Sunday, December 30, 2018
Saturday, December 22, 2018
Here's my real question: when Bobby "Blue" Bland has already done a song to death, how does any other singer muster the courage to make their own version?
The story here is probably from an older version of the song. Just a hunch. The song is as old as the hills.
This is my favorite version, or one of them anyway. The story is presented in all of its details here, sung by a really underrated singer that most people have never even heard of. If not for George Harrison covering James Ray's only even close to a well known record, he'd have passed from history without a trace by now. Great voice though, don't you think?
He's got the story part cut down to nothing here, but that is due no doubt to the time constraints of TV. What a fabulous, subtle touch on the keys though! What volume control! Jon is a very good singer, but he is a really masterful piano player.
Thursday, December 20, 2018
Last person standing can turn off the lights. Don't bother locking the doors. The final solution to crime and all human folly will have been achieved. Welcome to the Sixth Great Extinction.
We see a lot of content these days about what is variously called “Global Warming,” or “Global Climate Change,” but only the scientists seem to agree on what is really happening. The entire earth is getting warmer in a manner and at a rate that are truly terrifying to people with scientific training. There is so much agit-prop opposing the theory that most average work-a-day American voters think that the whole thing is either a Chinese hoax or a bunch of bullshit. Moneyed interests form almost the entire opposition faction, and that's always trouble. They can afford that really good propaganda. They own the energy industry, plus numerous other industries that would suffer financially to pay for a meaningful response to our climate woes. Most of the media are on the opposition team, just whoring it up for the advertising money, I guess. I happen to think that our changing climate is a huge problem that is going to have a meaningful negative impact on the lives of my granddaughters, but who cares what I think? Almost no one is even listening to the scientists, so what chance do I have?
A lot of people, persuaded by the opposition's vast efforts at misinformation, seem to believe that it's all almost funny. They repeat the alternative facts, such as, “if temperatures go up by a few degrees within 100 years, what's the big deal?” Or the ever popular, “did you see that snow storm? It was freezing! So much for Global Warming.” It's discouraging to see presidents and members of congress among those mocking voices. Most of us know better than to mock scientific realities that we don't understand.
The Insect Apocalypse
There is another catastrophe in progress, related in some ways but completely separate in others. That would be the Sixth Great Extinction, also known as The Holocene Extinction, or the Anthropocene Extinction. There have been these great extinctions throughout the history of life on earth. All of the previous ones took place before humans became a factor in the ecology of the planet. The Holocene Epoch of geological history began with the end of the last ice age, which was about 10,000 BC. That, coincidentally, marked the beginning of the rise of human society. We began the epoch as a very small number of hunter-gatherers grouped in bands that were too small even to call tribes, and we now stand on practically every usable square foot of the planet as the dominant species.
We were heavily involved with the Holocene Extinction from the start. The first to go were the group called the megafauna, those super-large mostly mammals that you recall from pictures in books. Those mammoths, and giant ground sloths, things like that. We hunted them to death and we squeezed out their predators too. The dire wolves that you may remember from the tar-pits or museums that you have visited, and the mighty saber-toothed tiger. Gone, gone, and gone, and we've been at it ever since.
Our involvement led to the alternate name, “The Anthropocene Extinction,” which simply means the human driven extinction, the world that is being shaped by humans.
It is very interesting to me that we hear so little about the current great extinction. Keeping it all out of the media cannot be easy, but then again, people would much rather laugh at what Trump said yesterday than hear more bad news from scientists, and a lot of people are so consumed by the feud between those two female celebrities that they have little time for anything else. For the last ten or fifteen years, I recall reading very rarely about the decline in amphibian populations, mostly frogs. It gets reduced to, “some scientist somewhere says that the overall number of frogs is going down.” And that's it. It's all coming into clearer focus now.
Entomologists (the people who study insects) have suddenly begun to realize that since 1970 or so the overall numbers of insects have declined precipitously. Some species of insects are already gone, and others are approaching extinction. It's like that scientific community had a hunch, and then realized, wait! They really are mostly gone!
There is some exciting vocabulary that becomes important here:
Numerical extinction- true extinction; they're all gone; like the Dodo bird or the passenger pigeon.
Functional extinction- there are still some of a particular animal around, but there are no longer enough of them to have any meaningful impact on the local ecology. Seen any big American bison lately? They've been reduced to a zoo population.
Extirpation- localized extinctions.
Defaunation- the loss of abundance in certain animal populations. This can be in quantity, or size, or both. For example, murals in ancient Rome often depict fishermen in the Mediterranean catching very large groupers.* That was a popular fish with the Romans, as it is today anywhere in the world where they may be found. All of the groupers found anywhere today are much smaller than those in the murals from 2,000 years ago. This is also the experience of people who closely examine sport fishing trophy photos from the Caribbean. Much smaller fish now. Think of the experience of the poor cod, salmon, blue-fin tuna, and the sperm whale, over the last two hundred years.
Biological annihilation- the widespread loss of all animal life in a certain area. Recall the oceanic dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico. Those hypoxic (low or no oxygen in the water) areas were caused by excessive agricultural fertilizer run-off from upstream in the Mississippi River. Usually called, “nutrient pollution,” and the very definition of a man-made ecological catastrophe.
Tap, tap! Is this thing on? Does anyone care?
We know that no one cares if the temperatures go up a few degrees. Why, we'd hardly notice! Those scientists are just a bunch of Cassandras! Chicken Littles, yelling about the sky is falling! I'm betting that most people's first reaction to the loss of insect populations is going to be something similar. “Fewer mosquitoes? Fewer flies? I'm all for that!” If it were only so simple.
Where are all of these bugs going, anyway? What's killing them? The answer to that question begins with the obvious and ends with the ominous. It starts out frightening and finishes up with a really terrifying bang.
There are, of course, the usual suspects: pesticides.
It is unfortunately true that neurotoxins make wonderful anti-insect pesticides. Their use has become ridiculously widespread. Almost all agricultural communities use them; recreational and industrial areas use them; areas of human habitation use them. That covers almost all of the bases. Wind patterns and the physics of our atmosphere insure that the pesticides will be widely distributed to areas that we have designated wild or natural. They settle into the soil itself, and remain there for longer than their boosters would like to admit. And they kill a huge number of insects, some of which had been targeted for death and others of which are mere collateral damage.
One important class of neurotoxins was designed specifically to target individual plants. The new class of pesticides were also “shown” to be less toxic to birds and mammals than other types of pesticides. As so often happens in corporate science, the effects have been much more widespread and destructive than was originally advertised. These were called neonicotinoids. Their use has been banned in the European Union, but they are still going strong elsewhere.
These neurotoxins are now “suspect number one” in the disappearance of so many bee populations. Not the deaths of bees per se, but merely their disappearance. Entomologists find the hives, and they look fine, and there are a few bees in there, but the rest have simply gone missing. Current thinking is that the neurotoxins interfere with the bees ability to find their way home.
These neurotoxin based pesticides are drifting in clouds far and wide, getting into the soil and settling on the trees, and they are killing insects willy-nilly all over the place. As it turns out, one of the very best ways to kill birds, amphibians, lizards, and small mammals is to cause the deaths and disappearance of the insect populations that had sustained them. And sure enough, the bird, lizard, and amphibian populations of Europe and many other places have been disappearing. Mysteriously! Although you'd have to be pretty stupid, or gullible, or well paid by lobbyists to actually believe that it was mysterious.
The Worst Part
It turns out that pesticides, neurotoxins, and neonicotinoids are only the tip of the iceberg.
For many millennia, our bug buddies have become accustomed to living on the earth as they found it. They generated themselves, lived their little bug lives, and died, according to the same rules for a rather long time. Things are changing now, and they are not adjusting well.
One enthusiastic scientist studied a particular area of rain forest in Puerto Rico. He's been at it since 1970 or so. He counts the insects, the lizards, and the birds, and he takes appropriate measurements. He was down there recently and he found that a testing system identical to the one that he had been using for decades now yielded a lot fewer bugs. In the beginning he was getting almost five hundred milligrams of bugs in his bottles and nets. Now he was down to eight milligrams (8 mg.) using the same testing criteria. That's quite a shocking diminution. By the way, there was a corresponding loss of lizards and birds, creatures that eat bugs. (Frogs were not mentioned in the article that I read. Perhaps they were all dead already.)
Over this same period, temperatures in this rain forest have risen by about two degrees. (F) Even scientists don't think that two degrees should be the difference between life and death, so some studies were instituted.
The laboratory tests showed that even a moderate increase in temperature for these admittedly tropical bugs led to a dramatic drop in fertility.
It's that old Global Climate Change again! Maybe it's not a Chinese hoax after all. Maybe an increase of only a very few degrees makes a big difference.
If we don't trust our scientists to figure these things out for us, who should we trust?
Our politicians are all on the “I'll be dead and gone, so fuck it, I'm taking the money” plan. We are allowing them to do it. But what about my granddaughters? Perhaps you have grandchildren too. Do you love them? If so, you'd better get on the right side of this issue pretty damn quickly. We're running out of time.
*English is so strange. I was unsure of the plural for "grouper," so I looked it up. There was no guidance in my biggest dictionary, so I asked Professor Google. The plural is either "groupers," or "grouper." That was the source of my confusion. I've heard it both ways. English is unforgivably strange.
Wednesday, December 19, 2018
I had to share this because it has such a ridiculously low hit and like count up on the 'Tube. Please note that just about the only redeeming thing about this God-awful 21st Century of ours is that we have access to all of the ages and styles of recorded music. We can listen to Jimmy Scott if we wish to. I try to avoid value judgments, but honestly, Jimmy Scott should be near the top of everybody's list of things to listen to.
Monday, December 17, 2018
Saturday, December 15, 2018
It can be very difficult to separate productive activities from total wastes of time. One person’s fascinating hobby is another person’s lost opportunity to accomplish something useful. For instance, right now I am in the middle of a huge book called, “World War II at Sea,” by Craig L. Symonds. It’s a vast undertaking, reading the book I mean, although the war at sea was also a considerable effort.
I will admit, I was conflicted about ordering the book. (Kindle edition.) There were a few reasons. Most notably, I’ve read professionally written individual history books about most aspects of the naval war. Focusing on the war with Japan, I’ve read multiple books about every major action. Hell, I’ve read at least five books dedicated to the Battle of Midway alone, one of which was written by a Japanese flight leader. Why cover all of that ground again? Not to mention that my Kindle was already backed up with lengthy articles concerning matters with more current relevance. It turns out that it was all worth it.
The book offers two things that the individual books often overlook: smaller events over in the corners somewhere, and the big picture. The author takes considerable pains to illuminate what was happening elsewhere on or under the world’s oceans while any particular thing was happening in a particular place. It was all connected somehow; everything affected everything else. Like a spider web: if you tug on one corner, the whole thing moves.
It is easy to imagine that all serious historians of a particular subject read, or at least see, all of the available documentation, but there is more to it than that. Historians, like people in general, always bring some individuality to the table. They include different details according to their personal styles. There are little bits in this large volume that I have never seen anywhere else.
Such as the directions for using a toilet on a Balao class submarine while the boat* is submerged:
“Shut the bowl flapper valve, flood the bowl with sea water through the sea and stop valves, and then shut both valves. After using the toilet, operate the flapper valve to empty the contents of the bowl into the expulsion chamber, then shut the flapper valve. Charge the volume tank until the pressure is 10 pounds higher than the sea pressure. Open the gate and plug valves on the discharge line and operate the rocker valve to discharge the contents of the expulsion chamber overboard.”
It’s just that easy! What could go wrong?
I was on one of these boats as a tourist in Buffalo, New York. My ten-year-old son and I went to the old Navy yard where they had this submarine and a surface ship that I have completely forgotten. Maybe it was a battleship? Take that as a sign of how fascinating the submarine was.
They took us on a tour of the entire submarine. They could only take about seven people at a time due to the extreme space limitations. They took us forward so that we and the guide were all standing in the forward torpedo room. Sure enough, there were six round doors on the front wall, and those were the torpedo tubes. There was some kind of a hoisting device on the ceiling and two torpedo sized cradles on the floor attached to a jack system. Lower a torpedo onto the cradle and line it up with the open door, then shove the torpedo into the tube. Repeat six times. That small group of us just standing around made the room feel small and crowded. Then the guide explained to us that beginning a combat patrol, that room would be storing more than a dozen torpedoes strapped to the walls, and sure enough, there were strong looking brackets up there to receive them. Then came the boffo line, when he told us that out on patrol there would be nineteen men bunking in that room with the torpedoes. By now I realize that they would have been “hot-bunking” it, twelve on and twelve off, so that half could be sleeping at any given time while the other half worked. They slept in hammocks strung up among the torpedoes.
The guide showed us a toilet, too. A man couldn’t stand up in it; the door was tiny; the room was an irregular shape and it had a footprint only slightly larger than the toilet itself, which was smaller than any that may be in your residences right now. We now know what all of the valves on the wall were for. Excuse me, that would be the bulkhead, there are no “walls” at sea. A combat patrol was forty-five to sixty days, or whenever they ran out of torpedoes.
So yes, I am mightily enjoying this book, even though I am usually going over familiar ground. Mr. Symonds is a good writer, and I would recommend the book to anyone with a modicum of patience for such things. As for the inquiry at the beginning of this post, concerning the separation of productive activities from total wastes of time, you can guess my true opinion.
Everything that we do is a waste of time. It’s all that we are capable of. Like Anne Frank said: what a shame! Everything that we do in life comes to nothing in the end. Still, reading books is slightly better than getting loaded.
*Submarines are somehow always referred to as boats. This Balao class submarine displaced 1,500 tons, which made it larger than many Navy ships. Modern submarines are huge, but they are still boats. The difference between a boat and a ship has been described to me this way: you can put a boat on a ship, but you cannot put a ship on a boat. This was definitely intended as a wise-crack, but there is a lot of truth in it. How this applies to submarines I am not certain. Maybe it all goes back to the “U-Boat” thing. In German, by the way, boats and ships are “Boote und Schiffe,” so that’s no help. Early submarines were pretty small, and that might be the reason.
Friday, December 14, 2018
This is a great song with a great history. Written by Cat Stevens, it went on to become a hit on five separate occasions. This version by P.P. Arnold was the first to chart.
I prefer never to say that any particular version, or guitar player, or band, is the "best." Those things are very subjective. I might offer that something is my preference among the choices that I am familiar with, but that's as far as I usually go. Here I will simply say that this version by Ms. Arnold is great, or even Great, or even GREAT.
P.P. Arnold, ne Patricia Cole, is still alive, and probably still working. She's only a matter of months older than me, and I think most of us are still working these days. Congratulations dad and grandpa! You both got to retire! Even my great-grandfather got to retire; he had some savings in the days before Social Security. Pat Cole and I, my generation, we're all on the work until six weeks after you die program. (Got to make sure that funeral is paid for!)
Fascinating stories, both of P.P. Arnold and of the song. You can look them up.
Tuesday, December 11, 2018
Nothing scandalous here. Just a few things that can take a newcomer by surprise, in a good way. Let's face it, Americans are not famous for their familiarity with the geography, history, or cultures of other countries. Most people could hardly find Thailand on a map.
The “Winter,” or, “Cold Season,” or “Cool Season.”
I came to Thailand with the Peace Corps, and they provided us with a nice packet of books and information to prepare us for the transition to Thai culture. The weather is Thailand is generally described as having three seasons, the Rainy Season, the Cold Season, and the Hot Season. The Cold Season may be referred to as the Cool Season or the Winter. Temperatures do moderate somewhat, mostly at night. But cold? Cool? Winter? Daytime temperatures may dip into the upper 80s, but that's it. My guess is that it's some kind of an in-joke.
My Peace Corps group arrived at the old Don Muang Airport after midnight one night in the first week of January, which is reputed to be the middle of the Cold Season. At around one a.m., we walked out of the air-conditioning to board a bus that would take us to our training site. It was 88 degrees Fahrenheit. (About thirty degrees Celsius.) There's nothing cool about that, especially if you have just spent three days in the snow in Seattle around New Years.
That first year turned out to be the hottest year of my now fifteen year experience in Thailand. After the Cool Season comes the Hot Season, and that year temperatures got up to 107 degrees in April, which is famously the only month when Thailand gets way, way too hot. The rain starts in May, and after that highs are usually only in the mid-90s. Hey! That's lower than body temperature! That's my new definition for moderate temperatures, lower than 98.6.
By now I can explain with confidence that Thailand has three seasons; The Hot Season; The Way-Too-Hot Season; and the Hot with Rain Season.
America is an extremely heterogeneous culture, meaning that the American people are made up of members of all of the varieties of human beings on God's green earth. Every country, race, and culture is represented in America. If you live in New York, or Los Angeles, all of those races and cultures will be represented in your child's high school. My youngest son went to Hamilton High School in L.A. There were about 3,500 students at Hami. They keep track of the languages that the students speak at home. A total of eighty-five different languages were spoken by those very American boys and girls at home. Think about it, that's an amazing total. That's more than you can find by simply counting countries; to get to eighty-five you need to be covering the dialect bases as well. Plus, of course, every skin tone was represented in that one high school; every hair texture; every shape of the eye; everyone and everything.
That was my reality when I left for Thailand. What I found here was the polar opposite of what I was accustomed to.
We were thrown very quickly into very large classes of grammar school students. I well remember looking out over a class of forty-five sixth graders and becoming almost dizzy at the lack of diversity. They were all Thai! Every classroom! Thailand is a very homogeneous culture. There are many regional dialects, but everyone speaks standard Thai as well. Thai people do not all look the same, not exactly. There is some variety when it comes to skin tone, eye shape, and hair texture, but all of the variety takes place in a fairly narrow range. An entire classroom full of Thai students all appear totally Thai and they all speak Thai. They are all clearly Thai. I had never before witnessed such a classroom, not as an aware adult anyway. It was a shock.
In America there is a great deal of duplication in the names of any group of people. There are lots of Johns, and Pauls, and Stevens, and Roberts, and Thomases, etc. There's a lot of duplication in the family names as well. Think about it, how many Bill Smiths do you think there are in America? 100,000? 1,000,000? That's one reason why we have middle names. (Most of us, anyway. My great grandfather and I are exceptions to that rule.)
If you look at a list of the names of five hundred students in America, there will be a lot of duplication. If you look at a list of the names of five hundred students in Thailand, they will all be different.
And I mean ALL OF THEM will be different. There are a few given names that repeat in any large group. Thailand alphabetizes by first names. Somchai and Tannapong for the boys; Sutarat and Supaporn for the girls. But in a list of five hundred names there will only be two or three of these duplications, max. Everybody else will probably be the only occurrence of that name.
In my Peace Corps days I did a lot of English camps for students of all grade levels. I loved to look through the lists of hundreds of names, marveling at the variety. I have been teaching at a large university for the last eleven years, and one of my duties is to sit at graduation. I love to listen to the recitation of the names of the degree recipients, alphabetized again by first name. As with the English camps, there will be a couple of Somchais, but most of the thousands of names by far pass as the only example of that name.
As for family names, until about one hundred years ago Thai people did not have family names. Unless, that is, they were members of the aristocracy, and that was a very small number of families. Then, suddenly, the King at the time decided that all Thai people must have family names. The head of each household was required to choose a name for that family. Furthermore, every single family in Thailand was required to choose a family name that was unique to them. As a result of this process, virtually every single Thai citizen has a combination of name and family name that is unique to them alone.
This realization comes as a shock to any American who is half paying attention.
The High Level of Development
I did not come to Thailand expecting it to be primitive in any way, but I will say that as I have stacked the years here I have become more and more impressed by just how far the country has come in its effort to join the fully developed world. They are a lot closer than most Americans would guess in achieving that goal.
My American friends and family often ask me if I feel safe in Thailand. They seem to lack any idea of the reality of the place. Sometimes I think that they are remembering South East Asia as it was represented in the news coverage of the Vietnam War, long ago. Villages, surrounded by rice fields, people running around wearing conical hats and sandals, no electricity. They have no concept of the progress that has been made over here. And Thailand did not suffer through a terrible war like Vietnam did. Thailand has been developing at a good clip since the mid- to late-19th Century.
Thailand is not some Third World backwater. Thailand is a SECOND WORLD country, a developing country. And it is a very advanced developing country at that. I live in Bangkok, and we have good municipal water and electricity twenty-four hours every day. (Well, once in a while lightning will smash a transformer and we'll have an outage that lasts from ten minutes to almost an hour. That might happen one time per month during the rainy season. These are tropical storms we're talking about. They'd blow out the power in Los Angeles just as easily.)
My mall is just as nice as your mall. Maybe nicer. The movie theaters here are much nicer than the ones you are likely to find in America, seriously. The hospitals that I go to provide a standard of care that is very much the same as I would encounter in America. Many of my doctors were, in fact, trained in America. Don't believe me? I'll prove it. Several of the hospitals just in my neighborhood receive patients who have been sent here for treatment by American insurance companies! These referrals for joint replacement and heart procedures of all kinds are common. They offer their clients a choice: get the work done in America and give us a co-pay of $25,000, or get the work done in Thailand with no co-pay at all. Plus, the insurance company will put you up in a hotel near your hospital with a per diem for food. The insurance companies still save money on that deal. Do you think that the insurance companies would take a chance on that if they thought that you would be injured in some way by receiving treatment over here? Of course they wouldn't. The law suits would screw those companies into the ground. There are many countries in the world where you would not want to even eat the food in their hospitals, and you would correctly refuse and injection for fear of contaminated needles. Thailand is not like that. I trust them completely.
The Basic Decency of Average Thai People
I'm not saying that I was shocked at the honesty and decency of regular Thai people, let's just say that I came with an open mind and that I have always been gratified and very favorably impressed with the cooperative and ethical spirit of Thai people.
I am American, that was my frame of reference. If I left a phone somewhere in America, and then returned to look for it, let's face it, it would be gone when I returned. Gone, never so be seen again. Walk away from your suitcase at the Port Authority Bus Terminal in New York, poof! Like Sigfried and Roy, it's gone. In either New York, or Los Angeles, I always needed to be aware that I was under constant observation by an army of hungry junkies who were desperate to steal my stuff. No one has to worry about that in Thailand.
I regularly meet my friends in the Dunkin Donuts at the local mall, and we can sit for a couple of hours comparing notes about the newest horrors in our home countries. Often we observe some individual Thai, sitting alone working on a lap-top, who will simply get up and walk out of the place for ten minutes or so. That was a bathroom break, and they just left all of their stuff sitting there on the table. Phones, tablet computers, purse, everything. They know that it will be there when they come back. That's the kind of place Thailand is. That's the kind of people that Thais are.
Last year I wrote a big piece for this blog about an instance where my wife left her phone in the taxi when we came to the mall. Nice phone, too, a mid-range Huawei, price new about 7,000 baht, a bit over $200. Used phones are a big business here, and anyone could easily trade that phone in and get about $60 or $70 dollars in their hand. That's good money here, it's more than a day's pay for a taxi driver, for instance. My wife ended up calling the phone, the taxi driver answered, and, long story short, he drove about a half and hour to return to the mall to give her the phone. She had told him to put the meter on so she could pay him for the extra trip, but he didn't do that. He laughed at the idea. He didn't expect anything. I had given her 300 baht to give the guy for his trouble, about $10, and he laughed at that idea too, although he did take the money. In today's dog-eat-dog world, Thais seem absurdly honest.
So yes, I feel safe over here, and I feel welcomed, and after fifteen years everything is still fascinating. When people ask me now if I can speak Thai, I answer either, “better than most Farang,” or, “better than last year.” Both things are true; I get by very nicely. I tolerate the heat very well. The traffic is murder, but I usually have nowhere to go. I'm always home safely before the mosquitoes come out. The giant monitor lizards are surprisingly shy, and if I see one he's just trying to find his way back into the canal anyway. I have a few friends and a few has always been enough for me.
I worry about my friends in America, truth to tell. It's such a rat-race over there, and all of the prices are like from outer space. Social Security is a joke, and Medicare is a scam. Young people with families? I don't know how they do it anymore. So don't worry about me.
I'm the lucky one.
I sit around here and type my little fingers off and share exciting music that most people would never find on their own and what do I get? Well, yesterday I got sixteen hits! Fucking sixteen! I'm not angry, don't worry, I still love you, but I'm giving you penance anyway.
Listen to this all the way through, and we're even.
The Gories! Look up, "Queenie," if you want to hear them at their best. And at least listen to their version of "Land of a Thousand Dances" at the 11:00 minute mark. These guys were all the way boss.
Friday, December 7, 2018
The earth has cooled considerably since the day that I obtained an anthology of Dashiell Hammett's novels. It was one of those cheaply produced books, cheap paper, cheap glue, cheap everything, and I'm not 100% sure where I got it. Probably off of a sale table in a Manhattan bookstore. The Maltese Falcon; the Thin Man; and, I believe, the Glass Key. I never got around to the third one, Glass Key or not, but I loved the other two. They made a big impression on me. They made a big impression on a lot of people, evidently, because people have been more or less knocking-off Dash's style ever since.
Raymond Chandler and Ross MacDonald are often mentioned in the same breath with Hammett, but there are a hundred others. My personal favorite was Charles Willeford, who seems all but forgotten now. He wrote Miami Blues, which was turned into a very good movie staring a very young Alec Baldwin as the “blithe psychopath” around whom the action revolves. It's a great novel that moves from violence to comedy to poignant drama effortlessly. There are only a few more novels representing Mr. Willeford's mature work. He wrote pulp fiction in the early 1950s, but those are mostly useful for historical purposes.
All of it goes back to Dash, though. Everything remotely “hard boiled” owes its existence to Dash.* In fact, the term was coined by Dash in the novel under inspection today: Red Harvest. It's the first of the brief series of novels about the “Continental op.” The op is an operative, a gumshoe, a detective, almost a spy, for the San Francisco branch of a nation-wide private detective agency that Hammett modeled on the Pinkertons, for whom he had once worked in that capacity. (The Continental Detective Agency.)
The op's name is never given. His references to himself are very vague, and the novel has very little description in general. Half-way through he is described by a female character as “a fat, middle-aged, hard-boiled, pig-headed guy . . .” Later, the op adds that, “at forty I could get along on gin as a substitute for sleep, but not comfortably.”
The novel Red Harvest, written in 1929, has aged remarkably well. It's character driven, and people haven't changed that much. Not really. I would recommend it to anyone with an interest in hard boiled fiction, detective stories, historical gangsters, old-time American slang, or Prohibition America. It's a good read.
I don't know how Amazon gets away with charging full price for novels by guys who are long dead, but I'm no copyright expert. Supply and demand, I suppose. But it's only money. Better spent on Red Harvest for your Kindle than wasted on a couple of lattes.
*The word at least, and most of the genre anyway. With a nod to Hemingway's short story, the Killers, of 1927.
*The word at least, and most of the genre anyway. With a nod to Hemingway's short story, the Killers, of 1927.
Pat Hare is listed as a member of the band on this cut. I think that he does a fine job, too, but what a difference a year makes! The cut below is a solo effort from about a year later, and something has happened in the meantime. Here, he plays it pretty clean and he plays the part as it was written. One year later he had the throttles wide open all the way. What happened?
Either he could be a disciplined player when he felt like it, or he could do what he was told when he was getting paid by someone else, or he only discovered that heavy overdriven distortion in between these two cuts, or he just got a new big Fender amp, or he amped up his drinking, we may never know.
One thing for sure. With a resume that includes that nuts sound later on, and being in the band playing the solo on this cut, and leading a prison band called "Sounds Incarcerated," Pat gets a spot in Rock n' Roll history.
Thursday, December 6, 2018
Get on over to the Google and read about Pat Hare. Auburn "Pat" Hare, really. The story is as overdriven as the guitar in this cut.
Pat only lived fifty years, and sixteen of those were behind bars for, wait for it, murdering his girlfriend (and, for good luck, a policeman who came to investigate). Some people just can't handle their alcohol.
I'd never heard of him, but he had quite a career before he took up intentional homicide. He was the guy in Little Juniors Blue Flames, and made other noteworthy contributions to the guitaristic arts. His prison band was called Sounds Incarcerated, how cool is that? He died there, at age fifty. Sounds like a real live-wire, doesn't he?
Wednesday, December 5, 2018
William Miller was a farmer from the Adirondacks in upstate New York. He had a side job as a Baptist minister. He was also what passed for a “student of the bible” in the mid-Nineteenth Century. He had a strong hunch that he knew when the second coming of Christ was going to occur, and he talked about it quite a bit for ten or twenty years before the projected date. He must have been fun at parties.
According to his calculations, Christ would show up sometime in April, 1843, and all of the chosen people would ship out for heaven October 23, 1844. He had developed quite a substantial following by then, and they exhibited a broad range of aberrant behaviors following the absence of an event on that day. There was a lot of arguing about the date, fault-finding about the math employed by Miller, conversion to other extreme Christian sects, and all of the general floundering around that idiocy creates. They, the “Millerites,” became the model for all of the end-of-the-worlders that have followed them.
Even now, hardly a year goes by but that some genius announces an impending date for the end of the world. The incident in 2012 was blamed on the Mayans, but more often the Christian Bible is the source of the revelation. I am offended every time this kind of thing makes the papers. I would like nothing better than to have a first-row seat for the end of the world, and it was long ago that I got tired of being teased with the granting of that wish. “Quit teasing me!” I mumble, not at an actual newspaper anymore. Now I do my mumbling at a computer screen. “Bunch of fucking idiots!” Rude too, to tease people like that. Message to the next guy who believes he has discovered that date, or has had it revealed to him by the neighbor's dog or something: Make your own peace with God and keep it all to yourself. The rest of us have work to do.
We're getting much the same thing these days about Trump. We've been putting up with his sabotage of all of our institutions, rights, and freedoms for almost two years now, and for one of those years not a day has gone by without predictions that his downfall was imminent. Impending, even! Any day now! Mueller will be filing those indictments next (fill in day of the week)! (Fill in name of member of Trump's family) will be arrested this week! These bits of news are easy to find, but the sparks of the original reporting become prairie fires on social media. There are a lot of people out there who are apoplectic about this whole Trump mess/tragedy/catastrophe. They are all over every little hint in the news. “This is it!” they write, in large type. And then the week passes, and the month, and the year, and we are standing on the hillside like a bunch of Millerites, experiencing our own version of their “Great Disappointment.”
What we are witnessing is no less than a revolution, but it is not a Trumpist revolution. No, it's the same old Republican revolution that has been chewing our furniture since the 1970s. One reads that the entire Republican party, along with Trump, will be ejected into space before long and we will be able to get back to some mythical “way things were.” This is no less of a terrible tease than the old Millerite bullshit.
As much as I would love to see the actual end of the world, I would dearly love to see Trump and some of the more egregious Republican operatives sent to big-wall prisons to spend a decade or more in the general population. But the odds are that I will be denied the pleasure of either thing. Neither thing will be happening any time soon.
The odds are that we will be suffering without the comforting presence of Mr. Jesus right up until the time when the entire world ecosystem collapses on us. There will be no heralds and no horns on that day, I'm afraid. We will all simply join those already lost to oblivion.
The odds also favor the Republican party continuing to make it's vicious, selfish mischief for the foreseeable future. As for Trump, well, don't hold your breath waiting for the end of this nightmare.
When the end comes, Trump, useful idiot that he has been, will be unceremoniously dumped in his favorite brier-patch: bankruptcy court. There's no prison fantastic enough to hold him. My best guess is that he'll be allowed to retire for health reasons as part of a deal to keep the kiddies out of prison. I'd be willing to bet that within five years he'll be back on TV. “Washington Apprentice,” or something similar.
Nothing at all could surprise me in this WTF bonanza that we call the Twenty-First Century.
Tuesday, December 4, 2018
Raise your glasses! Here's to what we do not know! May we sooner rather than later learn the things that we must know to survive, and may we, please God, may we learn to admit that we still don't have a clue about many, many things.
It seems to be surpassingly difficult for human beings to admit that they do not know something. Oddly, it seems to become more difficult as that particular human becomes more intelligent. They become more invested, perhaps, in the certainty of what they know. Our geniuses can admit to not knowing certain things. After all, they know so many things that we ordinary humans cannot begin to understand that they feel safe in saying, nope, that particular bit of knowledge has so far eluded me. The merely highly-intelligent are the worst offenders. They lack the security of the real geniuses. They fear that their entire house-of-cards will collapse if they admit that they do not know something. Take doctors, for instance.
The body of knowledge that currently constitutes modern medical science is huge. It includes several categories of scientific knowledge, and some math is involved. The vocabulary alone that must be mastered is truly daunting. Anyone aspiring to the status of MD must be born way up on the good side of the intelligence curve. Then there are the decades of school work and indentured servitude to consider. All of that time, the aspirant is being examined and judged not only for intelligence, not only for academic performance, but also for general suitability emotionally and socially for the role of “doctor.” It's amazing that anyone makes it through such a terrible process.
There is little wonder, therefore, that those who have achieved the status of doctor, medical doctor, try so hard to hide the fact that most of the matters that they deal with on a day to day basis are totally obscure to them. They really do not understand very much at all about what is happening to their patients. They are often like car mechanics who are not permitted to open the hood; they must stand back and look at the surface and try to imagine what might be happening in the hidden realm. I'm certain that they are specifically instructed never to admit the extent of their ignorance. I am equally certain that they themselves much prefer to maintain the illusion that they know what they are doing. There is a good reason that nurses refer to doctors as “M-Deities.” The doctors are only too happy to cut and swab and prescribe first according to their best guess, and just as happy next week to try something else when it doesn't work. They can schedule you for additional tests in the hope that the results will be illuminating, or they can prescribe more and stronger antibiotics in the hope that the offending phenomenon is bacterial in nature and will be killed in the onslaught. Otherwise, we'll just try something else. Certainty is almost always denied to medical doctors.
Many scientists are in the same boat. They learn the playbook at school, they study the programmed moves, but for most of the sciences there is a deeper game that has still not revealed itself. I admire their courage, pressing on into the valley of thorns and darkness that is the future of their chosen field. I can hardly imagine the frustration that must overtake someone in the field of physics, let's say, God forbid sub-atomic physics. What geniuses they must be to follow the progress of the field in the first place, only to realize that although they have learned a bit about the first few particles and phenomena involved, there are scores of deeper levels that are denied them. It must be hard to realize that the real knowledge that they seek is so far down there, or out there, that humans may take another thousand years to understand it.
I salute the brave men and women who soldier on in the certain knowledge that future scientists will look back on them and laugh at their primitive inadequacy.
It occurs to me that I was lucky to labor in a field like the law, where no math or science are involved. In the law, there is no scientific method, no truth, no justice, and often no right or wrong. There are only smoke and mirrors, and whatever the judge says, and whatever the jury decides. There is no science in the law. Two plus two is not automatically four. The only truth is that if you got paid for your work, it was a great day. For great lawyers, or difficult judges, two plus two can be anywhere from three to six. The entire field of law is somehow unmoored from reality. It's a blessing and a curse, I suppose. It may work for you or against you. But, like I say, if you got paid for your work it was a great day. Candidates for careers in the law must display a high tolerance for ambiguity. Except when it comes to getting paid. “Always get the money first,” was the best advice that I ever got. “If they won't pay you up front, they probably won't give it to you afterwards either.”
Don't expect the lawyers of the world to save us. Usually the best that a good lawyer can do is get you a two-to-five when another lawyer would have landed you a seven-to-ten (and an overworked public defender would've gotten you fifteen). Better lawyers get larger settlements for their clients in civil cases. There are no lawyers on the list of “People Likely to Save the World.”
I wish that the medical doctors knew a lot more than they do. There's only so much that they can do, though. They are in no position to save the world either.
Scientists could do a lot more than they are doing now to help us, but in our current dog-eat-dog, winner take all, you're on your own world, no one is paying scientists to actually help anyone. They are all wrapped up in projects designed to make more money for people who have too much money already.
Maybe it's not what we don't know that will kill us all. Maybe we'll all be killed off by our misplaced priorities.
Monday, December 3, 2018
You'd think we'd learn. We all grow up in families and communities. Grandparents die; aunts and uncles die; pets die; sports heroes die; parents die if you're not lucky; neighborhood children get hit by cars; their sick siblings die off young. It should not be a mystery to us that our day will come. Many people do, however, avoid the true understanding of it.
When other people die, it seems a natural tendency for us to look for ways that their deaths prove our own immunity to the phenomenon. “He was fat,” we say with satisfaction, “he was too fond of fried chicken, pizza, ice cream, and butter.” That one is common if we have been more moderate with a fork and spoon. “He drank too much,” we say if we drink less than he did. Or my favorite, “I eat right and take care of myself.” Good luck with that additional six to eight months. These are terrible strategies when you think about it.
There is no similar explanation when some poor forty-two year old gets ALS and dies within two years. We've all heard of young people dying with zero culpability for their demise. All of us have also known people who lived amazingly long lives during which they drank alcohol and smoked cigarettes all day every day. For all of us, our experience of life is different.
It is often easy to find solace in the blame-game. “See?” we say, “I'm smart enough to avoid that behavior.” When my generation were younger, many entertainers were burning the candle at both ends and the middle. They were burning through their huge incomes at a frightening rate. Cocaine, especially, was the money pit of all time. Even those who used coke to wild excess and lived to tell the tale shake their heads at the vast amounts of cash that they devoted to the enterprise. Whatever the drug or drugs of choice, many of those people passed away young or lived lives that were truncated by the old damage. When a John Belushi dies, it is easy for us to console ourselves. That, certainly, will not happen to us, because we have much more common sense than to shoot speedballs until our heads explode. Actually, we're not that much smarter than John was. We all have our weaknesses. More importantly, it doesn't matter than much. Self-control, in whatever degree, will not save you.
“As you are, I once was; as I am, so shall you be.” Spoken, of course, by skeletons in every Baroque graveyard in Europe. It remains a very important lesson for the living, especially the young ones among us. It is also the single truest thing that you will ever hear, “so shall you be.” The truest statement in human history. Truer even than, “two plus two equals four.” Without a more complete understanding of the sub-atomic world we cannot be that sure of our mathematics. Death however, often preceded by a miserable old age, is a dead certainty.
If you must suffer decrepitude, suffer it like Beethoven did. He was the Jimi Hendrix of his day in the performer stage of his youth, and the toast of Europe and the civilized world in his composer stage later on. He lived long enough to become very weak and go almost completely deaf. He responded with the Ninth Symphony, including it's ecstatic finale, the “Ode to Joy,” one of the most beautiful and positive pieces of music of all time. He had obviously accepted his fate, which after all had included a lot of wonderful things. “You've got to take the bitters with the sweets,” as Muddy Waters said.
Our dreary march through life may often seem quite entertaining, but it is leading only to one place: oblivion. Only our perspective changes as the years tick away.
A lot of men try to put a happy face on turning fifty, but you are definitely feeling it by then. Feeling the loss of hormones, feeling, if you are unlucky, a certain loss of libido. Realizing that the simple flu that you once shook off effortlessly now comes with a fever and really kicks your ass. The writing is on the wall. When I was thirty a nice man about fifty-five years old told me and another youngster that getting old was horrible. “What you used to do all night,” he said ruefully, “now takes all night to do.” I was about fifty when a lawyer friend of mine had his thirty-eighth birthday. He was busy complaining about getting that old, but I set him straight. What I said was, “I'd love to be thirty-eight again for just one weekend.” And it was true, too.
My friend and I had that conversation twenty years ago. If he were complaining to me now about being fifty-eight, I'd say about the same thing. “I'd pay good money to be fifty-eight again for just one weekend.” I remember what fifty-eight felt like, and it wasn't bad. I still felt useful, so to speak. Sure you feel half-dead, because you remember your youth. If you're in your late fifties now, don't start complaining yet. No, you're still doing fine. Believe me, in only about fifteen years, you are going to find out that being three-fourths dead is much, much worse.
The truth of it is that all complaining about getting old is bad form. What are you, special or something? Everybody who has ever been born has grown up and eventually died in his or her turn. Everybody. No one gets out of these blues alive.
Unsurprisingly, Mr. Buddha said it best, or at least very, very well. When he was on his death bed, he noticed that many of his disciples were saddened by his decline. “Why are you sad?” he asked them. “When I was a baby, I was a baby; as a boy, I was a boy; when I became a man, I was a man; as I got older, I became an old man; when it is my time to die, I will die.” He probably added something about how natural it was to die. The most natural thing in the world, and as easy as falling off a log. You may not find it easy, but you must admit that everybody gets the same deal.
Those of us who have lived full lives are the lucky ones. I mean those of us who more or less enjoyed our childhoods and our youth, and who have grown up more or less healthy. Those of us who have lived all of the stages of life should be relieved and grateful to have reached elder status, even if our lives seemed less than ideal on occasion. Anyone who has experienced some happiness along the way, anyone who has had a successful marriage and raised children and maybe even seen some grandchildren, anyone who comfortably made a living and supported an appreciative family, those people, all of them, should say an entire novena of thanksgiving every day. A lot of happiness? Great health? Your children still talk to you? Your families love and respect you? You made a lot of money or inherited a fortune? Yours should be the first voice that God hears in the morning and the last thing that he hears at night. If in the fullness of time you become decrepit and die, even miserably, do not let a simple thing like that interfere with your gratitude.
It's like a joke that I rather like. A family plans a vacation at the shore, and they invite grandma along. In the joke, the family is Jewish, but I don't think that it's a Jew-joke. In fact, I think it's a joke from Jewish (Yiddish) Vaudeville. In the joke, the “shore” is Atlantic City, New Jersey. The lesson might even be taken from the Talmud! It has a great moral to it.
So the family is at the shore, and grandma bothers mom every day, can I take junior down to the water? She wants to show him off to her old-lady friends. Mom resists, “you know he's a bit hard to handle, I don't think that you can keep up with him.” Grandma persists. Finally, on the last day, grandma is allowed to take the boy to the shore. She's so proud! All of a sudden, a huge wave comes up and snap, just like that, it carries the boy away.
“Oh! God help us! Save our boy!” Grandma goes on in this vein until, sure enough, another big wave crashes on the shore and deposits the boy right at her feet! Her prayers were answered! Grandma hustles the boy back away from the water's edge, straightening his clothes and stroking his hair. His hair! “God!” she yells as loud as she can, “he had a hat!”
Moral: when fate has given you almost everything that you could possibly ask for in life, don't be selfish enough to petition fate for missing pieces to the puzzle that don't mean anything in the long run anyway.
I raise my eyes and the Gimlet in my right hand in salute, and I am thankful for my three-score and ten. Thankful for two healthy children who have grown into fine adults. Thankful for two wonderful grandchildren who are, knock on wood, healthy and happy. Thankful for a long marriage that accomplished a lot, even if it ran out of steam a bit early. My life has been neither as easy as some, nor as difficult as others, but I have had a life. I am content.