Thursday, July 30, 2009

"Gone from our sight"

Betty passed away peacefully yesterday afternoon. She lived a long and rewarding life, a life of adventure for her, and one of kindness and generosity toward everyone she met.

She had a profound influence on a rippling circle of individuals, most lately of course, the professionals who cared for her as her life waned away, but more inclusively, her family, and the friends who came to visit her in the last few weeks.

As we make "the arrangements", we come to realize that many of those she touched, perhaps all of them who are still alive themselves, have come to visit her and pay their respects for her life and her inspiration. Oh, there have been many tears, to be sure, but there has been far more joy and sense of honor just to know her.

She literally saved my life -- more than once -- and I am eternally grateful to her.

As far as we could tell, she went gently into that "other place" which she had visited before but where she had never been able to stay. We believe that her spirit left her body some time before her body shut down completely, but just when she completed her journey we can't know. She was at peace, though, when the end finally came. The serenity on her face and the easy appearance of her body as she lay in bed while we put up with all the bustling to and fro of the various people who came to certify and to pronounce and to call various others and to pray and to take her body away to the mortuary was a blessing; she was so beautiful through it all.

The friend who called yesterday called again about ten minutes after Betty died. His name appeared on the screen as the phone rang. I answered the phone, "So you know do you?" He said, "I knew yesterday." I told him that Betty had breathed her last just a few minutes before, and here he was calling... He said, "I drove by your house a few minutes ago, but something told me not to stop. I sensed I should go home and call instead." Yes, it was the right thing to do, and we talked for a while, remembering a mutual friend who had been through somewhat the same process of dying several years ago. I said, "You're still welcome to come over. Would it help you to see her one last time?" He said, "I'll be over, but first I'm going to get you all some burgers at the [Burger joint name redacted] and make sure you get some food in you." I thought OMG.

So we went through a whole raft of processes and procedures ending with our waiting with the priest for the nurse who would "pronounce" the death, when my friend arrived knocking on the door, and sure enough he'd brought big sacks of fresh-cooked hamburgers -- which smell wonderful -- and he and the priest, and we and Betty's granddaughter chat about what a wonderful person Betty had been, how much she'd touched our lives, etc, etc, and my friend went over to Betty, who was still very serene on her bed, and he gently took her hand, kissed it and stroked her head and turned away, tears streaming down his cheeks, and just whispered "Thank you." He left not long afterwards, reminding us that we'd better have those hamburgers, and we said we would.

And about an hour later, when all the hub bub was done, we did; we had a wonderful little wake, Betty's granddaughter and us, as we talked about Betty's life, listening to music she liked to hear, and making preps for the next step.

At this point, I don't think there's going to be a funeral as such. Betty's body will be cremated, and her ashes will be split. Her spirit will be honored, and her memory will be secured. I suspect a number of people will write about her -- I couldn't possibly be the only one who does so! Those words will be assembled and distributed to those whose lives she touched so profoundly.

Rest in peace, Betty. You may be gone from our sight, but you will always be in our hearts. It was a privilege just to know you.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

"She looks like she's sleeping normally..."

A friend just called and apologized for not coming over to see Betty today -- she only had one visitor today, and that was probably enough in any case. My friend was pretty broken up about not coming over, though. He was remembering the loss of his parents, first his father and then his mother, and how much it took out of him and yet how much he gained from being there for them when he could be, staying with his father for his final days. He said he couldn't handle his emotions if he'd seen Betty again; it would have been too much. "Is she hanging on?" Yes, I said. Barely. "She looks like she's sleeping normally..."

But she is definitely on a journey.

As we talked on the phone, I could tell my friend was bawling his eyes out. Sometimes it's best just to let loose like that. I know when the priest came yesterday it was pretty constant tears around here, but Betty could hear us testifying about so many of the wonderful things she'd done for us and the special spiritual gifts she'd given us. And she smiled that astonishing smile of hers, and she let us know she liked hearing us say how good she was!

Well, she was and is. So there.

Betty's been on that journey several times before, but she's never quite reached her goal. She said she saw her son on that journey once, a son who'd been killed by a drunk driver while he was helping a motorist change a tire beside the road almost 40 years ago, and she said he told her, "Momma, it's not time yet, you have to go back, but I'll be here to meet you when it is the right time." She's seen her mother and her father, and she says she thinks she's seen her little brother who died when he was three years old. She's described her experiences there, "in that place", in great detail, and she's had no fear of going there again. No fear at all.

And we're very grateful for that.

When "T" was here this morning, Betty was still able to communicate, to share a few words, to smile, to listen to stories. And that was good. It was a fine morning.

Tomorrow? We can't know. But Betty has been letting us know that she's OK and she's going to be OK.

Bless her heart.

Saturday, July 25, 2009

OT: Vigil

Last October, we started Hospice Care At Home for an elderly relative who suffered from congestive heart failure and desperately wanted out of the hospital where she'd been subjected to all manner of indignities and tortures in a successful effort to save her life. We had to take a really strong stand with her doctors, but after considerable.... persuasion.... she was released and brought to our home. She refused some of the home treatment her doctor recommended, including feeding through nasal tube to be followed with the insertion of a PEG in her stomach. So the doctor pulled the tube out of her and sent her on her way with a "No Code" notice to post on the refrigerator in case we needed to call Emergency Services. This was actually a kindness.

She was in Hospice Care for nine months, quite a bit longer than the professionals expected her to live. In fact, her doctor didn't expect her to live more than a few weeks after she got home if that long. She was expected to starve to death because she refused the NG tube and the PEG.

Oh, but she thrived instead. She gained strength and gained weight, she ate and drank normally, she was eager to get better. I was her primary care giver, but there was a nurse once or twice a week, and a home health aide came periodically to wash her and chat with her and cheer her up.

After nine months, the Hospice service decided she was doing well enough to discharge her, but because she had a persistent venous ulcer on one leg, they transfered her to Home Health to see if more aggressive treatment would help clear it up.

Well, it didn't. In fact, the wound got larger. Betty's spirits never lagged, but she was obviously going into decline, becoming weaker, less able to do for herself. But still not in a critical state.

I went to New Mexico for a week for my own R and R and I was informed while I was there that Betty had had a setback, a severe low blood pressure incident which alarmed the Home Health nurse no end. She and the doctor decided to cease certain medications immediately in the hope that her blood pressure would return to normal (well, normal for her).

It didn't. When I got back from New Mexico, I saw an alarming deterioration in Betty's condition. She was still in excellent spirits, but she was becoming weaker and weaker, and she was eating and drinking less and less. She had had bouts of severe nausea and diarrhea during the previous few months which were partially controlled but she was developing a real fear of eating and/or drinking too much.

Finally, a few days after I got back, she stopped eating altogether. She said she "couldn't". Food wouldn't go down. There was a blockage of some sort in her throat, she said, and it hurt to swallow. Shortly, she stopped drinking fluids except for a few sips of water now and then, sips that would frequently just come right back up.

The Home Health nurse was informed, and of course this caused even more alarm. Betty's blood pressure and pulse stayed low. The doctor was informed, and the recommendation was to put Betty back in Hospice pronto, or take her back to the hospital. I asked Betty if she wanted to go back to the hospital, and she said "Nooooo!" Well, that was that.

It actually took about a week to get her back into Hospice care, during which time she became weaker and weaker, but still her spirits remained strong and positive. The doctor came to visit a few days before Hospice was officially set up again, and she (the doctor) and Betty had a wonderful chat and time together (they go back a long way, decades.) As the doctor was leaving, she discussed with us what she felt was going on. She did not think Betty would live through the night, and she said she would be on call if we needed her help in any way.

Well, Betty did live through the night. She is quite a survivor. She has beat every expectation of her imminent demise for a very long time, confounding medical professionals right and left.

But we have few illusions at this point. We are on Vigil. The doctor has come to see her again, bringing her 10 year old son this time. Betty and doctor's son go back a long way too, and they spent some quality time reminiscing. Friends and relatives have come to sit and chat with Betty to cheer her and wish her godspeed.

Betty herself knows that these are most likely her final days or weeks. We of course can't know how long she has left to live, but she can't eat or drink, and she is showing more and more signs of cardiac failure. We make sure she's comfortable, pain free, and at ease, that she knows she is not alone, that she's with people who love her and that we'll stay with her.

In January December, I posted about our much beloved cat Mao who died on New Year's Eve. His illness and passing were almost identical to what Betty is experiencing now. He could not eat and at the end he could not drink, and he basically starved to death -- which is how the doctor expects Betty's life to end if her heart doesn't give out first. The parallels are eerie. And since Betty was discharged from Hospice, another cat -- who looks very much like Mao and has many of his behaviors and sensibilities but who is a girl cat -- has come to live with us and to sit with Betty and help keep watch over her, just as Mao did. It is the most amazing thing.

And I can almost not stop the tears....

Friday, July 24, 2009

Issues and Answers


The Health Care Reform effort was derailed by some chatter about the arrest of Harvard Prof Skip Gates at his home in Cambridge for "disorderly conduct." The arresting officer had been dressed down by Gates, and at his Health Care news conference, the President himself dressed down the cop by calling the arrest "stupid" and reminding Americans that Blacks and Latinos are disproportionately detained by the police as they have been historically.

Consequently, nobody's talking about healthcare, everybody's talking about Gates and the police.

Yes. Well. Why not? The Health Care Reform issue has essentially been taken out of the hands -- and interest -- of the People by those who are so busy crafting a "reform" measure that, at least to this observer, is primarily intended as a giant wealth transfer from the bottom and middle to the top, yet another one. The People may get a few benefits from this "reform" -- and they may not. In fact, so far as anyone can tell at this point, the centerpiece of "reform" is a mandate that everyone purchase healthcare coverage, coverage that initially will only come from private extortionists, also known as insurance companies. There may -- or may not -- be a so-called "public option" at some point (say four years down the road, or maybe never) by which people can be covered by a government sponsored plan, but by that time, most everyone will be compelled to be covered by private insurance. So, it's hard to see how the public can get very enthused about simply handing more money over to the insurance companies, a lot of it no doubt being tax money and extortion.

I've always seen the course of Health Care Reform in this country as following the pattern set by Medicare Part D, which -- yes -- has provided prescription drug coverage to many elderly and disabled Americans at little or no cost to them (if they're lucky) through miriad private insurance companies, in an extraordinarily complicated format that confuses the heck out of a lot of recipients, and that pays drug companies fortunes, hundreds of billions of dollars, in what amount to windfall profits.

Likely, that's what's going to happen with Health Care Reform, something immensely complex and costly to the government and to individuals -- who aren't lucky enough to qualify for subsidized care -- all to the benefit of insurance companies and the Medical Industrial Complex.

So let's talk about Gates instead.

At least with that incident, you can get a handle on what's going on, and you can opine to your heart's content, no harm no foul, no matter what your Position on it is.

But I'd rather deal with one of the burgeoning economic issues that seems not to penetrate the Versailles Bubble of Washington, nor does it seem to be of more than passing interest to the various progressive powers that be.

It's unemployment, and the continuing skyrocketing unemployment statistics, and the utter absence of any jobs programs to get people back to work. I've been harping on this since last year, to no apparent effect. Indifference is the standard operating status of nearly everyone in the field of economics, no matter what their political persuasion. Just like the crippling household debt loads that keep dragging down the economy, the vast ranks of the unemployed do not rise to the level of attention that requires action by the High and the Mighty. No crisis. Sit back and enjoy the ride.

There has, after all, been "action." Unemployment benefit extentions, for example. Never mind that at least half the unemployed don't qualify for benefits at all. And the other half are lucky if the benefit they receive amounts to half their employed salary (usually it's much less). Each extension has new qualification rules, more stringent every time, so that ultimately, the rolls are further reduced, and unemployed people are required to take any job offered, no matter what the pay/benefit scale.

As for those who don't get benefits at all, "tough luck, suckers!"

The absence of any jobs program, and the utter indifference of most "progressives" to this absence is striking. The point of putting people back to work, after all, is to provide them with income so they can spend money on necessities and luxuries and contribute to economic recovery. But for whatever reason, the groaning load of unemployed, now around 7 million "officially" -- and 14 million + in actuality -- and their heavily reduced household incomes are just fine for most economists and seemingly for most "progressives", too.

The expectation is that unemployment will continue to rise through the end of the year, maybe into next year, and there will be no substantial reduction in unemployment for years to come. A 10% or 11% unemployment rate by the end of the year, which means an acutal unemployment rate of as much as 20%, may continue indefinitely, and economists and "progressives" seem to be fine with it.

The effect, of course, of such a high level of unemployment sustained over such a long time is to put immense and relentless pressure on wages, driving them down, down, down for ordinary people -- at least for those who manage to find or keep jobs. We're already seeing significant wage cuts for workers in many fields. Cuts of 5%, 10%, 15% are common; if trends continue -- which there is every expectation they will -- wage cuts of 30% to 50% will not be unusual. And yet, even with such heavy wage cuts for workers already drowning in debt for which they receive no relief (unlike the banks and Wall Street speculators), those on top of the pyramid are strutting and boasting about their spectacular profits and bonuses. In other words, certain people and certain sectors of the economy are not suffering at all; they have their debts covered by the groaning workers, they keep their yachts and their mansions on various continents, and they see their incomes increase exponentially.

Something is desperately wrong with this picture, yet for whatever reason, most economists -- and most "progressives" -- are oblivious. Victory in the Class War has been won by the self-proclaimed Masters of the Universe, oh yes, and now it is being consolidated with enormous brio and vengeance.

Workers will be lucky to wind up at the end of this recession -- assuming there is an end -- drudging at minimum wage or less, with no job security, few benefits, and little future, still drowning in debt. Assuming, that is, they can find work at all.

Why do the Masters of the Universe hate America and hate Americans?

Because as their loot-fest shows, they clearly do.

But perhaps more to the point, why do Americans take it? At what point do Americans say "Enough!" and act on it? From appearances, at any rate, we're nowhere near that point. Workers, desperate to stay employed, essentially agree to anything their employers propose, and popular media essentially advise workers to be as creative as they can be in their submission, for it is only the cleverest submitters who will survive this bleak period. But submit employees must, or they will be out the door.

The anomaly is a workers' strike of any kind or (heavens!) a plant take over, so anomalous is it that it's regarded as bizarre, incomprehensible. When a strike is won, as still sometimes happens, you might not hear about it at all. Don't want to give workers ideas, after all. Unions are cutting deals -- and cutting members' salaries -- right and left, foregoing benefits, raises, job security, retirement, anything, just to keep the membership employed at all.

Workers' retirement funds have been looted and stolen by employers for years, and now those at the top of the pyramid are getting ready to raid Social Security, unwilling as they are to pay the taxes necessary to replenish the Trust Fund. They have been using that money to fund their wars and their tax cuts for generations, and now that the bill is coming due for their raids on the Trust Fund, they're making lots and lots of noises about being unwilling to pay. You mean the Treasury bonds that they insisted were good as gold are no good at all? Could be.

And still the People are passive.

Is it a lack of interest, a lack of knowledge, a lack of leadership? Or is it a lack of will?

I have no answer to that one but it is very clear where this period of economic restructuring is headed for most of us: down.

Monday, July 20, 2009


Well. I did have a dialup internet connection while I was in New Mexico, but there were so many problems with my laptop that it was hardly worth the bother. The battery won't charge, browsers crash, and something from AOL (which came with the machine) won't stop notifying me that an AOL connection is Available! I don't care.

So, except for some emails, IMs with the household in California, and a few scattered comments on other people's blogs, I didn't participate much in the wonderful world of the Internets while I was there. For one thing, I was very busy with the house and all of its many requirements, and for another I was informed that a household member in California was a big prize winner: VIP tickets to seven country music concerts -- and back stage passes for meet 'n' greets -- (Kenny, Keith, Tim, Alan, Brad, B&D, and Rascal Flatts) and would have to start going to shows pronto. Which meant, I thought, I would have to return early. Or something. Actually, I didn't, though. All sorts of upheaval, in our own lives and those of others -- recruiting people to go to the concerts with was quite a job, besides all the travel arrangements to be made, and on and on, made this into a "stimulus" issue, despite the free tickets. There were so many other things to consider, buy, arrange, take care of just to take advantage of the grand prize. You couldn't sit home bemoaning your fate as it were. By some happenstance, things worked out pretty well all in all at least for the Kenny concert in San Francisco. But that's another story.

One of the things I wanted to make note of was what additional effect the recession was having on my corner of rural New Mexico. What I found was that the Stimulus was in nearly full gear. The town has a whole host of infrastructure issues they've been preparing to deal with for over a year, and so they had plenty of shovel ready projects on tap. One of the coordinators of New Mexico Stimulus funds (or maybe even two of them) is from the town, so it was relatively easy to approval and funds in the pipeline to go ahead, so the water and sewer systems are being upgraded (yes, an area has actual "city" water and sewers!), roads are being repaired, fancy new signs are being put up welcoming travelers, and on and on. There's a corporation yard full of materials and equipment ready to go on other projects. It's really something. While things had looked pretty bleak indeed in March, they're looking up now. Quite a few people had left the area -- no work after the biggest employer in the area shut down -- houses were abandoned, the one on the property behind us had burned (arson), and things were grim.

One of the houses nearby had been vacant since April, the family that had lived there moving closer to the husband's work. When I was there last week, though, a new family was moving in as I was packing to drive back to California. The property behind ours sported a new mobile home as of May, and someone was living there until just before I left, when they moved out. No more businesses had closed in town, and one that was teetering on the brink of closure was doing fine now, so the owners said. People's moods were much better than before.

And I expected things to be worse, perhaps because they are getting grimmer in California by the day. Oh, a budget deal is rumored to be likely within the next few days, but it will be a monstrosity, like the last one -- only worse. People are not happy here in the Golden State, and they are not likely to be any happier after the slashing and burning of the State Budget.

They still know how to laugh in New Mexico.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

On Books

By now, everyone's heard of the Kindle Kontroversy, in which the Amazon folks up and abruptly deleted Kindle copies of 1984 and Animal Farm from users' Kindles because the Orwell copyright holders objected. Poof! Gone. Anyone who remembers Fahrenheit 451 from back in the old days can understand my rationale for collecting and preserving as many books as I have from eras gone by, particularly the period from 1920 - 1960.

Above is a picture of part of our library in New Mexico. Every time I go I try to find more room for more books in our house that is already jammed with them. There are books in every room -- except the bathroom, where there are plenty of magazines instead. And we still have several thousand more books to take to New Mexico over the next few years.

I've stopped buying them in quantity any more; once the count reached well over 10,000, I figured it was time to take a rest from purchases for a while, organize what we have (somewhat) and cull duplicates. While I will cull the duplicates and consider using the books in the worst condition in artistic projects rather than trying to preserve them whole, this is nothing like "deleting" them the way Amazon has done with the Orwell classics.

I've long been dubious of digitizing the printed word and making access to it dependent on the devices that can read the format. Then to take it a step further to Amazon's Kindle, wherein the device is linked to a service, a service which can, quite arbitrarily and without warning remove digital works from the device remotely and at will.

Digitizing has a benefit in the short term in that more people are theoretically able to access works easily. The thousands of books I have collected are not at all easy to access: you have to physically present yourself at my house in rural New Mexico, or you have to contact me somehow and ask me to physically send you a volume, or you're shit out of luck. You can find the volume somewhere else. Buh-bye.

But then over time, you get into the problem of books disappearing. Most of those I have collected in the last few years, for example, have been discards from households, libraries, and so forth. Books that people and institions no longer want for whatever reason: they're obsolete, not in the best condition, they contain erroneous information, they're duplicates of other volumes, or nobody ever read them in the first place, why would anyone want to read them now? I have a lot of text books, for example, from the '30's and '40's -- some with all sorts of interesting theories on psychology and eugenics. Hmm. None of this information is currently in vogue (thank goodness) but to see how pervasive it once was is bracing to say the least.

The instinct is just to discard them all, but I look at them as historical artifacts and a means of understanding some of the reasons why earlier generations believed what they did and did what they did.

These are books that are unlikely to be digitized, but they may be preserved in the flesh as it were by people like me in various places around the country, and in time may become useful historical documents.

I also have numerous volumes preserved on my various computers, and every now and then I wonder idly what will happen to them when the machines in question crash, as they are wont to do, and access to their contents is difficult, costly to restore, or impossible? While I can understand and anticipate that my current PCs and notebooks won't work properly forever, and I'm more or less prepared to lose the contents of the machines if I don't get on the stick and back up everything pronto, that's quite a different thing from Amazon (or some other company) literally deleting digitized volumes from devices without warning and without recourse.

In fact, making it possible for companies to do this -- not just in the literary field, either -- has been a corporate goal for a long time. How to perfectly control individuals' access to and use of all kinds of entertainment, educational, and financial resources and information is the Gordian Knot of our age. Governments try to do it -- our own included -- as do corporations.

The point of having so many literal books on hand is to make that control slightly less possible on a micro scale. If enough people do that -- hold on to their books among other resources from the past -- they preserve part of history, and from that history, learning can continue, whatever happens to the electronic works and world we are so reliant on.

Books largely vanished from the Western World during the aftermath of the Fall of Rome. But many books had been preserved outside the confines of Dark Ages Europe, and it was their rediscovery by Europeans that spurred the Renaissance and Enlightenment. It was a return to learning, and it was made possible because Arabs and Byzantines (among others) had preserved or recopied ancient books and made them available.

No matter how successful digitization is in the short run, we'd do well to maintain libraries of actual books as well...

Saturday, July 11, 2009

OT: Off to the Hi Lo Country again

I'll be out of town for the next week, chilling as it were in the Hi Lo country of New Mexico. Oh that drive, down California's Central Valley on Hwy 99, Merle Haggard, Buck Owens country, large parts of it sucked up for suburbs during the Bubble and now forlorn and half-empty seeming and among the poorest regions in the country; then over the Tehachapis into the Mojave and through the scrub and the Joshua trees, the Panamints, and on to the Colorado River, a silver thread in the hazy distance. It's a desert, yes, but I've been chased by thunderstorms and torrential rains while driving through the Mojave. It's a trip.

It takes forever just to get out of California. It is as far from my starting point to the border with Arizona out of Needles as it is to my desitination in New Mexico from the Welcome to Arizona sign on the highway. A highway now called Interstate 40 but which parallels Route 66 most of its way, little remnants and reminders of the Mother Road all along the drive through Arizona and into New Mexico where the spirit of the Road lives as strongly now as ever.

There I'll plop myself down in our turn of the 20th century adobe, listen to the birds, do some fixing and cleaning, maybe write some things, go off to visit the ruins, maybe even go to Santa Fe -- haven't done that for a while, and every now and then venturing among the touristas to listen to their complaints about finding "nothing but art galleries" in Santa Fe can be bracing. Where else do tourists complain of too much art? I ask you.

As a friend refers to my expeditions to New Mexico, "Release and Relief."

Nothing much has changed with regard to the collapse of California's government; there is still no budget agreement; our hot-tubbin, stogie smokin gubna is still issuing his fruitless commands and demands, protestors still assemble at the Capitol -- sometimes even blockading parts of it, discommoding (at least for a little while) the routines of posturing and statement making of the higer mucky-mucks, and Dems still mewl and wring their hankies about how hard they're working to reach a compromise that Stogie-man with the Wrinkled Ass will accept.

It's nuts-making.

We're no longer doing Hospice Care at Home; glory be, the patient was discharged a couple of weeks ago, because she's made such an amazing recovery. They really didn't expect her to live more than a few weeks, and after 9 months, the hospice service said, "Well, she's not gonna die, is she? So let's put her in Home Care for a while, and take it from there."

The shift from Hospice to Home Care was smooth enough; it's basically the same, but for the fact that the visiting professionals are not on Vigil any more, and they really do have an interest now in getting her up and around, but I don't really think that's going to happen. She's still blind and very frail, becomes exhausted easily, and she continues to suffer from various ailments, some the consequences of old age, some due to her vulnerabilities from all the surgery and other procedures over the years. She's not returning to hearty hale health, but she is doing remarkably better than when she first came from the hospital last October. There are such things as miracles.

Meanwhile, since we're OT, a note about cats. Those who follow the blog know that our cat Mao died on New Year's Eve after an illness. He was deeply, profoundly missed as he still is. No other cat pal we've had over the years has formed the kind of bond we had with him.

So, a couple of months ago, we noted that a very beautiful and well-groomed tabby had seemingly moved into the garage (where we assumed she was going to have kittens, but she never did.) Then a fluffy black cat showed up. He had a red heart on his collar and after a while, I got him tame enough to pick him up and read what was on his collar; it was his name: Louie. How cute. Then a big black and white, huge, showed up. And a little black and white. The little black and white strongly resembled Mao, and she (not a he; she) marched right into the house and moved in. As if she'd always lived here and we were her guests.

And she's been here pretty much ever since. She's taken on many of Mao's characteristics, many of his places, many of his attitudes. It's quite an amazing transformation. We look on in awe.

All right, gotta finish packing, then it's back to the road. If there is an internet connection at my destination, I may be able to post about what the recession is continuing to do to that rural and thinly populated, somewhat isolated region of the old west. Last time I was there in March, it was obvious what kind of effects the economic collapse was having and it wasn't pretty.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Chickie Run

July 1 is here. California is now officially off the precipice and plunging down to the rocks below. It's been a swell ride.

I'm a longtime Californian, though almost by accident, I was born in Iowa. My mother and her parents came to California from Indiana when she was only five. Before the US joined WWI. She always felt herself to be very deeply rooted in California, living in various parts of the state but always hooking up with salt of the earth, pioneering farm and ranch folk, people whose people had been here since the Gold Rush or just after, people close to the land, people for whom "newcomers" were a best a nuisance.

We lived on the coast near Santa Barbara when I was very little, but we were very poor, and we did not live well at all. We barely got by until I was five or so, and the hardships of earlier times are still with me in some odd way. I can remember things and places and people from when I was two or three years old, and even, it seems, before that, though how I would even have language to remember things with is hard to say. I can remember being in the backseat of the old Packard Clipper my mother drove hell-bent-for-leather out of Iowa and back to California when I was nine months old...

Being very poor and barely getting by in California in those days was a challenge, yes, but not an impossible one. There were no "programs." Well, actually, there might have been some, but I don't recall them if there were. We got by somehow, though in the process of getting by, my family, such as it was, was shattered to pieces and never entirely got itself back together.

And bit by bit, poverty was relieved. A relatively stable middle class life took the place of hard-scrabble "existence." The fact was that California had entered its most prosperous period, Post WWII, when everything seemed possible, indeed probable, and the whole state was being remade from top to bottom with finest public education system, the finest highway system, the finest water distribution system, the finest research and development resources, the finest... well, you name it, the Future was ours and it would be Grand! So even someone who started out very poor and disadvantaged could do well in California in time, and millions did.

And now it is all unravelling. Oh, my personal situation hasn't deteriorated too badly in the recession -- yet. But the signs are not good. It would not surprise me at all to learn that household income has peaked and is not likely to return to previous levels ever again. Potentially not even close.

For many millions of Californians, though, the situation is very rough and is about to get much rougher. I have no idea what sort of deal the legislature and the governor will eventually hammer out to address the growing deficit, and at this point, I doubt many Californians really care. The failure of California's government to deal with the crisis that has been apparent for more than a year now is frustrating to be sure. But the fact that they keep going round and round the same mulberry bush again and again and again, with apparently no consciousness nor any concern for what they are doing and the consequences of their actions (or inaction) on millions of people is revolting.

Millions of Californians are out of work, and many of them will never go back to work again. That's what I've been saying for months now, and what all the talk about the "Jobless Recovery" is confirming. Many of the jobs that have disappeared in this recession will never return. Many of the workers who used to have a steady income and could participate in the California/American Dream will never again do so. It is over. Fini. Kaput. And all the indications are that nothing is going to take its place.

Millions of poor Californians will shortly be faced with a stark choice: tough it out here with few or no resources, or leave. Imagine it, an outmigration from California to parts unknown, that will make the Dustbowl/Depression migration into California seem tame by comparison. Where is today's John Steinbeck to document this reversal of fate and fortune? So far, there isn't even an acknowledgement of what's in store.

Thousands, perhaps tens of thousands or even hundreds of thousands of Mexicans and Central Americans have already left, the vast hordes of "illegales" brought in by the carload to build the miles and miles of suburban wastelands that crept inexorably over California during the Bubble but now being demolished forlorn and unsold, unsaleable.

Others are leaving, too. Not just the poor and dispossessed. California's jobless rate is officially pegged at 11.5% but it is much higher in many counties, and the official rate undercounts the unemployed by not including those who have given up looking, those who are underemployed, etc. Only half of those officially counted actually qualify for benefits, so there are many millions of Californians who have already faced a stark choice: stay and figuratively or literally starve on the streets, or leave and hope to find something better... somewhere. Pioneering spirits have already decamped for somewhere else.

Only, things are tough all over. There really isn't any place to go where things are particularly better.

The federal stimulus may be preventing things from getting worse, but there is no sign that is so. California is supposedly eligible for about $80 billion in stimulus funds, but there are no signs that the empolyment picture is improving (there are no jobs programs, after all, in the stimulus package), and California's government is going to wrack and ruin, effectively bankrupt, no matter the stimulus. I've said it is unconscionable that the federal government has played deaf, dumb and blind during this massive restructuring of California for the benefit of the rich and well connected, but there you are.

It seems to be going according to someone's plan.

Much like the Enron looting and disaster of some years back. Many of us could see quite clearly what was happening; nothing could be done, and when Gray Davis spoke out and tried to do something about it, the Hate Machine went into full gear and threw his skinny white ass out, replacing him with someone Orange and Waxy and -- we now know -- as fucked up, and not even remotely as genius, as Jim Morrison.

Lucky, eh?

We stumble on through the Apocalypse.

Toward whatever the crabbed and forlorn Future holds.

It wasn't supposed to be this way....

[One day I should do a post on Jim Morrison. Don't tell me he isn't fucked up in this video, but fucked up as he is, he's still brilliant.]