Howard Zinn (1922-2010)

Howard Zinn died yesterday.

I saw Howard Zinn speak on a couple of occasions. He could best be described as unpretentious and modest. Yet he spoke truth to power based on his considerable experience helping workers organize.

Zinn was raised in a working class family and fought in World War II as a bombardier. After the war he worked his way through college and earned a doctorate in history. He became an influential civil rights activist and peace activist. He had a deep understanding of society and the skewed distribution of both power and wealth. He wrote the popular book A People’s History of the United States. He remained an optimist about human progress to his dieing day.

Here is a recent interview of Howard Zinn by Bill Moyers done on December 11, 2009.

Part 2 of the interview of Howard Zinn by Bill Moyers
Part 3 of the interview of Howard Zinn by Bill Moyers

Howard Zinn is the author of The People Speak, a recent documentary with many actors contributing to portray the voices of those who have struggled to improve the foundations of our society.

Street Accordionist Plays Vivaldi

There should to be a way to put money into his hat over the internet!

But who is this guy?

Years ago I saw a PBS documentary about a professional orchestra. There is a scene where orchestra members happen by a guy sitting on the sidewalk, I think in a Metro station. The guy was just sitting in a lotus position against the wall, head bowed, only his hands moving. He is sitting there, playing Vivaldi’s Four Seasons like there’s no tomorrow. Just whaling away on that magic box. The juxtaposition of these professional musicians watching this street musician modestly making magic as others walk past. The music bigger than everything around it. It was very moving.

I had tried to find out who he was a few times with no success. So the other day I got curious again and searched YouTube for accordion players playing Vivaldi and found the above video.

But this video did not identify the artist! I had to know if this was the same guy I had seen years previously on the PBS documentary.

I was determined. I searched on [orchestra career documentary violinist accordion vivaldi “four seasons”]. That landed me at a blog entry in Neil’s Journal that talks about the documentary “Music From the Inside Out” (2003) and singles out the scene with the accordion player. The blog pointed to a YouTube video of that person playing Bach. It was a different video than the one I had found but the street musician looked very much like the same guy. It identified him as Ruslan Slinko. I carefully compared the videos and am sure this is Ruslan Slinko.

Other YouTube video of Ruslan Slinko playing Bach:

Thanks to YouTube and the Web, I found out who the accordion player was who had moved me so long ago. And now I know where to go to see him perform live and put money into his hat.

Thom Hartmann on Illegal Immigration

This morning, January 8, 2010, on the Thom Hartmann show (1150 AM Los Angeles), Thom joined the throngs of those who believe that illegal immigrants “dilute” the work force. Essentially he is saying that illegal immigrants are a drain on the economy.

I think the opposite is true. Anyone who works and works hard for a wage is what is good about our world and our economy. The illegal immigrants are by and large hard working people who provide value to the economy. Shame on those who criticize them or would deny them the ability to work. If the complaint is that they work for low wages then the answer for that is to raise the wages, not condemn the worker.

Thom Hartmann seems to be making the assumption that there are only so many jobs to go around and, hence, illegal immigrants take jobs away from those who are here legally. That premise is flawed. An economy is the activity of people working. If there are more people working the economy is bigger. Double the population, you double the economy, all else being equal. 100 million people are going to do about twice the amount of work and consume twice as much as 50 million people. It is just plain common sense. As the population increases, so does consumption and overall economic activity. So the influx of immigrants, legal or illegal, does not harm the economy.

If you really believe Thom’s line of reasoning, then why stop with illegal immigrants or, for that matter, legal immigrants? What about children? Shouldn’t it be illegal to have children because they will “dilute” the work force a few years down the line? Perhaps children should be illegal too.

Or how about just requiring some people to emmigrate, making more jobs for those who remain? It’s logical, according to Thom’s reasoning.

I believe that the illegal immigration scare is a red herring, a scape goat, a distraction based on prejudice and false reasoning.

Let’s examine some of the real reasons we have problems in our ecomony.

What about outsourcing jobs?

If you object to outsourcing based on the belief that jobs are exported so that we cannot provide jobs for everyone and, hence, illegal immigrants gobble up some of the few jobs remaining, wouldn’t you be better off criticizing the concept of outsourcing? How about investing right here in the U.S. and create jobs here? And if the private sector, meaning the small minority of the oligarchy that controls the private sector, is too greedy to invest here in the U.S. because their profits will be less, that means the private sector is failing the overall economy. It is doing wonders for the wealthy, and has been doing so since Ronald Reagan. But don’t confuse the wealthy or overall GDP with the economy. If overall GDP has gone up but been distributed by the private sector to only the most wealthy in the population, the private sector has failed.

All those pundits who dislike government and say that the private sector is the answer are wrong. Instead, the government should, for example, nationalize the banks. Why should anyone, much less a banker, receive millions of dollars a year for shuffling money? Yes, there is some skill required in determining who is credit worthy and what loans should be made in risky environments. And there should be room for high risk venture capital. But banks. No, sorry, if some simple rules requiring ample reserves and down payments, and good credit scores were to be put into effect, then a nationalized bank system with high paid (low six figure) employees would do a fine job of operating the business of keeping the cash flowing. Give me a break. The only reason that isn’t done that way is because banks are now private and there are incredible fortunes being made by the owners of the banks who control the money flow.

Speaking of owners, consider land lords. What function does a land lord provide? They manage property. That’s fine and is worth a moderate (below six figure) salary. Otherwise, what are land lords creating? What are land lords adding to the economy? How many shops on Main Street go out of business because they cannot afford the rent? How many residential landlords have their mortgages paid by their renters?

I think we should figure out a system so that everyone would be entitled to own part of the land they live on as their primary residence. Some day, when we are further from the caveman stage than we are now, it will be seen as ludicrous that a time existed where some humans were “lords” over others, especially as regards the land the others lived on.

There are many positions in our economy where compensation is based on fame, inheritance, stock ownership, position in an old boys network, and other forms of power all of which are not directly related to the amount of work being done by the recipient or even to the quality of that work, if any work is involved at all. Yet this system is accepted by seemingly everyone and what gets complained about is how illegal immigrants are diluting the work force. When I see an add on TV for some medicine that is supposed to help alleviate my elderly mothers arthritis pain, I wonder how much of GDP went into making that add, figuring out the cute name for the drug, and creating the marketing campaign to sell it. All for profit when a well-informed doctor who keeps up with the latest bulletins on drug therapies would be a better and much more cost effective method of delivering that drug to my mother.

Yet the thing conservatives complain about, and many liberals as well, is illegal immigration.

Illegal immimgrants, legal immigrants, and, equally importantly, normal working people are contributing to the economy by virtue of doing work, creating things, building things, and using the money they make to keep the overall economy going, including the compensation of bankers and land lords and others who benefit from their work product.

The drain caused by illegal immigration, if there is a drain, is the wasted money spent on law enforcement in trying to track down illegal immigrants, spent in the legal system and penal system in incarcerating illegal immigrants, and the income lost due to the underground economy created as a consequence.

Legalize all of the illegal immigrants. Make them full fledged citizens who will pay social security tax, income tax, and participate in the society fully. Let’s concentrate on letting people who want to work, work.

Control the borders, within reason. But be very liberal in allowing those in who are able to find work. Provide a good minimum wage and enforce that minimum wage. The result will be a happier more productive economy.

For more information about Thom Hartmann, who is one of the more intelligent radio talk show hosts currently on the air, see However, be warned, he is plain wrong on the topic of illegal immigration.

Letter to President Obama

Dear President Obama,

You should return the Nobel Peace Prize. I now believe that novel “1984” is true. “War is Peace” – that was your message. You must have a hard time sleeping Mr Bush. Woops I get confused. Who is in the white house.

You spoke of “the world as it is” and threw a cloak of justification over the grisly escalation in Afghanistan by insisting that “war is sometimes necessary” – but generalities do nothing to mitigate the horrors of war being endured by others.

You gave the world a pro-war speech. The context instantly turned the speech’s insights into flackery for more war.

Your general who is running the US war effort in Afghanistan spoke to a Congressional committee in Washington about your recent pledge to begin withdrawal of US troops in July 2011. “I don’t believe that is a deadline at all,” Stanley McChrystal said.

Actual policy always, in the real world, profoundly trumps even the best rhetoric.

War is not peace. It never has been. It never will be.

You had the chance to be great. But your are not. You are the Washington consesus in person. A company flack.

Return the Nobel. Let them give it to someone who deserves it.

4. Back through the revolving door

Chapter 4 in a series on mental illness.

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It is starting all over again. It’s like a bad dream. It is defeating. I attended my brother’s court hearing today and want to comment on how I feel. How the system is broken.

[Note: Elsewhere see excerpt’s of Tony Allard’s writing about his own mental illness .]

The entire morning was for servicing the homeless. The judge, who I was told would not be his trial judge, seemed to be acting more as a clerk, issuing edicts to the litany of homeless defendants who were parading through the court this morning prior to my brother’s appearance. His decisions were delivered in a monotone script-like sequence of statements. He seldom looked up to see who he was issuing his edicts to.

The judge and clerks and attorneys all dressed in nice suits. The defendants were all disheveled in prison garb or tatters, hair unkempt, one being told that she could no longer sleep near the California Incline.

Then it was my brother’s turn.

The system is converting my brother, who suffers from mental illness, into a criminal. And, surely in my brother’s mind, pitting him against me and me against him.

This morning, he refused to enter the court room since I was there. So his public defender pleaded not guilty on his behalf to his having violated a restraining order I have filed against him.

His next court date is a pre-trial hearing on September 29, three weeks from now.

So, after having just been released from six months in jail after being sentenced to time served on a charge of assault and battery for what was really being delusional, grabbing a woman’s purse, throwing it on the ground and walking away, one week later he is back in jail and awaiting another trial.

He is back through the revolving door.

The system is broken. It presupposes that my brother is able to make his own decisions in his interest. He is not able to do that.

During his one week of “freedom” he was homeless. He showed up at midnight at an ex-girl friend and was asked to leave. He spent one night sleeping in the back of a pick up truck of an old friend who called the police on him. He went barefoot after throwing away the shoes I had given him, and evidently spent all of his money I had returned to him, most likely gambling it away.

During all his recent times in courts his mental illness was not considered and, in jail, barely, if at all, treated. He is kept isolation most of the time and given some meds, which he claims he does not take. It must be torture for him, that lonliness.

The system is broken. In most respects he is treated legally as a threat to society and a criminal or suspect and not as a person with a severe health problem requiring treatment.

It is pathetic. Here in America. Where we spend $1 Trillion per year more then necessary to enrich health insurance company executives and stock holders and operate a provably inefficient system.

Do you wonder why I or other friend’s of my brother do not offer him housing? It is because he is acting like a raving maniac. We have all been pushed to the brink. We have lives of our own to deal with. Life becomes intolerable when Tony is raging against everything and everyone. I am practically the only person left trying to get him some help and the system will not let me do that since it imputes rationality to Tony and expects him to ask for help. So, another homeless mentally ill person is the result.

The hearing today was for a violation of my restraining order issued last March after my brother had made threatening remarks about our mother’s care givers. I do not believe he will carry through on the threats but I cannot take a chance since his illness makes him irrational. And, by having the restraining order, I have one legal way to make the system take him into custody, in the hope that will lead to his getting treatment.

But that hope too seems futile.

I went to the hearing equipped with a letter for the judge and attorneys. The Public Defender, Kimberley Green accepted my letter. The DA did not seem very interested in it and successfully argued that my brother remain in custody by citing my brother’s growing record of arrests and convictions, not mentioning his mental illness. The public defender did tell the judge that mental illness was an issue. The judge isn’t the judge who will hear the case, so there was no point in giving the letter to him.

The letter was a summary of my bother’s history and a recommendation, really just an expression of hope, that he be treated again at Harbor UCLA hospital, where the staff is willing to pursue a conservatorship.

Three weeks from now I will attend his next hearing and give the letter to the trial judge, if that is permitted. Maybe it won’t be permitted. I may not have a legal right to help my brother.

And I am tired, so tired of this.

One ray of hope for my brother, not that he would view it that way, is based on a phone call I received from Jose Colon, who was his public defender in the purse grabbing case. Mr. Colon seemed to indicate to me that if my brother were conserved, the state appointed guardian would have the legal ability to choose to house my brother in a lock down facility were that necessary. At this point, after twenty three years of this, and with my brother increasingly unwilling to take his meds, that seems like the only hope there may be for him to survive.

[ story continued: excerpt’s of Tony Allard’s writing about his own mental illness .]

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3. Not guilty, so now what?

Chapter 3 in a series on mental illness.

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The system is brutal. The courts and the laws support the view that mentally ill people should be free to suffer from their illness and not receive treatment. The entire trial of my brother was a piece of theater with the judge, lawyers, witnesses, and jury all playing their part in a farcical charade. The system failed.

The following video interview with my brother shows him in the state he was one day after being released from jail.

[Note: Elsewhere see excerpts of Tony Allard’s writing about his own mental illness .]

Tony was released Sunday. I saw him Monday. Here is the story…

During my bothers trial, the fact of his mental illness was not mentioned. There was no testimony about his history of mental illness and no information provided to the jury about his condition. Instead, the public defender, Jose Colon, chose to treat the case by defending against the charge of robbery, arguing that there was no intent to deprive the victim of property. The judge had issued instructions that my brother could be found guilty on lesser charges and Jose Colon admitted to the jury that those lesser charges could apply to the act committed.

In the end, the jury agreed.

My brother was found not guilty on the charge of felony robbery but found guilty on two lesser charges of misdemeanor assault and battery. The verdicts were rendered on Friday, August 28, 2009 at about 11 AM.

After the jury was excused, the defense agreed to immediate sentencing.

My brother was sentenced to six months time served.

The recommendation I had prepared for the judge was a moot point now. I never had a chance to provide that letter to the judge. It would have asked her to consider his mental illness in deciding on a sentence and asked that, some how, some way, my brother be put into a treatment program to receive care for his illness. Nothing in my letter, none of his history of mental illness, was so much as mentioned during the trial.

So Tony was a free man. He is back on the street. However, it took two days for the prison system to release him. He wasn’t actually released until yesterday, Sunday, about 48 hours after being found not guilty and sentenced to time served.

About an hour ago he showed up at my home, bare foot, dirty, and I believe somewhat manic. He asked if he could take a bath. He’s doing that now as I write. I just wanted to get my thoughts down as I decide how to proceed in my relationship with my brother.

He has some money that I have kept for him and will give back to him. But I am not going to provide housing for him. I can’t do that anymore, at least not this time, not now, until, somehow, he proves himself able to remain stable and not go off his meds and become the obnoxious nuisance he can be when off his meds.

I am willing to take him to a shelter or drive him to a hotel or room somewhere.

He needs some kind of supervised environment but he’s not going to get it from the system and I can’t provide it. I’ve tried before and it doesn’t work.

Tony’s getting out of the bath. I am making some coffee and am going to talk with him now.

After his bath he also washed his clothes, the only ones he has, using my washing machine and dryer. The conversation I had with him is not your normal kind of conversation. My brother tends to free associate during conversations and does what I believe is jump from thought to thought and remain at a shallow level of understanding of whatever topic is being discussed. He has a good memory for names, dates, and events mixed with his delusional interpretation of what goes on his life.

I asked why it had taken two days after he was found not guilty for the jail to release him from custody. He told me that the jail was understaffed since many sheriffs were called away to help evacuate neighborhoods near the La Canada brush fire raging near by. But inmates who are in the psych ward have to be given an exit interview before being released. So it took two days for the release process to occur.

While we waited for his clothes to dry in my dryer, he went out into my yard to smoke a cigarette. I took that time to talk a bit with him then went to the bank to get about half of his money I had held for him. Part of me did not want to give him money that he may as likely gamble away. But part of me wants nothing more to do with him and to just tell him “here, take your money, go away, I can’t see you any more.”.

I asked him if I could interview him on video and he consented. I recorded two video interviews with him. I have placed the shorter of the two interviews with my brother on YouTube. You could entitle the video “Everyone is a Mason”, since my brother labels many of the people he comes in contact with as Masons, some sect he believes controls the world and, in particular, has been involved in monitoring his thoughts. Or maybe its not the Masons, per se, that monitor his thoughts according to him. But he told me that some dental work he had done over twenty years ago resulted in implants in his mouth that are used to monitor his thoughts and transmit them. For example, he believes that one time when in jail, his thoughts were monitored and retransmitted over the public address system. He told me that today, his first full day in freedom after being found not guilty of robbery and guilty of assault for an act he did in snatching a woman’s purse when, in fact, the act was that of a mentally ill person who had been off his antipsychotic medicine and was delusional. He told me that the Armenian women whose purse he grabbed is a mason. I asked him how he could tell that was the case at the time he saw her at the bus stop before he grabbed her purse. He responded that it became evident from her testimony in court. I attended the entire trial and there was at no time anything in her testimony other than a simple description of a man accosting her and physically wresting her purse away from her and making her afraid. Tony told me that her testimony in court confirmed what he has intuited at the bus stop. I have this all on video and plan to replay it for Tony at some point in the future if and when he is more stable to see if it will in any way enable him to reflect on his own delusional behavior.

He talked of his girl friend of twenty five years ago, who lives in Paris, and how he spoke with her by phone and plans to visit her. He talked of his more recent girl friend who he was with for seven years during the 1990s and how she had “saved his life.” Tony, so lonely now, so unable to see his condition and want the help he needs to be able to survive.

In brief, my brother, who showed up this morning bare foot and dirty, has just spent six months in L.A. County Twin Towers Correctional Facility and been convicted of assault and battery for an act that was done while off his meds and delusional. Two full weeks of court time were spent involving a judge, public defender, deputy district attorney, court clerk, court secretary, forty pre-trial jurors of which fourteen were selected as jurors and two alternates, and various other court house staff, and the police, two of whom took a half day for testimony. None of this effort and expense has helped my brother or helped society in any way. It may conform to Scientology and arch conservative and other selfish stupid people’s views of how society should deal with mental illness, but it represents a total failure of reason and of our system.

Tony’s pattern is likely to continue. After interviewing him, I asked him to leave and not come back for some time, because I cannot help him and do not want me or people I know to become the next victims of his delusions. I even refused to answer questions he had about some of my friends when he tried to remember their names or where-abouts or activities. I think he is just trying to include them into his delusional framework so I protect them and myself by not giving him that information.

I provided him with his now cleaned clothing and also some shoes I had purchased for him during his court appearance (although the court sheriffs did not let him wear the shoes in court — he had to just use his jail sandals). At least now he has shoes and clean socks.

I completed the video interview. It went on for about 45 minutes. By the end I was convinced Tony is either not taking his medicine or it is not the right medicine. At times he states he is taking 20mg of Aripiprazole (generic for the product marketed as Abilify). Abilify is not abilitating my bother, no matter how clever the name or how much money the pharmaceutical company is making selling it under that name. Or maybe, as my bother claims in the interview, he was just “cheeking” his meds and not really taking them during his stay in the TTCF psychiatric ward.

We had talked about going to have lunch. But after the interview I was no longer in the mood to be with my brother. It was late in the afternoon by then and I have a day of work ahead of me yet to do. Intuitively Tony knew it was time to go.

Then Tony reached out to hug me before leaving. I was startled at first, not sure what motion he was making. Then I hugged him. I think he gets very few hugs in his life these days.

It is a sad fact that he is likely to remain or become more delusional, go off his meds if he is not already off them, and get into trouble with the law again. I know he does not want to go back to jail. But his mind is not well and, unless somehow he takes and continues to take antipsychotic medicine, he will surely slip up and act in some way that leads back to that horrible environment in spite of it all.

If the pattern repeats, as it surely will, Tony will commit some act of vandelism or harass someone and end up back in the jail system. In the mean time he is likely to gamble away his money and end up homeless.

I feel defeated. Like everything is back to square zero. No progress has been made. I am sad for my brother, who is lost in his self-created world, utterly unable to perceive reality and think rationally.

The court system and, at a larger level, the entire legal and medical apparatus of our society, seems utterly unable to provide the correct measures to help both my brother and society cope with the mental illness that afflicts him and, in very real sense, all of us. The situation is absurd.

UPDATE (three days later, September 2, 2009): Tony hauled in again for observation

Tony showed up at my place this morning. I had come back from breakfast to meet my Spanish tutor, who had just arrived. Tony was also sitting out on my deck. He was basically off his rocker. Any attempt at rational conversation with him was futile as his responses were a litany of vituperative vitriol against everyone he knows and doesn’t know. I told him that I could not help him and asked him to leave. There was nothing I could do for him. Or was there?

I have a restraining order for him on file from earlier in the year when he made verbal threats against our elderly mother’s care givers (she lives in an assisted living home in another town). I told Tony about the restraining order and that I could use that to have him arrested. I did not wish to do that but it could be a measure of last resort. He replied that I should call the police. I think he wanted me to call the police. It was his way of asking for help.

I called the Santa Monica police homeless unit. Tony went out to the front of the house and at first I thought he was leaving. Instead, he was pacing up and down on the sidewalk, talking to himself. I went out to talk with him and gave him some water, which he accepted. I asked him where he slept the previous night and he said he hadn’t slept. I asked him where his shoes were and he said they didn’t fit so he threw them away. He used very ugly language as he raved about some neighbors who are gay and used clang speech such as saying “Djew know that” to mean “Did you know that” combined with the word “Jew” expressing his antisemitic complex. That is just one example of a long string of incoherent speech he uttered, combined with some coherent replies such as when I said I would get him some more water, he replied “OK”.

It was as if he wanted to be taken to a hospital. He said more than one time, “I don’t want to do this any more” or something to that effect.

Three policemen arrived about twenty minutes later. They handcuffed him but were gentle in their questioning, asking him if he wanted to hurt himself. “No” he replied. And if he wanted to hurt anyone else. He replied, “No, not anymore than I hurt.”

I briefed the officers on his recent and past history. Each time officers are involved with Tony, it is a new cast of characters and they are starting from square zero. However, they suggested they take him to Harbor UCLA, which was good, since that is where he received care in January. The staff there is familiar with Tony and they had started a process of obtaining a conservatorship for Tony before the Mental Health Court threw him back out on the street. Maybe this time the court will be wiser. This is assuming they have the resources to hold him and agree to proceed with that process again. I have already left a message with the staff expressing my hope they will do so and that I will provide whatever information is needed to assist with that process.

UPDATE (September 3, 2009): My wake up call

I got a call early this morning from Paul, an old friend of Tony..

He found Tony sleeping in the back of his pick up truck this morning.
That’s right. Tony must not have been admitted by UCLA Harbor hospital yesterday, where he had been taken by the Santa Monica police.

Tony “presents” well. The ER must have determined he was not sufficiently crazy to be admitted to their psych ward.

Paul is concerned about his 90 year old parents and about his apartment building, thinking Tony will show up at one of those places. From talking with Paul it is clear to me that he likes Tony but has grown weary of Tony. Paul mentioned that when he saw Tony there earlier in the year he had considered getting his gun out of its box. And, he keeps a baseball bat next to his door. So, yes, he likes the sane Tony, but he is very very tired of Tony’s crazy behavior.

I advised Paul to call the Van Nuys police and ask them to call me so I can give them more background.

I called Harbor UCLA hospital and was transferred to someone who I think works in the ER. She was not permitted to give me any information about anyone. The gal I was talking to said it was a “patients rights” issue. I mentioned that really it was giving rights to the mental illness and not to the patient. She did not understand. You would think someone who works with the mentally ill would understand that point.

Anyway, I told her not to take this personally. And I asked if there was some way I could pre-brief the ER about my brother. He’ll be back. They’ll see him again. He’s been there several times in his life. Matt Wells, social worker in the psych ward, *wants* Tony to be admitted.

She told me I’d have to talk with someone there when Tony was already there.

Later I will try to call the ER again and speak with the attending physician. Good luck Dennis.

I then called Matt Wells, the social worker in the psych ward of Harbor UCLA. He is a very good guy. Matt told me that the ER is a different unit than the psych ward and that the ER will often not admit someone. The goal of the ER is to not admit people. They are swamped so to some extent that is understandable.

But Matt wants to see Tony back there so we can continue to pursue the conservatorship and get him treatment he needs. I know Matt by now and in January had talked at length with him during Tony’s stay there. Matt will help. We just need to get Tony into Harbor UCLA.

I asked Matt if he could have a word with the ER intake. He said it is not easy. It’s really a different world, but that he will talk to some techs he knows. They can informally put the word out.

Next time Tony goes to Harbor I am going to drive down there myself and provide information to the intake doctors.

UPDATE (September 4, 2009): Tony shows up and is arrested

I got an early start today at 7AM, trying to have a normal day of work.

At about 10 AM I hear Tony shouting my name. “Dennis, I want the rest of my money back, you fag thief”, or some such. I am not gay so am not sure why Tony is calling me a fag. I think he is calling people fags now instead of masons, or maybe both. Anyway, he was screaming loudly although staying toward the front of my deck and not approaching me.

I call 911. I am trying to talk to Tony and the 911 operator at the same time so the operator asks me to go back inside so he can hear me. I ask if someone is rolling and the answer is yes someone is already there. I look out and see that a SMPD motorcycle cop has arrived and taken Tony out to the front street. Within a few minutes an armada of Santa Monica police vehicles is out in front of my place. A large SUV and two patrol cars. I walk out to the street and talk with officier Rinski who had taken Tony to Harbor two days earlier. Tim Jackman, chief of police is on the scene. I know him from my volunteer work with a neighborhood association. Officer Rynski informs me that someone fitting Tony’s description had approached a doctor at St. John’s hospital earlier that morning and at arms length picked the doctor up by his shirt and lifted him off the ground. The doctor, who is about my size (six feet, 175 pounds) was not hurt but had felt helpless. Assuming it was my brother accosting the doctor, this is the first time I have known my brother to be physically violent. He’s getting worse. This is not good. It never was good.

I make a case to officer Rynski to take Tony to Harbor, but now, later, on second thought, why bother? First of all, Tony was arrested this morning for violating a restraining order I have on him. That is different than just being hauled in for a psychiatric evaluation. And Harbor UCLA proved itself inadequate to access the situation and does not even talk to its own psych ward about admission, so the decision by Rynski to take Tony into custody in Santa Monica makes sense.

Tony bumped things a notch up if he was violent this morning. I will continue to contact the SMPD liaison officers and do what I can to see that Tony does not cycle through another useless criminal trial in lieu of getting placed into some kind of treatment program.

UPDATE (September 5, 2009): Tony in S.M. Jail awaiting hearing on Wednesday

I called the SMPD this morning, who informed me that Tony is being held in the Santa Monica jail awaiting a hearing next Tuesday (but a police web site indicates Wednesday).

I think the hearing will be for violating my restraining order.

The court date and address on the web site is shown as:

Next Court Date: 09/09/2009
Next Court Time: 0830
Court Address: 11701 S. LA CIENEGA BLVD.

So, now what?

Does the system just recycle my brother once again through the jail?

Is it my responsibility to advocate for my brother?

If not me, who? He won’t advocate for himself.

The system does everything in its power to prevent treating him and even makes it difficult for me, the surrogate advocate, to obtain information or to provide information.

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[Note: Elsewhere see excerpt’s of Tony Allard’s writing about his own mental illness .]

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What happened to "We Can"?

i’m not going to join a boycott wholefoods, just yet anyway

i did write about it here

but i’ve been perusing the blogosphere to see if an uprising is taking place

one isn’t. this is just another fad, a misdirection of well-intentioned energy

[wait a second, there are now unions urging the boycott – ed. Aug27, 2009]

Some who-knows-whos set up a facebook page and sign up 20,000+ fans for a boycott

what does that say? who are these people? why did i sign?

i realized something this morning.

i realized that the party who was elected on a slogan of “We Can” cannot.

if all we have in our society and culture is an anarchy of bloggers talking to each other with no organization on a large scale – i’m talking about unions or the democratic party – entities that have mind share and not just some ad hoc committee that springs up on the spur of the moment – we will not make progress

anarchy is wonderful when it works.

has it ever worked? name a time.

the fact is, the democratic party is letting us down – they are wimps – they should be leading us toward single payer system and they are not

that says something about the democratic party, it says something about our culture, and it says something about us

Whole Foods, to boycott or not to boycott, a response to CEO John Mackey

Whole Foods is run by John Mackey, a typical Libertarian Ayn Rand fan. A rich promoter for the U.S. oligarchy. Mr. Mackey spouted off in a Wall Street Journal Editorial of August 11, 2009

Mackey begins with a quote from Margaret Thatcher: “The problem with socialism is that eventually you run out of other people’s money.”.

The problem with that quote is that “The problem with Capitalism is that eventually a small number of people have everyone else’s money” (you can quote me on that).

Factoid: Cuba has twice as many doctors per capita and a lower infant mortality rate than the United States.

Since the publication last week of the WSJ editorial by John Mackey, a spontaneous uprising to boycott Whole Foods has taken place. I am not sure if I support the boycott yet or not, although if a boycott really gets going and embodies a statement to the oligarchy of what change is needed, I will get behind it. [ed. – I did not join the boycott for reasons I explain here]

I surveyed the top links via Google about the Whole Foods Boycott, including positions opposing it. At the end of this column, I provide a small list of some links I found interesting.

First,let us examine each of the eight points made by CEO Mackey in his WSJ article:

•  Mckey: Remove the legal obstacles that slow the creation of high-deductible health insurance plans and health savings accounts (HSAs). The combination of high-deductible health insurance and HSAs is one solution that could solve many of our health-care problems. For example, Whole Foods Market pays 100% of the premiums for all our team members who work 30 hours or more per week (about 89% of all team members) for our high-deductible health-insurance plan. We also provide up to $1,800 per year in additional health-care dollars through deposits into employees’ Personal Wellness Accounts to spend as they choose on their own health and wellness.

Money not spent in one year rolls over to the next and grows over time. Our team members therefore spend their own health-care dollars until the annual deductible is covered (about $2,500) and the insurance plan kicks in. This creates incentives to spend the first $2,500 more carefully. Our plan’s costs are much lower than typical health insurance, while providing a very high degree of worker satisfaction.

My take: Whole Food’s employees limit their spending on health care for fear they will need more in future years. People should not be forced to ration their own health care. When they need care they should get it. And health care is not like a commodity or good that one purchases for the “lowest cost”. Health care is not like buying a TV or a car or a toaster. It is a necessity of life. Sure, cosmetic surgery should not be covered by socialized medicine (even though it is in Venezuela in many cases, for example). But all basic health care should be covered and not be a reason for profit.

•  Mckey: Equalize the tax laws so that employer-provided health insurance and individually owned health insurance have the same tax benefits. Now employer health insurance benefits are fully tax deductible, but individual health insurance is not. This is unfair.

My take: Simplify the hell out of the entire accounting quagmire that is health care and provide a simplified single-payer system. THAT would be fair and remove the flow of vast profits to a small number of wealthy oligarchs who own the current system of insurance.

• Mckey:  Repeal all state laws which prevent insurance companies from competing across state lines. We should all have the legal right to purchase health insurance from any insurance company in any state and we should be able use that insurance wherever we live. Health insurance should be portable.

My take: Obviously a single-payer or public health care option would provide that feature, but at much less overhead cost than the Balkanized state of mega-health care corporations (sick care corporations, to borrow a friend’s term) that would dominate in Mackey’s world.

• Mckey:  Repeal government mandates regarding what insurance companies must cover. These mandates have increased the cost of health insurance by billions of dollars. What is insured and what is not insured should be determined by individual customer preferences and not through special-interest lobbying.

My take: Hogwash. Just as we have standards for delivery of food, water, and other necessities, and are now hopefully going to install more regulation on how multi-millionaire hedge fund managers twitter away money keeping a cut for themselves even when they lose money, the U.S. Government, which I am proud to support, should be highly regulative of what health care must be provided, starting with making it so that all people in the country receive it to start out with.

•  Mckey: Enact tort reform to end the ruinous lawsuits that force doctors to pay insurance costs of hundreds of thousands of dollars per year. These costs are passed back to us through much higher prices for health care.

My take: Malpractice lawsuits only account for about 1% of the health care GDP. It is a non-issue. Better would be to cap the amount that lawyers can make on such lawsuits and provide a national reserve fund to cover the costs. Doctors should not have to pay for either their education, an administrative staff, or liability insurance. All of that can be immensely simplified by a single-payer or public health system. Doctors who screw up should be sanctioned by peer-review boards and, in egregious cases, have their license to practice removed.

•  Mckey: Make costs transparent so that consumers understand what health-care treatments cost. How many people know the total cost of their last doctor’s visit and how that total breaks down? What other goods or services do we buy without knowing how much they will cost us?

My take: Again, health care is, by and large, not comparable to buying a shirt or picking a car. The vast majority of health care costs are either relatively low cost preventative measures, which would be facilitated by a zero-cost-per-service single payer system or are necessary interventions for disease or injury. Mackeys argument is specious.

•  Mckey: Enact Medicare reform. We need to face up to the actuarial fact that Medicare is heading towards bankruptcy and enact reforms that create greater patient empowerment, choice and responsibility.

My take: Medicare is a success. We need to increase taxes now on very high income earners who are taking more than twice the income they took in during the Reagan years so would not miss it, but I would argue that we also will save so much by firing all of the current Insurance company executives and removing profit from the system that the savings will pay off. Are you telling me that France, Germany, Cuba, and Canada, all who have life expectancies rivaling or exceeding the U.S. and health care costs that are less than half don’t get it? It is the U.S. that does not get it. Wake up America.

•  Mckey: Finally, revise tax forms to make it easier for individuals to make a voluntary, tax-deductible donation to help the millions of people who have no insurance and aren’t covered by Medicare, Medicaid or the State Children’s Health Insurance Program.

My take: Revise tax forms to have nothing to do with voluntary contributions and eliminate all together private insurance company forms.

Last year, Greenspan had the honesty to admit that some of the premises he had been operating upon based on Libertarian principles seemed to have been invalid. Perhaps it is now time to turn the screws on others in the Oligarchy, starting with John Mackey. To wit, many people in the netsphere are proposing to boycott Mackey’s company, Whole Foods.

But is that fair? What about the employees of Whole Foods? That is a classic argument used to oppose strikes but, also, that should be used to favor unionization en masse, so that all workers strike in solidarity with one another. In the United States we are far from having such unanimity or ubiquitousness of union efforts. Still a boycott makes a statement.

Below are some links to points of view and places you can sign up if you favor a boycott.

A San Francisco businessman argues for the Boycott
A Whole Foods employee questions the usefulness of a boycott

Some in-the-trench progressives favor the boycott and pro-union efforts was started to support boycott. They have a Facebook page you can join.

Single Payer Action supports the boycott

2. My mentally ill brother is scheduled for trial

Chapter 2 in a series on mental illness.

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[Note: this article includes excerpts of Tony Allard’s writing about his own mental illness.]

Today, in court, Tony was deemed competent to stand trial. So, even though he was delusional when he took a woman’s purse, threw it to the ground and walked off without out taking anything or harming anyone, next Tuesday, August 23, 2009, he goes on trial on a charge of felony robbery. He faces a sentence of up to 17 years in prison, since he has one strike on his record for a prior conviction of stalking. In short, although what my brother and society needs, is for him to be treated for a mental illness, he may end up serving time in prison.

Tony, who was diagnosed as paranoid schizophrenic twenty three years ago, refused to agree that he was mentally ill for the first twenty of those years.  In recent years he was able to gain explicit “insight” (as it is called) into his condition.  Yet, when he goes off his medications, he seems to lapse into a state of delusion and resents me for using those words to describe his condition.  And I can’t say that I blame him.  Although he has a condition that makes him different than “normal” people, it also causes him to be more bluntly honest about the world and what he sees as wrong in the world than most normal people ever dare to be.  I have learned much from his blunt honesty in those periods.

When Tony is on his meds, he seems as normal as you and I. Many of his friends think he is one of the most brilliant people they know. They find his presence enjoyable. He is insightful, writes and speaks articulately and insightfully, and is fun to be around. He is a good video editor and has produced very creative works. He has worked in Hollywood as a machinist for our brother Eric, who does special effects. Yet Eric will no longer hire him in recent years since Tony becomes paranoid and does not fit in at the work place.

Because Tony goes off his meds, his condition prevents him from fitting into society or maintaining a steady job in spite of his ardent desire to be normal and have a job and be part of what normal people do.  It is a contradiction.  His condition is not “normal” and his behavior becomes obnoxious. He comes to believe he is well and goes off his medications. Yet his desire to be normal is prevented by his going off his medication.

He has never hurt anyone physically but he is six foot four, weighs 230 pounds, and goes into raging tirades so can be very intimidating. He has targeted many individuals, including some very well known personalities (including Blase Bonpane, Michael Miner, Susan Block, and Steven Spielberg’s mother) and numerous other people, including me, our 91 year old mother’s care givers, and some of his friends.  He has delusions about people that he expresses in writing or in phone calls to the point that people take out restraining order against him.  In one case, he made so many harassing phone calls to a certain personality’s office that they filed charges of stalking which resulted in a felony conviction.  Tony ended up spending nearly two years at Atascadero State Mental Hospital.  That hospital stay helped him.  Upon leaving the hospital he was very stable, very rational, and appeared to many as if he had been “cured”.  Were you to meet him you would think he was a totally normal highly intelligent person and quite likable.  His release was some three years ago.

Unfortunately, his “cure” was short lived.  Twice since his release he went off his meds and ended up being kicked out of his living place.  First time from a one bedroom apartment where he was living on his own in Korea town, then the next time from an apartment where his roommates ended up having to lock him out to retain their own sanity.  It was after this most recent eviction that he became homeless and committed the alleged crime for which he will go on trial next week.

I have been attending the pre-trial hearings.  In a way, I, his brother, have become his case manager.  I will report here on the trial when it happens next week.  In the meantime, I had wanted to provide a letter to the judge in the trial, Teri Schwartz. However, I learned from the public defender, Jose Colon, that the judge will not accept information from sources outside the context of the trail, i.e. not from either the public defender or the district attorney.  The purpose of my letter is to present the point of view that Tony had a mental illness and that the charge of robbery and a subsequent incarceration is not a good substitute for the medical treatment he requires.  Since it was not possible to provide the letter to the court at this time, I am choosing to publish it here in a public forum.  I will let it speak for itself.

Re: Case GA07600501

Honorable Teri Schwartz
Pasadena Superior Court
Pasadena, CA

Dear Judge Schwartz:

I am the brother of George Anthony Allard, Tony to his friends, who has a mental illness yet is in your court on a charge of felony robbery for an act that any normal person would not describe as robbery. While delusional, he snatched an old ladies purse, threw it to the ground and walked away. For this act he is facing up to 17 years in prison.

Tony was first diagnosed with Paranoid Schizophrenia in 1985. Since you are the presiding judge in his case on a felony charge of robbery, I write to bring to your attention facts and history that should bear upon the case and for which I am in the best position to provide relevant details, since I have been acting as his de facto case manager in recent years.

Whatever the letter of the law, the interest of justice is surely served by bringing facts and positions to light that would otherwise remain unknown. I have been witness to legal proceedings involving my brother for many years. So, although I am aware, as a lay person, that a system of prosecution and defense exists to convey information to the court, I feel compelled to provide information and a point of view often not adequately considered in trials where mental illness is, or should be, a predominant factor.

My brother Tony faces a second strike felony conviction of robbery. Yet at the time of the alleged crime he was delusional. Tony had gone off his meds four months prior to the alleged robbery, resulting in a number of 5150s and a 5250 stay at Harbor UCLA Psychiatric ward. I had been discussing Tony’s condition in detail with social worker Matt Wells and Dr. Walker of Harbor UCLA and exploring the idea of placing Tony under a state controlled conservatorship. The preliminary steps toward a conservatorship were starting to fall into place. Then, on February 13, 2009, Judge Melissa Widdifield of the Los Angeles Mental Health Court found “for” Tony and denied a request by the psychiatrists and social workers at Harbor UCLA to keep him for further observation. Tony was, ipso facto, released, i.e. put back out on the street. He was quite delusional at the time. He had told me a few days before that he was, indeed, an agent working for the FBI. Upon his release to “freedom”, he immediately proceeded to Hollywood Park race track where he gambled away whatever money he had and remained homeless. The alleged robbery in Glendale occurred nine days later, on February 22.

There are times when Tony is taking his meds and is highly functional. There are times where he is just recently back on them or a new medicine and is able to “present well”, which was the case before the Mental Health Court and very possibly before your court. And there are times where he is off his meds and is completely delusional. When in a functional state, he has written about his own condition and history.

The following excerpts from my brother Tony Allard’s writings are illuminating…

I thought that I was world famous, and that everybody in the hospital, doctors, nurses, and patients alike, were all talking about me all of the time. This was and is not unusual for me, at that time, and even to some extent to this day, for when I am or have been at work or at play on the outside, I have and have had similar delusions. Everybody, wherever I go, is or was preoccupied with me. Glorious me. Oh the delusion. It is hard for me to even think about those days anymore, when the delusions where as concrete as a freeway overpass, but now that I have been stabilized on meds for several years it is not the same. However, the delusions are never that far from my consciousness. Even to this day, whether I’m on the bus or in a restaurant, in a crowded theater or in traffic driving on the street, I often have delusions that people nearby are talking about me in a tangential way. I don’t think I’ll ever really get beyond it, it’s so deeply ingrained in my consciousness, but I can hope, and I can and must and do just ignore those thoughts. What else can I do, after all, because I cannot just stop my thinking processes. I have a constant inner dialogue, like everybody else, only mine is skewed with some elements of fantasy that make it scary sometimes to just be me. Because intermingled with those delusions that people are talking about me, I sometimes also think that they are saying that I will be killed by so and so, an old friend of mine or someone else, or that I will end up committing suicide. These thoughts are not my own and they are not somebody else’s. I don’t know where they are from, but I do know that the medication that I am on now, Risperdal, make such thoughts much less prevalent in my thinking. But they are always there. I guess it’s probably like someone who has been raped or has been through a war zone and has Post Traumatic Stress syndrome. I don’t know, but I don’t like it, and I only know that I have to live with it for now, and hope that some day these thoughts just fade away and stop coming back. But after more than 20 years, I doubt that they will ever go away completely. It is probably a lot like an insomniac who, despite his best efforts and the best medications, every night must face the same dilemma of going to sleep. Only in my case, it’s not sleep that won’t come, it’s just simple peace of mind.

o o o

I would have constant delusions while working or off of work about people “talking about me” and I would just have to ignore my ears. Sometimes, I just resorted to wearing foam ear plugs so that I couldn’t hear conversations near me second hand and suffer the fears that resulted from my psychotic misinterpretations of what people were saying. .I don’t know how common it is for bi-polar patients to have such delusions, but I had them. I was diagnosed at that point as Psychotic Disorder NOS (Not Otherwise Specified). That had come after years of a Paranoid Schizophrenic diagnosis, but I believe that my Psychiatrist, Thomas Carter, thought that I was too high functioning to be considered truly Schizophrenic. Whatever it was, it wasn’t fun. My social life was still somewhat active, and I would, as I’ve said, just ignore my aberrant thoughts and pretend that everything was fine. Many people, from that time of my life, have told me that I must be a very good liar, because it was never apparent to those friends and acquaintances that I was having constant delusions during that period. Of course you learn to lie when you are mentally ill, because if you don’t, you cannot function in a “normal” life.

o o o

At some point around New Years Day, 2004, I decided again to stop taking my meds. As I rationalized it, I was not drinking alcohol or smoking marijuana, or taking any other drugs, and besides, as is common among mentally ill people, I was feeling fine because I was on Risperdal and consequently deluded myself into believing that I was no longer mentally ill. (If I were to say the one biggest problems, for me at least, and I know for many other if not most of the mentally ill, is coming to terms with the fact that your illness is permanent and requires lifelong treatment with psychotropic medication.) Consequently, my mental condition started to deteriorate rapidly. I started to suspect people were “talking about me” again and had several persistent delusions relating to some old acquaintances and my belief that I was a Special Agent for the FBI. My brother Dennis, who had seen me deteriorate in a similar manner several times in the past, noticed my deterioration, but I lied to him and assured him that I was still taking my meds.


The above excerpts indicate not only an ability on the part of my brother to be rational and write coherently, in sharp contrast to much of his writings and poems in a large opus of documents I have compiled (and can make available to the court), they also constitute an admission by Tony that he lies to hide his illness or being off his meds.

Tony may be “competent to stand trial”. But beware. The mental illness he is afflicted with is, to use an analogy, like a computer virus that takes over a computer. Except in this case, it is a form of consciousness that takes over a host human being’s psychology and thought processes. The behavior of the host victim may seem on the surface to be normal and rational at some standard of competency. Yet, since the virus is not my brother, it follows the standard cannot apply. There is no jurisprudence of which I am aware that applies. If that is true, that leaves the court in a bit of a bind. It is like a body snatcher in the movie “Invasion of the body snatchers”. There is no sense that the pronouns “he” or “him” or even the name “Tony” refers to my brother at the those times that the body snatcher has control. Worse, the virus acts in a way to defend its existence, duping its host victim into experiencing things that are not happening (delusions) and causing the host to claim to be sane, duping his friends, relatives, his lawyers, and the entire judicial system including you yourself, your honor, with all due respect.

I’ve seen this happen before and it is happening again. It is the pitiable state of affairs whereby the police, judicial, and prison system in California are acting in lieu of medical treatment for a medical condition and engaging in a charade following a script of rules that do not or should not apply.


What can be done to better the situation in a just manner? In my opinion, a just solution would involve imposing (not “offering”) a supervised treatment program and living situation on my brother, a kind of probation with parole, that provides him with the ability to seek employment while further imposing the condition that if he violates various conditions of his parole, such as going off his meds or committing unlawful acts, he would be subject to incarceration at a secure institution such as Atascadero State Hospital. I believe that my brother would be responsive to such a solution even if he is not capable of agreeing to such treatment voluntarily. The result would be just, practical, cost effective, and in some cases ultimately rehabilitating. I urge the court to consider this course of action if at all legally possible.

Dennis G. Allard
Santa Monica, CA
August 14, 2009

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Why Twitter is popular and what I dislike about that

This article talks about Twitter but the points made here apply equally to Facebook.

There are two reasons Twitter took off like it did.  First, it fills a desire in the culture for ubiquitous notifications from everyone to everyone.  Second, it did so in a way that is immediately accessible and easy to use for anyone with a web browser.  I.e., real time simple peer-to-peer notifications that are both created and accessed via existing ubiquitous technology.

Twitter lets people create notifications and “follow” other peoples notifications.  And, it does that via the Web by letting people both write and view notifications in a browser.  It can’t get any simpler than that, can it?

Hence, a simple idea (real time notifications) combined with providing that via existing tools that everyone already has on their computers and cell phones.

Why do I say I don’t like that?  It’s not that I don’t like the idea.  And I commend the authors of Twitter for making the starkly simple realization that all this was both desired and so easily provided.  They will become very rich because of that realization combined with what I don’t like about the situation.  That is, the mechanism for providing Tweets is proprietary.

Although the mechanisms for writing and following Tweets are standards-based (standard message protocol, HTTP, and HTML basically), the creators of Twitter co-opted the concept of notifications by providing the mechanism via a branded web server.  And therein lies the rub.  Although web clients are free and ubiquitous, web servers are not.  Web servers and domain names are owned.  By co-opting the concept of ubiquitous notifications via a proprietary web server, Twitter has enriched a few people who happened to think of the idea first.  It’s not always this way.  For example, the Web itself, which arguably underpins all things Twitter-like, was developed by socialized programs (called science, academic research, and just plain good engineering) done by governments and government-funded research.  (One of many arguments I make that government is not bad as the Libertarian Fundamentalists like to believe).

Facebook is another example.  It is hard to make a Web site so Facebook made it easy.  A subject to another day, but you get the point.

Are there alternatives to these proprietary mechanisms?  Yes.  For example, RSS feeds provide a mechanism very similar to Tweets.  In fact, RSS feeds provide a richer mechanism.  And, RSS feeds are also built in or can be built in to browsers,although they are not anywhere near as accessible as Tweets.  Why?  The problem is that there is no central place to find all RSS feeds and there is no ubiquitous easily accessible place to write and distribute RSS feeds.  Generalizing slightly, we live in a culture where identity and mind share is still proprietary.  There is no standard freely available centralized place to create content for the Web.  Now, Google and others provide a central place to search for identity, but not to create it.  And Google itself is proprietary.  Think about it.  All Web servers are owned.  There is a reason for that.  Unlike the client (the web browser), the server (the web server) has to have lots and lots of memory.  Real memory.  And processors, lots of processors.  And that all costs money.

There are solutions.  We could distribute the notion of identity across a pool of volunteers who would provide resources for a large distributed server.  It would be public, non-proprietary, secure, and ultimately scalable to any size needed.  Alternatively, one or more governments could provide the central server.  In one of these ways, we would be able to provide a server side of the equation in a way that scales, does not require advertising or other revenue, is a shared resource, and achieves everything that the Twitters and Facebooks of the world achieve.  It would be a large non-proprietary sand box where equal numbers of ideas are tried out and what wins is, just as now, based on popularity and viral acquisition of mind share.

I am sure my idea is not new and has bugs.  But I wanted to get this off my mind.