Survey Research

Are you trying to call my land line to conduct a telephone survey? If you’re from a firm called Survey Research, you have rung my phone twice this evening. As soon as I heard the call was from “Survey Research,” I studiously avoided picking up the phone. If I somehow pick up the receiver, the call lasts only as much time as it takes me to say, “I don’t participate in surveys.”

What do I have against surveys? I find that most of them are composed to convince me of something rather than solicit information. And if they should solicit information from me, they would have difficulty in classifying me. On most issues, I am liberal (I call myself a Libtard); on some, I’m a centrist; and on a few, I am downright conservative. As Walt Whitman wrote in “Song of Myself”:

Do I contradict myself?
Very well then I contradict myself,
(I am large, I contain multitudes.)

If the survey firm finds me to be cooperative, they will sell my number and other surveys will come ringing. They are desperate, because surveys depend on reaching a large number of land lines; and most people have given up their land lines in favor of cell phones. So the next time an election rolls along (there should be one coming up in a few minutes—somewhere), the surveys will be a lot less useful than they used to be in the past. No matter. Political organizations will continue to commission them, and corporations will continue to try to sell or convince.

Just bear in mind that my opinions will not be represented in any of them.

Levels of Mean

I have been accused by some people of being mean to the homeless, typically by people whose experience of homelessness has been very different from what I have encountered. There are people who manage to get out of living on the streets. Usually, this applies to women, especially women with children. I write mostly about people who can more accurately be described as bums and their associated scags.

Does that sound mean? It should given my experience with garbage, poop, fights and screams in the middle of the night, vandalism, aggressive begging, theft, and stench. And this all is less than a hundred feet from my front door. Let us look at three levels of opposition to homeless encampments:

  1. Approach with flamethrowers and baseball bats.
  2. Apply political pressure to get them off the streets.
  3. Refuse to engage with them in conversation.

I am at level 3. When approached by a bum, usually to request a cash donation, I talk to them only in Hungarian. Ever since running into a Hungarian beggar in Vancouver, BC, I do not swear at them in Hungarian. All I want is for them to walk away looking confused.

Is this mean and heartless? Not really. I do not think much of the bums who live across the street from me. I do not sneer at them or give them any indications of opposition. If they want to talk to me, I just insist that it be in Hungarian. And I do not work with politicians on the problem, because I think they have no idea of the nature of the problem. There are just too many widely varying opinions across the entire political spectrum. Mine is just one of them, and by no means the most heartless.

The United States of Addiction

Across the street from my apartment is a row of some dozen or more tents usually surrounded by piles of trash and inhabited by people we typically refer to as homeless. (To me, that’s about as useful as referring to my neighbors in this building as “the housed.“) The easternmost tents have the most stable residents, while the ones to the west come and go. Some die of drug overdoses; some are hauled away by the police or ambulance; and, hopefully, some manage to escape life on the streets by happier means. They spend much of the night yelling at one another, particularly if one of the campers is a woman. It’s nobody’s idea of a stable community. Yet Los Angeles has tens of thousands of similar campers, whose numbers seem to be growing every week.

What are the causes of this phenomenon? One could certainly point to economic causes, such as the insanely rising cost of housing. There are also various social causes, such as people released from prison. In my neighborhood, many of the tent dwellers are military veterans as I live two miles from a major Veterans Administration hospital. I suspect, however, that the major causes are a combination of mental illness, alcoholism, and drug addiction.

I am currently reading a new book by Sam Quinones entitled The Least of Us: True Tales of America and Hope in the Time of Fentanyl and Meth. Its author talks about how a relatively new drug called Fentanyl has taken America by storm. Not relying on growing and processing a crop, such as cannabis, cocaine, or opiois, fentanyl is produced in the lab from such substances as Benzylfentanyl and 4-Anilinopiperidine. It is now readily available and devastatingly cheap. So cheap that small amounts are frequently mixed in with cocaine and opioids. The result is twofold: .

  • A more satisfying high
  • A vastly increased mortality rate

The above illustration from the Drug Enforcement Administration tells the whole story, comparing the amount required to cause overdose deaths of heroin, carfentanyl (developed to anesthetize rhinoceroses), and fentanyl. As you can see, if a drug dealer gets a pound of fentanyl or carfentanyl, he or she can make thousands of pills with it and still have enough left over to mix with heroin or cocaine. Because so little is needed—beyond which the risk of overdose looms—one can see how a drug dealer can more easily move the drug without being apprehended and also make a killing selling it.

Most fentanyl comes from China. Although the Chinese government has outlawed its sale, drug manufacturers can evade prosecution by making slight changes to the molecular structure of their product.

I have no doubt that most of the tent dwellers across the street from me are users of fentanyl. It’s compact. It’s cheap. And it’s deadly.

Air Rage

Flying Isn’t What It Used To Be

I remember my first passenger flight in 1959, from Cleveland to West Palm Beach via Jacksonville. It was like a special privilege. Other kids in the neighborhood expressed jealousy. It was only a prop plane, but we were to be served a special meal enroute with china and silverware.

Half a century later, I hesitate to fly any American carriers, mainly because the majority of passengers are American citizens; and I have lost my faith in my fellow Americans. I would rather take a European, Canadian, or Latin American carrier because the people on board are more likely to be better behaved.

Most of the fights that break out are related to the wearing of masks by rabid Trumpites who in their minds (such as they are) think that Covid-19 is fake news. People have to risk sickening and dying because of such asininity?

I like the idea of severe penalties for bad behavior on a flight. If I didn’t have to go through a thorough inspection at the airport, I would travel with a set of brass knuckles to help subdue violent passengers. Fortunately, the chances of needing them are minimal on Linea Aerea Nacional (LAN), Volaris, Air Canada, or Icelandair.

Unless American carriers take decisive action against passengers committing air rage, they will not get my business.

The He-Man Woman-Haters Club

Why Is That Guy on the Left Not Sporting a Beard and Turban?

Well, Kabul has gone Kaboom once again. The predictable happened: The U.S. started a war, lost interest in it, and Ali Baba and the Forty Thieves waited for their opportunity to pounce, which they did. As in Viet Nam, the U.S. must evacuate thousands of Afghans who made the mistake of thinking we were in it for the long haul.

Note: The United States is never in it for the long haul. We are short-termers in just about everything we do.

The biggest losers, of course, will be the women of Afghanistan, who must resign themselves to a lifetime of drudgery, hidden behind ugly face-and-body-covering burkas. Naturally, women will no longer be able to go to school or work with men in jobs. Your hospital nurse will probably have a beard and turban as well as some kind of automatic weapon.

The Taliban remind me of the Cult of Hashashins in medieval Lebanon and the murderous Thuggees of India, who have given us two words in our English language: assassins and thugs.

Will the Taliban be as plug-ugly as they were in the lead-up to the 9/11 terrorist attacks? Or have they learned to be something other than cartoon villains resembling a 1930s Popeye cartoon based on the Ali Baba story? Only time will tell.

Sosh

This Picture Describes Succinctly What I Am NOT!

I used to work at Urban Decision Systems with a Vice President named Jay W. McBride, whom I liked and respected. Once, when I complained about another VP, Jay said that he was a “sosh,” pronounced like the beginning of the word “social.” As Jay was a lifelong Mormon, I wondered if this was a term used in his background to describe people who were essentially social butterflies.

One thing I am not is a sosh. That’s why I did not find the Covid-19 quarantine particularly onerous. I made a point to contact my friends regularly over the phone, but I did not attend any super-spreader events frequented by people who could not stay away from large groupings of their social cohort.

By now, I and most of my friends have been vaccinated. (Martine continues to be a holdout, but, like me, she’s not a sosh.) I have visited with my good friends from San Pedro and Altadena, and look forward to re-establishing several other connections.

But will I ever attend a large party? Perhaps. If I do, I will probably arrive late and leave early, as is my wont. I derive little pleasure from talking in person to many people, particularly if they are strangers.

The Giving Never Ends

Many charities accomplish great things. Many others—and not everyone knows which ones—serve only to provide jobs for people who work for them. The coronavirus outbreak has made many charities frantic in their fundraising, seeing as how many people are now without disposable cash.

I am amazed at the number of television ads for charities that ask for a fixed monthly amount—usually $19 for some odd reason. They include such unusual ads as those as the International Fellowship of Christians and Jews (IFCJ) which attempts to support holocaust survivors in Russia and Israel, for $19/month. Then there is the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA), which saves abused dogs and cats (and whatever) from abusive owners who don’t feed and house them properly, for $19/month. This one gives you a garish “collectible” T-Shirt for your trouble.

If you do have some cash, you can easily be charged to death. Those repeating $19 charges never end, unless you make a concerted effort to stop them.

Thanks, I’ll Pass

Look, I’m not some horrible person who believes in abusing animals or elderly Jews. I’m sure some of that money goes for helping people and animals; but TV ads cost a lot of money. Instead of showing shivering, starving animals, I am sure the cameramen should first have refilled their water dish and fed them.

Then there are the telephone ads. Several years ago, when I was still working, I donated some money to a police relief fund. Ever since, I have been marked for a sucker and subject to repeated requests for cash—and not only for police, but for firemen and others. Yesterday, I received a call from a live person who talked over my voice pleading for him to save his breath because I wasn’t in a position to donate. He rudely hung up on me, angry that he hadn’t succeeded in making me snivel guiltily. Even the more responsible callers, try to wheedle a small donation out of me even after I said I wasn’t donating anything to anyone. This gets old fast.

Charities do buy sucker lists, so when you give to a charity, you will hear from at least a dozen others. I was never a philanthropist, but now I am on a fixed income. My guess is that the number of these calls, as well as desperate pleas in the mail, will not taper off anytime soon.

The ’Burbs

I Have This Problem with the Suburbs

There are several ways we went wrong after the Second World War. The main thing was our hubris. We thought that everything we did was right—because we were the only major country not in ruins. The government decided to help returning GIs buy little ticky-tack houses on the fringes of our major cities, and let the cities themselves go to hell. Oh, there were half-hearted attempts to build urban housing projects that quickly became dangerous slums.

And the suburbs? They were a refuge from the big cities. There was one little problem: We brought our children along to live in those ticky-tack houses, even when they didn’t buy into the dream. Being our kids, they had their own dreams, and they didn’t include barbecues and mowing the front lawn.

Interestingly, the suburbs are in some cases politically liberal, and in others utterly racist and fascistic. Even within Southern California, one can find examples of both. Take Sherman Oaks on one hand, and Moreno Valley on the other. Sometimes, suburbs start up hopeful and end up mean, such as Palmdale and Lancaster in L.A.’s Antelope Valley. At one time, the city was thinking of moving L.A. International Airport to Palmdale, which would have been a major disaster. Aside from the bad neighborhood, it’s at least a one hour drive, and usually more, from the more populated parts of the county.

One of the things about living in the city is that you have to get along with people. Across the street from me are a number of bums living in tents amid piles of assorted malodorous garbage. While I don’t ever give money to panhandlers, I don’t do anything to make their lives any more difficult. That’s not because I’m a nice guy, but because these mental cases, alcoholics, and druggies happen to be my neighbors. I maintain my distance from them, and although I casually wish their encampments were fire-bombed, I myself wouldn’t light the match.

As a city dweller, I frequently use public transportation because (1) it is cheap for me as a senior citizen and because (2) parking fees are getting out of hand. I have no problem with driving two or three times a week during the coronavirus quarantine and leaving my car parked in the rear carport. Suburbanites, on the other hand, would rather put their arms in a meat grinder rather than board a bus or light rail.

Things Not Worth Doing: One of a Series

Do You Know Anyone Whose Opinion Was Changed by One?

This was originally posted on June 29, 2014.

I have always wondered why people are so willing to advertise their opinions, their place of work, info about their families and whatever, especially by sticking bumper stickers on their cars. I can think of at least three reasons why this is not such a good idea:

  1. There are parts of town where I would not like to advertise my political beliefs, such as in Orange or San Diego Counties. My car is not a new one, but at least it still runs for now.
  2. It is distinctively possible that your favorite candidate could turn out to be an unregenerate louse. After all, why would someone want to go into politics any more unless one is on a power trip? (It didn’t used to be that way, but it is today.)
  3. Bumper stickers are a lot like tattoos: They’re a lot easier to apply than to remove.

As for myself, this blog is my bumper sticker. If, after reading it, you think I am a political conservative, you must not have read it very carefully.

Multipleheaded Spirits

Trevor Noah of the “Daily Social Distancing Show” on Comedy Central

The Nigerian novelist Chinua Achebe, author of Things Fall Apart, once wrote that the criss-cross of Africa to Euroamerica is a place of “a certain dangerous potency; dangerous because a man might perish there wrestling with multipleheaded spirits, but also he might be lucky and return to his people with the boon of prophetic vision.”

There are several people I could think of who have weathered that crossing and managed to have come out ahead in the process. Trevor Noah on Comedy Central’s “The Daily Social Distancing Show” is one such African. According to his autobiographical Born a Crime, Noah’s very existence as a mixed-race baby of South African and Swiss parentage was a violation of Apartheid at the time of his birth in Johannesburg in 1984. After his successful hosting of the 2021 Grammy Awards Show, his show biz career is looking up.

I watch his show on Comedy Central whenever I can.

Franco-Senegalese Novelist Marie NDiaye

One of the greatest contemporary French novelists is Marie NDiaye, who although born in France, has produced stunning body of work (My Heart Hemmed In, Three Strong Women, and The Cheffe, to name just three) that I think puts her on the track to the Nobel Prize for Literature. It’s even harder to do this in France than here in America.

Nigerian-American Novelist Teju Cole

Finally there is Teju Cole, born in Kalamazoo, MI of Nigerian parents. He is the author of Open City, Every Day Is for the Thief, and Known and Strange Things.I have read the first two titles and found them a revelation, the first about life in New York City, the second about life in Nigeria.

It is my belief that Africa has a lot to give us. The old Anglo-Saxon literary and artistic hegemony is in tatters, and the same goes for Europe. It is infuriating that people see the Africans as a threat. The descendants of the slaves have given us our music and excelled in the performance arts. More recent Africans continue to make this a more interesting country to live in—if only we let them!