Monday, December 29, 2014

"Shake, Rattle, Roll", Arthur Conley, Jr.

Well, Professor Google had a lot to say about Arthur Conley, and all very interesting too. 

Not so much a one-hit-wonder after all, and good for him.  Some hits in America, regional and otherwise, and he worked a lot with Otis Redding, who had identified him as a real talent while he was regional in the Atlanta area.  He moved to Europe early on, and he was quite successful in Europe too.  Died young, the poor man, of intestinal cancer at 57. 

Why did he move to Europe?  First England and then the Netherlands?  Very interesting.  Evidently he found America too intolerant and insufficiently welcoming for a man with his racial and other characteristics.   He seems to have found that Europe was a better fit for him, he worked a lot and the tone of the reporting seems to indicate that he was probably pretty happy.  Good for him.  Being black in America is a famously difficult status to bear, and the other thing, in the 60's, was a serious complication for a man.  It required total secrecy and the general level of condemnation was high.  So yeah, Europe, let's try that.  He even changed his name over there, legally changed his name.  America can be an ungrateful place, and I think he was trying to put the experience behind him. 

Great entertainer.  RIP, brother.

Tav Falco and Panther Burns -- "Pantherman"

Still working!  Glad to hear it.  Tav Falco is good at this rock and roll game. 

Sample lyric:  when I go up on the mountain I call my black cat back . . . (repeat) . . . well my hound dog come running but my black cat, he jumped way back! 

I do appreciate the commercial impulse, but when serious minded musicians rock all the way out and stamp "No Commercial Potential" all over their product, well, I like that too. 

That Old Holiday Feeling.

I'm antsy, I've got to admit it.  I don't like the holidays, never have. 

Good cheer mandated in the legislature has never appealed to me, for one thing.  Holidays, amusement parks, even golf, I resent situations where I am required to be cheerful.  Sometimes I'm just not up to it, you know?  Should I have to apologize? 

Christmas when I was a boy was a frantic round of required socializing, and, for the adults, a time of required heavy drinking.  Our parents would buy the expected gifts for us in the usual semi-conscious, haphazard fashion, and then set out to get really loaded with relatives that they did not actually care for in real life.  It was rarely enjoyable. 

I did enjoy Christmases when my boys were little.  More than that, when they were not little anymore but were still at home, and then beyond that.  When they had kind of grown up and had mostly moved out they would still sleep over on Christmas Eve so we could all wake up together on Christmas Morning.  Maybe those were the best Christmases of all, because the dear boys showed us that they had been enjoying Christmas all along.  I'm very grateful for that.  Also, in the old days, we'd always have a houseful on Christmas for a giant dinner.  And not like my childhood family, these were friends, and some of their friends who did not have anyplace else to go.  Not like a related family at all, no, we really liked each other.  Probably, anyway.  You can never tell why people do things.  We seemed to like each other anyway. 

So enjoy your holidays, dear readers.  And if you can really enjoy your holidays deep in your heart of hearts you are way ahead of the game, I can tell you.  That would be a great blessing right there.  And it's my wish for you, enjoy this sometimes magical time.  And pay no attention at all to my occasional negativity.  I was born this way, it's not your fault. 

Happy New Year! 

Thursday, December 25, 2014

A Message From Your Host

I'm not very tech-savvy, so I'm sorry if there are ways that I could improve the reader experience for this blog, and those ways escape me.  I'm not a Luddite, but my ignorance may mimic the condition. 

Someone reported to me the other day that he'd had trouble leaving comments here, he thought that I was blocking him.  After a little back and forth, he tried a test comment.  It came through fine, but he got me thinking about the whole process.  As a result I have decided to, and indeed have, changed some settings that may make the blog easier to read. 

So, no more comment moderating, for now.  I turned on the moderation many years ago in response to some comments that came in the form of personal attacks on other readers.  That has not happened at all since that first burst of negativity, so maybe we'll try it with no moderation. 

I also activated the "type the magic word" feature for leaving comments.  The Help feature says that the purpose is to intercept spam.  I suppose that's a good thing, and not too much of an imposition. 

Upon reflection, I do think that the moderation feature may have discouraged people from commenting.  With that feature on, someone writes a comment and it does not appear on the page until the next day or so when I've had a chance to approve it as a "pending comment."  I'll admit that if I were the commenter I'd be wondering if it were possible for me to leave comments.  So it's off, and comments should now appear immediately. 

Thanks for your patience, dear readers. 

J. Hines and the Boys - A Funky XMas To You

Yeah, that's what I'm talking about.  And a Funky New Year too, y'all! 

Spin Easy Time!: Mr. Fred's Christmas Poetry Corner: Fred On Fire!...

It's a Christmas tradition!  For the record:  I love the Nazz.  

Spin Easy Time!: Mr. Fred's Christmas Poetry Corner: Fred On Fire!...: Fred On Fire: A Christmas Poem Happy Birthday, Mr. Nazz! What’s this, number 2,006? or 1,995? Something like that, Did you ever think...

Parents! Encourage Your Children!

It should go without saying that parents should encourage their children in ways that will enrich their children’s lives.  It should, but so many parents instead choose to be unremittingly critical and negative that perhaps it must be said after all. 

So parents, listen up!  If your child expresses an interest in something that could generate happiness or self-esteem, and especially if your child expresses an interest in something that could lead to a marketable skill, do what you can to help them down the path to that interest.   More ambitious parents may choose to take a more active role in this process of encouragement. 

Some of you parents may wish to plant ideas in your children’s heads in the first place.  It is best to be stealthy in this enterprise, do not approach the child directly and suggest things.  No, it’s best to be oblique about it. 

Keith Richards’ grandfather used stealth to get the boy interested in guitar playing.  Keith’s grand-dad played guitar, but he wasn’t preachy about the pleasures of it.  He just hung the guitar on the wall, out of the boy’s reach.   If he caught Keith looking at it, he’d say something like, “oh, you like that?  Maybe when you can reach it we’ll do something.”  Keith climbed on a chair one day and took it down.  Grand-dad said, “if you’re so anxious, maybe we can get started.”  The rest, as they say, is history.   It’s a grandparent in this story, but you get the idea.

Keith Richards enjoys telling this story, he tells it with love.  Clearly he still appreciates what his grandfather did for him. 

I did something similar myself, and today my son is a fine piano player.  But this is not about my successes or failures as a parent.  It’s about the children! 

And hey, it’s Christmas after all! 

What better gift could a parent give a child than a little gentle guidance and encouragement that could equip the child with a life-tool that could make the child a happier, more successful adult?  The skill or the interest helps the child build confidence, and the encouragement itself can give the child a sense of self-worth.  It’s a win/win situation. 

And on the flip side of the coin, what greater harm could a parent do than to mock a child’s interest in something wholesome, or at least inoffensive?  Oh, parents, the world will knock your children down a peg or two soon enough.  No use to rush it. 

Just a Christmas idea. 

Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Man Of The Year: Baby Doc Duvalier

A recent photo of Jean-Claude Duvalier, attempting to look non-threatening.

Son of Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, and quite the little dictator in his own right, Jean-Claude “Baby Doc” Duvalier cut a successful path of terror and self-enrichment through Haiti back in the day.  After he was deposed in 1986 he went off to France  and retired, quietly, in circumstances that ranged from luxury to mere prosperity.  He died this year. 

It took tremendous talent to get away with all of that and then go on to enjoy a long, sometimes luxurious retirement.  He even returned to Haiti late in life.  Some people complained, but he got away with that too.  In twenty plus years of retirement he had had people in several countries trying to prosecute him, but he managed to keep them all at arm’s length and die a free man (albeit under indictment). 

So kudos, Baby Doc.  Somehow you bent the world to your will; you made the world in your image.  Those are rare things.   Man of the Year!  

Thursday, December 18, 2014

The Approaching Technological Singularity

The Singularity:  “a technological singularity is a predicted point in the development of a civilization at which technological progress accelerates beyond the ability of present day humans to fully comprehend or predict.”

The singularity most under discussion these days will occur when artificial intelligence (“AI”) achieves the ability to mimic human consciousness.  The idea is all over the place.  News websites run articles about it, TV shows incorporate elements of it in their plots, and more or less serious publications like The New York Review of Books and Vanity Fair run big, almost scholarly stories about it.  Not to mention that granddaddy of cultural icons, the Terminator movies, which are all about machine intelligence run truly amok.  What, people wonder, will happen when machines outstrip us in intellectual ability?  What indeed. 

I would suggest that modern computers, the Internet and smart phones have already confused us sufficiently to fit the above definition of a technological singularity, but that’s just me.

The AI Debate

The advent of machine intelligence, in the form of primitive computers, came during World War II and immediately featured speculation about what might happen when these machines really get some wind in their sails.  Alan Turing, the father of the modern computer, was already thinking about it.  When will computers become able to mimic human intelligence?  He came up with a test that is still used today, Turing’s Test.  Human interrogators blind test a few people and one computer to see if the computer can fool them into thinking that it is one of the human test subjects.   They’re getting pretty close by this time. 

Part of the discussion is Moore’s Law, which hypothesized that the capabilities of computer chips will double every two or three years.  This is actually what has been happening for some time now, and the signs are that the progress will continue apace.  But for how long?  Will this tendency go on indefinitely?  If it does continue to grow at that pace AI will achieve capabilities that we can only guess at, and very likely this will happen in our lifetimes.   (Not mine, perhaps, but probably yours.) 

There is a very active debate in progress regarding this impending breakthrough.  Many talented scientists and tech geniuses are understandably fascinated by the prospect of machines that can think like people do.   The discussion is very heavy on “when,” and the “if” seems to be a given.  On one side are people who are very gung ho about the coming breakthrough in machine intelligence, the coming singularity.  Call them the Utopians ; they are also being referred to as “Singularitarians.”  On the other hand are the Cassandras, the nay sayers.   In the middle are many people who range from mere curiosity to a mild but active interest.  The curve is surprisingly flat; both extremes contain lots of people and the middle is only slightly more populous.  This is an area where opinions can be very, very strong.

The Singularitarians make amazing claims for the potential benefits of machines that can mimic the thought process of people.  Ray Kurzweill is a big time Utopian in this debate.  He claims that the Twenty-First Century alone will see 20,000 years of progress rolled into a mere hundred years.   Peter Diamandis, another Singularitarian, says that AI will achieve “exponential price-performance curves” and provide “plenty of clean water, food, and energy for all earthlings as well as decent educations and adequate health care.”  (In his book, “Abundance: The Future is Better than You Think.”)  Speculation about the coming changes and benefits are really wild, including the prediction that machine intelligence will marry with human intelligence and spread throughout the universe.  That seems like a stretch.  I’ll spare you a full reading of some of the famous techies that are waxing poetic about this new computer revolution.

There is a big push going on right now to bring about this singularity, to design and build computers that will mimic the human thought process with almost supernatural levels of power.  Many of our great minds are at work in the area.  There is actually a Singularity University in Silicon Valley.  It is located at the NASA Ames Research Center, no less, and it is funded by Google, Cisco Systems, Genentech, Nokia, and G.E.  Yes, I did say Nokia.  Their Nokia Research Center Cambridge at M.I.T. in Massachusetts is also working on the problem. 

The nay-sayers are a high powered bunch too.  They include such luminaries as Stephen Hawking, who has been all over the news in the last year warning that machine intelligence is coming, that it may not have our best interests at heart, and that it may indeed have the capacity and the inclination to do away with all of humanity.  That got my attention. 

Nick Bostrom of the Future of Humanity Institute at Oxford is worried too.  He is afraid that “human labor and intelligence will become obsolete.”  If we're lucky, the machines won’t bother to get rid of us all, but they may just allow us to live out in the woods somewhere as long as we are quiet and don’t make any trouble.  He points out, rightly I think, that it will be very hard to program goals into these new machines, goals that will not allow for any mischief.  It is, he says, “quite difficult to specify a goal of what we want in English, let alone computer code.”  He has a point there, doesn’t he?  I’d go further and suggest that if the machine were to actually think like a human being it could easily decide to disregard instructions in any case. 

Human Thinking and Behavior Are Messy

 The problem here is that the current discussion is about computers that will actually think with a naturalistic human thought process, ones that will be “fluent in the full scope of human experience” including “unusual but illustrative analogies and metaphors.”  (Mitch Kapor).  And the stated goal is to create such machines.   I believe that that is not only undesirable, but also impossible.  A machine intelligence will always be a machine. 

I think that the real danger here is that a true artificial intelligence could become a true machine entity of some new kind.  That it could become self-aware and that it could come to possess certain negative human characteristics, like ego, self-interest and the instinct for self-preservation.   Not to mention free will and autonomy.

This new machine entity would almost certainly not exhibit any of the sometimes messy intangibles of true human thinking.  Human consciousness includes components such as altruism, empathy, sentimentality, nostalgia, love, and the willingness to cooperate.  It is unlikely that a machine intelligence would develop these things on its own, and if they were programmed into the machine it could easily reject them out of growing self-interest or because they seemed ridiculous.

I wouldn't be surprised at all if a self-aware, self-interested, self-duplicating machine intelligence decided to just get rid of us as a bunch of ridiculous anachronisms.   What could we add to the new prosperity?  Humor?  Drama?  What could be more ridiculous to a machine than humor or drama?  And our life-support would be an expensive, unnecessary budget item. 

Machine intelligence will arrive as any number of separately constructed and programmed entities, and isn’t there a real element of danger in the fact that all of these machines will be able to communicate with each other and could choose to join forces in the name of self-interest?  That would be logical after all, and machines are nothing if not logical. 

So, I’m dubious about this whole thing.  I’m not going to get too nervous about it though, I’m sure that you’ll agree that other issues are making greater demands on our worrying time.  And a “Bengazi!!!” to you too.

Uncredited quotes in this post are from “Enthusiasts and Skeptics Debate Artificial Intelligence,” by Kurt Anderson, a recent article that appeared in Vanity Fair Magazine. 

Also of interest:  “AI May Doom the Human Race within a Century, Oxford Professor Says,” an interview with Nick Bostrom of the Oxford Future of Humanity Institute that appeared in August, 2014 on Huffington Post doc com. 

Also check out the movie:  “Colossus:  The Forbin Project.”  Computers such as those envisioned here are created and it all goes to hell faster than you can say “Jack Robinson.”  

Saturday, December 6, 2014

My Wedding Speech

I went to a nice wedding last week, as something slightly more than an invited guest.  The groom is from Singapore, and he speaks no Thai.  There were a lot of traditional, ceremonial things before the wedding, and I was stationed at his elbow to explain what people were asking him and feed him lines in Thai, sometimes just be the lawyer and speak for him.  It was a lot of fun.  None of it was rocket science, so I could handle it okay.  I know something about Thai people, and I've learned to keep things light and just have fun. 

I was told on the way that I was to give a little speech at some point, ten minutes or so, please make it a little bit funny.  Okay, I can do that.  I made some notes and ran through it a few times, but in the event the opportunity never came up.  Here's the gist of what I was going to say:

"(Greetings and thanks, etc.)  I've been asked to say a few words, and I guess I do know a little bit about marriage.  From the husband's point of view, of course.

My standard advice to young husbands is to practice in the mirror, look in the mirror and make a nice, relaxed smile and say, "yes, dear," over and over again until it becomes second nature, "yes, dear."  I say this because the husband's most important job is making his wife happy.  If the wife is happy, the husband is happy.

I think this works in both directions, and it's really a selfish act.  You make your spouse happy as a good way to make yourself happy.

Love is a simple thing, but it's never easy.  The hard part is learning enough about your spouse to find out how to make them happy.  Men are not famous for understanding women, and I'm not sure that women are any better at understanding men.  But it's important to try.  Find out what your spouse likes, find out what they need.  And then do your best to do those things, to make sure that your spouse gets the things that they like and need.

I said it's hard, maybe it's very hard.  I saw a book one time, "Everything That Men Know About Women."   When you opened the book, all of the pages were blank.  So you both have your work cut out for you, and I wish you the best of luck and success."

The bride is a fellow prof at the law faculty of my university, and I've known her for years.  She's a very nice young woman, she has a great temperament and she is a lovely woman in every way.  It was quite a relief to meet the groom.  These Thai weddings are a lot of work for the bride and groom, and he took the whole experience very good naturedly and with great patience.  I like them both, and actually I think they have a good shot.  I think they'll be fine.  Good luck! 

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Arthur Conley - Sweet Soul Music (HQ)

There's another version up on the 'Tube that has a lot more hits, and it's great too, it's a really nice performance video.  I highly recommend it.  I shared this one because the sound quality is much better, and doesn't Mr. Conley look like a fine young man in the promo pictures? 

(This one is in HD, so it might crap out.  If it does, look up the other one.)

For one thing, this is a great song.  Arthur Conley, Jr., a one hit wonder I suppose, I don't know his regional history.  Maybe I'll ask Professor Google.

But the point is, this is a paean to the great soul singers of the day, and the only singer mentioned in this song that remains alive today is Sam Hicks of Sam & Dave.  The rest, including Mr. Conley himself, are dead, dead, dead, Mr. Conley earlier than most.  So, an age has well and truly past and gone.

And what has replaced it?  I'll leave it for others to say.  Otherwise I'll start to sound like an old man chasing kids off of his lawn.  Maybe there are artists working today who are as great as Otis or James Brown, not to mention 'Trane and Miles, maybe, I suppose that it could happen.  It's not my call.  Those with greater wit than me by far can analyze the situation.  I hope that the answers are not too depressing. 

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Our Supreme Court And Our Future

In the run up to the Bush v. Gore election I came of the opinion that the Supreme Court, and nominations therefor, had become the most critical issue in presidential elections.  The Democrats were still in the habit of nominating high quality judges who possessed good judicial temperaments and fine legal minds.  President Clinton had nominated Justices Breyer and Ginsburg, both on the liberal side but very good, fair minded Justices.  Republicans, on the other hand, had taken to nominating partisan political operatives.  President Reagan had nominated Justices Kennedy, O’Connor, Rehnquist, and Scalia.  Justice Thomas, an acolyte of Justice Scalia, had been nominated by President George H.W. Bush, as had Justice Souter.   Justice Stevens, a fine justice and a Liberal,  had been nominated by President Ford in more bi-partisan times.  There would very soon be a demonstration of the political activism of this court. 

Republicans and Democrats, and their nominees for the Court, were and still are at considerable odds mainly over social issues, maybe also on issues of criminal procedure.  On matters economic they generally share a top-down Neo-Liberal mindset, although the cost-benefit analysis of the more Liberal members of the Court features more of an element of social justice.  The conservative members of the Court are more on the Libertarian side, with a heavy states’ rights component.  For better or worse, all of the justices, and indeed all of our politicians except for outliers like Bernie Sanders, seem to agree on the importance of globalizing the world’s economies and favoring the interests of large corporations and their investor class.   

The 2000 Election

Candidate Al Gore came out ahead in the straight up vote count, and appeared to be winning the Electoral Vote count too, but something happened.  In Florida, where the governor was candidate George W. Bush’s brother, the counting of the very close popular vote was stalled over hanging chads and other improbable details.  "Hanging chads" is still my definition of ridiculous.  How does a chad come to hang?  Answer:  by someone poking that spot with the poker, as in voting for that spot, that's how.  Any other chads hanging?  No?  Then it's a vote, asshole.  Both sides lawyered up and the stalemate went on for days.  The Supreme Court stepped in and ultimately they decided the issue.  George W. Bush was declared the winner in Florida, and thus took the election. 

The vote went like this:

For:  Justices Kennedy (appointed by Reagan), O’Connor (Reagan), Rehnquist (Reagan), Scalia (Reagan) and Thomas (George H.W. Bush).
Against:  Justices Breyer (Clinton), Ginsburg (Clinton), Souter (George H.W. Bush) and Stevens (Gerald Ford). 

This activist court decided the election, and George W. Bush became the President of the United States.  We all know how that turned out.  We’ll be paying for it for a long time, with nothing positive to show for that lost eight years.  The loss in dollars is variously reported to be between four and ten trillion dollars, resulting from the unnecessary reduction in tax revenue, the senseless, counterproductive wars in the Middle East, the losses of the financial crisis of 2008 and the resulting bail-outs, and the years of negative economic growth that were all directly attributable to George W. Bush and the policies of the Republican Party.  So thanks for that, Reagan appointees. 

The Serendipity of the Post-2000 Court

Appointments by President’s Bush and Obama have had a beautiful symmetry to them.  With two appointments each, all successful nominees have replaced justices with similar legal styles and political inclinations. 

President Bush the Younger put John Roberts on the court after Chief Justice Rehnquist, and Justice Sam Alito after Justice O’Connor.   Let’s not even get into Bush’s unsuccessful nomination of White House counsel Harriet Miers. 

President Obama has put Justice Sotomayor on the Court, after Justice Souter, and Justice Kagan, after Justice Stevens.  

No major shifts in the conservative/liberal balance there. 

Imagine what would have happened if candidate John McNasty, I mean McCain, had won in 2008.  (I am informed, and believe, that “McNasty” was McClain’s high school nickname.)  Before that election I was feeling very Chicken Little about the potential effect on the Supreme Court.  If McCain had appointed two justices to replace Justices Souter and Stevens there would have been a seven to two conservative majority, and the sky would actually have fallen. 

The Present

Our current Supreme Court is very politically active.  The Republican appointed conservative majority decides which results best serves their political point of view and then invents legal rationales to support their decisions.   Sure, corporations can have religious views and act on them to the detriment of the rights of others!  Take that, homosexuals and women!   Sure, giving unlimited money to politicians is a free speech issue, a First Amendment right!  Take that, democracy!  Sure, we don’t need that Voting Rights Act anymore, we’re Post Racial!  Take that, minorities!  This is just the beginning.

Very soon the honorable ladies and gentlemen of the Court will be revisiting a well settled but still politically volatile issue, the Affordable Care Act.  I say well settled because it was passed by both houses of congress, signed by the President, and it has already withstood a test in the Supreme Court.  It’s the law of the land, according to our precious rules.  That’s as settled as law gets.  But the political winds changed with the recent mid-term elections, so it appears that the issue is back on the table. 

The ACA has performed very well in the real world, increasing the percentage of the insured, bringing healthy, young paying customers into the pool of the insured and starting to bring overall health care costs (spending) down.  It has enhanced health security for millions of Americans and it has brought increased efficiency to the American economy in general.  It is, however, politically anathema to conservatives, and it is, however, associated with a president who is being subjected to unrelenting, irrational opposition by conservatives in general and Republicans in particular.  Our current court is siding with the irrational forces on this one.  There is a good chance that this cabal of politically motivated, activist justices will void an important element of the ACA, the tax credit for health insurance purchased pursuant to the act.  That would destroy all of the benefit of it and we’d be back to square one. 

The Future

The recent mid-term election saw the turnout of eligible voters at about 37% (thirty-seven percent).  Of these, approximately half voted for Republicans.  Slightly more than half, allowing Republicans to achieve majorities in both houses of the national legislature and both houses of the legislatures of many states.   Now we are being told that this was a mandate for Republicans, that this eighteen or so percent of American voters are the voice of the American Public, demanding a return to failed Republican policies and illustrating a general rejection of President Obama’s policies. 

What will happen in 2016 cannot be seen clearly at this time.  The presidency, congress, where will it all go?  The voter turnout in the mid-terms is a bad sign.  Are people really so apathetic?  Are they so disillusioned?  And the ones that actually voted, are they really so ignorant about what is going on in America?  Are they really so afraid of things like immigrants, homosexuals, science, Muslims and black Americans?  The pattern of voting in the mid-terms seems to indicate that people have no objection to losing their civil and political rights, that they prefer corporate prosperity over their own prosperity, that they are thrilled to work harder for less, that they enjoy health insecurity, that the infrastructure of America is fine just as it stands, and that they believe that short term profits to corporations are more important than long term economic security for the United States.  So there is reason to be concerned about the 2016 election. 

Beyond 2016, of course, it is even more difficult to see what will happen.  Who gets elected?  Who dies, and when?  What unforeseen events will overtake us, and by whom will they be manufactured?  It would be too much to expect that any possible result of the 2016 election would precipitate the sudden appearance of peace, equality, security and prosperity.  But given the choice between the alleviation and the exacerbation of the very real horrors of our current situation, I’ll take alleviation if I can get it.   

Time will tell, I suppose. 

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Little Deuce Coupe - The Beach Boys (HQ)

In 1962 and '63 I was all about the Surf Music.  Very upbeat, very cheerful.  Those were simpler times.

They were the Camelot Years, with that beautiful, smiling young family in the White House, the City on the Hill. Much of the popular music on the radio had become stale and saccharin, but there were jems in the mix.  Great hits from New Orleans, the classic Girl Groups from New York, Phil Spector's Wall of Sound, and Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley were doing fine work.  And there was Surf Music, iconic endless summer stuff from California.  I was in high school, freezing in the winter and city-bound in the sweltering summers.  California looked like heaven.  Heaven with a great soundtrack. 

It was almost enough to distract one from the seemingly imminent threat of nuclear destruction and the growing suspicion that something terrible was about to happen in Vietnam.  Almost. 

Great pictures with the video too.  Nice cars.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Spin Easy Time!: Black People In Thailand

This is a link to a retread, a post that I wrote a couple of years ago.  It has started showing up in my stats, so I checked it out.  The information in the post is still good, but a couple of things sprang to mind:

For one thing, I have corrected the problem of not having a black American friend in Thailand.  Thanks, Eddie!  Great guy, and a fine cook too.  I'm very happy to know him.

Also, the post reminded me that I have changed my mind about capitalizing "black" and "white."  I had been capitalizing them because to call American Negroes "black" seemed to me to be selling them short, it seemed too casual.  My intentions were good, but "Black" and "White" were not popular designations.  Mostly because the "White" seemed aggrandizing.   So I've gone to the lower case.  I think that some people were offended, and I apologize for that.

Here's the old post.

Spin Easy Time!: Black People In Thailand: No, I don’t mean “black” in the local sense, which merely means “copper colored and darker than the usual Thai person.” I mean Black in the ...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

My Life Amongst The Races

It would be too much to say that I have always been a great friend to the races, but I hope that a casual observer would at least admit that I have, on balance, done alright.  Okay.  Something like that.  Mediocre isn’t always a bad thing. 

I do try my best to be reasonable about matters of race in America.  I do think about it, and I always have.  Sometimes it sneaks up on me, like this time.

In my early 20’s I carried the mail in New York City’s borough of Queens.  It was hard work then, most routes were carried in a bag on our shoulder.  It probably still is hard, even with the little vans they use now.  I was a substitute carrier, a sub, a “floater,” meaning that I had no route of my own.  My days started variously at five, six, seven or eight o’clock, and they could really stretch out.  I usually took out a route and a half, often two entire routes.  It could be a long day.

Thinking about this the other day, I recalled one evening when I punched out at about 6:30 after twelve hours of humping the boonies.  The bus that I caught to go home was almost empty.  I took a seat near the back and opened the window.  The breeze was like a tonic.  Another young man got on the bus and took the seat in the back, left corner, directly behind me.  “It’s freezing in here,” he said, “shut that window.”  I had long hair at the time, and maybe he had mistaken me for a peace loving hippie that could be pushed around, willy-nilly. 

Now you should know that I had grown up in a very tough part of Queens.  There was always a lot of fighting, and we got hit by the nuns, and we got beaten by our parents too, most of us.  I was never one of the really tough boys, nor was I particularly big or athletic, but I was in the mix and I had learned the dance.  One of the rules was:  never even appear to be backing down from an even fight.  No good could come of it, and it would probably lead to bullying.  No, if the other boy was about your size and seemed to have about your capabilities it was best to get up in his face and fight him if necessary. 

So I turned in my seat and gave him the eyes.  We all knew how to do fifty shades of gathering storm with our eyes.  And not like Steven Seagal either, with all of that ridiculous brow knitting.  All eyes.  The look that I gave him was somewhere between “you’re on my radar” and “are you sure that you want to do this?” 

“I’ve been working since seven this morning, and the breeze feels good,” I said, “I doubt if I’m closing this window.”  Then I just turned my back on him, like the matter was settled.  And it was, too.  The window stayed open and the rest of the ride was quiet. 

This particular young man was white, like me.  I could read him like a book, I knew him even though we had never seen each other before.  Recalling this incident recently, I wondered what difference it would have made if the young man had been black.  Same size and age as me, also not particularly tough or athletic, but black.  I had to admit that it would have made a big difference.  I would still have given him the eyes, that much was habitual, but I don’t think that I would have said anything.  I think that I would have simply closed the window and moved to another spot on the still almost empty bus.  The question becomes:  would I have been acting out of fear? 

Honestly, I don’t think so.  It would have been uncertainty, not fear.  Fear would be too strong a word.  I just didn’t know enough about black people to be able to read them with any confidence.  I was ignorant on the subject.  It occurs to me that in some people this uncertainty may turn into fear, but somehow I got lucky.  All it made me was curious. 

Up until the age of fifteen I don’t think that I had ever interacted with a black person, maybe a few clerks in stores, that’s it.  Black singers and baseball players?  That’s another story.  But no interaction.  After that I had black school chums, black friends in the Navy (which pissed the white people off!  Go figure!), and I had worked with black men, but still, what did I really know about them?  About their lives?  On what would I base predictions about black behavior?  The ice was forming, but it was still too thin to trust by walking around on it.  My understanding of black people was woefully inadequate.  It probably still is!  "Probably" my ass!  It still is!  Even less then.  Hence, that uncertainty that would have occurred on the bus, if that young man had been black. 

It’s important to consider these things.  One of the more disagreeable aspects of our shitty world is the myth that America has become some kind of “post-racial” society.  Only a charlatan trying to sell a flush that included four hearts and a diamond could even say the words “post racial” with a straight face.  Maybe I should write more on this subject.  Maybe it would be helpful, and you know how much I love to be helpful!  Maybe.  It could happen. 

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Great Lines From The Movies: Ice Station Zebra

Spoken by Patrick McGoohan, playing a kind of 007 character, describing what the Russians had done to precipitate the mess that is central to the film:

"They took our camera, made by our German scientists, and used your film, made by your German scientists, and shot it into space in a rocket made by their German scientists . . ."

Very droll!

John Lee Hooker- I Need Some Money

What a great version of this song.  John Lee was never what you'd call "versatile," but in his range he had real style and lots of backbone.

If I felt like being a bitch about it, I could say, "well John Lee, you could always sue somebody!"  But I'm in a good mood, so I won't.

The Internet Of Things Is Coming

Science is running out in front of Science Fiction these days at a goodly rate.  And not just the Ivory Tower/multi-verse/string theory/quantum this-and-that crowd either.  As way out as the academics can be, the nuts-and-bolts engineering group is running right out there with them.  Take the “Internet of Things,” please.

The junior geniuses of the tech/entrepreneur class tend to do things for the same reason that a dog licks his own dick:  because they can.  Often they don’t give any more thought to what they do than the dog does.  It has come to their attention that many things are already controlled by CPU’s, and that some of those things can be remotely monitored or operated.  “So,” they figure, “why don’t we do that with everything?”  And they mean everything too, from the locks on your door to the egg compartment of your refrigerator. 

As is so often the case, there is a good deal of naiveté about the enterprise, a lot of pure greed, and a dangerous disregard for consequences.   I’m sure that there are great advances to be made in fields like manufacturing and logistics, but the tech boys go much further. 

“Just imagine!” they say with their stupid, probably youthful enthusiasm, “you could be at work and tell your slow-cooker to start exactly six hours before you got home!”  Isn’t that how slow-cookers work in the first place?  “It’ll be so great,” they’re getting worked up now, “you can connect your coffee maker to your phone (and your rice cooker too, if you enjoy the Asian lifestyle) and whatever time you set the phone alarm for, the coffee (and the rice) will be ready when you wake up!” 

Do these strike you as game-changing advantages in life?  I didn’t think so.

Of course, these things are only the beginning.  There’s a lot of hyperbole involved.  These wild men envision a world where every single outlet, bulb, and device in every building of any kind in the entire world is constantly communicating with its fellows, through either local or vast networks, the Internet, the web, the cloud, or the fog (whatever that is). 

Oh, and don’t forget all of the vehicles, every one of them in the world, not to mention the roads and bridges, etc.  All connected, monitored and reporting data.  You yourself will be hooked up!  What a relief to know that your very first irregular heartbeat will be reported to “your doctor.”  Sorry for the sarcasm.  I can’t help it sometimes.

Did I say hyperbole?  Some of these guys say that this Internet of Things will be a new industrial revolution, that it will so increase efficiency and productivity that all of society’s problems will melt away. 

The cheerleaders remind me of the science writers in the 1950’s who told us that advances in nuclear power and automation would give us a new age of prosperity and leisure.  We all know how that one worked out.  The productivity gains all happened as predicted, but every bit of the benefit went to the corporations and their investor class.  Working people are working harder than ever, and producing more, with nothing to show for it.  Does anyone think that this new explosion in productivity will work out any differently?  There’s very little discussion of the harm that all of this could do.  The dangers of hacking, surveillance, thievery and mischief of all kinds.  Not to mention the chaos and frustration!  I mean, already I can’t get my Android phone to communicate with my wi-fi.  Now I’ll be expected to get everything in the house to communicate with everything else.  That, I say with confidence, will not be possible.  

Look, I’m no Luddite but this all sounds like a terrible idea to me.  I don’t even like any automatic things in general.  I have always hated automatic transmissions in cars, for example.  I have to sit there anyway, so why not make my own gear selections?  I work a gearbox better than any automatic transmission that I’ve ever driven.  I do like my rice cooker, but that’s about as far as I’m willing to go.

By all means connect everything in your factory, and put chips on shipping boxes to assist in tracking them.   I do see the possibilities for enhanced productivity and energy efficiency.  You can even keep the increased profits, Mr. Industrialist.  But leave me out of it.

If I forget that I’m out of eggs on the evening before I want to make French toast for breakfast, I can live with that.  Yes, a “smart egg tray” in your refrigerator is one of the big ideas floating around.  And my doctor can trust me to keep up with my schedule of medication.  He doesn’t need automatic updates from my smart pill caddy.  And no, I don’t want my medical insurance carrier notified every time I have a drink or two over the recommended maximum.  That’ll be in the cards before too long.  And why would anyone support a system that would allow the government or any interested party to know where anybody at all happens to be at any time?  Efficiency my ass, this is techno-fascism. 

In fact, it’s insane, but it will happen (because it can).  To paraphrase the eminently quotable Salvatore Dali:  struggle neither for nor against modernity, it’s the one thing that you cannot avoid. 

Please ask yourself, who will benefit?  People will be tricked into paying for most of the infrastructure (the devices) and the corporations will reap the financial rewards.  Not only those provided by increased productivity, but also those stemming from the huge amount of data that will be accumulated and sold for purposes that can only be guessed at.  Marketing interests, no doubt, but also employers and potential employers and health providers.  Not to mention the government, which will be able like Johnny-on-the-Spot to control your behavior in detail.  Even Winston Smith in “1984” had only the telescreens to worry about.  We’ll be surrounded by little spies. 

It’ll be great!  

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Franklin Thompson - My Money's Kinda Funny

Who are the real takers?  Are they people like the singer, whose lack of a job and money are hurting his chances with the ladies, or are they the individuals and dynasties who just can't seem to get enough, the zero-point-one percent?

Job creators my bony old white ass.  The cleptocrats of the New Gilded Age are the real takers.

Friday, November 7, 2014

Why Don't You Play in Hell? Official US Release Trailer (2014) - Sion So...

Japanese movies have fallen into pre-set genres since the medium got to Japan.  Period movies (various periods); motherhood movies; wife movies; young-people-do-crazy-shit movies; middle-class life movies; yakuza movies; and something that the academics call "nonsense movies."  These are a little like screwball comedies sometimes, but sometimes they are much, much weirder. 

My favorite so far in the nonsense group is The Crazy Family.  Boy, that one is a hoot.  Somehow it got onto Los Angeles cable TV; there are clips on YouTube.  Check it out if you can.

This movie falls into the Bermuda Triangle between youth movies, yakuza movies and nonsense movies, which sounds to me like cinema heaven.  I love Japanese art, it is a really amazing culture.  Musically they are the funky Asians, Japanese music is a thousand times better than the rest of Asian music, which is almost entirely saccharin and cloying and awful.  Japanese music swings, which is not easy boys and girls, it takes talent.  Japanese movies are the brass balled champions of no-holds-barred cinema.  You want it?  you got it!  you're the director.  That's their system!!!  Directors make movies, and the producer just says, okay!   

I hope that I get a chance to see this one, it looks all the way nuts.  It's playing in L.A. in December, but I won't be there until February.  I doubt if the Bangkok bootleggers will copy this one, and full price mail-order is over my head.  Maybe someday! 

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Al Green - Nothing Takes The Place Of You

Down below the last post is the original of this song, by Toussaint McCall, and it can't be beat for pathos.  Let's face it, this is a sad, sad song. 

I love cover versions, and I love Al Green.  Al always sounds a bit ecstatic, whatever he's singing.  So no surprise, here he sounds kind of sad and kind of ecstatic. 

I love this version, but I didn't cry.  Toussaint's version?  I cry every single time. 

The Benefits Of Reading And Writing

Stepping back from the abstract for a moment, today I wish to embrace the practical.

Reading and writing are good for very different things.

Reading is a great way to gather information, but if you’re not careful it can fool you.  Reading, by itself, may bring only the illusion of understanding.

Writing about the things that we have read forces us to fill in these gaps in our knowledge of a subject; it may remind us that our understanding is incomplete.   In an academic setting, writing is a great benefit in that it can solidify our understanding. 

Writing requires a different kind of thinking and a different, deeper level of understanding.  At its best, it serves to lock what we know into our long-term memory. 

Law School Study

My academic career was all over the place.  Over the course of twenty-five years I went from being one of the worst university students in America to being one of the very good ones.  It really began to click for me when I started to approach it on a problem-solving level, and to treat it like a job. 

I started law school at the age of forty and by that time I was very interested in the whole process.  I even did research.  We had a blind grading system at my school; we were issued “grade numbers” and that was the only way in which our tests were identified.  Our final grades appeared on bulletin boards where we looked up our grade numbers to find our grades.  I figured out a way to discover the grade numbers of a sizeable group of my fellow students. 

We had many writing projects to do over the course of the semester.  When we handed them in we just put them in a box.  They were identified by our grade numbers.  I would wait to hand mine in until a suitable subject for study placed his or hers in the box before me, and then I would surreptitiously make a note of their grade numbers.  This enterprise got fascinating very quickly.

During first year we were grouped in three sections and had all of our classes together as a section.  Law school uses the Socratic Method, so there’s a lot of questions and answers in the classes.  It quickly became obvious that some students who always seemed well prepared, and seemed to understand the material very well, did not do well on the tests.  They understood the material well enough to talk about it but not well enough to write about it.  I established that this was due to the fact that they had not incorporated writing into their studies.  The first time they tried to write about it was on the test itself, and by then it was too late.

The best students wrote their own outlines for each class.  They synthesized the material first into a rather lengthy outline, and before the test they reduced this to a very brief “key word” out line.  This forced them to deal with the material in a concrete way.  I wasn’t among the best students, but I used this technique myself.  I did fine.

The Bar Exam

Here too, many of my friends were lulled into a false sense of security by the fact that when they scanned study outlines prepared by others they seemed to “remember” everything.  They had, indeed, read it all before.  This is comparable to the phenomenon of “recognition vocabulary,” as opposed to “usable vocabulary.”  We can understand our recognition vocabularies just fine when we read them somewhere, but we cannot use them when we speak or write for ourselves.  My friends remembered reading those things but they had not properly integrated the material into their short or long term memories.

The bar exam reminded many of them very forcefully that their understanding was incomplete.   My own bar preparation included a ton of writing.  Again, I did fine.

Non-Academic Reading

These days, people read a great deal of “news” and “opinion” on the Internet.  I put those words in quotes advisedly, because much of what the ‘Net describes as news or opinion is really no such thing, being mere propaganda instead.   The content of the Internet is severely compartmentalized, and the readers too often seek out sites that cater to their prejudices.   Oh, that’s a charged word, let’s say their prior convictions.  Confirmation bias is a danger.   By only reading sites that speak from the same point-of-view as the reader, the reader is reinforced in his existing beliefs. 

A great number of people who do most of their reading on the Internet become convinced that they are well informed, when in fact just the opposite is true.  They are only being fed a steady diet of talking points, bite-sized morsels prepared by people who wish to control their readers politically.  Slogans, like “Kenyan socialist.”  The readers go one step further.  Feeling themselves to be well informed, they become convinced that their own opinions are insightful and valuable.   Being constantly reinforced in all of this, they also become convinced that they are correct. 

Many of the comments left by Internet readers comically push aside any thought that they may be well informed or possessed of valuable opinions.  They either plagiarize other uninformed comments or quote from the talking points of the day.  That’s if they’re engaging with the issues at all, and not merely resorting to ad hominem attacks or specious character assassination.  Or worse. 

I wouldn’t suggest that Internet readers take notes on what they read, or start blogs, or keep notebooks.  That would be too much to ask from people whose lives are already up to fucking here with things to do.  I do not mean that sarcastically either, people are busy, I get it.  I would only ask that people, including me and, gentle reader, you, remain suspicious of what we read in general, and that in particular we remain suspicious of any information gained from casual reading.  

Perhaps before commenting on an individual post or article we should seek some confirmation of what it is that tweaks our outrage, and maybe even take a moment to think about the situation, before we launch off into a comment that may not present us in our best light. 

Or not!  I know that many people have friends who can hardly wait to see the next hilarious Michelle Obama “Wookie” picture.  And yes, that’s what this post is all about.  That shit dangerously raises my blood pressure, and I want it to stop immediately.  

Monday, November 3, 2014

Toussaint McCall - Nothing Takes The Place Of You

I'm not 100% Irish, but I'm Irish enough to favor sad songs.  This is one of the saddest.  I used to play and sing it myself, before an unfortunate partial finger amputation. 

I'd be surprised if Toussaint made two nickels on this song when it was released.  Maybe it charted regionally, but I doubt if it had any national traction.  It was elevated to the national consciousness by being included in the soundtrack of the movie "Hairspray."  So here's a shout out to John Waters for that.  Mr. Waters, and Robert Rodriguez and Quentin Tarantino too, do us a favor and do the songs a service by reminding us how great they are.  

Sunday, November 2, 2014

Recent Advances In Time

(There's a kicker towards the end.  If you are feeling frisky, you can skim down to "I get carried away myself sometimes.")  

When physicists start talking about time they leave the layman in the dust in a hurry.  They think about time a lot though, and they do talk about it, and if you just let your mind wander along with them it can be interesting.

There’s a very nice “small” literary magazine here on the ‘Net called “Lapham’s Quarterly.”  The new issue has time as a theme, and some of it is very interesting indeed.   In particular, an article called “The Grand Illusion,” by Jim Holt, gave me a couple of jolts.   (All subsequent quotes are from the Holt article.  Used for educational purposes!  Certainly I’m not making a nickel on it.)

Evidently it’s all relative, in fact time seems to be even much more relative than science fiction fans or physicists have been given to believe since Einstein’s discoveries.  It depends not only on how fast you are going, but also on where you happen to be and in what direction you are moving.  Proximity to certain structures in the universe will produce permanent time distortions.  Distance from the event and relative motion are meaningful in ways that can seem very strange.

“Suppose . . . that Jones is walking uptown on Fifth Avenue and Smith is walking downtown.  Their relative motion results in a discrepancy of several days in what they would judge to be happening ‘now’ in the Andromeda Galaxy at the moment they pass each other on the sidewalk.” 

After the quote the writer puts in some snark about what may be happening in Andromeda.   I’ll spare you the details.  The people who understand these things can be a bit condescending. 

Gravity is now believed to have a controlling influence on time.  Not just affecting the speed of light traveling through the universe, but even adjusting time itself.  Black holes stop time all together, creating a “no-when” situation.  Time is completely absent where their influence is complete.   Close by but outside the event horizon the relative value of time merely changes.  I believe that the movie Interstellar plays with these ideas.  

When these geniuses consider the future of the universe, and they do, they apparently fall into two main camps.  Some believe, or are at least very suspicious with some evidence, that the universe will continue to expand until all mater of any kind will be reduced to its component protons and electrons.  This is the “ending in ice” possibility.  Even the sub-atomic particles will be so far apart that no interaction is possible.  Amazingly, even then some of them believe that further interaction may be possible.  Maybe they’re talking about quantum relationships, I don’t know.  Most of the scientists will admit that they don’t understand that stuff either.

The article does not speculate on how long this ultimate expansion into nothingness might take, wisely omitting a number that would confuse us even more.

There is also an “ending in fire” possibility.  This alternative would see a reassertion of gravity that would halt the expansion of the universe and ultimately cause everything to collapse back onto itself, resulting in a “Big Crunch.”  This crunch could get really strange.

“Some cosmic optimists have argued that in the final moments before such a Big Crunch an infinite amount of energy could be released.  This energy, the optimists say, could be harnessed by our deep-future descendants to power an infinite amount of computation, giving rise to an infinite number of thoughts.  Since these thoughts would unfold at a faster and faster pace, subjective time would seem to go on forever, even though objective time was about to come to an end . . . a virtual eternity.”

I’m not sure that that hypothesis will be testable, but aren’t these scientists great?  They’ll think about anything.  Some of them really do get carried away.

I get carried away myself sometimes. 

Something of a long time ago I was considering the whole phenomenon of one’s “life flashing in front of one’s eyes” in the instant before death.  Unlike the Big Crunch, there is plenty of anecdotal evidence for this event.  People have experienced it and then not died; they can then tell us about it.  I don’t mind letting my mind wander sometimes over things like time but generally I do like to keep my feet on the ground.  Plus, we all have a personal interest in the existence of this pre-death thought process.  If it really happens, it will probably happen to all of us someday. 

If your entire life is going to “flash” in front of your eye, we’re talking about some kind of time distortion here.  A lot has happened to me, and compressing it all into an instant would take some doing.  I have some experience with time distortions, both natural and chemically enhanced.   (Relax! Maybe I’m talking about nitrous oxide at the dentist!  But I’m not just talking about that.)  They exist, and when they happen they are very compelling; they become the reality of the “moment.” 

I wish that I had never thought about this whole idea.  I wish that I had just treated it all as foolishness and moved on without looking back.  This could turn out to be the greatest horror of life on earth.

Some people may look back on their lives with joy, enjoying all of the fond memories, reliving all of the successes, lovingly scanning the catalog of their happiness in those last milliseconds.  For them it could be Heaven.   Some of us would feel quite differently.  Death for some of us represents nothing more than a wonderful opportunity to never be reminded of those things again.  Imagine the pleasant anticipation of freedom from those memories interrupted by a fucking emotional onslaught of everything, in detail.  And now imagine that some fantastic time distortion makes it seem that this rehash is going on for a long, long time, maybe even that “virtual eternity” of the Big Crunch. 

Our very own Big Crunch!  Just as we were imminently scheduled to come to an end!  It’s too horrible to consider.  That might be the reality of Hell.  What could be worse than Hell turning out to be real after all?  Some kind of supercharged quantum physical event?  As Kurtz said:  the horror! 

Time; our time on earth.  It seems to flow, that’s enough for me.  There is a past; there is the present; there is a future.  Let them be each thing in turn, and then let them be gone.  Gone quickly, with as little suffering as possible.  That’s my Christmas wish for all of us.  An end to suffering.  Preferably in life, but at least let death be an end to suffering.  And quantum physics, rather than ourselves, be damned. 

Thursday, October 30, 2014

Paxman vs Brand - full interview - BBC News

Russell Brand has become a rare, gracious and lucid voice of  reason in our society.  (Exclamation points.)

Isn't it a bit surprising, a bit of a shock, and yes, a bit of a shame, that we should have to wait for a mere "comedian" to take up this mantle?  A shame, isn't it, that we should have to wait for Russell Fucking Brand to speak the truth so directly and effectively to the abuse of power that is drowning us?  

Well, I'm just grateful.  Thanks Russell!  I hope that people listen.  It's sad that a clown has to step forward as a statesman while all of the statesmen are busy turning themselves into clowns. 

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Should Presidents Have Prior Military Service?

This would never occur to me as an important consideration, but I saw something recently on Facebook.  There are hundreds of snarky, disrespectful things being posted these days about President Obama.  They run from the truly offensive (Witch Doctor photoshops) to mere attempts to be clever with innuendos about his supposed lack of credentials.  Among the later was a picture with the question:  Should we require our presidents to have prior military service?

This is, of course, a dig at Presidents Obama and Clinton, not coincidentally both Democrats.  It is a short sighted hit-piece that has obviously not been thought through.

For one thing, many presidents in recent memory have not had any military experience at all, prior or otherwise.  Of Democrats, besides Obama and Clinton, there's FDR and Woodrow Wilson.  Would anyone say that they were poorly prepared to be president?  Well yes, lots of people would, actually.  They were Democrats, and for a hundred years now Democrats have received the treatment.  FDR and Wilson are, in spite of everything, justifiably revered for their performance in office.  Of Republicans, there's Hoover, Coolidge and Harding.  Maybe those three could have used the extra training and discipline, but that's just me.

But how about mediocre service?  Would mediocre service help at all to prepare somebody to be president?  After all, they can't all be Eisenhowers.  President Eisenhower was the greatest West Point graduate of the century, eminently successful in matters military and political.  Importantly, his military experience was at the highest level of command, but how many can say that?  None of the others, it turns out.

Take George W. Bush, please.  He juiced his way into the Texas Air National Guard in a naked attempt by a rich, powerful family to protect him from the dangers of Vietnam.  His service was thoroughly mediocre, and that's putting it politely.  The skylarking, the long periods of being AWOL, not a distinguished period of service.  He was a mediocre president too, and that's being generous.

How about Ronald Reagan, a great hero to some.  Reagan took a home-study Army Extension course in 1937 and it got him a commission in the Army Reserve.  He was activated in 1942, albeit on limited service due to eyesight issues.  He was assigned to the 1st Motion Picture Unit in Culver City, and later worked for the War Loan Drive.  Less than heroic, with no command responsibilities.  No distinguished service, and no relevant experience to be the president.

Nixon?  Anybody remember Nixon?  He was a supply officer in the Pacific and worked at mundane tasks on islands far behind the point of the spear.  Mediocre. 

JFK's wartime experience was actually heroic, there was nothing mediocre about it.  But it was short on command experience.  He captained a PT boat and saw a lot of action.  Ditto, George H.W. Bush, heroic and exceptional.  He piloted a Grumman Avenger and captained a flight crew of three.  He also saw a lot of action, the dangerous kind, and both he and JFK came close to death when they were sunk/shot down, and both lost crew members to death.  Maybe the experiences shaped their "commander in chief" style, and maybe in a good way, but not so you'd want to require men to have done such things.

Gerald Ford could have skated on combat.  He was a lawyer already when the war started.  Rather than wait to be drafted into the rear-echelon officer corps he joined the Navy.  After a couple of years as a training officer he requested sea duty and spent the last two years of the war as a gunnery officer on an aircraft carrier that saw considerable combat service.  Admirable, and almost heroic, but . . . 

Jimmy Carter was a Naval officer, and he actually had command responsibilities as the XO and engineering officer of nuclear submarines.  I think that's pretty heroic even in peace time.  Probably didn't help him as president.  The engineering part might even have held him back.  Engineers like logical solutions that are susceptible to  proof, and those are rarely available to a president.

Carter and Ford had very creditable service with some command responsibilities in semi-heroic situations.  Neither is anyone's favorite president, let's face it.  

Here's a good one:  would anyone suggest that George Patton would have made a good president?  That would be a stretch, wouldn't it? 

So what would be the point of requiring prior military service for our presidents?  None at all, except as pointed barbs to be aimed at Obama and Clinton.  Both men have done a fine job as president without it.  (I can hear the screaming from here!  Nine to twelve time zones away!  Oh, the agony of giving any credit at all to these fine, if imperfect, men!)  There would be arguments about their successes, but the lie to those arguments would come into sharp focus if the arguments were extended to include FDR and Wilson.  And they would be extended.  All four could be painted with the "progressive" brush, and that's a curse these days among so-called conservatives. 

It would be an almost impossible thing to require anyway.  Wouldn't it require a constitutional amendment?  That's not going to happen.  It's just the right-wing echo chamber getting their snark on.  As distasteful as that is, we should be used to it by now. 

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

The Vocabulary Of Baseball

I'll bet that most of my Farang friends are watching the World Series.  Of my Thai friends, I'd be surprised if any were watching at all.

For the uninitiated, if you've only seen baseball on television you may miss the fact that the field is very big, and there are big spaces in between the players.  TV tends to compress all of the images.  As a great man once said, the object of baseball is to "hit it where they ain't."

A ball hit to the outfield may be a mere "fly ball;" it may be a "line drive;" it may be a "blooper;" or a "Texas leaguer;" or a "floater."  A line drive may be a "frozen rope;" a fly ball may be a "dying quail."  A line drive may go up a "power alley," and travel all the way to the wall. 

A ball to the outfield may "fall in" or be "run down."  It may go down the line or into the corner, or it may be hit into "the gap."  If three fielders are closing for the catch but they all miss it, the ball falls into the "Bermuda triangle."  (A new one on me.) 

A ball hit to the infield is usually just a "ground ball," but it may be a "dribbler;" or a "chopper;" or a "bunt."  They may be down the line, some even traveling "over the bag;" they may be "in the hole," or "up the middle."  They may even be said to "have eyes."  Balls hit in the air in the infield are generally either "pop ups" or "floaters."

If the batter strikes the ball but it doesn't go into fair territory, the ball may be "fouled back;" or "fouled off;" or "fouled out of play."  Or it may just be "foul tipped."

If you've never played baseball, you may be forgiven to think that there's not much going on.  But believe me, for a baseball fan, the whole thing can be quite exciting.  

Space, The Final Frontier!

“Interstellar” is coming out soon.  The story includes interstellar travel, and, I think, intergalactic travel as well.  My question is this:  why is this kind of enterprise only conceivable in a fictional setting? 

I see scientists on TV frequently talking about space travel, but it all has to do with how much fuel, or what propulsion systems, and how many thousands of years at the speed of light would it take to get anywhere.  They are much more comfortable speaking about travel around our own solar system.   I wonder why they limit their imaginations so? 

Probably it’s because they want to be taken seriously in their own academic communities.  They don’t want to sound like kooks.  Plus, they must speak in the language of their academic communities.  They limit their speculations to linear travel in conventionally propelled vehicles because to do otherwise would require them to resort to the language of science fiction, like warp drives, hyperspace, the folding of space and so forth.  They’re afraid that it would make them sound like game-boys, or a bit deranged.  They are right to worry, I think.  Scientific academia is very unforgiving of eccentricity. 

There are, however, reasonable things to be said about the prospects of intergalactic travel that would not require millennia to get anywhere.

The most important point is that intergalactic travel will finally be achieved by a mechanism that we now know little or nothing about.  Of the two, I think that “nothing” has a better shot of being true.

But maybe it’s more like the stick that we are playing with idly in our cage before the little light goes on:  oh!  I can use this stick to reach that piece of fruit over there! 

Consider the problem of lighting our domiciles.  Up to the Eighteenth Century this was a real challenge.  They don’t call it “midnight” for nothing.  Most people were asleep by eight o’clock and up again at four because they went to bed when it got dark, or shortly thereafter.  Candles were expensive.  It only got a little bit better with gas lighting in what, the Nineteenth Century?  I should look that up.  If you had suggested to anyone at the time that very soon it would be possible to light up every domicile in the world like a Christmas tree for as many hours per day as you chose to do so, they would have thought that you were crazy.  “Impossible!” they’d say, “there’s not enough wax and tallow and whale oil in the world!”  It didn’t require more bees working harder or more whales suddenly becoming available.  All that was required was one Thomas Edison. 

Our Thomas Edison of the infinite void will reveal himself to us in time, if we are still here to receive him.  If science and human society are permitted the luxury of continuing at an even keel for a few more centuries we should have the time to get there.  Whether we will enjoy that luxury appears to be in some doubt these days, but look for the good!  History is as full of bad times, catastrophes and sheer, unadulterated stupidity as the ocean is full of salt water.  We’re still here, aren’t we?  So there’s hope.  

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Happy Birthday, Universe!

Back in the mid-Seventeenth Century there was a fellow named Bishop Ussher who was quite the little thinker.  By a close study of the revealed literature of Judaism and other religions, plus secular sources that were earlier, he calculated that the moment of creation happened at 9:00 a.m. on October 27th, in the year 4004 BC.  Many people actually took him seriously.

Happy 6,018th Birthday to all that exists!  

The good bishop, and others, tinkered with this calculation over the immediately following years.  So now you will find that date variously reported as the 26th of October; the 23rd of October; “the night immediately preceding October 23rd;" and even “sunset in Jerusalem on October 22nd.”  Martin Luther felt like a little bit of precision would go a long way in this matter, so he just ballparked it as “the year 4000 BC.” 

Before you think that all of this should seem ridiculous to us in the modern world, recall that America is currently awash in “Young Earth Creationists” who take the good bishop at his word. 

Science, of course, has something to say about all of this.  The light, they say, that can now be seen coming from the edge of the universe has taken some thirteen billion years and change to reach us, so the universe must be at least that old.  The believers are having none of it. 

In their favor, they do believe in a God that is omnipotent, and omnipresent, and all-knowing and all the rest.  So this God could easily have made the entire thing to only seem to be thirteen billion years old.  That would be an interesting trick, but I have never read of the reasons for God doing such a thing being addressed.   

It would reinforce the greatness of their God if it were true, because only a lavishly omnipotent God could create a universe that so perfectly mimicked having existed for thirteen billion years.  It would speak to the mind of God too, because to pull that wool so far over the eyes of the world’s scientists such a creator-God would need to be not only supremely powerful, but also extremely clever and very mischievous.  Those scientists are pretty clever themselves. 

Bishop Ussher lived in a world that did not know the age of things, so six thousand years could seem reasonable to them.  Six thousand years was a long time to them, it represented a time before history as they understood it.  They knew something of the scale of the heavens, but they still believed that the earth was located at the center.  They knew the approximate age of the pyramids, but of things older than the pyramids they were in the dark.  Things like Gobekli Tepli, and the cave paintings, and dinosaurs, were either not known or were improperly understood.  So they could have calculated the date of creation without considering the mind of God.  We no longer have that luxury.  We know that if God created the universe to appear older than it is, God’s reasons for doing so must be considered. 

I was convinced as a teenager that it was a mistake to speculate about the mind of God.  I still feel that way, and I would add that it is a waste of time too.  If God is merely mischievous, you’ll get away with it, but if God still has that vengeful, proud streak, you’re just asking for trouble.  It may be an affront to God. 

Science is a useful pursuit, but even religion may have a place in our earthly lives.  Better though, if we just let God be God, with a smile and full respect for the mystery, and concentrate on making life on earth a less terrible thing than we found it.  

Saturday, October 25, 2014

What Mark Upon This World?

What mark will we make, we bloggers, upon this world?  What stain will we leave to prove that we were ever here at all?

There was a highly entertaining blogger named Riley, up until his sudden exit from this and any other scenes in July, 2013.  The blog can still be found at:

Boy, that was one mighty entertaining blog right there.  I, and lots of other people, really enjoyed the hijinks over there.  Mr. Riley, aka James Riley, aka J.B.S. Riley, was a real hoot, in life, and here's the good news:  he's still a real hoot after all this time, and it seems like Google's policy will be to allow him to remain a hoot indefinitely.   I just checked the site and it's unchanged since the last post on July 24, 2013.  It's possible that Google will allow it to remain, unchanged, in its entirety, for all time.  You should go over and start reading.  Read a hundred thousand words!  It will all repay the effort.  Riley was good. 

What evidence do I have that such an eternal presence is possible?  Check out the Blogspot blogs.  There are thousands of blogs, perhaps millions, that were set up a long time ago and then allowed to lapse.  This blog right here has been nurtured with love since 2007, but some are not so lucky.  Some blogs are abandoned after a few months of halfhearted posting, some after one single solitary post.  They  remain there, sorry things, and if you want to take the name for a new blog of your own you will be disappointed.  They will remain there, poor stunted, moribund things, probably forever, taking up space, and some very catchy names by the way.

This is probably a function of the huge, luxurious excess of "cloud" storage space that now exists.  My blog, how many thousands of posts are there?  But how many bits or bytes is that?  Enough to worry about?  It's just text, most of it.  The pictures and vid's are elsewhere, aren't they?  Text requires almost no space at all!  Why not leave it there when I die!  Forever!  Perhaps posterity will discover some value in it that Google can monetize!  One never knows.

So maybe I will be appreciated for having written this blog.  Some day!  Perhaps a hundred, or two hundred, or a thousand years from now.  Appreciated for some clever turn of phrase, or for my socially progressive attitude, or maybe for my wonderful musical suggestions.  But I'll tell you right now, if people in the future are still paying attention to old school blogs from these Dark Ages of ours, they'll be paying attention to the Doghouse Riley's of our benighted and dimwitted world, and not to me.  Riley will be searchable.  Riley got some serious hit counts, lots of re-posts, and lots of mentions up there where it counts.  Those will be the mechanics of the future searches.  That's how they'll find "the good stuff." And don't worry, I'm not bitter.  He really was better than me in every way.  I'd rather read him than me, myself. 

So if you are a visitor from the future, thanks for stopping by.  I hope that you pass a good time, I really do.  If you get bored, try stopping by over at  That Riley, he's a real hoot. 

Thursday, October 23, 2014

On Pupils And Students

I had thought that the words pupil and student were more or less interchangeable.  My feeling, maybe it was just a feeling? was that a pupil was someone who went to school, while a student was someone who studied.  But, meaning more or less the same thing.

I recall joking while I was in high school that I was more of a pupil than a student, because I did, indeed, go to school, but I never actually studied.

It is possible that I was correct in the American sense of the terms.  The English, however, seem to see more of a distinction, based on etymology.  My Oxford Concise defines a pupil as "one who is taught by another," and a student as "one who studies at secondary or higher education."  So there are elementary school pupils and high school and university students.  This because pupil is based in words that describe children.

There would be a certain rhythm to that.

The question was posed to me directly by a Thai friend.  They are full of questions like this.  "What is the difference between a pupil and a student?"

The two equivalent words in Thai are used in a more clear cut manner.  A "nak-rien" attends elementary school or high school, while a "nak-suksa" attends university.  "Rien" is the verb meaning to study; "suksa" has the broader meaning of learning, which implies more understanding.

I really learn a lot when I consider these sincere, relevant questions.  Thanks, guys! 

Monday, October 20, 2014

Archie Sheep - Rufus (Swung His Face At Last To The Wind, Then His Neck ...

Usually my jazz favorites lists are filled with more melodic stuff, but I can get with the free sometimes.  About twenty years ago, almost twenty years, I bought a double record set of jazz sax cuts (used), a real mixed bag of tricks.  This was on there, and somehow it really connected for me.  I still love it.

When people ask me, "what kind of music do you like?" I really don't know what to tell them.  I'm all over the place.  So to provide an answer that is comforting and understandable I usually say something like, "if they had fun playing it, I have fun listening to it." 

I think that they had fun playing this.  Don't you agree? 

Monday, October 13, 2014

Happy Birthday U. S. Navy!

I just discovered on the Facebook that it's the birthday of the United States Navy.  Well congratulations!  That's a great outfit.

I joined the Navy myself, during an actual war I might add, although I cannot claim to have made any success of my involvement.  I did get an Honorable Discharge at the end of my service, of which I am justifiably proud.

The Navy, people don't really understand what the Navy does.  Isn't it all so romantic and relatively easy?  Not always.

Did you know that twice as many sailors died at Guadalcanal than did Marines and Army soldiers combined?  There were four or five naval battles in the surrounding waters while the battle was going on, and push came to fucking shove too.  Many ships were blown up and sunk, many of our ships, and many ships of the Imperial Japanese Navy too.  That was a good outfit.  It was kind of a scandal that the Japanese did so well, but the reason was that they were very good.  The U.S. Navy did better as time wore on, and came out ahead at the end, but in the meantime something like 4,500 bluejackets got killed, just in those naval battles off Guadalcanal, and a lot of good ships went down.  

Here's a great story:  on D-Day in Normandy, a sailor off a destroyed landing craft, carrying an M-1, approaches an army general and asks him how to work the thing.  The general shows him how.  The sailor walks off to join an impromptu fighting group.  "You know," he says, "I joined the Navy so I wouldn't have to do this sort of thing."

I joined the Navy for just that reason myself.  But . . . et in Arcadia, ego. 

Saturday, October 11, 2014

North Korean Spelling Etiquette

I've been getting the spelling of North Korean names all wrong.  It's got a unique rhythm to it.

It's actually "Kim Jong-un."  And then there's his full sister, "Kim Yo-jong."  He has a full brother too, "Kim Jong-chul." 

So wherever I have referred to Kim Jong Un, please read, "Kim Jong-un."

How typical is that?  I learn to adequately print the man's name only after he's probably dead. 

Best wishes to the next Kim!  Best of luck looking at things!  I hope it's the sister myself.  I hear that she's as svelte as the "current" Kim is chunky.   Looking at pictures of her looking at things would be funny and it might be, well, otherwise entertaining.