Category Archives: History

Why I’m Not a Journalist

In January of 1971 I was living in Berkeley (aka Berzerkeley), California. I was “working” at an underground radio station run out of the living room of one of the guys who lived in my building. The address of our building was serendipitously easy to remember; it was 1776 Leroy, just north of the UC campus. I had a one-room, no-water flat though, during that winter there were times when moisture dripped from the walls. I had to go down the hallway to get water, relieve myself, or take a shower. I had a hotplate in my room and, truth to tell, I don’t recall if I had a small refrigerator or we shared one in a common area.

Our studio put out 500 watts of power, but we only had a 1/10 watt transmitter our engineer had managed to sneak up and secure at the top of the Engineering Building on campus. We had dual turntables, a reel-to-reel tape recorder, and various other recording devices, microphones, etc. With that little of a transmitter we only reached about 5 blocks square, which was a substantial portion of the north campus community.

In addition to playing music, I thought it was important for us to report on local news, as well as national political news if it happened nearby. On January 5 of that year, the trial of Angela Davis began in the Marin County Courthouse, a little over 20 miles away. One of the devices we had was a boom box that had a cassette tape recorder and I decided to haul my ass over to the courthouse and cover the trial.

I later provided armed security for the McAfee family, whose farm was used for Angela’s bail, when they appeared at this concert.

When Angela Davis’s attorneys came out to speak to the crowd, they were inundated by reporters, journalists, and photographers. There were so many of them (in case you aren’t familiar with this case, it drew international attention) her supporters could not hear a word that was being said. I knew that my boom box could be used as a megaphone, and I knew how to make it happen. I offered her attorneys the use of what I had turned into a way to amplify their voices and reach her supporters. They gladly accepted.

So … everyone got to hear the update Angela’s attorneys provided. Unfortunately, it meant I didn’t get to record anything. I returned to Berkeley empty-handed, save for the memory I had of the event. I had nothing to report other than that. No audio at all. Though I later published the Los Angeles version of The War Bulletin, which was produced in Berkeley, and I’ve written and published several newsletter over the years, that was really the end of whatever career I might have had as a journalist. I wasn’t capable of detaching myself from the story (at least not THAT story) and recognized I didn’t have what it takes to “get” the story.

PS – Today is Angela’s birthday. Happy Birthday, Comrade. Wishing you many more.


I Do NOT Like These Feelz

I was born just after the end of World War II. The nation was heady with promise and I was raised immersed in what I later came to realize was propaganda; the belief that the United States of America was the greatest, most progressive country in the world. I’ve known for a long time that’s not true, but I find myself wondering how a country that speaks and thinks of itself as “exceptional,” can defend so many people coming this close to financial and, perhaps, physical ruin (see WaPo article in Tweet, below.)

Never in my wildest dreams did I think I would ever feel guilty about being on Social Security. I don’t get a lot (nobody does) but along with my wife’s social security and the income from our meager retirement savings, at least we’re not food insecure or in danger of being homeless. It doesn’t feel right, though.

Yet, I’m helpless to do much to assist other than support economic transformation that would alleviate these problems. If there are millions of families in this horrible situation, how can any of us do much about it, especially when doing so would bring us closer to the same kind of ruin. Losing one’s home, especially if you “own” it, is devastating and very difficult to come back from. Nobody deserves this kind of reckless abandonment, yet that’s exactly what Donald Trump is doing. I can’t think of much that would be a worse dereliction of duty than this.

I don’t know what’s going to happen in these next 28 days … and beyond. The fact that Trump vetoed the legislation and has left for Mar-a-Lago, the government closes down next Tuesday, and much of the help that had been made available for people who’ve lost their jobs to COVID-19 is drying up this week is not helpful. Maybe it’s time for:


Some Personal Space Shuttle History

Thirty-four years ago next month I showed up for work at Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne Division. Having grown up in the San Fernando Valley in Southern California, I was familiar with Rocketdyne, as during the Mercury, Gemini, and Apollo programs the rocket engines they made, which powered the vehicles used to launch our astronauts into space, were all designed and manufactured not far from where I lived.

The factory was in Canoga Park, but the engines were tested at the Santa Susana Field Laboratory, which was in the hills to the west of my home. I have vivid memories of seeing the night sky light up and hearing the roar of those engines as they were being tested. I also remember going out at night and lying down on our front lawn to watch Sputnik 1, the world’s first artificial satellite (launched by the Soviet Union on October 4, 1957) go by overhead. I was ten years old at the time.

While these experiences didn’t cause me to pursue a career in engineering, they did serve to pique my interest in astronomy and space exploration. They also had absolutely nothing to do with my ending up working at Rocketdyne. My beginning there was entirely serendipitous. I was working for the temp agency, Apple One, where I had been temping at a hard drive manufacturer called Micropolis. Their business model, perhaps the industry itself, was somewhat seasonal and work for temps was boom and bust there. As had happened many times before (we’d heard about it and weren’t surprised when it happened) business slowed down and they decided to lay off the temps, who comprised the majority of the workforce.

That was on a Friday. That evening, my contact at Apple One called me and asked if I could show up at Rocketdyne the following Monday. I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in the middle of January, 1987, almost exactly a year after OV-099, Space Shuttle Orbiter Vehicle Challenger, exploded as it was ascending to orbit, killing all seven crew members.

I was to turn 40 years old later that year and of course I would show up. I needed to work. However, that it was Rocketdyne I was to show up at was something of a bonus, as far as I was concerned. I had known people who worked at Rocketdyne over the years, and it never occurred to me I could work there. I wasn’t an Engineer or a Scientist. I didn’t even have a college education, though I did have a Juris Doctorate, which I had earned eleven years before. I was the only person in my law school without a baccalaureate. None of that mattered as a temp (or what they called a “job shopper”.) They didn’t ask anything about my background or my capabilities. They just needed a warm body who could perform data input.

So, that following Monday I showed up to work at the plant on Canoga Ave. in Canoga Park. I had never worked at a really large organization before. In fact, with the exception of the temp job I had previously been working at, I had never worked anywhere that had more than a dozen or so people. Most places I’d worked only had five or six, at the most. Rocketdyne had armed guards at the gates. There were at least four entrances guarded by men with guns. It was actually a bit heady.

I ended up hiring in a year later and worked there until May of 2010, when I accepted an early severance package offered to everyone over the age of 60. I turned 63 the next month, June. I’m writing several memoirs, and my time at Rocketdyne will play a big role in at least one of them. However, my purpose here is merely to introduce one of the “awards” I received when I worked there.

I was not a big fan of individual performance awards, believing they tended to pit people against each other when, in fact, we needed to find ways to improve our collaborative and collective abilities. This particular award was given to each of the members of the Space Shuttle Main Engine High Pressure Fuel Turbo-pump team, who labored mightily to manufacture, test, and deliver 10 additional pumps for the program when Pratt & Whitney was unable to certify their alternate design. As our contract ran out, and we knew there would be no new business, the team had to wind down and members had to find other places to hang their hats.

You should note that everyone on the team received one of these shadow boxes, with a flag, a turbine blade, several mission buttons, and these inscriptions (see below.) I’m including the back, because our managers took the time to personally thank each person on the team; there were well over fifty, if memory serves. This “award” hangs in my home office. This coming May it will have been 20 years since I received it, and I’m every bit as proud of it now as I was back then. Plus … how often do you get to have a piece of rocket engine hardware and other space memorabilia?

PS – In case you don’t get to it (it’s on the back of the shadow box) that turbine blade traveled a total of 27,600,000 miles, mostly doing nothing after MECO (Main Engine Cut Off) on each flight.

PPS – Just to be clear, in these two photos (below) I’ve superimposed the award (from the front) on a picture of a shuttle night launch. It has a glass door, which I opened because it’s reflective and I didn’t want that in the photo, and digitally removed with Photoshop. I’ve separately added the two pieces of text from the back, without including the box, and superimposed them on that same night launch photo.

Obverse of My Turbo Team Award
Reverse of My Turbo Team Award

A Well-Deserved BuhBye

I think we all can agree this year (2020) has been a real pain in the ass. So many things that dismayed, disappointed, and disgusted the majority of us. I just came across this short video with a Holiday Message for the past year. It conveys my sentiments exactly. Quite likely yours too.


History Repeats Itself

As I have mentioned in other posts, I have been working at understanding Photoshop well enough to create my own memes, to touch up photos new and old, and to generally be able to utilize most of the power it provides to those patient enough to work on the skills. This is my latest, though the overlay of Trump’s fugliness on what is likely a painting of Marie Antoinette I stole from the Intertubes. I actually had a piece I did with Donald’s face on Marie, but I would have had to pull off some kind of mighty effort to have a plate and raised hand available to showcase to CORONA virus.

This story is disturbing. President Trump and nearly every one of the Republicans in Congress have failed to protect the American public from both this virus and from the economic effects of efforts to mitigate its destructiveness. That they will rush to vaccinate themselves before essential workers disgusts and appalls me. It doesn’t, however, surprise me. The Republican party is stuffed to the gills with pompous preeners who care little for the people they purport to represent. I suspect quite a few Democrats, especially the old guard, have similar propensities. We need to elect people who care about their constituents.


Is There A Doctor In The House?

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

I suspect just about everyone is aware of the flap over an opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal regarding our soon-to-be First Lady’s credentials. Written by Joseph Epstein, it’s entitled “Is There a Doctor in the White House? Not if You Need an M.D.” and subtitled “Jill Biden should think about dropping the honorific, which feels fraudulent, even comic.”

My most recent job was as the Business Manager for a Machine Learning (AI) Software Development firm, the co-founder of which had a PhD in computer science. When last I spoke with her, which was at least a year ago, she was not using her title, which she feared was seen as somewhat presumptuous. I’m not sure how she feels about it now, and I’m inclined to agree with those who see this op/ed piece as misogynistic and hollow. Frankly, I have often wondered if I could use the honorific “Dr.” in front of my name because I have earned a Juris Doctorate (JD) when I graduated Law School in 1976. However, I’ve never done so because the amount of schooling, and the quality of work, required for the degree don’t match up to that of a PhD or EdD. Actually, I tend to agree with those who suggest calling oneself “Dr.” when in possession of a law degree is ridiculous and pedantic.

It’s been discussed at great length by now, torn apart and analyzed by people far better at it than I, but I’d like to bring up what I think is an ancillary issue to that of the rank sexism and hypocrisy that exists wrt men and their seeming inability to accept women as their equals. What I’m referring to, which affects both men and women, regardless of race, creed, or color (though there are differences in degree and approach) is the depth of anti-intellectualism that has come to seemingly dominate our public life.

Just look at how many people are not only comfortable with, but are absolutely adamant about, ignoring science, facts, and reality-based analysis/synthesis. The number of people who believe most scientists are only doing what they do for the money is astounding. It’s likely one of, if not the, main reasons we’re doing so poorly in handling the pandemic here in the States.

This isn’t a new phenomenon. Hardly! I recall deciding in the third grade (that would have been around 1955) I didn’t want to be seen by everybody as an egghead, which changed the trajectory of my life . . . and probably not in the best way it could have. I remember feeling at the time that I wouldn’t have any friends if I continued on the path of academic excellence I had been on. Part of me wishes I hadn’t made that choice, though my life turned out pretty well regardless. It’s just that, in retrospect, the decision was made because of the negative view most people I knew seemed to have about being too intelligent; or, at least, being willing to use that intelligence in a positive way.

I believe this is one of the reasons the United States is in the bind it’s in right now. We’re just coming off of a four-year bender with the sleaziest and dumbest President in our nation’s history. He came to power as the result of years of anti-intellectual posturing and reality TV-informed ignorance. I am thankful I have never watched one reality TV show, especially not The Apprentice or Celebrity Apprentice. It’s clear Donald Chrump managed to suck a large portion of the nation into believing he was a highly successful businessman when, in fact, he’s a serial fuck-up who managed to burn through tens, if not hundreds, of millions of dollars given to him by his father.

These past four years of the worst “leadership” of my lifetime has been brought to us by our nation’s well-developed sense of anti-intellectualism. This does not bode well for maintaining our position as a preeminent nation of entrepreneurs and innovators. Our quality of life in the United States is what it is in large part because of our scientific accomplishments. It amazes me so many people don’t recognize the value that science has added to our lives, be it at work, home, or play. Virtually every aspect of our lives is enhanced by science and the products and enhancements it brings to us on a heretofore regular basis. I fear we’re going to lose that edge. Perhaps we already have. More the pity.


Fear of Sharing

My wife would say I’m overly gregarious and too willing to share things about my life and experiences, and from all appearances, I seem to have spent much of that life being outgoing and transparent, yet I think I just realized that in actuality, I have always hidden much of who I am from others. Specific others, not everyone . . . and not about everything. Most of the things I’ve kept to myself over the years aren’t deeds I’m ashamed of or thoughts I’ve believed in and now think are wrong. It’s just that it wasn’t important for certain people to know about them.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio on Pexels.com

For instance, I never shared my experiences in the late sixties with the “Free Love” movement with my mother. Somehow, I felt she wouldn’t have appreciated learning why I refer to myself as a “battle-scarred veteran” of the Sexual Revolution. Similarly, when I first hired in at Rockwell International’s Rocketdyne division, to work on the Space Shuttle Main Engine team, I didn’t think they needed to know I had spent two months in Cuba in 1973 as a guest of the Cuban government. The list goes on.

When I became a first-time, adoptive father at the age of 55, I considered writing about the experience of adopting, but decided against it because I thought it stood too much of a chance of violating my children’s privacy. I’m still a bit conflicted over how much I can share about my experience for fear of sharing too much of their lives, and those things don’t belong to me alone.

Now that I’m less than a year and a half from my 75th birthday, I’m thinking it’s time to stop being so concerned about embarrassing anyone who knows or is related to me . . . and just write my truth and put it out there for everyone to judge for themselves. That is what I’m doing, but I’m also just realizing how seriously I have been hobbled by my unwillingness to risk bringing shame to my family . . . even though I’m hardly ashamed about anything I’ve done over the years. Sorry for some things, yes – because they hurt me or others I loved and cared about – but shame does not emanate from this boy.

Having recognized this serious impediment to telling my story, it’s now my job to overcome what it’s done to me over the years (it hasn’t perzackly helped me overcome “imposter syndrome.”) I can no longer embarrass my parents or grandparents; they’ve been gone for quite some time, and I need to get these stories out, regardless. Even if I live to be ninety, I won’t have to regret anything (which I likely won’t anyway) for very long.


Buh Bye, Y’all.

Seventeen states have joined the State of Texas to petition the United States Supreme Court to delay the certification of the results in Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, and Georgia, arguing that alleged issues with the votes need to be investigated. While alleging fraud, the lawsuit offers no evidence that fraud has occurred. Instead, they argue that new methods of voting (all of which were approved by State Legislatures) could have resulted in fraud arguing, “The constitutional issue is not whether voters committed fraud but whether state officials violated the law by systematically loosening the measures for ballot integrity so that fraud becomes undetectable.”

What’s disturbing about this lawsuit’s theory of the case is that mail-in voting has been in use for decades, and these alleged “vulnerable” methods of voting have only been expanded in use, not changed in how they’re implemented and exercised.

This is really the height of frivolity and, in my opinion, every one of these Attorneys General should be investigated by their state bar. This is a naked attempt to disenfranchise millions of voters, most of whom are persons of color, aka Democrats. The four states they’re targeting are Michigan, Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, and Georgia. Many have pointed out, and I will as well, they aren’t alleging the same issues in states where Trump won, even though the situation in those states is similar to that of the four targeted states.

I’m not sure if the decision is expected today, though the Electoral College convenes on Monday to officially cast their votes and that will further cement the Biden/Harris victory. I believe the Court will want to render their decision prior to that happening. We’ll see. I’ve been consumed by fixing a health insurance problem I have for my kids, and a bunch of recipes I have to help my 17-year-old shop for and cook/bake, so haven’t been paying attention quite as closely as I normally would. I do expect it will be thrown out. What we don’t know is whether or not the justices will take the opportunity to teach these idiots a lesson in constitutional law. That would be a hoot.


The 1984 Olympics

I don’t think I’ve ever shared this photo before; at least not here in Systems Savvy. In 1984 I had a friend whose parents had purchased tickets to the opening ceremonies of the Los Angeles Olympics and to a day of track and field events. This friend’s mother got very sick and they knew they would not be able to attend, so they offered the tickets for sale at face value. That was $200 per ticket for the opening ceremonies. According to this site, in today’s dollars each ticket would have gone for slightly more than $500.00.

So, I was thirty-seven years old and making really good money at the time, and I purchased those tickets and invited my brother to attend on opening day. We headed over to the Memorial Coliseum early, found a place to park and, since we were there early, we managed to find a nice dive bar in which to have a drink prior to entering and finding our seats.

The picture was taken as the final participants, the “home team” as it were, the United States had pretty much entered the venue but was not yet off the track and in place in the field. The Coliseum itself was impressive, as it had been renovated and freshly painted. I believe the Olympic Torch was brought into the Coliseum by Rafer Johnson, who ascended the steps with it to light the flame that burned at the top of that column you can see above the portion in between the two Jumbotrons, one of which showed the name of the nation that was currently entered the field and the other of which showed its flag.

In writing the above paragraph I had to look up and make sure I had spelled Rafer’s name correctly. In doing so I discovered he died four days ago. I don’t recall hearing anything about it. How sad. He was an Olympic Champion. I can’t help but think this is at least in part because a certain someone is constantly sucking up all the oxygen in the country, and the media (for the most part) just keep salivating like Pavlov’s dogs. It causes me to wonder two things: 1. Will they ever learn? 2. Will I live long enough to see it? My suspicion is the answer to both questions is “No.”


Justice Matters – 12/05/20

Here’s another episode of Glenn Kirschner’s informative vlog on the state of our justice system. While I’m not quite as sanguine about how the system is holding up against the assault of Trump and his Zombpublicans, it is heartening to look at how thoroughly the Trump/Giuliani efforts to overturn the election in the courts have been rebuffed.

The concurring opinion Glenn reads and discusses in this episode is, as he points out, especially powerful because the Judge who wrote it was President of his law school’s Federalist Society chapter and comes from a tradition of conservatism. After reading a little about him, and based on the quality of argument in his dissent Glenn discusses here, I’m of the opinion he is more closely allied with the never-Trump wing of conservatism.

In case you’re interested in the actual opinion, I have embedded the official .pdf file issued by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, which contains Justice Hagedorn’s consenting opinion. I think it’s worth noting this was a 4-3 decision. I find it a bit frightening there were three justices that though this case had merit. We’re nowhere near out of the woods. Then again, in most respects most of us have never actually been out of the woods given the true nature of our nation’s government and history.


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