Monday, January 14, 2019

Spin Easy Time!: A Modest Proposal To Reduce The Cost Of The Border...

Here's a post from March, 2017 that may help to break this log-jam over the border wall. Satire Alert! Do not take this post literally.

Spin Easy Time!: A Modest Proposal To Reduce The Cost Of The Border...: After months of wondering whether such a thing were even possible, it appears that Donald Trump is the President of the United States and t...

Saturday, January 12, 2019

Local Rules

Anyone who goes to a new place must be aware that any little thing might be done very differently in that particular place. Let’s call it, “Local Rules.” Be cautious and pay attention for a while until you get the hang of it. That person’s behavior might be rude, or there might be a reason for it. Never assume that the rule on any subject is the same in the new location as it is back home. The penalties for insensitivity to local rules vary from you making a total ass of yourself to you getting your entire family killed in a twisted steel car wreck.

Manhattan Traffic

A simple example is Manhattan traffic. There are rules, and you had better learn them before you start trying to run lights or jump stop signs.

I should say “were,” because I don’t have a clue about the rules for driving in Manhattan these days. I haven’t driven in Manhattan since the mid-1980s. I had learned to drive in New York, but I had learned in Queens. My teacher was my cousin, nine years older than me, and he had a very good approach. “You’re going to be driving in traffic,” he said, “so you’re going to learn to drive in traffic.” He handed me the wheel immediately, and he directed me to the nearest transportation hub, which was Flushing, the terminus of the number 7 train and about half of the buses in Queens. It was also the destination of at least thirty percent of the car traffic in northern Queens on any given day. I already knew how to drive, way up on the sly, so I just went along.

My cousin had a motto, which was, “what man has done, man can do.”  It’s a good motto as mottoes go, and it does sum up how he felt about himself: if anybody else can do it, I can do it too. He was a pistol, my cousin. So immediately upon our arrival in Flushing he has me drive up Northern Boulevard. I was driving a 1962 Chevrolet Impala SS, belonging to my dad. As soon as he spotted a 1962 Chevy pulling out of a tight parking space, he told me stop! Park it here! If he got that one out, you can get this one in.  “What man has done, man can do.” I knew the basics of parallel parking, so I parked the car. Easy-Peasy. But Manhattan was a horse of a different color.
Later on, I became a taxi driver. It was the “warm body” job in New York at the time. If you weren’t dead and cold, you could drive cabs. If you wanted to make a living driving a cab, you had to go to Manhattan and stay there. That’s when I learned the conventions for driving in Manhattan.

It was very different than Queens, or anywhere else, for that matter. In Manhattan, there are Avenues that run north and south for many miles, and many Streets, “cross streets,” that run across Manhattan island from one side to the other. The Avenues are a big deal; the Streets not so much. There were many Local Rules to learn.

For instance, if you were going along with the flow of traffic downtown on an Avenue, let’s say, and you wanted to move to the right side of the Avenue to make a right turn, all you had to do was look straight out the window to your right. If there was not a car right there, straight in your line of vision, you could just change lanes to the right. No signal; no nothing; just go. You could assume that there was no one in your blind spot, because that would be stupid, and New Yorkers are anything but stupid. Every driver naturally arranged themselves into a pattern where no one was in anyone else’s blind spot. They all assumed that someone in the lane to their left who wanted to move to the right might just go for it. So, they hung back. It made sense. It was Local Rules. And it worked.
The visitors to the city who were not familiar with these rules could make a real mess. Remember, you’ve got to be careful until you figure out the Local Rules!

I drove cabs for a bit more than two years, nights, and I saw a lot of accidents. I was in a few, in fact. Mine were simple rear end, low impact, no injury accidents, which were the most typical accidents in Manhattan. Most of the traffic wasn’t going very fast, with the traffic jams and all, and most of us knew the rules. It was the out-of-towners who caused all of the death and destruction.

One of the rules was: if you are traveling north or south on an Avenue, and the traffic light ahead is a stale yellow, just hit the gas and run the light. If it turns red when you are fifty feet from the corner, go even faster. No one will be poking their head out of a side street, or starting to cross the street, just because the light was green for them. That would be stupid! See above: New Yorkers are not stupid.

Another rule was: never run a light like that on a side street. If you are going east or west on a Street, and approaching an Avenue, jam on those brakes, brother, because any car on the Avenue has the right of way to run that light. Over my couple of years, I had many opportunities to slowly pass big accidents late at night in Manhattan, and the bad ones were generally this kind of rule breaking, side street red light runners, and more often than not, the ones where I could read the license plates showed that the fools were mostly from New Jersey. I even saw one from Delaware. What were they thinking? I know, actually. They were thinking: what do these New Yorkers know that I don’t know? With a few drinks in me, I’m as good as any of ‘em! They can run lights, I’m running lights too! Thereupon they, and their families, died horribly.

Travel Tips

It is important to remember when traveling that you are not at home and your accustomed behavior may violate the Local Rules in the place that you are visiting. Remember, there is nothing special about the set of rules used where you live. Your rules do not travel with you. Your rules to not trump their rules.

The converse is also true: their local rules may violate the rules that you use back home. That’s okay too. Here’s an example.

I have been living in Thailand for ages now, and there is a custom among Thais that annoys several of my friends whenever they encounter it. I must admit that at first the custom kind of annoyed me as well. At least until I understood the reason for it.
In Thailand, like almost anywhere else, you will often see signs in a store window listing the hours that the store, or office, will be open. The sign might say, “Open Monday to Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.”  On most days you may visit the store or ride past and observe that it is open during those hours. Then one day, you wish to actually go to the office, let’s say it’s the office of the big cable TV provider in Thailand, and you arrive at the office at 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday, in my case after riding my bicycle for a hot, sweaty twenty minutes, and there is a sign on the locked door that says, “closed today.”  It’s a handwritten sign, in Thai, written in ball-point on a piece of paper torn out of a notebook. On that occasion, I found the situation very annoying. And that wasn’t the last time, or the most egregious circumstance.

This phenomenon began to make sense after I had had a couple of years to observe Thai people in work situations. The thing to remember about Thai culture is that people are more important than things, or money, or jobs. People come first. If you leave work in the middle of the day, or don’t show up for work at all, because a family member urgently needs your assistance, everyone understands immediately. Of course, you need to go! Your baby needs a doctor’s attention! You should be there! I then understood that the cable TV office was closed that day because the woman who manned the counter was needed elsewhere for family reasons. Her mother probably called her and said, “honey, get over here quick, I just damn near cut my hand off with a machete.”  In Thailand you do not need to contact your boss and ask permission when this happens. You just go, and bring the boss up to speed later on. Shops and small restaurants can be closed for days at a time for reasons like these. These are the Local Rules, and usually it all works out fine. Those cable bills will be paid, in a day or two. No effect on revenue at all! People come first.  

Isn’t that a great idea? To put people before mere things? I have always thought so. I was also pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the entirety of Thai culture is built upon the idea that everything works better when the greatest number of people are happy, or at least contented with the decision being considered. Always consider the equilibrium of the group when making personal decisions. The happiness of the group is of greater importance than the advantage of one individual. I thought, how wonderful! That’s how I feel about it!

I would not say that Thailand is perfect. No place on earth is perfect. I will say that most of the Local Rules in Thailand are designed to create the greatest possible harmony among the greatest possible number of people.

I can support that message.

Thursday, January 10, 2019

The Shinya Minute

Shinya Kimura builds these things by hand. Every one is different. I don't think that he builds anything to order, and for all I know he doesn't 'sell any of them either. He gets ideas, and he builds the bikes. 

How about this one? Isn't it a beauty? Ever seen one just like it? 

I doubt it. This fellow is an artist. 

The Actual Dying Part

We don't die all at once, as though we were alive one minute and dead the next. Neither do we age and die one year at a time. It's more like we stay on a certain plateau for a few years until some event pushes us along the road to death. We die a little bit at a time, at intervals. That point was driven home to me at the age of thirty-eight when I experienced a burst appendix after six months of what had been a mysterious malady. It was mysterious in my case mostly because I didn't have insurance. Someone with insurance in the same situation would have been diagnosed properly, using various scans and maybe an MRI, and the problem would have been discovered. But that's another story. As so often happens, I digress before I even begin! On that occasion, I lived, so all's well that ends well, right?

The point is that after those months of weakness due to undiagnosed infection, and after pillar to post abdominal exploratory surgery, and after a period of recuperation, I had the clear impression that I had aged at least five years, when really only a bit under a year had passed. I don't think that I had changed at all for the five years previous to the onset of the infection. Afterwards, however, the weight that I had lost came back in a different shape, my resistance to things like viruses and infections was lower, and immediately thereafter I began to put on weight without having changed my eating or exercise habits at all. If anything, I was eating better and less. Aging is like a French New Wave movie: it comes in jump-cuts.

The Build Up To Death

For me, as I am sure it is for many other people, I hardly seemed to age at all between the ages of twenty-five and forty, except for losing a bit of hair around the “male pattern baldness” spot and that episode with the appendix. After that, every little health challenge seemed to knock a bit more of the wind out of me.

That's another important phenomenon, the shift in the tide of our lives that happens more or less around our fortieth year, give or take five or six years, depending on the individual. For one friend of mine, it happened around the age of thirty-two, and he was dead way before he turned sixty. It happened to Clint Eastwood much later than forty, but the tide finally changed on him as well. For the first forty or so years of our lives, the tide is rushing in. We are full of life, immune to viruses, bacteria, and the effects of drinking and cigarettes. After forty, and from then on, we become increasingly susceptible to all of those things. We have begun, in fact, the process of dying, a little bit at a time, and most of it happens in those jump-cuts.

I was very lucky, myself. I wasn't very careful about my health, other than some fortuitous accidents. My diet as a child was just terrible, consisting mostly of sugar, pan-fried meats, and buttered bread. When I got to high school, I supplemented this meager fare with some pizza every chance I got. The only vegetables visible in my house were potatoes and cans of peas. The canned peas could remain in the cabinets for years. My mother rarely cooked even the potatoes. There was never any fruit. Then I married a woman who was raised in a family where they actually ate nutritious food. Thanks to her efforts in our family's kitchen, my sons and I had a rather good diet.

Regarding exercise, I got an awful lot of exercise before I got married. The atmosphere in my house was so poisonous that I remained outside as much as possible, and when there were no games going on I simply walked around looking for friends or something to do. After I got married, I had jobs that included a lot of exercise for twenty years. I carried the mail; I worked in warehouses for ten years; my wife and I were child-care providers. I was on my feet for almost all of every working day, walking and lifting things. But you die anyway. You cannot eat or exercise your way out of it.

After forty, I was at law school or working as a lawyer. That's a more sedentary lifestyle. Either way, though, no one gets out of these blues alive. I was still luckier than most. My weight went up and down a bit, but at sixty-eight years old I weighed only 160 pounds and got a fair amount of exercise, eating a pretty good diet of mostly Thai food and sandwiches. Then I came to a major jump-cut.

The jump cut of all time, as it turns out. It was brought on by that soap-operaish moment when I was forced to confront the fact that I had never been more to my parents than a source of embarrassment and disappointment. The was the moment shortly after the death of my father, the second of them to die, when I discovered that he thought so little of me that he declined to trust me with even a nickel of his money, nor even with the care of one book or other item of property. Nothing in the will about me but the usual threats aimed at obvious potential heirs who are zeroed out. To add insult to injury, he left what would have been my share to my ex-wife. That would be the woman who kicked me out after forty years of marriage and told me never to come back, and then had the nerve to complain when I filed for divorce after five years of forced exile. Not having that money reduced my medical security considerably, and will almost certainly shorten my life. And whatever my father thought, you may believe me that I would not have squandered any of it on fancy cars or vacations. To me, bank money is sacred. Bank money is for matters of life and death, like doctor bills.

This happened almost three years ago, and it has added no less than ten years to my actual age. That means that my internal organs are acting like I'm eighty years old. That makes it “Bucket List” time.

I am just beginning to relax about those family matters. It's terrible to be so outmaneuvered by a dead man, by what the law calls, “the bony hand from the grave.” This was a man who effectively abandoned us when I was ten and my sister was six. These people are clever, though. They set up the play so that they appear blameless. My father stopped coming home from work. He would come home evenings for one or two days at a time, and on those days he would arrive home late from work, or the airport, make his own dinner, and sit by himself, reading and listening to music on the radio, generally opera. He made sure to present his charming person at every family gathering, on every holiday. All of my cousins think that he was the best dad of all time. At all other times he left my sister and me at home alone with my mother, a bitter, violent, resentful all-day drinker who seems to have blamed her failed marriage on me. (It was a little better for my sister, I am happy to report.) Between them, they left me with an ACE score of five out out of six. (The only one that I missed out on was sexual abuse, thank God for little favors.) I have since deduced from evidence that my mother was blaming me for the large monthly household budget overrun caused by her bottle-per-day drinking habit. She covered it by telling my father that my allowance was thirty dollars per week. Bear in mind that this was when either a piece of pizza or a ride on the subway cost fifteen cents. $125 per month was a mortgage payment! No wonder my father always saw me as a wasteful spendthrift. I had to laugh at that one, but he believed it, and she got away with it.

The will thing was a blow that I almost did not recover from. There were immediate physical repercussions. Orthopedic, dental, cardiac, and psychological. At odd points during the day I would mumble, “but I was a good boy!” And I was. Not to mention that I was very good to them as an adult. I chose to accept their shortcomings and be a loving son to them. We must set a good example for our own children. I called my mother often, and we spoke for a long time. We visited every year, taking turns making the coast to coast trip. For the last nine years of my father's life, I visited him every year around his birthday. Flying from Thailand, no less! I'm bitter about it, I'll admit. (Incidentally, I now get the cold shoulder from my sons, too.)

The Actual Dying

My own belief about death has not changed since I first formulated it in my late teens. I expect being dead to be the single easiest thing that I have ever done. In many ways, I am looking forward to it. I've been over this ground on the blog before, so I'll keep it short. Before we were born, we had no existence of any kind. After we die, we revert to that state of nothingness. When I came to this conclusion, over fifty years ago, the belief made me an outlier, but now I encounter more and more people who have come to the identical, obvious conclusion. The being dead part is unthreatening and unchallenging. It's the dying part that give us all pause.

But hey, it's been done by every human being that has ever lived on the earth. Done successfully and with no particular effort required. Even suicide, where indicated, is dead easy. (Get it?) Death may be painful; it may be disgusting; it may be embarrassing; but it has been done by everyone who ever lived. And having accomplished the actual dying part, you won't be around to worry about it.

So how hard can it be?

Monday, January 7, 2019

Miniature Replica Engines

Got six to eight thousand extra hours that you are looking to fill with excitement and end-product motivation? Why not learn to machine your own miniature metal engine parts and build a replica of your favorite car or airplane engine about the length of your forearm?

These miniature engine guys amaze me. Imagine the size of the valves on these engines. As big as your pinky nail. Little tiny springs. It's all home made, from original blueprints, scaled down by the builders. These gallant home machining enthusiasts take the cake for patience, dedication, focus, and sheer sticktoitiveness. They get these little beauties to run! I am wide eyes and gape-mouthed every time I watch one of these videos.

Some of the guys in this video even build the entire vehicle to go around the tiny engine. How about that guy who built a whole miniature Spitfire to go around his miniature Merlin engine? I say miniature, but the Spitfire would fill the bed of a pick-up truck. Got to stay in the right scale, you know! It flies, and presumably he can land it too. Another fellow built an entire 1940 Ford Coupe hot-rod to go with his miniature supercharged V-8. The dedication required to do this kind of thing is extremely bad-ass.

Me, I'll stick with reading and watching Netflix. These guys are inspirational in the way that professional athletes and top scientists inspire us. They show us what we humans are capable of. Vast investments of talent and time, dedicated to the simple satisfaction of a huge job well done. No commercial potential that I can detect! It's all truly amazing.

Thursday, January 3, 2019

The True Loves - Mary Pop Poppins (Live on KEXP)

I'm just finding out about these guys. The guitarist and the drummer also work with the Delvon Lamaar Trio, and Mr. Lamaar sits in on the B3 with the True Loves. Great roots/retro music from both outfits. Too bad all of the money in music goes to six acts at the top of the food chain. 

Everybody Solos, As The World Burns

I came late in life to jazz, and slowly. Take Five, by Dave Brubeck, was an early wake up call. I was in my mid-teens. I bought an off-label LP out of a cut-out bin at Woolworth's for less than a dollar, and when I played it I remember thinking, “wow, you can do that?” But still, it did not exactly seize my imagination.

Later on, with a growing record collection and having listened occasionally to WBLS, I grew outwards from the old “guitars, three or four chords, the blues, and probably a saxophone,” to listen to things with a bit more variety. Still, however, it was the cliched choices of a white boy from Queens. Wes Montgomery (guitars), and Jimmy Smith (who doesn't love the B3?). The black touring bands like James Brown, Ike Turner, and B.B. King helped a lot to expand the pallet. Some of the English bands helped out too, and I did love Julie Driscoll, singing with Brian Auger and the Trinity (another B3 band). I don't know, slowly my ear became more flexible. I was becoming a better player myself (guitar), and learning more theory, and it all expands the consciousness. Learning about Salsa music brought brass into the picture.

Much later I learned the mantra of jazz combos, “everybody solos.” Very democratic, and I approve in general. I say, “in general,” because if you've got 'Trane in the band, let him blow to his heart's content. If he finishes up the set, or if he closes the place and they shut the lights off, just let the man play. No complaints. But it's a nice idea to give everybody their own couple of choruses to sing the song. That's what I call, “me, getting to the point.”

Everybody” includes the bass player and the drummer, and I endorse that idea completely, WITH THE FOLLOWING CAVEAT:

  1. The bass player and the drummer should stick to singing the song, like everybody else. If you are a bass player, don't just pick the key and do whatever the hell you feel like in that key. Stay on the chord changes; keep the time; find the themes and the melodies; sing the song! And the rest of the band, please note. The bass solo is not your cue to lay out and smoke a cigarette. Comp the bass player! He's been compin your lazy ass all night. And even the drummer. Stay with the song as much as possible! Sing it! You have a beautiful instrument there in front of you, don't just punish it! Follow the changes and the melodies. It has been done. Even I have heard it done. And band, don't just leave the drummer out there on his own either, same as the bass player. Accompany the drummer!

Oh, it's not only the bass players and the drummers. Piano players get lost in their solos too. Just lose the band and go searching for fascinating new chord inversions. The hell with that. You have a perfectly good song here. Play it! Sing it! Fuck around on your own time.

I mean sing it with your instrument, of course. 

Thank you all for allowing me that time to rant about what is no doubt an obscure peeve. Your attention has been a rare gift in this despicable holiday season. I see, for instance, that the last of the BRIC countries has fallen into Satan's grasp. That would be Brazil, where the forecast is for sudden extremes of racism (in Brazil, no less!), homophobia, and environmental destruction on a scale that is only possible in Brazil, because no one else has that much forest left. As the world continues to descend to the lower depths, please remember that music is one of our few reliable pleasures. So let's try to get it right, okay?

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Teengenerate - She's So Fine

Are there any Japanese bands in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame? I can't imagine why there wouldn't be. 

White Man's Got a God Complex

While I'm in such a good mood, here's a truth-bomb from some mostly deceased Negroes back in the days when more people gave a shit. 

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year, y'all! How's this whole 21st Century thing working out for you? You okay? No worries about money? Social Security? You getting all of your health care and your medicine right on time? You got a pension or something? Still working, like I am? Got that Supplemental Medicare? You can afford to live comfortably? You giving up all of your info on social media while they make billions and never share any of it with you? The provider? You're cool with the government, your government, listening to every phone call and reading every e-mail? You okay with that? You get your shakedown up at the airport and you're okay with that? Like you were some terrorist or something? Take off them shoes! You drive from Arizona to New Mexico and get one or two shakedowns along the highway, and you're cool? “Are you an American citizen?”

You're okay with all of that? When I hear that “American” question on the highway I bite my tongue until it bleeds. “Yes, officer,” I say as gently as I can. What I want to say is, “listen to my fucking accent and you tell me, you fucking idiot!” And get that dog away from my car. I'm on my way to visit my elderly father, unless, that is, such a thing has become illegal.

You know that American citizens around the world who are identified as terrorists by college aged hipsters with dubious credentials are getting zotzed by Predator drones firing Hellfire missiles and you're okay with that? What happened, you got tired of Due Process or something? And what about collateral damage? “It's cool, take out the whole wedding party.” You know that toddlers are being yanked from their mothers' arms IN AMERICA and being sent to “Tender Age Detention Centers” and you just go ahead on with your happy life? You can do that? Some of you are grandparents, as I am. And yet, very few of us seem to have any compassion for these “tender aged” prisoners. Have you seen the videos of those four-year-olds appearing in Immigration Court alone, and being asked questions by the judge? Not a lawyer in sight, except the lawyer representing the American government. What has happened to this country?

And by now, you're okay with a State Department made up of empty hallways and vacant offices? Who needs ambassadors to shit-hole countries anyway! And they're all shit-hole countries! We're America! We don't need the rest of the world! We don't fucking negotiate or cooperate! When we want your opinion, we'll beat it out of you!

Would you be comfortable relaxing your grip on that delusion for a moment and considering that this shit is not normal? Maybe you're so young that you grew up in this vicious simulacrum of America and think that it's all normal. Well, it's not.

Even George W. Bush, who is generally and correctly considered to have been a total asshole as president, kept the Federal Agencies fully manned an allowed them to do their jobs with their customary dignity.

There was a time, in my lifetime, when just the thought of requiring the constant showing of ID was anathema; the thought, just the thought, of being searched on a regular basis without probable cause was considered to be Soviet or fascist bullshit. Sure, this freedom allowed some people to get away with things, relatively inconsequential things. Like smuggling weed or something. Who cares? Have you ever considered “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” as a standard of proof for criminal cases? No, I daresay, you have not. That standard is designed specifically to let some guys off in spite of the fact that the jury was pretty sure that they actually did it. Don't take my word for it, I'm just a lawyer licensed to practice law in the state of California and in the Federal Courts of two districts. Look it up. You can do that, you know. When things get that important, give the accused the benefit of the doubt.

But hey, what can we do about any of this? You? Me? We're just riding this runaway train hoping for the best. Or, as I often pray, “please God, just don't let the worst happen!”

So Happy New Year! Now please consider this situation and decide whether you're totally cool with it all, or if you might want to lift one pinky finger off of the table top to do some good in the world while you still have some breath in you.

I won't hold it against you if you don't want to help. Most people don't, so you're in good company. Happy New Year!