy and decided I would mount my TV on the family room wall, mount my surround sound speakers, and hide the wires in the walls. Without an attic over the family room, this was an ambitious project for me. I had as much experience with patching drywall and doing anything like this as I had of overhauling a V6 engine. That is to say, none. But, it came out okay. I can see where I made the patches, and I bet you could too, if you looked at it for a few seconds. But, after painting, it looks passable. Last summer I went into the kids’ rooms and we painted. I put some PVC wire conduits on the walls for the boys to hide the cables for their little surround system. I mounted the TV on the wall, installed shelves, and generally was pleased with how that came out. Over Thanksgiving break we decided to redecorate the master bedroom. We moved the TV, mounted speakers, hid wires under the baseboards (which I removed and put back into place), and we painted the opposing walls in different colors. I installed blinds, too. It came out good, too.

So, now I think I’m this handyman DIYer. Right? I got a crazy idea to build a workbench in my garage. About ten years ago, when I got my first real garage of my own, I bought some Gorilla racks that have been serving as my workbench. They kind suck for that. I want something sturdy, with good space, and that you can bolt vice onto. I found a plan in this Family Handyman magazine. It looks easy enough. Some 2x4s and plywood. Make good cuts and it should be okay. I have a circular saw. I can do this.

To practice, I decided I would build some sawhorses that I could use when I built the bench. In addition, my amazing wife threw a project my way to build a Christmas card holder that looks like a Christmas tree. It was super simple, so I agreed.

I decided to have the step-son help out. He and I have a, uh, sometimes interesting relationship. The story is that we are awfully alike, personality-wise, and this makes it hard for us to get along. Probably. There’s a few other things, as well. In my experience, relationships between step-parents and step-children are almost always tricky. No matter what you do, how hard you try, you never really see them the way you see your biological children. You love them, you care about them, you want the best for them, but there’s still a gap. And, I know there’s a gap inside them as well. They love you, they care for you, and they look up to you, but at the end of the day, you aren’t their biological parent and they know it.

Another interesting thing for me here is that the garage was always my Dad’s world. It was his domain. It was a mysterious place to me. There were tools and wires, powered machines and all sorts of implements of which I could never quite puzzle out the purpose. I knew screwdrivers, hammers, and wrenches, of course, but I was never very much mechanically inclined. I hated working on my car. Loathed it. To this day, any sort of work on a car always involves actual sweat, blood, and tears, on my part. I’m serious. I never finish any job on a car without crying and bleeding from some part of my body. But, owning a house has forced me and goaded me into picking up tools and finding something to work on. I simply decided at some point that it was time to know how to fix a sink or a toilet.

Since, I have replaced three faucets, a garbage disposal (twice), installed a ceiling fan, and all the aforementioned redecoration work. In the past I would have felt it necessary to get my Dad’s help with this. But, I haven’t needed it. I did it on my own.

Another thing that was always, in my mind, something only my Dad could do, was buy cars. I had this idea that he would walk into a dealership as a marauding Viking takes a beach, and the salespeople would cower and shrink before him. He would only leave once they had allowed him to take the car of his choice and they would tell tales of how they barely survived his ferocious negotiations. Allegedly, during an intense session of wheeling and dealing, the salesperson said to my Dad, anguished, “Listen, man, I have a family to feed!” Such was the ruthlessness of my Dad’s negotiating skills. So, I didn’t like to go buy cars on my own. It’s scary!

They use numbers, you know.

Numbers, my old enemies. People think I exaggerate but it’s completely true. Numbers are my Kryptonite. They mock me and I have no power to stop them. But, this weekend, it was time. We had looked for a while, my wife and I. Luckily, though she’s no mathematician, herself, she is okay with numbers. And, we both know how to read and research stuff. We settled on a Honda Pilot. We went to Rock and, with the Internet at our back, we successfully negotiated the purchase of a Certified Used Honda Pilot. I even managed to convince them to sell it to me on my credit alone! Since the divorce wrecked my credit score, I have tried hard to be a good boy and pay on time. It seems to have worked, though it has taken many years to dig out of the whole my ex-wife dug for me.

But, I did it. I bought a car all by myself. I might have left a little money on the table, but I think I did alright. Not perfect but nothing so bad that it will be noticeable. This is kind of like the way I repair drywall.

I’m going to be honest here and say I hated working in the garage with my Dad. I always felt stupid and like I was disappointing him constantly. So, I was determined this time not to make the step-son feel that way. He’s a Cub Scout so he has a woodworking badge to complete, as well. For that reason, I made a point to explain things as I did them. I tried to let him use the circular saw (he declined) and the drill (he accepted). I had him hold things whenever I needed it. And, for some reason, he loved it.

I haven’t spoken with my Dad since March 2012. Why? Actually, I think it’s pretty lame. First, I had noticed that he and my step-mother had my ex-wife as a Friend on their Facebook. Bear with me a second here. This ex-wife is the one who didn’t tell me she was borrowing money from them, who also borrowed (this time with my knowledge) $10,000 from them with which we were supposed to pay our property taxes, but she spent on other things, forced me to take her to court and hire a lawyer during the divorce which cost us thousands of dollars (in California, if you use a lawyer to divorce, you are probably stupid because the law is so cut and dry about the division of property), and who refused to pay on any joint credit cards after we separated. She also overdrew bank accounts and declined to pay that money back. Oh, and she ran up a $700 celluar bill and didn’t pay it. Guess who’s name had once been on that account and who now has a that on his credit report? Yup. I asked her three times to contact AT&T to clear it up. She ignored me. This is also the same woman who told anyone who would listen, including people in my family, and her daughters, my step-daughters at the time, that I was having an affair (I wasn’t).

Can you see why I might not feel any warmth for this woman? She purposely went out of her way to hurt me because I had the audacity to leave her after she told me she hated being married to me and was only staying with me because we had kids. Can you see why maybe I might not want to have any more to do with her than I needed to? Does it make sense why I might not like thinking my parents were on friendly terms with her? When I met her, she was using food stamps and welfare checks to get by. I gave her the first computer she ever owned, bought her a mini-van, and helped her get both of her college degrees, including a Master of Social Work degree from U.S.C.! No kidding, I spent $30,000 of savings on her college degrees. In return, she gave me 7-10 years of black marks on my credit ratings. I dragged her out of poverty and she tried to drag me into it.

So, I told my Dad I didn’t like them being Friends with her. On top of that, I told him that I didn’t like some of the things he had recently said or done. He had asked my wife if she was an anchor baby (a very offensive term for Hispanics which implies your parents used your birth to stay here). She was polite, but offended, and she was not an anchor baby. Both of her parents were legal immigrants. He had also forwarded to me, and others, a very racist email about President Obama that suggested, completely falsely, that Obama’s books contained numerous passages revealing that he hated Christians and whites. I think it’s quite clear why this is offensive. It tries to use race to get non-African Americans to distrust, or even hate, President Obama and it accuses him of being a racist. In my opinion, this is, itself, racist. So, I told him that I was offended. I didn’t mind that my Dad didn’t like Obama’s policies, or that he wouldn’t vote for him. I minded that he was using lies to convince others not to vote for him.

Turns out that’s just a Republican thang. You wouldn’t understand. They have to lie. It’s in the party platform.

Anyway, I told him I didn’t appreciate this kind of behavior and that if he wanted to spend time with me, or my family, he would need to amend his behavior. I decided it was time. I was tired of biting my tongue for fear of upsetting him. I was tired of feeling embarrassed at what he had said, or afraid of what he might say. My wife is of Hispanic decent, my step-children are both of Hispanic and African-American decent. I don’t want them to be hurt because he can’t control his mouth. Nor, for that matter, do I want my bio-kids learning that kind of behavior as they are living, half the time, in a multi-cultural household.

I told him that just as he had demanded his own father treat him and his family with respect, I was also taking such a stand. I wrote this all in an email to him because I hoped I would express myself best that way. I got no reply. I tried a couple more times to either call or email. I received a response finally that told me, essentially, that until I was perfect, to leave him alone. In other words, I was not allowed to find fault in him because I had not achieved perfection.

Silence, then. I heard nothing else. Months passed. He and my step-mother continued to see my kids, though. They contacted my ex-wife and visited that way.

The funniest thing? He dropped me from his Friends on Facebook. So did my step-mother and her daughters. So, apparently, costing their son thousands of dollars was forgivable, but I had crossed a line so firmly no one could speak to me any more at all. This is high irony, folks.

I called to tell them, in October, that I didn’t wish them to spend time with my children, that if they couldn’t speak to me then they had no business spending time with my kids. But, being that I only have fifty percent custody, I have no control over what happens when they are with my ex. I see it as highly disrespectful, all of it. You would think I had done something truly awful to them, instead of writing an email that appears to have hurt their feelings. After that phone call, my Dad sent me an email saying he was busy with the preparations for their annual Halloween party but he would contact me after in order to discuss things.

I have yet to hear from him since then. I am told he isn’t working right now so they must have had quite a party if it has kept him busy all this time. Either that or I’m just not that important to him. I suspect the latter.

It’s hurtful. But, I’m not surprised. Honestly, I’m not overly likable, in my opinion. So, I’m not surprised when people have had enough of me. It’s a bit more extreme when it’s your own father. But, then again, lots of people don’t get along with their parents. The movies and TV shows are full of examples alone. Cat in the Cradle was a big hit decades ago. This isn’t new. And, why do you have to “love” your family members, anyway? You didn’t choose them. They didn’t choose you. So, it’s not insane to not want to talk to them, I suppose.

It’s been a time of revelations, really. I’m seeing that I’m capable of doing things I once thought impossible. I’m seeing that I can do things well. I’m building things. And, sometimes when you build something, you have to tear something else down. Maybe that’s all this is. I can buy my own tools, I don’t need to borrow his. I can do it on my own. I can buy my own car, build my own workbench, and be a parent to a step-son (I just realized his own father rejects him as well. I guess we do have a lot in common.)

Most of all, I know that I want my bio-kids to know, to feel that I love them and that I will never reject them, that I will never leave them hanging, that I will always, to the best of my abilities, protect them and help them. I want to build good relationships with all of my children, step and bio. And, I have learned that patience and the right tools make a big difference. When I take my time and measure carefully, cut straight, I can make something decent. If I have the right tool, the job is much simpler. And, maybe that’s my Dad’s real problem. He neither has the patience or the right tools.

If I have learned one thing in 41 years, it’s that everyone I know needs therapy. If you haven’t been in therapy/counseling then you are dumb as the guy that refuses to ever go to the doctor. He’ll insist that those doctors don’t know anything, that they do as much harm as good. And, then, usually sooner than later, they get an infection that they swear is getting better, that they ignore, and take pain killers for, and then end up septic and dead. Everyone needs to figure out their issues, and we all have issues. Some of us just go to a professional to talk it over and stop repeating the mistakes of the past. And, others deny they have any problems and get surprised when they are miserable.

I’m not miserable, today. I’m pretty happy. Miserable people like making others miserable. Happy people want to make others happy. I don’t always succeed, but at least I try to spread happiness most days. To me, that is the clearest way to see if you are mentally healthy. Did you make more people happy than sad today? Yes? You’re good, then. But, if the answer is no, then you might want to get some help. You’re miserable and you’re making your own company.

I’m not perfect, but I am, at least, trying to do better today than I did yesterday. I’m not always achieving it, but that’s still the goal. I guess I just wrote all of this because it has been on my mind. The holidays do that. Christmas always makes me think of my mom, for example. And, lately a lot of things have reminded me of my Dad. And, buying a car got me looking at my credit report which reminded me of the damage my ex-wife has done to me. So, that’s that, I guess. Nothing to do but to move forward, to look at the day and see what I can bring to it. I’ve got a few weeks off now and some projects to keep me busy… building some stuff.

A Christmas Confession

I have a confession to make. What I am about to tell you is a bit shocking and maybe a little disgusting. It may just change the way you look at me. But, I think I can’t go on unless I admit this to someone. That someone is you, dear reader.

I have a thing about Christmas music. It’s almost a sickness. I love Christmas songs.

Now, you may already know this, but I am a music geek. My primary love is hard rock/heavy metal music. But, I do enjoy listening to other genres such as classic rock, alternative rock, electronic, hip hop, jazz, classical, and pop/dance. Mind you, I do not listen to those other genres a lot. But, I will throw on some Kanye West, Nine Inch Nails, Mumford and Sons, Coldplay, or Miles Davis from time to time. Mostly, though, I like rock. Hard rock and metal, especially. I have, um, a pretty big music library. I think it’s somewhere over 80 gigabytes of music on my computer (And, yes, I buy a lot of music. I have, from time to time, “borrowed” from the interwebz. But, many times I turn around I buy the music if I like it or delete it if I don’t.)

With a large library of songs like this, over 10,000 songs, 900+ artists, and so on, I try to keep my iTunes organized. (I realize some people will criticize my use of iTunes and I don’t care. I like the integration with my computer and iPod.) I make sure that individual artists are alphabetized by last name first, for example. I cannot figure out why both iTunes Store and Amazon sell music with the artist’s first name first. For example, if you buy a Neil Diamond album (and you should buy several of the classic, early albums, or at least Hot August Night!) then it will get filed in the “N” section for Neil, which is rediculous. I worked at two different music stores (Kids, a music store was a place you went to buy tapes or CDs or even records. What are those? Forget it.) Neil Diamond should be alphabetized as “Diamond, Neil.” Always. Kanye is under “West.” Nikki is under “Minaj.” Pink Floyd is under “Pink” though. ‘Cause no one is named Pink in that band, ‘kay?

I also keep them organized by genres and like to make sure track names are correct. Nothing drives me crazier than seeing “Track 1,” “Track 2,” etc. I want my tracks to have album art, as well. So, I have gone to some trouble to organize my library.

And, I have a genre called “Christmas.” That’s all that it is, too. Songs for the December holiday. I realize there are other holidays during this time, but I barely observe Christmas, much less Hanukkah or Kwanza. So, I have Christmas and Christmas-related music in that genre. And, once a year, on the day after Thanksgiving, usually, I make room on my iPod for that collection of songs and I only listen to them during the holidays up to January 1st. Then, they’re off the iPod and “mothballed” until next year, just like the lights on my house.

It started about ten years ago. I don’t recall when, exactly, but at some point, I decided to get one of those classic Christmas compilations. I might have downloaded them from some file share, I don’t recall. I know a lot of them were low bitrate and sounded tinny. But, that kicked it off. I amassed a nice little collection over a short period of time. Then, something happened to my computer, like a hard drive crash, or something. Or maybe it was stolen. I’m not sure. But, I didn’t have a backup. I had to pull a lot of songs off my iPod to recover them and it wasn’t Christmas season, so they were gone. I started over.

This was a couple years ago. Amazon has been awesome, selling compilations for pennies a song. I also got a couple CDs from Costco that had nice selections. Two of my favorites have been the Bing Crosby “Voice of Christmas” and Frank Sinatra’s “Holly Jolly Christmas” albums. Such good recordings! The nice thing has been that I have gotten much higher quality files by purchasing them. Go figure. Anyway, I now have just over 700 Christmas songs. So much fun!

Being a music nerd, I decided to make playlists for the Christmas music. There’s one omnibus playlist that has all the Christmas songs in it. Then, I made one for just Jazz Christmas songs. There’s one for Classical Christmas music (i.e. an orchestra playing the songs). I made one called Christmas Modern that is all songs from the 1980’s on through today. But, my favorite by far is the Christmas Classics which is all songs from the 1940’s through 1960’s. That, to me, is the classic era for Christmas music. Bing, Frank, Dean Martin, Eartha Kitt, Mel Torme, Nat King Cole, Perry Como, Andy Williams, Burl Ives, all of those. That is the sound of Christmas as far as I’m concerned. I love the horns and bells in those songs, and sometimes the strings. I love the intersection of big band, jazz, rock, Hollywood musical, and crooners in these songs. There is, I think, an innocence in these songs, too. I don’t necessarily think that the time period is as ideal as it is sometimes made out to be, but I can’t escape the feeling that it was just a different, sweeter time to live. It is at once, classy and corny and all around wonderful.

Wanna know something weird? Okay, weirder? My favorite Christmas song, hands down, is “Carol of the Bells.” I love that song. The melody is dark and yet magical at the same time. “Hark how the bells, sweet silver bells, all seem to say, throw cares away…” Ahhhhh. That’s the stuff right there. I think I have about 8 versions of that song. I like the instrumentals, the acapellas, the electronic versions, all of them. Such a beautiful song, if you ask me.

So, that’s my secret. I love Christmas music and I spend a little too much time thinking about it. But, only for about four weeks a year.

 

Two days until the ride

I had written this days ago but forgot to hit “post.” Sorry about that. I will have an update soon.

I feel pretty good. My knee will probably hurt, but not bad enough to keep me from riding. My back, too, still isn’t 100% and I don’t know why. But, I know I will finish the ride, barring some kind of accident or something unknown. I feel ready, but I won’t set any course records on Saturday. I am hoping, at least, for some personal records, I guess. That’s what’s so cool about Strava and the Garmin computer. I will get a personalized analysis of my ride in a way that I never did before. It used to be that I could only get an average speed, a max speed, and a distance. But, now I can have all kinds of data. I will see my exact route, speed at any given point on the route, heart rate, too, and so on.

It’s pretty cool.

Anyway, I was thinking about how it’s going to hurt. I know that at many points on Saturday, my chest will heave, my quads will burn, my calves will ache, my knees will throb, and likely some other muscles or tendons in legs will feel tight and sore. My butt is going to hurt, I may even get sores. I will probably be too cold and too hot over the course of several hours, or even minutes. I will, at some point, look at my mileage and despair because I have so many miles left. I may be too hungry, lightheaded, nauseous, or just tired. My hands will likely go numb or tingle at times. My shoulders will hurt, my neck will ache, and my eyes will be dry.

All of that will probably happen and that’s the best case scenario. Worse case would be that I crash and and actually get injured. Or I get cramps. Or sick.

So much discomfort and even pain. Why do it? I often think about that. Sometimes I even try to figure it out during those times when it hurts so much. It is for the moments, I guess. There are moments when the surrounding are beautiful. I recall coming down Glendora Ridge Road and the sunlight sparkled through the maples and oaks on the mountainside. They were in the midst of changing colors (not the oaks, of course) and it was really cool. Sometimes it’s a moment where I feel good. My legs feel powerful, my body isn’t hurting unusually, and I am moving at a good pace. My pedaling is smooth, the bike tracks along the road and I feel the power transferring efficiently from my legs to the pedal, the chain, the cogs, the tires, and into the road. That’s a good moment, too.

I ride also because I can. I enjoy feeling like I did something that others can’t. It might be going up a steep climb, for example. Most people complain when the grade hits 2%. I like being able to climb four miles of 6-8% grade. I like getting to the top and knowing that I didn’t let the hill beat me. It also could be distances. Most people can’t even comprehend riding a bike for 100 miles, or even 50. It’s hard to do. It’s hard to be on the bike for hours at a time. So, there’s that.

I ride because it’s the most fun version of exercise I have found. I get injured running. Walking is too slow. I don’t want to use machines or lift weights. That seems pointless. Bike riding takes you places. You get to see things. I like the way the world looks from two wheels, and it does look different. Smells different too, good and bad. I love the smell of damp fields in the morning just beginning to warm in the sun. On the other hand, there’s the smell of a hot sewer or port-a-potty that has been cooking in the blazing Southern Californian sun. That’s every bit as bad as it sounds. Sucking in a lungful of car exhaust is no fun, either. But, a field of wild flowers is heavy with fragrance, or jasmine blooming in the later afternoon. Divine.

To some degree, cycling is about living with the pain, and sometimes enjoying it. Usually, it’s that the ride is better than the pain is bad. But, it can also be that the pain means you’re doing something worthwhile.

I’m looking forward to Saturday’s ride. It will be difficult. But, I have a feeling that I will get a little of everything from it. There will be pain, and beauty, loneliness (when I get dropped) and camaraderie. There will be ups and downs, good and bad.

The Plutonomy Must Die

“A third threat [to a plutonomy] comes from the potential social backlash. To use Rawls-ian analysis, the invisible hand stops working. Perhaps one reason that societies allow plutonomy, is because enough of the electorate believe they have a chance of becoming a Pluto- participant. Why kill it off, if you can join it? In a sense this is the embodiment of the “American dream”. But if voters feel they cannot participate, they are more likely to divide up the wealth pie, rather than aspire to being truly rich.

Could the plutonomies die because the dream is dead, because enough of society does not believe they can participate? The answer is of course yes. But we suspect this is a threat more clearly felt during recessions, and periods of falling wealth, than when average citizens feel that they are better off. There are signs around the world that society is unhappy with plutonomy – judging by how tight electoral races are. But as yet, there seems little political fight being born out on this battleground.”

From page 24 “Plutonomy: Buying Luxury, Explaining Global Imbalances” published by Citigroup

The above quote was taken from a leaked memo that came from Citigroup, the parent corporation of, among others, Citicards and Citibank. It is one of the Four Big Banks in the Unitied States. If you make less than a million dollars per year then you are not supposed to read those words. This memo was written by analysts at Citigroup because they believe that the U.S. is a plutonomy. A plutonomy is a state/nation ruled by the wealthy.

For most people, my father, for example, if you tell them we live in a Plutonomy they will scoff and wax misty-eyed for the red, white, and blue, insisting this is a democracy. The only people that still think we live in a democracy anymore only believe that because, as the above quote points out, they think they have a shot at being super rich, or maybe even just rich.

But, Citigroup, and the other financial giants, know that you can’t. This memo, and others like it, point out that the last several decades have seen the income inequalities widen and they forecast that these inequalities will not only continue but will grow.

People who defend the current policies that are championed by the Republican Party are as delusional as that guy who buys lottery tickets every week and dreams of being super rich. The reason it works, though, is because they can point to anecdotal evidence of that one guy who one day got rich. And, it’s a good thing the Bush Tax Cuts were in place so he can keep more of his money! The thinking goes, “When I’m rich, I want to keep that money, too. So, I will support policies that don’t benefit me now, but they might later if I get rich.” It’s the same principle that keeps slot machines in casinos. People will pay for the chance to be rich.

In California, we have Proposition 30 coming up for vote on the November ballot. Realistically, this should pass with overwhelming support. Why? It taxes only those couples making over $500,000 per year. My family makes a 1/4th of that, give or take. I don’t think I personally know anyone who makes 1/2 a million dollars a year. Do you? Why wouldn’t you support levying taxes against those who can afford to give more?

One reason might be that you listen to mouthpieces for the 1%, the financial elite, such as Rush Limbaugh or almost anyone on Fox News. You might believe them when they refer to those people as “job creators” or that if we tax them then they will leave and stop giving to charities. Or whatever excuse they give. The problem with that is, if that were true, then why don’t we have more jobs right now? Their incomes are at all-time highs and their taxes are at record lows.

Read the Citigroup memo and you’ll see why. The super rich, the 1%, doesn’t care at all about you. You are a number, a statistical threat to their wealth. The vast majority of Republican politicians and media mouthpieces, the ones most stridently screaming about increasing taxes (besides the completely delusional Tea Party puppets) are part of the 1% themselves. They know that YOU are the biggest threat to their wealth. They know that as long as they can keep you thinking that you have a shot at joining them then they can keep their wealth.

Why am I singleing out the Republican Party? Are the Democrats blameless? No. The Republican Party is just the most obvious about it. Hilariously, though, President Obama is acting more like a Republican than the traditional stereotypical Democrat should. Republicans would have you believe he has raised taxes like it was going out of style, but it’s not true. But, I tend to think that if the Republican party can be brought to heel that Democrats might realize they need to get back to doing what they were supposed to be doing in the first place: restoring balance and equity.

Consider this, how much wealth does anyone really need? What I am suggesting is that the super rich need to pay more and that we all probably ought to pay more. In the last 11 years of my career as a teacher I have watched an educational system being dismantled, mostly by defunding it. More recently, they are attacking teachers and demonizing them. There are at least two possible reasons for these concerted efforts to remake our educational system. One might be that they are stupid and inept and unable to see what an awful job they are doing. Or, it might be there is a profit to be made by doing so. Two things come to mind: one is that there is a metric shit-ton of money going through education all the time, and the other is that people who are uneducated are much easier to govern and exploit.

In reading The Narrative of the Life of Fredrick Douglass, I was struck by the fact that it was illegal to teach a slave to read or write. It makes devious sense. If you can keep someone ignorant, then you can control them easier. In learning to teach English, I have learned that writing is thinking. We write down what we think and we read to see what others think. Today, it is illegal NOT to teach someone to read and write. So, if you are in the business of profiting from the masses, what do you do? If you are super rich and you want to keep as much of that money as possible, do you help fund public education? No, you call for charter schools, demonize and defund public education, offer one unhelpful “reform” after another to keep teachers busy jumping through hoops, rewriting curriculum, and meeting quotas. Why? Because stupid, ignorant, uneducated people are less likely to vote, and when they do vote, they are more likely to do it based on emotion instead of information.

So, how much money do people really need? Mitt Romney has a net worth of $200 million. But, he can take a tax credit of $77,000 for dressage for his horse? Some people live on $77,000! But, apologists will say, this is legal. He’s not breaking any laws! I will grant you that. But, I will respond, is it right? Is it moral? And, is this the kind of person we want leading our country? I feel that if you have $200 million to your credit that you don’t need a $77,000 write-off. This is a man who thought making a $10,000 bet on stage with John McCain Rick Perry was a good idea. You see, people like Mitt Romney, the 1%, care so little for you and I that they don’t even realize how different their lives are. To win $10,000 for most people would be amazing! I would love that! I could do so many things with that kind of money! But, for Mitt Romney, that’s beer money. That’s money you don’t really need so you can spend it frivolously.

I wouldn’t spend it frivolously. I would very soberly, solemly, buy a new bike, probably made of carbon fiber and with Ultegra components. Or, I would pay my bills. Okay, probably the latter. Sigh. Carbon fiber.

Mitt Romney could pay off my student loans and not even flinch. I will be making payments on them until I am 70. This is my fault, I admit. I am very poor at understanding math and things like capitalizing interest. But, it still burns to think that people like Romney exist, taking advantage of the rest of us. And, worse, this is the same Mitt Romney that is against the government giving away things. You mean like the government giving you back taxes you owe because you play a sport with your horse? Is this guy for real? There are a few options: one is that Mitt Romney is delusional. I say that is unlikely. Another is that Mitt Romney is not aware of his hypocrisy. That is possible. Another is that Mitt Romney knows full well that he is benefitting from what he would deny to you and he doesn’t care. I think this is most likely true. Why? Because the rich got rich by exploiting others.

As Elizabeth Warren said:

“I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever. No. There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own — nobody.

“You built a factory out there? Good for you. But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate. You were safe in your factory because of police-forces and fire-forces that the rest of us paid for. You didn’t have to worry that marauding bands would come and seize everything at your factory — and hire someone to protect against this — because of the work the rest of us did.

“Now look, you built a factory and it turned into something terrific, or a great idea. God bless — keep a big hunk of it. But part of the underlying social contract is, you take a hunk of that and pay forward for the next kid who comes along.”

Did the rich pay, too? Yes, but not enough. Not as much as they’d like you to think. How much should they pay? I don’t know. More. I think if you are super rich, you should be paying a much greater percentage of your income than I do, that’s for sure. I paid something like 22% of my income last year into taxes. How much did Mitt Romney pay? Or Warren Buffet? They both pay somewhere around 15% or less. That means they pay a smaller percentage of their vast wealth than I do. Romney gets tax cuts that are equal to my salary. Personally, I think that’s nuts.

But, that’s what happens in a plutonomy. That’s what we live in. The difference between me and people that scoff at this is that I know I will never be super rich. I know I am never going to join the plutocrats. And, I’m not in favor of protecting them anymore. Why? Because they aren’t in favor of protecting me, or the rest of the middle and lower class earners. They don’t care about me, except in proportion to how much of a threat I am to their earnings. And, if you are making less than $500,000 per year, they probably don’t care about you, either. Like the corporations they own and run, they care about how much money you can make for them.

The easiest thing to do is ignore this. Keep voting for politicians that help the rich. Keep voting against taxes on the rich. Keep defunding schools. Keep defunding public services. Let the private sector take over. Buy into the myth that the private sector will do it more efficiently and better. (Really? Have you seen what the private sector does? Lower quality, higher costs, lower wages, higher profits. Go to the grocery store, the department store and tell me it’s not true. Tell me products today are better than they were fifty years ago.)

Ronald Wright, in A Short History of Progress, paraphrased John Steinbeck, writing, “Socialism never took root in America because the poor see themselves not as an exploited proletariat, but as temporarily embarrassed millionaires.” (This is often attributed as a direct quote by Steinbeck, but appears not to be.)

It is extremely unlikely that I will ever be a millionaire. Will you? Isn’t it about time we started making the United States a great country to live in for everyone, not just the super rich? Isn’t it about time that education in the United States was really and truly available for everyone? Isn’t it about time that anyone who needs medical care can get it, that our highways were maintained properly, that high speed rail was a reality across the country, that our National and State Parks were properly protected and cared for? I think it is. I think it is high time that people realize which side they are really on. I think it is time for people to demand that the 1% shoulder a greater share of the burden because they enjoy a greater share of the profit. I think it is time for the 99% of us to realize that they are not on our side, they are not helping us, and they are laughing behind their hands at us.

Read the Citigroup memo and tell me that the rest of us are anything but a resource to exploit.

I think it is time that we stopped doing what is legal and started doing what is right. I think it is time that we started asking ourselves if what we do is helping others or hurting them. I want to live in a world where people do what is right and good and get rewarded for it, not fired. I think it is time that people stop being distracted by red and blue, white, brown or black, and start focusing on their common humanity. Do not ask yourself if it is legal. Ask yourself if it is good for you and for others. Ask yourself if you are benefitting from the pain of someone else. Then, when we are doing these things, living our lives this way, then those who would exploit others, hurt others, will stand our starkly in the light of our justice and be revealed. Then, they will either cease their evil, or be alienated of their place in our society.

I think it is time that the United States become a place where the American Dream comes true, that people have a chance at life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness that is real, and not just a carrot dangled at the end of a treadmill that churns out profits for corporations. It is time that we stop looking for more and start asking if we have enough now. It is time that we end the plutonomy and bring the United States back to the representative democracy that it was meant to be. Of the people, for the people, and by the people.

(Yes, I know it’s huge rant, idealistic, polarizing, and maybe some would claim demagogic. I have thought this often, but not posted something like this. Today I changed my mind becuase it’s my blog and I can say what I like on it. If you don’t like it, don’t read it and go write your own blog. To some degree, it is inspired by The Newsroom because I tend to agree with the idea that we are being lied to, that what is important is not what people are talking about and thinking about, and that this country is not the greatest in the world… but it can be.)