Flying to Florida 1959

My first flight was in the summer of 1959—to Florida of all places. Way back around 1946-47, we had all lived in Lake Worth, now a suburb of West Palm Beach. My Dad had the worst job in the world for someone with a delicate stomach: disposing of the bodies of dead alligators. My Mom worked as a checker in a supermarket. So when Mom wanted to hook up with her Florida friends a dozen or so years later, my Dad wanted no part of it.

Wait a minute! Florida in the summer? Were we out of our minds? Apparently. It was either June or July, and Mom had made a reservation at an apartment on Federal Highway in Lake Worth. So Mom, my brother (then seven years old), and me (aged fourteen) were off to Cleveland Hopkins Airport, where we boarded a prop plane similar to the one shown above and flew to Jacksonville, where we landed to embark and disembark passengers, and continued on to West Palm Beach.

That second leg of the flight was a real doozy. We were flying at low altitude through a violent thunderstorm. I saw a stewardess lose her footing and dump a tray of beverages into the laps of a row of passengers.

Then, when we finally landed in West Palm Beach and stepped out of the plane, it was as if we were hit in the face with a hot, wet towel. Cleveland in the summer was humid, but nowhere near so bad as Florida. We sort of got used to it. We even got used to seeing dead palmetto bugs as big as mice piled up along the curbs.

Bookworm that I was, even at that early age, I remember vividly that I was reading Lew Wallace’s novel Ben-Hur, which I completed there and started reading MorrisWest’s The Shoes of the Fisherman. Good reading for a devout Catholic schoolboy, though I couldn’t stomach it today.

One interesting memory of that trip: My Mom had worked for a rich widow in Palm Beach named Mrs. Gregory. One day, we went to visit her. Mom always thought that some rich person would out of the goodness of her heart shower us with money and gifts. It never happened. Instead, we went for a ride in her chauffeured Cadillac with no air conditioning and the windows resolutely closed on a sweltering day. Afterwards, she generously offered us a glass of ice water.

It Goes Way Back…

The Roman Senate in Session

Lest you think that what is befalling the United States at present is of recent vintage, I urge you to consider the two great parties of the Roman Republic around 130 BC. There were two main political parties, the optimates (“the best ones”) and the populares (“favoring the people”). The former—consisting of members of the senatorial class and large landowners—were united in opposition to the tribunes Tiberius Sempronius Gracchus and his younger brother Caius Sempronius Gracchus. According to Wikipedia:

For about 80 years, Roman politics was marked by the confrontation of these two factions. The Optimates favoured the ancestral Roman laws and customs, as well as the supremacy of the Senate over the popular assemblies and the tribunes of the plebs. They also rejected the massive extension of Roman citizenship to Rome’s Italian allies advocated by the Populares.

How familiar it all seems today! The Republicans, whose entire political platform could be expressed in the phrase “I got mine,” are fearful and apprehensive that the unwashed Democrats and their immigrant allies want a share of their wealth. Like the Optimates, the Republicans are “the best ones,” so whatever they do to hold on to power is quite all right with them.

Yesterday, I ran into an elderly woman at the Farmers Market on Fairfax who was a virulent Trump supporter. She thought that the black and other unwashed Barbarian hordes were after her money. I didn’t bother to try reasoning with her, because she was beyond reason. So I merely insulted her, as did the Afro-American gentleman who was in line with me.

I always thought that the nice thing about having money is being able to spend it in interesting ways. Not necessarily so! At some point, this woman inherited some money, problem from her late husband and decided to build an impregnable fortress around the proceeds against me and my kind.



Billionaires Are No Heroes

They Love Themselves Too Much to Deserve Your Love

The 2016 election of the Trumpf showed me that, to an increasing extent, Americans are enamored of their billionaires. They are called “job creators,” when when they fire thousands of workers after their failed mergers and acquisitions. Even though some of them have proved useful to their fellow Americans (notably Bill Gates and Warren Buffett), most are not worth spit. We are currently watching one of them, Elon Musk, become unglued, risking his former godlike status.

In last week’s edition of The New Yorker, there is an almost book-length profile of Mark Zuckerberg of FaceBook, a man who would sell his mother to a Russian glue factory just for the lulz.

I was at the Farmers’ Market with my friend Robert today. We both agreed that part of Trumpf’s popularity is due to the fact that even the most idiotic, toothless redneck thinks he or she can become a billionaire—just so they can tell everybody off who ever dissed them, or even looked as if they might diss them. Also, maybe they would like to have a go at their favorite porn stars, even if they have nothing but a pathetic little stump for a weapon.

In time, a few of the most astute of them (there must be at least or or three spread across this great nation of ours) will figure out that they have been had. This is a president whose policies help billionaires, but no one else. The others will continue to be raped at their leisure until they die, get thrown out of their hovels, or succumb to a lack of reasonable health insurance.



Too Much Self-Esteem

The Whole Package for Guys Who Believe They’re Special

The worst thing about living in Southern California is that there are too many people—particularly males—who have been told all their lives that they are special. The result is a population that thinks they deserve all the good things in life without having to work for them. One sees on the road all the BMWs, Lexuses, Mercedes Benzes, Maseratis, Bentleys, Jags, and other high-priced vehicles that are the trademark for guys with tiny weenies who at the same time are big dicks … and who have to prove it several times each mile.

At the time I was sent to school at the tender age of five, I was not told I was special. My friend András and I were considered as little freaks who attacked our teacher because she refused to understand our Hungarian, which, after all, was the prevalent language of the Buckeye Road neighborhood in Cleveland where we lived. My teacher, Mrs. Idell, retaliated by sending me home with a note pinned to my shirt asking what language I was speaking. From that point until the fifth grade, when I finally knew enough English to get good grades, I was thought to be something of a retard. In Second Grade, Sister Frances Martin, the Dominican nun who was our teacher at Saint Henry, would come up to me, pull my nears hard, and call me “cabbagehead.”

When I came to Los Angeles in 1966, I encountered a widespread plague of high self-esteem. Everybody had to pretend to be richer, more handsome, and more of a stud than they in actuality were. I think that one result of all this is that many of my fellow students put themselves in debt up to their ears. I wouldn’t be surprised if many of them are living on the streets in homeless encampments.

It reminds me in so many ways of many Honoré de Balzac novels, such as Lost Illusions, in which a whole society tried to live beyond its means. Some managed to do it; others fell hard by the wayside.


Serendipity: How Rat’s Family Got Rich

How to Make the Best of a Bad Lot

This weekend, I read Haruki Murakami’s first novel, Hear the Wind Sing. While it was not quite the level of his more recent work, it had some choice moments. The unnamed narrator has a friend called Rat, who comes from a wealthy family. It was amusing to find out how his family made its fortune:

Rumor had it that Rat’s father had been penniless before the war. On the eve of hostilities, though, he had managed, after much difficulty, to lay his hands on a small chemical factory, where he began producing insect repellent cream. There was considerable doubt as to its effectiveness, but, fortunately for him, the war spread to the South Pacific at that juncture, and the stuff flew off the shelves.

When the war ended, the Rat’s father moved his stock of ointment into warehouses and began marketing a sketchy health tonic; then, toward the end of the Korean War, in an abrupt move, he shifted to household cleaners. Rumor has it that the ingredients were identical in all cases. Not inconceivable.

In other words, the same ointment slathered on the heaped bodies of Japanese soldiers in the jungles of JNew Guinea twenty-five years ago can today be found, with the same trademark, gracing the toilets of the nation as a drain cleaner.

Thus did the Rat’s father join the ranks of the wealthy.




What Have Billionaires Done for Us Lately?

Trump with His Plane

Trump with His Plane

There is a certain category of voter who thinks we need a businessman at the helm of this country. Do we? What have businessmen done for us lately?

Perhaps their biggest contribution has been to send American jobs overseas. My father used to be a machine tool builder in Cleveland. Now there is an ever-dwindling number of machine tool builders in the United States. Plenty of them in Southeast Asia, however!

If a hypothetical President Trump were in charge, what might he do? For starters, he could send less desirable (i.e. Democrat) voters to Syria, Libya, and Somalia—countries which are in the process of being rapidly depopulated.

He can raise his salary and create new perks for his office. (Isn’t that what billionaire businessmen do best?)

He could find sneaky ways of making his investments worth more (and those of his competitors worth less).

Really, in the end, all American CEOs care about is me, Me, ME, ME! After all, they didn’t get rich by helping losers. And we are all losers, aren’t we?



Great for Target Practice

A Floating Tax Haven for the Rich in International Waters?

A Floating Tax Haven for the Rich in International Waters?

We all know that the rich just don’t like the notion of paying taxes. So what if they decided to build a giant floating city with built-in airfield in international waters, where—presumably—they would not be required to pay taxes? I think it’s a terrific idea. Before I give you some of my ideas, read the article on MSNBC that piqued my interest. Then, here’s what I have to add to the concept:

  • Definitely put it right on the hurricane track between Africa and the Caribbean. Extra points for anchoring it in the Sargasso Sea and in the center of the famed (and scenic) Bermuda Triangle.
  • For a flag of convenience, how about the Skull and Crossbones?
  • Since this floating fat man’s paradise would belong to no nation in particular, it might be great for the navies of the world to use it for target practice.
  • If someone were to send letters laced with anthrax and ricin to individuals aboard the ship, who would be responsible? The security guys?
  • For service workers, of which there would be many, I think a ghettoized slum would be just the thing—no windows, poor ventilation, no extra charge for Legionnaires’ Disease. Then we could see how long before class warfare erupts.

I rather hope this fine idea comes to fruition. The possibilities are endless!

The Biggest Losers

Sheldon Adelson of Las Vegas Sands Corporation

Millions of dollars were all but thrown away by many of America’s most wealthy right-wingers. Heading up the list is Sheldon Adelson of the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. Out of $53 million he injected into the 2012 election, his only winner was a minor Michigan ballot initiative. If his political investments were race horses, they were mostly glue factory material.

Remember Karl Rove, whom George W. Bush nicknamed “Turd Blossom”? He came a cropper with his American Crossroads Super PAC, which spent $103 million in attack ads with a paltry 1% success rate. And here we thought the man was invincible, instead of being just another reputation on the rocks.

It is possible that the Citizens United decision which opened the political contribution floodgates did more of a disservice to American millionaires than it did to the electoral process. You may recall from several of my recent posts that I thought all this political advertising would ultimately be regarded as mere noise in the system which voters would just tune out. That is a typical American failing: If something works once, say the Willy Horton ads that sank Michael Dukakis’s campaign for President in 1988, that doesn’t mean that a thousand-fold increase in negative advertising will bear a thousand times as much in the way of results.

No, there are limits. You know that I don’t listen to political advertising at all. I even throw out all the political bulk mail I get without reading it. For me, information is not something I am force-fed, but something I go out and actively seek, carefully judging the accuracy of the source.

So now there are quite a few millionaires out a lot of money. I’m sure they’re on the horn with their accountants right now trying to figure out how to expense their contributions so that they won’t have to pay so much in taxes. I frankly hope they get audited and convicted. The jerks!

This Is the Day

This Says It All About U.S. Elections

I was surprised, but at the same time gratified, to see about 150 people in line ahead of me when I showed up at 7:15 am—just a quarter of an hour after the polls opened—to cast my ballot. Needless to say, I voted against Mitt Romney and whatever issues and candidates the Koch Brothers and their nefarious ilk supported.

For me, the 2012 Election is over. I’ll check the Internet a few times this evening to see how things are going, looking anxiously over my shoulder to make sure there is no last-minute groundswell of support for Conservative candidates.

Tomorrow morning, I will know whether we will be relatively safe for the next four years under the mercurial “Bronco Bama” or whether I will have to join the disloyal opposition and bullyrag my Senators and Congressman into doing to the Romnesiac what Boehner and McConnell have been doing to Obama since he took office. And I’ll want to see birth certificates and baptismal certificates for Romney and his wife and dog: We don’t want no polygamite Messicans taking over our fair land.

You can probably guess that, if Romney should win, you will see me doing more blog entries in protest of what I can guess will be some pretty objectionable government policies. And I will certainly foment class warfare against Right Wing billionaires.

Frankly, I would just as soon write about some great literature I’ve read, neat places Martine and I have visited, and maybe some personal reminiscences of my past. If you haven’t voted yet, you can save me from becoming politically radicalized by voting Democratic wherever possible. You don’t want to do that, don’t you?

The above Cartoon is a classic from the New Yorker.



Romney: The Choice of Millionaires Everywhere

A nation survives based on its ability to levy taxes to provide services to its citizens. Among those services are a standing army and navy, a postal service, and embassies and consulates around the world. Within the last century, new services have been added, at least here in the United States: Social Security, Medicare, and (to a diminishing extent) public assistance.

When a man who is running for the presidency shows himself to be disingenuous about the taxes he himself has paid—and when what he reveals shows himself to be a minor contributor to his nation’s success—then perhaps that candidate is too irresponsible to hold the reins of government.

Let’s face it: Mitt Romney is playing this game for himself and for his class of the Super Rich. He is waving the flag of his experience as CEO of Bain Capital to show how experienced he is. But experienced at what? Hiding money in offshore accounts in the Cayman Islands? Outsourcing U.S. jobs to Southeast Asia? Whose president would he be?

Certainly not mine. I am not a member of Mitt and Ann’s Country Club set and would not stand to gain from what he proposes to do. Who would gain? Only those One-Percenters who have done so much to destroy America’s pre-eminent position in the world since the end of World War II.

It troubles me that so many millions of other voters who would not gain from a Romney presidency are still backing him. The only reason I can think of is that, for many Americans, the right to be free entails a form of economic and moral suicide, mixed with overtones of racism and anti-authoritarianism.

This man promises to bring America back to its greatness by pillaging the nation’s piggy bank, enriching himself and his cronies, and moving on. Isn’t this the very picture of an American CEO? And this qualifies a CEO to be president?

No, Mitt, if you don’t want to contribute to this country’s greatness by paying your just share of taxes, I don’t think you deserve to be anything but the Bain of American politics.