Tag Archives: longreads

America’s Predicament: Reviving the Middle Class and Suppressing Corporatism

 My country has experienced many serious challenges in its relatively brief history: World Wars, Slavery, and the Great Depression to mention the obvious. The huge disparity of income between the wealthy and the middle class could bring the USA to its knees. Noted  economist and Nobel winner Robert Schiller has said that economic inequality is the largest problem facing America today. Gross inequality in the distribution of wages is an injustice to workers in this country, and it is a time bomb whose fuse is sizzling dangerously. If the  current challenge is not addressed and resolved soon, it could ignite and initiate a social revolution with dire consequences.

 Disenchanted Americans

Disenchanted Americans

To fully analyze how we presently stand, let’s look at recent history in this country as a means of gaining perspective for both good times and bad.

I would like to mention that conservative and liberal ideology do not apply in discussions of economics, civics, and social stratification. It is also senseless to mention either political party as being the culprit  or  a hero. After all, Nixon started the EPA, LBJ was a hawk in Viet Nam, and Eisenhower created the Department of Health, Education & Welfare. Good times and accomplishments transcended politics back in the day. Compromise amongst colleagues, instead of gridlock between adversaries, ruled. Flash-forward to the present where adversaries have evolved into arch-enemies, even hatred.

The American Dream

The American Dream

The three decades from the late 1940’s to the late 1970’s produced the most sustained economic growth and prosperity that the world has ever known. Not coincidentally,  the middle class was strong and  sharing the rewards of their unparalleled production. The GI bill enabled the soldiers returning from war the chance to earn an education and pursue the American dream. The accomplishments of the country during those thirty years catapulted the US into a status of  superpower and enabled the Greatest Generation’s attainment of the upward mobility they deserved. The strength of the middle class was unparalleled in the annals of history. As the middle class goes, so does America.

The US, once a model for the middle class, is now ranked 64th in economic inequality by the GINI index which calibrates such things. We are just ahead (more unequal) than Guyana, The Ivory Coast, and Nicaragua and on a par with Venezuela and Uruguay. Some inequality is tolerable, but we are dead last when compared to all developed countries.

2014_Gini_Index_World_Map,_income_inequality_distribution_by_country_per_World_Bank_svg

The GINN Index indicates income inequality

Currently, 400 Americans control more wealth than 150,000,000 American citizens.

Since the Reagan revolution to the present, family income is down -24%—while the top 1% is up +327%. Our disproportionality in income exceeds even the ancient Roman Empire, (famous for its decadence) where the top 1% controlled 16% of wealth. Currently, 1% of Americans control 22% of wealth, and the ratio is  increasing every quarter. The median worker in America in 1979 earned 48 thousand dollars when adjusted for inflation while the median earner in the top 1% brought in 390 thousand dollars. In 2010 the median earner wages slipped to under 34 thousand while the top 1% surged to 1.1 million dollars.

There is no such thing as a perfectly free market. The government sets rules to regulate the marketplace. The key question is, who do the rules benefit or hurt? The GNP has continued to grow steadily from 1927 to the present. In 1927 the 1% wealthiest total was similar to the 1% in 2007 in regard to distribution of wealth. The economies crashed the next year in both cases, mainly because consumer spending ceased. Unlike the Great Depression recovery years, the gap actually increased from 2007 to the present. In both 1928 and 2007 wealth was concentrated in fewer people while the middle class was stagnant and personal debt increased. Middle class spending accounts for 70% of the economy. The key to a healthy economy is a vibrant middle class.

When the middle class doesn’t share in a countries economic gains a downward cycle occurs:

*Wages become stagnate

Victims of Downward Cycle

Victims of Downward Cycle

*Workers buy less

*Companies downsize

*Tax revenue decreases

*Government cuts programs

*Workers are less educated

*Unemployment rises

*Deficit grows

So what happened in 1979 that ended 30 years of a booming economy? Wages got flat as unions begin to disintegrate. Actually this began when Ronald Reagan fired the striking air traffic controllers. Women also entered the work force about that time. Globalization and a world economy were evolving throughout the world. The technology revolution was commencing. Deregulation was in full swing. Corporation and large companies dissolved most of the unions to compete with cheap manufacturing abroad.

What transpired is that workers started working longer hours and taking second jobs, out of necessity, to  pay the bills which were accumulating. As a further product of globalization and technology, the jobs were beginning to go overseas to emerging nations—-particular in the manufacturing sector. Technological advances allowed for a new business model where fewer employees were necessary to  produce their products. Simultaneously the Reagan administration lowered taxes which top earners (the1%) were making from a peak of 90% during the boom years to current levels. Time has shown that the  trick of “trickle-down economics” proved to be the elites peeing on the poor. trickle

The idea that the wealthy and large businesses prospering and assisting the economy through growth has been proven to be a fallacy. The wealthy along with corporations do not utilize their monetary  resources to assist the economy in any way. Corporations increased profits and bestowed to stockholders and executives in the form of bonuses and stock options. The wealthy invested in gold, silver, and bonds. Savings  generally go overseas to shield the rich from taxes. Currently, large corporations have moved their corporate headquarters overseas to avoid our taxes totally.

The average American in the early 80’s had the wife working to make ends meet.  Now new expenditures in the form of child care, health care, and educational expenses drain the bank balance  of two-earner families.

The fact that so many people bought into trickle-down economics can only be explained by the communication skills of a great man and the naïve vulnerability of the American people. After all, the Berlin wall had come down and the Iranian hostages had been released,  so the citizens were “all in” with their charismatic leader.

Ronald Reagan- working

Ronald Reagan- working

Reaganomics was in fact administered to the American people, and with it, the genesis of new political partisanship the precursor to polarization.

This concept of lowering taxes was levied disproportionally to the American people. The average American received a small sniff of a reduced tax burden while the corporate tax and the decrease for the wealthy were unprecedented. The rate for top earners fell from 70% to 28% during his administration. Surprisingly the rate for most Americans rose during his tenure when the 1986 Tax Reform Act raised taxes on the average American to levels higher than when he first took office. Prior to that in 1983 Ronald Reagan increased the hidden taxes payroll taxes of Social Security and Medicare.

Meanwhile the labor unions eroded, and the voices of workers were silenced. The American workers were working longer hours for less money and benefits. Women entered the work force in larger numbers out of necessity. Their pay was only a small fraction of what their male counterpoints collected. Simultaneously Defense spending increased 33% and money earmarked for education was eliminated. The cost of college increased geometrically as new middle class expenditures appeared in the form of health care and child care.

While we were flexing our muscles with defense spending, Japan, Germany, and South Korea were committing money towards higher education. As globalization and technology were emerging in the world, we were caught up on winning a cold war which didn’t exist anymore.

iphone_4_colors

What countries benefit from the production of our I-phones?  Take a guess from this list of candidates:

  • USA
  • China
  • Japan
  • South Korea
  • Germany

The sad reality is:

  1. Japan————34%
  2. Germany———17%
  3. South Korea—-13%
  4. USA—————-6%
  5. China————-3.6%

Yes, we missed out on a giant opportunity. The sad fact is our workers were worker 300 hours a year more than Europe and even exceeded the notoriously Japanese whose work ethic is legendary. And for what I ask you? So that the profits of corporations can increase… so the top executives might receive huge bonuses… so they can lay-off thousands of workers…so they can move their operations offshore so they can donate money to political campaigns?  This is where deregulation, tax reform (for the wealthy), and  our strong defense lead us to. Looking back now, 25 years after the wall fell, allows me to see the inevitable outcome of a flawed domestic program.

Of course the “read my lips” promise of Reagan’s successor led to a continuation of the “great communicators” policies and priorities. The 41st president who inherited a 300 billion dollar deficit from his predecessor was of the opinion that “the economy was not as exciting as foreign policy.” Perhaps in his lack of interest, in such, his term was undistinguished in regard to domestic issues such as the economy, labor, and unemployment. The original Bush left a deficit of about 300 billion pretty much what he inherited from Reagan. The caretaker president, George H. Bush really just allowed Reagan’s domestic policies to continue and focused on an  international agenda.

Bill & Al installing computer cable in the White House

Rhodes educated Bill Clinton running on a “putting people first” slogan and philosophy upset his opponent in November of 1992. The kinder, gentler nation that the elder Bush envisioned was now in the hands of a progressive thinker from Arkansas. It was under Bill Clinton’s watch that the 300 billion dollar deficit turned into a 400 billion dollar surplus. America had a brief reprise of the glory days of yester-years. Under Clinton, causes for the middle class were championed.  The first bill he signed was the Family Medical Leave Act. He continued contributing domestically with educational technology expenditures and eventually tax credits for higher education.

Clinton was a centralist and his failure to get health care reform passed was his biggest disappointment of his domestic agenda. Under Bill Clinton’s administration we welcomed the first budget surplus in 30 years. The economy boomed and unemployment decreased from 7.5 percent to 4.2. Inflation was virtually non-existent. As fate would have it, before the surplus could be reinvested in education, a sexual scandal the likes the country had never seen before, enveloped the nation. The political will to mastermind the revitalization of the middle class eroded, and poor Bill was left to explain his definition of sex to a shocked nation.

Clinton would rival Watergate and the  JFK assassination as  the 20th Centuries’ most tragic (and bizarre) exits from the oval office. The irony is that “Slick Willie” might re-enter the oval office as the first, “first gentleman.”

Before I comment or highlight George W. Bush, I would like to make mention how absolutely vital it is for all Americans to exercise their right of suffrage. As most everyone know, the 43rd president received half a million fewer votes fewer than Al Gore his opponent. Additionally, Florida was so close that a recall was necessary, and when that dragged-on due to state-wide partisanship and litigation, the issue went to the Supreme Court. By a 5 to 4 vote the highest court settled the presidential election on grounds that Florida would not have enough time for a manual recount in four disputed counties.

My point is two-fold: why not award electors by state on an equatable “pro-rata” basis as opposed to the “winner take all” indoctrinated by the constitution? Secondly, Al Gore (who did not carry his home state of Tennessee) took the high road and conceded defeat even though he had plenty of legal options available to pursue. Say whatever you want to about Al Gore, His unselfish decision prevented our country from being hopelessly divided as we entered the new millennium.  It also permits one to wonder how “dangling chads” might decide our countries fate concerning future wars— along with the state of our economy and with that the plight of middle-class Americans.

To his credit George W. named a terrorist czar and began the war on terror after 911. He also created the “No Child Left Behind Act” initiative with his wife, Laura’s, support and assistance. Medicare reform was accomplished during his watch.

The second Bush Administration will be forever associated with failure. The Iraq War cost the American taxpayer over a trillion dollars.An invasion into Afghanistan which was suppose to capture the terrorist, Ben Laden,  developed into “nation building” and another trillion or so in expenditures for nothing other than to create more enemies. Unemployment rose to unheard of levels and the stock market tanked.

Mission Accomplished

Mission Accomplished

His anti-terrorism policy violated the Geneva Convention and amounted to nothing short of torture. In 2008, his last year in office, 2.1 million Americans lost their jobs. Corporations had record profits as the rich got richer and the poor got poorer. He showed his true elitist colors by ignoring the victims of Hurricane Katrina. Our country was in worse shape domestically, economically, and internationally than at any point since 1928.

The 2008 election brought a record turnout in a presidential election. A reversal of Bush’s policy brought a mandate and the United States first black president.

In 2010 the Supreme Court decided in Citizens United vs. FEC that corporation were like individuals and they could without limits donate as much money as they desired to political campaigns. PAC’s and wealthy Americans could now could virtually buy any election. Special interest groups and lobbyist had blank checks to counter the meager contributions of middle class America. Our 2 parties, were puppets of corporations and the wealthy,  they had the real power now, not the people.

The 2012 election pitted elitist Mitt Romney against the skilled orator from Hawaii. The election turned when a video tape of Romney went public, with the candidate admitting he didn’t care about 47% of Americans. Barrack Obama won handily with another record turnout, when it was finally disclosed that Romney only paid 13.8% in federal taxes the previous year. The middle class obviously doesn’t like the privileged when they are arrogant.

374515_Obama-va-signing

Barack Obama Signing Tax Relief Bill

Barack Obama entered the White House with unemployment at 10%, the stock market at 7000, and a global financial crisis in his lap. His first major bill was the massive American Recovery and Reconstruction Act which was signed on February 13th, 2009. He later lifted the restrictions for Federal spending on Embryonic Research. He compromised with Republicans in getting a tax bill passed which continued Bush’s tax cuts for all Americans. Obama wanted the cuts (continuation of Bush’s cuts) to apply to Americans making less than 250,000 dollars annually. Instead, the final bill was changed so much that liberals and conservatives both disliked it. After a filibuster in the senate, the super-wealthy still got their tax relief (sorely needed) and the middle class got a tax holiday and also a one year reduction in FICA to assist the middle class temporary. The package increased the deficit to record amounts. Surprise- big business won again and the middle-class gots what the frog left on the lily pad (thanks, dad, RIP for the imagery).

 President Obama in his state of the union address in 2010 declared, “Last week, the Supreme Court reversed a century of law to open the floodgates for special interests—including foreign corporations—to spend without limit in our elections. Well I don’t think American elections should be bankrolled by America’s most powerful interests, or worse, by foreign entities.” That is a scary thought indeed that our elections could be bankrolled by our enemies. But what can we do since it is the law of the land voted on by the highest court?

Now that the mid-term elections have been tabulated it appears that our country has more gridlock, filibuster, and veto in its future. The sorry precedent was set by a junior senator from Texas, filibustering to shut down the government— because he couldn’t accept the health care bill which was signed, sealed, and delivered to the American public. Payback will be fair play for the donkeys. I see no reason to expect anything but the status quo, a do nothing Congress full of finger pointing. Politicians continuing to acquire power as special interest groups, lobbyists, PAC’s, & Super-PAC’s tell them how to react and how to spin their rhetoric into deceptive propaganda for our citizens to consume. I am an optimist so I will try to find a half-full, slither of light in the gathering gloom.

Our Future

Our Future

We need to have campaign reform immediately. We need limits and controls on how much money can be donated by individuals and corporations in order to have their candidates elected. We need to  eliminate media’s influence and  bias (both conservative and liberal) in reporting news events. We need to amend the constitution to put limits on lobbyist ability to influence our representatives. We need to make our representatives public servants (not paid officials) like the founding father’s original designed for  their country. We need to implement a means of recall so when our representatives wander from the wishes of the people whom elected them-there are repercussions. We need to utilize modern technology so citizen can vote directly on important legislation.

Who is looking out for the middle class in America today? We the people need to take back the government from the tyrants who stole it from us. I think with  more dollars spent on education, instead of defense we can cultivate the young leaders today…who can indeed modify our democracy. We are in a serious pickle; we have dug ourselves a giant hole in which to bury ourselves. I have faith in the young intellects in this country. They can turn the terrible tide away from the mega-corporations and give the middle class a voice again. I just hope and pray that they have the courage to stand up for what is theirs.

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Part 2: The Tradition of Child Discipline

tradition

The elements of penalizing a child for bad behavior can best be be explored studying our countries’ trends along with the  broader world-wide historic perspective. The specific practice of corporal punishment and its role in child rearing can be divided into two broad groups; those parents who use a rod, belt, paddle, switch, (hand) vs. the side who feel corporal punishment is verboten, forbidden, and a future crime. Not much middle ground. Within our culture, I read the polarizing meter to register enthusiastic if not  zealous opinions. It’s starting to become a political  and religious issue, much like its distant cousins abortion and homosexuality. Sadly the three have nothing else in common.

“Spare the rod and spoil the child” is the catchphrase of the pro-CP argument, which is an attempt to connect biblical doctrine to this practice; it has been ordained to originate in the bible. Truly, the phrase is based on a 17th century poem. The bible does reference discipline and punishment primarily in the book of Proverbs, where King Soloman is quoted numerous times of disciplining his son. Ironically, Rehoboam, the son, who succeeded Solomon to the throne, was a total failure as a ruler. As to whether Soloman meant discipline and punishment to be corporal, well that’s anyone’s guess. We do know the setting to be in about 1000BC and the language Hebrew.

The conservative bible interpreter would better be served with a more recent verse, Hebrews 12:6-7:

“…because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and punishes everyone he accepts as a son. Endure hardship as discipline; God is treating you as sons. For what son is not disciplined by the father?”

This passage is written in Greek and has been said to be the most well-written and polished book in the bible. One could argue either way as to what is implied  by “discipline.” Whether discipline and punishment refer to corporal punishment towards children as recent day conservative ideology suggest is not really the true point. The real question is: why would we physically discipline children and have laws protecting criminals guilty of heinous crimes? In all societies, babies and children are sacred…universally. Is this a case for man’s inhumanity to man— or the exception which proves the rule?

Spanking is using the hand as the instrument to inflict the blow for CP. When a tool is used, it would best be labeled a whipping or paddling. Laws differentiate between the two, both in this country and abroad. Internationally, corporate punishment is outlawed in schools in about 70 countries. In the USA, “red” states generally allow paddling and “blue” states prohibit it in schools. In my home state of Texas, almost 50,000 children were disciplined in schools. Nation-wide over 200,000 children were paddled. Europe, Northern Africa, and New Zealand have laws that prohibit corporate punishment at home and at school.spanking6

Experts tell us that CP to a child might be successful in the short run in changing negative behavior. Long term it is more likely to accomplish:

  • bullying other children
  • being aggressive
  • behavioral problems
  • fearing his or her parents
  • poor self-esteem
  • thinking that hitting is okay

I think that CP has evolved from the fact that it is a quick short-cut and avoidance towards a more fruitful strategy. To change negative behavior in children it takes a slower process and a more thought-out strategy. It involves a lot of communication skills with both partners consistent with expectations and the consequences of actions. The important initial step are rules and limits; concepts that children need to be aware of at a young age. The penalties or ramifications can be: positive reinforcement, taking away privileges, restrictions, time-out, and  counseling.

Parents need to take the time to protect their largest investment. Protection means to keep one from harm. Why harm someone physically in an desperate attempt to control their actions? If your child is more cunning and intelligent than you, seek out assistance, or better still educate yourself as to a more effective means than the one you might have inherited from your parents. The argument “I was spanked and I came out OK” is based in shame and delivered out of loyalty for the sake of parental love. What mountains you might have climbed if not for the scars of hurt? The circle needs to be unbroken, soon… yesterday.

spanking

Our country needs to restrain from utilizing theological doctrine (or at least an interpretation of such) in making child-rearing decisions. Would I use the bible as a resource book if I wanted to tune-up my car? Would it be the source of reference for an improved diet? Or a first aid manual? Are we making the same mistake that certain Muslim factions make in their interpretation of scriptures and subsequent condolence of violence against the Western world and prosperity? There is a reason we have more people incarcerated in this country than anywhere else in the world. Are some of us inadvertly training our children to be criminals?

The bible is an excellent guidebook concerning moral, spiritual, and ethical behavior, but it is not a history of the world. Nor is it a manual for child-rearing. We need to look at concrete statistics and exercise common sense when it comes to considering corporal punishment. My reasoning ability tells me that it is just wrong to strike a child. I understand that Jesus was (and is) the Prince of Peace. I cannot visualize an image of him striking a child. Listen to your conscious closely, not a misquote from a English poet.  The cycle of violence needs to be broken- not the skin of an  innocent child’s buttocks. Justification and legality for an action doesn’t make it proper.

Homecoming 2014

Last Saturday during a boring collegiate football game, I decided to revisit Waltrip’s (my high school) track and combine a bit of exercise with a taste of nostalgia. I haven’t laid foot on the sacred grounds in 44.4 years.  Maybe the old lady owed me a little something, a fleeting touch of glory that might’ve escaped me back in the day.

Our Waltrip High

Our Waltrip High

Not much has changed, it seemed, as I parked my truck on the familiar circular drive. When I got  out, I felt instantly transformed in time. It was as if I were transposed into a  time traveler circa 1969.

As I made my way towards the band hallway, I noticed many student-athletes coming and going, assembling for the big homecoming game. There were 2 buses parked and ready to transport the football team and the spirit squad to the evening game. 

Red and Gray filled the air. It was only earlier this week that I heard Waltrip was ditching its mascot and colors as part of the multi-million dollar campus renovation effort. I briefly considered taking the short-cut through the boy’s locker room, but since reason ruled over adventure, I sauntered down the sidewalk up 34th street towards Ella in hopes of finding an unlocked gate.

The side gate to the tennis courts was open. I entered and proceeded to other locked gates and soon realized I was corralled and had to retrace my steps to 34th. Of course I felt like a brainless cow, but un-deterred, I continued a couple of hundred yards until I was in front of the Surfhouse. There was a driveway and another locked gate which was scalable. I was able to get over the 6 foot cyclone fence with ease much like a school kid, landing nimbly if not gracefully. I marched to the oval.

Magically as I set foot on the track, a sort of metamorphosis took place; I became the high school athlete which I never was. As I jogged a couple of laps to warm up, feeling very springy in my stride, I then realized that the cinder circuit of our era had been replaced with an artificial surface and was tremendously user-friendly.

photo 1

The Track

My history on this track consisted solely of time trials administered by Coach Foster Martin, who was my golf coach as well as the varsity basketball coach. As a requirement to make varsity, the B-Ball team was required to run a series of 4 consecutive 440 yard sprints in under 70 seconds each. There was a 4 to 5 minute rest  between intervals for us to recover, the time it took us to walk a lap slowly. The golf team had a more modest of goal of 75 seconds. I vividly recalled my buddies, Holland, Jochec, Johnson, along with the rest of the team, grinding and laboring to make the grade.

On this particular gorgeous afternoon, my plan was to recreate that experience. Upon warming-up, the pragmatist in me made the decision to run 4  x 100 meters instead. My change was based on an article I had read recently which informed me that the 400 raises the heart rate more than any other running event. It is not unusual for a quarter-miler to reach 175-200 beats per minute as they cross the finish line. With visions of my heart literally exploding, I decided that the anaerobic 100 would be less taxing on my middle-age cardiovascular system.

Therefore, with no further warm up and with 90% effort, I clicked off a 16.79 first run. That was strictly unofficial by means of my Timex Indiglo chronometer. I was more than pleasantly surprised! My stride started smooth and rhythmic then deteriorated into a galloping lumber the second portion. That was the challenge of the 100. The trick is to maintain a relaxed and consistent stride for the full duration. As the lactic acid breaks down in one’s legs, the stride generally breaks down and the form wobbles.

After a slow walk around the track complete with diaphragm deep breathing, I prepared myself mentally for the second effort. With a little guarded confidence on my side, I registered a 16.57 which brought a smile to my face. The bear jumped on my back on the last 40 yards but, expecting it to do so, I was able to  maintain some semblance of stride structure. This was becoming really cool.

Maybe I am sprinter in disguise. Perhaps a late bloomer. If I did missed my true calling, it’s not too late to compete in the senior division. I was in fantasy city. These thoughts kicked my adrenaline levels to new highs as I prepared for the 3rd effort.

photo 2

A Painful High School Selfie

I heard the churning of a slow-moving motor over the music in my headset. A coach was pulling along-side me in his pick-up truck obviously observing my actions. He was  generally making his way  towards the back door of the locker-room. I yanked my headphones off and waved confidently over my shoulder as I continued forward. He waved back and turned his truck down a construction path to his spot at the back door. Maybe he thought I was a kid on the varsity track team getting in some extra training (yeah, right).

With renewed vigor I changed my focus from 90% effort to one of style and form. I would emulate the peerless stride of Usain Bolt, the world champ. I was relaxed from the coach’s silent approval so I subconsciously kicked it up a notch. I clicked my watch and accelerated smoothly from my rolling start and covered the first 40 brilliantly. Suddenly and with no advance warning my left leg gave out and ceased-up in pain. A blown “hammy.” It felt like a butcher knife had been implanted into the muscle.

I hop-scotched to a stop. I grasped my hamstring with both hands in a desperate attempt to minimize the damage to my left hamstring. How embarrassing this was. I felt frustrated, angry, and disappointed. Scanning the area, I saw no one. Good. My thoughts turned to crisis control and I soon attained survival mode status. I  limped to the bleachers. There, I had stashed my phone and keys in an attempt to save precious hundreds of seconds of time. My problems weren’t over yet.

I couldn’t put much weight on my left leg at all. I was able to accomplish basic bi-petal locomotion with an awkward limp. Gingerly I made my way to the locked barrier which I had so easily climbed 30 minutes ago. All I could think about was the ice which I was going to pack on my hamstring and if we had any pain pills that might mask the sensations I felt.

Sliding my valuables under the gate I prepared myself for the ascent. Without much forethought I was able to reach the top. Once there, carefully right foot over first, grasping and balancing with hands and fingers then left leg over. I was  still grasping the top of fence to propel   myself for an anticipated right legged landing when my left leg crumbled (under its own weight). The leg did clear the top of the fence and my gray, baggy gym shorts got hooked on the top link of fence. For a brief moment I was suspended in air. A red and gray inverted pretzel tethered awkwardly by a few strains of polyester sewn in a sweat shop in Bangladesh.

Split seconds later  the threads gave way and I collapsed to the sidewalk in a heap. A hasty inventory revealed no additional injuries. All body parts accounted for, fortunately. Only my pride was further hurt. I slowly limped down the sidewalk back towards my truck. What a stupid idiot I was for not walking back the way the coach had came from, around the back parking lot from the annex area. I was also fearful that I might be arrested as an exhibitionist since my tattered shorts were clearly flapping in the breeze.

The buses were gone when I returned to my truck. The football team loss their game, 54 to 21, later that night. My personal homecoming was an unmitigated disaster. Ever the optimist I searched for a silver lining. If it doesn’t kill you it will only make you stronger was the best I could come up with. Coach Martin would have said it better, “Adversity breeds success.”

I climbed into my truck and agonizingly  worked the clutch as I labored  home.

Sparing the rod: A Viewpoint: Part 1

whippingThe time is right to revisit the particularly polarizing topic of corporal punishment and review this method of  curbing undesired behavior in children. The essence in a nutshell.

The punishers initial intent is to inflict just enough damage to force the recipient to  reform and repent as a result of the dramatic attention-grabber. The amount of force is determined by the expertise of the deliverer of the punishment. If any lines are crossed, the intended beneficial effects of the flogging supersede any miss-calibrations by the authority figure. Crying, screaming, pleading, and air dancing do not generally deter the preconceived machine-like ritual pattern of the discipliner. The individual manning the implement is omnipotent and the uber authority on controlled violence.

Strategic goals are two-fold. Initially the sinner needs to be stigmatized. That is achieved by humiliation; the message, there is always someone larger and stronger and wiser than the child. The “anointed one” exhibits his expertise only for the long-term welfare of the child. After that is achieved, the enforcer can concentrate on their secondary goal of convincing the child that the action, “hurts me much more than it will hurt you,” with the obvious follow-up mantra, “I did it because I love you.” This process assures that respect and dignity will be continually cultivated.

A third super-bonus dividend occurs. Our punished child is now empowered by the recently proclaimed fact that he can indeed hurt his superior. A repeat of the original crime, or a new transgression entirely, will surely bring the loving, rod bearing master back for a command performance. This expression of love is accomplished with renewed vigor and intense passion in succeeding whippings. Histrionics are obvious in this little drama. The choreographed cycle is rehearsed, repeated, and reenacted  until the martyr can endure with only a slight grunt or groan.

With the proceedings now raised a notch, it is only a matter of time until this magical method reaches its glorious climax. Our combatant cannot get a whimper of sound from their loved one. No sound cast at all. Only the popping  of cadence as leather merges with flesh. Our child is a young man now. He can receive the master’s best licks and react with a smile. What a beautiful moment in time, when the child becomes a man and he snatches the weapon away, and stands up to dear old pops. How beautiful life’s lessons are? A boy becomes a man; thank God for the father. Continue reading

A High School Caper

After reading Jesse Ybarra’s recent story highlighting his scuba diving for golf balls antics, I was inspired to come clean with a true story of my own from my teen-age days. Factual is more interesting than fiction, and this is actual. This adventure might suggest that classmates have shared similar experiences, and we duplicate much more than differ. Thank you, Jesse for spawning a sequel.

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It was in late 1969 when my close friend and classmate, Steve Harwell, made a seemingly innocuous comment while we were playing golf at Memorial Park alongside Mike Kalousek and Joe McMullen.

“How many golf balls do you think are in that reservoir?”

“Gosh, Harwell, I don’t know, maybe thousands. Why does it matter that you just hit one more in there?”

Steve just smiled, and I knew him well enough to detect he had a scheme originating from the right-side of his cerebral cortex (Steve was left-handed). The lake was a huge reservoir, situated between #7 and #8 fairways, and it was the source of irrigation for the golf course watering system. Since the city pumped water into the lake, the level was consistent, and the water was generally clear.

I had forgotten about the exchange until early springtime when Steve revealed his master plan to me. Over the winter, assisted by his dad, my friend had built a device in their garage which could dredge the lake for golf balls. The invention, a metal device similar to a tractor disc, was constructed to allow golf balls to be pinched between the blades (and lodged within the gaps) while it rolled along the bottom of the lake. Long ropes were attached to each end. While I was on one bank, Steve was to be on the other bank, and we were to pull the ropes, dragging the damn thing through the pond.

Steve had also modified a wagon to assist in transporting the balls and supplies to and from our parked truck. We did a dry test run to make sure that the device was operating properly, and then after a bit of adjusting decided that our machine was water worthy.

Our clandestine caper debuted on a cool Saturday night in March of ’70. We estimated that the retrieval effort would take four or five hours to complete; at approximately ten o’clock that evening, I utilized my “screen out of the window” technique to sneak out of my home. Steve picked me up in his red pick-up, fully loaded with the “rig”, the wagon, flashlights, and a canvas sack for our collection.

We decided to park at Saint Teresa’s Catholic Church, which was only a half-mile from the reservoir and would not draw attention to the truck. I suppose we began the operation in earnest about 10:45. The task was strenuous work, with me on one side of the lake and Steve on the other. The mechanism was about 3 1/2 feet wide so we had to work our way in small bits until we covered the entire length of the 5 acre lake. After each run, we would pull the retriever out of the water, peel away the desirable balls, and realign it for the next pull. The entire enterprise was very laborious for two 17 year olds.

We used the flashlights to inspect after each drag. The cut and miss-shaped balls were culled from our collection, keeping only the Titleist and other pro-line balls. By 3:00 AM we were both exhausted, but we had a big bushel bag full of balls for our effort. After loading the balls in the wagon, we began the hike back to Saint Teresa’s. Our machine was engineered to roll, and it performed well as we trekked back to our truck. Steve had indeed designed a masterpiece.

While we were crossing the asphalt road, just 150 yards from our truck, as fate would have it, headlights appeared from around the bend from Memorial Drive. The car was driving slowly when we first saw it, giving us a few seconds to pull the machine and wagon into the ditch alongside the road and scamper behind the first two trees a few yards away.

The approaching vehicle was the Park Patrol Police with his “candy-topper” quiet. Our hearts were pounding when he stopped his vehicle near our abandoned equipment and the bulging bushel bag. While still in his vehicle, the officer shined his car spotlight in our direction. The two skinny boys inhaled as the law enforcement officer profiled our two trees with his light. Ranger Rick decided to load our possessions in his trunk and back seat, giving us an opportunity to scamper about 30 yards deeper in the woods. I laid face down behind an old oak only forty yards from the police car while Steve hid a bit deeper in the woods.

After confiscating the evidence, the patrolman walked directly towards us with his powerful flashlight beaming in our direction. As I buried my head into the soft soil hoping not to be apprehended, my moment of truth arrived. I lay still. Silently but passionately I recited my prayers. As luck would have it, my face was submerged in a mound of fire ants. They spread all over my still face and chest as I remained motionless.

With the vicious insects all over my face and neck, I silenced any whimper or movements as the uniformed authority approached. I was lying low, much as an infantry soldier would lay when bombarded with superior fire power. Although I couldn’t see the ‘heat,” he was so close that I could hear the footsteps and even detect his heavy breathing. I was as still as a placid lake. Soon, those sounds began to dissipate, and I dared to move and then gazed out.

The uniformed officer was alone, alongside his car, deep in thought. I suppose he assumed we had retreated deep into the darkness and made our escape. After five minutes or so, he shrugged his shoulders, took one final look in our direction, and finally drove off with the contraband: the invention, the wagon, and about 800 golf balls. It was only then that I could brush off (with a vengeance) the hundreds of fire ants which covered my face and upper torso.

I was cold and wheezing from an episode of athletic induced asthma stemming from our hard work. My face and neck needed an alcohol bath. My belly itched like a bad sunburn or a case of poison ivy, at their worse. Steve reappeared from the woods, and empty-handed, we exited the area immediately. The ride back to Oak Forest was strangely silent as the two defeated golf ball hawks returned to their nest. Our final conclusion was that the cop was an avid golfer, and he decided to benefit personally from the situation. Otherwise, he certainly would have called for back-up.

Monday morning at school proved to be one of the most embarrassing and painful days of my life. I was in a stage where I was overly sensitive to my appearance anyhow. I was starting to date a bit, but now I didn’t have the gumption to interact with a girl much less ask one for a date. My face, neck, and belly were covered with literally hundreds of puss-filled, pimple-replicas. Zits, I believe we tagged them at the time. Although the ones on my belly hurt the most, physically, the facial ones caused the most distress. It took two weeks for them to heal.

My fellow students laughed openly to my face and even concocted jokes of an excessive chocolate indulgence over the weekend. I was the laughing-stock. Worst of all, the enterprise we envisioned came to an abrupt end. We were ahead of our time but had nothing to show for our effort.

Steve and I have kept the reality a carefully guarded secret until now. I probably should have spoken to him before I did this confessional, but I neglected to. Hopefully, Harwell will be at our next reunion and can confirm my recollection, even jostle my meager memory. Although our results were less fruitful than Jesse’s gang, perhaps we were sort of pioneers for his subsequent late night shenanigans. Maybe not; I was just hoping to find a silver lining somewhere deep in that canvas bushel bag. Guess I will have to be satisfied with a bit of irony.