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A. POOKIE’S ADVENTURES IN THE ENCHANTED FOREST:

 
This morning I woke up and bleary-eyed looked into the mirror. I was surprised by what I saw there — something I haven’t seen for about five months. There on my upper lip hair was growing. I felt mixed emotions about this. On the one hand, now that my Chemotherapy has ended, this bit of fuzz on my upper lip signified my hair might be growing back and that is good. On the other hand, it means that I will have to begin shaving again and getting haircuts — Or, I could just let everything grow out. More decisions.

After the Barr testimony before the Senate a day or two ago, I get the impression that the White House is under siege again. The question I have is, why is He Who Is Not My President so frightened of having the Mueller report, his taxes, and business records released? It is difficult to imagine that his opposition to their release is simply a question of principle.

Also, is it just my imagination or does He Who Is Not My President seem to vociferously attack every potential Democratic opponent he may meet in the 2020 Presidential election except Bernie Sanders?

The weekend has arrived and so has Nikki. The weather is sunny and warm. The azaleas are still blooming. Naida busily works on volume two of her memoir. I sit here at my computer wondering what I will do today knowing full well I have ignored or forgotten things I should be doing. That is one of the aspects of arriving at the age of decrepitude, doing things are less important than having pleasant thoughts.

I drove up into the now once again Golden Hills and parked at the skatepark. Nikki met me there and we gossiped while waiting for Hayden and the scooter gang to show up. A large contingent of the gang soon arrived, including HRM, Jake, Caleb and a host of others. I imagined them all on motorcycles roaring into a tiny town in the foothills somewhere like something from a biker flick of the 60s. I shuddered and put the image out of my mind.

After a long time spent meeting and greeting all the adolescents on scooters that descended on us, HRM, Jake, Caleb and I piled into the car Nikki was driving and went off in search of a pizza. Milano’s, H and my favorite pizza place, seems to have closed permanently (sob). We found another place nearby, ordered the pizza and returned to Dick’s house. The adolescents disappeared into the basement to devour their pizza and play video games. Nikki and I retired to the back deck to sit in sun, eat ours, and continue our gossip session. After exhausting the scuttlebutt and gobbling down a few slices of pizza, I left and returned to the Enchanted Forest.

On the drive back, I couldn’t shake the feeling that somehow I am failing HRM and that I simply am unable to give him the counsel, guidance, security, and friendship that he needs and deserves. Of the three children I have contributed to raising, I believe that somehow my efforts to guide them to happy and successful lives were horribly inadequate. It’s just another load of guilt we add to the pack on our backs that gets heavier and heavier as we grow older. Sometimes I think it is the crushing weight of accumulated guilt and failure that kills us in the end.

The weekend brought with it relief from my fit of melancholy. Perhaps it is because I keep lengthening my walks — you know, boosting my serotonin or dopamine or whatever. Perhaps it is because Naida wrote me a lovely poem — no one has ever done that for me before. Perhaps, it is because I was amused by attending a meeting at the clubhouse to meet those running for the Nepenthe HOC board — it seemed most of the people there favored the election of “anyone but the incumbents.” Of the pressing issues discussed, everyone seemed to agree they all hated leaf blowers. Naida suggested they be banned as they had been in LA.

Last night, Naida gave me a marvelous ring. It was made by one of her uncles, a prominent leader in the Methodist church. Naida said that when he was not doing minister things he would often wander into the desert looking for gemstones that he would bring home and, in a workshop in his basement, fashion them into jewelry. He made the ring from silver that he fashioned into lacework in which he set a remarkable opal he had found somewhere in the desert. The stone itself flashes through the spectrum from brilliant turquoise to a spectacular fiery red when light shines on it. I love it.
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I have noticed, after reading the last few T&T posts, my life has become dreadfully dull. Not traveling, wrestling with a crisis, or suffering through a real or imagined emotional or physical disaster makes retelling the day to day plod of an old man’s life tedious. After all, how many ways can one describe spending his days, reading the newspaper, checking his email and watching old movies on television? On the other hand, except for these fits of boredom and impatience, I am quite content and happy with my life as a grumpy old man starring at the end of his existence. It could be worse. I could be an adolescent again or I could be working in the Trump White House.

Today I drove back into the Golden Hills, picked up HRM and Big Tall Long Haired Jake at the Skate Park and drove them to the house where I left them after imparting to them today’s words of wisdom. “Remember.” I told them, “always keep on truckin.”

The next day HRM called me and asked me to pick him and Jake up again after school. I did. This time, after a brief stop at Dick’s house, I drove them to Caleb’s house in order for Caleb to give Jake his birthday present since it was Jake’s fifteenth birthday today. I then drove them back to Dick’s house where they picked up their bicycles and pedaled off to practice with the EDH mountain bicycling team.

 

 

B. OFF AGAIN TO THE BIG ENDIVE BY THE BAY:

 
Another beautiful sunny day. While Sacramento is no Paradise, here in the Enchanted Forest nestled between that city’s slurbs and a gentle curve of the picturesque American River this morning broke as close to that as can be and still not be considered a dream. Alas, we spent the morning rushing around preparing to leave for the foggy Great Endive by the Bay for my immunotherapy infusion. That preparation included getting Boo-boo settled with the dog-sitter. He wasn’t happy.
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That night at Peter and Barrie’s house where we spent the night, Barrie prepared a delightful meal that featured pasta with a sauce of garlic, butter, parsley, lemon, and topped with asparagus. It was accompanied by chilled Prosecco. (It has only been in the last few years that drinkable prosecco has been imported from Italy.)

They had invited a friend to join us for dinner. He was an aspiring author and wanted to discuss with Naida his literary ambitions and get her advice on publishing. He hoped to publish several works including a play about the travails of a man named Thomas White who had homes in San Francisco, Mexico and Thailand. He was accused by several alleged victims (boys) of having who sex with them when they were underage. He was tracked down in Thailand extradited to Mexico where he was tried, convicted and jailed. After spending almost seven years in jail White learned that the attorney who represented the alleged victims and reaped several millions of dollars in payoffs, he along with his accomplice as well as one of the underaged youths were convicted in California of murdering the target of another scam. The alleged young victim also confessed to lying about sexual contact with White. With the new evidence, he was released from jail but died soon afterward.

We had an enjoyable evening listening to the discussion of things literary and the pitfalls of publication. Over dinner, we all told stories. Peter told several about the early days of the Coastal Conservancy. I could not remember much about the things that he talked about although I was a major actor in the drama or more appropriate comedy. It seems my memory lately resembles a ragged lace curtain blowing in the breeze — more holes than substance.

I told the story of the developer who had been stymied by Denise, my wife at the time, in his plans to build a large spec house in our neighborhood and who had shot and killed his two investor threatening to withdraw their financing for the development. He then, gun in hand, jumped into his car and drove up into the Twin Peaks area, presumably to do to Denise and me what he had done to his investors. At the corner down from our house, I guess he thought better of the idea or perhaps he was stricken with guilt and decided to shoot himself rather than us.

As we finished dinner, Hiromi and my granddaughter Amanda showed up bringing dessert, a wonderfully light cake and strawberries dipped in chocolate.
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The next morning, we drove to the hospital for my immunotherapy treatment. The nurse explained that the immunotherapy was intended to halt reactivation of the cancerous cells that still remain in the tumor. Most of the time, however, was spent with the nurse and Naida discussing books and book clubs.

After the treatment, we drove home directly.

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I do not know why it is but I usually find the most unpleasant trips the most interesting. It was that way on my recent trip back from Thailand. We left the apartment in Bangkok at about 7PM in order to get to the airport early enough for me to get a good seat. Suvarnabhumi Airport was more crowded and disorganized than it usually is. After a difficult time securing my ticket, I was told the flight was delayed until 6:30 in the morning.

I waited. Slept in fits on uncomfortable chairs. Walked around a lot. Drank water. Thought about how annoyed, uncomfortable and tired I felt and what I would do to the CEO of the airline if I had him in front of me. Eventually, we boarded the plane and took off. I was too exhausted to sleep. The movies were unappealing and the food not much better.

Because the flight took off so late, I arrived in Shanghai just as my connecting flight to the US was leaving. I rushed off the plane. Well, actually I did not rush because I had been seated at the back of the plane and no one but me seemed to be in any particular hurry.

As I exited the plane, I saw a young man with a sign that announced, “Transfer Passenger Assistance” and showed him my ticket. He looked confused. Walked away to speak to someone, returned and pointed vaguely toward a corridor leading from the hall. I had forgotten how the Chinese bureaucratic system differs from that in the US. In the US, probably for reasons of cost, people relating to the public are trained, for better or worse, to handle a number of somewhat discretionary activities. The Chinese it seems are not. Each functionary there appears to have been assigned only a single, not particularly discretionary, action.

Anyway, after passing through several hallways, I entered a large room containing several counters. Above one was a sign in English that read, “24-hour transit passengers.” I guessed that was the counter I was looking for. There was a long line and only one clerk. When I got to her and showed her my ticket she responded, “Transit Hotel.” I asked “Where?” She handed me a paper with my name on it and pointed to another traveler and said, “Follow that woman.”

“That woman” proved to be another lost and confused American who missed the same connecting flight as I. We passed through another warren of hallways until we came to a room even larger than the previous one with a lot of counters around the walls in front of which were crowds of clamoring travelers. We noticed a group of people in the center of the room who we recognized from our plane and asked them if they knew what was happening. One said, “I think we are supposed to wait here until someone comes for us.”

I noticed a counter over which was a sign that read something like “Transit Supervisor.” I approached him and asked what it is we should do. He pointed at a bunch of chairs against one wall and said, “Sit there, someone will come for you.”

So, we sat there for a long time and to our relief eventually, someone came and ordered us to follow him. We asked where we were going but received no answer. He marched us to a bus, too small to sit all of us and our luggage so many had to stand in the aisle amid the piled suitcases.

After a long long ride that ultimately brought us back to an airport hotel across the street from where we began, we disembarked and entered the hotel and milled around the lobby until one of us thought it would be a good idea to approach the reception desk. We did and at first, they did not seem to understand what we were all doing there. Then one of the women behind the desk motioned to us and began assigning rooms. When I approached and asked for a single room she said brusquely, “Two to a room” and assigned an elderly Japanese man to room with me. At first, I was offended that I had to share a room and with another, an old man no less, but I then realized he was no older than me and perhaps even younger. He spoke barely any English and I no Japanese but I soon discovered him to be one of the nicest and kindest people I had ever met.

I then asked about dinner and there ensued a several hour hullabaloo where I turned into the ugly American. I thoroughly enjoyed it, shouting away and laughing until everyone turned their back on me except for the servers who laughed with me (or at me, who knows).

Eventually, dinner arrived. It was as expected unappetizing.

The old man decided to go out on the town to a  symphony or something I might not have understood properly. I declined preferring to cry into my pillow.

The next morning at the airport the lines and confusion were staggering after about an hour or so of standing in a line that bearly moved, a guard came by and asked if I was on the plane to SF. When I answered in the affirmative he whisked me through everything and off I flew.

Having slept well the night before, I could not fall asleep during the flight so I watched all three episodes of Lord of the Rings. I found Frodo’s bulging eyes disconcerting and wondered why everyone in the movie had blue eyes.

After arriving in San Francisco I set off for Hobbitown in the Golden Hills. It took five hours or so to get there.

Back in El Dorado Hills.

Now some might wonder how I could equate EDH with the Shire. Easy, they both have a certain picturesque attractiveness; they both are set among rolling hills; they both are self-indulgent inward looking societies; they both see the outside world as full of orcs, goblins, sorcerers, violence and malevolence and; the citizens of both have hairy feet and do not wear shoes. Well, actually, the citizens of EDH do wear shoes.

I have resumed my life here as before; wake in the morning; drive HRM to school; Bella Bru for cafe latte and cinnamon raisin bagel with cream cheese; walk about three miles around the lake; return home and read a book; nap; have dinner and; retire to my room for my daily dose of existential anguish.

On Wednesday, I leave to spend a week at my sister’s home in Mendocino. She is hosting an engagement party for her son Brendan and his intended Ashley. She expects about 60 people to spend the weekend in and around the house. The Paella Lady and her huge paella pan will be there. Also, lots of Italian and Philippine food to eat and I expect a lot of music too.

On Sunday we plan to attend Paul Bunyan Day in Fort Bragg.

Life is good.

 

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There once was a country that viewed itself as a fair and just society. They even called themselves the “Fair and Just Society.” Like most societies, they could be divided into three groups of people. One-third of the people had the least amount of the income and wealth in that society — let us say only about 20% of the income and wealth. The second or middle one-third had about what would be the average of that societies wealth and income distributed among them, say 30%. The last group, the wealthiest one-third, had about 50% of the wealth and income of that society.

Let us also assume that at some point the members of the Fair and Just Society agreed among themselves that there are certain things that they all need and should be paid for collectively, like, for example, the common defense, roads, education of the Fair and Just Society’s children and so on. And let us further assume that the members of this Fair and Just Society agreed that these collective expenses should be paid for by each section of society according to their means. The lowest one-third agrees to pay 20%, the middle 30% and the top one-third 50% because they all agreed that that would be fair and just.

Now let us assume that all things have worked out reasonably well for our Fair and Just Society and that even the poorest one-third had enough to eat, clothe and shelter themselves and everyone was pretty happy. Then one day, for whatever reason, good cost control, a sudden jump in productivity, the discovery of oil or gold or whatever, the Fair and Just Society finds that they have collected more funds than are needed for their common expenditures (Defense, education, etc.) and decide to ask the people what they should do with it.

Upon hearing this everyone was happy, no one more so than the upper third and their agent who was sent to speak to the representatives of the Fair and Just Society. He told them that because his employers were the upper third in income and wealth they knew more about money than anyone else and that it was very complicated and because of that he recommended that the money be returned to the people in the form of tax relief because then each individual will be able to choose what it wished to spend it on and so they will each benefit individually and the economy would benefit in general by this infusion of money.

Some of the representatives upon hearing this could not fully comprehend why giving to each person to spend as he wishes was better than all the people deciding together on spending it on something that would benefit them all the most. After all they argued, the money still gets back into circulation and the Fair and Just Society gains an asset owned by all the people. And some even thought at least some of it should be held for a “rainy day” when it might be needed. But most of the other representatives agreed that giving the money back to the individuals seemed reasonable and fair. So they asked the representative of the upper third how he suggested that it be done.

“Well,” he says, “I was hoping that you would ask that. Over lunch I prepared this chart.” And he whips out a chart. “What this chart shows” he says, “is that you should give all this money to the upper third because, not only do they know more about money than anyone else, they having so much of it after all, but also since they do not have to spend in on necessities like food and stuff they will have this excess cash that they will invest in new factories and the like, you know, to make shoes and canned soup.” “And,” he continued “they can even take some of that money and, oh say, pay for research or start-ups and increase productivity and things like that”.

When the agent of the upper third finished speaking, the representatives of the Good and Just Society all looked at one another for a moment then broke out laughing. “You cannot be serious,” the Chairman said, “no one in their right mind could possibly be so stupid as to believe what you just said. Nevertheless, as a fair and just society we do think that it is fair and just to return it equally to all in accordance with their contributions to the common good, a 10% reduction to the bottom third on their 20% contribution, a 10% reduction to the middle third on their 30% contribution and a 10% reduction to the upper third based upon their contribution”. And with that they all got up and left, still chortling and shaking their heads.

Now because this is a parable, we will assume that in fact an across the board 10% reduction in taxes is fair and just.

Of course, we all know that for many reasons an across the board reduction in taxes was not fair and just at all. For example, the lowest one-third would most likely spend it on consumable necessities like food, clothing and shelter since their 10% would not be that much money. Or, as the agent of the upper one-third was overheard telling some of the representatives of the Good and Just Society outside the hearing room. “They will probably just spend it on dope and booze and taking a few days off work.”

The upper one-third on the other hand probably would also spend some of it on dope and booze, but they would still have a lot of money left over. So they will call in their advisors and direct them to take this excess cash and use it to make more. After the advisors leave, the upper third would probably take a puff of their joints, a sip of their Mai Tias and brood about the workers in their factories that did not show up for work that day. Eventually they decide that they would have their secretaries draft letters to the Representatives of the Fair and Just Society complaining about the morals of the lower one-third and a lot of the middle one-third and that in the future any tax cuts should all come to them. That done, they will leave on vacation, using some of the money they received from the Fair and Just Society, because they believed they earned it.

The representatives of the upper third then met to plan how they will turn this cash into more cash for the upper third and along the way turn themselves into members of the upper one-third.

They reasoned that after all that money spent on dope and booze there would not be enough cash left among the lower two-thirds for the upper third to invest their money to acquire it from the lower two-thirds. Nevertheless, there would be some and so they decide to increase their marketing budgets to persuade the lower two-thirds to spend whatever money they have left on products produced in the factories owned by the upper third. But still the upper third had a lot of money left over from the gift the Fair and Just Society had given them.

“Let’s use that money to buy the assets of the lower two-thirds,” suggests one of their representatives.

“But the lower third has no assets,” complains another.

Yes, they do,” states the first. “We can buy their future and their freedom. We can give them some of our money to buy more dope and booze and tell them that they can pay us back from their future wages with a sizable profit to the upper third of course, and substantial commissions for us. And then we will tell them that since we have given them so much money and we know all about economic things, we being so rich and so smart, they can trust us to keep them in dope and booze forever. And in return they will agree to vote in the elections for the representatives to the Fair and Just Society as we the agents of the upper third tell them to.”

“As for the middle one-third,” he continued. “Many of them have worked hard and amassed some assets like their houses and their small business, so we will point out to them that because of all their hard work and our knowledge of finance, their assets have appreciated and they would be wasting that value unless they put it to work. Then we will loan them some money in return for the owning their assets if they do not pay us back.”

And they all agreed that was a good plan and they put it into practice.

Now it came to pass that this worked so wonderfully well for a while that the lower two-thirds, although actually poorer, appeared to be living so much better than they had been. As a result, they thought the agents of the upper one-third were much smarter than they were. And also, so much money was flowing into the hands of the agents that they soon began to replace some of the upper one-third.

Then one day there was, of course, not enough things for the upper third to buy because almost all the assets had been purchased and almost all of the futures mortgaged and on top of it they had even more money now with nothing to do. So the agents of the upper third went to the members of the upper third and showed them how instead of making things or buying more assets they could simply gamble all this money on the economy because everything was so good and the agents were so smart things would keep getting better and better and except for a few corrections now and again they would make even more money.

Then a funny thing happened, soon there were fewer members of the upper third who actually made things, they had been replaced by the agents who really did not make anything at all.

Then of course there was what is known as a “correction”, the lower two-thirds had mortgaged all their futures and no longer had the money to buy things. So as the factories closed down the lower two-thirds began to lose their jobs and their homes and businesses.

Some of these people turned to the Representatives of the Fair and Just Society and asked them to do something about it. Unfortunately for the lower two-thirds, the Representatives of the Fair and Just Society had by now all been replaced by the employees of the upper one-third. Nevertheless they agreed to look into their concerns.

“No problem,” they said, “we can make everything better by cutting those things we have been paying for up until now and lowering taxes on the upper one-third so they can invest even more.  We can pay for whatever essential community services are left (like protecting the assets of the upper one-third) by borrowing from the upper one-third and it all will work out just like it was described in that chart.”

Now we all know that that’s what really happened, but since this is a parable we will assume that everyone actually did believe that the distribution of the money was fair and just and that no one could have possibly foreseen what actually did happen.

So, the representatives of the Fair and Just Society a few months or so after making the fair and just present to the people were surprised to find, that while the income and wealth of the upper one-third grew exponentially, the lower two-thirds barely held their own and their debts to the upper third increased even more rapidly than the upper third’s income.

This being a Fair and Just Society and their representatives, not yet being replaced by the employees of the upper third, understood what that meant for the future of the Fair and Just Society. So, they convened a meeting and called in the upper third and their agents and told them, “We all made a mistake and in order to avoid an economic catastrophe and to preserve the Fair and Just Society, you are all just going to have to give all the money back”.

OK, I will admit maybe that this a fantasy and not a parable. But still…

MORAL:

1. No society, if it hopes to survive, can surrender to an individual, institution or groups of individuals or institutions unbridled and uncontrolled dominance over its economic and political well-being, no matter how apparently beneficial it appears at the time.
2. We are better off as a society to agree to what we want our society look like and act to make it so than to just hope for the best or trust to our individual efforts alone.
3. A fair and just society never ever follows the advice of those with the most to gain financially.
4. A fair and just society resists giving collective funds or advantage to those with the resources to compete for them on their own.
5. There is no magic wand, invisible hand, or strong and brilliant leader that can save us from our folly. If we believe that, then Pogo was right when he said so long ago, “We have met the enemy and he is us“.
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