Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Irwin Corey Turns 100 Years Old

I'll let you look up the O. G. YouTube stuff yourself, the Real Comedy Gold, but here's the big clue:  Professor Irwin Corey, "the World's Foremost Authority," remains alive. 

Born in 1914, Guns of August! God, that was a long time ago. 

Looks like he's doing pretty well, all things considered.  I certainly wish him well.  Something on Facebook reminded me of him today, so I did the due diligence.  Amazing sometimes, what's out there to be found. 

Monday, July 28, 2014

Adrian Belew I Am What I Am

I'm not really all about the oldies, although this cut is from the 1990's and that's "Oldies" for a lot of people. 

Adrian is great, he just goes where he wants to go and makes it happen.  He's one of the rare ones that plays well in advance of anything that he's actually heard already.  Like only a few others, we listen and wonder:  how the fuck did he do that? 

I like the preacher too.  He's got some good advice for the rest of us, even if he seems to get confused sometimes.  Are we what we are, or what we think we are?  Sometimes I wonder myself.

"Let Me In"

I was just nosing around the 'Tube, you know, looking for trouble. 

There have been so many great songs by now, such variety and over such a long period of "recorded" history, that there are thousands of great cuts that you may be familiar with but which you have not thought about or heard for many, many years.  This was one such cut for me.  It's great though, isn't it?  How great to be reminded of a happy memory.  Thanks for that. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

The Greatest Actor In America

Acting, in the movies or on stage, is harder than it looks.  The best actors and actresses make it look easy, they make the process invisible.  We are now entertained by many great actors.  Tim Robbins and Jeff Bridges come to mind; Leonardo Di Caprio has done outstanding work; Tom Cruise has gotten surprisingly good.  “Greatest,” though, is a singular title, there can only be one.  Rather than nominate anyone in particular, I’m here to suggest that regular people, in their daily lives, commonly exhibit great acting skills themselves. 

We are all acting, more or less, every day, in all situations.  I say “more or less” because there are doubtless many among us who are naturally the people that they appear to be.  Many of us though, perhaps most of us, greet the world every day wearing a mask, or various masks, as the situation requires.  We have discovered that it is necessary to disguise our real selves in order better to fit into society.  We hide our fears and our rage and we seek to create a more cheerful, cooperative character to display to those that we encounter. 

I’m not the best of actors, I know that.  My mask cracks too easily; my ready smile fades and gives way to a hang-dog expression if I’m not careful.  My friendly banter becomes contaminated with recriminations.  Sometimes, not often anymore, but still, sometimes, my entire effort goes out the window and I become what I call “the other Fred.”  You don’t want to meet him, I’ll tell you.  He can seem right on the verge of cutting you down in the gutter.  I’m a pretty good actor though.  The magnitude of what my effort must overcome has to be part of the grading process.

I wouldn’t give the title of “greatest” to any of the professional actors among us.  To me, the greatest actor in America is probably a guy out in Iowa or somewhere, a guy with a boring job, an annoying overweight wife, a couple of disappointing children, and very little to comfort himself with generally, but who is still a good neighbor and friend, a helpful co-worker and a reliable employee, a faithful husband and a devoted father, day after day, day after fucking horrible, unrewarding, exhausting day, year after year, without complaining, or dropping his mask even once, a guy who can leave behind a perfect record of polite cheerfulness, which no one will appreciate. 

Except me, I appreciate his efforts.  Those guys are my heroes.  I couldn’t do what they do.  They make me wish that there were a heaven waiting for them, a place where they could be happy.  Instead all they get is the peace of the grave, where all men are equal, and no masks are required.  

The Dying

I’ve written somewhere herein that we don’t die all at once.  The process starts around our fortieth birthday, picks up steam rapidly, and culminates in actual death later on.  I would now add that it is not a linear progression, a day by day process.  No, it proceeds by fits and starts. 

We go along with about the same body and health for matters of months or years, with no change at all, no apparent aging.  Then we suffer some kind of event, a stress event or a health event, and after the days or weeks of the event we discover that something has changed.  We have aged.  The event has shortened our lives by months or years. 

For example:  in my late thirties I suffered a burst appendix.  I had been rolling along for years, same diet, same sleep habits, same physical capabilities, same weight, same appearance.  Then I got sick.  For six months I had what was misdiagnosed as a series of stomach flu episodes and lower digestive tract problems, featuring lots of vomiting and diarrhea.  I never got a fever, and my stomach did not palpate as though my appendix were the problem.  I had no health insurance, so no sophisticated diagnostics were employed.   I dropped some weight, and I had only started out in the low one-forties.  I became alarmingly weak and exhausted, by the end I could not speak with a full voice.  Finally my poor inflamed appendix popped, an experience that will get your attention, I can tell you.   I signed a permission slip for exploratory abdominal surgery, because they still hadn’t figured out that it was my appendix, and there followed a week in the hospital, bowels frozen by the anesthesia and almost hourly anesthetics, successfully fighting off the peritonitis.  It was terrible. 

I came home weighing about 123 pounds (at five feet, nine inches tall) and looking like death warmed over.  I got better, but I realized that the experience had aged me.  The weight came back on differently, more around the middle.  I was no longer inclined to run up stairs willy-nilly.  I’ve noticed the phenomenon since then on a couple of occasions.  Something like that pushes you down the field suddenly after having lingered at the forty yard line for some time. 

It’s like a jump-cut in the movies.  It’s a wonderful technique, most famously visible in the movie “Breathless” by Jean-Luc Goddard.  There’ll be a scene, static for a while, and then suddenly some time has been cut out and the scene jumps to almost the same scene some time later, perhaps from a slightly different angle.  It can be disconcerting, and it is meant to be.  It is an intentional violation of the rules of continuity editing, which is sometimes called “Hollywood editing,” or “invisible editing.”  The jump cut draws attention to the mechanics of film making, much like the life event draws attention to the process of aging.  

Something like that long ago event is happening to me now, less dramatically perhaps, but maybe more dangerously at my age.  A push down the field is more serious at sixty-five than it was a thirty-nine.  I’m not complaining, it’s the human condition and we all suffer equally.  It seems that life is a lot like high school, or boot camp.  We enter the experience terribly confused and at a big disadvantage.  Then over time we figure it out, we learn how it all works.  And then, around the time when we have learned all that we need to know, we graduate.  Cruel irony, that.  

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Inhumanoids - Data File - Know Your Enemies

I was a little older than their target audience, I was a thirty-something at the time, but man, I loved this show. 

Politics was a mess in the Eighties, and the culture in general was going to hell in a hand basket, but there were bright spots. 

Billy Sunday Preaching In Boston (1929) - Rare Footage

As a blaspheming, whiskey soaked, Sabbath breaking infidel, I find these remarks highly offensive.

But interesting.  It's interesting to note that the script has not changed much since 1929.  Oh sure, the list of demonized groups has a few new names on it, but the idea is still the same.  "Thank God for the rich," says the reverend, "and here's a list of the people that we hate."

Religion could do so much better than this, and sometimes does.  Why, I wonder, do the real religionists put up with this kind of thing?  It just makes them all look bad. 

Saturday, July 19, 2014

English Strikes Again

English is not only a matter of vocabulary and grammar.  One must also master cultural sensitivities, or else the use of English may be inappropriate in some way.

Like calling a brand of infant formula "Lovely Milk Bags."  That one goes wrong in a hurry.

Filial Devotion

The other day I was having a coffee with a couple of friends.  The subject of mothers came up innocently, and one friend, in an effort to be considerate, asked me if my mother was still living. 

“Oh, God no,” I said, “my mother has been torturing people in hell for many years now.” 

Why would someone say such a thing?  Well, I have my reasons.  Before you think ill of me, please bear in mind:  you were not there.

Nothing was ever good enough for my mother.  I got terrific grades in early grammar school, top of the class.  But even a 99% average was disappointing to her.  I usually got the 100%, but even that was not praiseworthy.  That’s what was expected somehow. 

My parents were quick to find fault, quick to criticize, and they were never satisfied.  I was a good boy, generally, and I was well liked by most of the other parents, by my teachers, and by most of the other children too.  At home, I never got any credit for this. 

But just let some little thing go wrong!  Or wrong in their eyes anyway.  Nothing was ever good enough for either of my parents, and anything at all could become an opportunity for disapproval.  I am grateful to my father at least for limiting his reactions to mere disappointment and occasional degrading, sarcastic remarks.

My mother, on the other hand, would wait until we were alone and then start with the screaming and the beating. By the time I started grammar school, all of the wooden spoons in our kitchen had a least one side broken off.  

It was always about them, my innocent actions somehow had no meaning other than the effect they had on them, particularly my mother.  Everything in the world that was bad happened only to make her miserable.  She was capable of real violence.  How could I do such a thing!  Didn’t I love her!  Then would come the worst part.  With an imploring look, and tears in her eyes, she’d say, “don’t you know how much we love you?”  These torture sessions were the only time that she would tell me that she loved me, and then only in this backhanded way. 

This abuse often came by surprise.  Some news would come to her through the grapevine while I was out, some news of a scolding at school or a fight at the playground or the park.  Returning home at any time, any day, there was no way to know what to expect.  It was a nerve wracking crap shoot for me.  She might be reclining on the couch, enjoying a cocktail and watching American Bandstand.  No problem.  Or she might be waiting for me just inside the door, crying already, screaming immediately and clubbing me with a TV tray like some TV wrestler. Often I had no idea of the reason for the beating, and never found out.  

The only silver lining here is that my sister seems to have escaped this kind of treatment, almost entirely escaped it.  She kindly told me recently that the beatings really shocked her and that she remembers wishing that she could do something to help.  Thanks for that.  You’re a great sister.

After I was about ten years old, and my sister six, my father spent twenty days per month or more on the road for his job.  It was a very good job, and he made great money.  At this time he made an emotional detachment from my mother.  Their intimate relationship ended, and he became cool to her and to us, the children.  In effect, he abandoned us.  This did not improve my mother’s mood, he said drolly. The beatings went on all through high school.  

This post is an apology of sorts to anyone who may be surprised, or shocked, at the things that I might say on the subject of motherhood, my mother, Mothers’ Day, anything at all in that genre.  Mothers’ Day in particular usually reduces me to tears, the sense of loss is overwhelming.  The heartwarming stories of encouragement and support, the sincere demonstrations of appreciation and love, it all cuts me to the bone.  So I may seem cruel sometimes. 

Please understand that you do not share my memories; you do not suffer from my nightmares; you have not lived almost your entire life with voices in your head telling you that you are inadequate and that your only chance to save yourself is self-sabotage.  If you choose to find my attitude ungrateful, mean-spirited, or worse, please also bear in mind that you may be wrong.  My response may be the correct one.  I was there.

I say this all now because my mother is well beyond my complaining.  Many others too, separated by the grave from offense.  I was very good to my mother while she was alive.  She loved to talk on the phone, and I called her frequently so that it would not appear that she was doing all of the calling.  I was very kind to her.  My only rule was that we could never speak of the time I had spent in her house, I would change the subject immediately if that time came up in any way.  Even then she only wished to engage in revisionism, or outright exculpation.  I’d get off the phone and say to my wife, “when I die, I’m going straight to heaven, because I was nice to grandma.”

I loved my mother, I love her still. I came to accept her as a flawed human being who had given me the gift of life, even if she made it very difficult to enjoy that gift.  When she died, I felt mostly relief.  For her, because life had obviously been such a torment for her.  For myself too though, because the effort to forgive and forget had been difficult.  I also felt, and continue to feel, a great sorrow that no resolution or acknowledgement had been possible during her lifetime.  And there’s also the fact that anyone who views my life, with all of its failures and shortcomings, will know nothing of the contributing circumstances.  No one except you readers!  All twenty of you!  Thanks for that.  

Sunday, July 13, 2014

lee dorsey yes we can

Lee Dorsey is so great, there should be a holiday in his honor.  "Lee Dorsey Day."  And a tip of the hat to the Meters too (providing back up on this cut).  A day without the Meters is like a day without sunshine. 

A Non-Evangelical Post About Thai Buddhism

Yesterday, July 12th, was the big Buddhist holiday of Asanha Bucha.  I always confuse it with another holiday about a big meeting of monks who just showed up without being summoned, but they are two different holidays, I'm pretty sure.

Asanha Bucha celebrates the first meeting, the first lesson.  Mr. Buddha had been meditating at this temple for quite a while and was finally at the point where he felt that he had something so share.  So the holiday memorializes the birth of Buddhism as a movement, a religion, if you will.

It's simple.  There is suffering in human life, and it is caused by craving.  There is an achievable state of mind called nirvana, in which craving and suffering cannot thrive.  And there is a manner of living that can move a person towards that state.  Which would be good.  

What I like about Buddhism, and in particular Thai Buddhism, is that it is a "religion" without a God.  It is more of a way of life, a philosophy.  Here are some clues about what life is, and here are some suggestions as to how it can be made more bearable.  The Buddha understood better than almost anybody else in history that life is a steaming pile of Hundschmutz, and that some relief is necessary, some strategy to combat the constant disappointment, failure and outright horror of the whole enterprise. Twenty-five hundred years later we are still in his debt. 

Buddhism in other countries gets carried away with nirvana, and reincarnation, and saints and whatever, and praying for something, some benefit or little bit of luck, probably financial, but Thai Buddhism is wonderfully free of that kind of bullshit.   Thai Buddhism is very focused on our personal experiences of the world, relationships between parents and children, workers and bosses, the high and the low of society, like how to be a good person and how to avoid the worst of the suffering that is inevitable in life.  Thai Buddhism is very, very cool.

Not that I practice it, I'm a guest here, and I remain an observer of religion in general.

But it's a big holiday over here.  All of the temples are full of families who have come to make offerings of food, household items, candles and money to the monks, and to receive blessings in return.  These are really team-building exercises, community strengthening experiences.  It's also a good opportunity to put in a good word for the faithful departed. 

I let my friend go in for the meeting/blessing part of the visit with the monks alone.  I generally feel that the last thing Thais need while they are building their own sense of community is an outsider who doesn't know exactly where to place his feet.  I kicked in 100 Baht for the envelope, it was the least that I could do.  My friend told me to make a wish on the envelope, that's the custom.

My wish was, "please don't let the worst happen."  I do feel like it's  best to keep one's prayers simple.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Greetings, All You Russians

I see from the stat's page that many of my Russian friends are checking in on Spin Easy Time.  Thanks for that, and as they say in New Orleans, "I hope y'all pass a good time!"

I would greet you in your own language, but all I can say is:  "shto eto?" followed by "eto karandash."  I have seen many wonderful Russian movies though, and I will tell my non-Russian readers that Russian is a much more beautiful language than you think.  It is actually much more melodious then its reputation.  I think that the "no articles" thing gives it a bad name.  ("What is?" Answer: "is pencil.")

That and all of those various sh and ch sounds.  Russian is not as bad as Dutch though, or, God forbid, Swiss German.  Try it sometime!

Why Is John Kerry The Secretary Of Anything?

In the meantime, to distract myself from more pressing matters, I am very steamed about John Kerry.

How did this wooden idiot get so far in life?  Was there some period of quality somewhere?  Quality anything at all?  Are they keeping his quality output a secret?  Or has he always, as is apparently true, drifted along like a dry leaf on the idiot wind from one promotion to another.

I don't know enough about all of the Secretaries of State in history to make a judgment, but Johnny boy can't be one of the good ones.

Am I bitter?  Yes.  I'm bitter that a privileged JFK wannabee like John Kerry is praised for every mediocre, borderline stupid thing that he does, while I, and my ilk, languish in the wheel-spinning laugh factory of non-stop singing and dancing that the medical geniuses call depression.  

Smokey Robinson - Tears Of A Clown

Incidentally, this YouTube is quite the little zoo these days. It just took me five minutes to find the original version of this classic cut.

I'm just writing up a post on the whole Pagliacci thing, and this song came to mind.  We all do it, don't we?

This song has a better story than most.  Smoky wrote it, and the guys were in the studio working on it.  They weren't happy with the way it was coming out.  Stevie Wonder was recording down the hall, and at one point he stopped in to say hello.  "How's it going?"  They said, well, it could be better.  Stevie said let's hear what you've got.  He fooled around with it briefly and came up with the whole hook, kit and kaboodle, they cut it right there, and the rest is history.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Misunderstood Thailand

Americans are not famous for their clear understanding of foreign countries.  Their knowledge of other places is generally restricted to travel poster images and anecdotal information.  France becomes the Eiffel Tower and snooty waiters.  Germany becomes castles and Oktoberfest.  Italy becomes ruins and pickpockets.  Some enlightened Americans recall that there are famous museums in these places, but most do not care.  Asian countries are even less well understood. 

I wish that I could claim to be much better informed, but that would not be true.  I have wider interests than most people, and I am more experienced of books, newspapers and films than the average person, but I have never had what could be called an compelling academic interest in anything at all. 

Before coming to Thailand with the Peace Corps, at the age of fifty-five, my knowledge of Thailand was very thin.  I knew that there had been a financial disruption in 1997, but I didn’t know the details.  Was Thailand one of the “Asian Tigers” back then?  One of the decade’s new economic successes?  I’d have to look that up.  Mostly, I knew that Thai food was delicious, and from meeting the owners and the wait staff of many Thai restaurants I had the impression that Thai people were very friendly. 

The travel poster/anecdote version of Thailand is one of beautiful beaches and prostitutes.  These things exist, but they are a very small, insignificant and misleading part of the real picture. 

In reality, Thai women are, overwhelmingly, a very modest bunch, and usually quite religious.  There are some very nice beaches, but finding one that is not overrun with rude foreigners is becoming difficult. 

The Real Thailand

Thailand is a big place, fully as large and as populous as France.  The real charm of Thailand is found far off the beaten tourist path. 

The food is uniformly excellent, everywhere in Thailand.  You might guess that.  What comes as a surprise to many visitors is that you can confidently eat the food without worrying about ruining your stomach and your vacation.  Thai people are very proud, they don’t want you to get sick on food that they sold to you.  They’re careful about what they cook.  (Just don’t eat fish on the beach when the vendor has been walking around with the tray for two hours already.  I mean, use your head.) 

And Thai people more than live up to their reputation for charm and hospitality.  No surprise there either.  There are many other wonderful things about Thailand and Thai people that are less well known. 

Education in Thailand

My university is the Ramkhamhaeng University, and it’s a big one.  We have 850,000 students, attending classes at the main campus in Bangkok, a subsidiary campus nearby, and forty-four remote campuses out in the provinces.  The students get a very good education, and they have to work very hard for it, but getting in, and paying for it, are easy.  Ramkhamhaeng is the biggest “open” university, there are no particular entrance requirements and no entrance test.  Tuition is so low that it’s almost invisible without instruments.  These are wonderful things that we no longer have in America.

High school students in Thailand have choices that are not available to most American students.  High school here is from grade seven through twelve, and it is divided into two parts.  Grades seven, eight and nine are mandatory, and free, it’s all free up to that point.  Students can then choose to attend grades ten, eleven and twelve for a nominal fee, or go to a technical college for four years in lieu of the rest of high school, also at a nominal fee.  The technical colleges provide high quality vocational training in many fields. 

Adult literacy is somewhere around 98%.  The Thai education system is not perfect, but it is accessible, universal and affordable.

Public Welfare

 I was born in the 1940’s, and many of my Thai friends who were also born at that time lived in homes with no electricity and perhaps no hook up to a municipal water supply.  That has all changed. 
By a concerted national effort, virtually every home in Thailand now has both conveniences.  I have visited with families that live way outside of town in the rice fields, in homes that have no windows or doors, but those homes have a hook up to clean water, and they all have electricity.  The rates are heavily subsidized for families of limited means.  

More recently the government has instituted a couple of programs to improve the dental health of students from families too poor to provide it themselves.   Ten years ago I began teaching at a small school in a very small, poor town.  Many of the children in the fourth, fifth and sixth grade had terrible teeth, mostly missing, some black.  It was around then that a program was launched to arrange for dentists to visit all children in this situation at school on a regular basis.  Another program delivered milk for all of the students as school was letting out.  Within six years virtually all of the sixth grade students at this school displayed very good teeth. 

Health care is not universal, but there is a program to make it much more affordable. 

Thailand makes a considerable effort to take care of its own, within its budgetary and economic constraints. 

The Economy

Thailand literally means, “the land of the free.”  There is near total economic freedom, vastly more than we experience in the United States.  For example, some of my teacher friends up north made extra money by cooking after school.  They would prepare a big pot of something popular, decant it into plastic bags closed with rubber bands, and simply display the bags on a table outside the house.  Usually a teenage child would man the table.  People would stop on motorcycles on their way home after work and buy the food.  No licenses, no official interference and no taxes.  This is what total freedom looks like.  (It is possible . . . but that’s another story.) 

Similarly, anywhere you go in Thailand there are ways to get around.  Usually there is an organized system of vans, tuk-tuks, pickup trucks, or motorcycle taxis, but not always.  In some places it may just be guys with cars who serve as taxis for flat rates.  Almost anyone that you may ask, “how can I get there?” will be able to help you, even if he has to call a friend. 

The unemployment rate in Thailand is something like 0.9%.  Thais work too hard, and for too little money, but they’re all working. 

Thai Politics

Thai politics can seem mysterious to outsiders, and it can often seem chaotic.  But there is a mystery and a majesty to it, a certain political genius that I believe arises from what I call the “Spirit of the Rice Field.” 

Thai culture is based on concepts like group wellbeing and group happiness.  This can be very useful when it comes to avoiding problems, or minimizing them, or massaging them away without too much trouble.  Witness the success of Thai kings like Rama IV, and the great Rama V, King Chulalongkorn, who is justifiably revered as the Father of Modern Thailand.  Those men kept Thailand free and independent while every other country in South East Asia was colonized by Europeans.

Consider the Thai experience of World War II.  There was no alternative but to cooperate with the Japanese, but the Thai government had no enthusiasm for a war against America and England.  They were coerced into declaring war against the Allies, but they immediately contacted American intelligence sources and offered to help.  Many of the bombing raids launched by America against Japan were assisted by targeting information provided by Thai consular officials in Tokyo and elsewhere. 

Proof of this can be found in the fact that after the war, America insisted that there be no penalties imposed on Thailand for having declared war on the Allies.  That was a smooth move right there.

So now, if Thai politics goes in directions that I do not fully understand, I tend to trust them to be working some of this old Thai magic.  Like the recent coup.  Like previous coups, and there have been many, the Thai army will almost certainly protect the economy like a loving mother hen and take steps to bring the country closer to being a working democracy, and as soon as possible too. 

Thailand is not a perfect place, but almost nowhere is.  Maybe absolutely nowhere is perfect, but I’m not the expert.  Maybe Denmark.  Someone else could write 1,500 different words about what a terrible place Thailand is.  I have obviously chosen the positive side of that debate. 

Thailand is, on balance, a wonderful country, full of beautiful scenery and wildlife, with the best food in the world, and friendly, talented people who tolerate foreigners very well.  It all works out okay for me, because it now appears that, with their continued indulgence, I’ll be here for the duration.  

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Not A Book Review: The Melrose Novels

I'm very much enjoying a recent Amazon purchase of the first five autobiographical Melrose novels by the English author, Edward St. Aubyn.  It was so inexpensive that I'm almost guilty about it.  $7.99 for the five novels in Kindle format.  Mr. St. Aubyn is rather younger than I am, and still very much alive, and I doubt if he got more than a dollar or two from my purchase.  I owe him a good dinner at least if I ever meet him.  He's getting virtually no benefit while providing me with many hours of considerable enjoyment.

St. Aubyn is represented in the novels by Patrick Melrose, and in the first installment Patrick is five years old.  On a selfish level, I admit that it is a great comfort to me to read of young Patrick's experiences of life with his parents.  My own experience of childhood was disagreeable, but it was merely disagreeable by and large.  Patrick's experiences, as described in the novel, are more at the "genuine horror" end of that continuum.  My own parents may not have been the loving and nurturing parents that some people are blessed with, but at least they lacked the truly monstrous qualities that are present in, let's say, some parents.

So thank you, Mr. St. Aubyn, for reminding me how good I had it, relatively speaking.  I will cease my complaining about my childhood immediately.  

Suki Suki Suki★SADISTIC MIKA BAND 1975

This is a very nice clip from a TV show.

Music was such a different thing in those days.  "Those days . . ."  No mobile phones, no computers and certainly no Internet.  Finding new music was a function of bullshit terrestrial radio, publications, helpful friends and rumors.  I found these guys by noticing somewhere that the band Roxy Music were fans.  The band released "Black Ship" on Capitol records in 1975.  I bought a copy and was hooked.

The level of musicianship in this video is high, this was a talented band that could really set up and play, and sing.  Great material, and Mika is very pretty.  What's not to love? 

Barack Obama And El Greco

A dubious poll appeared last week that claimed to show that President Obama was the "worst" president since World War II.  I made a crack on Facebook about George Bush II, who is, let's face it, the obvious winner of that contest, hands down, stop your calls, we have a winner!  It was a straightforward comment, meaning simply that Bush was a worse president than Mr. Obama.  Facebook lit up.

So many people these days are unreasonably negative about Mr. Obama, for one thing.  Not to mention that anyone who declines to say terrible things about Obama is immediately attacked for "supporting" him, which is given to mean that one approves of everything that he's done and believes that he is doing a fabulous job. This is either a reading comprehension problem or a pathology of the mind.

There is little hope of redressing this imbalance this year or next, but I'm hoping that history will treat President Obama like it has treated many others who were underappreciated in their own times.

For example, the great painter, Domenikos Theotokopoulos, aka, El Greco ("The Greek"), who spent hundreds of years on the shit list.  "Contemptible and ridiculous, as much for the disjointed drawing as for the insipid colors . . ."

The people who wrote these things were just not understanding what they were looking at.  They were looking at the paintings after they had been moved from churches to museums.  El Greco's paintings, the famous ones, were originally hung high on the walls of Spanish churches.  So you'd be looking up at them.  Any decent artist will adjust his perspective to accommodate that situation.  And the churches were bright spaces with vast white walls, which necessarily affected color choices.  Today we understand what El Greco was doing, and we appreciate it as great art.

I don't know if President Obama will ever be considered to have been a great president, but I do know this much:  he will be remembered more fondly than Bush.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Eno • Hyde - 'DBF'

Brian Eno and Karl Hyde, almost recent. 

I'm speechless, I have no comment really.  But I read about this today, and checked up with the 'Tube, and I can't get it out of my head, you know, in a good way. 

Monday, July 7, 2014

Chasin' The Trane - ジャズスタンダード曲テーマ

The strangest things are up on the YouTube now.  Like this, the easy listening version of "Chasing the 'Trane." 

The version of this that I really love is not up on the 'Tube.  "John Coltrane Live at the Village Vanguard" on ABC Impulse records features a version of about eleven minutes duration on side two. 

It's nuts.  There are some other good versions on YouTube.  Check them out!  This little clip is the Lawrence Welk version, it's almost disorienting. 

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cool Vehicle Alert: The Train Market

The "Train Market" is a regular thing behind the Seacon Square mall on Sri Nakarindara ("see-nakareen") Road in Bangkok.  It's all the way cool.

It has many good food options and a large area of stalls featuring the usual t-shirts, hats, clothes in general, phone covers, etc.  Then there's a considerable area devoted to indoor shops selling antiques of various ages and countries.  Lots of old radios and TV's, some jukeboxes, telephones, European and American household items like vases, lamps and mugs.  One shop had big racks of ORIGINAL concert t-shirts from bands going back to the early Seventies, faded but solid and very nostalgic.

And then there were the vehicles!  At the top is a very nice Nova custom (1970?).  That's a Sixties Honda Hawk next, probably a 175 cc.  The entire layout is identical to the Hawks and Super Hawks that made it to America.  How about that motorized bicycle?  Isn't that something?  The yellow pick-up truck was very nice.  It must have an air suspension hidden somewhere, I doubt if it would roll at that altitude, it's sitting right square on the deck.

We had burgers (beef, a rarity) at a place called "Halal Food."  The burgers, and the fries, and even the onion rings, were excellent.

A little on the hot side, but we're all used to that.  It didn't rain, although it threatened.  A wonderful outing.

A German Energy Miracle

I recommend that you first read the below post, "Furor Teutonicus." 

FANTASY ALERT:  What follows is an exercise in “what if?” 

At a future meeting of the General Assembly of the United Nations, the German Ambassador is allowed to address the delegates on an urgent matter of first impression. 

He greets the assembly politely, if not warmly, and begins his speech . . .

(clears throat)  We do not wish to alarm anyone, but it has become necessary to inform the entire family of nations of certain developments in Germany’s energy capabilities.

German science has become justifiably famous for its efforts in the area of so-called alternative energy research.  You will be happy, perhaps, to learn that these efforts have borne fruit beyond anyone’s wildest imaginings.  In short, the world’s energy problems have been lavishly solved.  There will soon be in place, assuming all of your gracious cooperation, a worldwide system of totally clean energy generation that will economically achieve an output of power that will be far greater than anything that has been achieved with fossil fuels, and including in that superannuated total any and all of the small contributions of now obsolete forms of alternate energy sources such as nuclear, solar, wind and the rest. 

This was accomplished by a consortium of the German Government, the German scientific and academic communities, and various German business entities.  The results will, or course, remain proprietary, and will be administered by the newly created German Energy Authority.  All cooperating countries will now have at their fingertips a far greater output of available energy then they now possess, delivered at a cost substantially lower than they are now experiencing.  Yes, much more for rather less. 

The new power regime includes power generation, storage, and distribution.  It is intended to completely replace the use of fossil and nuclear fuels, on a schedule to be announced. 

The immediate impact of this simply cannot be overstated.  Not only the problem of energy, but also, for example, the problem of clear, potable water, will instantly be solved.  Many potential effects remain speculative, but it is likely that many of the currently perceived obstacles to the peace and prosperity of mankind will be rapidly moved into the “solved” column. 

The German Energy Authority (the “GEA”), will retain to itself the duty to administer this program of world salvation.  It will do so with an enlightened view to the common good, in consultation with the cooperating countries.  To be clear, the GEA will provide and maintain the physical plant of this enterprise, and the GEA will serve as the vendor of the resulting energy output.  Specifics will be provided later, but I can assure you that the prices will represent a considerable savings for all client states. 

(after a brief pause) It should also be noted that the GEA, and the German government, will be retaining for themselves the full magnitude of these new developments.  In other words, the GEA and the German government will have available to themselves alone an output of energy that will be, and will remain, exponentially greater than that available to any of the client states. 

(clears throat) And, incidentally, and again, without wishing to alarm anyone, I am authorized to inform you that the fullest expression of this revolutionary energy source has already been weaponized by the GEA.  In fact, three generations of heretofore unknown weapons have been developed, tested, and put into production.  These include several new transportation technologies.  The novel forms of transport will be demonstrated during the program of installing the new facilities in client countries.  The weaponry will remain secret, unless demonstrations become necessary. 

I am not authorized to take questions at this time, and there is currently no mechanism for answering questions.  Please be patient, everything will be explained to you. 

It should be obvious to everyone that these developments will put an end to warfare as we know it.  It is suggested that all countries and non-governmental entities now engaged in hostilities should immediately formulate cease fires on an urgent basis.  We suggest, and we are confident, that the tremendous benefits that are about to flow to all parties, everywhere, will be a sufficient balm to sooth whatever disputes have existed. 

Groups fighting groups has also become obsolete, and would represent an unacceptable counterproductivity.  The fighting is over; there is no longer anything to fight about.
There will be enforcement.  Think of the metaphor of the carrot and the stick.  There has never been a greater carrot than the gift of peace, health and prosperity for all of your people.  Regarding the stick, well, we remain hopeful that no demonstrations will become necessary. 

(remembers to smile)  We trust that you will all join us in celebrating this wonderful new chapter in the history of humanity! 

Thank you for your attention. 

Something Borrowed

Please forgive me, anyone who cares, but I'm borrowing this from a very nice site called Lapham's Quarterly.  Some kind of English literary site.  They feature very entertaining snippets of one-hundred-plus year old antique commentaries, dating back to the Roman Empire actually, and beyond, probably. 

Here's one, written by a Frenchman in 1834:

Furor Teutonicus

Christianity—and this is its fairest merit—subdued to a certain extent the brutal warrior ardor of the Germans, but it could not entirely quench it; and when the cross, that restraining talisman, falls to pieces, then will break forth again the ferocity of the old combatants the frantic Berserker rage whereof Northern poets have said and sung so much. The talisman has become rotten, and the day will come when it will pitifully crumble to dust. The old stone gods will then arise from the forgotten ruins and wipe from their eyes the dust of centuries, and Thor with his giant hammer will arise again, and he will shatter the Gothic cathedrals…When you hear the trampling of feet and the clashing of arms, your neighbors’ children, you French, be on your guard, and see that you mingle not in the fray going on among us at home in Germany. It might fare ill with you. See that you take no hand in kindling the fire; see that you attempt not to extinguish it. You might easily burn your fingers in the flame. Smile not at my counsel, at the counsel of a dreamer, who warns you against Kantians, Fichteans, philosophers of nature. Smile not at the fantasy of one who foresees in the region of reality the same outburst of revolution that has taken place in the region of intellect. The thought precedes the deed as the lightning the thunder. German thunder is of true German character: it is not very nimble, but rumbles along somewhat slowly. But come it will, and when you hear a crashing such as never before has been heard in the world’s history, then know that at last the German thunderbolt has fallen. At this commotion the eagles will drop dead from the skies and the lions in the farthest wastes of Africa will bite their tails and creep into their royal lairs. There will be played in Germany a drama compared to which the French Revolution will seem but an innocent idyll.

End of ruthlessly exploited stolen material.

I read this piece last week, and it reminded me of something that I actually used to worry about.  As a younger man I had a list of things that I desperately hoped would not come to pass during my lifetime.  Things like, please, God, wait until I am gone before aliens land some kind of flying saucer on the White House lawn.  Like, please let no one invent a fool proof lie detector while I yet live, things like that.

On the list was, please don't let Germany make some kind of technological breakthrough of a magnitude that would tempt them to dictate terms to the world.  It is perhaps a strange thing for me to fear, because in real life I rather like the Germans, and I get along with them very well.  I can speak German, and that serves very well to put one in their good graces.  My own blood is twenty-five percent German.  So yes, I like them, and I prefer their company to most other Europeans, but honestly, can we really ever trust them to have abandoned all of their old predilections? I trust them well enough, but only so far evidently. 

I trust them a lot more than the writer of the above article.  

I'll be posting something tomorrow that addresses this fear. 

Friday, July 4, 2014

The Vietnamese L-Shaped Fighting Hole

You couldn’t call it a foxhole, not really, although it is the ultimate architectural triumph of the concept of the foxhole. 

The idea is defilade (rhymes with lemonade), put something in between yourself and enemy fire.  Defilade is “the protection of a position, vehicle or troops against enemy observation or gunfire.”  This could be a building, a vehicle, a wall, or the earth itself, into which you have carefully crafted a hole. 

Defilade comes from the French word defiler, “to protect from the enemy.”  It is related to the English word defile, “a steep sided, narrow gorge (originally one requiring troops to march single file).” 

One of the true things about warfare is that as the conflict drags on the participants seek and create more and more defilade.  Experience teaches them that it is necessary.  They want all of the protection that they can get from the now familiar threats. 

In the beginning of a war, foxholes are barely scratched into the surface of the ground.  Digging is very hard work, and it must often be performed after other strenuous work, like marching long distances.   Take the war between the Russians and the Germans, for example.  The Germans managed to keep it a war of maneuver for the first two years.  Much of that time, digging in was not a priority.  Every soldier carried an entrenching tool, those simple little (usually) folding shovels that all soldiers carry.  After those initial successes the Germans were thrown back on their heels.  For the remainder of the war they were constantly falling back from one defensive position to another hastily constructed position.  In photographs from this period it seems like every other trooper is carrying a full-sized, long-handled shovel.  The impressive firepower of the Russians made them dig deeper and deeper trenches and foxholes. 

More firepower equals deeper holes. 

The Vietnamese L-Shaped Fighting Hole

The greatest excavators of earth in the history of warfare were the Vietnamese in the final phase of their war to expel the colonial powers.  (This conflict was known in America as “The Vietnam War.”)  They achieved this superlative position owing to the superlative quantities of firepower that were applied to them by the Americans.  The vast numbers of artillery shells of all varieties and sizes, and the profligate application of gravity bombs of all weights and types, was of an order of magnitude that the world had never seen before. 

The entire fighting area was covered by mutually supporting artillery bases, and generally there were tactical aircraft, loaded for bear, already on station somewhere, orbiting an area and waiting for a fire- mission that could be only a few minutes away.  There were high-explosive bombs, napalm bombs, and white-phosphorous bombs (and shells), technologies that were perfected during World War II.  There were also new innovations, such as cluster bombs, where the casing falls away to deploy a large number of small explosive devices.  Not to mention the new “concussion bombs,” which were designed specifically to kill opponents who had dug themselves deep into the earth.  Concussion bombs descend on a small parachute, and on the way down they release a mist of kerosene.  The mist creates a dome in the air which is then ignited, causing a neat little dome shaped explosion above ground level.  This detonation uses up all of the air in the dome.  The concussion part comes when the surrounding air crashes back into the dome.  The opponents in underground bunkers may then be discovered in their tunnels, stone dead but otherwise undamaged, with trickles of blood drying around their ears. 

The Vietnamese responded to this firepower with their shovels.  Their masterpiece was the L-shaped fighting hole, sometimes called the “spider hole.”   These were one man fighting positions. 

These ultra-foxholes were up to eight feet deep.  At that depth, it’s important to cut climbing steps into the sides.  You’d need a shelf or two near the top for grenades and ammunition.  The “L” element was cut horizontally near the bottom.  The fury of the incoming firepower was so vast that even at the bottom of a narrow, eight-foot deep hole, the occupant could be killed by shrapnel coming straight down.  A sheltering area was cut into the side of the hole to avoid this. 

For me, this thing takes the cake.  The Vietnamese troops fighting in these positions were very difficult to eliminate, short of making it right up to the hole and dropping in grenades.  And of course there were always a bunch of them, mutually supporting, and multiple AK-47’s could control a wide area by fire.  If the attacking force stepped back to allow an artillery interval, the defenders went down into the shelter area.  The artillery stops, and the gunners are back at the tops of the holes. 

Of course, the mere existence of the holes doesn't mean too much in the scheme of things.  Much more important was the quality of the troops that maned them.  I would say that the Vietnamese troops that opposed the Americans in that war, both Viet Cong and NVA, were among the best dough boys ever to fire a weapon in defense of their country.  Bar none.   

You could say that the vast tunnel complexes like Cu Chi were more impressive, and you’d probably be right.  For elegance and utility however, for shear design economy and military effectiveness, I’m giving the L-Shaped Fighting Hole the nod as “Best Soldier Created Defilade in the History of Warfare.” 

The New Guys On The Mesopotamian Block

"Large swaths of North-Eastern Iraq taken over by ISIS."  Remember that news from a few week ago?

ISIS being the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria."  Or was.  These guys are very sophisticated in many ways, it's clear.  They do a good job with the social media and public relations in general.  But they missed the boat when they changed their name.  Repeatedly, I might add.

ISIS was a great name.  It sounds great, and the association with the ancient Egyptian goddess Isis didn't hurt.  These guys didn't feel that way.

First, they started to quibble about he entire historical validity of Syria.  They have a major hair across their collective asses about the Sykes-Picot map, created in 1916 by England and France.  That map created the countries of Iraq and Syria out of what was, up until World War I, the Ottoman entity called the Levant.  So the ISIS crowd changed their name to "The Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant," ISIL for short.

At that point somebody must have remembered that they'd forgotten to jettison the colonial entity of Iraq as well.  So they did.  The name was changed to "The Islamic State."

"The Islamic State" has a certain elegance to it, undoubtedly.  I still prefer ISIS though.  Charm still means something in Fred World.