Flying the flag

Patriotism is not one of my virtues.  Anti-patriotism is.

The American flag flies outside our house at this moment, on Independence Day, only because of Nebra. She feels right-wingers are not the only ones who should claim the patriotic high ground. That ground is not high to me.  It is Dead-Sea low.

I see very little in America of which to be proud these days. And not much to be hopeful for.

Racism is now shouted where once it was muted. Congress is divided and useless.  We move through life via a politicized Supreme Court, presidential executive orders and Dark Money.  Refugees are not welcome. U.S.  foreign policy and fanatical right-wingers lead to terrorism.  Religious fundamentalists want to stomp on individual rights. George W. Bush’s war in Iraq has opened Pandora’s Box in the Mideast. Equality is a joke. Democracy is a myth.  It does not exist.  An oligarchy of corporations and the wealthy pay off lawmakers to do their bidding.  Violence is everywhere. Gun laws bow to the whims of the NRA and weapons manufacturers, leading to a hideous interpretation of the Second Amendment. We want to build an expensive wall across “the border,” although our own appetite for illegal drugs is a big part of the perceived immigration problem. The voting process is rigged by two out-of-touch political parties.  Our two presidential candidates are widely unpopular. Just what the Founding Fathers foresaw.

Why would “God bless America”? Our wounds are self-inflicted. If you recognize these failings, any of them, how can flag-raising patriotism remedy the problems?

Fly the flag if you will.  But it makes no sense to me.  Waving an S.O.S.would be more appropriate.



A journey to the cloud and back

My puffy little cloud of almost 40,000 computer files is located in the netherworld of Carbonite.  Because none of those thousands of files was backed up inside my stolen computer, an actual piece of hardware, they now only live out there in Carbonite’s digital la-la land.  Invisible yet retrievable. The process is known as cloud-computing. And it saved my ass.

After a burglar slit a screen and entered the house through a bedroom window on May 25, I knew only one thing.  I would never see that 15-inch Acer laptop again.  That meant the files were gone too.

Some of those files were invaluable to me.  None more than the 162 text pages of the index to my research notebooks going back to about 1987.

Worse, I was apprehensive. I did not know for sure that I would ever get my files back.  This was the first time I would try to restore them with Carbonite, the Boston-based company to which I pay $60 a year to do the automatic backup.  I type and file.  Carbonite copies, transmits and holds the info on a server — the cloud. And in case of computer crash or theft, it returns that cache of files.  In theory.

Make no mistake.  Restoration is long and tedious.  At least it was for me.

At some point early on, I had to transfer the licenses of my Carbonite account to the new computer.  Ditto Norton Security.  The new computer came with a temporary McAfee security program which I believe is not as good as Norton.  Once the Carbonite license was switched, I suspended backup.  It’s called freezing.  I read you should do this before restoring files.

Another obstacle loomed. The Dell, like many new computers, lacks a DVD drive.  Without the drive I can not use the installation discs.

I reviewed several external drives on the Internet.  I learned how the pricing goes.  If you want to use Blu-Ray expect to pay out the nose for a drive. I had a general idea now of what I wanted.  Something cheap, no  Blu-Ray.  So out I went to Best Buy and picked up a LG Ultra Slim Portable DVD Writer, price $40.   Back home, I hooked it into the new computer and, bingo, everything started to look halfway sunny.

And so I began.

It took 3 1/2 days, DAYS, just to restore my 40,000 files into a large folder on the desktop of my new 15-inch Dell.  But I could not write to or read any of them.  Since Carbonite does not backup program and system files, missing were Microsoft Office, the software that runs text editing, and PhotoShop Elements 12 that tends to my photos.  My restored documents folder showed “empty” files.

I didn’t want to deal with the text files immediately.  I was worried I couldn’t resuscitate them.  So to the back burner Office went.  Less critical were the photo files.  I chose to experiment with them first first.

Task No. 1.  Find the Elements 12 installation disc.  I had only the vaguest idea where it might be located.  I hadn’t seen it in several years.  It wasn’t at the first and most logical place I looked, a carton of installation discs. But then, not yet in a panic, I spied the Elements 12 box on the top shelf of Nebra’s desk in the study.  And to my great glee, the box with the Office installation disc lay right beside it.  The discoveries saved about $300, the cost of acquiring new programs.

I stuck the Elements disc in the external drive, and went through some preliminaries.  Then, oh, no.  To install, the disc required a serial number to verify, I suppose, that I am the software’s owner.  Eventually, I stumbled across the number inside the disc’s container. Hadn’t thought to search the most obvious spot.  Never dreamed I would need it again.  I typed in the 24 numbers. Success.

Believing that the almost four-day Carbonite restore was largely due to the “jpeg” photographs, I hesitated to transfer those 1,835 photos to Elements 12 via Carbonite.  Instead I used the camera’s chip card.  Swish. In about 30 minutes all photos were returned to Elements but, just like the Carbonite resstores, they were unformatted.  None of the cropping and color tweaks I’d made survived.  I’d have to live with that, no other choice could I see.

Believe it or not, I waited a couple of days to install Office.  It would be painful if it didn’t bring the text files to life. I now had the new computer on my desk for six days and had not been able to really use it.  I was feeling antsy.

Cautiously I slipped in the Office installation disc into the external drive, typed in the Product Key of 25 characters. And off we went.  I just sat there in front of the computer watching a green bar slowly make its journey to 100% installed.  At any moment, I expected the install to stop and state it could for some reason no long proceed.  But all went well.  The install took 1 hour, 20 minutes — most of it for updates.

Files and folders were not quite in the places I left them on the old computer.  But, it appeared, I had everything restored.  Appeared, yes.  But me being me, I wonder if all this was for naught, that the new computer world I’ve made will  soon blow up.

New files are being backed up as I write.  Little green circles on the text files tell me so.  Yellow circles for those in wait.

For all practical purposes, I’m in the cloud again.


Ali’s attraction

No single post on Long Row has ever drawn more interest in one day than “Muhammad Ali and the real draft dodgers — our fathers.”  Hundreds responded on June 4, the day after Ali’s death.  No other post is even close.

The post, published five years ago (June 23,   2011), also generated more comments than any other.  All of those comments were critical of the post and painted Ali as a coward and a draft dodger.  One comment called the author an “idiot.”

Few other people in the world could draw that kind of visceral interest.  Ali was special.  He was controversial.  He was hated and loved. There seemed no middle ground.

The gist of Long Row‘s post was a defense of Ali as a military-draft dodger.  Ali was one of a few black men to stood up to a white-dominated society and, I wrote, much of the antagonism against Ali was due to white-hot racism.

To many young Americans, Ali’s plight is ancient history.  They have little interest in the long-ago.  Or even yesterday, it seems. Here, for some who may years from now stumble onto these pages, is brief history of those times.

Already the world heavyweight boxing champion at a time in the 1960s when social issues and racism were at a peak, Ali refused to be drafted into the military on April 28, 1967, as the unpopular Vietnam war heightened. He had recently joined the Muslim religion, changed his name from Cassius Clay and claimed he was a “conscientious objector.”

Some Ali quotes at the time infuriated whites and scared blacks.

“I ain’t got nothing against them Vietcong,” he was quoted as saying about America’s enemy. “No Vietcong ever called me ‘nigger.'”

“Why me? I buy a lot of bullets, at least three jet bombers a year and pay the salary of 50,000 fighting men with the money they take from me after my fights.”

In no time, Ali was stripped of his championship and convicted of draft evasion.  He waited in limbo for 3 1/2 years — losing the prime years of his boxing career, ages 26-29 — until on appeal the Supreme Court court reversed the lower court on June 28, 1971. Ali was granted draft status as a conscientious objector.

An uproar followed.  Even now almost 50 years later, the seething hatred of Ali is palpable. And misplaced.

I grew up during that era and remember many draft-eligible young men, most of them white and middle class, finding a more “acceptable” way to avoid the draft and the fight in Vietnam.  They got college deferments.  To me, they are the real draft dodgers.  No one mentions them today as racism again sweeps the land. These guys were our fathers,siblings, friends and acquaintances.

Ali all his life stayed true to his religion.  He proved a devout Muslim.

As long as there is racism in America, Ali will receive an undeserved black eye. That means a very long time indeed.


Encanto Walk #1

Swans head for a siesta in the shade.

Swans head for a siesta in the shade.

It is a Tuesday, early afternoon in sunny Phoenix.  Temps in the low 90s.  On my way to the town’s best cheeseburger at the Encanto Golf Course cafe.  Encanto means “charm” in Spanish.  Just looked it up.

I pass the residence in Palmcroft where I first saw my first-ever purple-flowered artichoke. The plant is pretty much shot but the flowers still dazzle.

The park is dead. A pair of lovers lie in the grass under a shade tree. Only one picnic table being used.  Dozens of pigeons and doves feeding on the ground. Everywhere.

A bridge I've crossed over many a time.

A bridge I’ve crossed over many a time.

The swimming pool is filled now.  They began running water into it on the 16th.  The surface is roughed by a stout west wind.  Pool probably opens this weekend. Someone is cleaning up the Snack Bar.

A man in his 60s waves a puny metal detector over a grassy spot near the lagoon.  Looking for coins and other lost valuables, I assume.  I ask how deep the detector can go.  Unsure, he stops to look at a screen on his gadget.  “About 8 inches” is the reply. “But I never find anything that deep.”

An American flag flutters in the wind by the meeting hall.  Reminds of a recent trip I made down Car Row on East Camelback.  Enormous flags flew over four dealerships.  Dealers dig big flags. The bigger the better.  Phony patriotism but good for business.  Two of the flags at half-mast, Honda and Toyota.  Not so at the two U.S. places. Japanese have to fight harder for the dollar than domestics.

Lots of geese and swans floating around in the large lagoon.  One Mallard and a Coot also.

Cafe is all but empty.  Two elderly duffers sit behind me talking golf.  Out the barred windows I see the driving range.  No hackers today.  See only four guys with smooth swings.

A stranger. Not sure what it is.

A stranger. Not sure what it is.

Order the cheeseburger with pot salad and all the fixings.  Lettuce, mustard, pickles, tomatoes and onions. Pepper’s on the table.  Cheese. Swiss or American? I make the patriotic choice. But really. Hate the big-holed Swiss. Comes to just over $7 with tax.  I slip a dollar bill into the tip jar. Service is quicker than usual.  A new female cook.  I tell her about my recent unimpressive visit to at the ShakeShack at Uptown Plaza.  She seems pleased that I like her cooking better than that new “cool” place she’s never heard of. Better food here, bigger portions, less expensive.

Stood by a bench and watched a dozen or so racist pigeons fight over a piece of bread on the ground.  Scrap over a scrap. A grackle and starling finally give up.  Chased away every time.

Checked my pedometer when I get home.  Picked up about 5,000 steps of my 10,000 daily quota. Makes me feel good. I’m much the slackard lately.


A quiet battleground

Bird of Paradise near the swimming pool entrance.

Bird of Paradise near the swimming pool entrance.

It’s been the same now for a while.  When I feel desperate for the best cheeseburger in town, I head out north from my house to the Encanto Golf Course cafe.  A short walk.  One and one-tenth of a mile by my GPS. Round-trip, it eats about 30 minutes of my usual languorous noon-hour.

The now well-worn route of mine takes me through the old-money neighborhood of Palmcroft and on up to the quiet battleground that is Encanto Park.

Encanto by description offers the best of city living.  A large park with room to roam among the shadows of palms and other tall trees, a large swimming pool, numerous basketball and tennis courts, a patch of sand for volleyball, a softball and soccer field, picnic tables, a large lagoon with a wide array of waterfowl, a boathouse built in 1936 for paddlers, a meeting  hall, parking lots and an 18-hole, grass-green golf course with driving range and practice putting greens.  And a small cafe.

Filling the swimming pool.

Filling the swimming pool.

The tension comes like this.  Encanto is surrounded by several historic neighborhoods like Fairview, Palmcroft and, yes, Encanto where home owners increasingly like their peace and quiet.  This at a time when an increasing Phoenix population of mostly-young Hispanics and their families are drawn to the park’s soccer field and weekend picnic tables.

Add to that a sizeable number of young black basketball enthusiasts who flock to the courts at night.

The city has countered this activity on weekends with blocked residential streets on two sides of Encanto where it is easiest to park.  “Local traffic only” signs bar entrance.  And as far as I can tell the signs are obeyed.  Park lights go off at 10, just when youth gets rolling.

The Boathouse, built in 1936.

The Boathouse, built in 1936.

Whether this irritation at Encanto is measured by decibel, lumen or skin color I do not know.  Perhaps all three.  I do know there is a growing resentment in town toward the dark races, particularly Latins.  As the trend continues, whites in Phoenix will be the minority in a few decades.  The salvation, some whites seem to think, is Trump’s Great Wall along the border with Mexico.

In any case I am drawn to this tinge of tension as I stroll through the area armed with only my trekking pole (protection from unleashed dogs), a camera and a backpack loaded with reading materials, notebooks and writing tools.

I plan to post regularly from my walks up to the city’s best cheeseburgers.  I will tentatively, maybe permanently, call these posts, “Encanto Walk.”


Lies of our fathers

From almost the moment of birth, we are bombarded by lies and half-truths.  And by the time we die, one might say most of our lives amounted to nothing more than a dream mixed with a dab of reality.

I was reminded of this today in reading a NYT article, “Author Now Doubts His Father was in Famed Iwo Jima Photo.”

The author of “Flags of Our Fathers,” James Bradley, was duped in believing his father, John, was one of the six fighting men seen atop Mount Suribachi, raising the American flag.  The photo by Joe Rosenthal of the Associated Press — shot on Feb 13, 1945, as WWII wound down — has become a symbol of patriotism and America’s fighting spirit.  The photo earned Rosenthal a Pulitzer Prize.  President Harry Truman and the U.S. government promoted the photo, helping to enrich American coffers with war-bond money. Yet it has been known for many years now that the photo was a lie.  Rosenthal’s photo was the second flag-raising and staged.

Doubts were raised about John Bradley’s involvement two years ago in an article that appeared in the Omaha World Herald.  Two amateur historians studied the pants, headgear and cartridge belts on a photo taken of John Bradley at the first flag-raising.  They discovered the items did not match “John Bradley” in the second photograph.

Why it took James Bradley, the son and author, all this time to question the authenticity of his father’s role is not fully known.  The obvious reason is that the author did not want to admit his own glaring error.

The arid lands did not go without its own “hero” at Iwo Jima. There was an Arizonan in the famous second photo.  Ira Hayes, a Pima Indian whose home was on a reservation just south of Phoenix, was identified as the last Marine in line, the one with his hands off the flag.  He came home a hero, though I doubt he believed he was one. The highest mountain in the Estrella range southwest of Phoenix is named in his honor.  No evidence has yet revealed that he was not in the famous Suribachi photo.

Living in America is smoke and mirrors.  You never know for sure what is truth and what is a lie.


That artichoke thing

SCC's Artie the Artichoke

Artie the Artichoke

While I relish eating the “meat” of an artichoke leaf, particularly when  dipped in hot, melted butter, that is about the limit of my endearment.  Except for its pretty bluish flower, the artichoke is one of plant world’s also-rans.  Even the taste is bland if eaten plain.

So, one of the amazing things when I first moved to the arid lands was to learn of a local college team named the Fighting Artichokes.  After laughing, I grew disgusted.  How can anyone degrade the most sacred shrine of America that is its sports teams?

The real thing.

The real thing.

Scottsdale Community College’s student body in a moment of anguish over the school’s budget in the 1970s, grasped  onto the artichoke in hopes to embarrass the institution which seemed to outlay a too generous portion to athletics.  Anyone who follows community college sports knows that almost no one attends the games, and that athletic departments can not support themselves without public financing.  At that level of play, community college sports are welfare projects.

So, out of this mess was born the team mascot, Artie the Artichoke.  And as camp as it sounds, the student body has embraced him, apparently in defiance of all logic and heavenly standards.

I personally have never seen a sports contest at Scottsdale CC.  I think I will put it on my schedule for a football game in the coming season.  Just to see the mascot at work, and listen for the opponents yell  “Go, ‘chokers.”

Delta's Fighting Okra

Delta’s Fighting Okra

The one game I would pay dearly to watch is Scottsdale v. Delta State University.

Delta, a four-year school in Cleveland, Mississippi, has a mascot that was ranked No. 1 by as the worst sports name in our fair land.

The Fighting Okra.

Scottsdale CC finished at lowly No. 4.  Hard to believe.