Celebrating Three Years

Three years ago I started this blog to coincide with the publication of my first novel, The Knight and the Serpent: A Legend of Medieval Normandy (free on Kindle through 12/26/14 – a Christmas promotion). It did not take long for the blog to take on a life of its own and it has proven to be a rewarding experience. It has been fascinating to see what readers are and are not interested in! The following three articles are the most viewed of the more than fifty posts since December, 2011.

In an Ethical Lapse, New York Times Journalist, Sabrina Tavernise, Falsely Reports That Guns Cause Suicides

Valley Catholic Girls Win OSAA 3A Basketball Championship

Vote No On Oregon Measure 91: The Control, Regulation, and Taxation of Marijuana and Industrial Hemp Act

The next three articles are the least viewed in that same time period.

Taking Off The Training Wheels – first published in Goal Lines Magazine April, 2008

Oregon’s Democratic Congressmen Attempt to Deny all of America the Benefit of the Rule of Law

THE DEATH OF RULE OF LAW – Part I of VI: The Balance of Power

It is very interesting as to what strikes a chord in people and what does not.

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Slackers: Both Alien and Domestic

My great-grandfather, John C. Gabourel, was one of the more colorful characters in my family tree. He served with the British army during the Boer War, and with the American army during WWI in France. I have the good fortune of having original copies of a series of letters to the editor he wrote in the years following WWI. While the letters are a snapshot of events long ago, his concerns mirror the concerns of many Americans today.

For some time past articles have been appearing in the newspapers advocating the deportation of all alien slackers. This presupposes that being a slacker is a crime. If this be so, then how much more of a criminal is the genuine American slacker, the man who willfully and deliberately evaded the service of the country in her need?

We have heard of many such cases being disposed of with absolutely inadequate punishment, and today many of these “yellow dogs” are walking on our streets and holding their heads as high as though they had gone through the Hell overseas. Is there not some way in which these men can be made to feel the contempt in which they must be held by every patriotic minded citizen? Surely (the American slackers are) more guilty than these alien slackers, just as a professional thief is morally more guilty than a man who steals a pair of shoes when his feet are bare.

Thousands of names are said to have been turned into our Department of Justice for investigation as to presumptive evasion of military service. With what result? A few men have been hauled into court and then either the cases against them dismissed or totally insufficient punishment to fit the crime meted out. The poor aliens are thrown into prison, there to wait until the deportation question is decided, while the more culpable offender, the real genuine native slacker laughs in his sleeve and considers that he has been real smart. The Country seems to be asleep on this question which doubtless suits the policy of some people, but the ex-service men are beginning to ask “WHY?” and perhaps before long they will demand an answer.

JCG 1919

Back in the day, a slacker was a person who shirked their duties to society, especially their military duties. Today, right around 50% of Americans are tapping social services of some sort. Instead of taking the job they can get, they abuse unemployment while they wait for the job they want. They make themselves as unappealing as possible to employers with piercings, tattoos, ear gauges, and a generally slovenly appearance, and they cry foul when their jobs are lousy and their pay is low.

Much of America’s work force regularly call out sick to get extra vacation days, refuse to work hard when they are on the job, and do little to improve their lot in life because food stamps and other social services are such low hanging fruit. They spend a lot of time bemoaning it all, but if you suggest they take a bath, get a decent hair cut, clean up their language, work hard, and stop dressing like a 1978 Soho Punk, they will rip into you, screaming, “Don’t you dare judge me!” It is like Honey Boo Boo has become America’s norm.

Anyway, the more things change, the more things stay the same. The existence of slackers, both alien and domestic, is nothing new. That the government caters to slackers is also nothing new, as is proven by a ninety-five year old letter to the editor.

BBC News – Facial recognition: Shop where everybody knows your name

BBC News – Facial recognition: Shop where everybody knows your name.

Big Business’s obsession with tracking our every habit and every movement knows no limits! And I thought customer loyalty cards were creepy. The inevitable arrival of facial recognition software at my local retailer makes my skin crawl.

The Ugly Secret Behind Retail Receipt Surveys

I took my truck in for routine service the other day. As the young kid at the service desk went to hand me my keys he asked me to fill out an online survey grading his performance.

“You did just fine,” I offered.

“Well, if you fill out the survey, make sure to give me a perfect score. If I get anything lower than a perfect score, it goes against my performance review,” he explained, “I need a 10 out of 10. If you give me a 9 out of 10, I might not get a raise.”

“No shit?” I asked, “So you are either Bo Derek or the ugliest girl at the dance? No in between?”

“Yup,” he smiled, though I am not sure he really knows who Bo Derek is.

“How does that make you feel?”

He laughed softly and gave me my keys without answering.

If this were the first time I had heard this story, I would think he was pulling my leg, just trying to game his score. He was a nice kid, and he did his job competently with a smile on his face, but it was an ordinary transaction. Average. Just like every other transaction I have had at the dealership over the last fifteen years, and the very reason I keep coming back. Consistent competence. A 10 out 10, a perfect score, is like seeing a woman who is so beautiful or a man who is so handsome, that you actually give yourself whiplash when you snap your head around for a second look. That is 10 out of 10. On a scale of 1 to 10, the average person is a 5.5. I would give this kid a 6 out of 10, and feel good about it. To have this kid tell me that, if I generously give him a 9 out 10, his boss will put a bag over his head because he is just too damn ugly seems a little wacky. Nobody is that big a dick, are they? The kid has to be lying, right?

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I have heard this story. As a matter of fact, just about every shop I do business with has the same sort of survey request on the bottom of the receipt. Whenever a cashier mentions the survey, the story is always the same. Their scores have to be beauty-pageant perfect, or they will suffer some sort of consequence. A bad review. A demotion. No raise. Get fired. That sort of stuff. As a matter of fact, some poor sap begs me to give them a “review” almost every day. If I log into some web account or another, they are always wringing their hands, asking me to “take a minute to rate their performance.” I get these desperate, attention seeking requests in my e-mail all the time (one just popped into my inbox as I am typing. I cannot even write in peace without some drama queen CEO shopping for compliments). I get literally hundreds of survey requests every year. It is as pervasive as garlic and heavy perfume at Midnight Mass on Christmas Eve. Get me some fresh air, please! And if I applaud the employee, but criticize company policy in my review, it is the employee who gets hurt because the score is not perfect. So when this poor kid at the auto repair shop begged me to give him a good review, he really meant it. His livelihood will be on the line if I do not tell his boss that this $11.95-an-hour kid could star on Broadway and that the boss is the most handsome devil west of the Mississippi. Crazy, huh?

I have a lot of empathy for that poor kid. Sympathy and pity, too. It is hard to have someone with whom you have such a close, personal relationship put such unrealistic expectations on your performance every minute of every day, then berate you on a daily basis when you are not cover-girl beautiful (those photos are always airbrushed and photo-shopped, by the way). It is even harder when the person telling you that you are ugly is in a position of authority over you, and threatens your future as a punishment for failure. So now I have to make a decision. Do I lie and help this poor kid with the cooking and the chores, and get him cleaned up for dinner… making him out to be better than he is… so that when the Old Man comes home drunk the kid does not get a beating? Or do I tell the truth, and screw the kid? Do I punish the boss by taking my business somewhere else on principle? Or do I walk away and say nothing, refusing to play the game at all?

Well, I am no liar, so any review I give will be an honest review. Unfortunately, an honest review will result in a good kid getting punished for treating me decently. I cannot be a party to someone being punished for basic decency, therefore I cannot, in good conscience, give any sort of feedback whatsoever. If I take my business to the dealership down the street, their boss is also using the same review process to browbeat his employees (true fact! I know guys at both shops), so that would be like robbing Judas to pay Pilate. The only choice I have left is to not play the game at all. That poor kid is on his own. I am not going to hurt him, but I cannot save him. Nor can I save any of the other millions upon millions of $10 an hour employees just like him.

What I have noticed in recent years is that corporate America has become obsessed with being told they are beautiful.

“Mirror, mirror on the wall, who is the most beautiful of them all?

If you say ‘tis other than me, I will punish my employee!”

It is as though these companies know they have a history of not being good citizens and are so desperate to put lipstick on the pig that they are attempting to coerce our compliments so they can report to the world that they are truly loved. It is a sort of Wonderland madness, really. Instead of them worrying about getting 10 out 10 on their surveys, perhaps they could start doing right by their employees and their customers instead of treating them like property. (Hey, stop laughing! I am being serious here!)

As for me, I am everyman. I do not complain. I do not fill out surveys even if you offer me free tacos, coffee, or car washes. If I come through your door, you have already passed the test. If I don’t come backif I am spending my time at your competition… I guarantee you it has more to do with your culture at the top than with some poor kid at the bottom, so stop being “that guy.” Your employees might actually learn to like you, instead of being terrified that the beatings will continue until morale improves.

 

ps. I just have to add this – I was just driving home a few minutes ago and my phone rings. Luckily I was not in Beaverton city limits yet, so was able to use my hand-free system and answer the call. It was a robo-call asking me to rate the service of business I had recently used, “Were you satisfied with our service? Please answer YES or NO,” so I roll my eyes and say loudly, “YES!” The robot computer (think free labor and zero personal touch) responded, “I am sorry, I did not understand your response,” so I hung up. Sorry there, boss man, the service was fine, but I am only going to give you a 1 out of 10 for being so flipping needy and annoying, and, according to loads of researchers and investigative journalists, the vast majority of your customers feel the same as I do.

Oregonians Put Earl Blumenauer and Marijuana Users Behind the Eight-ball

Pot-heads nationwide are celebrating Oregon’s legalization of a fourth over-the-counter addictive, recreational drug. THC now joins caffeine, nicotine, and alcohol in the arena of legal vices Oregonians can enjoy with relatively nominal legal restrictions. Heartily supported by Representative Earl Blumenauer, the 420 crowd capped a multi-million dollar political campaign with a solid victory for their Measure 91, legalizing recreational marijuana in Oregon. Along the way, users made a lot of grandiose promises about the utterly harmless nature of smoking marijuana such as:

  • Legalization will decrease access and use by minors.
  • Students who regularly use marijuana will have the same academic successes as clean students.
  • Adults who regularly use marijuana will have the same professional and employment success as clean adults.
  • Marijuana users will not seek social services at rates greater than general society.
  • Marijuana is not a gateway drug, therefore the rates of illegal drug abuse will not rise as marijuana use increases.
  • Using marijuana products regularly will not impair thinking, decision-making or IQ.
  • Chronic users are safe drivers.
  • Smoking marijuana regularly does not impair lung function or lead to COPD or emphysema.
  • When smoked at equivalent pack-year rates to cigarettes, marijuana does not cause cancer.
  • Unlike nicotine, caffeine, and alcohol, marijuana is not addictive and has absolutely no withdrawal pattern.

Over the next several years, as data is collected from Oregon, Colorado, and Washington State, along with any other states that legalize pot, the truth of these claims will emerge. It will be a ‘put up or shut up’ moment for stoners. This entire block of our society is now under tremendous pressure to fulfill their very own prophesies. Can they ensure their own predictions will come true? Will they have the guts to own it if they are wrong?

I believe, as evidences mounts, all their claims will prove false. When that time comes, I also believe marijuana advocates will scurry away from their responsibilities like cockroaches when you turn on the light. I have seen too many of my friends, patients, and colleagues get destroyed by drug addiction and abuse over the years. I am not talking methamphetamine, heroin, PCP or fringe designer drugs. I am talking caffeine, tobacco, alcohol, marijuana, and prescription drugs. The ‘safe’ stuff. I know a truck driver, the husband of a former coworker, who earned a heart attack by drinking six or more energy drinks every day. A friend of mine from high school fell to his death when he was stoned. Another high school classmate began abusing steroids at the age of fourteen and continued until his death from a major cardiovascular accident at age 38. I know pharmacists, doctors and nurses, all trained to the dangers of controlled substances, that have destroyed their careers for the sake of hydrocodone or zolpidem or whatever controlled drug they fancied. One of my former pharmacy colleagues was an alcoholic who committed suicide when he was caught stealing narcotics from the pharmacy. I have patients who are chain cigarette smokers who are literally taking decades off their life. A former patient of mine murdered a man in downtown Portland over a bottle of alprazolam.  I have watched gifted friends go by the wayside for the sake of marijuana… peers with IQs well above mine who deliver pizzas for a living or hang drywall. My daughter just came home from university to attend the memorial service for one of her high school classmates. He overdosed on Molly at a party at the age of 20.

People who use drugs recreationally like to believe they are in control of the drug, not the other way round. Sometimes that is true, sometimes that is not. What most people who dabble with recreational drugs lack is a healthy respect for the power of those drugs. It does not matter if the drugs are clean and legal, or the nasty, adulterated products manufactured by some South American drug cartel. Alcohol is no exception. Marijuana is no exception. To have some childish “Fight the Power” pot-head brag that marijuana is just as safe as alcohol is not exactly reassuring. I know too many alcoholics who have destroyed their lives and families to find comfort in this comparison. The same goes for pot-heads. Your children are ashamed of your behavior.

This idea that psychoactive substances like marijuana are as safe as candy is nothing more than wishful thinking. It is harder than you think to have your cake and eat it too when it comes to recreational abuse of drugs. Whether you are rich or poor, it is harder to succeed and easier to fail in virtually all aspects of life if you get drunk or high on a regular basis. Ugly as it is, that is the truth. And when things go sideways for you, you get hooked, you O.D., you wreck your car and maybe kill someone, your kid eats your stash and ends up in the hospital, you lose your job or fail out of school, when your life slips and falls off the edge, it is the rest of us who have to pick up the broken mess you leave behind. I find the idea of having such things on my conscience quite haunting. Why so many people embrace such easily avoided risks simply to get high for a few hours also haunts me. It is as though they believe life is filled with infinite second chances, do-overs and restarts, when the truth is there are simply not that many tomorrows before it is over and we have to make account of our lives.

So now Oregon has marijuana. Mary Jane’s last dance. One more drug to ease the pain, so smoke up, Johnny!  The question is – can we handle it? Only time will tell.