Wednesday, March 07, 2018

Report on the postal system in a Third World country: The United States of America

We don't need no stinkin' post office. We can
dance our messages. (Art cribbed from the
Bodlian Library.)

An aunt of mine died a few years ago at the age of 92. During World War II she had been on, or close to, the front lines with the Red Cross, which followed the 88th Infantry Division as it battled its way up Italy's Po River. She sent many letters home vividly describing the war, and the people she met who fought it. I worried that the letters had been lost when my parents died.

But no. My brother came across the old letters and saved them when he cleared out out my late mother’s apartment. He lives on the West Coast now. I live in New York. Recently, he photocopied all the letters, a big stack of them, and sent them to me via Priority Mail.

That was almost two weeks ago. I still haven’t received them.

The long, slow, painful trek
via USPS "Priority Mail"

With "Priority Mail" shipping is promised in what the USPS website says will be “1, 2, or 3 business days based on where your package starts and where it’s being sent.” You’d think a package promised within three days would have gotten from California to New York within, say, oh, five or six days. Maybe even seven days. No such luck. I finally checked with my brother, who checked with USPS priority mail tracking. And yup, there was a problem.

The package evidently had gotten all the way to New York. However, my sibling had inadvertently reversed a couple of number in the zip code. You might guess that somebody in the New York Post Office would have a precise idea — okay, even a rough general idea —  where East 36th Street, New York, NY is, and tossed the envelope into the right basket.  But no, they sent it all the way  back to my brother in California to be correctly zip-coded.

This he did, when the package finally got all the way back to California. He even got on the phone with me to double-check, line by line, character by character, my street address, apartment number, and zip code. Then he priority mailed it to me again.

And still lost

Two days went by. I went down to the lobby and checked with my building's concierge to see if the package had arrived. It hadn’t. I checked my mail box to make certain the package with those precious documents hadn’t been scrunched into my mail box instead. It hadn’t.

I went back upstairs and called my brother, who checked with USPS tracking.

“It says they delivered it to the front desk at 10:30 a.m., today” he told me.

“The front desk of what?” I asked.

“I don’t know, all they say is 'the front desk,'” he told me.

So I went downstairs and checked again with the concierge .

“They don’t deliver to me directly,” said the concierge. "They drop off a few baskets of mail in the mail room at 10:30 in the morning. Then, around 6 in the evening, a post office delivery person comes back and sorts it into the mail boxes. If it doesn’t fit in your mail box, they’ll give it to me. I should have it by seven or eight p.m., if it’s actually here."

So maybe I'll get it this evening, before I go to bed. Or maybe not. But I can’t leave things at that. I have to tell you a story — it goes back over 59 years — about something that happened to me when Donald Trump was still a snot nosed brat in a military prep school, and America was still a First-World nation.

The true tale of the 
un-discardable notebook

In my third year of college, I studied abroad. During Christmas week I found myself in Paris, in a small, cheap, second-rate hotel across the street from the Sorbonne on Rue Victor Cousin. (The hotel is still there, by the way — still cheap, and still just as second-rate.) At any rate I had a few minutes of conversation with the woman who served as combination proprietor, concierge, desk clerk and maid of the hotel, during which she asked me what university I went to.

I said it was Antioch College. This took some more explaining, since in France, a “collège” is the equivalent of an American middle school, and my conversational French was not quite comme il faut. But I think she finally understood what Antioch College is.

A few days later it was very cold and raining hard, so I spent an afternoon indoors, killing time by trying to write dirty limericks in a notebook. Hey, I was only nineteen.

The following day I packed up to return to the University of Leeds in England. I didn’t want to take the notebook with me. What if some customs inspector found it in my baggage and read it? So I tossed my filthy limericks into the hotel room’s wastebasket, and then headed by rail to the English Channel ferryboat.

Evidently, after I checked out, the proprietor must have gone to clean the room and possibly even change the sheets and the one pathetic towel. She must have seen the notebook in the wastebasket and figured it might be something important that I needed for my studies. She couldn't read English. Perhaps she thought the hermit named Dave was some important literary figure.

So she put the notebook in a manilla envelope. She addressed the envelope as best she knew how: My name. And then, “Collège d’Antioch, USA.” Then she dropped it in a French mail box. Without a stamp.

"Neither rain, nor snow, nor lack
of a proper address or postage..."

Five days later, the package had wended its way from Paris, to some post office depot in the United States, to a postal clerk who took the trouble to figure out what “Collège d’Antioch” was, and to look up its address (1 Arthur Morgan Place, Yellow Springs, Ohio, 45387) and send it speeding on its way, postage due. The Yellow Springs Post Office next got the package and delivered it to the college mail room.

Then somebody in the Antioch College mail room paid the postage due and sent the package along to some college administrator, who looked me up and figured out I was in Europe, and who then — presumably because the envelope might contain something urgent — opened the package and found my notebook full of filthy, and not-necessarily-well-rhymed-or-well-scanned limericks. 

The administrator must have gotten quite a chuckle out of my failed attempts as a porno poet, because the notebook evidently made the rounds of the administration building, finally landing on the desk of the college public relations director. Her name was Marge Fried. She was a late-middle-aged former reporter for the Dayton, Ohio Daily News. She wrote a press release about the travels of my notebook, and sent it out to the newspapers.

Well, to be fair, Marge cleaned up my act a little bit. She wrote that I was studying with Antioch’s Education Abroad program, and rattled on a bit about what a great program it was. She then went on to explain that while I was in Paris, I filled a notebook with poems — because after all, it was Paris — about “l’amour.” Never mind sex and hermits named Dave. Just "L'amour."And then how the package found its way from a hotel waste basket to a college administration building in Yellow Springs, Ohio 45387, thanks to the intrepid detective and delivery work of two great national postal systems.

All this happened in less than a week! Before "Priority Mail" was even a thing.

The pain of embarrassment

The whole story embarrassed the hell out of me then, and still does today. I merely bring it up to illustrate the difference between what First World nations like France and the United States could do rather matter-of-factly when the USA was still a First World nation, and how badly things work today now that Donald Trump has turned us into a “shithole country” — a country in which a “Priority Mail” package for which you pay extra takes forever to get delivered, if it ever gets delivered at all.

There once was a cranky old bum
Who sent messages by jungle drum
Saying, “What use is mail
When deliveries fail
And ‘priority’ means it won’t come?”

Thursday, February 22, 2018

Will the children’s crusade against gun violence triumph where others have failed?

The original Children's Crusade was a disaster.
This time, things may be different.

 In the 13th Century, the children of Europe set out on a crusade. Or perhaps on two crusades, depending on your historical sources and perspective.

Their intention was to go to the Muslim world and convert all those Muslims to Christianity.

The crusade, or crusades, were a disaster that many of the children paid for with their lives. The entire notion was naive, ill-conceived, and evidently terribly planned (if it was logistically planned at all.) I’m always a bit wary of Wikipedia, but you can get a general outline of how things went here.

Now another “children’s crusade” — this time against gun violence — is brewing in a furiously boiling pot. But this time, perhaps just because the leaders of this crusade are children, they not only can get noticed, but also will have the energy, and more importantly the righteous rage, to get something done.

Already the kids are having an impact. They're scaring the people whose pockets are bulging with gun money. When legislative aides start making up stories and job titles that paint victims as "crisis actors," whatever that means, you know they're terrified. And the fact that the aide, one reprehensible liar in Florida named Benjamin Kelly, got fired for his libel doesn't mean that there aren't plenty of others like him, quaking in their boots at the notion of kids speaking the truth.

But make no mistake. While minor concessions, such as raising the age of gun ownership, may actually get some semi-serious discussion within the next year or two, the kids are in for a very long fight if they intend to get semi-automatic weapons off the streets. Even so, perhaps they really can do it. And in the course of so doing, they can bring down the arrogant hypocrites like Marco Rubio who, deep down, evidently don't really mind very much if large numbers of kids get shot and killed in school, so long as the obscenely huge contributions they receive from the National Rifle Association keep gushing into their pockets.

In a meeting the other day with President Trump, a few of the kids were respectful, even a trifle obsequious. But one or two — and one of the parents — spoke loudly and clearly about what the problem is. 

It’s not mental derangement. Mental derangement has been with us since the dawn of time.

It’s not the lack of teachers who aren’t packing firearms. Putting a holster on a teacher delivers precisely the wrong message about what school is and how kids should feel when they go there.

The problem, plain and simple, like or not, is that any insignificant nobody who decides to go and kill someone, or a whole bunch of someones, can  purchase a rapid-fire assault weapon, and armor-piercing bullets, with almost the ease that he can buy a six pack of beer. In fact, when the killer is younger than 21, he can buy the tools of mass destruction in some states with greater ease than he can buy a six pack of beer.

What the kids, and their parents, and all of us need to do is demand a cessation of the sale and private ownership of semi-automatic weapons, armor piercing bullets, rapid-fire enhancers like bump stocks, and other accessories that make these assault weapons a menace to civilized society. America needs to institute a buy-back program, with a time limit. After that, mere possession of any of the aforementioned tools of mass murder ought to be at least as serious a crime as possession of Class A narcotics, and the sale of any of these murder machines as serious as large scale drug dealing.

But how to go about doing this? Laws against semi-automatic weapons can be passed if support of the sale and possession  of these weapons becomes as fatal to a political career as a bullet to the chest or head is to a six year old at Sandy Hook, or a fifteen-year-old in Florida.

And finally, we’re off to a good start.

Marco Rubio was met with contempt and jeers the other day when he refused so support a ban on assault weapons, or to renounce the support of the NRA. Cowardly Governor Rick Scott of Florida, and President Trump, didn't even have the guts to come to the meeting.

But let's focus on Rubio for the moment. He has chosen his rope. Now let’s hang his political future with it.

I hope the kids will have the strength and resources to build crowds of followers who jeer Rubio wherever he goes. 

By refusing to take weapons out of the hands of murderers, Rubio has become a knowing party to the murders they have committed. He ought to be greeted, wherever he appears in public, with a two word chant: Rubio, murderer!

Say it aloud. Get used to it. Repeat it. Teach it to others. Rubio, murderer! Rubio, murderer! Rubio, murderer!

Then let the chant spread to any of top ten recipients of NRA money when he or she seeks re-election. You can see the names of the current top recipients, and the obscene amounts of money the NRA has given them to support the murder of children in schools, here.

You needn’t go after everyone at once. Start with those in whose states gun murders with rapid fire weapons or armor-piercing bullets have been committed, plus a few of the other top dollar recipients. Pick them off politically. Then go on to the next few. After a while, many of the others will get the idea and either quit supporting the murder of children,  or quit running for public office.

If it's the latter, good riddance to these vultures.

Kids, you’re off to a great start. If I may make a polite suggestion, please don’t be quit so polite. And don’t be put off by politicians who say they’ll “think about it,” and who hand you the hypocritical lie that their thoughts and feelings and prayers are with you. If they had any more humanity than a pit viper, their thoughts and feelings would move them to ban assault weapons.

Either they support banning rapid fire weapons or they don’t. Ask them which of the two it is. Demand an answer.

And one more thing.My hat is off to the kids of America for having the guts and the gumption my own generation seems to have lost. 

P.S. Just as I was about to post this, I noticed a story in the New York Times that indicates that Wayne LaPierre, head of the National Rifle Association, has begun trying to work up his membership into a mouth-frothing frenzy. “History proves it. Every time in every nation in which this political disease rises to power, its citizens are repressed, their freedoms are destroyed and their firearms are banned and confiscated,” he said. 

Yeah, Wayne. Like, umm, Australia. And England. And France. And the rest of the civilized world.

LaPierre blamed the problem on "socialists" trying to "politicize" the deaths of the last 17 victims of somebody with a semi-automatic weapon. So that's what he thinks of the 14, and 15, and 16, and 17-year-olds who went through the shattering experience of being fired upon by a gunman. Pay no attention, folks, they're nothing but a bunch of socialists.

Hey, hey, NRA
How many kids did you kill today?

Where, where is Wayne LaPierre
He belongs in the electric chair.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

Veterinary clinic in Boca Raton declares Dr. Marvin Moskowitz persona non grata - and it appears to me they did it because they were caught fibbing

This is Dr. Marvin Moskowitz, a 10 year old Persian cat from California 
who is not happy with the treatment he got in Florida.
The Crank’s brother, who lives in California, went to Florida recently, to try out living there for a while. He brought his cat with him

They’re back home in California now, and neither the Crank’s brother nor the cat, whose name is Dr. Marvin Moscowitz, is likely to return to Florida any time soon.

One of the big reasons why has to do with a veterinary clinic in Boca Raton. The clinic, in addition to treating sick animals, also does animal grooming. Because Dr. Moscowitz is an indoor cat, his nails need clipping fairly regularly. In addition, Dr. Moscowitz needed a bath. So the Crank’s brother made a grooming appointment and brought in Dr. Moscowitz.

Next thing you know, the clinic was demanding to give Dr. Moscowitz a fecal exam.

“Why is that?” the Crank’s brother asked.

“He could have fecal worms. And if he leaves any worms in the tub, all the other cats we bathe will catch it,” the clinic’s front desk guardian explained. 

That sounded odd. Not to mention that the explanation also raises questions about how thoroughly the clinic washes out its tub between cat baths.

“That’s ridiculous,” said the Crank’s brother. “Dr. Moscowitz has never been outdoors in his life, except in a carrying case. He’s an indoor cat.”

“This is Florida,” insisted the front desk guardian, ominously. “Anything can happen.”

Anything? Like what? Was she implying that a scouting party of fecal worms congregated at the curb at Miami Dade airport waiting for an easy mark? And that when the Crank’s brother and Dr. Moscowitz arrived from California, the worm scouting party noticed Dr. Moscowitz in his carrying case, and deliberately crawled in through the vents and jumped into Dr. Moscowitz’s behind while he and my brother waited for a car to pick them up?

 Somehow, what the front desk guardian was saying didn't quite add up. But she stuck to her story. “This is Florida. Anything can happen.”

This argument went on for a while, but finally the Crank’s brother gave in and agreed to let Dr. Moscowitz have a fecal exam so that he could also get a bath and a manicure. He left the good doctor at the veterinarian for a few hours, and came back when he had been told to come back. 

It turned out that Dr. Moscowitz hadn’t been bathed because he began to “bite and scratch,” according to the clinic’s own records. Hey, if  somebody had just shoved a probe up your butt looking for fecal worms, you might bite and scratch too. Whether you’re a cat or not.

The Crank’s brother was presented with a bill not only for the manicure, but also for the fecal exam.
“Great,” said the Crank’s brother, “I’d like to see the fecal exam test results.”

“Oh, we won’t have the results until they come back from the lab tomorrow,” said the front desk guardian.

“Then the story you gave me about requiring the fecal exam to avoid infecting other cats wasn’t true,” said the Crank’s brother.

The front desk person simply repeated the amount due, including the amount for the fecal exam.

“I’ll pay you for the nail clipping. I’m not paying for a fecal exam that Dr. Moscowitz didn’t need and that was administered for a specious reason. Now give me my cat,” said the Crank’s brother.

“If you won’t pay the full amount, you’ll have to wait until the veterinary staff manager discusses this,” said the front desk guardian.

“Wait? How long?”

“Well, the manager is in a meeting about something else now. They’ll be finished in an hour or so.”

“Give me my cat right now or I’m calling the police,” said the Crank’s brother.

The threat of calling the cops evidently put the fear of God into the front desk guardian. She brought out Dr. Moscowitz. The Crank’s brother paid for the nail clipping , but not for somebody sticking a probe up the cat’s ass for an unnecessary — but revenue-generating — lab test.

They’re back in California now. And the Crank’s brother recently received a frosty e-mail from the clinic. Here’s the text with the name of the clinic redacted to help some lawyer in Florida avoid getting over-stimulated:
"[CLINIC NAME REDACTED]  will not be able to offer you any future services. At [CLINIC NAME REDACTED], we strive to provide exceptional care and to act only in the best interest of our patients. In order to accomplish this goal, we make every effort to achieve a level of mutual trust, open communication, and respect with each one. After several failed attempts working with you and after discussions with staff members, we feel our relationship with you is not a good fit. [CLINIC NAME REDACTED] has elected to end all services with you effective immediately. Please do not call, email, text, or trespass at [CLINIC NAME REDACTED]. Attached to this email are Dr. Marvin medical records for you to consult a new veterinarian for continuation of care."
Dr. Marvin Moscowitz yawned when the letter was read to him, and then went off to his kitchen (in California) to lap some water from his bowl.

The medical records in question were, in fact, mostly copies of records from Dr. Moscowitz’s California veterinarian, so the operation manager in Boca who e-mailed them could have saved herself the trouble. The Crank’s brother had given the clinic copies of those records to begin with.

The fact that the clinic is conjuring up calls, e-mails, text or trespasses — tresspasses! — indicates that the fertile imagination of somebody at the clinic can be applied to a lot more than inventing reasons to subject a cat to a fecal exam.

Oh, and since this is a political blog, and this story would be incomplete without a political moral, here’s a political moral:

Government regulation exists to protect people — and sometimes even to protect cats — against the depredations of people out to do whatever it takes to move money out of your bank account and into their own. Evidently, the process of regulating veterinarians in Florida, if it exists at all, needs some work. But that’s just on a local level in one state.

When the Trump Administration starts nullifying regulations left and right, somebody’s going to suffer. You may unwittingly fall into the hands of payday lender loan sharks. You may find your air suddenly getting more polluted. You may find acres and acres of what was once pristine wilderness turning into an ugly industrial mining site

And for all I know, before very long, you may go out for a haircut or a manicure and end up having someone shove a probe up your butt — and then billing you for it.

And if you don’t believe me, just ask Dr. Marvin Moskowitz.

Thursday, February 08, 2018

Donald Trump wants a bigly huge parade. And money be damned! It’s the thought that counts.

Donald Trump demands a big military parade. You know, the 
kind of shindig Nazis and other dictators generally throw. 
(Gif swiped from Wonkette.)
President Trump wants a parade. Not a little parade. He wants a great, big, gigantic, enormous, humongous parade full of soldiers, and tanks tearing up the pavement with their steel treads, and nuclear missiles bristling, and fixed bayonets, and God-knows-what-else.

Somehow, this doesn’t seem like us.

Russia does great big goose-stepping military parades.

North Korea does great big goose-stepping military parades.

Adolph Hitler’s Third Reich did great big goose-stepping military parades.

The United States of America? Not so much. Even France's Bastille Day parade, which unfortunately set loose the most recently-arrived colony of ants in Donald Trump's pants, doesn't make as big a publicity deal out of its parade as Donald Trump wants.

We used to be the nation that celebrated the little guy, the underdog, the tough-but-determined David up against the world's mean Goliaths. A gazillion uniforms marching down the streets of Washington isn’t American. It’s an un-American nightmare.

But Trump wants his parade. 

The cost? Hard to estimate, although the first “modest” estimates seem to be coming in at around $13,800,000 hard  cash.

There’s no money to fix Puerto Rico, parts of which still don’t have electricity, or other functioning essentials, half a year after a hurricane. But there’s $13,800,000 for a parade.

There’s no money to take care of our veterans, still languishing in veterans’ hospitals in different parts of the country.  Ot trying to get admitted. But there’s $13,800,000 for a parade.

There’s no money to repair our failing roads and bridges and railroads, which these days crash with the certainty of a fleet of  banana republic steam engines approaching one another head on, on the same track. The incompetence and infrastructure failure in nearly every facet of American life is another factor that's making disasters boring. But there’s $13,800,000 for a parade.

There’s no money to pay our impoverished teachers, who take money from their own paltry salaries to buy pencils and paper and textbooks for our kids, because there’s no money in many school budgets for the pencils and paper and textbooks, either. But there’s $13,800,000 for a parade.

The “tax reform” we’ve just suffered will give the Koch brothers and other billionaires billions more of the public’s money, while the school librarian gets a whopping $1.50 a week extra in her pay check. Tax reform is also why there may not be money before very long for Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, or just keeping the nation patched together. But there’s $13,800,000 for a parade.

You see, it’s very important to our president that we have a humongously, no actually a humongously humongous — in fact an enormously, hugely, humongously humongous — parade. Why?
“President Trump is incredibly supportive of America’s great service members who risk their lives every day to keep our country safe,” explained Sarah Huckabee Sanders, the White House press secretary. “He has asked the Department of Defense to explore a celebration at which all Americans can show their appreciation.”
Yeah, right, we’ll show our appreciation by making the poor bastards in the military get out of bed extra early on a holiday morning, spit shine their boots, line up hours in formation before the parade, and then be forced to march for eight or ten miles in the July 4th heat for the pleasure of Donald ("Heel Spurs") Trump. 

Who does Sanders think she’s kidding? With appreciation like that, our armed forces don’t need detractors. 

If we really wanted to honor those poor bastards, we’d give them the day off. In fact, maybe even the whole holiday weekend off.  With a wad of bonus beer money so they could go enjoy themselves. Or better yet, we could restore the GI bill of rights. (Fat chance!)(

Alternatively, the nation could express its appreciation to Press Secretary Sanders by demanding that she stay locked in her office 24/7 for a month and not go home to her kids.

Or we could express our appreciation to Donald Trump by locking him in a room with no smart phone, no TV, and only a copy of historian Henry Steele Commager's book, "Midcentury Liberalism and the History of the Present," a cup full of pencils, and six yellow pads. We would further show our appreciation by refusing to let him out until he writes a coherent book report on the book we gave him, out of appreciation.

But never mind that. the President wants a parade.

And make no mistake. He will get his marching battalions, and rolling tanks, and bristling missiles, and brassy marching bands playing John Philip Sousa martial music as certainly as a duck may be somebody’s mother. Even if the nation has to go bankrupt to give Trump what he wants

It kind of makes you see how proud you used to be to be an American. Before Donald Trump turned turned us from the world’s most respected nation into a clown show.