Sunday, July 31, 2011

Freytag's Pyramid In Action: Book Review: Matterhorn

I just read a book by Karl Marlantes, "Matterhorn." Oy, vey ist mir! What a book!

It's about Marines in Vietnam in 1969, and I can tell you frankly that it would have been impossible for me to read this book until fairly recently. When the wound was too fresh it would have been just impossible, I was not able to consider these things at all. Vietnam, I don't know how old you are, or what your attitude was about the whole Vietnam War thing if you were around at the time, or how you handled it, but me? I turned eighteen in 1966, prime time baby. I was scared shitless by Vietnam, scared to go, scared of what it meant, scared by what it did to my friends, scared, scared, scared. Scared enough to join the Navy, anything for three-hots-and-a-cot. But now, I can deal with it, better anyway. It was long ago, after all.

I think it was the same for the author. "Matterhorn" was written by Karl Marlantes. He was a Marine officer himself, back in the day. He went to Vietnam, and he did the Marine thing. He didn't write the book though, at least he didn't finish it and publish it, until 2010. Forty years. So maybe he couldn't come to grips with it until recently either.

But the book, it's a great read. Great characters, great dialog, very measured and well-plotted, real literature this one. And boy, does it ever follow Freytag's Pyramid like a fucking road map! I discovered Freytag's Pyramid long ago, and ever since it has been my yardstick for measuring the success of a narrative. That old Freytag, he really knew his shit. I don't know how to do graphics, so I'll describe it:

The ascending arm of the pyramid is exposition and rising action; somewhere around the apex there comes a climax; then comes descending action and resolution; followed by a catastrophe; the end.

There's a ton of stuff about old Freytag's Pyramid on these Internets. You should look some of it up, it's great to get some insight into the form of the narrative, especially if you enjoy reading fictional narratives as I do.

And I'll tell you right now, if you think you're strong enough to take a description of what was really going on in old Vietnam back in that Time Of Woe, if you think that you are constitutionally up to following the story of a lot of Baby-Boomers who may or may not have grown all the way up, who found themselves in Vietnam in a really, really bad situation, well, this is the book to read. This one right here. Since I've gotten over the terror of it all I've read a lot of prissy wannabe bullshit novels and story-collections and so-called reportage about Vietnam, but this book is the first thing that I've read about that cosmic cluster fuck that really captures the weird tensions that pulled my generation in so many different directions all at once, simultaneously.

Oh, thank God that there are people in our own time of digital diffusion who can still muster the energy and discipline required to finish writing an actual novel of actual words that can match the accomplishments of the giants of the past. Mister Marlantes, sir, I salute you!

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Parody: ‘Live fast, die young’ bill hopes to save Social Security | Raw Replay

Parody: ‘Live fast, die young’ bill hopes to save Social Security | Raw Replay

The real joke is on people who played by the rules for their entire adult lives and now find the ice cracking under their feet. People who bought a house and kept it, preserving the equity as "savings." People who signed up for 401K's etc and planned for their retirement. People who put money in the bank. People who were reasonable and responsible, and who now find themselves in financial jeopardy due to circumstances beyond their control, circumstances brought about by ruthless power-elites who are neither reasonable nor responsible.

Blame? A little bit of complaining about the Democrats goes a long way. They're not perfect, but they're still the lesser of two evils. Look at the numbers. Clinton presidency: raised the debt limit four times in eight years, a modern record for good stewardship, ended up with a budget surplus. George Bush? We all know what he accomplished, and now we're all paying for it.

So good luck with that equity, how much value has your home lost since 2008? 401K doing okay? Good luck with that. Dollar losing value got you down? That train hasn't even gotten rolling yet. So how's that retirement plan working out? Live Fast and Die Young, or Work Till You Die. God, I hate the Twenty-First Century.

Say Thank You

Just now, I almost wrote a post that bordered on being unkind. I restrained myself. Say thanks!

Saturday, July 23, 2011

In Re: Herman Cain

Herman Cain has some interesting ideas; some of them are interesting in the worst way. His thing, as you may have noticed, is to be even more of a bigoted, stereotyping apologist for Jim Crow than the White fools whose interest he is courting in his ego-driven run for the Republican presidential nomination. In this effort he has been largely successful, since by virtue of being Black he can say things that the White bigots could never get away with.

Like saying that Jim Crow was no big deal. After all, Blacks had water fountains too, and “the water tasted the same.” Well, I’m old enough to have seen some of those things when they were the norm all over Dixie, and I doubt that it’s true that the water tasted the same. I saw places where the “Whites Only” water fountain was a very nice, sparkling chrome push-button drinking fountain, while the “Blacks Only” fountain was a hose-bib on muddy ground around the side of the building. “Fountain” my ass, more like a cheap euphemism, like “separate but equal.”

“Separate but equal” was anything but. I well remember the public beaches around the Tampa Bay down in Florida. There’s a causeway across the bay, and the “White Only” beaches were on the bay side of the causeway, nice, sandy beaches with clear water and good facilities, bathrooms and sun-protected picnic tables. The “Black Only” beaches were on the inlet side, muddy beaches with almost no facilities, shallow water full of sword grass. And these were just the visible signs of Jim Crow. Harder to spot was the job discrimination, the lousy education, and the general lack of financial opportunities, like the fact that banks wouldn’t offer mortgages to Black applicants.

In Cain-World, however, there was nothing holding back American Blacks except their own laziness and their victim-complex. A “strong Black man” like Herman Cain didn’t suffer from those things, so he naturally rose to the top of the meritocracy ladder and made quite a little success of himself. Shout it from the rooftops! I am Herman Cain and I’m not like those people!

There is one thing that I may have in common with Mr. Cain, and that is his attitude to the term “African-American.” He doesn’t like it, probably because as much as he doesn’t want to be associated with Black Americans, he really, really doesn’t want to be associated with those even lower class Africans. You know, I have no license to have an opinion here, nobody’s asking me what I think the classifier should be for Black Americans, but if I were one, I don’t think I’d be comfortable with “African American” either. I have nothing against Africans, they’re doing their thing, but I have noticed over the years that Africans rarely have anything nice to say about American Blacks. Africans do not consider American Blacks to be Africans at all, nor even particularly Black. Who needs that shit? That’s President Obama’s problem in a nutshell: not White enough for some of the White people; not Black enough for some of the Black people. That’s a rock and a hard place right there.

So Herman Cain, maybe I’ll give him the “African American” thing, although I’m sure we don’t agree on where we’re coming from. But here’s what’s really interesting about Herman Cain. Whereas President Obama is constantly characterized by many people as unqualified to be president, somehow unsuitable to be president, and wildly mischaracterized as a political radical, Herman Cain is touted by the same people as a wonderful alternative. The President gets it in the neck because he’s Black, let’s not kid ourselves, but Black Herman Cain gets a pass, how does that work? Can I guess? The President stands for the proposition that Black Americans are fully empowered now and capable of anything, which is threatening to some people; Herman Cain stands for the proposition that Herman Cain is fully empowered and capable but the rest of those Black fools need a lot of tough love before they’ll amount to anything, which is somehow reassuring to some people.

This is the sheerest racism, and it is only the racism of Herman Cain himself, bolstered by smoke and mirrors, that keeps him in the race. All the while, it is Mr. Cain who is really unqualified to be president (he has no experience in politics and seemingly no understanding of our form or government or our freedoms), really unsuitable to be president (he doesn’t have the temperament for it, he’s impatient and undiplomatic), and really the more politically radical of the two. President Obama is a centrist, right-of-center if anything, which is the new center I suppose. Mr. Cain is a reactionary if ever there was one, pandering to a very reactionary crowd, I don’t even want to mention their name, I’m hoping that one morning I’ll wake up and their fifteen minutes will be up. Center? Right? those people can’t even see the center from where they hang out, they’re off the arc altogether, on the dark side of the moon, in their stupid three-cornered hats.

Politics! It’s enough to drive a man back to the church. The frying pan is a day at the beach, after the fire.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

The Ultimate DIY Project Car In Bangkok

This is a late-Sixties BMW Bavaria, which in America would have been a 1600. I had one of these! A red one! Mine was a 1967 model. I got it used, two years old, and already it was falling apart. A German cousin who heard the tale of woe asked me, "how many kilometers?" The answer was fifty-five thousand miles. We did some math and he told me, "jah, those are only good for one hundred thousand kilometers (60,000 miles)."

So I figure that the guy who's keeping this one on the road, and looking so good, after more than forty years, must be a mechanical genius. I figure he's not only a master car mechanic, he must have his own mill and lathe and the ability to form his own parts by milling raw metal.

Whatever, it's a nice car, isn't it?

The Tragicomedy of Bad Bosses

Evidently there’s a movie out now about bad bosses. One of the actresses was on the Tonight Show last week, and I caught a couple of minutes of the show. One of Jay’s set-up questions to her was, “so, have you ever had a bad boss?” I missed her answer, as I had reached the end of my limited patience with Jay and turned off the TV.

I know a little bit about bad bosses, and the question left me considering the problem while the Sandman sprinkled stardust. In my over fifty jobs, I have had bosses good, bad and indifferent. An example of the bad was not hard to come up with.

I had a job one time with a company that produced essentially two things: one was a photographic product, and the other was a highly specialized product for the movie industry. So the place was a factory, and an electronics assembly area, with some office space at the front, all in one building in West Los Angeles. The photographic product had been very popular for many, many years, and it had single-handedly given the company many prosperous years. The thing was cost effective, solid as a rock, and it had superior performance, but it had been overtaken by technological advancements. This was the late Seventies, and the switch to video was in its last stages, no one wanted the photographic product anymore. The other product was growing in popularity with the movie industry, but it was a high ticket item in a limited market. Also, the production costs were huge and there was no way to achieve economy of scale. All things considered, the company was sinking quickly, if not sunk already and finally getting the picture. Those of us who remained divided our time on various tasks.

My job was split between two bosses, one for my production control duties and one for my duties expediting deliveries of sub-contracted parts. Two bosses, and what are the odds? Both weighed over 350 pounds in their stocking feet, with no exaggeration on my part. Beyond that wild coincidence, they were very different people. As different as night and day, perhaps? These two guys were much more different than that. Night and day both take place on earth, so how different can they be?

One of these bosses was a saint, and the other was a textbook example of a sinner. The saint had a pretty good excuse for being so giant, for one thing was actually was a giant, he stood six feet, nine inches tall in those size sixteen or so stocking feet of his. He missed a day’s work one time to go in for a check up. He came back the next day and I asked him, so how’d it go yesterday? He looked over the tops of his glasses at me. “Good,” he said, “the doctor said that I was as healthy as a horse,” he grinned, “and almost as big as one.” He was a mason, and although he never bragged about anything I got some clues as to the extent of his good works. He left me with a permanent, high opinion of masons.

The sinner was closer to five feet, eight or nine inches tall. He’d had to work much harder to build up such an impressive physique. He ate a lot, everything in sight except the furniture you might say, and without stopping, all day. He also smoked, we could all smoke at work back then. He smoked like he really meant it. He had an ashtray on his desk that was more than a foot across, and several inches deep. He smoked Winstons, a strong cigarette, and Kools, a strong menthol, and some kind of strong little cigars too. By close of business, the ash tray was loaded. He was a monument to poor impulse control. His wife worked in the area too. She, like he, was about fifty-five-years-old, but there was nothing wrong with her figure at all. She’d been a Vegas show-girl in her prime, and what was left of her prime was a sight to see, the shape of it at least. A poor diet and all of that second hand smoke, plus the cigarettes that she smoked herself, had ruined her skin and hair. Dumb as a rock, she was, dumb as a bag of rocks. Poor impulse control to marry her too.

The saint was a great boss, very well organized and considerate. The sinner was another story. He talked a good game, and he had somehow talked his way far into the good graces of the owners of the company, but he couldn’t deliver. As a boss, he had no idea how to do any of the things that he told you to do, had no idea how to do the things that he was supposed to do, had the impression that nothing took any time at all to do, and was absolutely convinced that he never made a mistake.

Since I have already greatly exceeded the word-limit for blog posts, I will attempt to wrap this up. The company was dying, that much was manifestly clear, and one day, after the saint was already gone, I spoke to the evil fat boss. I thanked him for my continued employment, but I asked him frankly if I could expect to be employed much longer. Should I be making other plans? He assured me in no uncertain terms that the company would be surviving in some form or another, and needed a core of good employees to carry on, and that I was needed long-term. “You’re the kind of guy we need around here,” he told me, “and we don’t want to lose you.”

I had my own parking space by that time, near the door too, with my name stenciled on the wall. Within a week of our talk, the evil boss had somebody meet me as I parked one morning. “Sorry to be the one,” he said, handing me some papers. “Don’t punch in, just take these to (insert name, the personnel officer).” That was it for me.

So yes, I know a little bit about bad bosses, and bad people in general, and bad luck, karma or whatever. But that’s life on earth, isn’t it? Bad, certainly, but like this pendant of bosses, if you’re lucky there’s some good to balance the scales.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Here Come the Warm Jets

Is this a piss song? Maybe, not that there's anything wrong with that. Does it matter? Not in the scheme of things. Does anybody care? No one that matters anyway.

I love the way the several tracks that make up this cut go in and out of sync with each other. When they all come together towards the end it's somehow reassuring. Eno was the consummate amateur, essentially a non-singer and non-musician at first. (Whatever happened later, the whole career thing, was semi-by-accident.)

Somewhere in the comments to these Eno videos the point is made that all of this great music was happening while the radio was full of only what is these days passed off as "Classic Rock," Journey, The Eagles and et-fucking-cettera. In the midst of all of that mixed bag of mostly crap were a ton of great records that didn't sell at all and were never played on the radio. The good news is that it's out there still, available now for inquiring minds to find.

Old? You probably missed it. Young? Don't believe the hype! Either way, keep digging!

Travoltas "Endless Summer"

I love this band. This video has a very apt description of the band's sound. I would only add that they remind me, in every particular, of the great Seventies band, the Rezillos. Two good examples of musicians not getting their due. But then again, if musicians got their due, Marshall Crenshaw would be president, now wouldn't he?

Monday, July 11, 2011

I Didn't Choose To Be Straight

There's a lot of talk around now about how homosexuals choose that fate. What that thinking process would be predicated on is beyond me. Would it be the frequent blow jobs? The riffing at parties? The nice clothes? The camaraderie? The show tunes? How old is someone when they decide, you know what? Women ain't that special, I'm going for the blow jobs.

It's a mystery to me how anybody who had ever known any homosexuals could think that they weren't born that way. Oh! I get it! They never met any homosexuals!

Except that they have, of course, and more than that, some of them are. Homosexuals, that is. Some of these guys in the news today, straight by declaration, are so nelly that it's ridiculous. You know who they are, giggly little girls in nice suits, men in high places. And it occurs to me that a lot of them decided at some point to be straight. They decided to reject their own homosexual reality and "choose" to be straight. To live a lie is more like it, but this may be how the whole choice thing became real to them. It doesn't change how they were born.

Homosexuality is not a choice.

Mocking Criminals With Jay Leno

I watched a couple of Tonight Shows last night. Sometimes there’s not a single laugh in it, but for me it is a connection with American culture. One show had a feature called “Police Blotter,” in which Jay reads out newspaper reports of stupid criminals from local police blotters.

Only one was moderately funny. Police were called to a convenience store after the theft of four cases of beer by a group of people who had used a great ruse. One of them, a nice looking woman, walked slowly around the store with almost nothing on to draw the attention of the clerk while her friends stole the beer. For the police report, the clerk remembered the girl very well, providing ethnic information, physical description, and lots of detail about her panties. About the other guys, really he couldn’t tell the cops anything. Black, White, Puerto Rican? Who knows. That’s kind of funny.

Criminals often tickle our funny bones with their foolish antics. Sometimes hilarious, sometimes poignant, sometimes slapstick, and sometimes all three, like this true tale from Huntington Park in the 1990’s. HP is a small city completely surrounded by the City of Los Angeles, one of those geographical accidents that somehow resisted incorporation.

One day, a local woman visited the HP police headquarters on some unknown mission. It would be a quick visit, so she left her Cadillac in the twenty-minute zone right outside. When she returned to her car, she discovered that the window had been opened and the car’s radio had been stolen. She went back into the station and reported the crime.

The police in HP are not so busy, so a detective immediately went outside to see what was up. The thief had opened the window by placing the palms of his hands firmly on the glass and pushing downwards, so the cop got a fingerprint team to dust the glass. This was done quickly, and when the cop ran the prints he got a hit with full personal information, a local gang-affiliated youth with some record of contact with the HP police.

Without delay, a couple of policemen went to the address listed for the youth, and sure enough he was at the apartment with some of his friends, eating tacos from a take-out joint. Under questioning, the youth was bizarrely forthcoming. With a “yeah, you got me” insouciance, he admitted that he had stolen the radio. He and his friends needed money for lunch, you see. They had immediately fenced the radio, bought lunch, and gone to his house to eat. All of this happened in the space of about ninety minutes.

He was arrested, but he seemed surprised and somewhat chagrined at this decision by the cops. “Could you give me a break?” he asked. “My girlfriend’s pregnant, and I’m trying to get a job.”

Two Minis For Sale In Bangkok

Both of these cars are offered for sale this month in Bangkok, although I cannot for the life of me understand why anyone would buy either one of them.

The bland colored car is a Mini, the newest incarnation of the English Austin Mini. The original mini was very small and kind of cute. This version is quite bulked up, and to my eyes it is not cute at all, nor attactive in any other way. It's also very expensive, about forty-five thousand dollars. Also, being English, it would be a maintenance nightmare and parts would be hard to obtain. So, why buy one?

The yellow car is the new Citroen version of the Mini. It does still qualify as cute, and the cabin was very comfortable. But it's a French car, so again with the maintenance and parts problems. Also expensive, about the same price. So again, why?

But then again, I bought a BMW one time, which just goes to show that people don't always use their heads when it's car-buying time.

Sports Announcers

I can be very harsh in my critique of sports announcers. There have been many that I have liked, but there are also many that I find supremely annoying. Out of kindness, and in the spirit of love, I will not mention them here. I’m sure that the day will come when I am not feeling so generous.

One guy that I am officially indifferent to is V.J. Armitaj, who was a tennis great back in the Seventies or something. I saw a lot of him covering the recent Wimbledon tournament. I find him pretentious, but he does love the sport and he is not without a sense of humor. He could lose me though, and he did it frequently. Like this statement, for instance:

“The break is never as good, as long as you hold your serve.”

But then again, the rules of tennis lose me in their upper atmospheres.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

Wat Chedi Chet Thaeo, Sri Satchanarai Historical Site, Sukothai, Thailand.

This place is a great site, but I only recommend it if you can come in your own car. I arrived on the bus, and the drop-off point left me with a four kilometer walk to the site.

The remoteness of it was a mixed blessing though, the place was empty and the quiet was a big plus to the enjoyment of it. The stillness of it added quite a bit to the feeling of the history of it, what it was, what it might have been before it became, well, a ruin. Notice the bird-sounds, that's a benefit that I don't often get in my citified life.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Amos 'n' Andy - 1934 Cartoon - "The Rasslin' Match"

I love the controversy in this stuff. Some comments say it's racist, "they make the blacks talk stupid with big white powder lips." How true, and racist for sure. Some comments say no, it's just good clean fun, after all, "Bugs Bunny wasn't anti-rabbit." That's kind of true too.

Who's right? To me, Kingfish looks just like a slightly shaded in Homer Simpson, and anybody could tell you that the Kingfish is much, much smarter than Homer. Who talks funniest? That's about a tie too. Homer is no Shakespeare, and don't forget he wins the stupid contest hands down.

But racist, yes. Although if you had ever seen, much less talked to, one actual Black person, one time, you'd know how silly it was, you'd see that Black people were just like anybody else.

Or racist, no. Are these characters any more ridiculous, as in worthy of ridicule, than every single character in a Popeye cartoon?

I've seen cartoons from this period that included characters, usually speaking animals, in black-face, acting the fool, or worse, that I thought were distinctly racist, totally inappropriate negative racial stereotypes. But Amos and Andy? Not so clear cut, is it?

Monday, July 4, 2011

Not Even Close To A Movie Review: Them!

This is such a great movie, I'm sure that you've all seen it. For me, the real greatness of it is found in the little, incidental characters. The producer did a really thoughtful job of filling in the small spaces in Them! with classic two or three minute appearances by great supporting actors.

There's Fess Parker as a ranch manager who encounters the giant ants while piloting his plane around Texas. He crashes his plane after near misses from several "UFO's" shaped like, you guessed it, ants. In the crash, he damages a Ford on the ground. He wants to know why nobody believes him about the ants, after all, he doesn't sound crazy, does he? And besides, "it ain't like that Ford was a brand new one, it was pretty beat up to begin with, so what's the beef?"

Then there's Harry Tyler, appearing as a habitual offender residing in a hospital for alcoholics. When the officials visit him at his bedside, he notes the Army officer's uniform and wants to know if he's being drafted (he's about fifty-five years old at the time). Then he suddenly decides that he's okay with that, if his conditions are met. "If you make me a sergeant, and I can charge my booze, I'll join up!" After that, in between answering their questions, he's given to bursting out in song, "make me a sergeant, charge the booze!!!!" Harry was in 358 movies and TV shows between 1929 and 1961, so you'd know him if you saw him.

Another familiar face is Dub Taylor, appearing here as a train yard watchman who was on duty while 40 tons of sugar mysteriously disappeared. (My guess is that the ants took it.) "If I was gonna make a deal with some crooks, it sure wouldn't be over no 40 tons of sugar!" Dub gets credited with 242 appearances between 1938 and 1994.

More reasons to watch "Them!," as though more were needed.

Favorites/ Pet Peeves

People on Facebook love stuff like this.

Most annoying word: I complained about "veggies," as in "Veggie Lover's Pizza." As in "eat your veggies!" But really, my least favorite word is "fun" used as an adjective, as in "it was so fun!" I thought complaining about the misuse of "fun" was a little intellectual for the 'Book, but that's some ungelernte shit right there.

My favorite word, by the way, is "linoleum." Go ahead, say it, linoleum. Beautiful, isn't it?

My pet peeve, as if you didn't know, is that in my ungrateful country a working person is only valued as long as they can pay their own way, and pay taxes along the way. If you just happen to be shit for brains, you're shit out of luck, but that's not the worst part, even though it's uncivilized and "unchristian," for all of you Godly folk out there, examine your consciences, you may be right about that whole judgment thing. No, the worst part is that even if you do a good job, with the making a living and the paying taxes and everything, if the day comes when you can't get it together anymore, my ungrateful country says, hit the road Jack!

And now it's only getting worse, because after all, there's no money! The new mantra of Conservatives, and Neo-Conservatives, now joined by Neo-Liberals. There's no money folks! Sorry! Social Security and Medicare, get it while you can jimboney!

No money, unless you're an aircraft carrier. We've got limitless money for you, if you're an aircraft carrier.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Gary U.S. Bonds : Quarter To Three ( 1961 )

For me, it was all about New Orleans. When "New Orleans" by Gary "U.S." Bonds came out, I was just floored, and by the time this here cut made the radio I was thinking, wow, this N'orleans thing is really happening. One of the reasons that I was such a 'Stones fan, they got the connection too.

James Waynes - Junco Partner (1951)

Just for the record, the first recorded version.

Professor Longhair - Junco Partner

The real 'Fess, playing with all ten fingers and a heart full of soul (and a great guitar player on the side, too).

Professor Longhair / Junco Partner

Professor Longhair . . . NOT!!! Alert the media: White men can play the blues.

All things are possible in America. Are we not brothers and sisters?

Saturday, July 2, 2011

NICO - "Strip-Tease" 1963

A nice song from Nico, pre-Velvet Underground, nice early Sixties pictures. Never heard it before, never saw these pix. Props and heavy gratitude to the 'Tube for bringing us these great details from our own cultural history.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Roxy Music-Virginia Plain (Top Of The Pops Live 1972)

Oh, those Seventies!! "Is that concrete all around, or is it in my head?" The Sixties get all the historical play, but anyone who hadn't taken the cure yet can tell you that the Seventies were the real buzz.

Elephant Tricks Dusit Zoo Bangkok

The guys that train the elephants are called "mahoots." It's a good job in Thailand, the pay is good. This elephant was very together. Someone in the crowd handed the elephant a twenty Baht bill, and I wondered if the beast knew the value of money. Usually people handed it something to eat. But it did know enough to be careful with the money. The mahoot let it carry the money for a while, and then asked for it, "give me the money." The elephant walked over to him and handed it to him gently.

One thing about Thailand, they're not afraid to let you get dangerously close to the animals.