Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Godzilla vs. the Sea Monster Trailer

Not all Godzilla aficionados like this movie, it often shows in the very bottom of ratings lists.  Contrarian that I am, it's one of my favorites. 

It is light on the Godzilla moments, the big man doesn't get much screen time here.  What this movie has is a great plot, wild human characters, a very Dr. No style criminal/terrorist/super-science group on a fortified, private island, and great, great native girl action, featuring the beautiful Mia Hama.  The terrorists have a pet sea monster to keep prying eyes away from the island, and guess who kicks his ass to save the day?  Yup, Godzilla. 

The movie might score low on the lists, but Mia Hama scores at or near the top of every aficionado's list of favorite Godzilla actresses.  So there's that.  

Monday, April 14, 2014

Scoobie's Discovery: Adventures In Race Relations

Discovery is that part of a law suit where the two sides exchange information and prepare their cases for trial.  There’s written discovery, that’s a big part of it.  Depositions are involved too, showing up in person and answering lawyers’ questions. 

Scoobie was a client of ours, a plaintiff in a personal injury case.  “Scoobie” is not his real name, he actually went by the nickname of another beloved television character.  He was a hard guy to get ahold of, and the office had had no success in getting in touch with him about the discovery process.  Without his cooperation, the case would be dismissed.  No one else involved wanted to deal with it.  Let it blow up, there’s no money in it.  He’ll screw up the case somehow, it might as well be now.  Besides, a jury would hate him.  That was the thinking. 

Scoobie was a young man with a poor education and no job, and no prospects. 

I said, I’ll take care of it, no problem, I’ll go get the family to help me find him.  The address was a large but inexpensive home in a new development in the Eastern Empire of Los Angeles, in San Bernardino County.  It was a large, loosely connected, extended family consisting of a matriarchal grandmother and lots of children, grandchildren and cousins, aged from grammar school to adult men and women, a real houseful.  It was an African-American family. 

I got to the address at about 10:00 a.m., unannounced, ready to devote all day to it.  A large, powerful man opened the door.  He was initially very suspicious.  I am never offended by this.  In fact, I recommend that all black Americans be suspicious of any white man that they don’t know, and most of the white women too.  Was I police?  A parole or probation officer?  From Children’s Services?  Once I had convinced him and another adult man that I worked for Scoobie and was trying to help him get some money that was coming to him they invited me in and introduced me to grandma.

She was sitting in a recreation room, in some kind of huge Barcalounger, and I never saw her get up.  There was seating for at least fifteen people, and many children and teenagers were present.  The TV was on.  She sized me up and quickly accepted me at my word, and then I was in.  A pair of young men materialized.  They were very interested in the proceedings.  We sat around discussing strategies for finding Scoobie, and since the young men traveled in the same circles as Scoobie they were full of ideas. 

They figured that I would never find Scoobie on my own, so they offered to come with me.  I was delighted because this seemed to offer a real chance of success.  They thought that there was a good chance that he was at the home of one of his girlfriends, and they knew where several of them lived.  Along the way we could just ask people for possible leads.  They were really enjoying themselves, it was like playing detective. 
Scoobie was at the home of the second girlfriend that we checked.  He was a husky, Geri-Curled twenty-five year old, with that devil-may-care, always cheerful attitude that I have noticed many times in young men in his milieu.  Having given up on education and the job scene, and fully expecting to go to prison someday or get shot, he was well adjusted to making the best of everything that was available to him.  He and the cousins spoke a semi-dialect that was not quite Black English, but not quite standard either.  They were easy to understand though, and they were smart guys so they understood me just fine.  Having gotten acquainted, we all went back to the family home. 

I had brought along the written discovery, so we set up at the dining room table and got started on that.  Along the way a lunch of fried fish was prepared for everyone in the house.  It was cooked by the big guy who had answered the door, he was about thirty-five years old and he didn’t say much.  It was served in a paper towel, to be eaten by hand.  Delicious, by the way.  I ran the situation down for Scoobie and he agreed to be more cooperative in the future.   We had a date for his deposition the following week, and he promised that he’d show up.  I made sure to get as many phone numbers as I could in case we had to look for him again. 

He did, in fact, show up at the lawyers’ office for the depo, and he was on time.  One hour early, as I had instructed him, so that we’d have time to prepare.  One of the girlfriends drove him.  I used the common lawyer’s technique in these depo preparations.  You don’t want to just feed the client lies to say at the depo, you can’t just feed them a script, but you want them to say certain things and avoid other things.  You don’t want them to actually say out loud truthful things that you would then have to tell them, please God, don’t say that.  So you say, here’s how these things go, and launch off into some hypotheticals, if this is what happened, it’s bad, if this is what happened, it’s good, if someone says something like this, they’ll probably win.  “Just tell them what happened.”  I always threw in a “if I kick you under the table, shut up.”  Many people just ignore you, but some bright lights internalize your hypo’s very quickly and do a great job of incorporating the good points into their answers.  Scoobie was one of the good ones. 

To win his case, we would have to show that the landlord at the apartments where he had fallen down the stairs had prior knowledge of the dangerous condition.  This is never easy.  I had mentioned this, but I never feed him a particular strategy.  At the perfect time, he dropped in that he had told the super at the apartments about a loose railing on several occasions, but the super had just blown him off.  I had no idea whether this was true or not, but he said it on his own initiative so my conscious was clear, and my actions were ethical according to the rules.  He described running up the stairs and the railing coming loose in his hand, causing him to fall backwards.

He totally aced the depo, and he showed that he would be a great witness for himself if the case went to trial.  Before we left the building after the depo, the lawyer called me into his office and we settled the case right there. 

This was treated as some kind of miracle of mine back at the office. 

These were typical events  in the life of a lawyer in Los Angeles, and another episode in the adventures of a simple man trying to figure out race relations in America.  

Saturday, April 12, 2014

American Idol: Final Eight, 2014

American Idol has been going for a couple of months now and I don’t recall seeing any mention of it on Facebook.  I haven’t read anything about the ratings this year, but that can’t be a good sign. 

Ooops!  That’s “American Idol” and “Facebook” in the same paragraph.  There goes what’s left of my credibility after five years plus of writing this blog!  But I never claimed to be an intellectual or some kind of hipster.  I could claim that I was doing sociological research, but that’s not true.  I am proudly low-brow, although I do enjoy some of the finer things in life.  I do not place Facebook or American Idol among the finer things, but I enjoy them nevertheless. 

This week was the final eight, which is really too grand a title for this group.  To their credit, they do seem like a nice bunch.  Some previous seasons of the show have been dominated at this stage by a mix of the obnoxious and the dimwitted.  So a nice bunch week after week is refreshing, but it would be much better if more of them could actually sing. 

Malaya can hit some of the notes when she is in full afterburner mode, but at any level below that she is all over the place.  Her tone is consistently disagreeable.  She’s as cute as a button, and she seems very smart and decent, but I don’t think that she can really hear music.  She’s only sixteen years old, so maybe she’ll learn.  Some day, but not soon, I fear.

Dexter is a chunky farm boy who can almost sing.  He seems like a nice guy, and I’m sure he’s a big help at harvest time.

Gina is a cheerful girl who has a pretty good voice, but she doesn’t know what to do with it.  This week she sang “I Love Rock and Roll,” the Joan Jett song.  It was just awful.  Having a good voice and being a good singer are two different things.

Jessica Muse sings in the manner of a wedding singer going through the motions for a small payday.  I keep expecting her to introduce a groom dancing with his mother.  She sang “Call Me,” by Blondie.  It was very ordinary and devoid of emotion except for a pasted on smile.

Sam Woolf is so cute that he just may win the whole thing on that basis.  He sang, “Time After Time,” the Cyndi Lauper song.  He did a pretty good job.  He can sing, but he’s too shy to really let the sound out, he chokes it back as he’s singing it.  He can play the guitar pretty well, and the young girls understandably love him. 

Alex will be the most frustrating of this group.  He has real talent, the only one of the eight about whom that can be said.  He’s a performer, but as the judges have noted he has yet to figure out entertaining.  He wears an expression that is equal parts surprise, annoyance and disgust.  But he can sing, even if his voice is not exactly pleasant, and he’s a very good guitarist, and he comes up with his own very nice and very ambitious arrangements.   He is also, unfortunately for his chances, a poor wooden thing, prone to making odd faces and striking awkward poses.  Even his clothing looks uncomfortable. 

C.J. is another chunky guy who seems very nice.  I’m sure that he’s a good friend, and a good neighbor, and a helpful workmate.  He misses so many notes you wonder what key he’s looking for. 

Caleb is another one who can really sing, he’s an old-school, jet-propelled rock and roll belter.  He goes way up and he never gets lost.  Did I mention that he and Alex are kind of chunky too?  I think the rock n’ rollers usually get bounced about now.  If Caleb would lose the Veronica Lake hairdo and about twenty-five pounds he’d do better.   He’d be great fronting a Lynyrd Skynyrd cover band that played biker bars. 

So I watched this mess and I wrote in my notes that the singer to be dropped this week would be either Malaya or C.J.  This insight amazed me in a way.  I mean, how did they end up at this point with the only two black singers in the competition being among the only black Americans who cannot sing at all?  That would seem to take real effort. 

And that’s the way it happened, I know my American Idol by now.  Malaya and C.J. were the bottom two, and Malaya was sent home. 

Of the remaining seven, Alex would be the clear winner if it were all about the talent.  Music, however, is never just about talent, particularly on American Idol.  Sam is the only one that is in the Idol mold, physically.  He has matinee idol looks, but I don’t think there is time to make him into a comfortable performer.  Harry Connick, Jr., one of this year’s judges for the uninitiated, suggested that he look up Ricky Nelson on YouTube for tips on how to play the sweet, attractive teenager with a guitar.  At the after party for the contestants Sam asked everyone if they’d ever heard of Ricky Nelson, and no one had.  They acted like the advice was ridiculous, on that basis.  Too bad, because if he could channel Ricky Nelson effectively he’d be playing to his own strengths and he’d win this year hands down.

Goodbye Malaya!  You’re a fine young woman and you’ll do well in this world, although probably not in the music field.  

Sunday, April 6, 2014

The Budget - Professor Stanley Unwin gives his opinion

I'd never heard of this guy, but he's pretty funny, he's got a style.  Reminiscent of Professor Irwin Corey.  Polygenesis, no doubt.

The new Internet pathways introduced us, me and the Professor.  I was listening/watching a vid of the Small Faces lip-synching "Song of a Baker" on some English TV show and the Professor was introduced at the end.  "Master of gobble-de-gook" said the announcer.  Worth a look/listen, I thought. And he was/is. 

(Later on, after viewing Unwin and Steve Marriott interviewed on English TV from 1984.) 

Oh! it all comes back to me!  This Professor Stanley Unwin lent his talents to the great "Ogden's Nut Gone Flake" LP!  Oh, it's a small world, and memory will play its tricks, but with a little luck, we'll live until we die.

Filthy Buggers

The earth has cooled considerably since I was a boy in old New York City.  My corner of the city was College Point, a working class, industrial settlement on the East River across the Flushing inlet from La Guardia Airport, in Queens.  The city was eighty-one percent white in those days (and I’m not suggesting that that was a good thing), and there were three professional baseball teams (that, I think, was a good thing).  There have been many changes over the years.  Some of them are discussed, but many are overlooked.  One thing that seems to go unnoticed is that urban life is much, much cleaner now.

One thing that should shock the modern observer was just how filthy our lives were in the post-World War II years.  I suppose some families had a different experience, a cleaner environment, but the town in general, the stores, the schools, the restaurants and bars, and most of the domiciles, were almost all ancient, run down, and less than clean.  Dust and grime ruled. 

My little friends and I lived a kind of “Little Rascals” existence.  Like that movie gang, we spent a lot of time well out of the range of parental oversight.  In that simpler time, parents were content to let us go “out,” and spend whole days “doing nothing.”  Much of this nothing was accomplished in vacant lots, of which there were still many.  Some were primeval, no spade had ever turned the earth there.  We played in the dirt, making battlefields for little soldiers or roads for little cars.  We played marbles in circles drawn in the dirt.  Since it was New York, there were always construction sites too, often with huge piles of loose dirt for us to get creative with.  Dirt bomb fights were common there for a while.

Do children even play in the dirt anymore?  I think these days it is considered déclassé. 

Our hygiene was less than ideal as well.  I didn’t live in a house with a shower until I was married.  As boys, we took baths, and infrequently at that.  I can hardly believe it now, but even in those beastly New York summers we took one or two baths per week, and washed our hair once a week if that.  (Recall that this was the period when most boys loaded up their hair with products that ranged from greasy [Brylcream], to oily [Vasaline Hair Tonic], to down-right gunky [Oddel’s Hair Trainer].) 

Many of us lived in homes that were heated with coal.  I lived in such a house, a “two-family house,” with a coal bin in the basement, until I was ten.  The dust got everywhere.  The landlord had to go down and stoke a furnace periodically all winter, like a boilerman on the Titanic. 

We paid quite a price for these filthy habits.  We got sties in our eyes and boils on our backs, and frequent infections of other kinds as well.  Our war-experienced doctors were very blasé about it all.  They were just glad that the shooting had stopped.  They’d give you a tetanus shot with one hand while smoking a Camel with the other, sipping scotch between house calls. 

Disease was a much greater presence then.  My own sister came down with whooping cough as a baby, we were lucky not to lose her.  I was, fortunately, in the first generation to get polio shots by age six or seven, so much of that hardship was avoided.  We did, however, all get the then routine childhood diseases, chicken pox, measles and the mumps.  Mumps, in retrospect, seems like an almost comic affliction, with the puffy cheeks and all.  The reality was much worse.  My own case came soon after the chicken pox and the measles, all in less than a year, and my resistance was low.  I was sick as a dog for more than a week, with a fever so high that it was later blamed for my sudden onset of nearsightedness.  I remember the projectile vomiting very vividly, launching baseball sized things into the bucket next to the bed.  Now most of these diseases live only in memory. 

There were the non-routine diseases too, like scarlet fever.  Many boys and girls missed an entire year of school with that. 

Most children today seem to make in through to adulthood with their tonsils intact, never having become infected at all.  Quite the contrary, most of us got that infection too, and had the tonsils removed. 

It all seems unreal to me now, like some poor, stunted earth-like civilization visited by the Star Trek crew, or a bunch of “workuses,” (work house kids, one workus, two workuses) in a Dickens novel.   But we were relatively prosperous working class kids, some quite middle-class even, and it’s not that long ago really. 

Oh, I guess it was long ago.  New York changes more rapidly than most cities, many buildings, hell, whole neighborhoods have come and gone since then.  These days College Point is home to many of the new minorities in New York, Chinese and other Asians, Hispanics, even blacks.  Did I say minorities?  Whites are way in the minority now.  I’m not complaining, it’s a good thing.  That’s been the experience of New York for all of its history.  Ethnic groups move in, move out, and shuffle around.   All of these newcomers are fine New Yorkers, and I’m sure that they make great neighbors.   The fast food is much more entertaining than it used to be too, from what I see on Facebook. 

One thing is for sure:  these new Chinese, Korean, Hispanic, black or white children have a much more hygienic lifestyle than we did.  Oh, two things:  I’m sure that they’re healthier too. 


Tuesday, April 1, 2014

The Marvelettes - Please Mr. Postman (1961)

It's worth remembering that these songs were about the military draft.  (Except the ones that were about boyfriends in jail, like "Golden Teardrops," but there weren't so many of those.)

Any song about a boyfriend far away, like a thousand miles away, or daddy's coming home, or waiting until Bobby comes home, or a boyfriend being back, that was all references to the draft. 

How poignant is that?  Nice little stories.  Things are different now. 

Sunday, March 30, 2014

Interview With Frederick Ceely

I sat for this interview, and let me tell you, the interviewer and I were so simpatico that it was almost like talking to myself.   

Q:  Not much was known about you before the incident, so forgive me if some of my questions seem naïve or impolite. 
A:  Regarding the incident, let me just say that no charges were ever filed and there are no civil cases pending.

Q:  Fair enough.  Let’s start with your blog, much of your footprint in the world is taken up with your blog. 
A:  And Facebook, I’m quite an avid user of Facebook. 

Q:  Yes, but you, and almost everybody, prefer to keep things light and airy on Facebook, while your blog, Spin Easy Time, can be quite dark.
A:  Thank you, yes, the “other Fred” comes out periodically on Spin Easy Time.

Q:  So, why blog?
A:  Well, it wasn’t my idea initially.  My son suggested it, because I was living in Thailand and presumably interesting things were happening.  So, rather than blow him off, you know, I started the thing.  I think he even set it up for me.  So I started the blog essentially because I am an agreeable man who only wants to make other people happy.

Q:  Ah!  The famous Fred sarcasm!
A:  Touché.

Q:  Seriously, why blog?
A:  For one thing, I enjoy the process of writing.  It imposes a reduced pace on thinking and greater clarity on the mind.  Also, you don’t really understand anything unless you can write it down in such a way that others can read and understand it. 

Q:  Are you suggesting that you write the blog for your own benefit?  Do you even care if anyone else reads it?
A:  Oh, I care.  These days I’m getting between fifty and one hundred visits per day, and I’m thrilled about that.  I’m thrilled that people are reading what I write.

Q:  Have you considered other forms of writing?
A:  More than considered it.  I’ve always been a motivated reader and a frequent letter writer.  I’ve written a couple of hundred poems, and there are some that I think are good.  Nothing published.  Six short stories, four or five thousand words apiece, there are two that I like, two or three.  None published.   Half a novel, about forty-five thousand words, it would need a lot of work to finish it and get it ready to be read. 

Q:  Are you pursuing those efforts? 
A:  No.  Why bother?  No one reads poetry, it only makes people angry.  Publishing anything is a nightmare, at least a nightmare of rejection.  If you’re lucky it’s a nightmare of editors.  The writers that make it are usually better at marketing than at writing.  Terrible!  My life is hard enough already. 

Q:  Well, the blog then. 
A:  Fire away!

Q:  Who are your readers?
A:  My most popular post by far is called “The Fifteen Greatest Roman Generals.”  It first went up in mid-2008.  Every month since then it has been in the top five by hit count, every month.  So maybe my readers are people around the world who are interested in Roman military history. 

Q:  There’s that sarcasm again. 
A:  Sorry, I can’t help it.  Really I think my readers are a hard core of a couple of dozen regulars and the rest are random Googlers. 

Q:  Do you get a lot of comments?
A:  Not any more.  For the first few years there were a lot of comments, and I knew almost everybody.  I think only my friends were reading at that point.  By now, most of my friends have become sick of the blog and I’m better at generating Google hits, you know, thinking about labels and key words, little things like that. So now comments are rare, and almost always from strangers.  I do get a couple of good ones every month though, and most are sympathetic and encouraging.  Most.

Q:  One thing about Spin Easy Time, there doesn’t seem to be any real unifying principle to it, is that intentional?
A:  No.  I just try to put up a variety of posts to keep the entertainment factor going.  Photos of Thailand, music videos from YouTube, fun stuff.  I do always try to include a personal comment or observation with every one of them.  I think that a blog should always be personal. 

Q:  But then, in between the lighthearted stuff, you like to include a periodic punch in the stomach.
A:  Just when they least expect it!  Yes, I do that.  I inhabit a dark universe, but no one else should be exposed to a steady diet of that.

Q:  I see.  Much of that darkness seems to involve politics.
A:  Dark business, that. 

Q:  Politics and American society in general.  Are you really as pessimistic as you can sound sometimes? 
A:  Yes, but with reason, I think.

Q:  You seem to be particularly hard on wealthy people, and Republicans.  Some might suggest that you were envious of the rich, or that you hate them.
A:  Envious, never.  No.  The rich will always be with us, to paraphrase.  Some people are very talented, they work very hard, they have great ideas, they take chances, big risks.  They should be rich; they deserve to be rich.  Good for them.  Myself, all I ever wanted was to be somewhat financially secure and have time to myself, time for my family and myself.

The rich, generally, are not necessarily happier or healthier than anybody else.  They may fly first class and eat in more expensive restaurants, but most of them don’t even really appreciate the things that the money buys them. 

Take cars.  Some rich people buy Lambos and Ferraris, but almost all of them are just showing off.  Only an F1 driver could drive those things as fast as they can go.  I doubt if anyone ever had more fun in a Ferrari than I had driving my 1978 VW Rabbit.  That car was a blast!  Seventy one horsepower and it weighed as much as three sheets of loose-leaf.  It handled like a toy, and it had a gear box and a clutch made by Porsche.  That car was fun. 

Q:  So you don’t really grudge the rich anything?  You don’t hate them?  Some of your readers might find that hard to believe. 
A:  The grudging, no, except maybe the legacies, the generations of lucky beneficiaries who do nothing but live off the money that grand-dad earned.  Hate?  Maybe some, but by no means all. 

I certainly don’t hate sports stars.  The modern mass media market brings in hundreds of millions of dollars, and of course the players deserve their share.  I hope that they get enough!  I don’t hate most entertainers who become rich, same reasons.  I do hate some of them though, the ones with no talent and tens of millions of dollars. 

Entrepreneurs I alluded to a moment ago.  Take Mark Zuckerberg, for instance.  He saw the potential in something and brought it to the market in a form that the whole world seems to love.  He gives it away and just sells the eyes to advertisers.  God bless him, he should be rich. 

Corporate culture and big business I do have problems with.  They spend too much on executives and perks and not enough on workers.  The banking and financial industries rake off huge amounts and do little to justify it.  So those things are worth hating, and I suppose I do.

Really, I just hate that too many people are paid too little and that too many people are paid too much, if that makes sense.

Q:  Even if you’re right, what can be done about it, besides writing about it I mean.
A:  Yeah, writing about it, like “bitching at the air and the trees.”  Nobody really listens.

I’d like very much for America to adopt modern social democratic ideas like those followed by many European countries.  Fair wages and taxes, universalism, the welfare state, that kind of things.  But that’s not going to happen. 

Q:   So there’s politics.  Do you really hate the Republicans? 
A:   I suppose so.  They’ve been on the wrong side of every social issue for the last hundred years or more.  And it’s only getting worse, since Reagan, whom I definitely hate.  Before Reagan the Republicans made trouble and were a bunch of reactionaries, but at least they did it from the center, the right-center.  

Compromise solutions were still possible.  For instance, they were a bunch of racist foot-draggers, but at least they grudgingly came on board with the integration of the armed forces and civil rights legislation.
Now . . . what a bunch of pirates!  Hypocrites!  And oh, the corruption!  And still with the racism, let’s face it.  Poor Obama, I don’t know how he puts up with it. 

Q:  What about the Democrats?  Are they really any better? 
A:  That’s turning into a fair question, and I’d rather say nothing at all than get into it.

Q:  What do you think about the Tea Party?
A:  I am under strict doctor’s orders never to think about the Tea Party.

Q:  Okay.  Let’s change the subject.  Do you write under any other names? 
A:  Not now, but I do have a couple of pen-names in mind, although I haven’t used any of them yet.

Q:  What are they?
A:  Well, I like the sound of my name, Germanized.  “Friedrich Seele.”  Seele means soul in German, which keeps it close to the original meaning of Ceely. 

I like the sound of “Frederick Sorry.”  That would suit me because I’m always apologizing.

I like “Claude Selavey,” but I’m pretty sure that the Selavey part has been used already.

Q:  What’s your middle name?
A:  I don’t have one.  When I was born my parents gave me my father’s first name and then ran stone out of creativity.

Q:  How about nicknames?
A:  Now, none, unless you count “Lung Farang,” which roughly translated means “uncle white man.”

In my teens I had a couple.  My friends called me “the Planner,” because I always poured through the print media looking for free things to do that were fun, free movies, concerts, plays, museum shows.  We lived in New York City, so there was always a ton of stuff to do, but searching for the good, free stuff was a chore.  Friends would call me up and say, “what are we doing Saturday?”  And for a couple of years they called me “Captain Raps,” or just “Raps,” because I almost never shut up.
Q:  My editor gave me a few suggestions.  How about, what’s your idea of a perfect day?
A:  Any one that includes a couple of hours at the church, you know, the alter of my primary devotion.  Know what I mean?

Q:  I think so.  What is your proudest achievement?
A:  Not abusing painkillers.

Q:  If you weren’t a lawyer, a teacher and a writer, what would you be?
A:  Same as always.  A tattooed fuck-up from Queens.