Thursday, May 1, 2014

What's so bad about socialism?

It's May Day and its time for the Communists and Socialists to yell in megaphones at the college campuses. For most of us who've gone to college, the "protests" were something to walk past while we were on on way to do something important like throwing a frisbee, drinking a few beers or heaven forbid studying! These days, the conservatives and mouthpieces for the Koch Brothers are about the only people who get hot and bothered about socialism. Well, lets look at our current form of government versus the "evils" of Socialism. I'll start with our current system.

1) Idiots like Sean Hannity would tell us that under a socialistic government, we the people would lose our freedoms. Really? Our freedoms are shrinking daily. From the NSA spying on US citizens, to governments taking away people's homes under the guise of eminant domain only to turn that property over to a corporation and the police which now operate as a military organization, complete with tanks and other heavy weapons routinely smash down the doors of innocent people and kill them.

2) Sean would also say that under Socialism, the citizens would lose all control over who is elected and what laws are passed. Again, really? Our politicians are owned by corporations. The lobbyists for the corporations write the laws, give the draft to the politicians who then introduce it into Congress or the state legislatures. The vote of an average citizen is irrelevant.

3) Sean would rant that socialism requires that all children attend "state" schools that would be substandard to what students currently receive. Please. In the U.S., if you aren't affluent, guess what? Your kid goes to a crappy school with overworked teaches and few resources. Your kid's chances of going to college are nil. If you are affluent, well then your kid goes to a school that looks like a college campus, has computers in every room, plenty of aids and aides for the teachers, most likely a library and most importantly, connections to college administrators eager to accept your child and your dollars into their school. Oh and who pays for this? Why you do Mr. and Mrs. Parent or worse, Ms. Parent.

4) Sean complains that citizens are overtaxed. Here, he has a point. What he and his fellow conservatives always fail to point out is that wealthy people's incomes are mostly derived from investment income not a paycheck. So yes, poor people and middleclass people are overtaxed while Sean and his cronies are undertaxed. Let's not forget the corporations which extort tax free income from municipalities under the threat of leaving to a more "business friendly" state. Of course, like all blackmailers, the payments never really end. Once the tax free period runs out and the corporations are to begin paying their taxes, the corporations renew their threat of leaving and either get an extension of a tax free existance or the corporation moves to another friendler locale.

Now, let's look at the "evils" of socialism, shall we?

1) In Europe, especially France, spying on citizens is strongly discouraged and the citizens were rightly outraged that the US NSA had violated their laws to spy on European citizens. Those citizens don't meekly comply. They have taken to the streets and the threat of a national strike is a reality that their politicians have to face and accordingly, are careful not to tread on the privacy rights of their citizens.

2) The politicians in socialized countries haven't been proven to be more corrupt than politicians in the US. And those same politicians vote for laws enabling people to work 35 hour work weeks, retire at 55, free healthcare for all, retraining for people out of work, subways that aren't death traps and food that isn't full of Monsanto chemicals. The Socialists get my vote.

3) Socialized countries have national curriculums so that it doesn't matter what size your bank account is, each kid gets the same educational opportunies. Tests determine which college your kid goes to. Oh and if your kid does go to college, the government pays for it, not mommy and daddy. Another win for the Socialists!

4) Under socialism, the Corporations are taxed at an equal or higher rate than working citizens. For the most part, the taxes are limited to a national tax and a sales tax such as VAT in Europe. I've run the numbers and I'd pay about the same amount in taxes in France for example as I do now. The difference being that I receive some benefits from those taxes.

So, bring on the Socialism in the U.S. BABY, cause I"M READY!!!  

Monday, April 7, 2014

Can the legal community go paperless?

1) From criminal prosecutions to the smallest of civil matters, evidence of all kinds is being accumulated, stored and disseminated in pdf, jpg or jpeg formats.
2) The providers of evidence are scanning and storing that evidence rather than incurring the expense of storing, copying and providing those documents to firms, agencies or corporations. Document repositories of millions of pages of paper are no longer necessary. Teams of lawyers, paralegals and investigators poring over these documents are becoming a thing of the past as document providers find it is more profitable to scan the documents they can and destroy what they don’t want to retain.
3) Courts are understaffed and are no longer equipped to process the massive volume of paper formally kept in paper files. Courts are increasingly suffering from having huge backlogs of pleadings, orders and other documents waiting to be physically placed in the paper files. These documents are unavailable to the public. Eventually, the local Courts will have no choice but to require all parties to submit all documents in pdf or an similar form. Call it the trickle down effect of PACER.
4) In the private sector, it is becoming increasingly evident that as the corporate world goes paperless, it will force the law firms it employs to adapt to this new reality. 
4) Finally, the demographic of the Judges, attorneys, paralegals, investigators and other staff has evolved to the point that spending hours shuffling papers is no longer a viable means of prosecuting or litigating a case.    

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Who needs France? We've got Yountville!

My friend is a World Traveler in the truest sense of the word. Since retiring a few years ago, he’s lived in Rome for a month, Thailand for two months, Vietnam for several more months, made numerous trips to Laos, India, Japan, France and countries he either told me and I’ve forgotten about or he didn’t mention it to me. Anthony Boudin has nothing on my friend Don.

So during one of his brief interludes in this country, Don came over to the house for a hike and chat. After the hike, we chatted over a beer or two. Marianne and I mentioned that we would love to go to France or maybe Italy. Don, who has been to both places several times said-“why would you do that when the Napa Valley is only an hour away?” Well, yeah, we knew that but somehow that had never clicked into our consciousness to the point where we actually drove up there.

Where to go first?  Why to the  Bouchon Bakery of course. Croissants and coffee in the morning sun while chatting with a couple from Montreal Canada. I’d love to say I practiced my French on them, but that would be a gross lie. And, not necessary since they’ve been living in the same town as Marianne and I for the past 12 years.

After breakfast, we wandered around Yountville in the sun. I had to choose-sunscreen or hat. I always go with the hat and here it is.

From there we drove up to this beautiful French restaurant and hotel.  What a beautiful site and if I win the lottery, I’ll be happy to rent it out for my daughter’s wedding next year.

Marianne repeated many times before and during the trip that she had to go to the store Dean & deLucca.  So we did and you know what, D&D is Whole Foods on Steroids. 15 bucks for a jar of jam etc. Still we bought some sandwiches and ate out back.

Next up was some real wine tasting which since neither of us drink wine could be called an adventure. 

Muscat for Marianne, the House Red for me.  Yes, we really did go “wine tasting.”

Remember that Sting song “Fields of Gold?”  Here’s Marianne in her Fields of Gold on our way home.

So there you are, my little viginette about the Napa Valley.  VIVE LE YOUNTVILLE!


Saturday, October 26, 2013

Chapter 2-The Quiet Man

            “Sure Joey, of course, how is your father?”
            “He’s doing okay, plays a lot of bocci ball down at Orange Avenue Park every afternoon with his friends from the old days. Mom says it’s just an excuse to drink wine and tell dirty stories.”  Ya, know, Jimmy, I don’t see how you Micks can eat this over cooked meat and spuds and call it a meal.”   “Never stopped you from eating it, Joey.”
            While Joey ate his stew and bitched about the 49ers, the Giants and the cost of bribing the City Building Department workers, O’Brian remembered how he met Joey and his family.
            At that time, O’Brian had been out of the Navy for a few years and was working as an Investigator for a big law firm. It paid well, with lots of overtime during the week and on weekends.  O’Brian wasn’t a big spender, didn’t even own a car and was able to put away a lot of money. It was the first time in his life he wasn’t poor.
            After work, O’Brian liked to go to the gym and lift weights, run on the treadmill and hit the heavy bag. He had to do it to decompress, otherwise, he would have beaten the crap out of the neurotic, obsessive compulsive lawyers he worked with. Then he would take the long walk up and over North Beach to his one bedroom in Yuppieville, otherwise known as the Marina district.
            On this night, he made a quick stop at the CIty Lights Bookstore and picked up one of Haruki Murakami’s novels. Then, he crossed Broadway and walked up Stockton. As he was walking up Stockton, he heard a muffled sound that sounded strange. He took a step, stopped and turned back and walked down the alley he had just passed. He stopped and listened. He heard the muffled sound again.
            At the far end of the alley, where the streetlight barely illuminated the black wet pavement, O’Brian saw some shadows move up and down. He heard the muffled sound again. He slowly walked down the alley, stopping to pick up a piece of a 2 x 4 he saw on the ground. He walked on the balls of his feet, trying not to make noise. He felt something slid under his feet, it made a soft raspy sound. O’Brian stopped and listened.
            He walked a few more steps and saw a mound of bodies surrounding a head of white hair. O’Brian didn’t hesitate. Swinging the 2 x 4 like a baseball bat, he hit the closest mugger on the side of the head. Screaming in pain, the man rolled onto his side. O’Brian kicked him in his face, breaking the nose, maybe the jaw. The man groaned and      stopped moving.
            The other two muggers looked up and saw O’Brian. Rage and fear on their faces. “You little fuck, you fucking asshole, your ass is mine,” the bigger of the two said. He rose and stepped towards O’Brian. O’Brian let him close.  Then when the man was close enough, O’Brian kicked the man in the kneecap, shattering the patella. As the big man leaned forward to grab his knee, whimpering now, O’Brian gave him a full face shot with the 2 x 4. The third man ran down the alley past O’Brien towards the street. O’Brien let him go.
            O’Brian grabbed the victim by the elbow and helped him stand. O’Brian thought the old man was hurt. “Are you all right, sir” O’Brian asked.  “I am fine, thank you, yes said the man.”  I’m fine. I can walk home. O’Brien didn’t think so. Then the man said,  “I am Giancarlo Butazi.”  O’Brien recognized the name and wondered where the hell were the man’s bodyguards. 
            “Let’s take a cab, Mr. Butazi” said O’Brian. He flagged one down and after Mr. Butazi gave the address, they sat in silence as the cab rolled up the hill through the misty rain.
            The cab stopped in front of an immaculate Victorian on a side street off of Green, 2/3 thirds up Nob Hill. O’Brian helped Mr. Butazi out of the cab. He was about to say good night and head on home. He was tired and his hands ached. The front door of the house slammed open and a tall stocky man came rushing out. Right behind him were two men who could have played offensive tackle on the 49ers.
            “Pop, Pop, where the hell you been the first one yelled. We’ve been worried sick. Ma said you were supposed to be home an hour ago.” Why didn’t you take Bobby and Nick with you?”  Mr. Butazi said-”I’m fine and I wanted to be by myself.”
            Finally, noticing O’Brian, the son of Butazzi turned and said, “who’s this guy?”
            “This man saved my life tonight.”
            “What!! This little guy?”
            “Yes, the little man with the big heart. Now let’s go inside, I am cold.” It was said softly, but, firmly. It was a command, not a request. The father, his son and the two lineman started up the stone steps of the stoop. Again, O’Brian was about to walk away and go home when Giancarlo Butazi turned and said, “come inside, we should talk.” O’Brian said nothing, there was nothing to say anyway and followed the family into the house.

Chapter 1-The Quiet Man

            O’Brian felt his senses dulling, filling his insides with the fullness of a Thanksgiving dinner. It made him wary. The thought of being a contented man left him disquieted. It was unfamiliar territory.  He nursed his drink, a small smile on his thin lips as he remembered old World War II movies where the soldiers sat in a foxhole at night. One would say, “sure is quiet.” The other soldier would say without fail, “yeah, too quiet.” Then all hell would break loose. O’Brian was hoping that this was not one of those moments. He was hoping that it was the Jamesons.
            Looking at O’Brian, a stranger would see a lean, almost thin man in his late 40’s, conservatively dressed in a Brooks Brothers suit and wearing glasses. The stranger would assume that O’Brian was a lawyer or maybe a banker. He would assume that O’Brian was enjoying a mid-afternoon drink. He would also assume that O’Brian was a timid and shy man.
            The stranger would make these assumptions. He would be wrong. Very wrong. O’Brian, all 5-9 and 165 pounds of him was a skilled killer. He liked blending in. He liked being underestimated. It made his job much easier. Yes, he was a killer. First, trained by the U.S. government, then received a post graduate education in the lethal arts by remnants of the Carlo Gambino family.
            O’Brian sat on a small bench facing a bench of the same size with a thick wooden table resting in between. In the corner of the back room of the Irish Bank, there was a wood stove which O’Brian liked to look at as he drank. The waiter had left one of the doors slightly open. O’Brian could hear the rain and smell the fresh air.
            O’Brian noted the people coming and going, automatically assessing each for their threat potential. He saw soft people, with easy upbringings who were ill prepared to face death. He was thinking about that when somebody intimately familiar with death plopped down on the bench in front of him. It was Joey Butazi, his sometime employer.  “Jimmy, we got a job for you.”


Friday, September 13, 2013

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Keeping it simple

I've ridden many types of bikes over the years and have loved them all. What I don't love are the repairs that have to be made and paid for, at least those repairs I can't do myself. Yvon Chounard, owner of Patagonia is perhaps, the greatest example of someone getting close to the ideal of running a sustainable business. If Yvon were a cyclist (and who knows, maybe he is?) he'd ride a single speed. Why? Because its simple, requiring little or no maintenance, is versatile and when you're climbing, presents a challenge and I believe Yvon is a man that enjoys a challenge.

With that in mind. I took an old mountain bike I had and started stripping away the excess. Here is what I ended up with.

TO me, this is art. Note the clean lines. The gentle curve of the front fork and the accent of the blue pedals. This is my ideal bike, simple, functional and beautiful.