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Posted by on Mar 27, 2013 in Blog, Personal, Politics, Travel | 7 comments

What I Saw in the Romanian Revolution (Chapter 1)

 

romanian-revolution-1989

I.

A DARK PLACE

The first thing you notice is the darkness.

Romania was a dark place in 1989.  Streetlights shut off at night.  Homes were kept in darkness.  The one and only state-run television station broadcast just a few hours a day.  Light bulbs were limited to 25-watts.  Families turned on gas stoves to stay warm at night because there wasn’t any heat.  Streets were completely deserted in the evening.  Bucharest — Romania’s capital city of 2 million — choked on the poison of diesel fumes and coal dust inciting the ghostly gray haze hanging over the city like an intransigent fog.

And yet for all its bleakness, this was the least of Romania’s problems.

Staring out the window of a silent and nearly empty Lufthansa Airlines flight which had taken off two hours earlier from Frankfurt and was now headed to Bucharest gave me sufficient pause to realize, for the first time, that I’d be stepping out of one world into another.  I’d soon be trading an easy and familiar life for an experience sure to be far more challenging and lesser known.  Leaving what was once called “the free world” to live and work behind the ominous Iron Curtain was the closest thing imaginable, I suppose, to time travel.

Indeed, flying into Bucharest that night was like going back in time.

Of all the old hard-line Communist regimes, aside from Enver Hoxha’s diabolical rule and the subsequent fallout years afterward in Albania, Romania’s situation was the most repressive and dire.  Romania’s longtime ruler, Nicolae Ceausescu had been on the cover of Newsweek magazine weeks earlier, the headline fitly labeling him “The Last Stalinist.”

This dark place was to be my home for the next two years.

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Posted by on Feb 28, 2013 in Blog, Politics, Rants and Raves, Travel | 5 comments

Storming the Castle

 

͍ 

 

This a beautiful place filled with ugly people.

 

If you want to see the spoils of skull-fucking the working class, then come to Palm Beach Island.

Here’s where the rich and famous display their expensive toys — acquired by lying to, stealing from, cheating, and raping the remainder of society.  And if the ornaments to ostentation didn’t come from their own chicanery, they got their goodies the old fashioned way — by inheriting it from mommy and daddy or some dead uncle.  This place is the Fort Knox of assholes.

Royalty does indeed exist in America.  And that’s not meant as a compliment.  Beneath the towering palms, constant sunshine, and gentle ocean breezes lie the realization that this a beautiful place filled with ugly people.

There’s West Palm Beach — and then there’s Palm Beach Island.  The island is more than just geographic.  It’s economic and social, and racial.  This is the parcel of mansions and high-end shops (and about two dozen banks an investment houses) right over the Flagler Memorial Bridge, in between the inter-coastal waterway and the Atlantic Ocean.  West Palm Beach, Palm Beach Gardens, and Boca Raton are slums compared to this place.

Consider my recent trip to the grocery store.  Yeah, there’s actually a supermarket on Palm Beach Island and I had the misfortune to go inside.  Question:  Have you ever seen valet parking at a grocery store?  Seriously, what kind of place has valet parking when you buy a sack of groceries?

 

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I don’t get it.  The parking spaces are 50 feet from the front door.  Plenty of parking.  It would surely take you longer to park and then retrieve your car (waiting for the valet) than to simply walk it like everyone else functioning in the real world.  And this isn’t about old handicapped people with walkers.  The dozen or so cars I saw pull into valet were all driven by jerk-offs who were perfectly capable of walking for themselves.  Which makes me wonder — why are they even doing their own shopping?

But here’s what really frosts my ass.

I don’t despise Palm Beach Society’s snobs simply because they’ve got more money than they can possibly spend in a lifetime.  I despise them because they’re royal assholes.  Fact is, rich people aren’t like this anywhere else in America — and I should know, because I’m fortunate enough to know quite a few very wealthy people.  Some of them even pretend to like me.

Palm Beach Island is a very different kind of rich people and wherever you go, and whatever you do, you’re constantly reminded that you don’t belong here.  This is not a place to make you feel welcome.

The greatest hypocrisy of all is several churches and synagogues amongst the palatial mansions and lush gardens on Palm Beach Island.  The places of worship all look like Ivy League campuses.  Perfectly manicured lawns.  Whitewashed granite.  Hell, you could eat off the floors.

How do these people pray to whatever gods they worship and not feel just a little tinge of guilt?  We’ve all heard the parable about the chances of a rich man getting into heaven being equal to a camel passing through the head of a needle.  Well, there is a shitload of camels living on this island.

If the rich want to rip off all the loot from real working people and live like it’s the Roman reign of Caligula, I suppose that’s an understandable vice so long as you’re consistent in your hedonism.  But don’t rape and pillage the rest of society Monday through Friday, and then tap dance for Jesus and Moses on weekends.

 

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Which brings me to my daily run.  You remember my obsession with running, of course.  Rain or shine, it’s always five miles a day — my physical tariff for eating and drinking whatever I want.

Palm Beach Island has some excellent running paths.  And since I’ve got an hour each day to log my five miles, the trails have been a daily destination the last two weeks.

I feel the need to further explain my harsh assessment of Palm Beach society.  After all, from my hate-filled rants, one could conclude that I’m simply jealous and bitter about all that money and those fancy toys not being mine — which would certainly be true.  I’m jealous as shit.

No.  What finally convinced me this is an entirely different world — a place of true evil — is the unspeakable incivility that exists between human beings in this place.  I’ve run in places all over the world.  Trust me when I tell you that when I run, I’ve come across people from all walks of life.  In my pathways I’ve come across poor Mexicans in South Los Angeles, rich French people in Cannes, middle-class dog walkers in Las Vegas, tourists in Atlantic City, Black street musicians in New Orleans, and so forth and so on.  When I’m running and come across another person, it’s customary to nod, or wave, or even say “hi.”  Not to everyone, especially in a crowd.  But when you’re out in the middle of nowhere, and another person passes, the civil thing to do is acknowledge the other.  It’s called good manners.  It’s called being human.

I don’t have any real scientific data on this, but wherever I’ve traveled virtually everyone follows the common civility code.  But not Palm Beach Island.  Like I said.  This is a very different place.

The first few times it happened, I thought maybe I just came across a few rude rotten apples.  I’d see a person walking by, and either nod or say hi.

Nothing.

No reaction.

Were they deaf?

After about the tenth person over a couple of days did this to me, I began to think in patterns.  So, over the next week or so I actually counted the number of “nice people” versus the number of “assholes.”

Mind you, I came across a wide assortment of locals during my survey.  Some were walking dogs.  Others were talking as couples.  There were women with baby strollers.  There were fellow runners.  There were some cyclists.  This was a cross-section of people.  All rich and all White, of course.  But this was “the local neighborhood.”

Before I get to the actual numbers, I must reveal that these are the kinds of obsessive-compulsive acts that really keep me motivated while running.  The mind wanders.  The body is in pain.  And so conducting a survey on the “ratio of assholes to nice people” was uncomfortably fulfilling.  It kept me going.  It kept me running.  Hell, I think I started to run faster when I saw a live human being nearby, so I could log another test subject in my mental notebook.

Well, over the next week I came across 62 people.  That number might have been higher, but it rained three of the days.

Want to know how many out of the 62 either waved, or said hello, or acknowledged my existence?

17.

Seventeen.  That’s about 1 in 4, or 27 percent.  And some of those were gardeners and maintenance people.  That means 45 people completely ignored the greetings of a stranger.

Think about that for a minute.  Let it sink in.  This was no accident.  I couldn’t have possibly just gotten unlucky and come across all the jerk-offs living on the island, could I?

But the frosting on my hate cake is in the realization that these are the people least likely on the face of the earth to be rude or have any reason not to be nice.  When it comes to success, they all hit the lottery.  They’re the ones that should be the nicest of all!  If I was running through a trailer park, I might understand people being rude.  You know, “Hey, my life sucks — I’m not being nice to anyone!”  I can get that.  But these people have it all!  And they are the rudest fucking pricks on the face of the earth.

Maserati-driving motherfuckers..

*     *     *.

Which brings me to one last story, which happened on my final day here in West Palm Beach.

Today’s run began much like any other.  But about three miles into my trek, I decided to make a detour.  I wanted to feel the ocean.

There’s a famous hotel on Palm Beach Island.  It’s called “The Breakers.”  You can see the entrance to The Breakers in the photo atop this article.  The place looks like a castle.  A fortress.  Rooms run about $700-a-night — and that’s midweek.  Needless to say, I’m not a frequent guest at The Breakers.  Hell, I’m never a guest at The Breakers.  However, I will admit the hotel is appropriately named.  Were I to stay The Breakers, my finances would surely be broken.

I deviate from the usual path and dart across the beach area right in front of The Breakers.  Minding my own business, earphones plugged in, and Van Morrison’s “The Philosopher’s Stone” serenading my every step, I’m oblivious to some apparent signage that supposedly warns “THIS IS PRIVATE PROPERTY.”

I’m not sure what gave me away, the intruder that I was — or know what it was that made me stand out in the crowd.  Maybe it was my $9 shorts or my black high-top tennis shoes with 2,000 miles on the soles, or maybe it was that I was running without a shirt.  Who knows?

But the beach security guard stopped me.

“Can I ask where you’re staying, Sir.”

“Uhhh, I’m staying down the way there, at the uhhh……I’m just trying to run through here and get back to my hotel.”

“This is private property, Sir.  Only our guests are allowed.”

“You mean I can’t even run along the beach here?

“No, Sir.  You have to go back and go around.”

Now, you have to understand.  “Go back” and “go around” means back trailing perhaps a half mile to go around the entire massive complex.  There’s no fucking way I’m retracing my steps.

“I can’t do that.  I’m too tired.  I have to cut through this way.”

“It’s private property, Sir.”

At that point, I started to contemplate my options.  What could this guy do to me?  Chase me down a beach?  That would be quite a sight.  I think I could outrun him.  But he might have a gun.  What risks would I be taking by bailing on his deputy dog ass and just blowing the guy completely off?  I mean, would helicopter gunships appear?

I decided to just be rude and totally ignore the guard, which is easy to do when you’re tired and sweating like a farm animal  My abrupt departure from the conversation set off a few shouts of “Hey, Hey!”  I turned the music headphones on and didn’t even look back.  I have no idea what the security man did or if he called for backup.  But by the time I craned my neck around a couple of minutes later to see, he was long gone and I was way past the property line of The Breakers.

Well, as it turned out — I should have listened to the security man.

There was absolutely no beach access back to the street anywhere for the next half mile.  I ran and ran and ran.  No clearing.

I finally came to an opening.  It looked like my only way out.  It was a path from the beach back onto the street where my rental car was sitting a couple of miles back the other way.  Trouble was, I had to clear three tall cactus plants (see photo below).

I’m a runner.  Not a hurdler.  Doing a Bob Hayes at the 1964 Tokyo Olympics is not in my physical wheelhouse.  But there’s only one way out of this mess and unless I want to retreat and face getting arrested for trespassing and spending a night in the Palm Beach Jail, I’ve got to leap just high enough to clear the razor-sharp cactus needles shaped like alligator teeth.

I approach the angry-looking plants like Evel Knievel planning his moto-strategy to clear three London double-decker buses.

I start running.  I make a mad running dash.  Faster.  Faster.  I leap.

I almost made it.

All but one tender thigh clears the thorny branches.

OOOOOuuuucccccchhhhh.

Don’t worry, I won’t be posting photos of the scar.

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And so, Palm Beach mercifully comes to an end.

I leave this place a little wiser, somewhat more embittered, and an even more dedicated soldier in the economic war I deem the “reversal of fortune.”

And thanks to a cactus plant, I now have the battle scars to prove it.

_____

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Posted by on Jan 22, 2013 in Blog, Politics | 5 comments

What Are Rich People Complaining About?

Rich People

 

Of the millions of Americans who watched President Obama’s sequel inauguration yesterday, one group above all others should be cheering the loudest.

And which group is that?

Poor people?  No.

The middle class?  No.

Blacks?  No.

Try this on for size — rich people.  That’s right, the richest of the rich.

The super rich should be doing back flips right now.

Despite all the ridiculous rhetoric from conservatives, the rich have done exceedingly well during these past four years that President Obama has been in office.  In fact, the rich are doing better now, financially speaking, than ever before.  Rich people are making more money as a percentage of the national economy than even during the best days of former President George W. Bush’s two terms in office.

SEE:  INCOME INEQUALITY WORSE UNDER OBAMA THAN GEORGE W. BUSH

The report cited in the article above serves as an astonishing indictment of President Obama’s “progressive” image and should be a call for political activism to reverse the ceaseless tide of economic policies which consistently favor big corporations, banks, and the wealthiest Americans at the expense of the great majority.

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Posted by on Dec 17, 2012 in Blog, Politics, Restaurant Reviews | 3 comments

You Won’t Believe the Things I Discussed with Dr. Vafa Kamali

Dalla and Kamali
A Dinner Conversation with the Man Making Scientific Discoveries which Could Enable Us to Live Twice as Long, Who Founded the First Anti-Ayatollah Khomeini Movement in the United States, and Was at the Poker Table Where “Puggy” Pearson Once Did the Unthinkable

 

A few months ago, I was enjoying a quiet evening at home, watching television.

On screen was the popular PBS program called “NOVA.” The show is mostly about science and technology and often features cutting-edge breakthroughs in various fields of study.

Imagine my surprise to see someone I knew appearing on the program. I came to discover, he’s one of the world’s foremost experts in the field of genetic engineering. He spoke about scientific advances he and his university research team have achieved which could ultimately enable humans to live as long as 150 years.

That’s right – 150 years.

I’ll tell you more about this shortly.

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Posted by on Dec 11, 2012 in Blog, Politics | 5 comments

Straight Talk on Balancing the Federal Budget

 

photo of us capital in washington

 

(Warning:  Some Excessive Profanity)

 

We are bankrupt.

Actually, that’s not true.  We are 16 trillion dollars beyond being bankrupt.  Trillion — with a “T.”  Think about that for a moment.  Let it sink it.

If you’re not mad as hell yet, then shut the page and go read something else.  Today’s column isn’t for you.

The so-called “fiscal cliff” debate happening in Washington right now underscores the reality that the two-party system has utterly failed us on every level.  Such a perverted system shows no capacity to either compromise, nor govern.  It’s a disgrace to the concept of democracy.  The two parties are fucking America in the ass and we’re all Ned Beatty.

Those of us out of the political mainstream, far removed from the dog and pony show, have been screaming for years that things would eventually come to this.  We foresaw the two major power brokers would eventually reach a stare down and come to what amounts to a political stalemate — where virtually nothing gets accomplished.

The debate goes something like this.  Liberals want to spend more money and expand the role of government.  Conservatives want to make budget cuts and decrease government’s role, opting to shift power to the private sector.

But that’s a gross over-simplification of what’s really happening.  In fact, it’s far more complicated.  There are plenty of government programs liberals would love to slash (you’ll see my list in a moment).  Moreover, many government programs receive their strongest support from conservatives.

The bottom line is — we’re in a crisis.  We have no choice.  Either make drastic cuts.  Or, increase revenues (taxation).  Or both.

Where the two parties fail is in not telling us the truth.  It’s time to level with the American people and simply announce that we all must all make some sacrifices.  Everyone.  We are all in this together.  I know, my socialism is showing again.  But these times demand shared sacrifices.  The sooner this nation is confronted with some kind of honest “fireside chat” moment where our leaders finally level with us, the sooner we can tend to the peoples’ business and get back on financial track.

Here’s my “wish list” of what should be cut (or added) to balance the federal budget:

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