Friday, November 30, 2018
Wednesday, November 28, 2018
I've discovered a disturbing fact. Bargain CDs about ten years old are already stone-cold dead. That's even faster than cassettes died!! I did not see that one coming.
So the important message here is that you must always invest in the better brands of CD. Buy those Memorex, buy the Sony, buy the TDK. Or whatever the modern equivalent is, ask you Millennial hipster friends.
I'm playing one of my old Memorex CDs and this song was in the mix. "Devil Beat on Parade." Nice mix-CD. I haven't heard it for a while. That's what these mix CDs are good for. Reminding us geezers of the good stuff. So here I am, reminding you of the good stuff, you know, to pay-forward the good fortune!
Saturday, November 24, 2018
This idea was part of my notes for a post that appeared on April 5, 2018, called, “The Dangers of Relativism and Subjective Reality.” There’s a lot to be said for objective truth, but it goes in and out of style.
What are we to believe? Our very senses are no longer reliable. This is the digital age, and it has become easy to make us see or hear any damn thing. Our intellects seem to be the easiest thing of all to fool.
That previous article was about people embracing subjective interpretations of reality. I mean the folks that prefer to believe in their particular vision of the world, the world as seen through their eyes, as described, usually, by evil preachers and politicians. That idea seems so foolish that it leads us to some interesting questions:
Have humans suddenly lost a portion of their ability to reason?
Are people getting stupider?
Are they just easier to influence?
Is it like hypnosis or something. “Yes,” says the subject, “black thing is white. I see it clearly.”
It’s a real possibility that we are all getting stupider, but the real culprit could be a separate phenomenon that mimics stupidity.
Stupidity v. Ignorance
Stupidity, let’s face it, is a natural condition of the mind that renders it weak in the processing of information. My big Oxford Concise defines “stupid” as: lacking intelligence or common sense. The word is derived from the similarly used Latin word, “stupidus,” which is derived from the older Latin verb, “stupere,” which meant to be amazed or stunned.
Disclaimer: I am not giving myself any extra credit here; I’m not claiming any particular intellectual status for myself. I never do! You can look it up! I’m no great shakes. I have had a great deal of schooling, but I have always avoided math and science like one avoids violence and disease. There have been a lot of people who have thought me pretty smart, and many others who have judged me to be anything but. I have no official opinion on the subject, although I have formed the beginnings of a hunch.
Stupidity should not carry any blame, nor should there be any shame in it. It occurs of its own volition in something approaching fifty percent of human beings. That’s not me making a judgment; that’s the way scientists look at it. It’s a bell-curve with the median for IQ placed at one hundred. Fifty percent go up from there; fifty percent go down from there. It would be rude to say that anyone having an IQ that was under one hundred was stupid, but I’m pretty sure that most of those bottom fifty percenters qualify.
This is something else altogether. Ignorance can be either the absence of useful information on a given subject or the willful exclusion of certain facts from one’s thoughts and memories. That’s my definition, and I am somewhat at variance with the dictionaries.
My Oxford defines ignorant as: lacking knowledge or awareness in general; uninformed about or unaware of a specific subject or fact. From the Latin, ignorare.
See the difference? In the Oxford’s definition, all ignorance is innocent. In many countries there are schools where many of the students are very smart, but all of the students are ignorant. They are ignorant because no one has ever taught them anything. It’s not the fault of the students. I am ignorant of the workings of calculus, as are most people. I am blameless in this, because the subject never came up in any part of my considerable education. I only know one person who took calculus just because he wanted to. He passed it, too, and he had the nerve to say that it was fun. I wonder if taking calculus when it is not part of your curriculum is an ignorant thing to do. Is it a stupid thing to do? One or the other.
In my definition, ignorance can be culpable. It can be a choice. I would call that “willful ignorance.” Here are three types of willful ignorance, with examples:
1. Avoiding new information. You see a fact coming and you shut down all new information on the subject and stop all consideration of the subject. Example: a wife becomes suspicious that her husband is cheating on her so she blocks out the entire subject and any new information that may be related to it. She doesn’t want to know. Many people today are doing something similar about Trump.
2. Eliminate inconvenient memories. You have seen something or realized something, but it would be better for you if that thing had never happened. You close off all access to that idea and to all memories that may be connected with it. Example: you saw someone important to you do something illegal, so you choose to “forget” all about it. You don’t want to think about it. Trump benefits from this kind of thing too.
3. Refusing to accept the truth of something. You decide that you will not accept a certain set of facts which are obviously, objectively true. You know all about it, and the facts are irrefutable, but you refuse to believe it. Example: global climate change.
This “willful ignorance” sounds similar to delusion, and I guess that I have heard the term “self-delusion” bandied about. The Oxford defines delusion as: an idiosyncratic belief or impression that is not in accordance with generally accepted reality.
I am not convinced that any of the above three examples represent “delusional” behavior. In each case, a fully functional adult has made a conscious decision to use their own mental functions in an ineffective way, or not at all. For me, there should be something pathological about behavior that is truly delusional. Like the Son of Sam killer long ago, who believed that his neighbor’s dog was instructing him to shoot people.
Our current crop of pirates masquerading as elected officials has obviously figured out that stupidity makes people easier to lead around by the nose. They have also become adept at encouraging willful ignorance in the electorate.
Thankfully, I live overseas, beyond the reach of the preachers, politicians, and pundits who constantly bombard Americans with outright lies and alternative facts and snarky wise-crackery that is all carefully crafted to simultaneously flatter them and enrage them, to sooth them and to lead them astray.
There is a lot of willful ignorance involved. Almost no one actually reads anymore. Nothing of substance, anyway. People read comments on the Daily Caller or something, often responding with ungrammatical ad hominem attacks of their own. People shouting from the other side of the chasm read the Huffington Post or one of the other lefty news aggregators. That’s all an exercise in confirmation-bias. People get a blast out of having their prejudices reinforced.
The Internet is full of great stuff to read, but hardly anyone takes the time. There are articles that would actually give people a basis on which to form an opinion about things that are important. I’m talking about the Atlantic Magazine; the New York Review of Books; Vanity Fair; and other sites that give away more material that you’d have time to read anyway. If you really want to be informed, spend a couple of hundred bucks a year on subscriptions. At that point you could have the rest of the New York Review, and all of Harper’s Magazine, and the New Yorker Magazine. You could subscribe to the New York Times and read as much real news as you could stand. Or, God forbid, people could read a book every now and then, something besides the crap that the phony pundits write, things like “Killing Common Sense and Human Decency.” (Who wrote that one? I forget.)
Why take the time to read 10,000 words of the truth about the Steele Dossier in the New Yorker Magazine when you can turn on your TV and listen to someone with an empty head, a stupid expression, and a bad attitude condemn it as Clinton hack work in seven seconds? Which is a more efficient use of your time? That’s up to you, I suppose.
No, it’s much easier, and for many people more emotionally satisfying, to just watch that familiar old news channel. You know the one I mean. Do you think that I’m being condescending? Would you like to know what that news channel thinks of its viewers IQs? Watch their commercials. That entire TV channel, and all of the talking heads on it, treats its viewers like total Rubes, like a bunch of illiterate Hillbillies. Their condescension is breathtaking. If you ain’t stupid yet, you’ll be stupid after you watch a couple of hundred hours of Faux News. Either that, or they will enlist you in the ranks of the willfully ignorant, so that you too can get your snark on when the weather turns cold. You may be in on the joke, and you may be in it for the money, or you may believe that it’s all a Chinese Hoax, but the result will be the same.
The end of the world as we know it.
Unless that has happened already.
Wednesday, November 21, 2018
Saturday, November 17, 2018
A lot of these C&W guys get some credit where credit is due but a lot of them get lost in the cracks. Like Jimmy Bryant.
I like and respect Glen Campbell, and Roy Clark (who died this week, RIP), and that Chet Atkins sure could play, but hey! All you guitar players out there! Give your lunch another hour or so to settle in your stomach and listen to this. Jimmy Bryant was a regular Danny Gatton. The difference being that Jimmy invented this shit.
Thursday, November 15, 2018
We’re at that age when people start dropping like flies, and I don’t like it one bit. Many of the famous ones are our age; that seems to be the worst of it. It was terrible when ‘Trane died, or Lenny Bruce, but that had little to do with us personally. Even that mass-extinction that hit my generation around 1970, all of those rock and rollers who eased on down the road around the age of twenty-eight, almost all of that was lifestyle stuff. If you had made slightly better lifestyle choices, you were probably okay for a few more decades. Now it’s different.
Now it’s not only a constant procession of our longtime favorite musicians and movie stars to the cemetery, writers, film directors, and whatever, it’s also people that we personally knew as children. Friends that we either knew very well for years at some point in our lives or have known for all of our lives. Dropping like flies in all categories. For many of the famous ones, and for many of our friends as well, lifestyle choices still enter into the calculus. Cigarettes, drinking, drugs, you know. But not for all. Lots of straight arrows our age are just giving up the ghost suddenly, or coming down with some terrible affliction that carries them away in no time. It’s very disturbing.
Some of these deaths hit us harder than others. I’m going to stick to Baby Boomer age for the famous people; all of our personal friends are Boomers, after all.
David Bowie’s passing was a bit hard to take, wasn’t it? He kept the details so secret, and he was so nonchalantly full of life right up until the announcement of his death. That last photo of him shows him apparently bursting with life when in fact he was preparing to burst out of the cocoon of life. With a new LP released within a few days of his death! I think that one of the things that we valued most about David all through his career was the high energy that he brought to life and performing. His enthusiasm for seemingly everything. That’s the way of it, I think. The deaths that are hard for us to accept are the deaths of individuals who were thirty-five ounces of energy stuffed into a quart bottle. How could it happen? Even worse, if it can happen to them, imagine how easily it could happen to us.
It happened to David Bowie almost three years ago.
I just got the report yesterday about somebody who was very important to me when we were teenagers. The guy had a way about him.
Freddie* and Freddy; we were pretty close there for about four years. Everybody in our town took the diminutive, almost everybody. We were all Bobby, or Tommy, or Johnny, or Eddie, or Lennie, or Connie, or Patty. It didn’t matter how tough you were, or whether you had the same name as your dad, you were Arty, or Mickey, Jackie, or Tony. It was the town.
The only gift that my parents gave to me was the freedom to wander. Neither my mom nor my dad knew or cared where I was at any given time, just as long as I shut up and stayed out of their way, and showed up at school the next day. When I say that I was raised by wolves, it is actually a slander on wolves. Wolves care what happens to their offspring. For me, absent was fine for my parents. It was something similar for Freddie, but I think that his parents just didn’t want to interfere. I think that they did care, actually, but they were too shy to assert themselves. Freddie and his sister were adopted, so maybe his parents were reticent to assert too much authority.
If Freddie and I wanted to stay out all night, it was very simple to arrange. We called our parents in turn, and told them that we were spending the night at the other’s house. “Great. Be seeing you,” was all I ever heard in response. We were then free to arrange our entire night to our advantage.
Freddie had a wild streak a mile wide, and I admired nothing more in my friends. If you would ask around about me, people would tell you that I was a very nice boy, a quiet boy, very polite, and they would be hard pressed to remember any particular time that I got into trouble. They would say that because I was like some kind of high-level spy, a boy that could steal and vandalize at will without getting caught. I was never a particularly bad boy; I was never feared by the other boys; nor was I ever restrained in my behavior by the unnatural demands of the adults. I had my disguise. My mask never cracked. Only my wild-ass friends knew what I was really about.
Freddie was a wild-ass friend.
I hate to admit anything up here on this blog, because who knows where the info ends up? But this is a funeral. This is a special occasion. I owe Freddie some honesty here.
Freddie had made a copy of the key to his father’s 1961 Oldsmobile, and we used it pretty frequently there for a couple of years. We were only fifteen or sixteen at the time. We’d do that calling the parents thing and arranging to be sleeping somewhere else thing, and we’d just hang out until the lights went out. In the meantime, we’d have been standing out in front of one of the local delicatessens, waiting for an over-eighteen big brother of a friend that we knew. “Hey Bobby! How about picking us up a few beers!” That was the easiest trick in town. We knew a lot of over-eighteen guys. It never took long. Then we’d stash the beer in the bushes somewhere and just hang out with whomever was around. When all of the house lights had been out for a while, we’d help ourselves to Freddie’s dad’s Oldsmobile.
Man, that was a fast car. Pretty typical 1960s General Motors car: lousy handling; shitty brakes; balloon tires; huge, powerful engine. Oh, man, safe? It was not. We’d be drinking the warm beer, driving around. Not just driving, we’d be looking for roads that were not under any observation where you could get the car up to one hundred miles per hour. Freddie liked to find places where you could roar up to an intersection where the grade fell off suddenly on the other side, so that the car might actually become airborne. These were very narrow streets, mind you, and if you landed with the front wheels crosswise, you were dead. Stone dead. No ifs, ands, or buts about it, stone cold dead. It happened to teenagers in our town every year. We all remember a couple of the names. RIP, Bobby K. We were just two lucky Freds, Freddie and Freddy. I still marvel at our luck.
We could do that all night. Around dawn, after the milk-man had made his deliveries, we’d help ourselves to a couple of quarts of milk for breakfast. After the newspapers had been delivered, we’d take one of two of them as well. Real menaces to society, small scale. Was it wrong? Of course it was, but I don’t recall worrying about it. Was it dangerous? You’re damn right it was. We didn’t worry about that either.
Through all of this mayhem, we were only challenged by police on one occasion. We had run the car out of gas in town at about 4:00 a.m. Usually we were careful to replace the gas that we used, or most of it anyway, and have the car back where it was expected to be before dawn. This particular night we were pushing the car back to its spot, let’s see how it goes, devil take the hindmost. Freddie had one hand on the steering wheel and his shoulder pressed into the door frame; I had both hands on the trunk. A police car came to an intersection just as we were pushing the car through it, and they blipped the siren. We stopped immediately, of course. Those guys have clubs and guns.
Since Freddie’s hand was on the wheel, they addressed him first. I retired to the kitty-corner and lit a cigarette. The three of them spoke together for about five minutes. Freddie, of course, was underage, drunk, and without documentation of any kind. No license, no registration, no nothing. After the five minutes, both cops got back in their cop car and drove off. I thought to myself, “this guy is a fucking magician.” I had planned my getaway route through backyards by then. “What did you tell them?” I asked. Freddie casually said, “that it was my car! I ran out of gas!” You have to be good to get away with that one.
Freddie was not really a wild boy. Neither was I. We were just fun-loving. We had a good time. Along with other friends, we thought nothing of setting off for Jones’s Beach at midnight, without really considering how long it would take to get there, or what we would do there, or when we could make it back by. (Freddie had his license by then, so we could get around more.) We were all a bit wilder than I would have preferred my own sons to be, and indeed we were wilder than my own sons were, but we all grew up okay. We became productive members of society. Freddie and I both served in the U.S. Navy, and we both worked all of our lives and paid our taxes, we both raised children who were not ashamed to acknowledge us. Neither of us was ever arrested. Freddie even managed to make it through his life with only one wife. (I only made it forty-plus years with my first wife. I just got too damn annoying after a while.)
Most importantly, Freddie was a good person. He never picked on anyone. We all teased each other all the time, but Freddie was very gentle about it, like a good friend should be. He was very handsome and he had great hair. He had the greatest contrapposto that I’ve ever seen, much more graceful that Michelangelo’s David. He had a blonde girlfriend who was so beautiful that it still makes some of us wonder, wow, how did he manage to land her? I’m very glad that I knew him, and I appreciate all of the time that we spent together. I wish that I had stayed more in touch over the years, but that one is a two-way street and it’s not good to think about it too much. Accept your benefit, and just be gracious.
RIP, Freddie. Thanks for everything.
*I don’t want to be too personal here. I lack permission to share these details. For all of my fellow College Pointers, Freddie lived on 6th Avenue close to College Place. If you knew him, that’s close enough for you.
There's a restaurant spot at poolside at my condo here in BKK. It's been a hard luck spot, a few people have tried to make a go of it in my four years here. This new place is by far the best of the bunch.
The new owner has a lot of experience. The menu is half very affordable Thai standards, and half slightly up-scale Vietnamese food. On the left, above, is a Spicy Vietnamese Sausage Salad; on the right is Lemongrass Pork with Fried Sticky Rice. Notice that the Architecture of my place is kind of "Miami-Modern," with the rounded edges everywhere.
The homemade coconut ice-cream was outstanding. Note to self: only order it if there are four people in attendance.
Monday, November 12, 2018
Thinking about concrete has been taking up a lot of my time this week. It’s the thirtieth anniversary of the Berlin Wall coming down. That was some impressive concrete, a powerful reminder that concrete is a rich subject for consideration. Before long, my thoughts were drifting to other favorite things. We are constantly aware of the ants, and they are certainly remarkable little creatures.
They are somewhere in our field of vision more than we would find ideal, probably. We are simply accustomed to their presence, but they are, in fact, so interesting that it is almost disturbing.
I am informed, and believe, that ants evolved from some kind of wasp-like creatures about 140 million years ago. That doesn’t sound like long enough, does it? They have ants that were trapped in amber about 100 million years ago, and they maintain some wasp-like characteristics, along with a lot of ant-like characteristics. (This is from Wikipedia and a couple of other sites, BBC Science or something.) Wiki says that they “achieved ecological dominance” about sixty million years ago. That sounds more ominous than the author intended, I’m sure. Isn’t that about when the dinosaurs became extinct? Unrelated events, no doubt.
It is certain that today, as we speak, there are an awful lot of ants in the world. I remember reading long ago that there were ant colonies in the dirt under the ice on the Antarctic Continent, but the current consensus is that that was just a linguistic coincidence. They are everywhere else, though. They make up between 15% and 25% of the total biomass of every animal on earth, and the biomass of all of the ants is just about equal to the biomass of all of the human beings on earth. Whose world is it? That one seems to be a tie.
The Ants of Thailand
We have a lot of ants here in Thailand. Many different varieties, different shapes and sizes. One of the great but little-known things about Thailand is that the place is so wonderful that most of the bugs live outside. There’s so much for them to do out there, and the weather is so inoffensive, that they just stay there. God knows there’s enough rotting vegetation to keep them fed, along with dead geckos and the carcasses of larger insects. I guess there’s enough rain distributed throughout the year to keep them from getting thirsty, although I have noticed in some years that the “dry season” leaves them no choice but to parade into your kitchen or bathroom, if they are handy.
We have red ants; ants that are half clear and half red; brown ants; ants that are black; ants that are half black and half brown; and ants that look roughly the color of leopards and appear as though they might just have the spots as well. We have them so small that you can hardly see them, and so large that you can tell their faces apart and give them names. Those giants tend to travel around alone, and if you happen to be standing at the sink when they poke their heads up for a look-see, they take a moment to regard you with something approaching interest.
I had the giants in the first house that I rented up in the northern mountains. We never saw them anywhere but the kitchen, which was a vent-block affair attached to one outside wall of the house. That’s a very common set up; it keeps the heat of cooking from making the house uninhabitable. They stayed out of the house part. My guess is that there were too many geckos in the house. I’d see the giant ants one at a time coming up to the splash-plate of the counter to have a look around. Having satisfied themselves that there was nothing of interest in the area, they would go back the way they came.
Ants are a food source for many Thai people. Sometimes this is part of the dynamic that people who are poor enough will literally eat anything, but there is one ant-based food that is highly valued as a delicacy. That would be Kai Mot Daeng, or red ant eggs. These, of course, do not look like eggs at all, and they disappear nicely into the dishes that include them. It is, in fact, the least offensive way to eat insects that I have ever encountered. Way up the mountain somewhere if you find a local village market, they will have several kinds of bugs for sale, and people who grew up with them as a common food source do seem to like them. Everything from grasshoppers to huge black beetles, already prepared or just ready for your kitchen. I will cheerfully eat dishes containing the red ant eggs; I will risk being rude to avoid eating one of the larger insects.
Ants are busy little things. When we first arrived at our Peace Corps teaching site, we were housed in the “teacher house” of the big grammar school in town. It was an ancient structure, but dry and tidy. On the second evening there was a huge swarm of termites, I mean it was so dense we could hardly see the TV. There’s nothing to be done about that but wait it out and then sweep them up. They were dying by the time we went to bed, and we figured that we would sweep them up in the morning. We had noticed some unusual ant activity as the termites began to hit the floor in large numbers. (The bedroom upstairs was clear.) When we came downstairs rather early the next morning, there was no termite debris in evidence. The ants had packed it all off to ant-land. Other than that, I don’t remember seeing any ants in that house. If something is in the wind, they will sense it and spring into vigorous action. The periodic termite swarms were probably something that they looked forward to.
Now I live in a condo building that was built about twenty years ago. I have what I believe are called, “crazy ants.” Not many, but if you poke around in the kitchen you’ll always see a few, either on the counter or in a cabinet. Ants are justifiably famous for their regimentation, for their great organization, for the profound order of their lives. Crazy ants are not like that. Most of the ants that you see are moving along the same path, forth and back, following a pheromone trail to something of value that one of them stumbled across. If one happens to deviate from the path, she will quickly discover her mistake and rejoin the parade. I say “she,” they are almost all she. The crazy ants never make a line or follow a path. They seem to be scattering away from the explosion of a stink-bomb. And fast, too. They are among the smallest of the ants that I know of, and they race along like there was no tomorrow. Not just fast to scale, not just fast for their small size, but fast compared to any other insect. I cannot imagine how fast their tiny legs are pumping. Just keeping those six tiny legs coordinated at that speed wins my greatest respect.
The state of their disorganization makes a Pachinko machine look like a model of order. They never appear to know where they’re going, nor does it ever seem like they are returning to a particular place. If they stumble onto something good, like a sticky spot on the counter what was made by a drop of honey, they will begin to congregate. Even then, they seem to grow impatient and start to run again. Crazy ants is a good name for them. There must be a reason for the behavior, but I don’t think that it has been discovered yet.
Living with Ants
It’s all good to study ant behavior and I’m sure that the pros have a lot of fun doing it. I’m more interested in the social aspect of living with these tiny animals.
I grew up in houses that were remarkably insect-free. There were spiders, but people in my parents’ generation, and previous generations, held the belief that spiders in the house were a sign of good luck. It meant the house was dry. There would be mosquitoes in the season, and they are annoying, and there were flies, also mostly in summer, but the social dynamic is different with flying insects. At least with mosquitoes, you know exactly what they want. They want your blood. Other than that firm intention, they seem devoid of intelligence. Compared to mosquitoes, flies are geniuses. Flies are aware, hyperaware in fact, of their surroundings. If there is a mosquito on your arm, you can easily kill him, leaving only a small spot of your own blood. Flies, on the other hand, seem to have eyes in every direction and supernatural reflexes. None of this is disturbing; it is merely annoying.
After getting married, and still living in New York City, I graduated to roaches. Our last apartment in New York was in a public housing project, and boy, did we have roaches. Being forced to live with them, I spent some time in the library studying them, and I discovered that they are generally not dangerous as disease vectors. They are just seeking food and shelter, like any other sensible organism, and they are fairly clean in their habits and keep to themselves as much as possible, inside the walls where you cannot see them. Unless you have a serious allergy to the dust made by their rotting carcasses, there’s not too much to worry about.
It did not occur to me at the time, but the major difference between living with roaches and living with ants is that the roaches have the common decency to respect you, while the ants utterly fail to even notice your presence, much less respect the title that you hold to the property that they are so blithely enjoying the use of.
Roaches are sufficiently aware to fear you. If I entered my kitchen in the project at night, and turned on a light, a roach walking along the wall would casually go about his business. If, however, I turned my head towards him and held him in my stare, he would freeze. Minutes could go by without either of us moving. As soon as I made one move in his direction, he would sail off at top speed. When I first identified this behavior, I found the apparent intelligence of it alarming. My brother-in-law was studying for a MS in biology at the time, and I described the behavior to him, along with my concerns. He assured me that it was simply a part of the instinctive crawling behavior of certain insects.
But the roaches, they see you, they fear you, and they desperately try to escape from you. Ants, on the other hand, ignore you. They do have eyes, so it is likely that they can identify your movement at least. If you start to poke one of their Indian-file trails with your finger, they will attack you, so they are not beyond recognizing your presence. In the absence of an immediate threat, however, their disdain for you is total. It’s fucking annoying.
Therein probably lies the secret of the ants’ success. You probably could not entice a colony of roaches to attack you. They’re instinct is to escape. They are on the look-out for threats, and ready at all times to make a clean getaway. Even if you invade their space and kill great numbers of them, those that remain alive simply move on, as fast as possible.
Ants, on the other hand, will attack you. They will enjoy it. They attack at the drop of a hat. If another colony of ants intrudes on their territory, they will attack it. If the level of their alarm is sufficient, they may even follow the enemy ants back to their nest and kill them all. That’s even if the other ants are of the identical species. They will readily declare war on rival ant species. They will do the same with termites, which are rather larger animals. They’ve got big red ants in Texas, or those fire ants, who will swarm all over you if they believe you are a threat. Where do the army-ants live, out in Africa somewhere? They will sting the shit out of you. There is actually one species of ant whose sting can be fatal, but one out of 15,000 separately identified types doesn’t sound too bad. The likelihood of encountering them seems slim.
Arrogant might be the operative word for ants. They are arrogant little things. But since a powerful argument could be made that this is their world, and we just live in it, I suppose that they are entitled to a smidge of arrogance. If you are the best, and you say that you are the best, you’re not really bragging, now are you?
Sunday, November 11, 2018
Thursday, November 8, 2018
More O.G. Indonesian rock and roll. They really caught some lightning in a bottle there for a while. I've got to look up some more recent Indo variety shows and see if they're still way up on the Country and Western thing. I've seen some hat bands in the last ten years that were real pros and very entertaining.
Asia is a funny place. The popular music is pretty dead in most countries. Then, like in Japan, a lot of the music really swings and rocks hard, but there's a reason. Japan was full of Americans for ten years or more, and we ran the place. They got the funk gene from us; they internalized the swing. Indo was a Dutch colony, then the Japanese took over, then on to independence and the place in general is pretty dull. Somehow the music has real meat on its bones. Strange.
Long ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I drove taxis four nights a week in New York City. Many people in the Big Apple are preoccupied with one thing or another, and it happened sometimes that someone would climb into the cab and just quietly sit back and look out the window. I'd take off in the direction that the cab was aimed, and I'd let them take a moment to fill me in on the destination. If we hit a red light in the meantime, I would take the opportunity to bring up the subject. I'd turn around so that we were looking at each other straight on, me wearing my Kangol Spitfire, my Andy Warhol glasses, and my winning smile, and I'd say, “so, where we goin'?”
That usually drew a laugh, sometimes preceded by a sheepish grin, and then they'd tell me the destination. It was fun. It's a good question, too, and not something that should be casually overlooked. One should almost always know where one is going.
Now that the Democrats have regained a power base in Washington, it might be a good time to ask them where we're going, as far as they're concerned. Maybe we could ask them where they are going. I hope that they have some kind of plan, and I am very anxious to see what it might be. The operative word being, “anxious.”
The Republicans have gotten as far as they have because they formulate a short, simple set of stated goals, then reduce those goals to easily remembered and repeatable slogans, and then they stay on message, shoulder to shoulder. That's a great way to approach politics. If you put ten Republicans in a room for one hour, they will come out in smiling agreement with carefully coordinated statements for the press conference. Try that with ten Democrats and the result would be a level of chaos that would be hard to describe in English. You might need to resort to Italian. It's a better cursing language.
Here are my feelings on the subject. The Democrats have three huge jobs that urgently need doing:
- Demonstrate clearly that they are more in tune with the hopes and dreams of the American people, which they are;
- Put forward a few choice pieces of legislation that will either pass or make the Republicans look ridiculous, which should be easy; and
- Find some attractive, electable national candidates. Because I don't see any yet.
Re: number one, the problem is that the majority of American voters that prefer Democratic policies are clustered in large states. This has emerged as a huge problem with our Constitution itself. California's population is what, thirty-six million? They have one of the largest economies in the world? They have two senators. Wyoming's population is fewer than one million. Their economy is negligible. They have TWO SENATORS.
Related problem: as far as the Electoral College goes, every vote in Wyoming is worth about five times as much as a vote in California. Trump proved that you can string together a few million yahoos and take over the entire country. One man, one vote MY BONY OLD WHITE ASS.
Just appealing to a vast majority of the American people is not enough to win permission to govern under our Constitution.
Re: number two, the House of Representatives is where legislation is generated. That's where bills start. So starting a few that will show the Democrats in a good light should be a reasonable plan. A little advice? Start with bills that clearly enhance people's health and income security. Do something about getting the big money out of politics. Maybe chip away at that wildly unpopular tax cut for the super-rich that passed last year. Do something about voter-suppression. Keep those bills coming. Don't even try to find common ground with the Republicans, because that's impossible. And don't worry about those bills dying in the Republican controlled Senate. THAT'S THE FUCKING POINT. Go into constant campaign mode and spend a lot of money on TV ads harping repeatedly about how you are trying to help the country but those pricks the Republicans just won't lift a finger to help anyone but billionaires.
Re: number three, let me just say that I happen to like Bernie Sanders, but he's not a viable candidate outside of Vermont and the hipster neighborhoods of Brooklyn and Los Angeles. I like Elizabeth Warren a lot, but please, she'd do about as well as Michael Dukakis in a presidential election. I love Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, but please give the woman some time to grow into a bigger job. Tim Kane won his seat again, but let's face it, he's not going anywhere. He was already a major mistake on the ticket with Hillary. Beto O'Rorke's time has not come yet. Please, in the name of all that is good and holy, never mention either of the Clintons again to me in any context. I love Barack Obama as a party chairman or something, maybe a Senator, is that legal? He'd be a perfect Supreme Court Justice. But let's be serious about the new blood. Who's out there? The Democrats need someone young, with zero baggage, with some charisma, someone who would be considered at least a very good speaker. A great speaker with charisma would be better, but you've got to start somewhere.
Hey, get that Jimmy the Greek guy on the phone! What are the odds that the Democrats will be able to get any of this together? Where we goin' Jimmy?
Long are the odds, I'm afraid. It's the same old faces at the DNC and in leadership positions in Congress. The same old “we've got to get entitlement spending under control” mob of Democrats who are only slightly less Republican than the real Republicans. Unless I miss my guess, the Democrats will simply continue to maintain their own position in the power/financial structure, satisfied with second place because after all, the money is good. Second place takes off the pressure! They'll just keep on coasting along like they have been for a long while now. Where are the Democrats going? Nowhere. They like it too much right where they are.
It will be interesting to see how positions of power affect some of the Democratic rookies in the House. Interesting, but most likely disappointing. They talk about some real money now. The stock tips alone will launch you into eight figures with little effort. Hell, just the book deal money would be enough to sorely tempt me. It's not like I don't understand why our politicians sell us out, but I don't have to like it.
I only hope that the Democrats don't start a lot of useless investigations one after the other. What could be a greater waste of time? Trump conspired for decades with Russian gangsters to violate international banking laws! Trump is enriching himself while in office! Trump is taking money from foreign powers who are seeking to influence his decisions! Trump has violated our tax laws! Trump has lied on the record thousands of times! Trump doesn't have a clue what he's doing! Everybody knows all of that already; it's old news. That kind of thing will only be a colossal waste of time, and it will not win one extra vote for the Democratic candidate for president in 2020. Worse than a waste of time, it would all be counterproductive.
The Democrats need to start working hard to win. They need to start taking back state legislatures and governorships. They need to do something about Gerrymandering. They need to convince the hayseeds that they care about the people out in Clodhopperstan. They need to want to win, and they need to want to make America as good a place as it can be.
I'm not convinced that they worry at all about either of those last two things.
Wednesday, November 7, 2018
I'm going through a saxophone stage, and one of the major symptoms is Pres. I'm also very much enjoying getting to know Nat Cole in more detail. Boy, it was great when people actually devoted their entire lives to mastering musical instruments and playing great stuff like this.
Sunday, November 4, 2018
The media recently has been rich in articles offering atheists strategies to use when confronted by people of religion asking stupid questions. Questions like: if you don’t believe in God, what’s stopping you from doing any old damn immoral thing that you feel like doing? I think that this question alone is sufficient example of the level of stupidity that we’re talking about.
For this question to appear in our discourse at all, the situation requires a sufficient number of people who have given up on the idea of God, and an equally sufficient number of people who are holding on to the concept of God for dear life in spite of all of the evidence to the contrary.
The world is now full of people who have more or less given up on the need for God in their lives. On the “more” side, there are those who assert a strong disinclination to agree with the proposition that God exists at all. Note the careful formulation of the previous sentence. Phrasing that concept as a belief that there is no God leads immediately to specious arguments from the religious. It’s more of a disbelief, actually, a failure to believe in God. Those whose atheism is strong simply find no evidence at all, no evidence that is either compelling, middling, or even slightly persuasive, no evidence to support the proposition that there is a God.
On the “less” side are those people who have simply given up the Hoary Head, the Angry Old Man, the Old Man at the Desk. People who have soured on the thousands of competing versions of God, each supported by a venal earthly religion seeking to monopolize access to the good-will of God, to God’s favor, to God’s grace. Each with its own “revealed text,” its own written book of stories and rules, written down by self-interested human beings hundreds or thousands of years ago, amid feverish claims that the words were dictated by the writers’ preferred version of the True God. These “less” believers are still drawn by the promise of a “higher power” of some kind, but their skepticism over the various administrations of religion has driven them to seek that higher power directly and privately. They feel no need to discuss it with others or to see it written down. They are comfortable with knowing what they know.
What is being lost here is not God, it is belief. No one alive or who has existed in the entire history of humanity can prove that there is now or ever was a God. The entire thing is a fiction based solely on belief. My concise Oxford defines belief as: an acceptance that something exists or is true, especially one without proof. Let’s add, “and the persuasion of self-interested others.” We’ve lost the belief and the peer pressure.
Language Note: I’ve been referring to God as “God.” I’ve gone back and forth on this point over the years. My current practice is to use “God” when the subject is monotheism, one supreme, omniscient super-being. When the subject is polytheism, where the super-beings become numerous, I am content to call them gods.
My own feelings on the subject have always been close to the surface of this blog. I see the complete absence of evidence regarding God not only as an absence of evidence that God exists, but also a lack of evidence that God does not exist. I suffer from a lack of information on which it would be possible to form a strong opinion either way. And I’m comfortable with that. I will live my own life the best way that I know how, loving my fellow man and trying to be helpful when I can, and if there be a judgment at the end of it all, I’ll take my chances.
The believers often deploy an argument for the existence of God that I find comically ineffective. They suggest that when one asks all of the “why” questions and all of the “how” questions about the universe and everything in it the point will inevitably be reached where there is no possible answer but God. Even, they say, if the Big Bang was a real thing, where did the singularity come from? All backwards seeking questions must lead back to a question that cannot be answered, and that, according to these religious adherents, must be God. But God is a leap of faith whether you arrive at God early or late in such arguments; the existence of God is unsupported by evidence or facts either way. So it’s about the same leap either way. I am completely content to say simply, “I don’t know.”
And all of the scientists who are in the mood to be honest would give the same answer. They’ve been learning an awful lot for a couple of hundred years now, and they are arriving at some consensus and certainty about things like multiple universes and string theory and a lot of other things that seem to the rest of us only a short step away from magic. They talk a good game now about the sub-atomic world and quantum theory, and cosmology, but the more courageous among them would still admit that there are many questions to which they have no answers as yet. For their own sake, I hope that they are as comfortable with that uncertainty as I am, because that’s where they will be living for at least another thousand years or more. The more that they can understand and prove mathematically, the more unanswered questions they discover. That tracing back series of questions, not to mention the digging down questions, will be confounding human beings for many eons to come.
In the Meantime
Without God to use as a crutch in this ignorance, what, as the question goes, is to prevent immorality and societal chaos? The answer, of course, is our own better natures.
It sounds like a joke, I know, but you must admit that human nature is a very complex thing. We are neither all good, nor all bad. We are a strange mixture of every possible decision in response to any conceivable question.
Putting aside for a moment the upheaval of our current world situation, and the institutionalized violence, and the bottomless oceans of greed and self-interest, and the apparent disinterest in even the concept of the truth, you are left with the full array of emotions and predispositions that represent what is good in mankind. We do care about each other; we do help each other; we tend to deal fairly with one another. It is important to realize that we do not act this way out of altruism, but rather out of our truest self-interest. If things were otherwise, life would not be worth living. Indeed, without these good behaviors, we would all have killed each other a long time ago. A nation of Cains could never have thrived. (Recall your Bible: Cain was the murderous brother.)
Man, in his earliest versions, made self-interested decisions to cooperate and place great importance in the well-being of the group. Those early populations were under huge stresses that we can only guess at today. They were in constant danger from predators, sickness, accidents, uncertainties of every kind, and probably from other bands of humans that might have been like them but who might have been from a different branch of our kind. The situation did not lend itself to “every man for himself.”
My official feeling for almost all of the world’s religions is negative. I will admit that I have arrived at an undiluted contempt for all supernatural religions. Here on the blog I have compared supernatural, belief-based religions to the belief in ghosts. That leaves most religions out in the intellectual cold. I only know of one religion where supernaturalism is almost entirely absent. I refer to the branch of Buddhism that is practiced in Thailand. That would be Teravada Buddhism. (“terawat,” not like the electrical term, in this word the R is trilled in the Spanish style.) This branch of Buddhism prevails not only in Thailand, but also in Sri Lanka, Burma, Lao, and Cambodia. Also called “Southern Buddhism,” the Teravada branch is delightfully naturalistic. Buddha was a man, a great teacher, and the practice of this religion is focused on self-development and treating others fairly and well. There is a focus on meditation for self-improvement. It’s a roadmap to greater harmony in our private lives and in our communities, without any interference from supernatural entities and without the promise of any unknown supernatural reward.
Why not support Buddhism in general? I will leave it to you to study all of the branches of Buddhism. Is Buddhism even a religion? Many branches are clearly organized along religious lines, with plenty of supernatural elements in their doctrines and in their organizations. Others are light on the supernatural but also light on the practical advice for day to day life. The Teravada style seems to be the one most concentrated on improving people’s lives while they are alive. There’s no need to adopt any particular religion, however, no need to subscribe to any existing set of suggestions. No need to meditate, or work by any sort of prescribed rules. No need to adopt a schedule of holidays. You can do it on your own. You can simply be a good person.
The Natural Religion
It’s not like there’s any mystery to it. It’s a simple matter of right and wrong. We all know right from wrong, don’t we? My knowledge of right and wrong was not taught to me as a child. That much is certain, since I was raised by wolves who taught me only that size and strength were the only levers of power in the world. I received a great deal of religious training, but that just seemed to reinforce the use of coercion and physical strength that I was learning at home. I intuited, upon careful observation, that treating people well and never imposing my will on others was a better way to go. To be fair, I was probably just trying to avoid a few beatings by acting that way. After the threat of beatings retreated, I began to understand that treating people fairly and decently was a more sustainable path for a harmonious life. That path represented order, and no sane person embraces chaos.
Those religious fanatics who ask us why, in the absence of God, do we refrain from doing terrible things, are bringing a terrible indictment on themselves and their kind: if your only reason for not raping women and killing your enemies is that an imaginary supernatural entity has forbidden it, then you are an immediate danger to yourself and others and should be delivered to an institution with experience in treating such pathologies.
It’s very simple. I don’t approve of rules in general, but the rules in Teravada Buddhism are easy to understand and obviously worthy of being followed. There are only three:
1. Do good things;
2. Don’t do bad things; and
3. Try to improve yourself.
Who could disagree with that?
I was idly thinking recently about what kind of new ethical/spiritual framework should replace old-school organized religion, which is obviously in a death spiral as we speak. I made some notes:
*Try to leave people more comfortable than you found them;
*Offer gratuitous encouragement to people who appear nervous;
*Build self-confidence in the people that you know, brick by brick;
*Think before you speak. If you are at all unsure of the effect of what you plan to say, think three times before speaking;
*You may repeat compliments almost without limit;
*If you must deliver information that is not general knowledge, don’t be obnoxious about it;
*Make your game-face a nice, Mona Lisa/Mr. Rogers smile;
*Be a good guest, whether you are in someone’s home or in someone else’s country;
*Treat others like you would like to be treated, NOT like they treat you. (This is a correction of a common misapprehension.)
These were just good common-sense aphorisms off of the top of my head, but they did start to sound familiar before long. They turn out to sound a lot like those sutras that Buddhist monks are chanting in a dead language up at the temple. There is a great reason for this. Whether you are speaking about now, or 2,500 years ago in Mr. Buddha’s heyday, or even in the way-back, there is no mystery about how we should treat each other. Right is still right, and wrong is still wrong. Do the right things; don’t do the wrong things. How fucking hard was that?
Way too hard for a lot of people these days, evidently.
Friday, November 2, 2018
American motorcycle riders tend to think of anything under about 500cc as a “small bike.” I used to think like that myself.
My first bike was a Honda CB-350 (actual displacement: 325cc). I purchased the bike in 1972, and I put a lot of miles on it. I think they had the red line on the tachometer at 9,500 rpm, but it would cheerfully pull past that. If you kept the revs up, it was a fast little bike. As in, “little bike.” We couldn’t help it. That’s the way it was. That was just about the first generation of very high-tech Japanese motorcycles. Before the 1960s, all motorcycles were engineered along the lines of 1930s English bikes, and anything under 500cc was slow, slow, slow. Those were low revving, torquey motors made for putting around on bad roads. Honda changed all of that single-handedly in the early 1960s.
We soon learned the words, “thermal efficiency.” Whereas it never seemed to occur to the English to create an engine of less than 500cc with more than one cylinder, Honda started turning out racing bikes that seemed like science fiction. Two-cylinder 50cc; four-cylinder 250cc in V-4 configuration. Where the English could barely create engines with two valves per cylinder that would function properly, Honda innovated four valves per cylinder. Overhead cams; double overhead cams; 12,500 rpm red lines. The sky was the limit all of a sudden. By the late 1960s those Honda 350s, then the model called the “Super Hawk,” were as fast as English 650s.
I liked my small bike, but I did move up with my second bike. In 1982 I got a Yamaha 650 Seca. That was a great bike. Light and easy handling; very powerful engine (60hp); very comfortable for any purpose at all, with flat, shortish bars and slightly rear-set foot-pegs. I used it for commuting, canyon bashing, and road trips around California. A “general purpose” bike if ever there was one. Great at everything.
The whole scene is completely different in Thailand. Here anything over about 150cc is considered a big bike. We would consider this Nova Sonic 125cc as kind of a joke in America, like a toy or something. I can tell you though, between about twenty mph and fifty-five mph or so, this thing would be a rocket. One up, and the rider not too fat, let’s be fair, it’s a pretty small engine.
I had one of the predecessor models in this line, a Honda Nova Dash, made almost fifteen years ago. That was a water cooled two stroke displacing only 100cc. It took a moment to get it rolling, but passing through fifteen or twenty mph with the revs up near the red line it would get up to fifty-five mph so quickly that it was frightening. Well, mostly the sound was frightening, that little two stroke, wound all the way up, was a real screamer. It sounded like it was actually exploding. I don’t know what changes had been made in the engine, but my Dash went through a tank of gas in no time flat. With the revs up, that thing was moving gasoline like crazy.
I’m ready to guarantee, this Nova Sonic 125cc is no toy either. This one has also been modified. As with my Dash, when people go out of their way to install after market brakes, suspension, rear-set foot pegs, and God knows whatever else, you can bet that they’ve spent a few dollars on the engine as well. It’s a nice-looking bike too.
You wouldn’t want to ride it four hundred miles in one day, like I used to do with my Seca. You wouldn’t find any suitable roads for a trip like that anyway. But as a daily driver, and charging around any handy mountain roads on the weekend, this bike would hold your attention.