Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Life Amongst The Races

It would be too much to say that I have always been a great friend to the races, but I hope that a casual observer would at least admit that I have, on balance, done alright.  Okay.  Something like that.  Mediocre isn’t always a bad thing. 

I do try my best to be reasonable about matters of race in America.  I do think about it, and I always have.  Sometimes it sneaks up on me, like this time.

In my early 20’s I carried the mail in New York City’s borough of Queens.  It was hard work then, most routes were carried in a bag on our shoulder.  It probably still is hard, even with the little vans they use now.  I was a substitute carrier, a sub, a “floater,” meaning that I had no route of my own.  My days started variously at five, six, seven or eight o’clock, and they could really stretch out.  I usually took out a route and a half, often two entire routes.  It could be a long day.

Thinking about this the other day, I recalled one evening when I punched out at about 6:30 after twelve hours of humping the boonies.  The bus that I caught to go home was almost empty.  I took a seat near the back and opened the window.  The breeze was like a tonic.  Another young man got on the bus and took the seat in the back, left corner, directly behind me.  “It’s freezing in here,” he said, “shut that window.”  I had long hair at the time, and maybe he had mistaken me for a peace loving hippie that could be pushed around, willy-nilly. 

Now you should know that I had grown up in a very tough part of Queens.  There was always a lot of fighting, and we got hit by the nuns, and we got beaten by our parents too, most of us.  I was never one of the really tough boys, nor was I particularly big or athletic, but I was in the mix and I had learned the dance.  One of the rules was:  never even appear to be backing down from an even fight.  No good could come of it, and it would probably lead to bullying.  No, if the other boy was about your size and seemed to have about your capabilities it was best to get up in his face and fight him if necessary. 

So I turned in my seat and gave him the eyes.  We all knew how to do fifty shades of gathering storm with our eyes.  And not like Steven Seagal either, with all of that ridiculous brow knitting.  All eyes.  The look that I gave him was somewhere between “you’re on my radar” and “are you sure that you want to do this?” 

“I’ve been working since seven this morning, and the breeze feels good,” I said, “I doubt if I’m closing this window.”  Then I just turned my back on him, like the matter was settled.  And it was, too.  The window stayed open and the rest of the ride was quiet. 

This particular young man was white, like me.  I could read him like a book, I knew him even though we had never seen each other before.  Recalling this incident recently, I wondered what difference it would have made if the young man had been black.  Same size and age as me, also not particularly tough or athletic, but black.  I had to admit that it would have made a big difference.  I would still have given him the eyes, that much was habitual, but I don’t think that I would have said anything.  I think that I would have simply closed the window and moved to another spot on the still almost empty bus.  The question becomes:  would I have been acting out of fear? 

Honestly, I don’t think so.  It would have been uncertainty, not fear.  Fear would be too strong a word.  I just didn’t know enough about black people to be able to read them with any confidence.  I was ignorant on the subject.  It occurs to me that in some people this uncertainty may turn into fear, but somehow I got lucky.  All it made me was curious. 

Up until the age of fifteen I don’t think that I had ever interacted with a black person, maybe a few clerks in stores, that’s it.  Black singers and baseball players?  That’s another story.  But no interaction.  After that I had black school chums, black friends in the Navy (which pissed the white people off!  Go figure!), and I had worked with black men, but still, what did I really know about them?  About their lives?  On what would I base predictions about black behavior?  The ice was forming, but it was still too thin to trust by walking around on it.  My understanding of black people was woefully inadequate.  It probably still is!  "Probably" my ass!  It still is!  Even less then.  Hence, that uncertainty that would have occurred on the bus, if that young man had been black. 

It’s important to consider these things.  One of the more disagreeable aspects of our shitty world is the myth that America has become some kind of “post-racial” society.  Only a charlatan trying to sell a flush that included four hearts and a diamond could even say the words “post racial” with a straight face.  Maybe I should write more on this subject.  Maybe it would be helpful, and you know how much I love to be helpful!  Maybe.  It could happen. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Great Lines From The Movies: Ice Station Zebra

Spoken by Patrick McGoohan, playing a kind of 007 character, describing what the Russians had done to precipitate the mess that is central to the film:

"They took our camera, made by our German scientists, and used your film, made by your German scientists, and shot it into space in a rocket made by their German scientists . . ."

Very droll!

John Lee Hooker- I Need Some Money

What a great version of this song.  John Lee was never what you'd call "versatile," but in his range he had real style and lots of backbone.

If I felt like being a bitch about it, I could say, "well John Lee, you could always sue somebody!"  But I'm in a good mood, so I won't.

The Internet Of Things Is Coming

Science is running out in front of Science Fiction these days at a goodly rate.  And not just the Ivory Tower/multi-verse/string theory/quantum this-and-that crowd either.  As way out as the academics can be, the nuts-and-bolts engineering group is running right out there with them.  Take the “Internet of Things,” please.

The junior geniuses of the tech/entrepreneur class tend to do things for the same reason that a dog licks his own dick:  because they can.  Often they don’t give any more thought to what they do than the dog does.  It has come to their attention that many things are already controlled by CPU’s, and that some of those things can be remotely monitored or operated.  “So,” they figure, “why don’t we do that with everything?”  And they mean everything too, from the locks on your door to the egg compartment of your refrigerator. 

As is so often the case, there is a good deal of naiveté about the enterprise, a lot of pure greed, and a dangerous disregard for consequences.   I’m sure that there are great advances to be made in fields like manufacturing and logistics, but the tech boys go much further. 

“Just imagine!” they say with their stupid, probably youthful enthusiasm, “you could be at work and tell your slow-cooker to start exactly six hours before you got home!”  Isn’t that how slow-cookers work in the first place?  “It’ll be so great,” they’re getting worked up now, “you can connect your coffee maker to your phone (and your rice cooker too, if you enjoy the Asian lifestyle) and whatever time you set the phone alarm for, the coffee (and the rice) will be ready when you wake up!” 

Do these strike you as game-changing advantages in life?  I didn’t think so.

Of course, these things are only the beginning.  There’s a lot of hyperbole involved.  These wild men envision a world where every single outlet, bulb, and device in every building of any kind in the entire world is constantly communicating with its fellows, through either local or vast networks, the Internet, the web, the cloud, or the fog (whatever that is). 

Oh, and don’t forget all of the vehicles, every one of them in the world, not to mention the roads and bridges, etc.  All connected, monitored and reporting data.  You yourself will be hooked up!  What a relief to know that your very first irregular heartbeat will be reported to “your doctor.”  Sorry for the sarcasm.  I can’t help it sometimes.

Did I say hyperbole?  Some of these guys say that this Internet of Things will be a new industrial revolution, that it will so increase efficiency and productivity that all of society’s problems will melt away. 

The cheerleaders remind me of the science writers in the 1950’s who told us that advances in nuclear power and automation would give us a new age of prosperity and leisure.  We all know how that one worked out.  The productivity gains all happened as predicted, but every bit of the benefit went to the corporations and their investor class.  Working people are working harder than ever, and producing more, with nothing to show for it.  Does anyone think that this new explosion in productivity will work out any differently?  There’s very little discussion of the harm that all of this could do.  The dangers of hacking, surveillance, thievery and mischief of all kinds.  Not to mention the chaos and frustration!  I mean, already I can’t get my Android phone to communicate with my wi-fi.  Now I’ll be expected to get everything in the house to communicate with everything else.  That, I say with confidence, will not be possible.  

Look, I’m no Luddite but this all sounds like a terrible idea to me.  I don’t even like any automatic things in general.  I have always hated automatic transmissions in cars, for example.  I have to sit there anyway, so why not make my own gear selections?  I work a gearbox better than any automatic transmission that I’ve ever driven.  I do like my rice cooker, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go.

By all means connect everything in your factory, and put chips on shipping boxes to assist in tracking them.   I do see the possibilities for enhanced productivity and energy efficiency.  You can even keep the increased profits, Mr. Industrialist.  But leave me out of it.

If I forget that I’m out of eggs on the evening before I want to make French toast for breakfast, I can live with that.  Yes, a “smart egg tray” in your refrigerator is one of the big ideas floating around.  And my doctor can trust me to keep up with my schedule of medication.  He doesn’t need automatic updates from my smart pill caddy.  And no, I don’t want my medical insurance carrier notified every time I have a drink or two over the recommended maximum.  That’ll be in the cards before too long.  And why would anyone support a system that would allow the government or any interested party to know where anybody at all happens to be at any time?  Efficiency my ass, this is techno-fascism. 

In fact, it’s insane, but it will happen (because it can).  To paraphrase the eminently quotable Salvatore Dali:  struggle neither for nor against modernity, it’s the one thing that you cannot avoid. 

Please ask yourself, who will benefit?  People will be tricked into paying for most of the infrastructure (the devices) and the corporations will reap the financial rewards.  Not only those provided by increased productivity, but also those stemming from the huge amount of data that will be accumulated and sold for purposes that can only be guessed at.  Marketing interests, no doubt, but also employers and potential employers and health providers.  Not to mention the government, which will be able like Johnny-on-the-Spot to control your behavior in detail.  Even Winston Smith in “1984” had only the telescreens to worry about.  We’ll be surrounded by little spies. 

It’ll be great!  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Franklin Thompson - My Money's Kinda Funny

Who are the real takers?  Are they people like the singer, whose lack of a job and money are hurting his chances with the ladies, or are they the individuals and dynasties who just can't seem to get enough, the zero-point-one percent?

Job creators my bony old white ass.  The cleptocrats of the New Gilded Age are the real takers.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why Don't You Play in Hell? Official US Release Trailer (2014) - Sion So...

Japanese movies have fallen into pre-set genres since the medium got to Japan.  Period movies (various periods); motherhood movies; wife movies; young-people-do-crazy-shit movies; middle-class life movies; yakuza movies; and something that the academics call "nonsense movies."  These are a little like screwball comedies sometimes, but sometimes they are much, much weirder. 

My favorite so far in the nonsense group is The Crazy Family.  Boy, that one is a hoot.  Somehow it got onto Los Angeles cable TV; there are clips on YouTube.  Check it out if you can.

This movie falls into the Bermuda Triangle between youth movies, yakuza movies and nonsense movies, which sounds to me like cinema heaven.  I love Japanese art, it is a really amazing culture.  Musically they are the funky Asians, Japanese music is a thousand times better than the rest of Asian music, which is almost entirely saccharin and cloying and awful.  Japanese music swings, which is not easy boys and girls, it takes talent.  Japanese movies are the brass balled champions of no-holds-barred cinema.  You want it?  you got it!  you're the director.  That's their system!!!  Directors make movies, and the producer just says, okay!   

I hope that I get a chance to see this one, it looks all the way nuts.  It's playing in L.A. in December, but I won't be there until February.  I doubt if the Bangkok bootleggers will copy this one, and full price mail-order is over my head.  Maybe someday! 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Al Green - Nothing Takes The Place Of You

Down below the last post is the original of this song, by Toussaint McCall, and it can't be beat for pathos.  Let's face it, this is a sad, sad song. 

I love cover versions, and I love Al Green.  Al always sounds a bit ecstatic, whatever he's singing.  So no surprise, here he sounds kind of sad and kind of ecstatic. 

I love this version, but I didn't cry.  Toussaint's version?  I cry every single time.