Writings and observations

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Ever think about opening a savings account for your kids or grandkids? Prepare for a coronary.

Times have changed. I have fond recollections of my father marching me down to the Canada Post Office to open a savings account in which to squirrel away a small portion of my monthly newspaper route earnings, seeded by his very generous $5 Christmas gift. I promised to deposit 50 cents into the account every month, learning the virtue of thrift as I watched my money grow.

Every month I did as promised, and watched the postal clerk tote up the balance and hand-enter it into my passbook – but something was haywire. Every now and then, extra pennies were included in the account balance: three here, a nickel there. Confused, I asked the clerk to re-check his arithmetic. “Oh,” he said, “that extra money is the interest you earn on your deposits.”

At the time, the Canada Post was paying around 3 percent per year on simple savings accounts – as were most banks north and south of the border, and the U.S. Post Office as well.

Three cents free money for every dollar you had in there. Pretty cool, the young paperboy thought.

To digress a bit: Yes, you used to be able to open a savings account at the post office in the U.S., Canada and many European and Asian countries. You still can in Vietnam, Japan, Taiwan, Israel, France, Germany, South Korea, India, South Africa, among other places.

(It is, one is certain, just coincidence that the U.S. Post Office closed its 55-year-old savings accounts service in 1966 – the year after LBJ removed silver from U.S. coinage – and that Canada Post closed its 100-year-old savings accounts service in 1968, the same year our northern friends likewise abandoned silver coinage.)

As we said, how times have changed. Five bucks can’t open a savings account in any state or province in North America we’re aware of. Our own bank requires an opening deposit of $25 and pays a staggering 0.01 percent in interest. Additionally, it exacts a $4 monthly “service charge” if one’s balance drops below $3,000 – even for a day.

Under those terms, your minimum $25 deposit would shrink at the rate of $4 per month, leaving you with a $1 balance at the end of six months and $3 underwater at seven months. One’s money is clearly safer under the mattress.

Back when we still young and tossing newspapers off the back of Copper, our chestnut-coloured cutting horse, we didn’t know anything about mortgages, compound interest, or any of that other adult stuff.

Looking to history, however, we learn that while the banks and post offices were paying 3 percent interest on savings accounts, the banks and government agencies like FHA and the VA were charging twice that rate – 6 percent – for 30-year fixed-rate home mortgages. That’s a 100 percent mark-up. A grocery store owner should be so flush.

It’s gotten much better for banks these days and much worse for us in the intervening 55 years since we first started in the newspaper business.

Nowadays and with stellar credit, one can obtain a 30-year fixed-rate mortgage for 4 percent from a lender which is meanwhile paying a wholesale price of 0.01 percent for its “raw material,” that is, the cost of its savings deposits. That’s a 40,000 percent mark-up, not the seemingly extravagant (but in hindsight niggardly) 100 percent mark-up typical of 1960.

Surely there is an economist who can explain to us why this cavernous difference between 100 percent and 40,000 percent exists without needing such words as “larceny” or “criminal,” or busting out laughing at our naivety – or at least explain to us why opening a savings account is such a speedy way to go broke.

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Apple Inc.,
c/o General Delivery
Cupertino, California

Dear Apple:

We have gone through our biennial wireless contract renewal with Verizon, and in process decided to upgrade our coal-powered 4s iPhones to the less-obsolete pellet-burning iPhone 6s. This we were able to accomplish without great expense by promising to consign our great-great-grandchildren to a Verizon contract.

Verizon’s service has been for the most part reliable, being the only cell-phone carrier to operate seamlessly during Hurricanes Katrina and Wilma in Florida and Louisiana, and during fire, flood, snow and heat in northern Idaho. “I can’t get a signal,” is a frequent whine of the urban-dwelling tourist visiting Wallace. “Here, use this. It even works at the back of the bar,” we say as we hand them ours.

We’re also umbilical-corded to Verizon by virtue of its virtual phone book. Who wants to hand-transfer 1,200 contacts to another carrier?

That said, the most disagreeable aspect of the “upgrade” is Apple, Inc.’s insistence that it redesign, for every iteration of the iPhone, the bloody charging jack. That $160 you’ve got invested in cords and wall and car chargers from the last time you bought a new phone? Worthless, all because of a two-bit jack.

Maybe Apple makes its trillions by engineering into its phones this no-backward-compatibility feature. There’s certainly precedent for it. Every time Apple does a major operating system upgrade, the iMac you’ve been happily using is rendered suddenly an unsupported boat-anchor.

There are five pin-outs on each end of a micro-USB cable. You only need two to charge the damn battery (plus and minus, just like a car), and those DC charging connections can carry a totally unrelated alternating current signal on top of the charging current. That leaves three pin-outs for whatever nefarious uses Cupertino has in mind.

C’mon guys, I know there’s been a drought down your way but torturing your international clientele with new incompatible connectors isn’t the way to make it rain.

Quit jacking us around.

Sincerely,
Bill Gates

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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s massive spill of arsenic-laden contaminants into Colorado’s Animas River (literally, from the Spanish, River of Souls) a week ago has all the makings of a slow-speed softball pitched at this relentless critic of EPA’s hubris, bullying and unscientific bullshite.

The EPA has distinguished itself as a great general contractor when it comes to moving gigantic piles of dirt from one place to another – but that’s about it, at least as regards the mining cleanups it has attempted.

Too, too easy to swing at that softball. Instead, I am going to feel EPA’s pain.

Somebody there in EPA’s Durango operation screwed up. It might’ve been an engineer, a surveyor, an historian or even just the poor back-hoe operator who breached a tailings dam and set loose 3 million gallons of crud into the Animas River, which pollution has now spread to New Mexico, Arizona, Utah and the Navajo Nation.

EPA either lied about, or flat didn’t know, the spectacular dimensions of their spill, first claiming it was 1 million gallons a day after the event, then copping to 3 million days later. I expect that number to rise as the slide rules come out to calculate the true volume of the tailings pond they busted. I’m guessing that they didn’t lie, they were just slow to grasp the situation. Gee, who hasn’t been there?

It would be easy to call for the hangin’ judge here. Hoist the bastards on their own petard.

Instead, I would prefer that EPA take a lesson from this. Mining companies screw up, as do oil companies, as does anyone in the risky business of providing the resources to fuel western civilization. They most times don’t bust tailings dams for profit. Somebody just goofed. It’s human nature.

Is punishment due? Perhaps, but not on a grand scale. So, EPA, you who have been so skillful at playing the blame game and beating mining companies into bankruptcy for simple screw-ups, take a good hard look in the mirror.

EPA, I feel your pain. Perhaps now you can feel ours.

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Bond DAVID
BOND

 
Rant

Collectively, we American homeowners and business owners owe the banksters about $13.2 trillion in debt. This includes the $10 trillion owed by people living in single-family homes.

This, in a banking system that charges 7 percent compound interest on money it pays no interest on. Since we cannot divide by zero, let’s pretend the banksters are paying 1 percent to the U.S. Fed. That’s a 700 percent mark-up.

Would you tolerate such a mark-up on a refrigerator, or a new truck or snow-machine? Of course not. But those of us locked into mortgages just have to buck it up.

And if the banksters drive your neighbour out of his home because of a lost job in this Great Recovery, watch these criminals drive your own property value down.

The banksters don’t shovel the walks of these empty houses. They won’t mow the lawns. They will not shovel the rooftops. They will let the pipes freeze to blow out in late winter. Their repossessed houses stink.

Truth be told, I’d rather have a couple of gang-bangers living next door to me than a Wells Fargo- or Chase Manhattan-owned house. At least the crankers shovel their sidewalks, even if it’s at 3 a.m. with the boom-box pounding.

I got a lot of life’s lessons from an old Indian gentleman I crewed with on the Nanaimo Harbour Patrol. Gilly could lasso a loose log from a boom off the fan-tail with one hand while he hand-rolled a ciggie with the other in pouring rain. In rough weather when he wasn’t sure I was competent to keep the ship stable, he consigned me to make the coffee. This, to him, was an important drill. One burp, every 15 seconds, on the percolator over the ship’s stove, no more, no less. Which meant holding the percolator at just the right height over the stove.

“Keep it in the pants,” Gilly would say, with his hand-rolled cigarette hanging out of one side of his crinkled lips. He was talking about woman issues, viz Lysistrata, the ancient Greek comedy written by Aristophenes, wherein the women kept their flies zipped up until the men quit going to war.

Being all of 14 years old, I didn’t have Gilly’s wisdom nor that much curiosity about girls. I liked boats better. But I got his point.

“Keep it in the pants.”

What if we went on a mortgage strike? Just quit, en masse, making payments for one month. What are the banksters going to do with 10 million homes and businesses they have on the hook? Maybe they could sell them back to us at their actual market value, or at least start mowing the lawn.

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Bond DAVID
BOND

 
Rant

My father, Richard Milton Bond, slipped the hook this morning. Had he lived another month he would have been 94 but given his failing health, I would not have wished that on him.

The whole family, even we kids, called him Dickie and he never minded. He had a raucous laugh, an even greater sense of humour and greater than that, a spirit for adventure and a disdain for bullshite.

He had a pilot’s heart and a disdain for common thinking. Linus Pauling taught him freshman chemistry at Cal-Tech, whence he transferred with the V-12 program to Berkeley, where he met my late mother, Patty, while both were on the student council.

Our family started in Santa Barbara, where Dickie got his advanced flying tickets on the GI Bill, then moved to Philadelphia where he worked for Ingersoll, the company that made Mickey Mouse watches (amongst many more important things), then to Great Falls, then Spokane, where he built our house, then back to San Francisco.

He found himself unwillingly embroiled in the California politics of Edmund G. Brown (Jerry’s dad) at the Calor Gas Co. and took his fledgling family to the unknown town of Nanaimo, British Columbia, where he assumed the manager’s job of the Vancouver Island Gas Company at a severe cut in pay and opportunity. This, all by the time I was six years old.

Vi-Gas, as it was known, was a marvel. It took barged-in natural gas from the Vancouver mainland, re-compressed it and shot it out through the local pipelines. One of Dickie’s goals had been to build a gas pipeline from the mainland to the island, but the B.C. government, socialist at the time, wasn’t having any of it unless one of its cronies could come up with an alternative. Nobody did.

But watching that gas plant with its giant turbines and pumps was a great joy to a little kid – plus there was a blackberry patch outside to die for in late summers.

Dickie taught me my love of flying. He had grown up on Stearmans and had access to, at various times, a Cessna 170, Cessna 180, Piper Comanche, and later, a Lake LA-4 amphibian, and he would always let me drive. Needless to say I dashed to flight school at a certain legal age. He also taught us how to drive boats and water ski at high speeds.

He was a stern son-of-a-gun, too, Marine that he was. Discipline was no further away than his fraternity paddle – which endured an untimely death when younger-brother Marc and I found where he hid it, and took it down to the beach over an open fire.

He laughed like crazy over our stunt, but promptly cut another one, used it, and it remains hidden to this day.

When we returned to Spokane in my mid-teens, Dickie gave Tom Foley a run for his money for the U.S. Congress in 1968. We lost by a nickle, it was a nasty close race on both sides, but Foley had the kind grace to appoint brother Marc to the Air Force Academy a few years later. Dickie later served a dozen years in the Washington State Legislature, so not too bad of a finish, all the way around.

What else can you say about a Dad who gave you a Huck Finn childhood? In our early years in Nanaimo we didn’t live fancy; powdered milk and rice puffs for breakfast, a two-mile hike to school and bologna for lunch. It didn’t seem odd or poor to us. In fact, it seemed like a great life to we little kids. We had a beach and hot-dogs. What more could a little kid need?

Perhaps there is another thing. When last we saw each other 18 months ago in Anchorage, we had a good chuckle over memories and I got to thank him for being a great Dad, and he told me he loved me. That’s hard for a Marine to do. So maybe, just maybe, have the same conversation with your parents, before it’s too late.

Dickie, Semper Fi. You were one helluva Dad.

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Bond DAVID
BOND

 
Rant

It has been six months since a failed California carpenter,who has been hustling for public office in Shoshone County since the day he arrived, terminated my print newspaper career, aided and abetted by a clerk-typist. This, after more than 40 good years in the game exposing crooked people, ranting and raving, and other fun duties.

I never saw this sucker-punch coming and it still hurts and bleeds, and every day and night it makes me wonder if I deserved all the national, regional and state awards I have received from my peers. Oddly, I hold the son of the California carpenter, and the spouse of the clerk-typist, in high regard.

But whither?

Where will truth be spoken to power in our town? Who will give voice to an exhausted miner or a wrung-out Walmart clerk? The unions cannot do it; they’ve shot themselves in the foot, padded their executives’ pockets and looted pension funds too many times.

Indeed, whither?

In my naivety, I believed newspapers would carry this load. They have not and will not. This is not about me. There are many far greater journos than I, but they’re not working in the trade anymore, either. We are unemployable. ‘You want the truth? You can’t handle the truth.” Lousy movie but a great line.

Again, whither?

Print is dead, and it’s the only trade I’ve ever known. There is nothing like watching a block-long Goss or Cleveland press roll to a halt and the pressmen re-plate Page One at 11 o’clock at night with your story, the one you knew would rock the town and toss some bums out of office, and watch that baby fire back up.

The party is over. That’s not a newspaper you’re picking off the front porch in the morning, fuelled by the fire of young men and women who actually gave a damn about your town. It is a revenue-seeking device, counting upon your ignorance and absence of curiosity.

Once again, whither?

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Bond DAVID
BOND

 
Rant

Is this bugging anybody else?

The “news” networks devoted hours this week to the 50th anniversary of the Selma-to-Montgomery voting rights march, and devoted not one second to the 70th anniversary of the liberation, by the Russians, of the Auschwitz Nazi death camp, also this week.

This comment is not meant to belittle the courage and righteousness of the Selma marchers, or to whitewash the atrocities committed by the cops and racists on Pettus Bridge in Alabama.

Watching the Selma events on a grainy black-and-white TV from the comfort of Canada, I wondered what kind of a goofy country that place

(Nevermind that we gentle Canadians kept Natives and Chinese in their own ghettos in the 1950s; we never talked about such indelicate matters in grade-school. We just fretted about what the Yanks were up to.)

Selma resulted in one death, that of Jimmie Lee Jackson, shot in the back by a state trooper.

In Auschwitz, or by its Polish name Oświęcim, 1.1 million people were murdered by gas, starvation, exhaustion, bullets and other means

between 1942 and 1944. Not one person as in Selma: one million and one hundred thousand people — a population about the size of Dallas

or San Diego. Ninety percent of them were Jews.

I’ve never been to Auschwitz nor do I care to, but once during a visit to Munich I ventured out to Dachau, which was the small-scale training model for the larger Nazi death camps to follow and killed a mere 32,000 during its 10-year run. Jews, Russians, homosexuals and

Jehovah’s Witnesses comprised the casualties.

I was struck by how pretty it was: green grass, luscious flowers, nice, orderly brick-work buildings in a temperate climate. Just the place to take your family on holiday.

Dachau was where the Nazis perfected the gas chambers and ovens for Auschwitz.

By all means, if you’re ever in Munich, go see Dachau. It looks so, gosh, normal.

Six or seven murders of civil rights proponents in this country in the 1950s and 1960s changed our whole way of thinking. We saw racism, from cops to bumpkins, at its naked worst.

Why do not six or seven million murders just 20 years earlier, also racially based, get our attention as well?

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Bond DAVID
BOND

 
Rant

T.S. Elliot, the great English poet, said in his epic The Waste Land, that April is the cruelest month. Being born in April, I have to wonder if he was right about that. March strikes me as crueler.

(A caveat to March. It was the month my wonderful mother was born until a few Octobers ago took her away from me.)

But March this year also marks the sixth month I have been banished from publishing in Hagadonia, even for free. I wrote for free, for years, just to give a voice to the miners up here – men and women too exhausted at the end of a long shift to put words to paper, but articulate nevertheless. All I did was take notes.

The miners and timbermen create the fat-cat economy people in Coeur d’Alene and Spokane and Seattle and Missoula enjoy. Burn up the saw-mills, pull down the headframes, your need to drive metal cars and live in wood houses prevails.

Coeur d’Alene offends me.

Rather than restore the fine old steamships that used to ply the lake, they burned them to the Plimsols and let them sink, to much hurrah. Louise Shadduck, a dearly-departed friend, wept. When Hagadonia acquired the Elizabeth, New Jersey, Daily Journal, one of its first moves was to haul 200 years’ worth of newspaper archives to the garbage dump. This action against New Jersey’s oldest newspaper led to a strike nobody wanted. I was there.

Whither history, then? From where comes the voice of the working man making history right now? Or is the working class beneath and above them an embarrassment to the putters at the Coeur d’Alene Resort?

On to my dearly-departed Mother. Patty was her name. She was graduated Phi Beta Kappa from the University of California, but as a kid all I knew was that she could stuff 50 kids into a 1955 station wagon and take us anywhere. She was a community organizer in the real, not presidential sense. She led me to believe that reading good books was the best thing I could do, and she helped me through the flash-cards we had to do for arithmetic.

Mom hosted a University Women’s meeting every Wednesday at our house on Vancouver Island, and I would sneak down the stairs to listen to these elegant ladies discuss nuclear disarmament, Nevil Shute’s “On the Beach,” Ike’s deals with Tito and Kru. Mom turned me on to writers like Norman Maclean. She never quit giving.

We talked every week, up until the time she died. Her ending is too horrible to write about. Imagine a great big beached fish, flopping about on a hospital bed, unaware, and having to pull the plugs out of your best friend.

She gave me a love of literature, from sitting on her lap and reading Dickens, to some great authors and poets in later years that she sent me.

Enough of that. I am crying. And enough of Hagadonia. They wouldn’t get it.

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Bond DAVID
BOND

 
Rant

Dear Friends,

Please don’t, anymore, anyone, on FaceBook or in person, approach me with an article idea for the local newspaper.
I do not work for the Shoshone News-Press and never have. I can’t help you. There is nothing I can do for you.

Whilst laying on a death-bed three years ago at Kootenai, I did propose to then-editor Dan Drewry that I might start penning a column about What Went Wrong. It would be an attempt to correct our vision.

Our shared thought was that there are three types of news, and all were wrong, and that you cannot average them. It was that old Einstein thing; you could plant your butt on a flaming-hot stove, and stick your feet into a bucket of ice. On average, you’re comfortable. So much for averaging.

Seemed like a good idea, if you’ve sucked enough morphine and oxygen, to just try to get to the bottom of things. Our deal was, he kicked down a gallon of maple syrup every year from his family’s farm, and I would write as I pleased. No editing (save for typos); take it or leave it. Dan, sumbitch that he can be, never broke that contract. (A newspaperman who can keep his word is one worthy of knowing.)

The Haw-haw news you get from KHQ or KXLY or KREM where everybody leaves the news desk giggling, even if a comet bigger than Jupiter just smacked one-fifth of the planet away and knocked it into Outer Space, film at 11. Ha-ha, great weather tomorrow, look at somebody saving this nice cow. Then at 5:30 is the corporate CBS/NC/ABC news, where Scott Pelly repeats what was on Drudge the day before, but with a pro-Obama White House spin.

Then comes 6 p.m. Let us review:

5 p.m. Local Ha-ha news. (That comet will be cute in the night skies. Tee-hee.)

5:30 Network corporate news. (This network is assured by the Administration that no Islamists were involved in this comet attack.)

6 p.m.: Government News (which is PBS). Gwen Ifill declares, “We are screwed.”

I’ll take Gwen over every other hack in this business. And she works for the government news!

Meantime, and to wrap this up: I am not a contributor (for free or compensation) to the local newspaper. If you’ve got a personal problem, better buy an ad.

That is the new business model for newspapers, and it works. Every competitive newspaper I’ve ever fought for has failed. Salem, Seattle, Anchorage, Wallace, and a few others. There is honour in losing a good fight. Suck up to the advertisers, spin their thing, tell your staff that the price of Jet-A is just too much and he cannot afford to give you a Christmas turkey, and you might win a free boat. Not for this writer.

There are wounded Steelworkers, Iron Workers, hard-rock miners, loggers, beaten-up wives and state-hounded unemployed husbands, and the just-plain-screwed who need newspapers to give them a voice. Whence will their voices come?

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