Wednesday, February 27, 2019

Tuesday, February 26, 2019

Old Fox News


This is an excerpt from a post on January 11, 2011. It’s still true that I only see Fox in hotels, but I’m traveling less than I used to. I still find the absence of any information or news on Fox a bit shocking, and the over-coifed and overcaffeinated news readers are still pushing the same evil agenda in their opinion pieces. That agenda would be that conservatives are good, peaceful people who only want what is best for America, and anyone left of about the seventy-yard line is an evil socialist who wishes to do terrible, violent harm to America and Americans. You’d think people would be tired of it by now, but you’d be wrong.

Okay, here’s the old blog quote:

“Fox News is always entertaining, especially if you enjoy getting very angry. This weekend the big news was the shooting in Arizona of a congresswoman and lots of other people. Boy, that was one talented shooter right there, what a score he ran up! If he had practiced reloading more diligently, he could have set some kind of record.

“He’d been complaining about the whole “Big Government” thing on the Internet, bitching about immigrants and “ignorance,” Jews, and “them.” He belonged to some kind of organization, “American Renaissance” or something. Where have I been hearing stuff like this for years?

“Fox News immediately went into heavy damage-control rotation. The kid, they said, was obviously a lone nut job who could not have been influenced by political rhetoric because of his insanity. Geraldo called the shooter a “drug-addled lunatic,” based on the fact that he had failed a drug screening when he tried to join the Army. It was reported that he had attended a rally for the congresswoman in 2007, offered as proof that he could not have been influenced by the last two election cycles. With their best straight faces on, the Fox news readers reported that “the Left” was trying to make political capital of the incident by claiming that “Conservatives” were somehow to blame.

“This painfully obvious deluge of exculpation only drew attention to the connection between this shooting and things like, “lock and load,” targets superimposed on politician’s faces (including that of this congresswoman when Sarah Palin targeted her for defeat by a Tea Party candidate), “don’t retreat, re-load,” and the nonsense about Second Amendment remedies. Not to mention the lurid conspiracy festival that is Glen Beck, et al.

“I’m glad that I don’t have daily access to Fox News, but it’s okay sometimes to be angered by them. The faces they make! So earnest, so heartfelt, so desperate to appear intelligent. If it weren’t all so dangerous, it would be funny.”

Back here in 2019, I’m glad to see that Gabby Giffords is still getting around okay, reassuring to see that her husband is still at her side, and interesting to note that her husband, Mark Kelly, is running for John McCain’s old senate seat. I wish them both well.  

Sunday, February 24, 2019

21st Century Prison Sentences In America


There are many things wrong with our current justice system. I complain about them all the time. Our entire bail system, sentencing system, and prison system are way out of alignment with common sense. We read about these things piecemeal, so it's hard to track the big picture. Today it occurs to me that I may not have complained enough about the sentences being handed out by our current justice system.

Modern Sentencing Practices

This is part of the problem of prosecutorial overreach in general. Prosecutors have gone insane, charging defendants with long lists of crimes that include things that could never be proven in court. Then they add it up and make a plea offer: I've got you on all of this stuff, and it adds up to 225 years in prison, but I'll let you go with ten years if you plead guilty to the first five things on the list. Our prisons are filling up with innocent guys who looked over at their Public Defender, who looked very tired and was taking no notes, and said sure, I'll take the deal. (Fingers crossed, be out in five or six!)

Lately we've really crossed over into the zone of pure science-fiction in the years that they're giving out. Sentences that amount to life without the possibility of parole even for younger defendants.

The Fajitas Caper

Take poor old Gilberto Escamilla, age 53, down Texas way. He had some kind of administrative job in a Texas juvenile detention facility, and he came up with a great idea. At least it sounded like a great idea at the time. He figured he could order more meat than he needed to feed the kids and sell off the excess for some cash to supplement his income. The system was working great for nine years or so and then they caught him.

He doesn't sound like a hard guy; he's certainly not a career criminal type. When they arrested him, he didn't give anyone a hard time. He confessed, he told them all about it, and he pleaded guilty to save them the necessity of giving him a trial. All of that usually buys a defendant a bit of good will at sentencing time, at least it did before the world went stark-raving insane.

Somebody, probably the prosecutor, came up with a figure for how much all of that meat was worth. $1.3 million dollars, they figured. (One million, three hundred thousand dollars.) That would be $144,000 every year, or about $12,000 every month. We lawyers are not famous for our math skills, and I'm pretty sure that this prosecutor misplaced a decimal point or something.

The Dallas News names the prosecutor as Peter Gilman, Esq., an ADA for Cameron County, TX. He zoomed straight to hyperbole for his sentencing suggestion, too. He asked for, and got, a sentence of fifty years! (50!) Mr. Gilman told the judge, “we must send a message that theft by public servants warrants a long prison term.”

To help us consider just how wacky this is, and since we are off into the realm of sci-fi already, let's crank up the Way-Back machine and return to the pre-1960s world. How would this case have been handled back in, let's say, 1960? Eisenhower is still president, and everybody's panic response is still focused on the Soviet Union.

First, I'm going to cut that estimate of the value of the meat in half. Even at half, I doubt that old Gilberto was putting $6,000 in his pocket every month for nine years, much less the $12,000 from the ADA's estimate. So half, say $600,000. Let's adjust that for inflation. Right now you'd be lucky to buy two houses in Hawthorne, California for $300,000 apiece. In 1960, those same two houses would cost you about $15,000 apiece, for a total amount stolen that comes to $30,000. So, old-days Gilberto is arrested for stealing $30,000 worth of meat over a nine year period. He confesses quickly, and pleads guilty. Can't just let him off with probation, so we've got to give him some prison time. I'm thinking that it's a three-to-five. Remember, there was no force or fear involved, it wasn't robbery, there was no gun involved. There are no aggravating factors, and we had the fast guilty plea and remorse in mitigation.

What's the difference between a 3 to 5, and a 50 straight up, no chaser? The prosecutors then weren't in a fever to pile on years and fill up the prisons like our current crop of tough guys.

Does 3 to 5 sound light to you? It could have been less. Stealing a car is grand theft, and guys would only get a year or two for that back then. Recall that in the 1957 movie, Jailhouse Rock, Elvis' character was sentenced to one year for involuntary manslaughter. Which is the way that it might have turned out, actually. It was a mutual-combat situation gone wrong, with one man landing on the floor just right (wrong) and busting his head. So there was an intentional act to harm from Elvis, the punch, and as a result, someone died. An unintended result, but there you have it. Involuntary manslaughter. One year!

And God Help You If You're Black

Last year a read about a woman who really got a bad break. Her and her boyfriend got it in their drug-addled heads that if they could get a little crack business going, they could get a free stash and maybe make a couple of bucks besides. These people were the walking definition of small time. They were arrested as soon as prosecutors had an “act in furtherance” to support a charge of conspiracy to sell crack cocaine. So they never even made a dollar between them, and after some kind of judicial process they were sentenced to hundreds of years. The woman is still in prison, serving a sentence that I seem to remember as 175 years.

Don't hold me to facts on that one, but here's one from the Washington Post, back in 2015.

Sharanda Jones was almost thirty-years-old in 1999 when she was sentenced to life in federal prison for her first offense, a non-violent offense involving powder cocaine. There is no parole in the federal system, so life is life.

She brought together a buyer and a seller for a powder cocaine deal. That's pretty small time right there. Powder was bringing much shorter sentences than crack, so it doesn't look like such a big deal. Then those clever prosecutors got a hold of it! It's enhancements time!

Enhancement! She was part of a drug conspiracy!

Enhancement! It's a conspiracy to distribute and sell crack, because she either knew or should have known that the cocaine was intended to be turned into crack!

Enhancement! She had a license to carry a concealed gun, so that's using a gun to further a criminal conspiracy!

Enhancement! Prosecutors claimed that she had lied in her defense at the trial! That's obstruction of justice! (She had only been convicted on one count out of seven.)

Enhancement! Prosecutors described her as the leader of the conspiracy! (See how they do this? They just say it and it magically becomes so.)

By the time they were done, the mandatory sentencing guidelines forced the judge to give her life.

Defendant Is A Child? Not Anymore He's Not!

I'm not a big believer in miracles myself, but somehow every year a certain number of children are miraculously transformed into adults in American courtrooms. It's those mischievous prosecutors again. So fourteen-year-old Johnny Nobody killed one of his little friends, and it goes to juvi, and he's free again within ten years or so. What fun is that? No fun at all. So first mischievous legislators pass laws to the effect that juveniles may be tried as adults, in adult court, under certain nebulous circumstances that add up to “if the DA and the judge feel like it.”

Then some DA, and then some judge, feel like it, and suddenly, mysteriously, little Johnny is not just some shit-for-brains little snot-nose kid, he's fucking Al Capone. He get a trial, and guess what? He's guilty by a jury of his peers (none of whom are freshmen in high school, like he is), and the sentencing guideline says, “life without parole.” Please escort the prisoner to the awaiting van! And the only mercy that may be shown to the now very contrite and worried Johnny is that someone in the administration of the prison will agree to keep him in the infirmary for a few years while prison life has a chance to toughen him up before he is let loose in the general population.

Not Fun; Not Funny

As Billy Crystal famously said to Stuttering John.

Don't even get me started about prison labor, and for-profit prisons, and mass-incarceration in general. Our government is a monopolistic marriage of venal government officials and the investment class (corporations are only the sheep disguise for the super-rich wolves). What's good for them is good for America, and the curb without a blanket is good enough for the rest of us.

My conscience is clear, having voted Yellow Dog Democrat since 1972 (George McGovern, a true war hero and a fine man, look it up). Anyone who was voting otherwise was thinking about Law and Order, or Soft-on-Communism, or Welfare Queens, or Willie Horton, etc., and well, who am I to criticize, but you were backing the clampdown my friend. Now it's your socialism-dependent ass (Medicare and Social Security much?), and your struggling Gen-X kids, and your bereft hipster-gig-economy borderline gray-economy debt-slave grandkids, who are in the vice.

I hope that you're happy. We made this bed, now some of us have to lie in it. If we have managed to come this far with neither us, nor any of our family members suffering medieval prison sentences, then we're way ahead of the game.

Saturday, February 23, 2019

STUDENTS - EVERY DAY OF THE WEEK



This song kills, and it proves an interesting point about the old days. I heard this song over the end-credits of the Sopranos (re-runs) on my Bangkok cable TV in about 2010. I immediately made the connection with "The Bristol Stomp," and also the common mistake of thinking that it was Frankie Lymon. After looking it up and reading the entire story, I was amazed. Mostly because I had never heard this song before in my life. 

I'm pretty sure about that anyway. Maybe it was on the radio, but not in heavy rotation, hovering around the middle of the Billboard Hot 100 or something. 

That's the point. We missed out on a lot of great records in those days. I lived in New York, so we were lucky in a way. We had four, I think it was four, rock radio stations on the AM dial at the time. WMCA, WABC, WINS, and wasn't there another one? WMGM or something? WGN? Anyway, those three were the most popular. I didn't listen to WWRL until later, that was the black station way over on the right side of the dial. Maybe "the Big RL" played this song. But I never heard it. 

We were all squeezed into a tightly fitting box back then. Racism was rampant, radio programmers were hustling for the ad money, payola was involved for a long time, many records were regional hits only. In the subsequent decades I've heard a lot of great records that I didn't really have access to in the original period. You had to be in the right place at the right time, you had to know about all of the radio stations that you could only pick up after about ten p.m., you had to have friends that had uncles with access to different records. In other words, you had to be lucky. That lightning didn't strike too often. 

So thanks to the show runners and directors who are digging up gems like this for their shows. I don't usually praise people for trying desperately to be hip, but in this case go ahead, y'all! Find the good stuff! Share it! 

Tuesday, February 19, 2019

Furniture USA Ed Barbara's in house "joke" Commercial



This is the "joke" version of the below video. Copies got around, and people did not take it well. 

1981 Furniture USA commercial



This is the owner, Ed Barbara, doing an in-house commercial. Evidently, this guy was all over the Bay Area TV in the 1980s. 

Saturday, February 16, 2019

Bill Frisell - "St Louis Blues" Solo



Just wow! What a wonderful sounding guitar, wonderfully played.

Bill Frisell - "A Hard Rain's A-Gonna Fall" (solo) | Fretboard Journal



They say that young people are not picking up the guitar at the same rate that they used to. Sales are down. There could be a reason for that. 

Maybe those young people have heard what has already been done with the electric guitar and decided, hell no, I ain't got nothing to go up against that stuff! 

To them I say: go for it. Give it a try. There are tons of great guitars out there these days, at great prices. Spend yourself a few hundred bucks and you're in business! These guys stood on the shoulders of giants, but you can climb up and stand on their shoulders! "What man has done, man can do." 

It could be you scaring off the youngsters years from now. 

So Your Dead Dad Walks Into The Room


It's been about three years now since my father died. I devoted a lot of blog time early on to complaining about the son-of-a-bitch. Sure, I was angry, but not without reason. There was very little to recommend him as a father. He had become disinterested in family life early on, and after that we hardly saw him and he never spoke with us, his children. (If cornered, he would speak at us, in long monologues, but never any real conversations.) I overheard him several times in conversation with my mother, but I wish that I hadn't been listening. Those were unremittingly negative affairs, and his references to me were degrading and disheartening.

Those years of the blog are full of awful recriminations, based on the fact that he obviously bore some huge grudge against me, as though I, and my mother for sure, and who knows, maybe my little sister too, had personally ruined his life. He always saw himself as being perfect, and he rarely found anyone who could live up to his standards for a reasonable human being. My mother failed miserably in his eyes, not an altogether unreasonable conclusion, and my sister and I went down the drain with the dirty bathwater. It was a real shit-show. In a final act of contempt, he left me completely out of his will without so much as a fair-thee-well.

Why bring this up now? Why today of all days? Simply, I saw him in a dream the other night. It was one of those mostly unremembered dreams that went on and on, including chapters where I revisited old jobs, scenes where I was again undergoing military training as a recruit, nothing remotely realistic, old bosses being surprised to see me, fellow boots being surprised to find a seventy-year-old in their number. Dad did a walk through, I forget the details. It all made me wonder, though, what would I really do if dad walked through that door right now?

Setting aside, for the moment, that I do not believe that the dead have any future at all, no future of any kind, only the dreamless sleep of eternity, identical in its specifics to the future of a dead dog, a dead tree, a dead worm, a sunken ship, or a dead mushroom. There is no afterlife, and there are no ghosts. Okay, back to our story.

What would I say? After so much bitterness and disapproval? I knew immediately what the answer was. I would greet him cheerfully, give him a hug and tell him that I loved him and that we had all missed him. I would ask him what his requirements these days were for the perfect chair. (He had terrible arthritis in his back, and he was never really comfortable.) I would apologize for the absence of bourbon in the house and offer him a short vodka, which he would accept. Would that be hypocritical of me? Well, no, not really.

Even assuming that the dead would be privy to all that I had said and written in the meantime, that is the greeting that he would prefer and expect. He was always one to create his own world, where he was king. Besides, we had had a wonderful relationship, to all appearances, for the last thirty-five years of his life. I hated and avoided my parents as a teenager and through much of my twenties, but after that I decided to take the high road. They were my parents, after all, and just as I had when I was a very young boy, I loved them. I was them! I was a product of whatever had masqueraded as love in their relationship. Acceptance and cheerfulness are required of us. We are expected to be grateful for the gift of life, however little we make of it or care for it. If our parents were not perfect, well then, who is? Not me, I can tell you. Who am I to judge? (There is a terrific argument to be made that I am in a perfect position to judge, having witnessed the entire conspiracy with all of its acts in furtherance, and all of its crimes. Let's save that discussion for another time.)

My father, hopefully with his hearing restored, would give me a rousing lecture about something, perhaps a full book report on Tristram Shandy, death having finally allowed him the time and inclination to finish it. I would smile, and eventually the conversation would turn to certain great meals that he has missed, and other drawbacks of being dead. I would occasionally try to get a word in edgewise, but he would, as usual, begin to gaze out the window until it was his turn again. I would smile at that and encourage him towards a subject that I knew he liked. Like boxers from the 1940s and '50s, the strange fish-based soups available in Spanish restaurants, or newspaper humorists from the 1920s and '30s. And I would listen, happy for the attention.

And that, my darlings, is why I am such an approval whore to this very day. Let his words and his tone be insincere or even malicious. Let them only mimic approval and I will be well satisfied.

Joni Mitchell - River



Sometimes you listen to a song and it seems to sum up the situation. Maybe your feelings, maybe someone else's feelings, maybe even something closer to the truth than anyone realizes. I listen to this song and I cry, because it punches me in the fucking chest. I'm in the song, but I'm not the singer. 

Thursday, February 14, 2019

James Brown Sings In The Beginnings Of Our Current Predicament



Welcome to the analog world, where every sound is hand-made, and recorded on magnetic tape, to be pressed into vinyl records and played with a needle vibrating in the grooves. Welcome to the late 1960s. 

I am not here to sing the praises of the America that gave voice to this wonderful music. I will only mention that as James was singing this song, the very beginnings of the terrible reality that we now inhabit were beginning to form in the minds of a few conservative political scientists, sociologists, economists, historians, philosophers, and public intellectuals. This is when they were beginning to tilt their lances at the windmills of uppity blacks, anti-war protesters, hippies in general, women, and any politicians who believed in compromise and cooperation. They began their program of organizing at the state, the local, and the local-local level, they started their conservative think-tanks, they lined up their donor systems, and they declared war on minorities, the public school system, the Democratic party, higher education, any restraints on corporations or the rich, unions, the New Deal, the social safety net, and the federal government itself. 

So, what do you think? How are they doing? Our glorious year 2019 looks like a Monopoly game where one player has all of the properties and all of the railroads, with plenty of houses and hotels, and the other players can only hope that they keep landing on Go, or Free Parking, or Community Chest, or Go To Jail, because one more hard landing and it's bankruptcy court for sure. 

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Vanilla Beans- More Recent Japanese Pop



I don't make a science of anything, so let's just say that this video was made "a few years ago." Not too long, recent enough to make a fitting contemporary alternative to K-Pop. These direct descendants of Pink Lady are still working and are still very entertaining. 

The level of artistic merit and accomplishment exhibited in this video eclipses anything even attempted by K-Pop. This video is visually exciting, it has a sense of humor and playfulness, the backing track is actual music (I mean that it would be musically compelling even if presented without the singing or the visual content). The element of attractive young people is still present, but it has a context that is amusing and engaging on many levels. 

The variety of music that is available these days to anyone with a wi-fi connection is amazing. You should make the most of it. 


Japanese Pop 1976



Having given Black Pink, and K-Pop, both barrels (see below), I will now admit that in 1976 I was very fond of Pink Lady. This is essentially the same act as Black Pink, except here it is done on a human scale, with a sense of modesty and enthusiasm. 

The nature of their songs also had more of a connection to the girls' own culture and human life in general. This song is a warning to young girls (same age as the singers) that all men are not to be trusted and don't go around getting smitten by a series of guys who don't really care about you. Hold out and wait for the real deal to come along. Songs these days are much more aggressive, the men and the women in the songs all act like animals, and instant gratification is the rule of the day. Did I get that right? Close, anyway. I admit that there are still some songs that do not rely entirely on grunting and faux sexual tension. 

For a very brief period in maybe 1977 there was an American TV show called, "Pink Lady and Jeff." Jeff got on the masthead because he spoke English, which neither of the girls could do very well. He was also short, so he didn't tower over the girls. You could see that Pink Lady were two rather normal, polite, nice young women, and capable not only of singing and dancing, but also of delivering sight gags. The show lasted about six episodes. 

K-Pop Shows Its Wares



I understand, to some extent, the appeal of K-Pop. It's all very glossy, and the young people who man the act interchangeably are attractive. Black Pink? Did I get that wrong? Is it just one word? At least there are only four of them. Some of these modern Asian acts fill the stage. 

Negativity alert! I find all of these K-Pop acts synthetic and unappealing. It's all so manufactured. The acts generally do synchronize the dance moves within an inch of their lives, and that's the point. They achieve this success of motion by submitting themselves to countless hours of slavedriving by the ruthless businessmen who own the act and all of its work product. Any hint of scandal, or even the suggestion of a private life at all, and it's back to the mountains for that poor kid! These young men and women are intended to be devotional objects first, and unattainable sex objects second. The acts are so devoid of musical merit that sometimes I wonder why there is any singing at all. Just play a click-track and let the kids gyrate. 

Bulletin: never appear to be trying to be cool. Every K-Pop act that I have watched has been guilty of this. Trying to be cool creates the opposite situation. Trying to be cool is the least cool thing that anyone can do. 

American Bandstand Rating: I give it a five, because no one fell down. 

Sunday, February 10, 2019

Open Mic Night With Mssr. Voltaire


I'm no Francophile, generally, although there is much to admire about the race. They are a great movie making people, for one thing. They truly excel at matters cinematic. Is that, perhaps, damning with feint praise? Could be. There is, after all, the French Revolution to consider. That was a two steps forward, two steps back, great leap forward moment that we should all be grateful for.

I will ashamedly admit that after fifteen years in Thailand I can read French much better than I can read Thai. I have never studied the language, although I have watched a great many of their movies in the original French (with subtitles). When I proctor tests, I love to try to read the French passages in reading comprehension tests. I get a very good sense of the passage, reading clearly many words in each sentence. This is not some kind of miraculous osmosis; it is merely a byproduct of having a very good vocabulary in English. After all, modern English owes more to the French language than it does to any language of the original Celts or Brits, or any of the prior conquerors, such as the Romans or the Germans (honorable mention to the Vikings).

It would be worth the effort to learn enough French to read Rimbaud and Baudelaire in the original. Translating poetry is such a crap-shoot, or buying translations of poetry is, anyway. Maybe read some of that guy Voltaire too, he seems like a winner.

I think this is a quote from Voltaire's Candide:

I have never made but one prayer to God, a very short one, 'O Lord, make my enemies ridiculous,' and God granted it.”

That's funny stuff, I'll be the first to admit.

I also limit my praying to one short prayer of my own invention:

Lord, thank you for never letting the worst happen.”

If I can still make that prayer of thanks, at the age of seventy, I am truly beloved of God.

The High Numbers - Leaving Here



The pre-Who WHO at their finest. This must have been the tail end of the High Numbers run. 

I've shared this before, but I'm not sure that I've shared this video. Great still photos of the boys, way back when it was all for fun. Rock bands tend to rock harder before money issues rear their ugly heads. The bands are more enthusiastic and more sincere when they're just in it for the girls and to avoid boring jobs. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

Mr. Brown, Meet Mr. Smalls





I Don't Want Nobody to Give Me Nothing (Open Up the Door, I'll Get It Myself), Part I, by James Brown.

I've been living in Thailand long enough to know my way around a few things. Early on I visited a lot of schools out in the rice fields. Taught a lot of classes out there, too. I learned a lot about the teachers and the students.

There was one school in particular that I liked a lot, and even after I had moved to Bangkok I would visit that little school in the rice field every year or two. It was a school for grades K through 6, and there were children that I had known all the way from grade 1 or 2 to grade 6. There were a few that I knew to be very intelligent children, based on clear evidence in lessons that I had taught their classes, but you'd never know it just to see what they had learned in eight years at that school (Thailand's system features two years of Kindergarten). They hadn't learned anything, because no one really cared. They were just going to be farmers anyway.

I am reminded of those children thinking of Mr. Brown and Mr. Smalls.

Robert Smalls was born a slave, so educating him was forbidden by law. He turned out to be a highly intelligent man in spite of that omission in his youth. He made himself a hero in the Civil War, and a self-educated hero to the entire American nation thereafter. It's a great story. You can look it up.

James Brown was born in Georgia. It seems that he was put in the position of raising himself from an early age. It is apparent that he had a hardscrabble childhood, to say the very least. He also turned out to be a highly intelligent man, and he made himself a success by sheer force of will.

I hope that some of those really bright Thai children found ways to rise above people's expectations the way that these two men did.

Here's what Robert Smalls had written on his tombstone:

My race needs no special defense, for the past history of them in this country proves them to be the equal of any people anywhere. All they need is an equal chance in the battle of life.”

Ain't it the truth! I've been saying it on this blog for more than ten years now. Anyone can win a poker game with a Full House, Queens over Tens. It takes a special talent to hang in the game all night if your best hand was Aces and Eights, and usually you were lucky to pull a low pair. Black Americans have shown incredible resilience, talent, energy, and resourcefulness, and they get precious little recognition for their accomplishments.

The above song proves that James Brown and Robert Smalls were on the same page regarding black Americans. Just even up that playing field, and we'll be fine.

Mr. Smalls had to take many life-threatening chances to build his eventual success. He was a man who would not take “no” for an answer. He stood up, repeatedly, and does anyone doubt that he faced severe opposition? Mr. Brown had to face a lot of the old Jim Crow, and a lot of patronizing from people that he wouldn't let shine his shoes (I'm sure that he was very particular about who shined his shoes). What they shared was the deep conviction that they were as good as anybody, whatever anybody else said or thought.

And they were right.

May they both rest in peace, and never be forgotten.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Where Do I Belong?


I was born in New York City. So were my parents, and their parents. To the best of my knowledge, all of my great-grandparents were born overseas. A very limited number of countries were involved, but I have never had any connection with any of them, except that I have visited Germany twice (two great-grandparents were born there).

I was a baby in Rosedale, Borough of Queens, out by Idlewild Airport. After a year or so we moved to the north shore of Queens, right on the East River, close to La Guardia Airport. I attended the local Catholic grammar school and a nearby Catholic high school. I had a New York City address and a New York drivers' license when I joined the Navy and when I was discharged (Honorable). I returned home, and resumed my life as a New Yorker. I attended the City University of New York, and I got married in New York City. Our first son was born in New York City. I received five of the seven sacraments in our local Catholic church.

You hardly notice how terrible the New York weather is until you are about twenty. Before that, it's the weather that you know, so you're used to it, and young people are not bothered by extremes of weather anyway. Hot? Okay, it's hot, so what? Cold? You hardly feel the cold until you are fully grown. It's that “fires of youth burn hot” thing. Snow is fun when you are a kid, you get days off from school, the cold is nothing, it's all fun and games! It all hits you suddenly in your mid-twenties. The cold hurts; the extreme heat and humidity are annoying; you have to get to work; you have to get your kids to school, if school is open; you probably have to drive around in whatever kind of weather presents itself. At that point, for many of us, the fun is over, the spell is broken. I had spent countless hours in all of the great museums, and I had enjoyed hundreds of movies that one cannot find on view in other places, and I had had my fill of big buildings and all of that, and it was time to go. Time for the entire family to go to a place where just running a simple family life wasn't so Goddamned hard.

I had seen San Diego, California as a sailor, and my wife had visited Los Angeles. We had both seen California at the height of winter. It's about eighty degrees during the daylight hours, with the palm trees and the beautiful ocean and everything. The last straw for us was visiting the school where our son was about to start Kindergarten. It looked like a prison. There was heavy protective grating on all of the windows, and the school yard was full of broken glass. That night we had a serious talk and decided, yeah, California, let's allow the boy to start Kindergarten in Los Angeles. We decided on Los Angeles because it was the easiest city to come down on your feet and hit the ground running, making a living beginning in the first week or ten days. It turned out just that way.

That move occurred in the mid-1970s, and since that time I have not held a New York drivers' license, nor any other kind of New York license. I have never owned real property in New York. Since that move, I have neither had a New York address, nor have I paid any New York taxes or utility bills. After that it was California all the way.

I immediately obtained a California drivers' license and began to pay California utilities and California taxes. We very quickly bought a home, and I owned real property in California for almost forty years. I attended law school and obtained a license to practice law in California. I still have it. I also still have my California drivers' license. I have not, however, resided in California for about twelve years.

During this last period my residence has been in Thailand. I travel on a current United States passport. I observe all of the legal niceties, possessing up to date visas and work permits. I own a condominium in Bangkok. I am married to a Thai woman. I have not applied for permanent resident status, and I have no present intention to apply for Thai citizenship. I am trusting, in other words, that I will be allowed to remain in Thailand on one kind of visa or another for the remainder of my life. When the day comes that I am no longer working, I qualify easily for either a married-to-a-Thai-national visa or a retirement visa.

All of this is beginning to feel somewhat problematic. I am beginning to wonder if there is too much trust involved. In my darkest hours I become afraid that I may become stateless. The world in general, and so many governments in particular, are changing very quickly, in ways that do not necessarily favor an individual in my situation. I am lucky to have a few bucks, but I have nowhere near enough money to open all doors with a smile.

I do receive Social Security benefits, so they at least believe me to be an American citizen, and a particular American citizen at that. I lost my Social Security card forty years ago, but they still recognize me. They know where I reside; I get mail from them that is sent to my Bangkok address. My residence is not a problem under current rules. (Underline CURRENT RULES.)

I have no meaningful ties with New York at this point.

I am still on the roles of California lawyers. The California Bar Association also lists my Bangkok address on their web site. That must qualify as a connection with the state, but will it be enough for me to renew my drivers' license?

As so often happens, I am worrying too much about this. I should be fine. I have already renewed my passport at the local American Embassy. I suppose that I can dummy up an address for a California drivers' license when the time comes. I worry, though, because I have never been adept at reading the tea leaves in such matters. I am too often surprised when the ice starts cracking under my shoes. And those are only the potential legal problems. There's an emotional component here as well.

Where the hell do I belong? If you listened to me speak one English sentence, you would ask me, “so, what part of New York are you from?” My accent, vocabulary, and attitude in general are very New York. That's “Noo Yawk” for those of us who know what's up, doc. It's been twenty years since I set foot in the place, though. By now I'd just walk around with my head on a swivel complaining about the prices like some hayseed.

I lived in California longer than I did in New York, and if I were to return to the 'States I'd prefer to live in California, but there's no way that I could afford it. I'd be lucky to sustain life in a trailer up in Death Valley, and between my typical old man medical bills and the need to buy medical insurance for my handicapped Thai wife I'd go completely broke in short order.

That leaves Thailand, and luckily I do like it here. Things are amazingly affordable. My Thai has gotten to the point that Thai people can actually understand most of what I say in Thai, as long as the subject under discussion is simple. That's fine; that's where most conversations live. I've started to study again, wishing to expand my vocabulary and improve my reading skills. There are a great many foreigners here, most with Thai wives and many also having dependent Thai children. We are most often a boost to our local economies. Most Thai people are anything but xenophobic. They tolerate foreigners very well. It's a crossroads country, so they've been inundated with foreigners for thousand of years already. If we, the foreigners, learn to smile, be polite, speak a bit, and respect monks and the royal family, we are probably okay.

I'm starting to feel like a citizen of the world, but I don't think that there is any recognized paperwork for that as yet. I believe that I could make a good argument for that status. My experience of the world has spanned the globe. I speak German, and I have studied German in Germany and on another occasion visited my ex-wife's family there. My German is rusty, but I can still easily speak with German or Austrian tourists or airline seatmates when the opportunity arises. Even my German grammar is still okay. Thai is a tonal language, and I can assure you that the tones will kick your ass for a few years. I've been here fifteen years now, if you include my two Peace Corps years before I finally moved back. Many foreigners speak better Thai than I do, but many more can hardly speak at all. I'm doing okay, and I get a full measure of credit for it. Even my English has profited greatly by my Thai experience. I've done a lot of editing of academic papers to smooth out the broken English and make it read like native English.

Getting through these last stages of life is never easy, but I've got a good chance to make it okay. Just avoid the worst and it'll all work out. Avoid the worst medical results; avoid serious accidents; avoid political upheaval; keep coastal flooding at bay; stay out of trouble.

I just need to pay attention, I suppose. Wish me luck.

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Count Five Or Six - Cornelius



While we're on the subject of numbers. 

I love Cornelius; the man is deep. There is some tension in the comments as to the time scheme of this cut. There is the suggestion that it is 6/6, which would be appropriate and therefore vaguely comforting. My guess is 6/8, with two bars of 4/4 thrown in every now and then for comic relief. 

But I'm no Mozart, so make up your own mind. 

Manfred Mann - 5 4 3 2 1



This is a nice cut from an early Manfred Mann LP. It's all very professional, very commercial, but there's more to it. It has a spark that was lacking in professional, commercial pop music from just a couple of years earlier. Manfred Mann are not unique in this. Something was happening in pop music beginning in 1963 and coming to full fruition in '64 or '65. There had been a dead spot that started in 1958 or so and lasted almost five years. Then, all of a sudden, "it's alive!!!"

You can see it clearly if you listen to the first recorded efforts of the Beatles, the Rolling Stones, the Kinks, any of the bigs, and also in the work of the also rans. Their early material was on the dull side. Then listen to the work of the same bands in 1964 and '65. What had been competent and professional and all kinds of other boring adjectives suddenly became not only proficient, but also wildly enthusiastic and a lot more creative. This phenomenon was observable in America too. After the dull days of Neil Sedaka, Fabian, and Frankie Avalon (relieved, of course, by the fabulous work that was restricted to the black charts), there suddenly appeared the Beach Boys and all kinds of records backed by the Wrecking Crew in L.A., and the similar studio outfits in New York, New Orleans, Memphis, and Muscle Shoals. Dr. Frankenstein had found the right formula of chemicals and energy fields. It was all alive!!!

And no, it was not the Beatles who drove this revolution. They were influenced along with everyone else, benefiting from the work of Phil Spector, Bobby Robinson (Fury Records), Ike Turner, Al Bell (Stax Records), and a host of others, who had been filling up the mid-range of the pop charts with the wonderful antidote to that bland, awful pop music at the top of the charts. Young musicians in America and Europe, and also in places like Japan, Brazil, and Indonesia, were listening closely to those records. The rest is history! 

Manfred Mann were underrated, a common fate for English Invasion bands. They were serious musicians, detail oriented, and very entertaining. Go find a greatest hits CD and buy it. You won't be disappointed. 


Friday, February 1, 2019

Traffic - Am I What I Was Or Was I What I Am? - 1968



Here's one of the "written and performed by Steve Winwood and Traffic" cuts from the soundtrack. There are some nice images from the movie in the video, including the occasional glimpse of Judy Geeson. 

CT Scans v. MRIs


What are the mechanisms involved? What is the difference? Why are they so expensive? I can't be the only one who is considering these things.

CT Scans

Computed Tomography,” or “Computerized Tomography.” I don't think that they've made up their minds yet. You may remember, like I do, that these were once called CAT Scans, which would be “Computerized Axial Tomography.” That cat thing is out of fashion now.

These are just fancy X-ray machines. All modern X-ray machines are computerized to some extent, but there's probably a difference. Maybe I should look up tomography. The point is, the mechanism by which a CT Scan creates an image is X-rays.

That's why they do their work so quickly, making things a lot easier for the patient. They do a much better job of illustrating bones and other hard tissue. They're not much good for soft tissue inquiries. X-ray machines in general are using a lot less X-ray than in the old days, so it's probably not enough to worry about. About the same as a long plane flight probably. That's just a guess.

Sources all say that CT Scans are cheaper than MRIs, but then they all give about the same range of prices for both things: between $1,200 and $3- to $4,000. (See note below re: prices.)

MRIs

Magnetic Resonance Imaging.” These create an image by building up a powerful magnetic field and then launching high-frequency radio pulses through that field. This all takes a while, and the patient is required to show great patience while laying in the close-fitting tube for a half of an hour or so, without moving. Then there's the booming noise. I've never had an MRI, and I'm not looking forward to the eventuality.

MRIs do a great job of imaging soft tissue, like muscles and internal organs. They'll give the docs the location of the bones, but not as much detail on the hard tissue as the CT Scan. Great care must be taken to avoid placing anything made from metal into the tube with the patient. That would be a metal fork in the microwave moment. This includes Pacemakers and piercings, so there's that to consider.

Sources give the price range for both procedures as being very close, with the upper range for MRIs exceeding that for CT Scans by about one third. Neither the magnetic field nor the radio pulses have the power to hurt you, so anyone overly concerned about X-rays might consider that.

MRIs and Tattoos

Here's where mourning becomes electra. Here's where it gets weird. It turns out that any tattoo from more than twenty years ago is liable to have metal particles in some of the ink. My guess is that the black ink would be the worst offender. As one recedes in time, past twenty to thirty years ago, and on to forty, the likelihood of encountering metal increases. My own tattoo, for instance, is forty-six years old, so it's probably full of metal.

These tattoos can exhibit terrible reactions to the magnetic field, ranging from a mild burning sensation, up through considerable pain, and on to great pain with some flashing and scarring. I had never heard this one before. Forewarned is forearmed, however, so if the situation comes up I can mention it to the doctor. It's a very rare doctor who will listen to you regarding medical matters, but they do exist.

Hipsters, take note.

Prices

It turns out that they are so expensive because both hospitals and medical insurance companies are now run on a for-profit basis, even the ones that still call themselves non-profits, and they work together to gouge the patient, and each other, for as much as possible in every situation.

The price of an identical MRI in any particular medical marketplace will vary wildly depending on such factors as the income of the patient, the health insurance carried by the patient, the identity of the payer, and many other factors that are unknown to me, being mysteries of the modern medical-industrial complex. If the estimates are accurate at all, you could be charged anywhere between $1,200 and $4,000 for the identical procedure on the identical machine. I would bet the afore mentioned tattoo that the upper range is subject to wild spikes.

If you are a careful shopper, there is an easy work-around for this price gouging.

Doctors are now firmly in the category of “disposable workers.” With tuition being so high, many doctors graduate with frightening levels of debt. Hospitals pay doctors as little as possible. Some doctors do the math and realize that they could set up some kind of business of their own and make twice as much money while doing less than half as much work. One way to do this is to invest in an MRI machine and set yourself up in a strip mall near a large population center. “Garden State Imaging Center” or something. This is totally legal.

Many of the doctors who do this are merely clever, but others come from one of the many minorities in America. They get sick of patients up at the hospital asking for “the white doctor” all the time.

If your own doctor is worth his salt, he'll tell you about a good MRI mill himself. You can find them on your own without much trouble, because, like I say, it's legal. You then get a specific prescription from your doctor requesting the MRI and giving all of the information necessary to get a result that is useful. Just make an appointment, and the fully board-certified doctor at the MRI center will do the imaging. You get the results, probably on a CD, and take it back to your doctor for a reading. These private MRI clinics charge under one thousand dollars, so the savings can be considerable.

My Dedication to Public Service

I don't make a nickel on this blog, and if you take a quick look at the history over on the right side you will have to agree that writing it has been a whole lot of work. Mostly, I write all of this prose because it helps to knock down the general level of negative ideation that I must deal with on a daily basis. There is also, however, an element of the pure, kind-hearted desire to be useful to my fellow Americans.

My sincerest desire is that someone among the couple of dozen people who may read this post found it informative in a way that was helpful.