Tuesday, July 7, 2020

The Awesome Power Of Chance

Nice article in the Atlantic now about the way that the very fabric of reality can be altered by an insignificant, unseen accident of chance. The article refers back to a movie that took up the theme: someone catches a train at the last second, or they miss the train by one second. Everything changes. This is a subject that is close to my heart.

There was a time when I was working at a part time law clerk job in the west valley while attending school in Malibu. I took a couple of evening classes to accommodate the job. Therefore, for a year or so, I spent a lot of time on Malibu Canyon Road between the 101 Freeway and the Coast Highway. It's a beautiful road, without a lot of traffic at the times that I was using it. That stretch is somewhere between seven and nine miles, I believe. Figure twelve minutes or so. Driving it west, towards the ocean, there's a steep hill running up on your right side, and a deep canyon on your left, with a guardrail but almost no shoulder. Not enough over there to change a tire. I'm thinking of one day in particular, in the late afternoon but with plenty of daylight left and no sun in my eyes. Perfect driving weather; beautiful setting; good driving car (1990 Honda Accord, manual transmission); perfect black-top road surface with no gravel or oil. I was having fun on the sweeping turns, but not overdoing it. Then, without warning, there's never any warning, I almost got zotzed.

I came around a right hand turn in the road and onto a straight piece. There was the mouth of a short tunnel about six hundred yards ahead. I covered part of that distance and then I noticed something out of the corner of my eye, to my right. I moved my eyes to focus on it, and saw that it was a boulder about twice the size of a basketball, and it had just bounced off the sharp hillside on its way down to the road. It was going to beat me to its chosen spot on the road. I just had time to begin to attempt a time and motion calculation, addressing the issue of either braking or accelerating to avoid the boulder hitting my car. While I was performing that mathematics I maintained a constant speed. Almost instantly the boulder struck the road about two car-lengths in front of my bumper and took an impressive bounce. Almost simultaneously, I rolled over the debris spot where it had hit, and out of the left corner of my eye, in the driver's side window, I could see the boulder sailing into the canyon, airborne.

This is what we, growing up in Queens, used to call, “I didn't know whether to shit, piss, or throw up.”

The best way to look at an event like that is to shake your head once, smile, and move on. Don't dwell on it. But I've never been one to leave well enough alone, so I dwelt on it for quite a while. A new math problem presented itself, and I tried to identify the variables. I had covered about two/ thirds of the distance on Malibu Canyon Road, so I had driven about eight minutes at about fifty miles-per-hour, before the rock struck the road. It was a fraction of a second between impact and my passing over the spot, so that number would be in thousandths of a second. How much of an increase in my speed would have brought me to the spot at just the fatal moment? The debris spot was in the center of my lane, which would have put the rock in the center of my windshield if had been traveling microscopically faster. I still shudder to think about it.

The Atlantic article focuses on several pieces of alternate-history fiction, books or movies, that have bearing on our modern day politics. The lesson of the boulder, however, for me, is that every person on earth regularly experiences these near misses. There is a terrible randomness to who lives to see tomorrow and who dies today, and this is our reality every day.

Combat veterans feel this most acutely. They often comment on the randomness of who dies and who lives in the combat zone. Real combat is not like it is in the movies. There is a lot more shooting and a lot less hitting anything. Rifle bullets travel faster than the speed of sound, and the little sonic-booms make a snapping sound when they pass close to you. Many of the combat memoirs that I have read mention the sense of wonder that the man experienced from coming through so much danger untouched, and many wonder why they were unharmed while so many other men, similarly situated, were killed. Usually they chalk it up to just being one of those things. If you're in the right place at the wrong time, you catch one.

So here's to being lucky! Bon chance, mes amis! Just another day in paradise, if you made it through yesterday.

Sunday, July 5, 2020


I was randomly reminded today of Lambert, Hendricks & Ross. I love it when that happens. A reference tucked away in a corner of an unrelated article, something like that. And boom! Memory chains, new interests, new things to listen to. What a world! I hate the world, I love the world, and everything else, all at the same time. Very interesting. 

Saturday, June 27, 2020

Tav Falco : Panther

A Facebook friend posted something about "Which 80s Rock Band Are You?" I never take those "tests," but I almost shared this song into his column, saying, "I got Tav Falco's Panther Burns." I decided against it. People think I'm crazy enough already. 

Andy Warhol Got Shot on June 3, 1968!

As though the list of horrors for that year weren't long enough already, Andy Warhol was shot by Valerie Solanas multiple times on June 3, 1968.

Ms. Solanas wrote something called the “S.C.U.M. Manifesto,” the opening sentence of which was:

Life in this society being, at best, an utter bore and no aspect of society being at all relevant to women, there remains to civic-minded, responsible, thrill-seeking females only to overthrow the government, eliminate the money system, institute complete automation and destroy the male sex.”

What was it? The “Society for Cutting Up Men?” I think that was it.

It reads a lot like satire, doesn't it? Or maybe a parody of feminism written by someone who believed that feminism was a joke. It seems, however, that the woman was being completely serious, or as serious as a crazy woman can be. The way that she shot poor Andy was no joke, that's for sure. She really let him have it, multiple gunshots to the upper torso. He was lucky to live through it, or perhaps that's a question that I am not qualified to answer. One thing I will say with confidence: it's a minor miracle that he survived.

She also wrote some other things, which one may be forgiven not to have noticed. Her other works include a play called, “Up Your Ass.” (Written 1965. Produced in San Fran, 2000. Available now on Kindle.) Being crazy, and in light of the fact that her super-sincere attempt to kill Andy failed, she was remanded to the custody of a mental health facility. She was released a few years later, and honestly I don't have the heart to discover what the rest of her life was like. I might discover that she is still alive, and I'm not sure how I would feel about that.

Train, By The Buddy Miles Express

1968 was a year that wrote itself across the sky in blood and fire. Any normal person was struck dumb by the horror of it, and any sensitive person was driven way back into the corners of their minds by any distraction that would work. Sex, drugs, and rock and roll were all very good distractions, and 1968 was a banner year in all three categories. Exhibit "A," the Buddy Miles Express. 

More Voice-Over Mischief Of The Woke Kind

NYT June 27, 2020: Simpsons and Family Guy . . . white voice-over actors will be leaving the roles of non-white characters.

First off, I am 100% for expanding diversity in entertainment business hiring at every level. In every nook and cranny of the business, from leading ladies to third assistant Best-Boy grips. More diversity. And I'm in favor of more diversity in main characters, supporting characters, and background characters. Everybody from writers to casting directors to producers needs to get on this bandwagon, and those three job categories need more minority representation too! I am a diversity guy in general; I firmly believe that America's greatest strength is the diversity of its people. That should be reflected in American art, education, and business at all levels.

But, and you knew that there was a but coming, I'm afraid that we are being “penny wise and pound foolish” with current efforts to enforce diversity. I don't like the “enforce” part either. I would rather see more done in the areas of education, neighborhood and workplace integration, and people just trying to get to know one another. If you favor the “enforce” doctrine, bear in mind that people don't like it when you metaphorically put them on the hood of a car and scream in their ear, “hire more black Americans!” That's a wonderful message, but delivering it in that way is more liable to make people get angry and dig in their heels against the idea.

Penny wise?” That's like forcing Hollywood to use black voice-over actors to voice black characters in their animated works. The “pound foolish” comes in when you realize that there are fewer black roles to play. You arrive at that conclusion based on the simple fact that blacks make up a smaller portion of the American population than whites. Am I missing something here? Is the new rule that characters must be played by members of their own race, or does the exclusive permission only apply to minority characters?

If the rule is generally applied, black actors could not voice white characters in animated works, or characters who were Chicano, Korean, American Indian, etc. I find many aspects of this woke culture very confusing. Are we now to believe that an animated show with a very diverse group of characters must find someone from each character's own group to voice the role? That might already be hard. In the Los Angeles high school attended by one of my sons, the students spoke eighty-five different languages at home. That's in the school records, “language spoken in the family home.”

But the worst part of it is this:

In it's fullest expression, this new rule is terrible for minority voice-actors. There will always be fewer parts for voice-actors who are black, Indian, Hispanic, or Asian. I can't support anything that limits employment opportunities for minority actors.

I suppose this woke culture moment is a work in progress. I can tell you, there are a lot of babies going down the drain with the bath-water. Wouldn't it be terrible if there were some Korean kid out there who was a regular Billy West, a voice-over genius, but he was limited to playing Korean characters? If I had to choose between a) only black actors can voice black characters; and b) black actors can voice any character at all, subject only to a neutral and transparent hiring process, I'd choose “b.” There are more jobs in it.

What's important to me is that all actors get an equal shot at shining in the great roles and sharing in the big money. Those chances were denied to minority actors for all of history, and we are blessed to see things getting slightly better now. People are becoming slightly more aware, and slightly more enlightened. Progress is being made. It certainly does need to hurry itself up a bit, but it also needs to be protected from backlash.

I want to see the presence of minorities in American society become a non-issue, and I want to see all minorities achieve income equality, status equality, education equality, and wealth generation equality. I won't live to see it, of course, but those should be the obvious goals. That should be the direction in which we strive. God knows there's a lot to be done, and God knows we find ourselves in a period of some progress and an awful lot of dangerous backsliding. Focus, people! Eyes on the prize! Don't get stuck in the weeds when the solution is to build a healthy forest.

Sunday, June 21, 2020

The Jiants "Tornado" Best audio quality with lyrics

After midnight in the Temple of Reverb! 1959. There's also a pretty classy remake on YouTube from 2011.