Sunday, September 28, 2008

Retirement in Modern America

I just asked Patrick why he sighed. He said he was reading a small article. The number of employed people who are over 65 doubled from 1977 to 2007; and the number of those people who work full time rose from 44% to 56% from 1995 to the present.

I am 65. You don't have the energy you had at 25 or 35 or 45. And if you are working a physical job, you probably go home very tired.

You know you are running out of time. Whatever you want to do and experience has to happen soon. Even if you are healthy now, you can see poor health and death ahead of you. If you ever had dreams, you need to act on them. They may not be big dreams -- more time in the garden, more time with the family, just some rest, a book, an afternoon nap.

You are probably not working full time for entertainment and a little pocket money. You are doing it to pay the bills.

This is the breakdown of the union movement and the good company pensions. This is the evil cost of health care and medications.

I read somewhere that people are usually healthy until 75. After that, your chances of having serious health problems rise. So we are looking at many Americans working until they become sick, and then beginning the slow process of dying in discomfort.

You work 44+ years and what do you get? The need to keep working, till you are too sick to work. And then you die, and capitalism cruises on.

The US is about to spend $700 billion dollars on bailing out Wall Street, while many older people have just seen their hopes of retirement vanish, as their homes and investments (if any) lose value.

Sunday, September 21, 2008


I hosted a poetry workshop at my place today; and the other people liked the following poem, which I wrote a week or so ago while riding the bus home from work. It suggests that my mood has been a bit down lately, which would be typical. My mood always goes down a bit when the days shorten, and I had a cold.

We are here so briefly --
a few decades in a world where
mountains rise and fall,
seas close and open,
species come and proliferate
into spiny majesty.

What is our statement compared
to the bones of T. rex,
trilobite shells,
fossilized compound eyes,
brachiopod reefs,
fronds, the scaly trunks
of fern trees?

-- A poem
as fragile as burnt paper,
a scarf or brightly printed skirt,
the glance of dark eyes,
blond hair shining
in autumn sunlight.

Touched, we crumble.
Our words float like ash
on the wind.

I am still tinkering with the poem, based on suggestions made by my colleagues.

Economic Collapse

I come from a family that never recovered from the Crash of 29. My parents never invested in the stock market. My father didn't pay much attention to money, as far as I can tell; and my mother kept waiting for the next crash. I have lived my entire adult life expecting capitalism to unwind any day now. In addition, over the past few years, I have been reading economists such as Dean Baker and Brad Setser and (for that matter) Paul Krugman, who have pointed out how crazy the housing boom was and how fragile the financial system and the world economy have become; and I believed them.

I am still surprised by what's happening now.

I tried to explain it to one of my co-workers this way:

When you know someone with a fatal illness, from which there is no chance of recovery, you think you have come to terms with his or her death. But when the dying finally begins, you are still surprised and shocked.

I also discover that my chief response to the current crisis is not "I told you so" or "Ha! Ha! I'm right." It's "This could be a problem for me."

Maybe capitalism will recover without a major depression. But I am not cheered by the fact that the people responsible for solving the problem, who are getting a trillion dollars from Congress to use as they see fit, are the people who gave us the rebuilding of Iraq and the rescue of New Orleans.


I bought this photo this morning at the Black Dog coffee shop in Lowertown next to the Farmers Market. The photographer is named Mike Hazard, and he currently has a show at the Black Dog. He can be reached here. I'm especially fond of this picture, but he has a lot of other good ones of the Farmers Market and so on. Not the Farmers Market under fire, but lovely vegetables.

I think that I shall never see
a cop in riot gear as lovely as a zucchini.

The photo is named Taunt. I'm not sure who is taunting whom. Maybe the kid's pose is a taunt. Per Mike, this is the kid who ended with stomp prints and abrasions on his torso. I mentioned him in a previous post.

Do I know Mike? No, but I had to ask him for permission to use the picture on my blog.

You can see more of Mike's photography, including some very nice yellow summer squash, by following the link above, and this will get you to Mike's videos, including an interview with Jerome Leibling, the photographer I talked about in a previous post.

I guess I haven't gotten over the RNC. I will work on it some more.

Thursday, September 18, 2008


The leaves are beginning to turn. The temp has been going up and down, but cool times are coming, along with golden foliage and clear blue skies. Patrick and I are going to a Native American art market in Sioux Falls in a week.

I am going to give the ACLU a donation and ask them to use it for suing the city of St. Paul and then forget about the RNC.

Putting the RNC Demonstrations in Perspective

I have been doing more research on the Internet. This is from the Minnesota Daily, the University of Minnesota student newspaper:

The University Police Department had four officers in attendance at the RNC — two mounted officers and two motorcycle operators.

This put a strain on the remaining UMPD force, mandating that officers work longer than 12-hour days, University police Chief Greg Hestness said.

Hestness argued police response was justified considering the methods of protest.

“I know that a lot of tear gas was used,” he said. “But we don’t have any reports of citizens or officers seriously injured.”

Hestness said the RNC protests were far tamer in his opinion than the protests following the 2003 Gopher hockey (victory) when “strictly alcohol-fueled” students took to the streets starting fires and causing damage all over the University.

And here is the Associated Press on the 2003 hockey riot:

Moments after the Minnesota hockey team won its second straight national title Saturday, police began dealing with hundreds of students who began setting fires on campus.

Shortly after Saturday's game, students converged on the streets, setting cars, mattresses and dumpsters on fire. There also was broken glass strewn throughout the streets.

About 50 Minneapolis police officers, dressed in riot gear, blocked off streets in Dinkytown, a business area near the Minneapolis campus. The officers used pepper spray to disperse the crowd.

Minneapolis police spokesman Ron Reier said he believed there were arrests, but until things settled down he wouldn't have an exact number. There also were no immediate reports of damage to area businesses.

At least two people were injured due to the unruly crowd, Reier said. Both were taken from the scene in an ambulance with minor injuries.

Police were expecting a display similar to the one that led to 45 arrests and nearly $40,000 in property damage after last year's championship win over Maine.

This event, which the U of M Police Chief describes as far worse than the RNC and which caused more property damage according to the Minnesota Independent, was controlled by 50 Minneapolis cops with pepper gas.

I haven't been able to find the number of cops at the RNC yet. I know they were recruited from all over the Midwest, and the videos I've seen show walls of cops in riot gear, looking very scary. I've read and heard that they used tear gas, rubber bullets, tasers, pepper spray, clubs and stomping on people to control the tamer-than-hockey-jocks crowds. The Minnesota Independent has photos of a 17 year old kid -- a Buddhist -- with boot marks on his body, along with scrapes and blood, all caused by the police according to the kid and his family.

This was not necessary; it was not legal; and it has given St. Paul a nasty reputation internationally.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Letter to Chris Coleman, the Mayor of St. Paul

I emailed this to the mayor a couple of days ago:

I left St. Paul for a week while the Republicans were in town, because I expected problems -- not from the demonstrators, but from the city government, the police and the Secret Service. I thought the steps you guys were taking to protect the RNC from the outside world, including the people of St. Paul, were excessive and offensive. Everything I have heard since coming home indicates that the trouble I expected happened. As far as I can tell, the cops -- and that utter dimwit Fletcher -- overreacted to small and mostly harmless demonstrations. (I do not consider a few broken windows a major threat to civil peace.) Arresting people before they have done anything and arresting journalists covering the Convention has a very ugly look. There is a good piece in last week's City Pages on the city's lousy and violent crowd control, and an article by Amy Goodman on Common Dreams on how the city treated respected journalists. In addition, there are plenty of scary videos on the Internet of the St. Paul police force in action. This is how many Americans will think of St. Paul: a city occupied by an army of police in riot gear, a city afraid of its own shadow.

Fletcher is the Sheriff of Ramsey County, a tiny county which includes St. Paul and not much else. Ray McGovern's article, quoted in a previous post, describes how Fletcher operates.

Monday, September 15, 2008

I Hope Everyone is Reading the Media

There is a lot of news right now, what with the aftermath of Ike and the possible meltdown of the American financial system. Interesting times, as the famous curse goes.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Ten Examples of Contemporary Hwarhath Fiction

I have been planning a collection of my hwarhath stories (title above) for years, but figured it would require some work, since the earlier stories are translated from other word processing programs and need to be cleaned up.

This morning, on a whim, I took a look at the files for the stories. There are some line break problems, but otherwise the manuscripts look clean. I could assemble a book in less than a week. I really ought to do it.

Procrastination is the enemy of art.

You May Be Wondering

why I posted a picture of two sheep as a portrait of me. I did this when I joined Face Book a couple of days ago, because I wanted a picture rather than an outline of a human head. I was in the middle of joining and didn't want to hunt through my photography files, so I grabbed the first picture I could find. They are Icelandic sheep, and I am Icelandic descent, so there is a connection.

In Iceland, sheep spend the summer on their own in the mountains, since there are no natural predators. In the fall they are gathered up and sorted, each farmer taking his or her sheep. I figure centuries of taking care of themselves half the year should have eliminated any stupid sheep from the gene pool.

The last time I was in Iceland, I asked an Icelandic biologist if sheep are stupid. "Not at all," he replied. "People call any animal they exploit stupid."

(And that includes humans. People always call the people they oppress and exploit stupid. Look at all the books like The Bell Curve.)

According to Wikipedia, sheep test as smart as cattle and only slightly less smart than pigs; and the study wasn't testing Icelandic sheep, but (I think) American animals, who may not be as bright.

Anyway, I am now represented by smart, self-reliant Icelandic sheep on Face Book and this blog.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Baghdad on the Mississippi

I found a piece by Ray McGovern in Common Dreams on police action in St. Paul.

This sounds as nasty as I had feared: police spies and infiltrators and police preemptive strikes against people doing nothing illegal.
The St. Paul City Council? Only one member had the courage to speak out -- Councilman Dave Thune, who was particularly enraged that Sheriff Fletcher took action within St. Paul city limits:

"This is not the way to start things off...I'm really ticked off...the city is perfectly capable of taking care of such things...This is all about free speech. It's what my father fought for in the war. To me this smacks of preemptive strike against free speech."

Thune objected in particular to Fletcher's deputies using battering rams to knock down doors, then entering with guns drawn, and forcing people to the ground, as they did on Friday night.
This behavior sounds exactly right for Fletcher, the Ramsey County sheriff. He is a small town sheriff, who wants to make his job big and important and scary. I've heard him ask the Ramsey County Board of Commissioners for crime labs and canine units -- expensive goodies that aren't needed in a small and mostly peaceful city. The Commissioners react to him the way most of us react to slugs.

I found an MPR (or NPR) piece on the economic effect of the convention. Hotels, caterers, transportation companies and security firms did well. Business in general did not benefit, which makes sense. The delegates were in hotels all over the metro area, being bused to the convention center and attending a lot of private parties. Why would they go out into the streets of St. Paul, which were full of huge numbers of scary police and wander around looking for the stores and restaurants that are not there.

You cannot believe how empty downtown St. Paul is. There is one store -- a Macy's -- and half a dozen restaurants. The office workers leave between five and six. After that, there is no one downtown except poor people changing buses.

Minneapolis did somewhat better, apparently, most likely because downtown Minneapolis has stores and restaurants. But the extra business was not huge.

In the article, civic and business people talked about how much good the convention would do in future years -- all the national advertising for the Twin Cities, which would lead to future conventions and more visitors and so on.

What this tells me is, they can't say much about any immediate benefit.

The St. Paul police chief said the city police got all kinds of neat new equipment and training, and this would be useful. Ray McGovern describes a guy who was released after being arrested in St. Paul. He'd been tasered seven times, and blood from his wounds was soaking through his clothing. I don't think we need this new equipment -- which includes enough tasers for every single cop in the city -- or the kind of training that leads to tasering someone seven times. None of the behavior I saw described required this kind of violent response.


I just got back from a week in the Berkshire Mountains in Upper New York State. My brother and sister-in-law live there, in an area that was dairy farms when they bought their house. Now they are surrounded by the weekend retreats of New Yorkers with too much money.

But the country is still lovely; and where their house is, they don't have to look at any mansions. That's one advantage of forested mountains. The rocks and trees hide a lot.

I could tell I was coming down with a cold before I left. It was a pretty bad cold and occupied the entire vacation. I gave it to Patrick and my sister-in-law, so there was a lot of hacking and sneezing and nose blowing. At the moment, Patrick has no voice and is at home, since you can't be a policy advocate if you can't talk.

The Internet access at the house was limited, and there was not much national coverage of the Republican Convention. I did not find out about the demonstrations till I got back. It sounds as if they were small and mostly harmless; and the police were over-prepared, over-numerous and over-reactive. It sounds nasty. My home towns were turned into police states; poor people and nice middle-aged ladies who believe in peace were treated like dangerous criminals -- all so a bunch of hotels could make a lot of money.

It is not worth it. We should not have conventions that cause so much disruption. Maybe we need to build an armored complex some place in Kansas, which can be used every four years by both parties.

Maybe we need to stop being so afraid. A few kids broke a few windows in downtown St. Paul. So far as I can tell, that was the extent of the trouble.

Anyway, I'm home; and the cold is almost over.