Chasing Agriculture

I arrived in the Haight-Ashbury district of San Francisco at the tail end of the “Summer of Love.” It was either late August or very early September. Things were already starting to fall apart before I got up there, but it took weeks before I was able to recognize what was happening.

Where It All Happened

I had traveled from Los Angeles by thumb, where I had just given up a lucrative business my father had purchased for me at the very end of 1966. Fearing my life was going nowhere (which it kinda was) he took the opportunity to buy a small snack shop from a friend who was going into another business. The place was called DEBS, which was an acronym of the previous owners family’s names. We kept it . . . the name that is.

Situated directly across the street from the May Company, between 8th and 9th Streets on S. Hill Street, I was making big bucks for a snot-nosed teenager. I didn’t realize just how lucky I was at the time which, I suppose, is the very definition of privilege. I just did a time/value calculation and discovered I was making the equivalent of close to a quarter of a million dollars a year back then. Yikes! That doesn’t seem possible or even reasonable, but I’m pretty sure it’s true.

Unfortunately, I was only 19 years old at the time, fresh out of High School the previous year and recently honorably discharged from the U.S. Navy after a total of one month and twenty-three days of service. I’m surely one of a few people in the country who has served, received the National Defense Service Medal, and also a medical discharge while I was still in boot camp. Since I was in for such a short time, I am not eligible for veteran’s benefits, nor have I ever sought to receive them . . . but that’s another story I’ll get to later.

This is a screenshot from Google Maps’ Street View. According to Yelp, they’re still in business, though I know it’s not the same people

DEBS Snack Shop was open six days a week, twelve hours a day on weekdays, and ten hours on Saturday. I had to be there for every one of those hours and, since I lived in the North end of the San Fernando Valley, the commute took at least an hour and a half, round-trip, every weekday. Saturdays were a little quicker. So I was putting in about 70 hours per week, not including time getting ready to head out the door.

Not only were the hours long, I had to deal with my father coming by every day and pointing out everything I had done “wrong,” i.e. not how he would do it. Not that I didn’t screw up; 19-year-old boys aren’t the sharpest knives in the drawer, no matter how high their IQ. But my old man was not the kind to hand out compliments or praise. Nope. He was a genius at pointing out shortcoming, though.

I remember one weekend I finally had a date with a young woman I had met somewhere. Much of the detail is lost in the mists of time, including who she was and where we met, and the relationship didn’t last long at all. We went out to dinner and were going to go to a movie afterward. Unfortunately, if memory serves, I actually fell asleep at dinner, I was so tired. I don’t think we made it to the movie, and I’m not sure I ever saw her again.

That particular debacle was one of many compelling reasons I asked my father to sell the place after only seven months. I was young and restless, and I had no social life. I had also started smoking pot the previous year and was beginning to experiment with acid (LSD.) I needed to spread my wings and I didn’t see that ever happening as long as I was tied to a demanding business and an overbearing father. But I digress.

What I was thinking of when I decided to write this post was the agricultural workers here in my native County of Ventura. Some of the laborers post videos to a local Facebook group and seeing them brings me back to my two encounters with working in the fields, one of which took place while I was living up in the Haight.

Not the video I was referring to, but quite similar

When I was working in the snack shop, I frequently had to go and purchase produce, generally a few blocks away at the Grand Central Market. One of the items I had to buy was tomatoes. I would get them by the “lug,” each of which weighed approximately 30 pounds.

On many a day in the Haight, people would just sit around in front of the stores on Haight Street, sometimes standing to perform for the tourist buses that would pass by. They expected no less from a bunch of “Hippies,” and we were often content to give it to them. One day, a man came by and asked if anyone was interested in picking tomatoes. He said it paid a certain amount (I have no idea what it was) per “lug.” I accepted.

The following day, early in the morning, I boarded a bus with a group of fellow “hippies” and we were taken to a field right next to a mental hospital. We were set loose in the fields to pick tomatoes and it was then I discovered their definition of a “lug” was considerably larger than what I had grown used to purchasing for the snack shop’s use. At least twice as big! I had just turned 20 in June, a couple months prior to selling the business. I was in good shape, yet picking tomatoes, which requires bending over continuously, was physically demanding and, based on how many tomatoes had to be gathered to complete a “lug,” I soon came to the conclusion this was NOT how I wished to make money in the future.

I don’t think I spent more than a couple of hours in the field, but I’ve never forgotten how difficult and back-breaking the work was. It has given me a sense of deep respect for the people who spend their lives working in the fields. It is extraordinarily difficult (and sometimes dangerous) work, for which I’m sure they are not paid enough.

I did mention, above, there were two times I had worked in the field. The second one was in 1973, when I spent two months in Cuba as a member of the 6th contingent of the Venceremos Brigade. During that time I worked primarily in construction, making concrete slabs and pillars used to construct small, single-family dwellings. However, on one occasion we spent a day in the fields cutting sugar cane. In addition to the work being back-breaking, the fields were torched prior to our work in order to burn off some of the vegetation on the canes. It meant we were covered in burnt sugar cane juice by the end of the day.

Cutting Sugar Cane is a messy and exacting task

I had purchased a pair of brown Red Wing boots for the trip. After one day in the fields, they were mostly black from that burnt juice. It never came off.

Those two, admittedly short stints in the field gave me an appreciation for anyone who works in agriculture – especially those who bend over and pick and pack our food for distribution. I’ve done a lot of other things in my life that were difficult, some equally so, but none more difficult than picking tomatoes or cutting sugar cane. I have nothing but respect for someone who makes their living doing such work. It’s why I have long supported the United Farm Workers and all who struggle to be treated with dignity and respect.


Let’s Clean Our Own House!

I posted the following on Facebook late yesterday, partly in response to all the angst that’s being spit out by the chattering class about Bernie and Fidel:

How come, when we talk about the suffering of Cubans, Venezuelans, and others from dictators and (horrors!) socialism, we don’t also talk about the role of U.S. Imperialism and historical colonialism?

So far it’s been liked by over thirty of my friends and it’s received nine comments and four shares. As of now, that’s after 14 hours since I posted. I don’t know if it will get more, but the response is interesting. What I was attempting to point out is something that really chaps my hide about my fellow Americans. A lot of y’all are really uninformed; either that, or you’re abysmally stupid and incapable of understanding history, economics, and society.

Now . . . to temper what I just wrote, let me add that I’m of the opinion most of us can’t be blamed for this ignorance of our history and what we’ve wrought in the world wherever—and whenever—we’ve put our grubby little money-making hands to work. As I was writing this, I noted another post by a friend who had liked the post I refer to here. She shared a comment from someone else and I think it’s quite relevant to the point I’m making here. Here’s what he said:

“There’s been a lot of criticism of Bernie Sanders for his praise of the Cuban literacy program that was initiated very soon after the 1959 Revolution. Under this program, young people who had been fortunate enough to learn to read and write were sent out into the rural areas, where most people hadn’t, armed with literacy materials and a kerosene lantern. During the day they helped their host family with whatever needed to be done; at night, they taught reading and writing. Cuba became one of the most literate countries in Latin America.

“According to the critics, this was a bad thing. The people learned to read, but they couldn’t read anything they wanted, and what they were given was propaganda extolling the virtues of the Revolution. So there’s 60 years of this evil stuff going on in Cuba. I’d just like to point out that we in the US have a much longer history of propagandizing, extolling the virtues of our system of predatory capitalism in classes like ‘civics’ and ‘social studies.’ The virtues include denying health care to many, keeping many from full involvement in the political and economic life of our country, enculturating people into the happiness that is being less-than-living-wage laborers at the mercy of shareholders and CEOs.

“Nobody in the US has any business calling what other countries do ‘propaganda’ unless they are willing to acknowledge our own long history of it.

~ Ronald Kephart

I’d like to point out that, although I am a Marxist (i.e. a socialist) I’m not much of a Bernie Sanders supporter. Nearly four years ago I posted my reasons for voting for Hillary Clinton in the Democratic primary of 2016. That post is located here. I just voted in the California primary for this year’s election and, again, I did not vote for Bernie. However, as I stated back then, should he secure the nomination I will vote for and support Bernie with gusto. Despite my misgivings, he’s head and shoulders better than Trump or any Republican currently in office. I’d even vote for him if he was running against Bill Weld.

So . . . the point of this post is not necessarily defend Bernie but, rather, to point out the incredible hypocrisy of those politicians (including Democrats running for POTUS) and pundits who are criticizing him for what he said about Fidel and the Cuban revolution.

There’s a doctrine in equity called “The Clean Hands Doctrine,” which states that one can’t complain about, or seek equitable relief from, an offense when one has participated in or supported actions that are as offensive as the action being complained about. I think it fits rather nicely into the common trope about socialist countries and leaders who have wrongly punished their opponents.

I shouldn’t even have to list anything the United States has done to make this point . . . but I will list a couple of the most egregious ones:

  • Our treatment of native Americans
  • Slavery & Jim Crow
  • The Chinese Exclusion Act
  • Japanese internment camps

I would also suggest that anyone who wants to really understand how the United States, by its actions (mostly done to protect predatory economic interests) has created most of the problems we’re now dealing with, especially those issues related to immigration from the southern half of our hemisphere, should read “The Enemy: What Every American Should Know About Imperialism,” which can be found here.

We may not like what Fidel did after the revolution in 1959, but we drove him into the hands of the Soviets back then by being indecisive in our dealings with Cuba. We later initiated an economic blockade that was unwarranted and immoral, IMO. There are literally dozens of other actions we’ve taken over the years throughout Central and South America that resulted in the deaths of thousands and that kept the economies of numerous countries from thriving. Felix Greene spelled it out a half century ago. He wasn’t wrong then . . . and his analysis is still instructive today.

PS – I’m leaving out the effects of our Imperialism in the Middle East, as that’s another clusterfuck that’s likely going to come home to haunt us. Perhaps I’ll address it at a later date.


Charity Sucks

When I feed the poor,
they call me a saint.
When I ask why the poor have no food,
They call me a communist.

~ Dom Helder Camara

Most of us would agree charity is important. There are, after all, large numbers of people who need a helping hand at times and who, without help, would fall between the cracks of society and suffer needlessly; perhaps perish as a result.

But we don’t seem to ever ask ourselves why charity is necessary; why there are always millions who haven’t enough to get by comfortably. It’s understandable in the face of natural disasters and unfortunate accidents, but more difficult to accept when it’s merely the “way things are.” I haven’t always done so myself.

Shortly after my retirement from Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, I was asked to join one of my city’s local Rotary clubs. I knew many of the city’s leaders were involved in Rotary and I also knew the club I was asked to join held a yearly Cajun & Blues festival on Memorial Day each year that was wildly successful and raised a lot of money for the community.

I was happy to join and discovered one of Rotary International’s projects was to eradicate Polio—a worthy endeavor in my estimation. I became fairly active in my club, taking on the responsibility of using social media to promote our activities and volunteering for many of the club’s activities, including providing a full Thanksgiving meal at our senior center, assembling bicycles to give to children for Christmas, and spending an entire weekend (sometimes more) during the Cajun & Blues festival.

Nevertheless, I was somewhat uncomfortable with the realization that quite a few of the members of my club were uncomfortably conservative; some of them clearly harboring deeply bigoted concepts of entire groups of people I felt were undeserving of their scorn. After all, I live in Simi Valley, home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and also known for the acquittal of the police officers who beat the crap out of Rodney King.

I celebrated my fourth anniversary with the club in October of 2016, though I had been attending breakfast meetings for nearly six months prior to becoming an official member (there was some kind of SNAFU that held up my membership.) I had long been uncomfortable with a large segment of the members and, after the election of Donald Trump, I decided I needed to use my limited discretionary funds for something other than rubber chicken circuit breakfasts and a glossy magazine I seldom had time to read.

I tendered my resignation in December and immediately started monthly contributions to five advocacy groups I felt were more aligned with the direction I wished to see society go in. Those organizations included Planned Parenthood, the ACLU, the NAACP Legal & Defense Fund, MALDEF, and the Standing Rock Water Defenders. The last of these stopped accepting donations when they were unceremoniously kicked off the land, and I replaced them with my local Democratic club, of which I had also become a member.

So . . . my point here is that, while charity is important because many are struggling and need a helping hand, it is also an indication (a powerful one, IMO) that something is wrong with our society. Why does such a wealthy nation have such a large population of people living on the razor’s edge of existence? Why are people like Jeff Bezos allowed to amass fortunes in the billions while others are left to starve on the streets? I know it’s the logic of capitalism, but I don’t think it makes much sense from a systems or holistic view of humanity and society . . . even of economics. At twice the national poverty line (~$50K/yr) Bezos’s worth of $110,000,000,000 would bring a reasonably comfortable level of income to 2,200,000 families of four (that’s approximately 8,800,000 people.)

Many are beginning to realize income inequality is deeply hurtful to a society. Large segments of the population can’t possibly contribute as much as they’re capable of when they’re struggling to stay alive and healthy. I’m of the opinion we have a hard time understanding this because we are not conversant in the language of systems; we don’t see the interconnections between all of us and our actions and how such large segments of our population who are under stress is stressful to our society as a whole.

Whether it’s Universal Basic Income or a shift to a more socialistic economic system, I believe something needs to be done to allow as many as possible to reach closer to their full potential as contributing members of our society. Until such time, I don’t see how we can truly call ourselves “the land of the free, and the home of the brave.” The status quo is anything but freedom enhancing, and its acceptance is hardly an act of courage.


I Stand With All People

I’ve been an atheist—meaning I don’t believe there is such a thing as God, i.e. a supreme being—since I was 15. I’m now 72. However, I was raised as a Jew and am bar mitzvah (a man of the commandments.) My ethics are fundamentally based on my Jewish background, especially given my four years of Hebrew school, with liberal sprinklings of Christianity and—later—Buddhism, primarily Zen.

I sometimes refer to myself as a Jewddhist, but my favorite designation—for fun—is Quantum Gestalt Humanist. Quantum for my belief in science and reality; Gestalt for my recognition of the totality, synergy, and systemic nature of the universe, and Humanist for my recognition of the beauty and value of my fellow human beings. Still . . . the ethics I recall learning, especially in Hebrew school, form the basis of these beliefs and feelings.

Even though I haven’t been to schul since I attended a very familiar, yet very uncomfortable, Yom Kippur service about 20 years ago, I will always be a Jew . . . and not just because my parents were Jews, but because the world—especially anti-Semites, but even the ignorant and those easily swayed by propaganda—will always see me as a Jew; nothing more. Besides, I was raised to respect and stand up for the oppressed and, despite the actions of the Israeli government, with whom I greatly disagree, there is no place for any kind of bigotry in my world, and that includes anti-Semitism. There is a world of difference between being anti-Semitic and being anti-Zionist.

I hope the United States is the enlightened society I’ve been led to believe it is, but my confidence level is not very high and my Jewish angstometer is slowly flashing a soft, pastel red. Donald Trump has been stoking the fires of hatred since long before he was “elected” president. Incidents of anti-Semitism, as well as attacks on other minorities, have risen rather dramatically and there appears to be a correlation in the rise of these acts following every one of his rallies.

So . . . I want to make it perfectly clear I will defend Jews, including Hasidic Jews with whom I share absolutely nothing save for a long, somewhat convoluted history. At the same time, my “faith” in the interdependency of the human race and all life compels me to stand with everyone, especially the oppressed and downtrodden.

Unfortunately, age is starting to wreak havoc with me. I lift weights and work at staying fit, but I’m approaching 73 and it’s quite clear things are slowing down. I haven’t the stamina, nor the strength, I once had. I’m pretty sure I don’t have the intellectual capacity I once had, but I must continue to fight in any way I’m capable.

I’m planning on attending this year’s Women’s March next Saturday in downtown Los Angeles, not far from the place of my birth. I’m bringing my 18-year-old and a friend of hers who’s in town from the Bay Area, where she’s attending her first year of college. They both went with me last year. I’m hopeful my 16-year-old, who was problematic last year and had to stay home, will also attend. I wish I had the ability to attend the numerous events taking place locally, some as protest and some for electoral politics, but I still have to earn enough to supplement my retirement income (not as easy as it once was), and I also have to help my troubled high school sophomore get through the next two and a half years.


Lindsey The Pilot Fish

A few days ago, Rolling Stone Magazine published an article entitled “How Lindsey Graham Lost His Way.” In it, Steve Schmidt – former campaign manager for John McCain – offered his assessment of the type of person Senator Graham is. I thought I would memorialize his words on my blog in the hope others will see it digested from the original article, which is located here. What follows are two statements from Schmidt, both of which are acerbic and revealing.

“We see more examples of this in film and literature, but there are instances of principled men and women laying down their careers in service of what is right. Clearly, that person will never be Lindsey Graham. With regard to the cruelty and abuse that was directed at John McCain by Trump, I think Lindsey’s flaccidity in defending him says a lot about his character. Nobody wants to be in a bar fight when they go out on Friday night. But when someone walks up and punches your best friend in the face, you’ve got to do something. Lindsey has demonstrated he’s the guy who runs out the door.”

“People try to analyze Lindsey through the prism of the manifest inconsistencies that exist between things that he used to believe and what he’s doing now,” Schmidt says. “The way to understand him is to look at what’s consistent. And essentially what he is in American politics is what, in the aquatic world, would be a pilot fish: a smaller fish that hovers about a larger predator, like a shark, living off of its detritus. That’s Lindsey. And when he swam around the McCain shark, broadly viewed as a virtuous and good shark, Lindsey took on the patina of virtue. But wherever the apex shark is, you find the Lindsey fish hovering about, and Trump’s the newest shark in the sea. Lindsey has a real draw to power — but he’s found it unattainable on his own merits.”


Leading a Horse to Water

During my last eight years at Rocketdyne (which traversed ownership by The Boeing Company and United Technologies’ Pratt & Whitney Division) I was the Project Manager for an internal tool called AskMe. It’s original intent was to provide a method whereby people could find both experts and expertise, i.e. people with knowledge they needed or papers and other publications that expressed useful knowledge. I later came to realize what we were doing was using a social media tool.

During the entire eight years I worked on that system, it was a constant struggle to get people to use it. People clearly believed that sharing was not in their best interests. Either that, or they were too intimidated by the thought of putting their knowledge to the test of time, as the whole idea was to foster conversations that would be saved and could later be searched when that kind of knowledge was needed again.

At any rate, I tried lots of different ways of promoting the tool. This one, below, came about after I received an email (at home) for a penis enlargement product. I thought to borrow the concept and see if it flew. I have taken the liberty of blurring out my colleague’s face, as I’m not sure where he is and, frankly, I don’t even remember who he is!

BTW – Within a couple of years of my departure, much to the chagrin of many who had worked on it, the tool was gone. I’ll share later why I think this was so.


My "Daughter's" Project

My youngest daughter (I have two) is in the 10th grade in high school. Her history class is studying the French Revolution right now and, during the Thanksgiving break she decided she wanted to build a scale model guillotine for extra credit. She, of course, enlisted my help. It never even occurred to me that I could probably find something online that would suffice and, in fact, I just looked and found a couple of places I could have purchased a kit. Here’s a really simple one. Here’s another.

As it turned out, I think I jumped at the opportunity to re-arrange our ridiculously stuffed garage, so I could get to my woodworking bench and use all the tools I’ve purchased or was given over the years and haven’t used for nearly a decade. Amazingly enough, they all worked despite some rust and corrosion.

I took some pictures as I was going along, and finished it yesterday so she could bring it to school today. This afternoon, I came across the original note her teacher gave her with the “rules”, e.g. it must work, it can’t have a sharp blade, and it isn’t due until Friday . . . grrrrr. Frankly, I became a wee tad obsessed with pulling this off and I’m glad it’s done and gone. I was having a hard time doing anything else, even though there were periods of time in between gluing and when I needed to build up my confidence that I could pull something off. Sometimes it mostly involved my remembering how to do something.

I made the whole thing out of a plank of 3/4″ thick Pine and a hobby piece of 1/4″ Oak. Since most of the table called for 3/4″ square pieces, I had to use an old table saw designed for onsite carpentry. It belonged to a friend of mine and, even though it’s been in my garage for at least 17 or 18 years, it still belongs to him. I just get to use it. Some of the cuts I had to make concerned by fingertips greatly, but they all managed to survive.

At any rate, here are some photos.

Here, the guillotine is mostly finished and assembled. You can see I was making a set of stairs, which I hadn’t planned on doing, but my daughter insisted was necessary.
I made the blade out of plastic, so it’s incapable of cutting, the spacer out of some Oak I had to purchase to get the 1/4″ thickness I needed for a few pieces, and I made the counterweight out of a piece of 2×4 that’s probably been sitting in our garage for the last two decades.
If you compare the stairs to what I started with and have depicted in the first photo, above, you’ll note I ultimately ended with four steps. I think it was because I realized I’d made them too tall to begin with and had to scale them down. The steps and the table/platform are made of Oak and here the whole thing has been treated with Watco Danish oil.
Getting the blade to actually drop was a bit of a challenge because cutting the channels on the two uprights so the blade assembly would be able to slide smoothly up and drop fairly quickly down was challenging, and they weren’t quite as smooth as I would have liked them to be. Nevertheless, I got it done after a bit of trial and error.
We have a little squeeze toy I picked up at a conference a long time ago from Hitachi. It’s a Sumo wrestler and, unfortunately, his head has managed to depart his body, though we keep him around (why, I don’t know). My wife thought he fit rather nicely with the device, so here ’tis. Next photo is from the other side.
That’s All, Folks.

Impeach 'Em All

Bill Barr has proven himself to be nothing more than another of Trump’s uncritical sycophants. Instead of being Attorney General for the United States of America, he’s acted as Donald Trump’s personal attorney. Couple that with his overwhelming partisanship and dishonesty, and you have a perfect case for another impeachment and a criminal indictment. Make it so!


Thread by @djrothkopf: “Just got this via text: “You are a retarded kike. You dont want to win 2020. You enjoy complaining about Trump.” It was accompanied by this […]”

I want . . . no, I need to share this thread. Although I have been an atheist for most of my adult life, I was born a Jew and am bar mitzvah. I feel it is incumbent upon me to stand not only with my fellow Jews, but also with all those who suffer oppression, prejudice, and hatred. I am not a public figure, so I have not been attacked like David, but if this keeps up (and, especially, if Trump is re-elected) we can expect things to get worse, perhaps a lot worse. Don’t think it can’t happen because this is America. As David points out, America is responsible for the slaughter of our native peoples and the enslavement of Africans for centuries. Our hands are hardly clean. We need to be prepared for the worse, all while working to bring about a better world for all.


Thread by @djrothkopf: “Just got this via text: “You are a retarded kike. You dont want to win 2020. You enjoy complaining about Trump.” It w by this and other anti-semitic art. This is Trumpism. The instances of this & worse happening in my life […]”

Source: Thread by @djrothkopf: “Just got this via text: “You are a retarded kike. You dont want to win 2020. You enjoy complaining about Trump.” It was accompanied by this […]”


My Twitter Suspension

Uh oh! Ricky’s been a baaaaad boy. This is what happens when you suggest a man surrounded by secret service protection and the best medical care in the world experience something everyone’s speculating he’s experienced already. The man responsible for hundreds, if not thousands of needless deaths and who knows how much misery. The man who vilifies those he represents and spews a constant stream of vile, hateful lies and deceptions. The person who violates Twitters rules on a daily basis and suffers nothing for his transgressions. And, of course, there’s precious little I can do about it. I will appeal and suggest context matters, but I can’t even be sure what I was responding to. I think I know what it was, though, so I’ll go that route.

Golly gee whiz! I sure hope I didn’t hurt his feefees or anything.


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