Saturday, December 31, 2011

Jimmy Fallon's Engrish Odysey

My Asian cable carries CNBC, and they have been showing Jimmy Fallon shows on the weekends. The cable guide is never a paragon of great spelling, but they seem to be having a lot more trouble with his name even than usual.

Within the first few weeks, his name was variously reported as:


Fallan; and


In this month's guide it is listed as:


They've got a few more variants to work through, by my reckoning.

The 'Spin's Greatest Hits: The Serene Beauty Of The End Of The World (April. 2010)

I was a boy during the Fifties and Sixties, and I can tell you that we all acutely felt the presence of the threat of the end of the world in those days. Lots of people got really worked up about it and made efforts to survive it, at least for six months or so, in private “fallout shelters.” The end that we were half-expecting was, of course, a nuclear exchange between the United States and the Soviet Union.

It was a real topic of national conversation, and lots of art was devoted to it, because the possibility of it was part of reality, there really were vast arsenals of huge bombs joined to efficient delivery systems, all targeted and ready to go. It was never, perhaps, likely, but, given the contentious relationship of the superpowers and the vagueries of human nature, it was way up into the range of the possible, more than merely conceivable. Scientists invented the Doomsday Clock as a way of warning us to keep our wits about us. Hollywood gave us “Fail Safe,” and “On the Beach,” and even the black comedic masterpiece, “Dr. Strangelove (or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Bomb).”

There was a lot of “Post-Apocalyptic” science fiction too, one that I read was called “1999: The Penultimate Truth,” which featured a much reduced human population living in a dangerous new natural world. That was small potatoes though, the real deal was the actual, certifiable End Of The World.

The fear that it engendered in the general population was real and widespread. During the Cuban Missile Crisis I was a high school sophomore, and I distinctly remember the tension among the faculty of my school. They obviously weren't worrying about some ships being sunk, or some soldiers being dispatched. They were worried about the end of the world.

Not surprisingly, given my nature, I viewed the prospect through a romantic, yet strongly cynical, lens. Imagine the thrill of participating in the single greatest event in human history! My role would have been small, no need to prepare ones self for mere vaporization. I lived in New York City, and later on in Los Angeles, and in any nuclear war worth the title both of those places would be multi-targeted and among the first to go. For me, it would probably be a simple matter of noticing the flash from indoors, and having a fraction of a second to feel the pride that comes from witnessing something truly important, however disagreeable.

The worst that I expected was to be reduced to a radiation damaged hulk, essentially disintegrating over the course of the next little while. I could imagine myself kneeling on a lawn, or the dining room floor, vomiting up the remains of my insides and watching my skin sloughing off in big chunks, which was the real life, documented experience of some unfortunate people in Asia on at least two occasions. More time to enjoy the marvelous thrill of a vast nuclear exchange, knowing that a follow up strike will soon end any misery that intruded on the wonder of it.

Honestly, though, I strongly believed that it would never happen. We would never start that war; no cost-benefit analysis, no risk analysis, no possible agenda could justify it. I was also one hundred percent sure that the Soviets would never start it. Even a “victory” would be the end of them, their Soviet style of government. They existed only by the exercise of total control, which would disappear immediately under the first mushroom clouds.

Now we find ourselves in a very different, but almost analogous situation. The Soviets are gone, the number of nuclear weapons has been much reduced (certainly below “end of the world” levels), and the weapons that remain do so in a more stable emotional environment. We live today with the present threat of a different manner of ending for our civilization.

I read a nice bit of fiction the other day, in a New Yorker magazine. “Diary of an Interesting Year,” by Helen Simpson. I say nice, it wasn't great, I was a little bit surprised that it made the cut for that august literary entity. It was a short, first-person (“Diary”), account of the experience of Brits after a sudden, disastrous rise in world temperatures.

Far be it for me to debate the politics, or even the existence of what has come to be called “Global Warming,” I think on the evidence “Global Climate Change” is a more apt title. I think that something is happening, there's plenty of evidence for that, and I think that it should be of concern to us, and I think that it should be investigated without prejudice by the best minds available, but I have no firm opinion as to what might be happening, although I have my suspicions.

Like the U.S. v. Soviets nuclear war, this threatened climate catastrophe is perhaps unlikely, but certainly way up into the range of the possible, more than merely conceivable.

Ms. Simpson's story is very downbeat, the protagonist describes a miserable existence, a slow process of starving to death in disease ridden degradation. If her description of the aftermath of sudden, irreversible climate disruption is accurate, it would be a fate terrible enough to make us long again for those halcyon days of nuclear destruction.

(I do hope that you enjoyed this re-post, a little something to cheer you up for the holiday. I must say that the climate news didn't get any less frightening in the year-and-a-half since I wrote this.)

Sunday, December 25, 2011

The End Of The World?

There’s a lot of talk about the end of the world, scheduled by the Mayans for 2012 in some ungelernte version of Mayan events. The smart money is that the Mayans created their calendar in sections, blocks of predicted time, and that, were it not for the interruption of the Spaniards, the Mayans would have gone on to complete the next section, and so forth. So the “end” of their calendar in 2012 was accidental, they were merely overtaken by events.

End of the world talk is so common in our culture that we get used to it, get used to laughing about it. It’s interesting that the Mayan angle seems to lend more credibility to the enterprise, like they were somehow more reliable in such matters than the usual Christian Apocalypse Mongers. Maybe too many of the Christians have engaged in it, like the boy that cried “wolf!”

I do remember one instance where I was moved to wonder if the prediction was true. It was a summer day in the mid-Sixties, I was a teenager in New York at the time. The prediction made the papers: about seven p.m. on a certain day. At about five-thirty on that day I was in the neighborhood of my girlfriend, looking to kill some time before calling for her at her house, giving them time to finish dinner. I was sitting on a large rock that was buried iceberg style on a patch of ground outside the house of my old second grade teacher, Miss Lepkeger. There were many of these rocks in my town, one of them was as big as a house, known by all as “Indian Rock.” They had been carried down the east coast during the last Ice Age and had been deposited at a time when Long Island was still attached to the mainland.

As I sat there, idly smoking cigarettes and recalling grammar school, the sky grew darker and darker. By six o’clock it was unnaturally dark and a cool wind had come up. The clouds had a roiling, science-fiction quality to them. I started to think that maybe the woman who had predicted the end of the world was onto something.

Well, I wondered, how bad would that be? I grew up in the Cold War period, and we had all become quite fatigued from the constant worrying about sudden apocalyptic death. So the world ends? So what? An end to worry, an acceptable trade-off.

It started raining and it was quite a storm too. A Biblical storm! The world went on about its business though, as it always does in the face of these predictions.

So keep to your financial discipline everybody. In 2013, all of those bills will have to be paid. Happy New Year!

Romney: If I’m President, All College Grads Will Have A Job; If Obama Wins, They Won’t

Romney: If I’m President, All College Grads Will Have A Job; If Obama Wins, They Won’t: pAsked at a campaign stop in New Hampshire why young people should mobilize behind Mitt Romney for 2012, the candidate had a simple but comically pandering answer. Romney promised 21-year-old Kallie Durkit that he will deliver jobs to college graduates if he’s elected president — that as a businessman he knows “what it takes” to [...]/p

Can you believe the BRASS BALLS on this guy. Well, since you asked me, said Willard, if you are in college now, and I am elected, you will have a job when you graduate; if Mr. Obama is re-elected, you will not have a job when you graduate. Me? 100% Him? 0% And they say these things with a straight face. And if you call them on something you are being a bitch somehow; not getting the big picture; being a deluded Liberal traitor; drinking the Obama Kool Aid. Remarks like this one are just plum stupid, there's no dressing it up, there's nothing political about calling them the spades that they are.

This guy, and all of the sorry-ass useless eaters that he's running with, are beneath our contempt, and yet, they draw air and blow hard in a presidential race, no less. Albeit a Republican race, but still.

And they're not the only one trying our patience these days. Pope Benedict the however many was explaining to us in this jolly season that we should look past the glitter of modern Christmas and return to the simple, straightforward meaning of the holiday. The SIMPLICITY. He said this from his pope's perch, dripping with gold and jewels, surrounded by opulence and oozing luxury from every pore, the decadent MF, pardon my French, or not.

People let them get away with it too, that's the truly amazing part. It seems to be true, most people really do love Big Brother.

Pizzicato Five Groovy Is My Name

I notice that some of the comments to this vid talk about P5 in the past tense. That's a shame.

This cut is featured on the soundtrack for the movie "Doom Generation." I did some legal work for one of the principals of the movie, and she gave me a CD of the soundtrack. That was my introduction to Pizzicato 5, and this song hooked me immediately.

Sure I live in the past, but some of it is the recent past. It's not like I only listen to the Hollies and the Kinks. But my recent past isn't even so recent anymore. Everything is receding and becoming feint. Is this what they call dying?

Thursday, December 22, 2011

What's So Special About Me?

One subject that I find very important to my country and my culture is race relations in general and Black/White relations in particular. One would think that the Internet would be a great tool in exploring these themes, with its relative anonymity and it's rapid, broad dispersal of ideas. Well maybe, the jury is still out.

I did not wait for the Internet to begin exploring the issues associated with race relations. I have history in this matter. I have had my successes and my failures, but I have tried never to shy away from an opportunity to learn something or to school somebody. The social situations are fun, I don't ask for any credit for those. I have also devoted quite a bit of professional time to the enterprise. I don't ask for credit for that either, not necessarily, but I'm proud of it. Other people have done more than me to explore and try to improve race relations, but many more people have done less. My conscience is clear; I've done my best.

But who knows that? On the Internet, I post comments under my real name and attach a picture, I post under my Blogger identity. So if anyone is so disposed, they may check my own page and find out a little bit about me. No, I'm afraid that's too much to ask. And Internet comments must be limited in scope, mustn't they? You can include an autobiographical essay in each one.

On a web site that I like very much I recently chimed in on an amazing thread about the tension in the American Black community between people of varying shades of color. I took a lot of hits, some favorable, some tolerant, and some comments that brooked great umbrage with my ideas (and the very idea that I would express them). Some of those last included bald misreadings of my content, and many included suppositions about me that just were not true. Like that I didn't know about this or that (but I did, probably); like that I'd never actually spoken to Black Americans (oh, but I have actually); like I'd never had any Black friends (oops, yes again).

Who am I to condemn this knee-jerk assessment of me as a White jerk-off? There's some truth in it, after all. One commenter was especially persistent and personal. I felt like I was being judged too quickly, on too little evidence, mostly the evidence of the picture. Finally I just said, "If it were my role to be the semi-self-educated, slightly aware, occasionally decent, vaguely acceptable White man who really just proved the rule that all White men are vomitous White Supremacist demons, I could live with that, more or less."

But really, who am I? What's so special about me?

I'm empathetic, for one, I feel what other people are feeling, especially the negative emotions. I believe that life is suffering, I believe that we all suffer, each in our way. I do love other people, and I view with charity and resignation the suffering of others. I find it all interesting . . . is that condescending? More than interesting, I find it all important, and not only to that particular sufferer, but to all of us.

We are all in this thing together, I don't think that's an exaggeration. We need to learn to walk in each other's moccasins. We need to try harder to understand each other, and to help each others.

So what's the take-away? Don't be too quick to judge, I suppose. Let's learn to be kinder to one another. Oh, it sounds like such a load of shit, and it flies in the face of all Twenty-First Century logic, but shouldn't we at least try to love each other?

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Nat King Cole - The Christmas Song (Chestnuts Roasting...)

Got a bitter-sweet tone to it, despite the twinkle in his eye. He really was the king, he could do it all. He could sing with great cheer, or with a tear in his eye, or somewhere in between. This is the in-between tone, suitable for Christmas, I think, Christmas isn't everybody's cup of tea.

I'll try my best to be appropriately cheerful, no worries. And to you, my faithful double-dozen, have a wonderful Christmas and a healthy, happy New Year, won't you? I hope you do. And thanks, as always, for reading.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Vaclav Havel, 1936 - 2011

Vaclav Havel was pretty cool. He was Keith Richards' favorite politician, that's a pretty good recommendation. Vastly quotable too. The following examples I borrowed from Gawker.

On the hidden mysteries of life:

"Sometimes I wonder if suicides aren't in fact sad guardians of the meaning of life."

On the advantages of the underdog:

"There's always something suspect about an intellectual on the winning side."

On loosening up:

"Anyone who takes himself too seriously always runs the risk of looking ridiculous; anyone who can consistently laugh at himself does not."

On the audacious semantics of hope:

"Hope is definitely not the same thing as optimism. It is not the conviction that something will turn out well, but the certainty that something makes sense, regardless of how it turns out."

On the perks of power:

"If you want to see your plays performed the way you wrote them, become President."

On the Jesus Connection:

"Man is in fact nailed down - like Christ on the Cross - to a grid of paradoxes . . . he balances between the torment of not knowing his mission and the joy of carrying it out, between nothingness and meaningfulness. And like Christ, he is in fact victorious by virtue of his defeats."

On the true nature of Art:

"There is only one Art, whose sole criterion is the power, the authenticity, the revelatory insight, the courage and suggestiveness with which it seeks its truth."

That's good stuff. Adios, Vaclav, thanks for everything.

They Are Our Teachers

It’s good to appreciate our teachers, every day should be teacher appreciation day. We should go further and remember all of those who have taught us valuable lessons. The unsung teachers, the unknown, those people who may have taught us a little about life without ever addressing us directly, perhaps without every having exchanged a word with us.

I found myself recently recalling one such man. I was seventeen at the time, riding the subway to my college in Manhattan. My school was across the street from City Hall, on Park Row, next to the approach to the Brooklyn Bridge. I knew very little about the races at the time. I was at what might be called “level one of not being prejudiced,” which is to say that I was relatively color-blind when it came to sports figures and entertainers, but I had very little experience of actually talking to Blacks, or Puerto Ricans for that matter.

The racial situation in New York was very tense at the time (1965). Neighborhoods were segregated, but it was nothing official. We were all together on the public transportation, but in New York no one interacts on public transportation under any circumstances. There were virtually no Black police, and the White police played serious havoc in the Black community under the guise of maintaining order. They played havoc with us too, but it was much more gentle. My entire youth was spent in a milieu of constant violence, and I was very quick to put men, especially young men, into the “threat to kick my ass” category. I had no reason to leave the Black teenagers out of that category, since I had hardly ever actually spoken to one. The girls I thought were cute, in my innocent way, not only the Shirelles and the Crystals, but also the girls on the bus. (I had spoken to a few Black girls. I found them to be a bit direct, perhaps, but very nice and pretty.)

Honestly, I had never given the matter of race relations much serious thought at all.

So I was on the subway that day, an IND train I believe. Odd, because I usually took the IRT Lexington Avenue line to school. Across from me sat a middle-aged Black man, maybe fifty or so, when one is seventeen it’s hard to tell. He was wearing a sweater vest over a button-down Oxford shirt, blue I think, dressy but not too fancy pants, dark wool, and comfortable shoes. He was wearing horn-rimmed glasses that were almost nerdy. Sitting close to me on my side of the car were a mother and small child, a boy, three or four years old, White.

The man was smiling benignly at the boy and his mom, and the boy noticed and smiled back. There followed a good deal of wordless communication between the three of them, all very appropriate and friendly. Some peek-a-boo was played.

I thought about the man. He looked very smart, and he was certainly very nice. I thought, he must work for the city, and he did get off at my stop, Chambers Street, in the heart of the municipal office area. Probably he’s a native New Yorker, probably a graduate of the city’s university system. A Civil Servant of some kind. I tried to imagine his life. I knew that for him it would have been harder to get into the City University system, and harder to get into the good civil service office jobs. I wondered about his life, his apartment, his family. I had never considered such things before, never considered if such people even existed.

So on that morning, for me, Black Americans became three-dimensional. Black men had previously consisted of Jackie Robinson (et al), Bo Diddley (et al), some nondescript guys on the bus, and those vaguely threatening teenagers. That universe had expanded to include decent, hard-working, every-day human beings. Before too long I discovered that the decent, hard working people were the norm.

I have often wondered about that man over the years. He taught me a great lesson without trying and without even knowing that it was happening. It was a great gift, and I still appreciate it.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

Mike Tyson: Girl from Ipanema

I wasn't really a Christmas person for most of my life. Oh sure, there were a lot of good ones in there, when my boys were young, but usually I need a little cheering up around Christmas time.

This vid did it for me, my first time around was a pretty cool three minutes. I love Mike Tyson. Merry Christmas Mike, wherever you are.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Howard Tate - Ain't Nobody Home

Better known for "Get It While You Can," but I always liked this cut. A memorial as it were, see below.

Howard Tate Obituary: The Obituary and Death Notice of Howard Tate |

Howard Tate Obituary: The Obituary and Death Notice of Howard Tate |

Let's take a moment to remember the late, great Howard Tate. A cautionary tale with many levels to it, a great, great singer who just never clicked with the music business or the broader fan base.

I know that Christopher Hitchens also died this week, but I trust that he will be adequately eulogized. No such luck for Howard, who lived in deep cover after a brief flirtation with fame and died in obscurity.

Some of us will miss him, and I for one wish him God speed.

Thursday, December 15, 2011

11 week old with Pocket Pond on iPad 2 - part 1

That's my granddaughter there flicking the switches, tickling the LCD. She's a keeper, she is.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Alvin Robinson - Something You Got

This is a cover too, you know I love the covers. Chris Kenner had the original, you may know that I love him too.

Alvin Robinson is another one of my favorites. Great laconic style, behind the beat, N'orleans at its finest. Another guy that the Rolling Stones helped me to appreciate. Their "Down Home Girl" was a cover of Alvin's original, largely unknown in New York at the time.

Most Spam Infested Post On This Blog: The Fifteen Greatest Roman Generals

This is a post of mine from years ago. There doesn't seem to be anything remarkable about it but it has generated a huge amount of spam over the years, and continues to do so on a weekly basis. Why would one post draw a thousand times more spam comments than any other? That's not a rhetorical question, I'd really like to know.

Here's the post:

Don’t take my word for it. I got these names from a book by a real historian, I forget his name right now, the book is nine time zones away. In roughly chronological order:

1. Quintus Fabius Maximus (“Cunctator”) 217 B.C. “The Delayer;” the shield of Rome.

2. Marcus Claudius Marcellus. The sword of Rome; killed Britomarus in individual combat; started turning the tide against Hannibal.

3. Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus. 209 B.C. Captured New Carthage; defeated Hasdrubal at Ilipa; ended Second Punic War.

4. Lucius Aemilius Paullus. 170 B.C. Conquered Macedonia; battle of Phdna; defeated Antiochus the Great and Perseus.

5. Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus Numantinus. 140 B.C. Careful preparation, close supervision and controlled boldness; ended Third Punic War.

6. Caius Marius. 110 B.C. Defeated Germanic tribes the Chimbri, Teutones and Ambrones; reformed the army.

7. Quintus Sertorius. Noted for speed, secrecy and misdirection; Civil Wars.

8. Cnaeus Pompeius Magnus. Young, rich and unconventional; Civil War v. Sertorius; defeated Mediterranean pirates.

9. Caius Julius Ceasar. Aggressive and flexible; battle of Alesia v. Vercingatorix in Gaul; Civil War.

10. Claudius Germanicus Caesar. Adopted son of Tiberius; biological son of Drusus.

11. Cnaeus Domitius Corbulo. Reformed the Roman army to become the new Imperial army; fought in Germany and Armenia.

12. Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus. 70 A.D. Son of Vespasian; siege of Jerusalem.

13. Marcus Ulpius Traianus “Trajan.” 103 A.D. Dacian wars.

14. Julian the Apostate. 356 A.D. Tough wins against Germanic tribes invading Gaul.

15. Belisarius. 550 A.D. Wars against Persia; created a “Medieval army” for Rome.

If I commanded a battle fleet in outer space, I’d name the big warships after these guys.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

The Onion, Still Lovable

They've got a pay wall now, but you can still see all of the headings. Sometimes they are hysterical in themselves. For instance:

"Who is Romney Today?" Very good, subtle, typically Onion. But here's the kicker:

"Al Qaeda claims U.S. mass transportation infrastructure must drastically improve before any terrorist attack."

Botswana Music Guitar - Ronnie -"Happy New Year"!

Shockingly good, and wildly entertaining. I'd never heard of this guy, but I'm a long time fan of Highlife and Afrobeat (most of my faves are dated now, I'll admit).

I love how these guys take any old thing with strings and make it ring like a bell. I remember reading about a trip that Ry Cooder made to Africa, how the local guys made fun of him for bringing like fifty expensive guitars, a different one for every situation. They just carried their old Japanese beater under their arms, no case. But it is all in the fingers after all, isn't it? And the ear?

Classic Little Movie Lines: Larceny, Inc.

Edward G. Robinson is a crook with a team and a big idea. They buy a luggage store next to a bank and plan to tunnel in. When customers come in to the store, they just try to get rid of them.

At one point the woman who owns the local lingerie store comes in to say hello. Bonjour! She says. Edward G. tells her, "yeah, we don't want any postcards today."

Monday, December 12, 2011

I Ain't Got No Home In This World Anymore

This is a Woody Guthrie song from long, long ago, a historical song, but history has a habit of coming back to bite us, again and again, on the ass. Foreclosures, banker speculators, depressed workers . . . what else is coming around again on the wheel?

The Euro was supposed to help to avoid future wars in Europe. Anybody still think that's working out as planned?

Call me a pessimist, but we're right more often than the Pollyannas of the world.

Laura Nyro - Save The Country

Sorry about the lo-fi, but you know that never bothers me. What a great song though, and a great rendition. She's such a powerful artist, maybe she's too good for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

Pick A Number And Tell Me What’s Fair

I caught Lindsey Graham on “Meet the Press” last week (December 11, 2011). During a discussion of taxes on the rich, he smugly asked another panelist how they would tax the upper ranges of income. “Pick a number,” he mocked, “tell me what’s fair.” Forgive me, but I find Mr. Graham to be a disingenuous man, lacking a basic sense of fairness.

Well, here’s a simple idea that many will consider fair. I like the idea that all Americans should be taxed at the same rate, but a flat tax at the same percentage, for all income levels, is just a stupid idea. How about a stratified flat tax? where all Americans could be taxed at the same rates, plural. I mean a tax structure where the percentage changes as the income rises, at levels. Not in the old manner, where we looked up our total income and read off the percentage to be offered. Rather, a chart with many strata that all could use, a rate for income from zero to fifteen thousand; another rate for income from fifteen thousand to thirty thousand, etc.

I cannot claim unique invention of this kind of thing. This is a case of polygenesis, probably more than 100,000 people have had this idea, and even then I may be putting myself into too exclusive a group. I heard James Carvill recently say that he would back one.

Fine tuning the numbers would best be left to others, but here’s a model for the idea:

0 to 15,000; 0% (no tax);

15,000 to 30,000; 5%; tax on this level at $30,000, $750; total tax as a percentage of income, 2.5%

30,000 to 45,000; 9%; tax on this level at $45,000, $2,100; total tax as a percentage of income, 4.6%

45,000 to 75,000; 12%; tax on this level at $75,000, $5,700; total tax as a percentage of income, 7.6%

75,000 to 125,000; 15%; tax on this level at $125,000, $13,200; total tax as a percentage of income, 10.6%

125,000 to 225,000; 19%; tax on this level at $250,000, $19,000; total tax as a percentage of income, 14.3%

225,000 to 375,000; 23%; tax on this level at $375,000, $34,500; total tax as a percentage of income, 17.8%

375,000 to 600,000; 27%; tax on this level at $600,000, $60,750; total tax as a percentage of income, 21.2%

600,000 to 900,000; 32%; tax on this level at $900,000, $96,000; total tax as a percentage of income, 24.8%

900,000 to 1,400,000; 35%; tax on this level at $1,400,000, $175,000; total tax as a percentage of income, 28.5%

1,400,000 to 3,500,000; 42%; tax on this level at $3,500,000, $882,000; total tax as a percentage of income, 36.6%

3,500,000 to 5,000,000; 47%; tax on this level at $5,000,000, $705,000; total tax as a percentage of income, 39.7%

5,000,000 to 10,000,000; 53%; tax on this level at $10,000,000, $2,650,000; total tax as a percentage of income, 46.3%

10,000,000 to 15,000,000; 65%; tax on this level at $15,000,000, $3,250,000; total tax as a percentage of income, 52.6%

15,000,000 to 25,000,000; 75%; tax on this level at $25,000,000, $7,500,000; total tax as a percentage of income, 61.5%

Over $25,000,000; 80%

These taxes are cumulative. Add up the taxes at each level for the total tax paid.

See? It’s easy. Every American pays exactly the same rate of tax, at every level. I’m not an expert, so the numbers would have to be juggled to make up the necessary income, but I think something like this would be close. I think we could do away with all deductions and just take these simple numbers off of the gross. No exemptions, no joint returns, everyone pays as an individual. "Income" would be income from any source, wages, investment income, capitol gains, whatever. If you received it, and you could spend it, it was income.

Here’s how it looks as total tax paid (income; tax paid):

$15,000; pay $0

$30,000; pay $750

$45,000; pay $2,100

$75,000; pay $5,700

$125,000; pay $13,200

$225,000; pay $32,200

$375,000; pay $66,700

$600,000; pay $127,450

$900,000; pay $223,450

$1,400,000; pay $398,450

$3,500,000; pay $1,280,450

$5,000,000; pay $1,985,450

$10,000,000; pay $4,635,450

$15,000,000; pay $7,885,450

$25,000,000; pay $15,385,450

Do those sound like fair contributions to the nation’s wellbeing? I think it all comes in lower than the marginal tax rates of the 1950’s. Of course there’d be other taxes, state and local taxes, some sales taxes, property taxes, import taxes, estate taxes. The above are suggested Federal Income Taxes.

Taxes are not evil. They are necessary to the running of any country. Who pays what is a question of fairness. I believe that Americans possess an innate sense of fairness, a sense of fair play. Would that our politicians still shared that sense.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

MF Global Explained

Oh, boy does this one take an investment of time and energy. It's fun, though, on a couple of levels. For one thing, the jargon is kind of hypnotic, between the jargon and the presentation it's down right relaxing. Besides, this kind of financial hanky-panky has become the single most important thing in the world!

Welcome to the end of the world as we know it.

Friday, December 9, 2011

Choose Carefully Your Opportunities For Having An Opinion

I’ve lived a long time, at least it seems like a long time. I was born while Truman was serving out poor, dead FDR’s fourth term. I’ve lived long enough to see chickens fly (I didn’t expect that one, they obviously keep it a close secret). During this long existence I have developed opinions about many things, usually, but not always, after careful consideration. One thing though, I have lived long enough to know that my opinions regarding certain things are next to worthless. Like my opinions concerning Black American culture.

“We Are Respectable Negroes” is a blog that I really like. The subject of the family names of the ex-slaves came up recently, along with the whole idea of changing names to something African or Islamic. I have an opinion on the subject, of course, and I shared it at length. The reactions ranged from a firm “wrong!” to a gentle reminder that considering my point of view I’ll never really get it.

Two of our regular visitors were in each other’s hair about one having a European name, as in what do you know? with your slave names? This is a guy that I’ve gotten pretty friendly with, we regularly exchange e-mails, and he told the guy, “my parents gave me my names.” So I chimed in. My opinion about the whole thing revolves around honoring the ancestors. My understanding is that the ex-slaves chose family names, and it’s certainly true that one’s own parents chose a child’s name.

“Wrong,” said the naysayer, who suggested that the ex-slaves were just stuck with the name of their last owner and that any European name was a slave name. This actually drove me to do something that I almost never do: research. It turns out that in the slavery days the slaves were not allowed to use family names and were carried on the registers under the owner’s last name, but in reality most of them did know what their real family name was and upon achieving release from slavery most of them resumed using those names. I saw many examples of this from testimony. Otherwise they were allowed to chose a family name for themselves. I read a great story about a guy nicknamed “Cuffy” who chose to become “Paul” and re-Christened himself Paul Cuffy. Many chose the family name of perceived benefactors or great Americans, like Washington.

Through this my friend and I exchanged e-mails on the topic. We were in basic agreement about the honoring the forbearers thing, be proud of your heritage and all that. I got some good schooling though on the whole idea of European names being just too heavy a cross for some American Blacks to bear. Those names, along with any other aspect of White culture, are just anathema to some guys and girls. The total Black experience in America is tied up together, and it leaves some people with a real need to separate themselves from the entire White world. This was a great lesson, and I received it as a gift of love. I was coming at it from a cool-headed, intellectualized, compartmentalized angle, but really the issue is comprehensive, and it is mostly emotional and heartfelt.

That whole experience, you know the one I mean, cut so deep that the wound still oozes. That’s the take-away, that’s the great message for the outsider to remember. It is not an opportunity for intellectual inquiry or opinion mongering. It’s a little bit like when someone loses a loved one unexpectedly. Don’t even try to come up with something clever to say, don’t even try to be helpful. A simple, “that shit is fucked up” will suffice.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

This Motorcycle Is Very, Very Old

The sign says "1948 Harley-Davidson." That was my year too. Somehow, the bike has aged more gracefully than I have.


File under "Still Not In The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame."

Larry made the cut as a member of Sly and the Family Stone, but it's a sin and a crime that this band isn't in there on its own. But that's an enterprise that wears it's shame like a badge of honor, isn't it? Half a business, half a social club, rock n' roll my ass.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Mr Lee

I Love Asia. No Freud, no Jesus, just non-stop singing and dancing.


Willard! Willard! Willard!

The Book of Cletis: Newspeak Has Arrived

I like "The Book of Cletis." He sounds like a nice guy, and he's got his head screwed on right. Here's a re-re-post from "The Book . . ."

The Book of Cletis: Newspeak Has Arrived: Note from Cletis: This is Orwell's nightmare come true. From Yahoo News: ORLANDO, Fla. -- The Republican Governors Association met this w...

Fred here. I should have more to say about "1984," but it's such a distressing book. I just finished reading it for the umpteenth time. This time it all seemed very apt and very disturbing, but for a different reason. This time I realized that the impulse to power is still with us, and winning, but now power realizes that there's no need to be so bare-faced about it. No need to come on all big and bad. Why try to control everything in every little corner of your world? Just control every important thing and let the little corners take care of themselves. Let people have a little bit more than the proles in "1984;" devise a permanent war that doesn't use up too many resources or take too many lives; put a smiley face on that old Big Brother!

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Christmas Around The Corner

I see that my hit-counter is jumping ahead in leaps and bounds these days. Welcome to you new readers, and thanks everybody for taking time to visit.

Coming into the Christmas season here, so an early Happy Holidays! to you all. In fact, Merry Christmas! There's no war on Christmas at Spin Easy Time! No, quite the opposite, I like Christmas. I find that Christmas works very well as a secular holiday that can be enjoyed by all. (See video, below.) It's easy to leave out all of the Christian stuff, we all know that there's only a one-third of one percent chance that it was the birthday of Jesus anyway. (One in three-hundred-and-sixty-five.)

So keep the tree, as pagan as you can get, the evergreen that stays with you in hard times (like your good friends). And keep Santa Claus, the North Pole version with the elves and all. Take the occasion at the end of the year to thank all of the people who helped you get through another year alive. Gift them, hug them, feed them. Everybody needs friends.

Friday, December 2, 2011

Christmas Mall Display in Thailand

People taking pictures of people, one of my favorite things. A typically elaborate Christmas display at an up-scale mall here in the Land of Smiles.

You could call this tree "The Tree of Writhing Bodies."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Frankie Lee Sims - I'm So Glad

This one is dedicated to my great friend BH, who would have loved it unreservedly and who will, unfortunately, never get up on his feets again. Gone, gone, gone, the boy's long gone, all the way gone. I'd pay good money to spend one more afternoon at his place, with him, drinking Gypsy Rose and listening to his Lightning Hopkins records, without a care in the world.

"They will dig your grave in the morning . . ." True that, Brother Frankie Lee, and thanks for testifying.

Baby Washington - Silent Night - 1967

Let's kick off the Christmas season with a little Justine "Baby" Washington, the favorite singer of no less than Dusty Springfield.

There's so little of Ms. Washington on the 'Tube that it is probably a sin, and certainly a crime against nature. The hit-counts are low too. Don't join the rush to avoid her! Embrace the wonderfulness!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Happy Anniversary! Or Welcome To The Permanent National Security State

There’s an important anniversary coming up, but don’t look for it on CNN or, God forbid, Fox News. December will see the seventieth (“70th”) anniversary of “emergency” war powers in the United States. I put emergency in quotes because the nature of the emergency has shifted over the years. World War II to the Cold War, and then to the War on Terror. The operative words are “war” and “emergency,” and don’t look for relief any time soon. From now on, it’ll be one thing or another, you can be sure of that.

Through this permanent emergency our vaunted democracy has been subverted by the unitary executive, the new imperial theory of the presidency. Presidential power has grown exponentially since 1941. A real war to win, and then a new godless enemy to oppose. Then a huge stockpile of nuclear weapons to develop and maintain. Along with the weapons came a great diversity of delivery systems and a vast worldwide network of bases to serve the effort. Secret intelligence agencies, we can’t even be sure of how many of these agencies exist. How much they spend is a complete mystery. It’s become a national security state, a permanent shadow government, unelected and barely supervised, jealously guarding its secrets and withholding evidence and information.

And always the fear, fear, fear. Be very afraid, people! And do what we say, and give us what we want. No more Soviets? Be afraid of Muslims! They hate our freedom! Red alert!

It’s part of the Executive Branch of the Federal Government, theoretically under the president, but in fact it predates and survives any individual president. Who’s really in charge now is, I think, a valid question.

Barack Obama showed every indication of being a different kind of president. On matters of national security, however, the difference is between what he has done and what he spoke of before he was sworn in. That first couple of days must be murder for a new president, being informed of all of the ongoing programs that must not be disturbed. President Obama has largely hewn to the line that he inherited, and, once more, we see wars ending or winding down with no corresponding diminution of military spending, troop levels, or foreign deployments.

So, Happy Anniversary! Next year we’ll be voting again for president, but whoever wins the job, don’t expect too many changes. I have a hunch that anybody who didn’t take the message in those first few days of briefings would very quickly suffer an unfortunate household accident, you know, break their neck falling down in the shower or something, have an unanticipated heart attack. After all, it’s an emergency!

(Pace, Garry Wills, “Entangled Giant,” 2009, from which some ideas were freely borrowed.)

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Hotel View Hat Yai Thailand

Taken out the window of my room on the twenty-first floor of the Regency Hotel in Hat Yai.

There are a surprising number of tourists in Hat Yai, surprising because it really is quite an ordinary, down-in-heel place. Most of the tourists come from Malaysia, some in family groups and some in groups of men (I leave you to fill in the blanks on that last one).

I will say that the food was outstanding, particularly the sea food. The peninsula is pretty narrow at that point, so the sea is close by on both sides. People were very nice, which seems generally to be true in Thailand. Certainly the one hundred or so grad-students in my class were very friendly and cooperative, as is always the case.

Air Approach Floods One

Coming in for a landing at BKK, last Sunday. The flood water levels in Bangkok are coming down, but there's still a lot of water around, as can be seen in this video.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

The Hollies 'Just one look' NME Awards footage as featured on Ready Stea...

For me, as you may have noticed, it's all about the covers. The Hollies remain one of the most successful cover bands in history. They stole, or let's say borrowed, from great acts too, including the Beatles, and their versions always hold up very well in comparison.

I used this video to illustrate that they also were a band that could set up and play. It bears repeating: they were a great act, and they deserved every bit of their success.

Doris Troy - Just One Look

The original. Great song, great production, great singer.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Local Transportation In Hat Yai, Thailand

Also, a photography lesson: never photograph a large object in strong back-light!

These little snub-nosed pick-up trucks serve as the "song taows" in Hat Yai.

Life Is Like A Guitar

Tuning a piano is a big job, but it is very straightforward. You can tune each string to its note, and then you’re done. All of the “A’s” are “A’s,” and et cetera. Pianos are meant to be in tune when they are played, and they go there willingly. There’s very little mystery about it.

Guitars are not as simple as all that. Only six strings, but where the notes must be set is not straightforward at all. Six strings, E, A, D, G, B, and E again, but if you merely tune each string to the designated note you will not be able to play chords without the whole thing sounding very sour. Guitars are not meant to be played “in tune,” in fact they are never in tune at all, it’s impossible, they are inherently out of tune.

So tuning a guitar is a real challenge. You need to know quite a bit about what you’re doing, and you need to have a pretty good ear.

As you go from the E to the A, the D and the G, and finally to the B and the other E, the notes must get a little bit sharper every time you move to a new string. Or else it’s trouble, I’m not making this up. You can’t just take one of those electronic boxes and put all the notes where the needle meets the center point. After you get a good E, you need to play an A at the fifth fret and see where the needle goes. It’ll be an A, but it’ll be a little sharp. Then you need to put the A string to the same point on the meter, the same sharpness. And there you go, by the time you get to the other E it’s all pretty sharp indeed.

I like to start from the A myself, get a good A up on the A string. All bands and orchestras tune to the same A, and if they think it’s important, well, I just trust them. I don’t know why they do it that way, but they must have a reason, mustn’t they? These days I keep an A tuning fork around, set the A, and do the rest by ear.

Even then, when you’re done and you’ve got it pretty much where you want it, you need to play a few chords to be on the safe side, and you’ll probably end up sweetening it some more, somewhere.

Then there’s scale length, you’d assume that it was standard, but you’d be wrong. Most guitars have either a twenty-five and a half inch scale, nut to bridge, or a twenty-four and three-quarters inch scale. If you get used to tuning one or the other, switching can be quite an adjustment. Some manufacturers use unique scale lengths, like twenty-five inches, you have to wonder: what were they thinking?

Guitars are mysterious things from the get go, even before you start to play a song. After you start to play something the guitar quickly goes out of the tune you just so laboriously put it in. The rougher you play, the faster it goes out.

Pianos, then, are models of decorum. Simple to tune (although labor intensive, with eighty-eight strings and all), and then they stay in tune for a while, unless the humidity changes or something. Nobody’s hanging on the strings all the time, just little hammers hitting them a little shot.

It occurs to me that tuning pianos is like building a car, or a camera. Just make exactly the right parts, and put them together in exactly the correct manner. No mystery, it’s right or it’s wrong. Tuning a guitar is more like building a life. Some things are more wrong than right, some more right than wrong, but most of it is off in the grey zone somewhere, and it’s all very personal.

Life, like a guitar, is all about feel. What feels right to one person may feel quite wrong to someone else. Often in life, as with a guitar, the clearly right thing turns out to be a little bit wrong. Life comes in different styles and sizes too, and whatever it is that you are accustomed to may be comfortable for you but pinch for someone else.

For guitars, as in life, the truth is an unattainable goal. You have to get used to notes that are a little bit sharp, or a little bit flat, as the situation may require. In either thing, if one were to demand the pure truth, the results would sound a little bit sour to most people. If one is to build a proper life, or tune a guitar, one must have a certain flexibility, a sense of humor about things. One must be accepting of imperfection, and try one’s best to work with it.

I have no idea what brought all of this on. Too much time on my hands, I suppose.

Regency Hotel In Hat Yai, Thailand

I taught a class in Hat Yai this weekend, and the Regency is where we get our discount. Every little bit helps.

These are the lobby elevators. I walked over to them and it was a minute or two before I found the call buttons. I thought about asking the guy at the door, but I thought that would make me look ridiculous. I considered sitting down where I had a good view and waiting for someone else to come over, maybe see them push a button. Then I thought, I can't let this thing beat me! It has to be here! I stood back, and before long I realized that the buttons were in the snouts of the mythical creatures.

Not a bad hotel, not expensive (eighteen dollars or so, 800 Baht). Good, free breakfast. TV had Fox News, the SyFy Channel, Al Jezeera, NHK, the Universal Channel and Star Sports, that was it for English but that's pretty good. All a little bit down in heel, but you can see that it was really special when it was new, marble bathroom and all.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Blow Up

Just watching Michelangelo Antonioni's "Blow Up" on TCM. God, were we ever so young?

Monday, November 14, 2011

TAB the Band "She Said No (I Love You)".mov

I love this, and I found it in a strange place. It was part of a musical interlude on the Voice of America channel in my guest house in Krabi (see post down a few). So in between Iranian expat's bitching in Farsi about God knows what they'd play a few songs, and this was one of them, "Music Mix USA." This is on a Thai TV, some kind of low-ball cable situation, at a beach resort town. This is a weird new world we live in, my friends.

Global Warming And Floods, Floods, Floods

We're having an interesting year in Thailand. Lots of water, lots.

So this whole Global Warming thing, what's up with that? In a nutshell: the numbskulls that run things these days think that they know everything. Why, otherwise, would they have hundreds of millions of dollars while the rest of us have nothing? But really, they don't know jackshit about anything at all. All they know is where the best restaurants are, and how much custom yachts cost. So, if you tell them that a change in average temperatures of only three and a half degrees, Fahrenheit, will absolutely ruin the world and get us all killed, they know much better than the scientists. They know everything! Hah! they say, so it goes up from ninety to ninety three! Big deal! What harm could it do! And what about all of that cold weather last winter? Picture these words in the mouth of George W. Bush to get the full effect. The prototypical power-elite idiot, born and bred.

The effects are a little weird. Here in Thailand, it's gotten a little bit cooler if anything. Global Warming is actually Global Climate Change. So our really, really hot season, which usually came in April, hasn't been so hot the last few years, and our cool season, instead of being some kind of cruel joke, has actually been cool, at night anyway. Instead of being hotter, the rainy season has gotten longer, sometimes in connection with a La Nina condition. In the eastern part of Thailand, there has been plenty of rain the last few years but it started late and came all at once, very bad for the poor farmers. This year the rainy season really kicked our ass, it's still holding us down and beating us, a real curb-stomping.

Alas, Babylon! All of y'all under about forty years old will be hit with the worst of this. I'm with you on the cutting edge here, but I'll be long gone before it all turns into some kind of zombie movie. I hope.

What can be done about it? Oh, don't even think about it. There's nothing that you can do. It's a done deal. The powers-that-be know everything! It's only three degrees! When the zombies are at their doors, 1) their private security guards will keep them safe; 2) they will still have climate-controlled houses and plenty of food; and 3) they will blame it on somebody else, probably the Democrats.

So good luck!

Local Transportation In Trang, Thailand

Every place in Thailand has its own variety of local transportation. This beautiful tuk-tuk is in the typical style of Trang. Most of the travelers that I saw in Trang were Thai, like this group taking pictures of each other with the Trang tuk-tuk. Almost no Farang.

Lots of motorcycle taxis too, and song-taow (the pick up trucks with two rows of benches in a covered bed, hence "song-taow," or "two rows"). Not a metered taxi in sight. Some local buses, not many.

Everybody that I met in Trang was just great, very friendly and reasonable. I took a few rides on the motorcycles and a tuk-tuk just like this one (the official color, I think). They always quote a Farang a price that is a little bit high, and here was no exception. All of the drivers thought that it was really outstanding that I could give them shit in Thai about the high quote, though. No hard feelings, more like wow! this Farang knows his stuff! Very good natured. In places where there are lots of tourists, the guys resent not getting the tourist price.

From The Phi Phi Andaman Legacy Guest House In Krabi

I taught a class in Trang province last weekend. Very beautiful countryside, very green, ridiculously green, nice hills with strange shapes, fabulous beaches with islands reminiscent of the hills. The people were wonderful, very friendly, very attractive women, even by Thailand’s high standards, great seafood everywhere, great weather, nice cool breeze. In the provincial capitol of Trang, a pretty big place, I didn’t see many Farang at all, and I got around a bit. The ones I did see looked like they lived there. The plane down was almost all Thais.

For my return flight there was nothing available from Trang, so I booked a flight from neighboring Krabi. My class was in the morning; I took the bus to Krabi in the afternoon, two and a half hours or so. I’d never been to either place before. Same kind of scenery, maybe even a little bit more scenic. Krabi, unlike Trang, was crawling with Farang on vacation.

So walking about I was surrounded by young, White trekker types with colossal back-packs, the town was swarming with them. They were a particularly foul breed, no one was smiling, they spoke languages that I mostly didn’t recognize. Young people from every rat-hole in New Europe can obviously afford to travel now.

They mostly seemed very unhappy and anxious, so much so that it felt vaguely dangerous to be around them. They wore outfits that no self-respecting person would even consider wearing under any circumstances, not even to a dirt-bomb fight. Shorts of all lengths, bandana-headed, petal-pushers, faux ethnic garments, T-shirts and tank tops (the better to display their bad tattoos).

These young people rented huge motorcycles and thundered around town desperately trying to look cool. I’ve only seen these kinds of rentals before in Phuket and Pattaya. Some real Harleys, but mostly Japanese copies, and some big bullet-bikes. (See accompanying photograph.) They parked the bikes in front of bars and sat around drinking bottles of beer in foam cozies, desperately trying to look bored. It was all so desperate, man. Back in Slovakia they probably study accounting.

Older White tourists were present too, dressed only slightly better. People will leave the house dressed in any damn thing these days. The older crowd looked unhappy too, slightly confused, disoriented, like people soon after a hard interrogation.

The TV in the guest house was downright strange. It had the big three Thai commercial channels; French TV5 Monde; a Dutch channel of mostly talk shows where the sound kept cutting in and out; a channel that alternated one of the lesser C-SPAN’s and Voice of America, in Farsi no less, go figure; a strange Thai channel called Top Star that featured very glossy propaganda boosting the Royal Family; a Pakistani shopping channel (!!!!) that spent all day flogging bootleg Blackberries in a mix of English and some local Pakistani language (the “spokesmodel” was a poor bony thing, wall eyed, screechy voice [“50% off! for ten minutes!”], horrible make up, wearing black designer jeans and a tight, black top, mascara all over the place); and of course a music channel featuring unlistenable World-Pop and some Asian lip-synchers.

The Dutch channel reminded one that they really wrote the book on dressing funny, the Dutch. How, I always wonder, can they be so square and so cool at the same time? Maybe they prove that it’s cool to be square.

TV5 Monde showed a French variety show that sub-titled itself “the Greatest Cabaret Show In the World,” in English, as though they were specifically trying to impress us, we English speakers. To their credit, the show did feature topless Crazy Horse beauties, no pasties or tiling. There was a woman with a trained cat act, ten or more cats doing tricks usually associated with dogs. One of the cats was casually grooming itself while it rolled a barrel across the stage. The act was otherwise uninteresting.

I say one of the lesser C-SPAN’s, you know the ones I mean. One show I watched was a panel discussion about President Reagan’s legacy, held at Notre Dame University. It was a love fest. The panel consisted of four old, White, fat Reagan White House capo-regimes, I did not pollute myself with the memory of their names. To hear them tell it, Reagan was a hard working, hands-on genius who solved all of the world’s problems and was personally responsible for every single good thing that has happened since, and not at all the ego maniac who should have been impeached for Iran-Contra. Reaganomics! Trickle down my ass.

On the flight from Krabi to BKK most of the announcements were made in Thai, then English, then tapes of Spanish, French and German. At that, I think they missed communicating with most of this crowd.

Did I say that I try to keep this blog nice and light and airy? My! but I do get the vapors sometimes.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Tin Roof Blowdown Redux

Like I said, I just read "Tin Roof Blowdown" by James Lee Burke. There is a lesson here for understanding the nature of the 21st Century. My paperback edition was chock full of wild praise from quality sources, the New York Times, other high-tone newspapers in at least two English speaking countries. I say wild praise, it was indeed hyperbolic praise, superlatives even. Deserved?

It's a nice book, but I don't think Shakespeare is in any danger of being overtaken. Nor, I think, should Charles Williford or Elmore Leonard be too worried. Nor the very underrated George V. Higgins. Nor Dash Hammett or that L.A. fellow, Raymond Something. Mickey Spillane is probably safe too. Hemingway? Definitely safe.

So praise these days comes by the bushel, and must be discounted accordingly. Be forewarned.

I did enjoy reading "The Tin Roof Blowdown," but I am famously easy to please. I do read some actually literary novels, some old, some new, but I do enjoy the occasional "railway novel," commuter stuff, read to fill time on the train or bus. Or just to kill time waiting for the inevitable. Anything, God, just make this whole thing go away.

I've read worse; but I could recommend better.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Dixie Cups - Iko Iko (Rare clip)

I'm just reading "The Tin Roof Blowdown" by James Lee Burke, his Louisiana novels are always a treat. Hurricane Katrina and the destruction of old New Orleans feature prominently. It's got me all jakamo-fino.

I try not to bore you with everything that I am thrilled to find on the 'Tube, but I thought this one was worth your time.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Bangkok Flood Update

I'm still flood free, by the way, but Bangkok in general is still reeling from the whole flood experience.

It's still spreading, coming down from the north and in from the east and reaching areas of Bangkok proper. They finally closed the subway yesterday. The river defenses are holding up, but the entire west bank is under water. I'm on a high spot, twenty-one feet about sea level, so there's a chance that I'll escape altogether. These two coming weekends I'll be teaching at remote campuses, so I'm hoping that the airport stays open. It's surrounded by water too, east of the city, and the predictions for continued service are disturbingly vague. ("We're doing everything that we can!")

I spoke to lots of people at school today, and a few of them have been flooded out of their houses. One is sleeping in her office! My flood-affected colleagues are still getting paid at least, that's one good thing. We're government officials, a privileged minority, the checks keep coming.

Most people who have been affected by this flood season aren't so lucky. Lots of places, huge places, and millions of people, have been unable to work for up to three months now. That's a big problem in a country where, for most people, if you don't work, you don't get paid. Stores are closed, factories too, and rice fields are submerged. All of those people have been without an income for a while now.

The secondary effects of the flooding are starting to show up now. Water-born illnesses, especially in children who cannot resist playing in the water. Crocodile attacks, no lie! Hundreds of the things have escaped from crocodile farms. The no-money thing has really hit home too, suicides are being reported. Tempers are getting frayed, and the ramifications of these floods will be with us for a long, long time.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

The White Stripes - Seven Nation Army Live on Conan

An important point, in a minute.

At this time I was very occasionally taping a Conan show to watch the next day. I was vaguely aware of the White Stripes, I'd heard a couple of things on Napster. I was knocked out by this, the concept, the presentation, the enthusiasm. Nice to see it again.

Now, the lesson. Take a look at this on YouTube so that you can see the two attached comments. Negative comments based on the quality of the video. It just goes to show: what people get free, in abundance, they do not value. Not content with having so much great music at the tips of their fingers, these ingrates want HD.

"What people get free, in abundance, they do not value." I don't want to get maudlin or personal, but you'll think of some examples pretty quickly if you put your mind to it.

Another Flood

These are from a few years ago, but they answer the question, "where did all of that water in Bangkok come from?"

This is the Yom river up north, taken in a restaurant that was usually about fifty feet from the river. Towards the end of the rainy season, September or so, these rivers can get pretty full. The year in the pictures, this one overflowed.

Every year, all of this water makes its way to the Gulf of Siam, much of it coming through Bangkok in the Cha Prayao river. This year the rain up north was a lot heavier than usual and the entire process was magnified and accelerated.

Wolves That Eat Wolf (And Then Sell Wolf Sandwiches To Other Wolves)

This comes from Bob Cesca’s Awesome Blog (

What Could Go Wrong?
Posted on 11/02/2011 at 3:50 pm by JM Ashby

The subprime loan market is making a come back, but with a twist.
This time we will package subprime auto loans at risk of default into triple A-rated securities, rather than home loans.

The Los Angeles Times today noted that investors are pouring money into car dealerships that provide high-cost loans to those with poor credit. The dealers are assembling these loans — about one in four of which defaults — into securities, selling them off much like subprime mortgage securities were sold around the world. In fact, “in the last two years, investors have bought more than $15 billion in subprime auto securities.” The Times noted that “although they’re backed mainly by installment contracts signed by people who can’t even qualify for a credit card, most of these bonds have been rated investment grade.

The subprime auto securities are receiving AAA ratings and being sold in the same manner as the mortgage-backed securities that lead to the 2008 financial crisis.

Meanwhile, Standards & Poor’s does not even consider the United States to be worthy of a AAA rating. Chew on that.

End of re-post.

I love the title, “What Could Go Wrong?” But we all do know, don’t we? Oh, yeah, not all of us, evidently.

Perhaps overlooked is the fact that this kind of lending is unethical in the first place, even if you don’t bundle the dubious loans and pawn off the risk immediately onto credulous morons. It’s just an excuse to gouge an extra ten percentage points or so of interest out of people who can barely afford the car in the first place, the car which they probably need to go to the job where they don’t get paid enough. The wages are low, and the interest high, for the same reason: it’s legal these days to take advantage of powerless fellow citizens, and fewer among us find it immoral to do so.

Back in the 1990’s I worked for a time around the edges of a similar business. It was a small private bank that was involved with real estate loans. They had a lot of good loans, some they held themselves and some were in partnership with private investors. They also did a brisk trade in high risk loans. Second and third mortgages, some totally unsecured because the value of the house wouldn’t even cover the senior mortgages. For the most dangerous of these they could extract over thirty percent interest. Lots of people really love their houses, and they will grasp at any straw to keep them.

The failure rate on these mortgages was understandably high. You could be forgiven to wonder how they made any money on them. The amounts were usually pretty low, almost all under ten thousand dollars. With the interest so high, even a couple of years of payments cut down on the exposure. When the inevitable end came, and the house went into foreclosure, and no money from the sale went to the “washed-out junior,” they were still not without recourse.

At that point, they turned the loan over to collections. This was done by a friend of mine, and my involvement was doing grunt work for him, appearances and paperwork on an hourly basis. I say “collections,” but the cases never generated any cash. The idea was to win the case and record the judgment with the county. That way, the judgment would show up in the escrow if that person ever got back on their feet and bought another house, which happens frequently. The judgment would then need to be paid before the next house deal could proceed. My friend, I can tell you, is a good man, but I still didn’t hang around that crowd too long.

These days companies don’t even have the decency to service their own predatory loans. They quickly bundle them for sale to “investors” who assume a risk that they may or may not fully understand.

These are cruel businesses, selling high interest loans to people with few resources and little demonstrated ability to repay. Instead of helping people who have been driven to near destitution by circumstances, we throw them on the tender mercies of the “free market,” the modern equivalent of “the wolves.” Now, even the wolves feed on each other. Ethics and morals seem to be outdated ideas in our brave, new world. Sometimes I wonder if the red, white and blue isn’t too colorful for our new America. Maybe our new economic reality, this fervent monetism, needs a darker banner. Black, I’m thinking, with a skull and some bones on it. Maybe a wolf’s skull. Even a human skull might be too good for us anymore.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Candido Candido's Funk

"No information," but this is an album from the early '70's. New York musicians is my guess, sounds like Cornell Dupree on the guitar end.

It's a great album. I have no idea why or how I got it, but it was and is a favorite of mine. I had friends then that showed me the benefits of Latin music, and culture, and food, and life in general. This was still in New York. Always interesting, like the time my friend Herbie asked me, "so Fred, my father moved back to P.R. and I'm collecting his welfare. You think they'll catch me?" He had the identical name, so I told him not to worry.

But Candido . . . I don't know much about him, but this is a great cut, and the entire album is outstanding.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

A Good Job For A Lawyer

Tony LaRussa retired today. He was the number three winningest manager in baseball history, and a lawyer.

I used to think, and may have reported here, or written in a dusty notebook, which is approximately the same thing, that there were four lawyer/managers in baseball. Some sources do list four OTHER guys, but Wikipedia now calls it seven all together. I don't usually give to much credibility to the Wiki, but for this purpose I'm sure they're close enough. They also inform us that Branch Rickey said that "luck is the residue of design," on the strength of a quote from Larry King, serial husband and check kiter. To Wiki's credit though, they do mention that the line actually came from John Milton. Me I thought it was Connie Mack, and I may have reported that here too. Me and Wiki! Watch your ass boys and girls! Check your own damn facts!

For winning, Tony got beat out by Cornelius McGillicuddy (Sr.!), the great Connie Mack, and John McGraw. Tony comes in a number three, everybody else eats their dust.

A couple of the other lawyer/managers are interesting. Monte Ward played back in the day and finished his career with over two thousand hits and over one hundred games won as a pitcher. He's the only guy who ever pulled that off, and he was a successful manager and a lawyer besides. Some guys hog all of the kudos.

Miller Huggins was a very good player, and then he managed the Yankees from 1918 to 1929. With players like that, he had a very, very successful record! He was a lawyer before he got into the baseball racket.

Branch Rickey was a player and a manager, both things without success. He went on to do some interesting stuff as a front office guy. He gets credit for the farm system and integrating baseball by hiring Jackie Robinson.

Connie Mack was definitely not a lawyer, education wise. He did manage to complete the eighth grade before dropping out at the age of fourteen, which put him ahead of two of my grandparents. He lived to the age of 93 though, and he won about a thousand games more than any other manager. He'd have done alright in the courtroom too, that's my guess.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Cool Website Deja Vu: Kim Jong Il Looking At Things

I'm pretty sure that I've alerted you all to this site before, but I don't keep records, so who knows?

I find the Dear Leader fascinating, and these photographs of him "looking at things," surrounded by obviously terrified lackeys, are the epitome of unintentional hilarity.


So in Love

Just looking around on the 'Tube. I love this song, and these guys do it justice. Singing in the subway, for change.

They are the 99%, this no-name acapella busker ensemble. Don't forget, while the 1% is sucking all of the air out of the room, the 99% is providing the culture, the fun, the Soul, and all of the goddamn effort that makes the 1% rich too. They need us.

I'm right on the cusp of negativity here, so I should stop.

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Cloud Cuckoo Land Explained

I got "cloud cuckoo land" from the Germans, who use the term as a catch-all for crazy, impractical ideas. "Wolken Kuckucks Heim," or thereabouts, check that spelling! It turns out that it goes back much further than that.

Generally I don't spend much time reading complex and difficult literature, but I do like to read ABOUT those things. Summaries, criticisms, book reviews, those I have the time and the patience for. So I'm reading this Signet Classic edition of "Books That Changed The World," by Robert Downs. Good stuff, most of which is new to me.

I'm still in the Greeks, and the "cloud cuckoo land" thing comes from a play by Aristophanes (448 - 380 BC), "The Birds." It was written at a difficult period for Athens, lots of war and discontent going on. Nephelococcygia is a city in the clouds, run by birds, and very peaceful, evidently. Comedy results.

Not going to look it up, not me, but I enjoyed reading about it.

Not A Very Interesting Flood Picture

This is at a van sales lot one block from me. So they're getting ready for something, but it doesn't look like they're expecting a lot of water.

Western BKK is taking the worst of it for now, and all of that water is still in the north and the east. The canal by me is up to the brim. Nothing here yet, but they closed the pool today, "to preserve the water for use in an emergency." Toilet flushing no doubt.

Friday, October 28, 2011

The Rolling Stones - Empty Heart - 45 RPM

I'm a reverb junky, so of course I love this song. I love the 'Stones later, original stuff too, but some of this early stuff, these slightly Stonsified covers of Southern Race records, are still my favorites.

Don't forget, we couldn't easily hear the original American versions to these songs in New York, or most of America. They were only played on Black radio in the South. In New York, we only got "Quarter to Three," and "Finger Popping Time," the pop chart crossovers. Even the Black stations in New York played regional records, more of a New York sound. So when the 'Stones released these things they were new to us.

"Walking the Dog," "She Said Yeah!" Black American artists, to young English devotees, and back to the American mainstream (or at least maladjusted teenagers like me). It was nice of everybody to cooperate like that, and I for one benefited.

The Land Of Smiles For Every Situation

Someone sent me a couple of pictures of the BKK flooding that were printed in American newspapers. In one picture, a bunch of Thais are sitting around in some pretty deep flood water and smiling broadly while they're doing it.

I see a lot of pictures like this on local TV too, and in Thai newspapers. People walking around with belongings or supplies on their heads, past their waists in flood water, and smiling for the camera (or in candid shots, even). I say "flood water," it's not just water. Mere water is clean.

So it occurs to me that not everybody knows that the smile in Thailand does not always mean that the smiler is happy. This took me a while to get used to, back when I was new here. On one occasion I was walking into a coffee shop at about eight p.m. I didn't see the heavy, completely unmarked glass door, I walked right into it. Smacked my nose and cheek pretty hard, it hurt. As I completed the process of walking in I noticed that all of the people, and there were quite a few, were smiling at me. I didn't understand the reaction, and I got a little angry because I thought they were enjoying my little accident. Now I understand that when something like that happens to someone Thais smile to show solidarity, it's a "been there, done that, don't be embarrassed" smile.

Here's another example of what in America would be totally inappropriate smiling. When I was up north, as a Peace Corps volunteer, I did a lot of bicycle riding around our small city. Occasionally someone driving a car would almost kill me, Thai drivers, for example, like to spring suddenly out of side streets and driveways without looking. (I'm amazed that there are not more accidents, but the driving on the street Thais expect it.) Still in America mode, I'd give them my "what were you thinking?" look. They smiled, it made me crazy. Now I understand that the smile meant "excuse me, what was I thinking?"

So those people that are smiling in the flood photographs, they're not really happy, not all of them anyway. Many of those smiles mean, "don't worry about me, I hope that I don't ruin your day with my misery, please by happy."

Thursday, October 27, 2011

Danger! Flood! (We Think)

Still no flood water in my neighborhood, but still it's all questions, questions, questions, and no answers. Local officials are so tentative and subjunctive, the answer to any simple question has so many "ifs" in it that the answer is rendered ridiculous.

It's Friday as I write, and this weekend we will have, no doubt about it, 1) a monsoonal flood tide coming back up the big river; and 2) hundreds of millions of cubic meters of new water coming into the already overflowing local rivers and canals from every direction. These are sure things.

Foreign experts in town to help out are more forthcoming. A Dutchman said, oh yeah, the whole city, maybe a meter anyway. I tend to trust the Dutch in matters of flooding, of water in general, they are the world's leading authorities after all. An anonymous expert was even more direct and dire.

I have decided that I need to stay, because all of the questions about my employment are answered tentatively as well. So I better stay close. No definitive word yet as to whether the school will close for classes, or close altogether, and there are things that I must sign. Paperwork will always remain a priority, flood or no flood.

You know, people think that I am very adventurous because of where I live and work, but really I am not that adventurous at all. I much prefer familiarity and routine. I get plenty of adventure in the normal course of things, I don't need to go looking for more.

So I'll be sticking it out at home, and hoping for the best. I'll be joining the local politicians in wish-thinking. My rented condo will remain dry, but the neighborhood will probably flood, it's come to neighboring areas already.

I just hope that the electricity and the municipal water will stay on, but of course there are no real answers for that either.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Should I Stay or Should I Go Clash and Cary Grant

Who doesn't like Cary Grant? But the question is: should I stay or should I go?

I'm in the teeth of a major flood event here. Bordering on impossible to get any good information, but it's obvious that some degree of inundation is imminent. My neighborhood is on the flood maps, not in the bad color but not in the good color either. The water is in the pipeline (rivers and canals with volumes and flow certain), and today it meets a monsoonal high tide from the Gulf of Siam. Something's going to give. Lots of neighborhoods have gotten it already.

So, should I stay? My room is on the fifth floor, and I have provisions to last a while. No guarantees about electricity or water though, and reading without fan or air-con while sleeping away all of the hours of darkness holds little appeal for me. There could be other, more disagreeable consequences which I will spare you.

Should I go? Plenty of places are back to normal or never got the hard knock in the first place. Adds a level of expense, I suppose. My classes (all classes) will probably be canceled for a time, but no word yet. I'd just as soon not wander around in toxic flood water with my Crocs on and my pants rolled up.

It's all very uncertain.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Lee Dorsey - Sneakin' Sally Through The Alley

If you ever see a copy of that LP in the picture, "Holy Cow; The Best of Lee Dorsey," you should buy it. As the great man said, "everything I do gonna be fuh-funky, from now on." Lee put the "fuh" in funky alright, and probably half of the "key" too.

Could be Ziggy drumming up a restrained storm here too, I don't pretend to be an expert. This song is as cute as the jeans on that girl down the block, totally danceable, and an intellectual challenge to boot.

So, what do you think? How to the "Race Version" and the "White Cover Version" measure up? I love the Robert Palmer version, and that whole album in general, but I'd have to give the nod to Lee.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sneakin Sally Through The Alley by Robert Palmer

The comments to this hint that it's Little Feat doing the back up, but it's not. It's Lowell George alright on the slide, but the rest of the outfit is the Meters. So that would be Ziggy Modeliste hitting the drums. Ziggy's the best, for my money. This whole album is drum-heaven, three cuts feature Bernard "Pretty" Purdie ("That Little Hit Maker!").

Bangkok Flood Update: No Update

As you may have seen on the news, Bangkok is living with the threat of flood these days. Depending on which government official you accidentally hear, it may be a sure thing to flood the entire city between three and six feet of water or it may run through the city on the canals and whatever and not flood at all. The most official word is: don't worry, we think it will be fine, we're doing all that we can, and move your valuables and your car to high ground. That's not very reassuring.

The flood is around the outskirts already, very close to town, but you'll get no flood pix from me! If you haven't noticed, I'm a hands-off kind of guy. Maybe next week, if the flood comes to me. As I have said to people who ask me to go hiking in some mountain, "no thank you, I prefer to let the snakes come to me!"

Dancing Girls At The Mall Bangkapi

I live in Bangkapi and this is the local mall. In fact, it is the local "The Mall," as in The Mall, Bangkapi. I came out of the Asia Books and poof! Girls!

I never noticed what they were selling. The medium was the message, as Marshall McLuhan used to say. The pleasure of this marketing exercise was all mine! And yours!

I love the way Thai girls do routines like this. These are professional dancers, a professional dance crew. The steps are worked out, but it's all a little loose, a bit uncoordinated, especially close to the end. I like this casual approach, as though really getting it together wasn't worth the effort (and it's not, when you think about it). I've seen bits like this where a couple of the girls just start talking to one another and laughing. That's Thailand in a nutshell: people are more important than precision.

Turnabout Is Fair Play

What show was that, Concentration? No, it was Hollywood Squares! The turnabout hit this gecko this morning, hit him like a truck. How did the ants overtake him? That would be a good story. He doesn't look fully grown, so how likely is it that he just up and died there and waited for them to find him?

It reminds me of something that happened when I first got to Thailand. After our training, we were inhabiting an old wooden house in Phrae, waiting for our rental to be vacated. This was a "teacher house," on the grounds of our grammar school, no one had lived there for a while and it was termite infested. One night the termites sprouted wings and swarmed like crazy, as usual they dropped on the floor in large numbers. I figured that I would clean it all up in the morning when they were done dying. The next morning, like magic, the floor was completely clean, not one wing. It was the ants! Nature's garbage clean up crew!

But the pix. Some big ant party, no?

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The Right to Drive a New York Taxi Now Costs $1 Million - National - The Atlantic Wire

The Right to Drive a New York Taxi Now Costs $1 Million - National - The Atlantic Wire

New York taxi medallions for a million dollars?

When I was driving cabs in 1972 to '74 a medallion was about $40,000 if I remember correctly. Maybe $50,000. Let's say $50,000. A new Checker cost about $3,500, so the medallion cost fifteen times what the car cost. Let's see, what does a car suitable for taxi duty cost now? Might be easier to go backwards, what's one/fifteenth of a million? $66,000. I'm pretty sure that you can get a taxi automobile for less than that.

I need more information, I don't even know how much per mile a taxi ride is these days in the Big Apple. When I was driving it was fifty cents a mile, and the drop was fifty cents.

The big difference now is the driver's employment situation. When I was driving, I paid for nothing. No charge to drive the car, no paying for gas. I was a straight-up employee, I picked up the car and turned it in at the end of the shift. I turned in all of the money that was on the trip-sheet at the end of the night, and once a week I got a paycheck for half of my bookings. (Fifty-one percent? Forty-nine percent? One of those. I forget.) Now, the driver has to "lease" the car from the owner, the driver is an independent contractor. The driver has to pay some exorbitant amount just to make the owner money. The driver works for the first few hours to pay the lease fee. And the driver pays for gas too. A hundred to a hundred and fifty miles per shift, what's that? Ten gallons or so at $4.00 per? Another forty dollars.

I suppose they make a living, so maybe I shouldn't worry. I mean, you can get a million dollars for a medallion!

The guys in Bangkok have the same new deal by the way. They pay about 750 Baht to lease the car, and they pay for the gas too. Gas costs four dollars a gallon here too, about a dollar a liter. The cost of taking a cab hasn't changed for fifteen years or so, so it's a real bargain now for the customers. And no tips! Not usually anyway. Most Thais don't tip. In fact, I've seen lots of people just throw the guy forty Baht if the meter says forty two. When I tip them, sometimes they try to hand me back the money as I'm getting out. Foreigners are a mixed bag. Americans are the best tippers; Europeans blow hot and cold. Australians don't tip.

But a million dollars! Wow, that got my attention.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Wicked And The Credulous

Christopher Hitchens, still living, I believe, at the time of this writing, is a favorite of mine. I don’t always agree with him, but when he writes or speaks about religion I do agree with him most of the time. One problem that he sees with the phenomenon of religion could also be seen as a problem with politics in America.

Here’s the quote:

“It is not snobbish to notice the way in which people show their gullibility and their herd instinct, and their wish, or perhaps their need, to be credulous and to be fooled. This is an ancient problem. Credulity may be a form of innocence . . . but it provides a standing invitation for the wicked and the clever to exploit their brothers and sisters, and is thus one of humanity’s great vulnerabilities.”

By “the wicked and the clever,” Hitch is talking in this source about religious leaders, from old-time witch doctors to modern day officials of established churches. But he could just as well be talking about politicians, especially this bunch of charlatans currently vying for next year’s presidential prize. In another sense, he could be talking about the Tea Party specifically.

I don’t want to dwell on it, for one thing it’s just too bloody annoying, but the next time someone tells you that the way to improve the job situation is to lower taxes on the most prosperous among us (lower them even more!), and to eliminate government regulation of business, and if this happens without your bullshit-detector ringing off the hook, please be aware that you may be demonstrating this ancient problem yourself. Having even the slightest patience with these foolish suggestions means that you are giving credence where none is warranted, and it means that “the wicked” are winning the battle for your soul.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Testpattern - Catchball

Just a mood I'm in. I'm sure that it'll pass.

Japanese, by the way. I'd never heard of it either. I must say, YouTube has really turned into something great, it's Scopitone on steroids, right in your own home.

CORNELIUS "Like A Rolling Stone"

No, not that "Like A Rolling Stone." I'm not sure what it means, but that's what usually happens with Mr. Cornelius. This guy swims at the deep end of the pool, that much I know.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Century Style Flooding In Thailand

Here's a link (not link; do it yourself link) to the best pix of Thailand flooding that I've seen anywhere.

Things are wild and wooly over here, it's a lot of water, I can tell you. Factories under water; rice fields underwater; whole neighborhoods and towns full of stores that can't do business (because they're under water). I just can't imagine what all of those employees are going to do with no money coming in.

The situation might have real legs too. Usually it stops raining about now, but I heard months ago that this rainy season would extend to December. That's about what the CNN weather maps are showing. Storms still forming over the Pacific.

I'll be fine, but I am a bit concerned in general.