Category Archives: Personal

“Corona Virus Blues” | Don McAlister’s Blogsite

Written by my former (and last) manager at Pratt & Whitney Rocketdyne, these are contemporary blues lyrics. The tune is up to you. If you know 12 bar blues, it shouldn’t be all that difficult to gin something up.

Written by Don McAlister, 6/28/20 as a standard 12 bar blues song.

When this all got started
We didn’t have a clue
‘Bout how crazy things would get
And change everything we knew.

At first it didn’t seem that bad
The danger wasn’t clear
Then cases started popping up
West and East, and then right here.

And now it was a crisis
Affecting me and you
We got it bad
Corona Virus Blues!

CHORUS: We got a virus out to kill us
And it don’t care ‘bout who
And the only way to slow it down
Is to change the things we do.

We gotta stay six feet apart
And cover up our faces
Stay away from bars
Only eat at takeout places.

We’ve been hunkered down for months now
Watchin’ movies and the news
Yeah we got it bad
Corona Virus Blues!

Some folks got tired of hearing
What they should and shouldn’t do
And they protested and said
It was time to loosen rules.

Gov’nors felt the pressure
And opened up some places
But still asked us to distance
And cover up our faces

But it got out of hand again
Careless gatherings and booze
Infections started spiking up and
And now we’ve still got Corona Virus Blues!

(Repeat CHORUS and end)

Source: “Corona Virus Blues” | Don McAlister’s Blogsite


U.S. or Him?

The Little Boy Pouts

Yesterday, an article in PoliticusUSA was published under the headline, “Trump Wasted An Entire White House Meeting Trying To Convince His Aides That He’s Mentally Fit.” I’m of the opinion anyone who studies Trump carefully will have no problem seeing this as a predominant feature of his personality. After all, he really is a malignant narcissist, a sociopath, a man with a complete and total lack of humility, humanity, and empathy . . . among other things. I shared the article on Facebook with the following comments:

This serves to highlight the main problem I have (and most of us have) with him as President. How can he serve the interests of the nation when he’s far more interested in how he looks, the optics, than he is on any accomplishment that benefits the American people . . . and I don’t mean corporate America? Kinda reminds me of the concept I’ve held dear since I first became politically active in the sixties: some people are more interested in “being” right, than in “doing” right. These people, who are intent on winning regardless of the cost, need to be avoided.

This also reminds me of something one of my first year law professors said to me. I’m working on a blog post about it and, recently, I hunted him down. His name is Kenneth Cloke and he’s still living and working in Santa Monica, where he’s a mediator and conflicts resolution systems designer. Lately, I’ve tried to articulate the saying and I have yet to convince myself I’m getting it right. There seems to be some nuance missing that I can’t put my finger on, but I’m going to attempt it here.

During a conversation we were having about leftist politics, Ken said “If I had to choose between someone who had the right politics, but was lacking in humanity, and someone who had the wrong politics, but was a humane person, I would choose the latter.” I suppose this is why, despite my being a Marxist, I am always looking for ways to work with people who don’t share my political philosophy. It’s how I’m able to vote as a Democrat. Everything about the Democratic Party, in my estimation, is far more humane than anything about the Republican Party. Also, I think it’s much easier to find compromise with someone who respects your humanity and hard-ass ideologues generally aren’t inhabiting that space.


Racism and Bigotry

I still believe we are misusing the words “racism” and “racist.”

Racism is institutional, systemic, and structural. It’s insidious and buried deep in every aspect of our society and economy. Bigotry is right out in the open.

And this isn’t whitesplaining on my part. This is what I was taught by members of the Black Panther Party and the Brown Berets in 1973. I was, along with 49 of my closest friends, required to go through about 20 hours of cultural and racial sensitivity training before being allowed to travel to Cuba with the sixth contingent of the Venceremos Brigade.

I keep bringing this up because the public now conflates racism with bigotry and, by doing so, gives people an excuse for not looking closer at how they’ve unknowingly embraced or benefited from racism, by merely pointing out their lack of anger or visible anger/hatred toward people of color. “I don’t see color,” or “I have black friends/relatives.” All that means, at the most, is you’re not a bigot. It doesn’t change the centuries of economic and social injustice deeply baked into every aspect of our society.

We need to understand the differences if we’re going to erase racism and its insidious effects.

One other thing I learned from that education, and that has been reinforced in the intervening years, is that white people need to shut the fuck up and listen to people of color when it comes to understanding their lived reality. Because of racism, you don’t know squat about their experiences. Try it. You might be surprised.


Things Are Not Always as They Seem

One of the arguments I hear frequently regarding the demand to “defund the police,” is that we’ll all be sorry when there are no police around to protect us. Ignoring, for the moment, the reality that nobody is seriously calling for the complete elimination of police, I’d like to share a story I think illustrates how incomplete this narrative is.

This story took place a little over 40.5 years ago and I remember some of it as clearly as if it happened yesterday. It was, in fact, on my half birthday – December 4, 1979. At the time I was living with my girlfriend, later to be my wife, in a small two-bedroom apartment above a garage at the East end of Carroll Canal in Venice, California. The place was probably no more than 600 sq. ft. It was behind a house that faced Ocean Avenue and there were stairs leading up to our front door from both Eastern Court, which was essentially an alley, and from behind the house in front of us.

At the time I was working with my father and my brother in our small, family-owned wholesale food delivery business. My girlfriend was a waitress at Gulliver’s. On that night, I was working on some bills for our business and she was at work.

For some time, kids in the neighborhood would run up the stairs from one side and down on the other. It was a bit annoying as they were pretty noisy about it. While I was working I heard a noise and thought the kids were getting ready to make a ruckus. I grabbed my six battery Kel-light (a very heavy flashlight, suitable for cracking heads) and jumped out onto the porch.

I had no intention of hurting anyone. I just wanted to scare these kids in the forlorn hope they would find someone else to torment. I was surprised to find a young man, perhaps a bit older than me, who I had frightened and who appeared to be lost. In fact, he asked me for directions to a place I can’t remember. What happened next, though, I remember clear as a bell.

He looked around for a moment. I was really feeling bad that I had scared him and was totally taken by surprise when he produced a handgun and held it to my head.

“Let’s go inside,” he said to me. I was in no position to argue. Now, this isn’t really the important part of the story; not for my purposes today, so I won’t go into too much detail. Suffice it to say, I was held at gunpoint and asked questions about money and women in the area. Knowing my girlfriend would be coming home soon lent a certain air of urgency to the situation, but he was the guy with the gun.

In fact, since he asked me to tell him where all my weapons were, he had replaced his handgun with my Ruger Blackhawk, a .357 Magnum piece which, at one point, he pointed at my head while I was lying spread-eagle on the floor and said, “I’m going to blow your fucking brains out.” I asked him “why,” and he said, “because you’re a honky.” “Is that all?” I asked. He had no answer.

Then he told me to put my hands behind my back and went out to the living room (there was no hallway, just a door that was open so he could see me.) While he had been talking to and threatening me, I had managed to get my foot behind that door and, as soon as he looked away for a second, I managed to do a prone spin kick and slammed the door.

Adrenaline was pumping and I practically levitated myself off the floor with one arm, and quickly reached into the closet where I had hidden my Ithaca Riot Pump Shotgun. I quickly chambered a round (it was double ought buck) and yelled at the door, “Get the fuck out of my house or I’ll kill you.” I don’t think he heard a word I said, as he hightailed it out of there. Before continuing, here’s a link to an appellate court decision regarding one of this guy’s three murder convictions, which describes the evens in more detail.

Now, here’s the part of the story I believe is relevant to the issue of how valuable the police are in deterring and dealing with crime. After I had gone through the second bedroom, the bathroom, and the kitchen to ensure he was gone, I called the LAPD. I had seen them patrolling and knew this was their jurisdiction. Unfortunately, the dispatcher told me I should call the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department (we were a little over a block or two from Marina del Rey, which was county property.)

Although still certain it was LAPD jurisdiction, I called the Sheriff’s office only to be told “Nope. That’s LAPD. Call them.” I called LAPD again and was told it must be the Santa Monica PD who have jurisdiction there. I called SMPD and was told, “Nope. LAPD has jurisdiction.” I called LAPD once more and, finally, they somehow realized they did, indeed, have jurisdiction of my neighborhood. They said they would send a car.

When the officer arrived, he was by himself, he had his cover (his hat) off, and his sidearm was holstered with the hammer guard fastened. When I told him what had happened—which I had also told the dispatcher—he was both shocked and surprised. He said he would never have approached to door like that if he knew it was an armed robbery he was responding to.

After he took my information, I asked him if they were going to dust for fingerprints or anything. He told me I didn’t want them to do that, as it was messy and I’d be left to clean it up. I reluctantly accepted that. He left. By now my girlfriend had come home and I had to recount the episode to her. A couple hours later, we were asleep when the phone rang. It was the police. A man had been murdered near my place and they found a set of keys that I had reported as stolen. They wanted to talk to me now.

I ended up going to the station and working with an artist on a description. I have a really good memory and, over forty years ago, it was even sharper. When the guy was finally apprehended (because he went on a rampage, killing one more man and raping a couple of women) I was pleased to see the drawing we had worked on looked very much like the man I remembered. I can almost still see his face today.

So . . . my point here is that the police are seldom available to intervene and stop crimes in progress. They’re not magicians or fortune tellers. They can’t foresee when crimes will happen. We depend on their investigative powers and the depth of their ability to mine data and information (clues) to find perpetrators and flesh out a case for prosecutors to use in court.

I know not everyone could have done what I did. My years of training in Hapkido and my familiarity with weapons, as well as my preparation in creating a hiding spot he could not find, gave me the ability to get away from him. Unfortunately, though, the reality is we’re essentially on our own in day-to-day living. It’s unrealistic to expect the police to be there for us at all times and in all places.

This, to me, is the crux of the issue when it comes to transforming policing. We expect far too much from our police forces. We need to rethink how we deploy every kind of social resource to ensure the safety and health of everyone in our communities. Done right, there is generally no need for someone with a weapon to respond to a domestic disturbance. The same should probably be true of traffic violations. Why on earth do we have to face a person who is armed (regardless of how infrequently that sidearm is used) after making an illegal u-turn or going five miles an hour over the speed limit.

I don’t have all the answers. Not by a longshot . . . and certainly not in this post. However, I have a good idea what many of the questions are that need to be answered, and one of the most important is: How can we transform policing to better protect both the public and the men and women who choose to serve us in that capacity?


Working Remotely? Here’s Some Help

The need to address the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic may have done more to accelerate the digital transformation many have been working towards for years, than all of the bitching, moaning, hand-wringing, and pearl clutching heretofore expended on cajoling knowledge workers to adopt and adapt these technologies.

Five years ago I served as the developmental editor on the 2nd edition of “The New Social Learning.” I had the pleasure of working with the co-author of the 1st edition, who was the principal author of the 2nd, Marcia Conner. Marcia is one of a handful of people who recognized the need for, and the power of, such a transition . . . and this book was an attempt to help leaders and organizations move forward to adopt these new ways of working, and working together.

I recommend this book highly for everyone who is now finding themselves either working at home or dealing with today’s need to be more “distanced” from our colleagues. There’s a wealth of good info here. I urge you to check it out. It’s about far more than just learning.

“The Workplace Has Changed. At this moment, your people are already learning through social media. They’re reaching out and connecting in powerful ways. The question is, can you recognize, appreciate, and take advantage of the power inherent in this new level of communication? Do you want to facilitate or debilitate? Do you want to play a part in what and how people learn? Or do you want to try to stop them? Will you restrict them? Or will you free them to do the work they were hired to do—and will you do it with them?”


Simi Protest (cont.)

It’s only been a week since the protest and march, which this young woman spearheaded, took place here in Simi Valley. Anyone who’s interested should watch the six minute video in this article, where she explains how the march came about, as well as how City Councilperson and Mayor Pro Tem, Mike Judge, tried to dissuade Mikiiya from doing anything and publicly exposed her to danger. Simi is mos def changing.

Mikiiya Foster During Simi’s BLM Protest/March

Given the reputation Simi Valley has (which is only partly deserved) I’m of the opinion this march marked a watershed moment in the history of our little burgh. Simi Valley is one of the more politically conservative areas in California. It is the home of the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Geegaw Emporium, as well as the venue where the police who beat Rodney King were acquitted, sparking some of Los Angeles’s worst riots.

I know many of us have been working to bring about change here in Simi, and it’s been a bit of a slog. There are some really reactionary folk here, and they’re not shy about demonstrating their anger and hatred.

PS – A GoFundMe campaign has been initiated to help Mikiiya get through college. Here’s the link, if you’d care to donate. Any amount would be appreciated, I’m sure. I just donated.


Simi Protests

As many of my friends know, I live in Simi Valley, California. Simi is known, perhaps internationally, for two main things: The Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and the Rodney King trial. Although only one of the jurors in that trial was actually from Simi, the city has the reputation of being filled with racists, and it’s not without some basis in fact.

Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful part of the world, just northwest of the San Fernando Valley and I’ve lived here for about 25 years. When I heard that a protest was being planned to support BLM and protest racism and, specifically, the murder of George Floyd, I knew I had to be there (at least for the beginning) to lend my support. I expected 40 – 50 people. Imagine my surprise when I arrived a few minutes early to find hundreds, growing to between one and two thousand by the time the actual march started. Here’s a piece from ABC Eyewitness News’s coverage of the protest.

The young woman highlighted in the article, and her friends who helped with and supported this amazing event, did an exceptional job organizing and conducting what could have been a debacle. Going back to that element of racism here in Simi, there was a contingent of residents convinced this march would end in violence and looting; so convinced they were patrolling the streets around their neighborhoods and posting in local FB community groups that they were “locked and loaded.” It was borderline comical, made tragically unfunny by the ignorant sincerity of these mental midgets. They even tried to disrupt the march with bullhorn wielding propagandists fresh from the (here’s an oxymoron) “Republican Values Center.”

The kids are continuing to organize and, happily, I’m going along for the ride. Were it up to me, I would ask they not go back to school until the election is over in November. We’re going to need a GOTV effort like we’ve never seen before. I don’t have the energy or stamina I once had but, for the first time in my sour, long life I feel assured the torch has not only been passed, but it’s been picked up . . . by millions, it would appear.


Trevor Noah on George Floyd

Thought I would share a couple of videos from Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show (currently called “The Daily Social Distancing Show.”)

Trevor on How Things are Connected
Trevor on Looting and What Really Matters


From a Friend

This is a poem a friend of mine in Ohio posted on FB yesterday. I asked her for permission to share it, as I think it’s powerful. Hope you get out of it as much as I did.

Eric Garner & George Floyd in Heaven, Before Their Black Police Victim Grief Support Group Meeting

“Hey, man.”

“Hey.”

“Nice to meet you…Well, you know what I mean.”

“I got you.”

“Philando brought you to the meeting?”

“Yeah. You know. We both from Minnesota.”

“Yeah. It’s nice to have somebody from home you can hang with… Well, you know what I mean.”

“I got you.”

“You from New York, right?”

“Yeah.”

“You must got a ton of homies up here.”

“My daughter is up here, man.”

“Oh…yeah…that’s right.”

“Yeah, man.”

“My bad…I ain’t mean….”

“It’s all right, man. You ain’t do it.”

“It’s crazy, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“I always thought about dying, you know?”

“Yeah.”

“I always knew the time would come, and I would have to go.”

“Yup. It’s the way it is.”

“I just…I never wanted one of them to be what took me out.”

“I hear you.”

“It’s fucked up.”

“Beyond.”

“You born with the white man’s knee on your neck. You die with his knee on your neck.”

“With his stick at your throat.”

“You walk around scared of your own skin and your own bones – how Goddamn breakable they are.”

“Like you toothpicks and tissue.”

“You live a whole life and never get to fucking breathe freely.”

“And then you get here and…”

“It’s better?”

“You’re safer. No more body, no more beating.”

“But?”

“Angels ain’t omnipotent, you know? We can’t do shit but put the thought into the person’s head.”

“So we gotta do it. We gotta do it, man. We gotta get them to stand up. We gotta get them to fight for it.”

“For ‘it’?”

“Freedom. They say they want it. They gotta get off they ass then.”

(c) Michelle R. Smith 2020


Isolation. It’s Like Forever Only Much Shorter-Part 2

This is the second post by my long-time friend, Susan Marlow. Her first post was published on 28 March 2020 and this is somewhat of a follow-up.

by Susan Marlow – 18 May 2020

Each morning now after more than three months of restriction and isolation I wake up feeling constricted.  As I come to, a small gasp escapes out of me and I realize I am still here and still isolated.  I feel saddened as I realize this time is all too precious.  I have adapted to this thing we call quarantine and I can continue, but I am not enjoying the isolation as much now.

I grumble my acceptance of this new way of life and stretch my body out on the mattress which we meant to replace months ago when it hit the ten year mark of discomfort.  With no store to shop for it this mattress is condemned to continue servicing me. Then I take a deep breath of recognition that my day has begun.  I thank God for this day.

Since I began in late February I have continued with my gardening and composting.  I have 37 gallons of beautiful, sweet smelling dirt which will soon be ready for my garden.  Meanwhile, I am experimenting with how to grow vegetables from food that we eat by planting the roots and stems.  I have a big tub of bright green tubers growing from bits of potatoes.  No potato famine here at this house.  Come to think of it what does one potato cost?  No matter . . . this is my victory garden.

The wall surrounding our pool equipment has been painted bright blue.  The dog has had his hair cut a little- oh lucky pooch.  My hair continues to grow like corn stalks sticking out every which way after the hay is collected into mounds,.  Nothing to be done about that. I was already white haired before our quarantine began so I do not have to see one color disappear slowly in an awkward manner.

I am beginning to book zoom meets on my calendar—some back to back.  It’s like being back at work with appointments to keep.  Two zooms are for Funerals and one is for sitting Shiva.   Today I will exercise with ladies in Woodstock, New York via zoom.  The next birthday zoom is for someone who turns 100. Life and death continue.

During my long period of study and introspection I have come across two items which tell the story of how others, also restricted and far more deprived, nevertheless found ways to cope with fear, death, and massive loss of personal freedom,  They too have left remembrances of a once impossibly difficult time in our not-too-distant past. From these little keepsakes we see the human spirit is quite resilient and forever hopeful.

The first is a delicate small fan, not unlike a cocktail fan, known by the name of a Wagasa.  Look closely and you will see a familiar character; the symbol of Camel cigarettes. These delicate little fans were created using the only spare items available-in this case cigarette packages. It took great patience and a fine delicate handwork to create one of these. Even though it now resembles a little mai tai cocktail fan it has far more to say to us. Behind the stark wooden walls of an internment camp in the desert an unknown  human spirit lived and created such beauty with whatever they had at hand while they patiently waited to see if their lives would, at some unknown point, resume and in what manner.

Japanese Umbrella
A Miniature Wagasa (Umbrella) made of Camel Cigarette Packs, Toothpicks, and thread

I also invite you to look at a tiny deck of cards, pictured below. Each one hand inscribed and beautifully drawn by my father during a perilous escape from Nazi Europe to Palestine, which was a beacon of safety and promise to Jews. This was a working deck of cards created from mini cigarette packages available during WWII.  You can see a handwritten inscription in Latin on just one card, the Ace of Spades, Athlit, November 13, 1940.  It is a poem and prayer by Horace, the Roman poet.

By then my father had been on that boat between 9-12 months. Those desperate souls were left on board a Turkish coal ship for many, many months.  This was not a passenger ship. The bathrooms consisted of “walking the plank” and squatting out over the ocean in full view.  There were no private rooms, just a large open space for coal storage.  The “rooms” were created by internal scaffolding.  This was an exodus boat headed to Israel carrying 2300 Jews from all corners of Europe.  Perhaps they would be allowed to land or perhaps they would be turned back—like the St. Louis—to almost certain death. Meanwhile, those on board this boat waited and played cards together with a deck constructed of Chesterfield, Pall Mall, or Lucky Strikes packages patiently collected and artfully created. They waited as we wait.

So I look around and begin to think, what will I leave behind during this time of Covid19 to show my family that, while this isolation may seem like forever, it is actually far less.  I try to embrace this time of waiting.  I try not to think of the time as lost to me.  It is my personal journey yes, but without the cigarettes!


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