HUGO- DYING WITH DIGNITY

In 1999, Carol and I asked our travel agent to send us to someplace cheap and warm during a bad winter cold spell. She sent us to Puerto Vallarta, on the Pacific side of Mexico. We stayed at a resort called El Camino Real for that year and met up with some Texas folks who asked us to go see a time share presentation.

If you have never gone to one of those, don’t in the future. They say that they take 90 minutes and you get a free breakfast and all kind of other goodies. Nay Nay, I say. You do get the breakfast and nothing else but high pressure and a feeling that if you don’t buy the time share, god will punish you forever.

The presentation at Costa Vida, one of the oldest time shares in Puerto Vallarta was not at all this way. Hugo D’Alba, a slim man with both Spanish, Mexican and Russian heritage was calm and almost perfunctory in his way of telling us about the place. He showed us around, gave us no victuals and actually sold us on the place by not selling it.

We eventually bought three weeks at a pretty low price and have been going down there since 2000. We have befriended Hugo and his family, son Alexei and daughter Irina in all of that time. We even had Alexei come and stay with us last winter and toured him around with one of our McKelvey Scholars and a young man from Australia. We had a ball in Washington and New York.

Hugo has become a good friend of ours. When we get down to Puerto Vallarta, he is always one of our stops and dinners. He has since moved on from Costa Vida, now called Costa Sur and Playa Del Sol and more recently Howard Johnson. He works for friends of his, Gil and Lucy who have kind of a curio shop in town. They take care of Hugo’s health insurance and pay him a decent wage for that area. Hugo loves the sales aspect and the people who come in.

A few years ago, Hugo’s wife left him. She was finishing her studies at law school in Guadalahara and became involved with one of the professors. They have since divorced. Irina lives with her mother while she goes to school there. Alexei goes to technical college in Puerto Vallarta. He is a bright, nice looking, well spoken young man of twenty one. You can’t help but like him.

At the end of September, we got an email from Alexei telling us that Hugo has been diagnosed with lung cancer and had only months to live. Hugo had been a smoker for many years, but had quit fourteen years ago. The health care system in Mexico is not to be believed. Upon his first coughing fits in June, he was transported to Guadalahara Hospital in a 1953 Chevy station wagon on a plank. He had a biopsy with no sedative and waited 30 days to get the results of the biopsy.

Hugo is presently taking chemotherapy and some drugs ( HGH, I think) not available in the U.S. Carol and I went down to see Hugo last week. He is gaunt and colorless. He still stands upright and is his marvelous self. He still refers to himself as a heretic (religiously) and has his great sense of humor. We took him to dinner, to Costco to buy him some stuff and make sure that he has enough money for his immediate needs. He does not whimper nor complain about his condition. He believes that he is showing his children how to die with dignity. We admire you Hugo and are saddened by the eventuality of your condition, but we know that you really are achieving your aim- dying with dignity.

CAIN AND ABEL

With Herman Cain rising in the political world, some of the headlines remind us of the story of Cain and Abel in Genesis. I am sure you have seen the headlines, “Is Cain Able?” Actually, the story is pretty short. Eve conceives Cain first and then Abel. Cain is a tiller of the soil and Abel is a herdsman of sheep. Each brought offerings to God, Abel, his firstlings (whatever that means) and God looked upon them positively and Cain brought fruit of the ground and God had no respect.

God knows that Cain is really pissed off and tells him so. Why is thy countenance wroth and a couple of other goodies? Cain does not seem to answer the lord, but goes out and talks to Abel and then slays him in the field. God then asks Cain where his brother is and Cain says the all time hunching his shoulders, who me? Am I my brother’s keeper? That’s kind of an interesting answer. Is Cain supposed to be his brother’s keeper? Maybe that’s a clue as to what happened

God already knows Abel is dead and tells Cain so (why then did he ask Cain where Abel was and isn’t God omniscient and wouldn’t Cain know that). God places a mark on Cain so that everyone will know him and that they will not do him harm. Cain marries, has children and generally does pretty well for himself.

The story is the about the first murder. In modern times, there would be a complete history of the brothers and their faults and good points. God’s wrath would be brought down on Cain in the form of computer animation. There would be excessive explication of the psychological attributes of the main characters.

As it is, we have no clue about what made God choose Abel’s gifts as worthy and Cain’s as not. Was this another fight between the farmers and the sheepherders or something else? Since there are so few clues about things in the Old Testament, we should understand that the Elohim of the beginning of the torah is a far cry from the Yaweh  and Adonoi of the later texts. This god is pretty rough. Later on he destroys the world by flood, asks Abraham to sacrifice his kid, deceives Isaac so that Jacob gets the inheritance and Esau is screwed and allows Joseph to almost be killed by his brothers and besides this turning Lot’s wire into an ad for Morton’s salt.

This is no forgiving god. He treats Moses rather cruelly and makes Aaron’s boys disappear and has 3000 of the Levites get killed. After all of those references, is there any wonder that he creates a scene where Cain kills Abel because Cain is jealous of his brother. Or, is there some more devious reason? Is god telling us that he portends future events of which we should be aware. See, one guy kills his brother and if that’s not bad enough, the punishment isn’t capital, but a mark that is on you for the rest of your life. That makes me itch.

STAINS ON MY CALLING CARDS

Sometime in the Spring of 1977, prior to the concoction of the Kutztown Area School District budget, I began to think about how we might compare to the other school districts in Berks County. I knew that, in some cases, we were not as wealthy, and in some cases wealthier. I was wondering how I could do a comparison. The state used a complicated formula that came out with a four decimal place number. That would not do for the regular people to understand. I had no desire to stand in front of them explaining some arcane formula.
As I was beating myself up for being so thick, my business manager, Nick Sosik came in and told me about a number of people who had not paid their taxes since 1937. That was 40 years ago.The county had taken no action and the tax obligation was still on the books. It wasn’t but a second to understand that people don’t pay taxes for two reasons- one they are tax cheats, or two they don’t have the money to pay it. It all dawned on me at once. They don’t’ pay because their income is not high enough to allow them the extra dough. It was personal income that you could use to compare school districts and tell what those district’s tax efforts were.
By that time, I was well into my doctoral studies at Lehigh University. I had begun a friendship with Stinson Stroup, who was associated with the university and had been the attorney for the Department of Education under Governor Milton Shapp. He was now a school district solicitor and teaching at Lehigh. Stinson was one of the finest minds that I have ever met. One afternoon in the Asa Packer lunchroom, we invented a way of telling how school districts could be measured against in other on tax effort.
Since computers were not exactly available to us all, the idea of determining these things was put off for a long while. It wasn’t until the early 1980’s that a friend of mine was able to create a map, divided into Pennsylvania’s 501 school districts (there are 500 now). We were able to go back a few years to 1979 and calculate the average income per tax return in those years. You do that by taking all of the tax returns that are filled out in the state and dividing them into the total personal income. In that year the average income was $13.721
The total number of school districts of the 501 that were above the average was 300. The totals below were 201. As you look at the map, it made sense. There were enough places where people were making a decent living, to make a school funding formula that would be fair. It also made for a more stable economic, political and social climate. The malaise of the early 1980’s and the years since then had not set in yet.
As the years went by, I developed maps that showed the difference between 1979 and the following years. Each year was a bit worse than the one before. The dichotomy of personal income in the state was growing dramatically. As a small example ( and a cherry picked statistic), the difference between the poorest and wealthiest school district in 1979 was 35%. The difference in 2009 was close to 900%.
I recently secured the latest map. The results were worse than ever. Now, only 115 school district are above the average and 385 are below (we combined two school districts two years ago). The average income is now $49,910. Do you wonder why there is so much turmoil out there? Just let me show you my calling cards, which I make in to 3×4 posters, which are increasingly stained by tears, and not only mine

CRAWB, THE GYM RAT

Jean Jacques Crawb is a pseudonym that I have been writing under since my freshman year in college. A bunch of us in my fraternity (that is another story), decided that we would invent a word and ask all the brothers, who were freshman, to insert the word in their English 101 class. That used to be the class where you spent the whole year writing things that came back to you encased in red pen corrections.
The fun part was that not one professor noticed the word in any of work that was handed in. I am not sure, but I believe it was over 50 treatises. Since then Crawb has been used as all parts of speech and as a come on for people to join our fraternity. As an ode to Crawb, this writer has used his name as the title of this blog.
Crawb has been going to the gym for about five years here in Harrisburg. His visits have become more frequent recently because of his heart procedure in January. Since there is no set time for him to go, he goes whenever, during the day
Since this is a community center gym, it has other functions such as baby sitting, children play times, organized volleyball games, trainers, classes for young and old and a myriad of other programs. It is normally a very busy place, but there are special times when I find that it is filled.
The morning is such a time. If I should get there by nine o’clock, I can hardly find a parking place. The place is filled with young mothers and very young children. It is interesting to watch each mom and child (ren) go about the activities laid out for them. As I circumnavigate the track in the cavernous gymnasium, I see children that wave and high five me and others who believe that I am the boogeyman and run screaming to their moms.
The mothers dress in many differing costumes. Some come in gym clothing- tights, leotards, shorts and the like. While others arrive in saris and burkas, jackets, coats, going out clothing, jeans and t shirts and assorted other garments. It is a treat to see how many of them get down on the floor to play with their children and others who stand far away and observe their children, as well as others.
The kids are a treat for the eyes. Being a secondary school person, I only had a chance to see young ones with my own children and the pre-school programs that I ran professionally. These are just the cutest little things trying out their newly found muscles and skills. The differences are amazing. If you think all children develop at the same rate, come join me one morning.
The gymnasium is also the home of the basketball players. Most of the youngsters and many of the men are African Americans. Some of them play on college teams and some on high school teams, but most are just there to have some fun. They are generally a very friendly group (other than when they elbow each other when going up for a shot) who don’t mind and old person telling them to square up when they take a jump shot.
Actually, they really don’t mind it at all and ask me if I played ball when I was younger. I tell them that I am so old that “White men could jump when I was playing basketball.” They usually guffaw up a storm and give me a quick pass so that I can take a set shot ( I can’t take a jumper anymore because when I come down, it kills my back).
The weight room is very interesting. There are a great number of treadmills, stationary bicycles, weight machines, weights and these newfangled resistance machines that allow you sit down while you exercise.
The people there are of many differing ages and sorts.There are older folks me who do a modicum of weights, treadmill, dynaflex ( those skiing type machines) and such. The older people are those that seem to be in shape and those who are heading for heart attacks, or just came back from one. They are mostly men, with a sprinkling of women. There is a 65 year old man with a pigtail that comes down to his waist and another fellow, who wears only leather things and seems to sit at a number of machines and do nothing.
Then there are the younger women who get on the treadmill or the dynaflex and stay there for hours on end. They must be in terrific shape. Somehow, most of them are chunky. Does this mean that they go out to the trough ( Country Buffet) right after exercising?
There are also young men who are chiseled. They range from 18 to 35. They are just there to display their bodies to the older women and the younger treadmillers. They take plenty of time between their reps and stand admiring themselves in the mirror that surrounds this room. I must admit that when I lift weights, I also sneak a peek at my triceps (no one else seems to care).
The final group of people are those that just come to talk to those whom they know. They stand by a particular machine expounding on good nutrition and gold fames. They are mostly men ( please don’t be surprised) and they don’t seem to get much done. It’s all in the nutrition with exercise just a minor part of becoming fit, or so say the gym experts.

WHO WANTS TO HEAR ABOUT HISTORY?

I got my head handed to me the other day by a young woman and a man about ten years younger than me. At two separate meetings, I was told, in the same words, “No one wants to hear about history, what happened in the past.” Wow, I thought, all these years of accumulating knowledge is suddenly not worth anything and that I should keep my mouth shut about past happenings.
Not only was my ego shattered (it is usually not that flimsy), but I had to reconsider what I was saying to groups of people and individuals that have not lived through what I have. This discussion usually comes up with Tim Roudebush, the millionaire that created the World War II Museum in Eldred, PA. His dad manufactured bombs there during World War II and this was his payback to the community.
He believes that people are forgetting things about the past that they really should remember. The old movies are not longer watched, Victory at Sea is gone and modern media kind of discards the info except maybe for a film like, “Saving Private Ryan.”
My mind is somewhat at sea with this new way of thinking. As I approach legislators and members of the administration, what is it that I have to sell them? They have certainly forgotten the 10 years that we spent in court suing because of inadequate funding to poor and rural schools (which still exists). What can I point out that would show them where we have been and what things could happen as a result of past legislation and practices.
I see lobbyists for the natural gas companies spending millions of dollars to keep from being taxed, or taxed much. They do not refer to anything that has happened, like destroyed roads, bridges and other infrastructure. They speak about the economic boon to communities as a result of wells being drilled now. I guess now is all there is. The past is of no interest and has nothing to do with what is going on today.
I still think that is a load of “x!@$%&*”

AN OPEN LETTER TO PAGANS

It has become apparent that there seems to be a plethora of news about religion. The news focuses on atheists, agnostics, Scientologists, Christians (excluding the Catholic Church), the Catholic Church, Muslims, Jews Mormons, and so many others. However, there is nothing mentioned of the pagans.
At one time, the world was overrun (literally) by the pagans and their hordes. By the end of the middle Ages, pagans accounted for man Papal Bulls, encyclicals, crusades, and missionaries. The world was evidently overrun by your kind.
Then the tide turned and the other great hordes of religionists tipped the scales in their own favor by either stealth, or outright public relations. No longer were pagans seen as enemies, nor were they. Enemies came in with national states and there was enough animosity to place the pagans way in the background. The foreground was littered by Wars of Roses, Hundred Year Wars, Caliphates, revolutions of one sort or another and violent eruptions of nationalism.
Countries rose and fell, converted and unconverted, lay fallow, rose again and then invented the most insidious thing of all, machines of war. The Chinese brought gunpowder to the world, not for use in firecrackers, but for killing and maiming. Larger engines of war were created so as to be able to stand miles away and hurl things across land and sea.
By the twentieth century, there was little, if no discussion of pagans. Newspapers and later radio, tv and the most modern of appliances, the internet, Ipods and such have no interest in that concept. Philosophers speak of all subjects, but not paganism. Why is that?
In this era of instant news, pagans are not seen as threats. We know that you are there somewhere, but not in obvious places. You are hidden behind trees, in warmer climes, near jungles, in the steppes, wallowing in the swamps, worshiping your animistic gods behind mountains and ice floes. Many believe that your time is long past.
We need a balance in the universe. With the current emphasis on religion, we need you to emerge, as you once did, on the human stage. Your presence will soothe us all, or scare the living stuff out of us. We ask you, “Come out come out, wherever you are.”

McKINLEY IS NOT DEAD

WILLIAM McKINLEY IS NOT DEAD
On September 6, 1901 President William McKinley was visiting the Temple of Music at the Pan American Exhibition in Buffalo, New York. While there, an anarchist (there were many of them around in those days- followers of Bakunin) Leon Czolgosz, shot the President. There were not sufficient medical facilities at that moment and jury rigged lighting were used. The fact that  no proper surgical equipment was available caused the operations to remove the second bullet to be a fatal mistake. So many mistakes were made and yet the President did not die immediately and was later taken to a Buffalo hospital

In the next few days, the President appeared to be recovering nicely. However, that did not last. He was pronounced dead a little over a week later. His last words to his wife were quoted widely. His insistence that he did not need a bodyguard was widely circulated. It was a shame that he did not heed the advice of his advisors.
All this leads one to a conclusion that something is rotten in Denmark. Further reading of the events and contrary quotes from eye witnesses at the time, are very disconcerting. In fact, many people believe that this was a complete hoax and that McKinley was not killed and that he did recover. He was convinced by many of his advisors, not loyal to him, but to his Vice President, Theodore Roosevelt, that he should remain hidden from public view and not seem to recover from his wounds.An announcement would be made that he had died  from gangrene an appropriate time after the event.
McKinley was then convinced that he should not continue to be President and was succeeded by Theodore Roosevelt. McKinley and his wife were spirited away to some unknown part of the country, there to live out their lives in comfort and anonymity. Some say that he retired to a rural area in Pennsylvania near a trout stream Some say he did not stay in the country at all, but was sent to Mexico and protected by the bandit Pancho Villa. It was said that future heavyweight champion, Jack Johnson, training in Mexico met the former President and was sworn to secrecy.
None of these facts have ever surfaced officially. These rumors have finally been codified on the website Liesthatwehavebeentold.com. You will also find much information about President Kennedy ( who is still alive, but in a catatonic state under the White House), the fact that we never landed on the moon, but was more like the picture starring OJ Simpson. Simpson tried to tell his secret to his friends and was then framed by the U.S. Government for the murder of his wife and her friend. He was finally put in jail for attacking people and stealing memorabilia from them.
All of these things can be proven- Area 51 in Roswell and the landing of the first aliens on our planet, the abominable snowman (a Russian experiment gone awry), the real story of the San Francisco earthquake, the Johnstown Flood and the Chicago Fire ( Mrs. O’Leary’s Cow indeed).
We have been fooled for many years and now the truth is beginning to come out and hooray for that.