Monday, November 30, 2015

Pere Ubu - Street Waves - 1978 Rock

Meanwhile, in the United States of America.

Brian Eno "Sky Saw"

And about forty years ago there was this.  And it was good.  Still sounds fresh as a daisy, doesn't it?

There's plenty of good music these days, but an awful lot of it sounds like Eno, Can and/or Devo.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

California, Water, And Golf

California was in the middle of a drought when I arrived in 1975.  I stayed in Berkeley for a few days at the home of friends that had two sons, ages 7 and 9.  In the bathroom there was a drawing of a big, yellow sun that bore the legend, “in this land of drought and sun, we don’t flush for number one.”  For the next few years it hardly rained at all.  It all seemed normal to me, a newcomer.  At that time, I don’t think the Dodgers had had a rained out home game in all of their time in L.A. 

By the 1980s, the rains had returned with some strength.  There were a few big El Nino years in a row.  In 1982 the storms kept coming with ruthless regularity until May, so even the Dodgers had to deal with it.  There was water aplenty. 

Drought conditions returned in the 1990s.  In the mid-1990s the city of Los Angeles, and maybe the entire county, resorted to water rationing to deal with it.  It was announced that starting the following year, all water users would be limited to a certain percentage of the water that they had used in the previous year.   There were abuses.

A couple of friends and I were weekend golfers at the time.  We played the municipal courses, most of which were of the type that we called “goat paths.”  Those were courses where the fairways were straight, flat and uncomplicated.  There might be one hole with a water hazard that was used as a reservoir for the course, and the grass was pretty beaten down by all of the walkers.  There are lots of golfers in Los Angeles. The best of the municipal courses was Rancho Park, which is really a very nice golf course, a different story altogether.  Rancho is well forested and very green, with long water holes and many changes of grade.  They even play a tournament there.  Ranco had interesting ideas about water.

There was a friend of my son’s working in the cart shack at Rancho at the time.  One day we stopped by after playing to say hello.  While we were having a pleasant natter, I noticed that there were several large diameter hoses lying around, running full on and draining into a big sewer grate.  I asked my young friend about it. “Oh,” he said, “they’re keeping all of the taps turned on so that next year we don’t have to worry about water.”  They were artificially raising their baseline for the coming years of water rationing.  Their solution to the drought problem was to waste vast amounts of potable water, just send it right down the drain.  I’m sure that their explanation would have been that they were just protecting the integrity of their golf course, which was a public trust. 

Southern California is lousy with golf courses, there must be hundreds of them.  I’m sure that Rancho wasn’t the only one with this water wasting plan.  The many big, beautiful private courses are capitalist institutions, so the managers there had directors and stockholders to answer to.  It was more important for them to honor that more limited duty than to consider the public duty to save water.  The number of acre-feet of water thus wasted must have been staggering. 

The current water crisis in California dwarfs anything that came before during my time in California, maybe anything in history.  The state’s reservoirs seem to be mostly empty.  There are a vast number of man-made lakes in California that are used as reservoirs, and they are disappearing.  The floor of the San Juaquin Valley is actually sinking, because almost all of the ground water has been pumped out of the aquafers.  Somehow, though, in aerial photos the golf courses are all strangely green.  Some other blessed locations are also very green.  Lush, in fact.  I’m very curious to see how long their luck can hold out. 

Los Angeles is a desert, so maybe it’s time to go to the style of golf courses that one sees in places like Saudi Arabia.  Courses with a small green tee box, nice green greens, and mostly sand in between.  Or at least links style courses, like the ones found in Scotland.  Those are mostly scrub grass that is comfortable in sandy soil and does not require a lot of watering.  Those are “target shooting” courses.  “See that little green patch out there?  Now lay the ball on it.”  (Or else it’s lost.)  There’ll be a fuss, but you can get used to anything it you try a little bit.  

Obviously, California is going to have to get used to being water poor.  These days all of the geniuses in the world are devoting themselves to figuring out ways to make mischief with fiat money, or avoid paying taxes, or cheat working people out of benefits.  If only a few of the geniuses would apply their talents to problems of water, or food production, or social progress, or peaceful coexistence, boy, that would be so fucking great that I would cry for happiness.  I doubt if it will happen, though.  So I guess we’ll have to settle for the desertification of golf.

Friday, November 27, 2015

A Letter

I thought that I got a letter today.  A letter from America!  A rare and beautiful thing!  Turned out that it was a letter that was being returned as "Return to Sender; Not Deliverable as Addressed; Unable to Forward."

I was disappointed.  Slightly more disappointed that the ninety-nine days out of a hundred when no letter comes at all.


Savoy Brown:-'Train To Nowhere'

I don't know much about most things, and very little about certain things, but I know what I like, and I know what I liked when most people by far were liking something else.  In the late Sixties, I liked Savoy Brown.  I liked them very much.

When I listen now, I flatter myself to think that they've held up very well.

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Bangkok Skyline

I'm really loving this balcony.  All my life, I've never had a view before!

The sun from the west is a giant pain in the ass, so I'll be moving next year.  But in the meantime, between the sky and the birds, I'm enjoying myself.

Yeah, We're Old. So What? What's New?

It has never been easy to get old, I’m certain of that.  It’s not getting any easier either, I’m certain of that too.

Most of the hassles are of the bureaucratic kind.  Money hassles in general; dealing with Social Security and Medicare; taxes; doctor bills; working; investments if you’re lucky.  Illness and decrepitude are hassles, that’s for sure.  My least favorite hassles, however, are the ones that come from other people in the form of silly ideas.  Things like, “Social Security and Medicare are entitlement programs (and we can’t afford such giveaways)”; “how long should people have to work before they can start on Social Security?”; and my least favorite, “Baby Boomers fucked up the world.” 

That last one, amazingly, often comes from Baby Boomers themselves.  If that’s the case, usually It’s a Conservative Baby Boomer complaining about Liberal Baby Boomers.  Most often, though, it comes from younger people, and it really gives me a “hey you kids, get off my lawn” moment when that happens.  Young people have been annoying since the dawn of time, but I’m getting to the age when it becomes most noticeable.  When young people today complain about Baby Boomers they have a twofold agenda: 1) Baby Boomers made mistakes that have ruined my planet or my finances and limited my opportunities or something; and 2) when are my Baby Boomer parents going to die so that I can get my hands on “my” money?  Man, I like ISIS better than I like some of these young people.

And by the way, all of you hipsters, with your hipster hats, you’d better hurry up and knew this:

As you are, we once were; as we are, so you will someday be.  (To paraphrase skeletal death on those Middle Ages tombstones.)

And that’s if you’re lucky!  Not everybody gets the luxury of old age.  I was definitely thirty-five-years-old at one time, and I was thirty-five for an entire calendar year.  Many of these whining youngsters will be dead before they reach my age.  Maybe long dead.  Some of them deserve it, too.

Everybody gets the same deal.  Everybody who lives a normal life span, who hits the actuarial predictions, lives exactly one year at each year of age.  Everyone’s year is the same 365 days; the same 525,600 minutes.  My “three score and ten” is the same as everybody else’s “three score and ten.” All young people, including we Boomers, have always shared the illusion that they will somehow beat the odds and remain young forever, because they exercise, or eat right, or will get lucky, or the doc’s will figure something out, forever.  The certainty of death only begins to sink in at around forty-five-years-old.  It all happens faster than anyone expected it to as well.  If you’re alive now, you’ll be dead within only a few thousand heartbeats after me.  We’re alive . . . we’re dying . . . and, we’re gone.  That’s the deal.  And it’s not the fault of Baby Boomers.

It’s not cool to blame shit on previous generations.  Intergenerational struggles are like a Golden Gloves boxing match, where a couple of kids wear huge pillowy gloves and flail away at each other without really accomplishing anything.  Baby Boomers may be in a unique situation, now that I think of it.  When we were young men and women, our parent’s generation was jealous of us, and by now I think these young hipsters are jealous of us as well.  After all, our fun made their fun look like a work camp.  And young people today should bow down and thank us for breaking up the old social status quo.  We died for their sins!  All of the things that they now believe make them cool came from us Boomers.

And here’s a tip, boys and girls.  If you’ve got your eye on mommy and daddy’s money, don’t say that shit out loud.  Keep that as your most closely held secret.  Because we are a nation of laws, and your parents can do whatever they want with that money.  I would encourage them to consider the matter very seriously.

And here’s a tip for Baby Boomers whose adult children are measuring them for coffins and taking inventory of their property and accounts:  don’t forget to put your ungrateful children in your will for $100.  That way they can’t take the battle to the Probate Court arguing that you just forgot to mention them and that you really intended to leave everything to them.  

Monday, November 23, 2015

Nina Simone - *He Was Too Good To Me*

I love this song; I love Nina S. I'm going to go and cry myself to sleep now, before I start cracking wise about the shitty music that we're stuck with these days.

Saturday, November 21, 2015

Excuses, Continued

Never mind.

Excuse Making

The pictures below are hidden for some reason.  They do open if you click on them, at least they open if I click on them.  I have no idea why that is happening, but I'll devote some thought to it, very little thought to it, and see if I can figure it out.

Tropical Skies



We're back up on the iMac here, so photo capability has been restored.

This was an interesting day.  No rain predicted, and the rainy season is officially over.  Two hours before these pix were taken the sky was only blue, wall to wall.  Two hours after these pix it was raining cats and dogs.

No worries; I had nowhere to go.  Another day in paradise!

The Late Late Show With James Cordon

James Cordon does a great job, I think, and the show is very entertaining.  Having said that, let's now concentrate on the backdrop.

Behind the usual desk and a couch or two is the usual mock up of a city skyline.  L.A. in this case.  One of the buildings depicted is the Roosevelt Hotel.  I have no idea if the Roosevelt Hotel is a famous L.A. landmark of some kind, but it is a famous location for me.

It was the first place that I ever slept in L.A.  I flew out in 1972 to reconnoiter, to see if L.A. was a suitable place for a New Yorker to relocate.  Why the Roosevelt Hotel?  Maybe it was an advertisement in a New York newspaper.  Pre-Internet, you know.

It was where I learned that the water in L.A. was so hard that you could take a shower without getting wet.  The water just beaded up on my shoulder like rain on a well waxed car fender.

It was where I was reassured that there were roaches in Los Angeles.

It was where I learned that when you stepped off the curb to jay-walk in L.A. all of the cars approaching from either direction magically stopped.  "Oooo," I remember thinking as I walked between the now stationary cars, "that's different."

It was also where I learned that one is helpless in L.A. without a car.  I got a free ticket to a TV preview up on Sunset Boulevard, and I went by bus.  I got there okay.  Not quickly, but okay.  Returning to the hotel was another story.  It took several hours.  The buses on Sunset didn't run after a certain hour, so I had to walk south to Hollywood Boulevard.  Then I discovered what happens when you say, "Seventh and South Hill" to an L.A. bus driver in a heavy New York accent.  (He assumes that you are speaking Chinese, turns his head, and ignores you.)

Yeah, the Roosevelt Hotel is part of my thirty-year history in L.A.  (Now fading in memory.)  After a couple of days I caught up with a friend from New York who had moved out a year or two before, and he graciously invited me to sleep on his couch for a week or two.  L.A. seemed like a good bet, and within a few years my wife and I had relocated.  We never regretted it.  Almost never.  After all, you can't beat the weather.

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Don't Put The Wrong People In Charge

History is full of examples of the terrible things that can happen when the wrong people obtain control of a country.  Sometimes they take charge on their own initiative (like happened in Japan in the 1930s), and sometimes it is handed to them in an election (like Germany in the 1930s).  Either way it can lead to disaster for the people so ruled, and maybe for their neighbors as well, and sometimes for the entire world.  With Germany and Japan it was all three.  The wrong people engage in fantastic thinking, overly ambitious planning, and the ruthless pursuit of  agendas that are not in the public’s best interests.  It’s trouble with a capital “T.” 

Japan

Disclaimer: Let me say up front that nothing in this essay is meant as a criticism of the Japanese people in general.  I happen to like the Japanese people, and I am a great admirer of Japanese art and culture.  I will, however, be criticizing the fanatical militarists who started all of that trouble long ago, and there will be implied criticism of the high ranking military officers who went along because they felt that it was their duty to do so.  End of Disclaimer

An early fascination with the Pacific War has never died in me.  The carrier battles, Guadalcanal, the air war, etc.  Rather than ever getting tired of it, my interest has steadily grown.  These days I am still gathering details about the ships, the planes, and the events, details that others may find strange.  Where did the carriers store their aviation gasoline?  How many rounds per gun did those planes carry?  It’s a good diversion for a mind prone to worry. 

I am not a fanboy of anybody in particular, but I find many things, and individuals, to admire in the armed forces of many of the combatants, including our opponents.  I’m not a glory hound either, though.  Glory is a bittersweet thing that taketh away much more than it giveth. 

I always try to stay fact based, so I always avoid what is called “alternate history.”  Those are books and articles that try to examine questions like, “what if the Japanese had won the Battle of Midway?”  Or, “what if the Japanese had a vast fleet of jet fighters?”  I don’t find such questions useful.  I think that the better question is, “what mistakes caused the Japanese leadership to take Japan into the war and on to disaster?” 

The question, “what would it have taken for the Japanese to prevail in the Pacific War?” is an easy one, because there was literally no statistical possibility of Japanese victory.  That would have required a many-fold increase in their available natural recourses and their industrial capacity.  All of that was hopelessly inadequate to the task.  Getting into the war in the first place clearly indicated that the leadership had completely abandoned the tenets of reality and common sense. 

They lived, in other words, in a fantasy world.  They were clearly the wrong people for the job.

The Japanese militarists shared with their German counterparts a wild overestimation of their own military capabilities, and a self-serving depreciation of their opponents’ capabilities.  They believed that “Japanese fighting spirit” would always carry the day.  They convinced themselves that Americans were decadent weaklings who would not fight.  Both of these things were horrible miscalculations, and they were both fantasies.

Who would think that it was a good idea to invade China?  Huge and populous China!  And then, after discovering that defeating China would be much more difficult than they had thought, and maybe even impossible, who would get the bright idea to declare war on America, England and Australia as well?  People who lived in a fantasy world, that’s who.

Of course, the decision to attack America was a point of honor, too. Not only had America shamed Japan long before with that “Black Ships” episode, but America had also slighted Japan more recently by withholding much needed supplies of steel and oil.  Honor demanded war in the face of all of that. 
And all honor is fantasy.

Fantasy . . . even in detail the Japanese leadership seemed to prefer it in most cases.  There’s a nice book by a Japanese carrier flight leader about the Battle of Midway.  The aviator describes how Midway was war-gamed in preparation for the action.  That’s a sensible thing to do.  The first time they war-gamed it, the results were a disaster for Japan.  Lesson learned?  No.  They changed the rules and war-gamed it again.  The second time was also a disaster, but they still didn’t take the message.  They further changed the rules and war-gamed the same battle plan a third time.  That time the result was very favorable for Japan, so they went ahead with the original plan.  It turned out that they were right the first time.  Midway was a complete disaster, with Japan losing four fleet carriers and many planes and aircrew. 

Time after time the high-ranking Japanese military men made decisions that were fantasy based and totally lacking in common sense.  All Japanese military aircraft through the end of 1943, and even most thereafter, were built of highly flammable, light weight alloys, with no armor protection and no self-sealing fuel tanks.  This caused them to literally burst into flames after very little battle damage.  The fantasy based reasoning was that the increase in speed and maneuverability would enable the pilot to prevail and live.  In reality, the Japanese pilot corps was almost entirely wiped out fairly early in the war. 

A related fantasy:  “our pilots and our planes are so great that we don’t need to be training a lot of replacements.”  Who needs a lot of elite pilots sitting around?  Besides, we have all of the planes and pilots that our ships can hold.  In reality, the planes and the pilots disappeared with shocking rapidity, and the Japanese never got a meaningful pilot training program going at all. 

This blind overconfidence also affected aircraft development.  They Japanese had many good designs early on for new, more modern planes and aircraft engines.  In the end, none of them made it to meaningful production. 

Already in 1943 they could hardly put together air groups for the carriers that they had.  By 1944, a new generation of pilots was so poorly trained that it was completely inadequate for the task.  (See “Marianas Turkey Shoot.”)

Sadly, it was the ordinary Japanese soldiers and civilians that suffered most due to the folly of their leaders.  (And a silent prayer and an RIP for the American and Allied service men and women who also suffered.)

Their German counterparts indulged in similar follies, made similar mistakes, and led their people to a similar fate. 

Sadly too, the world is still full of people who are suffering due to the stupidity and the incredible foolishness of their leaders.

Conclusion

Professor?  Is there a lesson in all of this?  Well, yes, there is.

History has a disturbing habit of repeating itself, and people have a disturbing habit of ignoring history and electing the wrong people time after time.  I offer that our current American government and military are probably overestimating the abilities of our military and underestimating the capabilities of potential opponents.  Things never happen the same way twice, so it’s hard to see what’s coming.  Part of being prepared for anything must include avoiding overconfidence and allowing that your next opponent may have capabilities that you are not aware of. 

Preparing your equipment for the worst is a necessity.  Never resort to fantasies like, “oh, it’s so stealthy, that’ll keep it safe!” 

Beginning discretionary wars is a decision that always requires reality based thinking.  That doesn’t stop the wrong people from starting them. Fantasy abounds.  There are many people today, in and out of the military, who will cheerfully tell you that we were right to go to Vietnam, and that we only “lost” because of those God damned hippies.  Both of these opinions are fantasy based, as was our original decision to go.

Our recent and ongoing adventure in Afghanistan has failed the reality test every year since 2002, and the only good that has come of it is that many Afghan warlords and politicians are now extremely wealthy.

To call the Iraq debacle a fantasy would be too kind.  That one was done on a whim.  Few geopolitical events in my lifetime have been so ill-advised and stupid.  We have nothing to show for it but massive debt, bloody hands, and ISIS. 

Somebody in our government should stand up and say that Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq were stupid, and someone should apologize to the American people for wasting those trillions of dollars on fantasies, getting nothing in return.  That’s not going to happen, of course, because the guilty parties will claim to be protecting the prestige of the United States.  That, friends, is honor talking, and honor, as I say, is fantasy.

Where is our common sense?  Is there any common sense in provoking China?  Massive, populous and not-to-be-underestimated China?  But we are provoking them.  We provoke them economically with the Trans Pacific Partnership, and we provoke them militarily in the South China Seas. 

Worst of all, many of our politicians subscribe to financial schemes that are utter fantasies at best, and downright subversive at worst.  Reduce taxes! Deregulate everything! Privatize government services!  It’s insanity.  (“Insanity:” repeating actions that have failed in the past while expecting a different result.) 

We know for certain that electing those who believe these things, or at least pretend to believe them, will lead to further degradation of our economy, our security, and our social freedoms, because the program has been tried several times over the last forty years and it has always led to bad results.  They still have their fantasy-based constituents though, so it's possible that they’ll be given another chance next year.  After the W. Bush years it should be manifestly clear to everyone that anyone who espouses those ideas should be avoided like plague infested blankets.  But many people are listening to them in spite of the fact that their ideas have only gotten more extreme and ridiculous.  It’s insanity.

So put on your Reality Caps, friends and neighbors, and let’s use our heads and put the right people in charge.  If we can find them.  Or at least let’s not put the worst people in charge.  Again.  Just don’t jump off the cliff because someone promised you that it was a swimming pool. 

Blind Connie Williams - Tell Me Why You Like Roosevelt

Easier listening than the below video, but the message is the same.  Why do I like Roosevelt?  Shit, man, there's lots of reasons!  Roosevelt was the poor man's friend!

Otis Jackson: Tell me why you like Roosevelt

There are lots of reasons to like Roosevelt.  We should all try to remember all of those reasons these days.  Roosevelt took an American experiment that was dangerously close to failing and turned that shit around 180 degrees.  We owe everything to Roosevelt.

These days the wreckers are noisy and numerous.  A vast horde, two hordes at least, are trying to unwind everything that made this country livable and great.  The question is, will we let them?  Unfortunately, I think the answer is, "probably."

But I've been wrong before.

Syrian Refugees Are In The News

There are seven or eight things that I could jump on regarding "Syrian Refugees," the new big thing.  But I don't feel like it.

One thing worth mentioning, though, is that I happen to actually have a Syrian refugee friend.  We were condo neighbors for a couple of years until I moved a few months ago.  We're still in touch.  I suppose he's not like these unfortunates that we see in the boats, with the crying, and the drowning, and the being chased across fields by Serbian police dogs.  He can afford to wait out the refugee process living in a nice rented condo in Bangkok.  He's a swell guy, about my age, the patriarch of a small group that includes a couple of nephews and their families.  They are the nicest people that you'd ever want to meet.

My friend has had VISAs to America in the past, for business and travel purposes.  He still has friends in America, regular Joes that he's worked with or done business with over the years.  His home in Syria is an unattractive combination of rubble and flames for a couple of miles in every direction, punctuated by the odd explosion.  When you see the video from Syria, do you ever consider what a horror it must be to try to get food and water for your family?  Those people need a break.  He's applying for the refugee VISA at the American Embassy here in Bangkok, and my fingers are crossed for him.  With half of our elected officials in a desperate rush to give ISIS everything that they want, the odds seem to favor my friend getting shafted. ISIS hopes to make it as hard as possible for Syrian's so that a) they can't leave in the first place; and b) they get treated as bad as possible wherever they land if they leave.

Man, I wish him luck, I hope he makes it.  He and his relatives would be a fine addition to the American mosaic.  Syrians are very good people, by the way.  Educated, cosmopolitan and friendly.  Our ignorant politicians should take a minute and try to meet and greet some Syrians before they make with the screaming paranoia.  Reality doesn't go away simply because you chose to ignore it.


Wednesday, November 18, 2015

Spin Easy Time!: The Genie and the Clever Little Fisherman

(This post ran in 2008.  The hoped for reader either wasn't paying attention or didn't get the message.  We're divorced now.  This time around there is a new hoped for audience.  Let's see if they do any better.  I wish them luck; I love them too. But a guy can only take so much.)

Spin Easy Time!: The Genie and the Clever Little Fisherman: Reminded sometimes, I am, about the Genie that was caught in the net of the clever little fisherman. His bottle, that is, was caught in the...


Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Allen Toussaint, Everything I Do Gonna Be Funky

Yup, Allen Toussaint wrote and produced this one too, for Lee Dorsey.  I love Lee's version, it's inspirational, but A.T. kills it here.

So, is this Allen Toussaint covering his own song?  How does that work out?

Post 9-11 Dreaming

This long-planned post has become more relevant in light of the recent episode in Paris.  These tragic events happen all too frequently, but they usually happen in places and to people that we don’t care about.  Google “terrorist attacks 2015” for a startling picture of the vast toll of death and destruction that is inflicted on people all over the world without our giving a shit.  But let it happen in New York, or Paris, and it’s Katy bar the door!  Something must be done!  But what, pray tell?  What must be done? 

September 11, 2001

I awoke that morning at 6:00 am in Los Angeles to the sound of NPR’s All Things Considered on the clock radio.  For a change, something had happened.  It has always been a little joke for me to wake up, turn on some media, and mumble to myself, “did anyone shoot the pope overnight?”  That was 9:00 am in New York, and the first tower had already been hit.  So I turned on the TV to CNN, and the video was startling, totally amazing.  Surreal even, unreal, ludicrous!  I had a court appearance that morning so I got rolling as usual, but with an eye on the TV.  It got worse quickly.

I saw the second tower get hit, and the whole thing was obviously a big deal.  I saw both of the towers come down, which was shocking in the extreme.  I lived in New York when the towers were built.  I went to college in the immediate area when construction began.  Before that, over the years, I had shopped in the area.  That was Christie Street, a long block of ancient buildings housing mostly Jewish owned stores selling electronic equipment.  My father bought me my first transistor radio there when I was ten or so years old.  He took me again to buy me my first serious set up for playing records, a Grundig radio and a Telefunken turntable (matching weird jacks, you know).  Now here was the entire area lying in ruins at the hands of a group that seemed to be well known.  I remember thinking that here it was, a moment where all that has happened before becomes the Old World.  Welcome to the New World! 

But what kind of New World would it be? That would depend on our response. 

I drove to the court appearance even though I’d heard that government buildings would be closed.  Just to be on the safe side.  In the car I listened to more news and considered the possible responses, likely, preferred and ideal.  I considered people’s emotions, including anger and sympathy, good will, and admiration for the first responders.  It wouldn’t have taken a rocket scientist to figure out what was coming.  But what would be the ideal response?

My Ideal Response

I had very strong opinions very quickly about what should be done.  There were two immediate problems:  1) rebuilding the site; and 2) knocking the wind out of those angry Muslims. 

What to do about the buildings was the easy part.  If it were up to me, I would have re-built the Twin Towers substantially the way they had been as quickly as possible.  Maybe change up the construction a bit to avoid what may have been weaknesses in the design, but remake them visually the same as they were.  Let the world see how fast America can build huge structures, top them off, put a flag on top, and say to all observers, we’re back.  That would have been quite a show. 

In the event, they cleared the site fast enough, too fast in fact, fast enough to lend credence to the conspiracy crowd, but after that the process dragged on interminably.  That kind of disagreement and uncertainty and hesitation looks like weakness, and people were watching.  It was an embarrassment.

What to do about the angry Muslims was more challenging.  I quickly settled on a two-track response as ideal.  Above the table, my recommendation was all-love, all-the-time.  An outreach to the Muslim world, with the message that we obviously have some differences, let’s address them, we’re here to help in any way that we can, we’re sorry if there have been misunderstandings.  Tell the world, what can we do to help Muslim people?  I would have spent good money on things like water projects; disease eradication programs; education assistance; farm aid; even infrastructure programs.   All in close cooperation with local governments, where there were effective local governments.  Not only the usual suspects, but also those with whom we had had less than wonderful relations.  Like Iran, maybe Iraq and Syria.  More with non-oil countries, because they need the help more.  And wave American Muslims around like a flag.  An American flag.  You are here; we are us; all men are brothers.  That kind of thing.  That’s above the table.

Of course the people responsible for 9/11 were Muslim, and of course there would need to be a reckoning.  But I felt at the time, and I still think, that it would be best to keep the worst of the violence under the table.  Exaggerate, through misinformation, the fact that there were multiple factions of angry Muslims.  Make people think that the situation is much worse than it is.  Make even the angry Muslims themselves believe that there are factions that disagree with them and have violent intentions.  Make some known angry militants unaccountably rich, and blame it on collaboration.  Release doctored video, pictures and banking records that incriminate suspected perpetrators.  Sow confusion among the jihadists, and then let them begin to mysteriously die.  Make them believe that their killers are other angry Muslims who are perhaps jealous of their successes, or were apostates, or were spies.  Disappearances and deaths, and let the world believe that the angry Muslims are killing each other.  Maybe the angry Muslims themselves would believe it, or would be unsure.  Just do it quietly, off-stage, and without being noticed. 

Drive home the nail without using a hammer.  Don’t be Rambo; be Penn and Teller.  Couldn’t we have done that? 

Maximum Importance Alert!

There are two things here that must be stressed as being totally, wildly important, two things that should have occurred to everyone as MUST DO things. 

For one thing, preserve and develop all of that worldwide good will at all costs.  The entire world, even countries that usually worked against our interests, was sympathetic to America in that magic moment.  It would have been smart to have done anything and everything possible to nurture that good will and use it as an opportunity to improve relations with many countries where such a thing was possible.  Countries like Iran, for instance.  They were sympathetic!  We could have found common ground and improved relations!  But no. 

Instead we launched two “Crusader” wars that were total, abject failures, throwing away trillions of dollars and achieving nothing good, sowing, instead, the seeds of ISIS and a long laundry list of terrible things that we will still be paying for decades from now.  We arrogantly pissed off people all around the world, friend and foe alike.  Oh, and we famously tortured people, egregiously and viciously.  I mean, in the name of Sweet Baby Jesus!  Couldn’t we at least have kept that a secret? 

Secondly, when terrible people do terrible things, and you know exactly what they want and why they did it, please DO NOT GIVE THEM THE THINGS THAT THEY WANT! 

This last thing constantly amazes me.  The Palestinians launch a few small rockets into Israel, rockets that mostly explode harmlessly in some corn field somewhere.  What do they want?  They want Israel to retaliate and kill some Palestinian civilians.  So what does Israel do?  They retaliate with massive, concentrated firepower and blow up whole neighborhoods of civilians.  The Palestinians are big winners.  On 9/11 it was the same.  Al Qaeda wanted to prove that there was a war between Muslims and the Western Democracies.  Our response was to invade at least two Muslim countries and kill huge numbers of Muslims, thus proving Al Qaeda’s point.  Watching this happen time after time is discouraging.  Oye, vey ist mir, are our leaders stupid or what?  (Hint: they’re stupid.)

So Now, Paris

ISIS itself might be something of a mystery, but their goals in this Paris attack are not mysterious at all.  They want to discourage European countries from accepting refugees from their territory.  They want to make life harder for Muslims in Europe so that more of them can be radicalized.  They want Europe and America to unleash more military power on them, preferably sending ground troops, so that they can show the world that the “Crusaders” are invading the Dar Al Islam.  So what is the response so far?  New restrictions on refugees; increased hostility to Muslims in Europe and America; and military action, including talk of sending ground troops.  They Shoot!  They score!  Militant Islam wins again!  

It’s enough to make a sensible person despair.  

Monday, November 16, 2015

ERNIE K-DOE - A CERTAIN GIRL

This is the hit by the great Ernie K. Doe.  (See below for a version by the producer, Allen Toussaint.)

This was a popular song to cover for the English Invasion bands of the '60s.  Wayne Fontana and the Mindbenders, the Yardbirds, I'm sure there are others.  Ernie does it to death, though.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

I Love That Plane; I Hate This Plane


That Plane.


This Plane.

(Sometimes It’s nice to consider a smaller problem to momentarily block out larger problems.)

The A-10

“That plane” is the Fairchild Republic A-10 Thunderbolt II, aka “the Warthog.”  Our ground forces love the A-10, and opponents keep their heads way down when there are A-10s in the area.  Our guys and I love the A-10, but Air Force big-wigs hate it.  They hate it because it’s not beautiful, it’s slow, it’s easy to fly, it’s cheap to build and it’s not stealthy.  All of that makes the A-10 unsexy.  They’ve been trying to phase out the A-10 for many years already, and they may finally be closing in on success.

The A-10 is a purpose-built, brutally efficient ground attack plane.  It’s one of the rare planes to be designed from the ground up around its primary weapon, the GAU 8/A “Avenger” Gatling cannon.  The gun is a 30mm monster with seven rotating barrels that fires at a variable rate of 1,800 to 4,200 rounds per minute.  The ammo box holds a huge 1,174 rounds.  That gives it more than thirty seconds of “trigger time” at the usual rate of fire, 2,000 rpm. 

In addition to the cannon, the A-10 can carry up to eight tons of external stores.  These are a mix of bombs (gravity, GPS, or laser-guided), missiles (air-to-ground and/or air-to-air), unguided rockets, extra fuel and electronics pods.  The A-10 carries one pod containing the most modern EOTS in the world.  (Electro-Optic Targeting System.)  That’s to acquire and monitor ground targets.  It’s capable of marking ground targets with an infrared laser and downlinking real time video to ground forces. 

That’s the key . . . that close link with the ground troops and the clear identification and marking of targets keeps the ground troops safe from “friendly fire.”  When jet-jockeys start unloading willy-nilly, the wrong guys get killed. 

One reason that the A-10 is so efficient is that it functions as a terror weapon.  It flies low and relatively slowly.  It eliminates opponents “eye-to-eye.”  They can see the pilot looking at them.  It’s almost as personal as holding someone by the coat and beating them to death.  And the sound of that cannon, coming back again and again, is the stuff of nightmares. 

Although the A-10 is still performing its close air support mission with great efficiency, the Air Force top brass wants it gone.  “No,” they say, “get rid of the A-10, it’s obsolete, we like this new plane.”
 
The F-35

“This plane” is the F-35, Lockheed Martin’s “Joint Strike Fighter.”  Some committee of geniuses about twenty years ago laid down the specs for this thing and decided that we need one plane for all missions and for all of the flying services.  Air Force, Navy, Marines, air superiority, ground attack, deep penetration bombing, everything, one size fits all.

Many years behind schedule already, and wildly over budget, the design team is still working on a long list of technical problems.  The plane may or may not be mission capable within the next few years.  And it’s obsolete already. 

Comparing the F-35 to the A-10 in the ground support mission is a joke.  Two things jump right out:

1)      The F-35 carries the GAU 22/A, a 25mm, four barrel Gatling cannon with a rate of fire identical to the gun on the A-10.  But the ammo box only carries 182 rounds (I’ve seen it reported down as low as 137).  That gives it a trigger time of about three to five seconds.  My hunch is that they don’t want this thing flying down in the weeds anyway.  It’s expensive, and the stealth thing only works when you’re way up there and far away; and

2)      The F-35 is not fitted with, nor can it be fitted with, nor can it be retro-fitted with the most modern EOTS pod that is currently fitted on the A-10 and every other plane that the F-35 is meant to replace.  Such things didn’t exist when they started developing this plane.  That means no target illumination by laser, and no video downlink with ground troops.  And that means that pilots will be guessing about what they are bombing, and that means casualties due to friendly fire.  This plane will kill G.I.s.  That’s not a guess; that’s a fact.  Even the video feed to the pilot is of lower resolution that the existing EOTS pod.  I can imagine the scene in the cockpit.  “What’s that?” says the pilot, “muzzle flashes?  Bombs away!” 

So it’s a problem, a hugely expensive boondoggleous problem.  But look for the good!  It may never get off the ground! 


Disclaimer:  Yes, I know that the official reason that the Air Force wants to get rid of the A-10 is that it could not perform its mission safely in a combat environment where the opposing forces were flying modern, front line fighters and the area was protected by top-of-the-line anti-aircraft systems.  Well, geniuses, we’re in about a half a dozen wars now, where is that happening?  My opinion is that there will be a place for the A-10 for years to come. 

Why I Don't Write More About Thailand

Thailand has been my home now for almost twelve years, and I’ve been around.  I lived for three years in a small countryside city where you could say goodnight to Mr. Bull and Mrs. Chicken.  I’ve lived in Bangkok for nine years now, mostly because my job is here.  I’ve visited most of the provinces too, at all points of the compass.  I’ve taught classes literally from first grade through grad school.  I’ve kept my eyes and ears open, and I even remember some of it. 

I love Thailand.  I’ve seen things that would make you say, “mmmmmm . . .” I’ve seen things that would make you say, “wow!”  And I’ve seen things that would make you say, “wait . . . what?”  Some things I even write about in those little notebooks of mine, but I generally chose not to blog about it. 

The reasons are two:  1) I don’t want to offend anyone; and 2) I don’t want to get in trouble.

I’m a guest here.  That makes all Thai people my hosts.  That means everybody from my Thai benefactors and friends to all of the drivers and shopkeepers and maintenance staff and restaurant workers who help me all the time.  Even including the people whose job it is to watch three or four cows eat grass all day for half of the minimum wage.  Everybody.  Khun Fred is their guest.  I have always tried to be a good guest, wherever I have gone.  Here it is the same.

People are different wherever you go, and a prudent man is careful.  Something that seems quite innocent to me might make someone else uncomfortable, or ashamed, or even angry.  Something that would roll right off of my back might get under someone else’s skin.  I don’t want to take a chance of that happening.  I wouldn’t even take that chance writing under an alias.  The effect would be the same, and it’s the effect that I’m trying to avoid. 

I don’t want to get into any trouble either.  I like living here.  I never talk about Thai politics or any other sensitive matters.  That stuff is for Thai people, it’s their country.  I never talk, much less write about those things.  If Thais ask me about them, and they do, I beg off.  Taxi drivers are very political, and they’re always asking me about Thai politics.  I tell them, Thailand is for Thai people, or I love all Thai people, or that’s for Thai people to decide.  I just stay out of it, even if my hunch is that I agree with the driver. 

By now it appears likely that I will stay here until I die.  At that time my body will be cremated at one of our temples and, if I’m lucky, my bones will be stashed in the wall of a temple with my name and photograph on the plaque.  Someone may wish to visit on the anniversaries of my death, to say a prayer and think about me and splash some water on my picture.  That would be really great. 

Fantastic Plastic Machine ☆ There Must Be an Angel (Playing With My Heart)

I've been ignoring my cover versions for a while.  Here's a beauty from FPM.

What's God Got To Do With It?

Am I an atheist?  Maybe.  Merely faithless?  Could be more accurate.  Agnostic?  That much is for sure.  For the purposes of this blog, let’s just go with atheist.

I don’t allow more than one chance in a million that God exists as he is described in the literature, and I only put it that way as a kindness to believers.  That’s one ten-thousandth of one percent chance, and generous at that.  (You can check my math.  I’m a lawyer, not a scientist.)  But if there is a God, and we must pass some kind of test in the end, I’m pretty sure that I’ll pass.  Why?  Because I try to treat people well, that’s why.

Day to day, day in and day out, I try to validate people.  I flatter and encourage them; I try to make them laugh.  I always try to help others to have a good day.  I comfort sufferers.  I do this for friends, co-workers and total strangers.  If anything, my attentions favor the less fortunate.  I appreciate the security and housecleaning staff wherever I go, and I make sure that they know it.   I’m a good tipper, even in Thailand where people think tipping is ridiculous.  (After seven years, my barber still smiles and shakes his head when I tip him.)  When I was younger, I lost my temper frequently, but it hardly happens at all anymore.  Now I’m all about bringing happiness to the world, one smile and a half-a-buck at a time. 

Honestly, I don’t know why I behave this way.  God certainly has nothing to do with it.  It’s certainly not as a gesture to that ten-thousandth of a percent chance that I don’t believe in anyway.  Is it for others?  For myself?  Because I believe that it’s the right thing to do?  I couldn’t say with any confidence.  Maybe it’s just my personality.  Maybe it’s because I desperately wish that I had been treated that way during the difficult passages in my life.  

One thing is for sure: we don't need God looking over our shoulder to behave well in this world.   

In spite of all of this excellent behavior, I don’t think of myself as a particularly good person.  This could be because I know what goes on in the darkest corners of my psyche when the lights are out.  Or perhaps because I have known so many people that were more worthy than me.  Most likely it’s because I can remember so many times when I was less than good. 

Come to think of it, I’m not a very good person at all.  I probably try to be a positive presence in the lives of the people around me to make up for my shortcomings. 

Mea maxima culpa!  I hope that it’s enough. 

Allen Toussaint - A Certain Girl

This guy was responsible for so many smiles over the years.  Didn't his stuff just sound so God damn happy?  A fine piano player, great songwriter, one of the best and most prolific record producers of all time, and a snappy dresser too.

A life well lived.  RIP Mr. Toussaint.

Thursday, November 12, 2015

Todd Rundgren - You Cried Wolf

I like all kinds of stuff.  I kind of like a lot of Todd's stuff.

The two Nazz albums were very good, I thought.  Even before the first Nazz album, a friend of mine played me a Pepsi commercial by Nazz, it was impressive.  I rather like a lot of Todd's radio hits, Hello, It's Me, you know, what's not to like?  All in all, I remember Todd very fondly.

I always liked this album, from 1978.  I'm pretty sure that it's one of those projects where he did everything himself, locked in a room somewhere.  That was the Seventies, and you'll recall that there was a lot of locking one's self into a room back then, the better to enjoy the . . . something.  Not casting any aspersions here.  Like I say, I always liked this album.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Note From A Notebook

I've got these notebooks laying around, I take a look from time to time.  Here's a little stand alone from mid-2009:

"Remember,

The truth's an unbearable burden, and does no one any good,

Lie even to yourself."

How cynical is that?  Wasn't the best of days, I'll warrant.

Here Comes My Baby- The Tremeloes- 1967

Here's another hook festival, two and a half minutes of non-stop hook-a-mania.  How many can you spot?

Sunday, November 8, 2015

Adventures In Shopping: Shoes

(Honestly, I’d rather write something than read most of the shit on this Internet thing of ours.)

“Why, in my day . . .”

For one thing, in my day it was much easier to buy shoes.  Most of the shoes were made in America, and a nine-and-a-half was a nine-and-a-half.  There were only a couple of tricks to it.  If the shoe was a narrow style, or very pointed at the toe, you’d go up a half size.  If the shoe was a Clark’s desert boot or something, you’d go down a half size.  There was very little mystery to it. 

I shop for shoes in Asia now, and it can be tough.  Some are sized American; some English; and there are other systems.  Le Coq Sportif sneakers must be in French sizes, somehow they are very different.  There are metric sizes, too, at least I think they’re metric.  American size nine-and-a-half is a forty-three.  No one at the shoe stores is prepared to be particularly helpful, even if you speak the language.  The question, “are these sized American or English?” is met with a guess, or a blank stare.  It reminds me for all the world of asking clerks in American shoe stores, “do these shoes have metal in them?”  It was an important question for me at the time, because I was visiting many courthouses on a regular basis.  The responding expression was always, “how am I supposed to know?” 

It gets worse.  Shoes today are made in a wild profusion of countries, and apparently the countries of origin all vary in the actual dimensions of a certain size.  The tongue of the shoe may have a label that tells you that the shoe in your hand is an American 10, an English 9, and a 44.  But if one that was made in China and labeled thusly fits you, that does not mean that one with the same label that was made in Vietnam will fit you as well.  There’s a lot of trial and error involved. 

Honestly, It’s not that I just love to complain.  Buying shoes has always been hard for me.  My feet are not in the shape that seems to be preferred by shoe makers.  My feet seem to be a bit wider in the front, and a bit narrower in the heel.  My  right foot seems to be a bit bigger than the left foot.  Not so much as you would notice, but my shoes have always seemed to notice.  It gets complicated.


I’m sure that y’all in America are going through the same thing with the sizes.  All of the shoes that are for sale now in America are the same internationally sourced stock, and no one in Connecticut or Massachusetts makes shoes anymore.  So good luck, I guess.  We’re all in the same boat. 

Friday, November 6, 2015

She Loves You: The Hook

People are confused about the hook.  Even people in the music business, people who should know better, are confused about the hook.  I have often heard them remark that the chorus of a song is the hook.  Well, no, it isn't.  The hook may be in the chorus, or it may be in the verses, or it may be in both.  Like it is in "She Loves You," by those very talented Hookmeisters, the Beatles.

The song starts with the chorus, and the hook shows up right away.  "She loves you, yeah, yeah, yeah . . ."  The "yeah, yeah, yeah" part is the hook, but really the hook is the descending three note figure in a minor key that carries the "yeah, yeah, yeah."

The same hook shows up in the verses without the "yeah, yeah, yeah" part.  "She said she loves you, and you know that can't be bad, (brang, brang, brang)."  The "brang, brang, brang" part is the same three note descending figure played in minor chords on the guitar.  It's a very good song, with a hook so strong that it showed up in juke boxes all over the world, including in many countries where it was the first English language song that anyone had ever heard.  You can't argue with success like that.  That hook worked.

The Beatles clearly understood the power of the hook.  Their songs are full of hooks, usually multiple hooks. There are two more hooks in "She Loves You."  One shows up three times:  after the first chorus; after the first verse; and after the second chorus.  It's there to highlight the space between chorus and verse, to draw attention to the structure of the song.  The main purpose of hooks is to make the song memorable, but this hook is there to avoid dead spots.  There's a third hook that shows up only in the ending, which is what, a modified verse?  "With a love like that, you know you should be glad," with a "bum, bum, bum, bum," after it twice.  Then the big finish!

If you are running through a song in your head, and there are little, repeating musical features that are important to include in your memory of the song, those are probably hooks.  Songs without hooks are poor dead things; they just lay there like dead fish.  Thank God for hooks.

Monday, November 2, 2015

My Life As A Catholic

Like most people, my first religion was chosen for me.  I was baptized into the Catholic faith in the usual way, as an infant.  Over the course of the next twenty-one years I received five of the seven sacraments and attended Catholic grammar school and Catholic high school.  I attended mass with ruthless regularity, and I put my coins in the collection plate on Sundays, but I never really believed any of it.  I was, in other words, a typical Catholic. 

My Family

My mother had been raised Catholic.  Irish Catholic, in fact.  One of her sisters was a nun in the order of Dominicans.  My mother and both of her sisters attended Catholic grammar school and high school, even though to do so was a considerable financial strain on the family.  My mother’s entire family made a good show of being good, practicing Catholics, but I don’t think that any of them really believed any of it either.  Rosaries were said, and novenas were prayed, but I’m pretty sure that it was all for show.  My mother was afraid not to believe.  Not so much afraid of God, or hell, but afraid of disappointing her own mother, and definitely afraid of what people would think.  She had a very fearful temperament in general, and was driven in all things to please and impress other people. 

On my father’s side, my grandfather practiced Catholicism in much the same way that my mother’s family did, but with much less rigor and without caring what other people thought.  I think that for him it was a social thing.  He had been a member of the Holy Name Society, those are the male parishioners who act as ushers at masses on Sunday.  He was famously observed on Sunday mornings to yell, “Jesus Christ, where’s my God Damned Holy Name pin?”  My Grandmother was an indifferent Lutheran, raised by a German family for whom religion played little role in life.  My father’s religion seems to have been mathematics.  I don’t recall him ever going to church.  As a boy, he received a public school education.  He never mentioned religion except to make sarcastic comments about religion in general.

Grammar School

At the age of almost five I began my indoctrination at the kindergarten of the local Catholic school.  That was in St. Fidelis parish, in College Point, Queens, New York City.  The church was named for a medieval German saint.  His brutal martyrdom was painted on part of the ceiling of the church.  There were plenty of volunteers for nunnery in those days, and almost all of our teachers were Dominicans. 

I have described elsewhere the complete failure of religion to take root in me, much less thrive.  As first graders we received our Baltimore Catechisms, and I quickly came of the opinion that the whole thing was ridiculous.  Maybe it was the illustrations that put me off, the line drawings of angels, the stairway to heaven, the depictions of heavenly beings with robes and beards, sitting at desks and pouring over books.  Maybe it was the endless rules and the charts, and the lists of sins.  Who could take such things seriously? 

I went along for the ride, because there was really no way out of it.

High School

By the eighth grade I had had enough of the discipline of the nuns and the religion itself.  I had friends in the public school system by then, and I longed to go with them to Flushing High School.  There were girls there, and the teachers didn’t hit anyone.  My mother, however, found that whole idea shameful, even though my father had gone to Flushing himself.  It was decided that I would go to the best Catholic high school that would have me, and as bad luck would have it, that was Holy Cross.  No girls; no tight pants; no longish hair or pompadours; no “square-backs;” no Cuban heels.  Most of the teachers at Holy Cross were Brothers of the Holy Cross.  They, like the Dominicans, were mostly people whom bitterness had turned cynical and mean-spirited. 

A little consideration for me would have been great.  Flushing would have been a lower stress environment, I’m convinced of that.  Religion was only part of it, but it was a substantial, negative part.  At Holy Cross we were constantly badgered about sin, the evils of girls, the mortal danger of masturbation, and the proper degree of respect that was due to all authority.  But I was a fragile youth, perhaps unworthy of consideration, and in any case, expecting consideration in this life is a condition almost as ridiculous as religion itself

Noto Bene!!! A Little Diversion!  A note here about the power that children have without being aware of it . . . the power to affect their own destinies.  I did seriously consider putting my foot down about my choice of high school.  Maybe, I thought, I should just go to Flushing and sign myself up, and then just go there every day.  Refuse to even set foot in Holy Cross without handcuffs on.  I would get some good beatings over it, and there would be a lot of screaming and threatening going on, but all of that would have died down within a month or so, and I would be where I wanted to be.  I know that now, but at the time I couldn’t get past worrying about the beating and the screaming part.  I would have been immeasurably better off at Flushing, and almost certainly much more successful in life. 

High School, continued.  As it was, my four years at Holy Cross nailed shut the coffin of my education for twenty years.  On my first day I resolved not to cooperate with them at all.  My self-education continued all though high school.  I read a novel every week, and I read widely of history and newspapers and magazines, but I never read assigned material.  I never did homework, preferring to copy it from friends the next day.  I was forced to sit in the classes, and it turned out that paying attention there was enough to barely pass the tests.  I graduated number 271 in my class of 291 students.

I graduated from Holy Cross two months shy of my seventeenth birthday.  By then I had received countless hours of religious instruction.  I had also attended countless masses.  And not just Sundays and Holy Days either.  First Friday masses; first Saturday masses; masses just for the hell of it.  I took two important steps upon graduation:  I started to publicly smoke a pack a day of cigarettes, and I stopped going to mass.  I was beginning to declare some kind of independence.

The United States Navy

The next few years were largely free from religious annoyance, but one interesting thing did happen.  I joined the Navy, and I discovered that the Navy is very interested in two things: 1) distinguishing marks and characteristics (to facilitate the identification of your partly exploded remains; I was put down as “half circle scar, left palm”); and 2) your religion (so that they can send for the correct chaplain when you get killed).  This time it wasn’t me being annoyed for a change.  It was me that was annoying the Navy.

“Religion,” it said on the forms.  I always wrote in, “no preference.”  At boot camp, they became insistent immediately.  “That’s not one of the choices,” some petty officer told me.  “You got to pick.”
 
“Okay,” I said, “Buddhist.” 

“That ain’t one of the choices.”  He informed me that the choices were limited to Catholic, Protestant or Jewish.  If I had to do it all over again, I’d definitely choose Jewish.  Those lucky guys got picked up and taken to temple on Friday night, where they got a great meal, free calls home, and a chance to hang out with girls. 

“I’m putting you down as Protestant,” he said, “you’re protesting something.” 

So I got my first set of dog-tags stamped with the “P” for Protestant.  As though all Protestants were the same!  In the midst of the big silly, you almost lose track of the little silly.  Out in “the fleet,” I easily got new dog-tags marked “NP.” No preference.

Marriage

A few years later I got married, and religion again reared its ugly head.  My bride-to-be had, like me, gone to Catholic grammar school (the same one that I did), and Catholic high school (the “sister school” to my school).  She had also, like me, more or less discarded religion after high school. 

The only religious professional that I was on speaking terms with at the time was the rector of the St. Paul’s Chapel, which was part of the Episcopal Trinity Parish in lower Manhattan.  He was a nice guy, a little on the young side, very smart, and altogether decent.  St. Paul’s was the church, the very same building, where George Washington had attended services while he was president.  (New York was the capital of the United States at the time.)  I spoke to him about getting married there, and the prospect of it was thrilling.

“We have a wedding that day in the morning,” he said, “so I can just leave the flowers up.”  The organist would cost me $20, and the minister’s services, and the church itself, were free.  That is the very definition of value for dollar!  That beautiful church still had George Washington’s private pew, with his personal copy of the Book of Common Prayer, roped off in purple.  Alexander Hamilton, among other notables, was buried in the churchyard!  Twenty-fucking-dollars!  Try that in any Catholic church.  No, my friends, money is a horse of a different color with the Catholics, and the color is green.

My girlfriend was happy about the idea, and we reserved the date.  We began to plan.  Our families, mine much more dramatically, went insane.

I got a call from my Aunt Mary F., which had never happened before.  She was an almost sinister figure in my mother’s blended family.  She was a step-sister, and filed a role very much like the step-sisters in Cinderella.  “We need to talk,” she said.  I went over, and she laid it out for me with great theatricality.  “If you do this,” she said, “it will kill your grandmother, and your mother will end up in a mental hospital.”  I thought, but did not say, “oh, shit.”  And then I folded immediately.

Because, you know, it just wasn’t important enough to worry about.  I had read my Mark Twain, and I believed, like him, that such events are not primarily for the nominal celebrants, rather, they are for the greater group.  My girlfriend agreed.

We got married in the Catholic church of Saint Fidelis Parish, where we had both attended the grammar school.  Thus chalking up sacrament number five.  And we paid inflated prices for flowers and a limo, for which the church got kickbacks; we paid more for the organist; and we paid for the church; and we paid, as was customary, a large gratuity for the priest.  Pay, pay, pay . . . with Catholics, it’s all about the money. 

There was only one glitch.  We were called to the rectory to talk to the priest.  He took down a schedule and asked us about times and dates for Pre-Cana Conferences.  “Oh,” I told him, “we’re not going to any Pre-Cana Conferences.” 

“But I’m afraid that they are mandatory,” he said. 

“Well, we’re not going.”  My girlfriend indicated that she shared my feelings in the matter.

“But you cannot get married in the church without attending!”

“That’s fine with me,” I told him.  I explained that we were just doing this as plan B, at the request of other people.  “We’d rather go back to the Episcopalians anyway.”    

He made that face that priests make when they are faced with making lemons into lemonade.  “Ah,” he said in a eureka moment, “I see that you both attended Catholic school through grade 12, so we can waive the Pre-Cana Conferences.” 

So we got married.

My Farewell To Religion

We got married when almost 500 American soldiers were dying every month in Vietnam.  All that, and uncounted tens of thousands of Vietcong, NVA soldiers, and Vietnamese civilians as well.  One particularly disagreeable feature of the time was that the boss Catholic of the Diocese of New York was one of the biggest war-mongers in America:  Francis Cardinal Spellman.  I found this problematic.

Every article that mentioned Spellman included a recitation of the number of Catholics in America.  The number was huge, many tens of millions, and the inference was that the number gave greater credence to Spellman’s noxious opinions.  It was upsetting to think that I was inflating that number, so I resolved to quit the church, officially.

I stopped by the rectory and asked to speak to a priest.  We sat in the same small office where the Pre Cana Conference discussion had taken place a year or two earlier.  He asked me the purpose of my visit.  I blandly told him that I wished to be formally excommunicated.  I don’t think that he had ever heard that one before, and I’m sure that from the character of our two interactions in this office he would cheerfully have signed the order himself, if he’d had the power to do so.

I told him that I did not believe any of it, and that I disapproved of the church’s behavior in matters financial, social, political and theological.  I explained that since I had been educated in their schools, and married in their church, I was surely counted in their tally, and I wanted no more part of it.  I suggested grounds for excommunication, including disbelief in the virgin birth or the divinity of Christ.  I cited my failure to recognize the authority of the church or the pope.  There were more, I assured him, if they were required.  He told me that there was no mechanism for someone to request excommunication, but not to worry, because I had obviously broken away from the church already. 

Independence established, I declared victory and went home. 

Conclusion

Religion is supernaturalism; it is no more or less silly than the belief in ghosts or superstition.  The whole enterprise of religion would be comical if it didn’t wreak so much havoc in the world.

Religion is making something of a comeback in American society and politics, which is a terrible result for both things.  One can only hope that this apparent re-invigoration is only some kind of death throws, a thrashing around preliminary to expiration. 

Many people do seem to be getting the message.  I got out myself, and one of my cornerstone rules of life is that if I can do a thing, just about anyone can do that thing as well. 


More people should consider it.