Sunday, January 31, 2016

The Curse Of The Eights

I was born in 1948, and it seems like all of the years ending in eight that followed were just terrible. Call it the Curse of the Eights.

1958 was a bad one. I did an accelerated year in school that left me almost two years younger than the other children in my class. That was a curse at least until the end of high school. My parents bought a house. It was in the same town, same neighborhood, really, but even slight geographic shifts affect children that age. New social patterns, new friends added to the old ones. My parents, speaking of whom, had a big difference of opinion in 1958 that ruined their relationship irrevocably. My mother, who had always been unpredictable, kicked it up a notch and became "mercurial." My father, for his part, stopped coming home from work. He moved into a sales position at his engineering company, and he was on the road almost all the time. We saw him maybe once a week after that. Altogether, it was way too much for me to properly integrate. I don’t think that I’ve ever gotten over it.

1968 was a terrible year for the entire world. I won’t run down all of the horrors that were in the news, we all remember them. Personally, in February I was given an early “Honorable” discharge by the Navy. Not a big deal, I just wasn’t the military type and they gently asked me to leave. I spent many months on unemployment, being generally depressed and depressed in particular by current events. My relationships suffered. It was horrible.

1978? The real crisis had taken place two years earlier, in 1976. But in 1976 I turned twenty-eight-years-old, so that’s an eight, isn’t it? 1n 1976 I had had some kind of massive identity crisis. I had been fired from most of the jobs that I’d had up until that point. I had not made any success of schooling since 1957. My wife was pressuring me to have another child, and I was resisting. I was under-educated and under-employed. I wanted to start making a better living, but I didn’t know how. I knew that things needed to change, but I could not for the life of me figure out how to go about it. By 1978 I was just formulating a new perspective, I was learning to be more positive. I was still in a fog, though. It was another few years before I really came out of it.

1988? In 1987 I almost died from a burst appendix. That drove home the fact that I still hadn’t figured out how to make a living. I had finished university in the meantime, and I had turned myself into a very good student, finally.  But I still had done nothing to build on that success. Somehow I decided to go to law school, and I started that enterprise in 1988. Law school was a good experience for me, I kind of enjoyed it and I did fine. Passed the California bar exam on the first try, too. The law was like a Venus Fly Trap for me. It was very pleasant at first, but it becomes fatal when the bug reaches a certain point. Sowing the seeds of future unhappiness does not make for a good year. So I’m going with terrible, based on the tensions that were inevitably created.

1998 was the worst. The law was not a good fit for me. I found it all so stressful that I could hardly stand doing the things that needed to be done every day. I had been drinking too much for a few years, and in 1998 I scaled that back dramatically. Without self-medicating, the stress seemed even worse. Without putting too fine a point on it, I was becoming a danger to myself. I survived the year, but only barely. It was horrible.

2008 was the year that my wife informed me that she couldn’t live with me anymore. So there’s that. It was bad news to me. I spent the rest of the year nervously waiting for her to change her mind. I had been asked to leave the home the previous year, “temporarily.”  I was living in Bangkok by then, in a cheap, small rented condo that was essentially a ruin. I didn't know anyone in Bangkok, so I was alone all the time. I had only a lap-top for company, without wi-fi. My kitchen consisted of a folding table with two plastic chairs (ever the optimist!) and an ice chest (milk for the Corn Flakes). It was terrible.

So now I’m kind of dreading 2018, only two years away. I’m post-divorce by now, settled into a new life in Thailand. My situation is generally good. My health is good. Patterns can be broken.  I’m optimistic. 

Saturday, January 30, 2016

FEEL THE NEED IN ME , GRAHAM CENTRAL STATION ,, STUDIO VERSION GOOD QUAL...

On the underrated scene, here are the poster children. For my money, this was one of the greatest music acts of the 1970s. Talented, confident, wildly enthusiastic, in step with the times, supremely musical, a rockin' dream team, and largely ignored.

Still a favorite of mine. Larry's still around. I hope that he's making a living.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Lying Can Be Good For You

The telling of lies is a fine subgenre within any discussion of situational ethics. Is lying always wrong? Is lying always a bad idea? Before long any sensible person comes to the conclusion that lying is often a kindness, it is often the right thing to do.

Consider this: a wife asks her husband, “honey, does this dress make me look fat?” Only one answer will occur to any husband worth his salt. “No, baby,” he’ll say, “that dress looks great on you!” He’ll say that with enthusiasm, too, regardless of the facts. That’s if he knows what’s good for him.

There are even times when lying can actually save your life. This is a story from The Fall of Japan, the last such excerpt that I will risk boring you with. It describes the exploits of one of our pilots who had been shot down over Japan. A man with a name that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Boy, he must have gotten a lot of grief from it for his entire life, I’ll bet that high school was a particular torment to him.

His name was Marcus Edward McDilda, Lieutenant Marcus McDilda of the United States Air Force.

Lt. McDilda was a P-51 Mustang pilot, and he was shot down at the very tail end of the conflict. He was taken to a POW camp rather to the south of Tokyo and was imprisoned there with over fifty other fliers. The camp was run by the Japanese Army, but the interrogations were done by members of the Japanese Secret Police, the Kempei Tai. They were not gentle about it. Beatings and torture were involved. Most of the questions were the sort that the Japanese already had the answers for. Where did you fly from on this mission ? (Iwo Jima.) How many planes at the base, what types? (They knew those things, too.)  Then the atomic bomb was dropped, and boy, the Japanese didn’t know anything about that. That was the original, big time Bolt from the Blue. They were curious.

They were very curious. The beatings and the torture got more intense. No mention was made of how the others responded to this treatment, for reasons that will soon become obvious. McDilda, though, got tired of being knocked around and he decided to give them what they wanted. Tell us about the atomic bomb! He didn’t really know anything about the atomic bomb, none of those men did. So he made stuff up. He told them sure, the atomic bomb, we’ve got lots of them. He told them how big it was, and what it looked like, how much it weighed. All of this was spun from whole cloth. He told them that there was a list of cities that would be blown up soon. He even told them how it worked, in a manner of speaking. He made up a great story about positive atoms and negative atoms, and how we had figured out how to separate them and build a bomb around them, and how when they were allowed to come into contact the explosion was the result. What’s the next target? Tokyo, he said, and then Kyoto, in a couple of days. Those low-level secret policemen ate it up. They packed McDilda off to Kempei Tai headquarters in Tokyo for further questioning.

The guys in Tokyo brought in scientists from the big Japanese universities, and McDilda told them all about it as well. As all this is happening, the war was ending. The scientists figured out pretty soon that everything McDilda told them was wrong, they weren’t dummies and they weren’t uninformed of such things like the Kempei Tai guys were. McDilda stayed at that headquarters until the war was over, and he was still there when McArthur and his minions arrived. He was, in fact, released to the American occupation forces, alive and well.

His fellows back at the POW camp were, to say the very least, not so lucky. They were all beheaded, more than fifty of them, to try to hide the facts of their captivity from the American forces. That was a fairly common occurrence at the time. Some combination of revenge and evidence elimination.

Lt. McDilda’s preposterous lies had saved his life.

He looks like such a nice young man in his photograph. Big, winning smile, very handsome. A Southerner, it seems, with a pleasant southern drawl. It would almost be a nice story, a charming young man lying his way out of a bad situation. Danny Kaye could have played him in the movie. The surrounding facts are too dark, though.

I don’t recommend that people make a habit of lying. It’s usually a bad idea, and not very nice. “Trapped in a web of lies” is a cliché that very often happens just that way. But sometimes, if the shoe is obviously a good fit, wear it. 

Underrated, My Bony, Old White Ass

By the way, here's WatchMojo's list of the ten most underrated rock bands:

10. Mudhoney;
9.   Credence Clearwater Revival;
8.   The Stone Roses;
7.   Deep Purple;
6.   Electric Light Orchestra;
5.   Tears for Fears;
4.   Violent Femmes;
3.   ZZ Top;
2.   The Pixies;
1.   The Kinks.

Actually, haven't six of those bands been amply rewarded with critical and commercial success?  I'd say only Mudhoney, the Stone Roses, Violent Femmes and the Pixies should even qualify for this list.

I'd agree that the Kinks and ZZ Top were underrated, to a degree, but not to the degree that anyone should feel sorry for them. They're famous; lots of people love them; they're making a living. A couple of the others were great bands and quite influential within the community of musicians, but they never really made a dime or got wide exposure.

The Night Is Still Young - Pizzicato Five

Speaking of talented, underrated foreigners . . . Pizzicato Five!

YouTube story: I just now wanted to look this up on the 'Tube, but I had forgotten the title. I put in, "Tokyo wa noria shichigi," the first line in phonetic Japanese. Came up right away, at the top of the list. YouTube is getting much, much better at finding the stuff you're looking for.

Caetano Veloso Nega Maluca, Billie Jean, Eleanor Rigby

I was thinking of underrated artists this evening, mostly because I watched a WatchMojo video on the subject. It occurred to me that artists from outside America, or at least outside America and England, get short shrift on these types of lists.

Caetano Veloso has been doing it to death since the Sixties. He's still killing it. He's a master, a spellbinder. America doesn't know him from Jackie Robinson, even though, as here, he often sings in English. (He's Brazilian, by the way.) It's a shame. He's a treasure.

Covers are my thing, as you know. Billie Jean was on the Thriller LP, wasn't it? I'm not a big Micheal Jackson guy. Great LP though, justifiably popular, great performance, great production. As personalized as Michael's performance of this song was, this one goes in a completely different direction and knocks it out of the park. That's art right there, that's command.

So yeah, Caetano Veloso is underrated, along with a lot of other people. I'll be thinking more about it; I'm making notes. But the poor foreigners really can't catch much of a break in America, outside of some plays on NPR and college radio stations. There's a lot of great stuff out there.

The Rock*A*Teens - Black Ice

I'm just reading about this band in the Oxford American, "The New Yorker of the South." High tone magazine; good web site.

The Rock*A*Teens. I didn't get the reference at first. I'm a hobbyist, Jim, not an academic! . It's a call back to that other reverb band long ago, the Rock-A-Teens, of "Woo Hoo" fame. Which reminds me of one of my favorite bands, the 5.6.7.8.'s. So look for them next week, I suppose.

Monday, January 25, 2016

August 14, 1945

On another historical note . . . the importance of reading many books covering the same material. Different historians have very different tones to their writing, and they drop in different details from the historical record of the times. I read a book last week that included some detail about a subject that I had only seen covered in more general terms elsewhere.

The book was The Fall of Japan, by William Craig, covering only the tail end of the war and the immediate aftermath of the Japanese surrender. Mr. Craig also wrote Enemy at the Gates, about the battle of Stalingrad. They’re both good reads.

Mr. Craig’s approach to writing history is suitably academic, but it is more personal than most historians. Where many historians dryly set forth facts, Mr. Craig includes a lot of personal detail about the people involved in the events. He illuminates their thought process so that we may get some idea of what they were thinking, and why they acted like they did. I enjoy his style.

I’ve read another book that covered exactly the same subject and time period: Downfall: the End of the Imperial Japanese Empire, by Richard B. Frank. Mr. Frank’s book included a lot more detail about the decision to employ the atomic bomb, among other strengths. I think that Mr. Frank was better on the geopolitical aspects of the events. Reading both books, with their different emphases, provided a full picture.

The details that were new to me were about the behavior of Americans back at home, mostly American servicemen, upon hearing of the end of the war.

The announcement was made in America on August 14, 1945, in the afternoon. We’ve all seen the famous pictures from Times Square in New York. The most famous one is a sailor in dress blues kissing a woman rather enthusiastically. Only in the last couple of years has it been reported that she probably did not wish to be kissed in that manner. Other books that I have read only noted that there was general relief and celebration on the announcement. Well, it was a lot darker than that.

There were at least twelve million (mostly) men in the armed forces at the time. I’ve seen it reported to be a rather higher figure, but at least twelve million. This was the “Greatest Generation,” often credited with having made great sacrifices for their country and having defeated the evil powers of the world almost on their own. In reality, they were a rough bunch that didn’t particularly want to be there. They resented the discipline and the dangers involved, and they were very anxious for the whole thing to be over.

The celebrations of the servicemen that day were neither good natured, nor innocent.

In many cities there were extensive displays of public drunkenness, public nudity, and public sex. The sex was often not consensual. Mr. Craig focuses on the revelries in San Francisco, which seem to have bordered on a riot. San Francisco was a big Navy town. It was full of members of all of the services. The announcement of the surrender was immediately greeted by an excess of enthusiasm.  The drinking started right away, and before long every liquor store in San Francisco had been looted. Hundreds of cars were stolen, and the drunken, joyriding servicemen careened around the streets incautiously. There were twelve deaths all together, some were deaths by misadventure (a bag of empty liquor bottles thrown from a high window killed a passerby), but most were the deaths of people being run over.

Women in San Francisco were seized, stripped and raped, often repeatedly.

The San Francisco police were instructed to keep back. They just watched the action. No sense in started another war, I suppose. Let the boys blow off some steam!


These additional details, plus a few from other cities, put that Times Square kiss photograph in a new perspective. 

Abba Waterloo (German).

German isn't the worst singing language in the world. Not one of the best either, I'm afraid. Somewhere in the middle.

History Is A Mystery

All of these things happened long ago. They are written up by people who took different paths to the knowledge, people who studied and believed different versions of events. Historians, like anyone else, may be biased. New original sources are being discovered all the time. An older history book may or may not still be a reliable account of events. Dollar amounts are given for certain things; they may be adjusted for the current value of money or just reported in contemporary amounts. It can all be confusing.

It is also important when reading history to read many books on the same subject. Different historians will address different facets of the events. They will provide different details. To get the complete picture, you need to read as many sources as possible. This aspect will be important for another post that should hit the blog within a week or so.

But today, the money.

I don’t have a real historian’s interest in history. I have a grown-up little boy’s interest in historical events that have always fascinated me. Like World War II. It is often reported that the Manhattan Project, which gave the world the atomic bomb, had a total cost of two billion dollars. That’s an impressive figure; that’s still a lot of money. But a little context would be helpful.

It has recently come to my attention that the development and construction of the B-29 bombers used in World War II had a price tag of THREE billion dollars. Is that merely shocking? Or does it only serve to make the atomic bomb sound like a bargain?

Here’s a good one. The Thompson sub-machineguns used in WWII had a price tag of about $350 apiece. Okay. It was a complicated piece to manufacture. It had lots of parts that needed to be individually machined. It had a wooden stock and hand grip. It was a terrific weapon though, it was durable, efficient and reliable. Very popular with the troops. America made an impressive one point three million of them (1,300,000 units). That comes to about a half a billion dollars, total. How should we fit that into the context of the atomic bomb or the B-29?

Then there are the little gems of information that drop by sometimes. It seems that the unit cost of the Thompson was daunting to the people running that war, and early on they began to look for a lower cost replacement. They found it in the sub-machinegun designated the M3 and called “the grease gun.” This gun only made it into use for the tail end of the war, but it remained in use by the armed forces for a long, long time. Unit cost? Between $15 and $20.

How’s that for a contrast? Almost identical in their utility, but the cost drops from $350 to $20. The M3 was made from parts that could be pressed out of sheet metal and mass produced. It only had one part that needed to be machined, the bolt.


My interest in these things is almost certainly foolish, but I’m not hurting anybody. Let an old man have some fun! 

Sunday, January 24, 2016

Bangkok Cold Snap

On the same day as the big Blizzard of 2016 in America, Bangkok suffered through its own cold snap. It caught everybody by surprise. All of the heavy jackets came out, and all of the Thai people were shivering. Even the Farang took notice. It was only sixty-one degrees, but it had dropped about twenty degrees in a day. It was quite a shock.

Thailand gets a “cold season” every year, but this year was very unusual. In a normal year, it cools off for about six weeks during December and January. The more typical mid nineties/ low eighties drop to high eighties/ low seventies. It’s a nice change from the heat. The cool season is also the dry season; it might not rain at all for two months or so. The wind has changed, and the cool, dry air comes from the north. We all look forward to it.

This year, temperatures have stayed high, and it has rained more often than usual in December and January. Until yesterday, that is. It had been raining a bit for the previous several days, and yesterday morning it was cool, and it kept getting cooler all day. By evening it was in the low sixties. Overnight, high fifties! Sixty-one again today! Such temperatures typically occur only in the mountains in Thailand.

I caught a cold immediately. I didn’t alter my attire fast enough.

It’s the El Nino, it seems. This El Nino is a strong one. They cause warmer, dryer weather in South East Asia, and over to South India and even parts of Africa. 2015 was a drought year in Thailand. Not hotter than usual, but very dry.

Not as dramatic as all of that snow on the East Coast, but it’s gotten our attention.

So Thailand joins the world in greeting changing weather patterns. We’ll see where it takes us all, but changes like that are almost never good. 

Friday, January 22, 2016

Joe Cuba - Bang Bang (Classic)

This is that NewYorican music that came up in the Sixties and Seventies in the great city of New York. Salsa; Latin Jazz; La Musica; call it what you will. It was great music, and it was the most happening scene in New York at the time.

Happening, you say? Oh, yeah. Prettiest girls; best dancing; best parties; best drugs; best musicians; most energy; most enthusiasm. Super sophisticated, ultra-cosmopolitan. If you had friends in this scene, and you could hang out, then you were happening, too.

(Disclaimer: I had friends in the scene in the Seventies, and I hung out a bit, but I never clubbed or went too deep. Still some of my fondest memories of the times, though.)

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Golf, Continued

Pete Rose has never been my favorite anything. I never liked the Cincinnati Reds in general. Way too much ego and aggression; blunt force and no style. And after he beat up Bud Harrelson that time, well, the whole city of New York lost any tender feelings that it might have had for Pete. He's never been famous as a funny guy, or a smart guy, for that matter, but he said one true and entertaining thing about golf:

"You'd think that golf would be easy, but it's not. I mean, the ball just lays there, and you're supposed to hit it, so you'd think that it was easy. But in baseball, if you hit three great shots out of ten, you're in the Hall of Fame. In golf, you have to hit a great shot every time. So it's hard."

(I'm sure that Pete said it a little bit differently, but that's about the size of it.)

Spin Easy Time!: Heard A Good Joke, Forget Where

Here's my favorite golf joke, originally posted in August, 2012.

Spin Easy Time!: Heard A Good Joke, Forget Where: One day Moses and Jesus were playing golf. At the first tee, Moses hit a nice drive, right on the fairway, two-hundred and fifty yards or so...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

The Falcons "She's My Heart's Desire" (1962)

The Ohio Untouchables later became the Ohio Players, and in the meantime there were connections to the Falcons, featuring Wilson Pickett and Eddie Floyd. The guitar player for the Untouchables was Robert Ward, who came out of retirement in the Nineties with a great CD.

Just looking at photos of this band makes me happy. For me, if the band is having fun playing, I'm having fun listening. These guys look like they had more fun than almost anybody.

Golf For Dummies

Don’t worry, this post is not disrespectful of my readers. The dummy, in this case, is me.

I learned to play golf at the age of fifteen. An older cousin of mine wanted a golf buddy that he could call in the evening and say, “let’s play golf tomorrow! I’ll pick you up at 4:30!” We played Clearview, a very nice city course in Queens, New York City. He sold me his old clubs while he up-graded to a good set. I guess he had decided that he could tolerate the psychological torments of golf well enough to continue playing.

Having taken up the game, I began to play with my friends. A few of them had golf clubs in the house, and we were always looking for affordable things to do. Most of them used a baseball grip and just went Happy Gilmore on the ball. New York had many public courses, which varied from straight and short to longer and fancier. They were cheap. We were all duffers, so straight and short was fine with us. We often went to Kissena. In those days, you often saw garbage trucks with golf bags hanging off the sides. You saw those trucks in the parking lot at Kissena, too. And you saw the garbage men on the course. Don’t be holding them up, either. They wanted to finish in a hurry, and they were a rough bunch.

My scores have always been high, in the low three figures, but my game is straight. I have always believed that any straight shot is a good shot. You had to walk that way anyway.

I moved to Los Angeles in 1975, and over the years I played whenever I had friends who were disposed to play golf. If they asked me nicely, I’d say, “sure!” I never brought it up myself, but I did enjoy the time on the course with friends. L.A. is another good golf town. There are lots of public courses, and here again they vary from the ridiculous (Penmar) to the sublime (Rancho Park). There are lots of beautiful, yet affordable private courses too. I have never really liked golf; I have never played golf just for its own sake. I always tried not to annoy my friends with my awful game, but there were a few years there where I declined to keep score. Golfers are funny. I discovered that my hitting a 119 didn’t bother them, but my not keeping score got under their skin. Maybe they just wanted to know exactly how much they beat me by.

Those scoreless years were my happiest years as a golfer. All that I could remember after a round of golf were my good shots and the time with friends. There was no huge number to ruin it.

Golf is a diabolical game. There are different elements: the drive, long irons, short irons, putting.  I have known a few very good golfers who could hit any of those shots just like you see on TV. You know, guys that were way inside bogey golf. (“Bogey Golf:” a score lower than eighteen strokes above par.) Two of them were usually hitting about ten above par, and it was very close to par for one fine fellow. But their common experience was for the different elements of their game to come and go. Maybe for six months they couldn’t putt for shit. When the putting came back, the irons went bye-bye. Diabolical.

Perhaps worst of all for the good golfer is that your entire game is liable to desert you at some point, never to return. I took lessons from a pro at Rancho Park one time, and this guy could really hit. Back fence on every drive; serious target shooting with irons. I asked him why he wasn’t on the tour. “I was,” he said, “then I lost my game.”

Golf is frustrating and annoying for anyone that plays it. So what is the attraction? For me, there is no attraction. But I believe that for many golfers these disagreeable characteristics make the game so absorbing that it can be a vacation from worrying about day to day life. Many people do seem to enjoy the horror of golf, and good for them. 


By now I haven’t touched a club since 2007. It’s just as well. I have friends here in Thailand that play, but Thailand is way, way too hot for golf. So I say, “no thanks!” with a clean conscience. Golf is always a mental health issue; in Thailand it’s a physical health issue as well. 

Saturday, January 16, 2016

Sally Go 'Round the Roses by the Jaynetts 1963

I put this up five years ago, but I just checked it and that posting had been taken down. Those pesky "third party complaints."

So here it is again! These girls are often called "one hit wonders," but in this case the song is so great that who cares? If Leonardo had only painted the Mona Lisa, and then decided to stick to dentistry or something, would that painting be any less great? Or his effort in painting it?

Sure, I know, but still.

Thursday, January 14, 2016

"In Queens"

The actress Amy Ryan has a good career going. I recall her most fondly from the Wire, where she played the hell out of Officer Beatrice "Beadie" Russell. Nice job! She's working consistently, good for her. She's in a new project that looks good. I saw something about it on TV and it drove me to the Internet Movie Data Base to find out more about her. Very interesting.

Her bio says that she was born in "Queens, New York." To someone that was also born in Queens, that's like saying that she was born "on the earth." Queens is a big place, full of people and full of neighborhoods that are so big that they'd be cities anywhere else.

So just where in Queens was Amy Ryan born? What hospital? Flushing Hospital? Queens General? Physicians? Help me out here.

What neighborhood did her parents bring her home to? Long Island City? Malba? Corona? Kew Gardens? Whitestone? Howard Beach? Middle Village? Woodhaven? Queens Village? Bayside? South Ozone Park?

There's a difference, you know. Inquiring minds want to know!

Looking for clues . . . Amy's real name is Amy Beth Dziewiontkowski. I had friends with names like that growing up, so I guess that she could be from College Point. Or maybe Masbeth? Hunter's Point? Somewhere over next to Brooklyn?

It's a mystery, so far. Maybe I'll come across it.

Anyway, I really like Amy Ryan in the Wire, and I'd like to see her new project. Good luck, Amy!

Home girl!!!

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

The Belmonts - Rock And Roll Lullabye / We Belong Together - Acappella

This one is all about the sincerity and the enthusiasm for the material. From the early Seventies LP called Cigars, Acappella and Candy. The Belmonts, without Dion.

The New York radio was full of Doo Wop when I was a little kid, but I was more on the Little Richard/Chuck Berry/Elvis side myself. My real fondness for Doo Wop has grown over the years.

Iranians

I have often mentioned herein that I believe Iranians to be a very misunderstood people. Since 1979 it has been the custom in America to consider Iran a pariah nation, part of the "Axis of Evil," and to sanction them at every turn, wherever possible. But I have maintained that Iran, Persia if you will, is an ancient and elegant culture, and that Iranians, or Persians, are a people of great courtesy and hospitality, gentle and considerate, a people of supple intelligence and great insight. My opinion is based on two things: 1) the actions of the Iranian people and government (informed and in context); and 2) my extensive dealings with Iranian Americans.

Today they proved that I am correct. Again.

Those two boats and ten sailors and marines that were seized by Iran a day or so ago, in Iranian territorial waters, were all released today by the Iranian government. They accepted the explanation of the U.S. personnel that it was all an unfortunate accident, and that the incursion was unintentional. Okay, no harm done, you can go now. They even let us take the boats back.

Think, for a moment, about the other demonized countries of the world, you know who they are. Can you imagine them behaving the same way in a similar situation? I can't.

So let's say thanks to our Iranian friends, and then let's do everything that we can to begin a new era in which they really are our famous friends, close and dear, working together to make the world safe for peace and beauty.

Tuesday, January 12, 2016

Cymande - The Message

This would have been right in my wheelhouse when it came out in the early Seventies. I was way up on the World Beat. Missed it though, I did.

Another LP from the "50 Most . . ." post. There's a lot of good stuff on there. Some of it is hardly drug addled at all, but I know what the guy meant.

SOTU 2016: What They Say And What They Do

I just finished watching the State of the Union speech. This is President Obama’s last one, and he did a fine job of delivering it, too. Very natural, and a little bit playful.

The most important thing when observing politicians is to not only listen to what they say, but also to watch what they do. Man, you’ve got to watch these guys every minute.

Paul Ryan, our current Speaker of the House of Representatives, was very interesting on this point. His role was to introduce the president and then sit right behind him, alongside the Vice President, Joe Biden. The introduction was dignified. “It is my honor and my distinct privilege to introduce the President of the United States, President Barack Obama.” Listening to that, it was all very respectful.

Then we were treated to a display of what he actually did. Watching him sit there, every muscle and joint in his body appeared so tight that I was amazed that his blood could still reach his head. His brow was knit with tension. He sat there smirking stiffly, never standing up or applauding. After that fine introduction, he showed not a drop of respect or approval of anything that the president said. He only showed some emotion when President Obama ran down the list of his considerable accomplishments. Unemployment, cut in half; Wall Street, the DOW is way up; the auto industry, saved and prospering; deficits, way down; health care, “Obamacare” helping 18 million new enrollees. The emotion that Paul Ryan showed was disgust.

The low point for Ryan was when the president mentioned that “some of us disagree about health care.” At that point Ryan’s smirk became a smile and he nodded his head slightly. Zero respect.

“Listen to what they say, but watch what they do.” It’s good advice for anyone observing politics anywhere in the world. I like President Obama, I think that he’s done a good job. Listening to him always puts him on my good side. He bears some watching too, though. He has accomplished good things, no doubt, but he is, after all, a Neo-Liberal like most of them at this point, in both parties. He’s a globalist, and that program has only contributed to the massive insecurities felt by most working people these days. So there’s that.

Ryan and his ilk hate President Obama for many reasons, but mostly because he does more than they would do to mitigate the effects of the global, Neo-Liberal agenda on working people. He appears, at least in some small degree, to care about people’s insecurities, job insecurity, income insecurity, retirement insecurity, health insecurity. And President Obama does much less than the Republicans would wish to do to make all of that much worse. They would do much more to enhance the prosperity of big business, and the banks, and the very, very rich.

Presidential elections make me dyspeptic in the extreme, and this year’s election is no different. We should all listen very closely to what they all say, but we must also study very carefully what they have done, and read between the lines of what they are saying to get elected, and bear in mind to whom they are speaking when they say it. Turn up your bullshit detectors, people! And then vote your conscience. Don’t vote for someone that you were tricked into liking. Don’t take positions just because you think that they will get you “likes” on your favorite website.


This stuff is important. 

Japancakes "When You Sleep"

Japancakes! Great name, guys! There's a steel guitar in there, and a cello too, all in the service of a cover version of a song from the My Bloody Valentine LP, "Loveless."

I love the Loveless LP, but it's not for everybody. I just discovered that LP, too, another of the 50 Most Drug Addled LPs of All Time. I followed the thread to this cut, which is a wild success, isn't it? This crowd really has a  handle on the musical idea, as the piano teachers say.

Who Speaks For The Low Functioning?

The median for IQ purposes is 100. That means that half of us fall below IQ 100, by definition. Those unlucky people should not be blamed or penalized for their natural condition, delivered by fate at birth. They should not be mocked. My purpose herein is to suggest that they have the same right as anybody to security and happiness. That right is not being honored, and that is a shame on all of us.

Disclaimer: I make no claims of intelligence for myself, and I would hope that anyone who examined my life would be gentle in describing the meager successes that I have achieved with any talents that I may have been given. Furthermore, it’s not up to me to assign value to people, to categorize them. I’m not judging anybody. Now let’s get on with it.

We’re not allowed to call people “stupid” anymore. That’s probably a good thing. In any case, it’s not politically correct these days to call someone stupid, or retarded. It’s true, when you think of it, that “stupid” and “retarded” are not quite descriptive. Consider the old saying, “he’s so smart that he’s stupid.” 

There are nuances to these things.

Now we are encouraged to refer to those formerly stupid people “low functioning.” Myself, I believe that the sobriquet “low functioning” encompasses more than a mere recitation of the person’s IQ. I think that the factors for low functioning status are: 1) IQ; 2) temperament; and 3) emotional health. Any combination of shortcomings in these three areas may cause some of us to be overmatched by the complexities of modern life. Our functioning is impaired. Hence, “low functioning.”

It’s worth mentioning that most families include an uncle, or a cousin, who is smart enough, and a very nice fellow, but who never seems to get his wheels on the ground. They live with their parents and struggle to make a living. They are the hidden face of the low functioning.

The point is that the low functioning will always be with us (to paraphrase). They need our consideration more than ever in our modern world, and as I say, they deserve it. Things aren’t getting any easier for working people. Up until quite recently, someone with a limited education and no extra-ordinary skills could easily find a job that could turn into a long term meal ticket. They could get married, raise families, and send their children to university. By now, those jobs have fled overseas, and our society’s education priorities have shifted to profit-centered. All that is left is Walmart, or McDonalds, and those places do not enable anyone to have a decent life.

I say, “they deserve our consideration.” What do I mean?

They deserve an education tailored to their needs; they deserve access to all the education that they can stand, practically free; they deserve social services to assist with any difficulties that they may be experiencing; they deserve decent jobs that pay a living wage; and they deserve government policies that recognize and value their existence. It is not enough to tell them, like Willard Romney told the world in 2012, “just borrow money from your parents and start a business!” (Truth to tell, Romney is the real retard in this story so far.)

In other words, the low functioning deserve their fair share of the prosperity that is a feature of American life.

That, however, is not happening. Instead, those low functioning Americans are being left behind, they are being blamed for their own status as also-rans, and, worst of all, they are being exploited by cynical power interests. (Think political interests; business interests.) This needs to stop.

(Let’s pause for a moment to consider the breath taking naivety of that simple statement, “this needs to stop.”)

These powerful interests are abusing the low functioning with things like:

1.   Institutional unemployment;
2.   Exorbitant pricing policies for education, etc.;
3.   Vote harvesting;
4.   Fear mongering; and
5.   Religion.

Dare we say it out loud? Low functioning, low education and low skilled (mostly) white people are leading the charge of American politics off into the realm of fantasy. It’s not their idea, either. It’s that exploitation thing I just mentioned.

(Unless, of course, the cart has taken over the lead from the horse, and now it is the low functioning who are driving before them their former Galtian Overlords. That’s a pleasant thought, but it is unlikely.)

They are electing people who laugh at them and work against their best interests; they are enabling religion to pervade politics; and they are empowering corporate interests in their ongoing crusade to destroy the Federal government. These are terrible things in which there is no benefit for the low functioning.

The low functioning are not to blame for their anger and discontent. They have suffered a very real diminution in their ability to make a living, and support a family, and to lead a prosperous, American life. They had the American Dream there for a short while, four decades or so. It’s well and truly gone by now. They do have real grievances that deserve airing. I feel their pain, more, in fact, than I care to admit. The terrible thing is that the exploitation that they are responding to leads them to blame the wrong forces for their reduced condition.

It’s not immigrants that have ruined the American Dream; not Democrats; not Liberals; not coastal states; not urban culture; not academic elites. It’s certainly not recent arrivals like terrorists and Muslims. I’ll sound like a broken record if I spell out who it is that they should be blaming. You know who I mean.

So, who speaks for the low functioning in American society? There was a long period in Western Civilization when nobody did, nobody cared at all. Slight shifts began to enter the picture around the arrival of the Enlightenment and the American Experiment. More recently, labor unions and New Deal Democrats did a lot to help raise the living standards of those who had previously been written off as “the poor.” (And the “undeserving poor,” to boot.) There was even, for a time, something like a covenant between labor and management, which arose during and after World War II. That was an unspoken agreement in which labor promised to diligently do the work of business, and management promised to take care of labor with health care and more equitable wages.

Man, how gone is that train by now! It’s out of sight! It gives me chills even to think about it! How great was that! No one under forty-years-old can even imagine it! Such a thing would only be considered stupid now, the real stupid, with no reference to political correctness.

But who? Who’s left? Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders? An army of two? Maybe the low functioning are doomed. Where can they go for help? For solace? For Christ’s sake, where can they go for health care? How can they live on the wages of a greeter at Walmart?

The conditions that I am describing here are a scandal and a deep shame for a country that claims to be the land of the free. They should be, anyway. Look around, lots of countries are doing much better for their workers than America is. Their workers have much greater security; they make more money; they eat better; they get much more vacation time; they don’t worry about health care; their children go to university free; then have, indeed, more freedom. It’s true.

I, for one, am ashamed. 

houndog - "i brought the rain"

A David Hidalgo side project (his main band is Los Lobos). This is deep.

Someone shared a list on Facebook, "The 50 Most Drug Addled LPs." This LP was on the list, for some reason, I'm not making any value judgments except to say: great cut!

Monday, January 11, 2016

David Bowie "Life on Mars?" from Hunky Dory Ryko Clear Vinyl Edition

I seem to be taking this one personally. We of a certain age are becoming accustomed to people in our catalog dying, I mean it's a weekly occurrence by this time. RIP Lemmy! I usually shrug it off, more or less regretfully. This one is different.

I had been aware of David Bowie from his earliest appearances in Rave magazine and the New Musical Express music newspaper from England, but I had never heard anything of his at all until Space Oddity hit the New York radio in 1972. This was after Ziggy Stardust, that one passed me by, too. I thought Space Oddity was great, and I bought the LP immediately. The very next day I went back to the store and bought Bowie's entire back-catalog. Hunky Dory; The Man Who Sold the World; Ziggy Stardust; was there another one? I was smitten.

By now I would probably say that the Eno trilogy were my favorites, but my single favorite might be something more commercial like Modern Love, and now that I think of it maybe my favorite is the Aladdin Sane LP, who knows? And The Man Who Fell to Earth, man, that was a hoot, enhanced and all. Those were interesting times.

I'll stop rambling now. This one is different, that's all. Just terribly different.

Our "Justice" System, Part II

More people whose behavior contributes to the problem.

Judges

I rather like judges in the abstract. I generally favor broad discretion for judges acting on the cases before them. In the particular, though, judges can be problematic.

Judges start out as lawyers, and this often leads to problems. During their lawyer experience, judges often develop biases. Most lawyers, especially in urban settings, tend to work in narrowly defined areas of law. Criminal lawyers (no jokes, please); property lawyers, business lawyers; family lawyers (usually divorce lawyers); tort lawyers; banking lawyers. Many, upon being elevated to the bench, are assigned to work within the area of their expertise. I’ve seen this work both for and against clients.

If a bankruptcy judge worked for banks as a lawyer, he will tend to favor banks as a judge. He or she is liable to view all debtors as deadbeats. If the judge worked for debtors as a lawyer, he is liable to favor them as a judge as well. A judge who had been a criminal defense lawyer, or a Public Defender, he will probably be skeptical of everything the prosecution does and lend a sympathetic ear to criminal defendants and their lawyers. If a judge had been a prosecutor, a District Attorney, she will almost certainly treat criminal defendants as obviously guilty, because why else would they have been arrested and charged in the first place? Judges can rise above these attitudes, but this kind of prejudice is often apparent.

Judges are afraid of being overturned on appeal. There are two main ways for a judge to further his career: 1) ruthlessly clear cases from his calendar by dismissing cases; and 2) have a low record of being overturned. These things often work together.

A judge will carefully weigh the power and resources of the parties before him, and he will often decide a matter on the basis of what is best for him. Any time I said, “Frederick Ceely for the plaintiff, your honor,” and the other lawyer said, “Robert Miller (not a real person) for Gibson, Dunn and Crutcher appearing for the defendant,” I was in danger of losing, irrespective of the law and the facts. This is because the odds are that my client cannot afford to mount an appeal or a writ if we lose, while the defendant that can afford Gibson, Dunn can afford it and they will almost certainly file it. Gibson, Dunn has an appeals section for that, and they get paid, big time. If I lose, the judge is safe; if the other guy loses, the judge is in danger of being overturned. For many judges, this is an easy decision to make, and justice is not served.

God forbid the other lawyer should introduce herself as, “Jane Barton, appearing on behalf of the United States of America.” Those lawyers had resources, they’d appeal everything, right up to the Supreme Court if necessary. Judge just surrender and give them the ruling.  Small fry get pushed around, and they get pushed straight off the calendar before they know what hit them.

This works with the dismissal of cases, too. Dismissals on the pleadings most often happen when the targeted lawyers and their clients have meager resources to fight back.

Recall that judges were once lawyers, so it’s easy to believe that no judge ever believes a word that comes out of a lawyer’s mouth. They lied when they were lawyers; now they assume that all of the lawyers appearing in their courts are lying too.

Most do not like the guidelines, etc, with which the legislatures have saddled them, but many feel like it makes their jobs easier. Less work; someone to blame if something goes wrong; less emotional involvement.

I remember many good judges, men and women that I respected and in whose courts I felt safe that we were going to get a fair hearing. I also remember very well a large number of black robed devils who wreak havoc on a daily basis without a passing thought to justice.

Judges are just men and women, after all. Geniuses among them are rare, as they are rare among lawyers in general, or people in general for that matter. They do the best that they can, if you are lucky, but often that best is not very good and the only “best interest” that they serve is their own.

Lawyers

Disclaimer: I am a lawyer myself. I am admitted in the State of California, and in two of the Federal District Courts that are located in California. I claim no distinction for myself, but I will admit the status.

I worked in the trenches for twelve years or so. I made countless court appearances, most of them for matters of civil law and motion or bankruptcy hearings. Some trials, some arbitrations, some mediations. A couple of score of depositions. Sometimes I was even a party to the case! It was never a good fit for me, a bit too stressful. After ten years or thereabouts I realized that according to the published code of ethics it was often an ethical violation for a lawyer to tell the truth. Lawyers can often be sued for telling the truth. That was one of the last straws for me.

I was substitute teaching there for a while, looking for an alternative, and one wise guy in an eighth grade at some Jewish school asked me, “so, you’re a lawyer, that means that you lie?” I told him, “well, I try never to say anything that is actually not true out loud, but I do refrain from saying things sometimes, or try to spin them away from the question.”

Of lawyers, one hears the most complaints, and the most unhinged complaints, about “plaintiff’s lawyers.” This is a misplaced criticism. Plaintiff’s lawyers represent ordinary people in their struggles against insurance companies, soulless corporations, medical providers, and other predatory entities. Good for them. Criminal defense attorneys get a bad press too, but honestly, they are not “trying to get guilty criminals off.” They’re trying to get ordinary folks a fair hearing on the merits. Usually the best that they can do is prevent someone from being railroaded into a bunch of extra years. The best that they can usually do is get a guy two to five instead of seven to ten. No, the real abuses by lawyers happen on the other side, the prosecutorial side.

I have often said that a prosecuting attorney is someone whose job it is to put innocent people in prison. “Innocent” is not a word that I use frequently, because in our world of reality only tiny babies are truly innocent. What I mean here is that if a prosecutor is handed a case by his boss, and upon reviewing the file and doing a little bit of investigating he realizes that there’s no way in Hell that the guy did it, he’ll go ahead and try the case anyway. He’ll do his best to put the fellow in prison for as long as he can. It’s his career, after all. All prosecutors will describe this phenomenon in the same way: “it’s not my job to judge him; it’s my job to present the state’s case against him.” See? It’s that evil jury that puts him in prison, not the poor, humble prosecutor.

Prosecutorial excesses are all over the news these days. The legislatures have criminalized everything, so there’s always a laundry list for prosecutors to charge. And they charge defendants with everything under that sun. So the choice for a criminal defendant goes something like this. “You’re looking at a total of 228 years in prison if you are found guilty of all charges, or you can plead guilty to (something) and get only seven years.” What would you do? I’d take the seven years myself. Our prisons are full of completely innocent people who accepted the logic of this system.

I suppose that the real contribution of lawyers in general to the demise of our criminal justice system is that being reasonable when performing any function involving the legal system is just not possible. Everyone fulfills their role, with all of the contradictions and ethical shortcomings that it entails.

Or, they retire from the practice of law, flee to a developing country, and teach American law at a foreign university.  That’s what I did, and I’ve never regretted it.

Witnesses

Let’s put trial witnesses into three categories: regular folks; experts; and police. All three types represent an endless parade of mischief makers.

Trial courts try to discover what happened at some past date and time. This is never easy, since none of the professionals involved in the trial was there when it happened. Not the judge; not any of the lawyers; not the police that may be involved. Regular people who have seen something, or heard something, which might be useful as evidence, are invited to appear at the trail and answer lawyers’ questions about their experience. This most often produces testimony that is a hot mess.

Witnessing is hard. Many witnesses tell the truth, as best they can, but what they may have seen was almost certainly a shocking event. That will interfere with their perception of it, and their memory of it. Even a pretty run of the mill event is hard to describe, afterwards.

I witnessed a car accident one time. Not a criminal matter, but illustrative. My desk overlooked a busy intersection, and while I happened to be looking an accident occurred that involved about five cars, maybe six. I had been a lawyer for many years already, and had worked on numerous car accident cases. My eyes were on the event for the entire time. But I’ll tell you, when a bunch of cars start bouncing off of each other and spinning around, it’s very hard to recall accurately just who did what to whom. I made a diagram immediately, assigning fault to designating “Car Number One,” etc., in the manner of California police, and I showed it to my friends in the office. They could see where the cars where after it had all settled down, right out the window, and yet my diagram made little sense to them. How was it possible? I was a very qualified witness, but hardly credible, because it all seemed so unlikely.

Regular folks are often telling lies, too, let’s bear that in mind. They’re trying to help someone, to help the defendant in a criminal trial or the plaintiff in a tort case. It happens.

And police! I would never believe a word that a policeman said as a witness in a criminal case. No, believing them would be stupid. For one thing, they’re trying to hang the defendant, and for another thing, they’ve been thoroughly prepped by the DA’s office and they’ll say what they’ve been told to say.

Same goes for the experts. When I listen to expert testimony, I only have one question: who paid you? They’ll testify to whatever is good for their client. Or else they’ll never work again, that’s for sure. Remember what a mess the experts made of the O.J. Simpson trial?

I used to wonder if court appointed experts could be trusted. They, after all, are hired by the judge, who is supposed to be neutral. Now I wonder, though. They want the judge to hire them again, so they’ll probably do what they think that the judge wants them to do. Shouldn’t be too hard to figure out. So let’s not believe them either.

Conclusion

The whole idea of a fair justice system seems like a mighty big demand to make on reality. It just seems like a terribly hard thing to set up, in the best of situations.

Whatever system one could come up with, it would be administered by mere humans. Wouldn’t that insure that the entire thing would go wrong in a hurry? In a New York minute?

When it has worked better than it works today, that was possible because society and the people involved had a sense of how difficult it was. They left a certain amount of slack in it. Sure, occasionally a guilty party went free, but the idea was that that was preferable to innocent people going to prison.

Now we have legislators mishandling criminal defendants to get elected; prosecutors going along for the ride, drunk with their own power; lawyers just trying to make a living; and a general public that is conditioned to live in fear of crime, terrorism and minorities. The results are mass insecurity and mass incarceration.

Now, regarding this mass incarceration, who can say with confidence that it is not a conscious program of imprisoning people just to take them off the voter rolls, permanently? Would you put it past those legislators?


The least that any of us can do is to try to consider these problems and take small steps to insure that we don’t assist those who are trying to make matters worse. 

Thursday, January 7, 2016

Raumpatrouille Orion - Trailer

I just came across a clip from this TV production, and the show looks like it has potential. Here's an original trailer.

There's certainly a lot of it on YouTube, probably every minute of the whole show run. The show didn't last very long, mostly because it was thought to be humorless and militaristic, borderline fascist, even.

Might be fun. Let's see how it goes.

Wednesday, January 6, 2016

Brave & Strong

There's a Riot Goin' On!!! I don't need to add to the accolades that this LP has received, more of them recently, I suppose, than when it came out. I had my copy though, when it was brand new. I loved it then; I love it now. This LP is proof that cocaine is good for you, for a year or eighteen months, anyway. After that, well, we've seen what happens.

Our "Justice" System, Part I

This is mostly to introduce the cast of characters involved in the ruination of the American justice system, mostly the criminal justice system. That system has worked more or less well since its founding not so very long ago. It has been working less and less well for some time now, and stands before us as a shadow of its former self.

CNN commentator Mark Griegos, described by CNN as a criminal defense attorney, spoke recently on that channel about probable cause:

“Probable cause hardly exists anymore. Probable cause these days means whatever police and prosecutors want it to mean.”

For reference, here is the definition of probable cause that I learned in law school only twenty five years ago:

“Probable cause is facts and circumstances, which, in themselves, would lead a reasonable person to believe 1) that a crime had been committed; and 2) that this certain person had committed the crime.”

It sounds quaint now, doesn’t it? Yes, things have gone wrong, but who’s responsible? Here are some of them:

Legislators

From the Latin, “legis,” meaning the law. Legislators write the law; they make up our legislatures. We are blessed in America with two levels of legislators, federal and state. We have a system of federal laws, and every state has its own legal system. They’re all different, too, but there’s one thing that they have in common these days.  They’re all “tough on crime.”

All of this started with that good old President Nixon, “Tricky Dick.” President Dick got the idea to use fearmongering about crime to scare up the vote. The pitch was: “those ungrateful blacks and those miserable hippies are ruining our peace and quiet with their demonstrations, their drugs and their riots, and we’re going to put a stop to it.” Legislators jumped on the theme and started to turn out laws that criminalized more and more behavior and increased the penalties for many crimes exponentially. In New York, new “Rockefeller Drug Laws” were enacted in the early 1970s, and all of a sudden that joint that would have gotten you one year in 1970 would now get you seven years. Soon, legislatures all over America were falling all over themselves in an attempt to out-do one another. 

By now, almost everything has been criminalized, everyone is under suspicion all the time, and America has the highest rate of incarceration in the known world.

Has there been any up-tick in the safety of Americans, or down-tick in the crime rates, as a result of this orgy of violence against the citizenry?  Why no, there has not. But the process continues.

Here are some of the bright ideas the legislators have passed as laws:

Sentencing Guidelines: one of the hallmarks of our Common Law tradition is giving judges a lot of discretion in their own courtrooms. After all, the theory goes, the judge is sitting right there, he sees everybody and everything. The judge is in the best position to figure out who is a good guy and who is a bad guy, and also the one most likely to really understand what happened. Let’s just give this guy probation, because it’s better all around. Let’s suspend this sentence, because it was probably a one-time thing and this guy had no priors. Sentencing guidelines do away with all that. Guilty means what the legislators say it means, in numbers of years that are cut in stone.

And of course the numbers are high for those years, because those legislators want the voters to think that they are “tough on crime.”

Mandatory Minimums: ditto.

Strict Liability: this aspect of law has been part of tort law for millennia. If you own a wild animal, and it hurts somebody, the injured plaintiff does not have to prove that you were negligent, that you did something wrong, or stupid. No, all he has to prove is that the animal is your property. You are strictly liable. This is a considerable mischief in criminal law.

An example, if I may. In the 1990s I had a good friend who had been a criminal defense attorney in Los Angeles for about thirty years. He represented a fellow in a case that he found most upsetting. The guy was Hispanic, about fifty years old, and he had a job in the sheriff’s department. Not a cop, just an office job. One day his son left the house with a gun to go accomplish some gang business. The dad followed him out of the house and actually talked him out of it, talked him into handing the gun over and giving up the idea. While all of this was happening, somebody saw two Hispanic “males” handling a pistol in public, and they called the police. When the police announced their presence, the dad was holding the gun by the barrel and heading back towards his house. When the police told him to freeze, he turned to explain the situation. Reasonable?

He was arrested and charged with threatening police officers with a gun. The district attorney ran with it. It is now a “strict liability” crime, the circumstances have nothing to do with it. If the DA can prove that a) the defendant had a weapon in his hand; and b) he was facing the police in question, boom, guilty. 

The guy admitted that much, because it was true and he was an honest man. 

The rest of the story was never shared with the jury. That was good for seven years, with the judge having no discretion to mitigate the punishment.

These are the people who inhabit our prisons. That guy lost his job, and by the time he gets out he’ll be almost sixty years old and he’ll have a felony prison record. I’m sure that he lost his house, too, and probably his wife as well. That’s justice in a pig’s eye right there.

Anti-Recidivist Laws: these are the famous “Three Strikes” laws that became popular some time ago. We need to be tough on crime! We need to get these repeat offenders off the streets!  Here’s how it works.

If a person has two qualifying prior felony convictions, and that person is convicted of a violent crime, the penalty is life in prison. Just saying it out loud like that gives me chills. The results are often horribly unfair, and, I believe, unconstitutional.

The famous case in my memory was a fellow with two strikes who was arrested after he seized a half-eaten piece of pizza from a teenager on the Venice Beach boardwalk. I forget how he got the strikes, but I don’t think that he had ever hurt anybody in either of them. He didn’t hit the kid to get the pizza.  The guy was homeless, and hungry. He was convicted of aggravated assault, and he got the life sentence.

I came to the law late in life so I retain some naiveté about the fine points of the law, but my understanding of Double Jeopardy is that a person cannot be tried twice for the same crime on the same facts. Isn't there a law or a principle about punishing them twice? That defendant had already been sentenced for those priors and he had served his time and been released. So how is it fair to base a life sentence on those resolved prior crimes?

Legislators love these laws, because it makes them look very, very tough on crime.

Racial Overtones: of course there are racial aspects to these things. Take the sentencing guidelines for powder cocaine vs. the ones for crack cocaine. The powder users get off much lighter on the time side; the crack defendants go to prison for much longer. It’s not entirely a black/white divide, but there are many more whites on the powder side and many more blacks on the crack side. It’s a question of marketing as much as a question of preference. People buy what’s available. For tough on crime, one must often read, “tough on those blacks.”  

This is turning into a book, so I’ll break it up into a couple of parts.