Sunday, May 25, 2014

Baby Washington-You Never Could Be Mine b/w The Time

I just checked the Google and yes, Ms. Washington is still alive and still working.  I'll bet that she still puts on a great show.

What a voice!  Justine "Baby" Washington.  I love the bands on these records too, and the arrangements.  Check out the call and response between the horns and the guitar on "You Never Could Be Mine."

It's always funny to me that people say that there was a dead spot in Rock n' Roll between like 1959 and 1963, that it was all these saccharin, corporate white guys like Fabian and Neil Sedaka or something. The pitch is that the Beatles came along and saved Rock n' Roll.  Not true at all.  '59 to '63 was the period of Baby Washington's greatest output, for one thing, not to mention Ike and Tina Turner, the great girl-groups like the Shirelles and the Marvelettes, and Phil Spector.  There was a ton of great stuff in the R & B charts off in that parallel universe.  Del Shannon was pretty hot stuff, and even Freddie Cannon and Bobby Rydell had their moments.  After 1962 there was Surf Music, I was in high school in New York at the time and I loved Surf Music, and the related Hot Rod Music.  There was a lot of great black music that made the "white" charts too, like Gary U.S. Bonds, "New Orleans" and "Quarter to Three," and Hank Ballard, "Let's Go" and, dare I say it, "The Twist."  Not a dead spot at all.

There are good CD's around of all of Baby Washington's stuff, and it's all great. You can type "baby washington" in the upper left-hand corner to go to earlier posts of mine about her. 

Travels In Thailand: Trang

Earlier this month I had a teaching gig in Trang.  That's in the southern part of Thailand, the peninsula on the way to Malaysia.  If you know where Phuket island is, move your finger east to the coast, then south, and you get first to Krabi and then to Trang.

It's a nice place, with good weather.  It's not quite as hot as the main body of Thailand, because of the peninsula effect, large bodies of water on both sides of a narrowish strip of land.  It's a beautiful place, with pleasantly shaped green mountains (not very tall) and very nice beaches.  Not many tourists, for some reason.  All of the tourists go to Krabi, right next door.  There are a lot of snakes, bad ones, but you're not likely to run into one unless you are staying way out in the woods. 

There's a sign at the airport that says:

"A warm welcome
with a hospitality
and friendly smile"

Those articles are always trouble for English learners whose native language has no articles.

Dim Sum is breakfast choice number one in the peninsula provinces.  One of my students picked me up to take me to school on the day of my class, and on the way we stopped for breakfast at a good place.  It was a big restaurant, with fifteen tables inside and another fifteen outside, and the Dim Sum was great.  Every table was full.  All of the wait-staff wore uniform t-shirts that said on the back:

"I am server
we served fresh!"

Another case of English, served Thai style.

I stayed in a nice hotel in town, about thirty dollars.  There was hot water not only in the tub, but also in the sink.  The sink part is rare.  The TV was good, about forty channels, but very light on the English.  There was the Universal Channel (the "Law and Order Channel"), SyFy, and two sports channels.  The sports channels were a bust, one seemed to feature only rugby and the other one was showing the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament from the year 2000.  I'm always happy to find SyFy, but really there's almost never anything on SyFy that's worth watching.  A lot of those low-light ghost search shows, "there's something on the other side of the door!"  I got lucky and there was a good movie on the night that I was there to see it.  Most SyFy movies are unspeakable, but this one was pretty good.  Lucky.

Did I say, "not many tourists?"  Really, I've never seen any.  I talked to the only foreigner that I saw, at the 7-11.  She was English, and she was on a one year English teaching contract.  It's strange to me, because Krabi is literally crawling with foreigners.  I stayed there for one night a couple of years ago and the six dollar room had about twenty channels of foreign TV.  Lots of English, CNN, good sports, the Voice of America military/propaganda channel, plus channels in Dutch, Russian, Indian, Chinese, Italian and French.  It was a lot of fun listening to various young foreigners, all European, trying to talk to the manager in English.  The manager could speak English very well, but the tourists only thought that they could speak English.  Pure comedy gold.  That room had no hot water at all, but it was air-conditioned.  They kept the prices down by making the rooms so small that if you got off the bed in any direction you smacked your knees into something.  The TV was hanging on a wall.

I like Trang, the absence of Farang tourists is a big plus for me.  The more Thais know about foreign tourists, the less then like them.  I feel the same, most of these European tourists are young, have little money, and are very impolite.  (Americans can't afford the time or the money to travel.)  It was a good trip. 

My Music Posting

I got a lovely comment today from a reader who enjoys my musical offerings.  Thanks for the validation, gentle reader. 

(I suppose that I should also thank YouTube.  I'm just the agent, they are the principal.) 

This sharing of music is almost a missionary activity with me.  I love this music with an almost religious intensity. 

I actually had a radio show one time, for about a year.  It was in Thailand, I was in the Peace Corps at the time.  The show was "English by Songs."  I picked songs that told straightforward stories in clear English, and I introduced the songs very . . . slowly . . . and . . . clearly.  I only played songs that I thought were great songs. I never played songs just because they were popular at the time, although I got a lot of pressure to do so.  It was a challenge for the listeners, but they rose to it. 

I played stuff that, like Sara Lee cheesecake, everybody has to like.  Like "Higher and Higher" by Jackie Wilson.  I played stuff that required a little more effort, like Ray Charles, "Unchain My Heart," for instance.  It's a straightforward story in plain English, plus I explained to them what it's like for a black man in America to use the term "chains."  I also played personal favorites just because they were so much fun, like "Sick and Tired," by Chris Kenner. 

At first I got a lot of "I don't understand the music," or even "I don't like the music."  I got requests for Brittany Spears, which I greeted with a smile and an insincere "maybe!"  By the end of the year most of the comments were more like, "at first I thought the music was terrible, but now I like it." 

So for me, with this blog, I almost see it as a part-time, back-door "Radio Fritz."  A chance to share some music that I value highly, but that some people may not be familiar with.  I'm sure that the big problem with music today is not that it sucks, although a lot of it sucks big time.  The problem is that there's too much out there.  Too much new stuff, on top of all of recorded history.  I want to be something like a museum tour guide, helping people find the good stuff. 

The stuff that I think is good anyway.  Thanks, everybody, for your patience. 

Friday, May 23, 2014

Marshall Crenshaw / "Walk Away Renee"

And then, if you're patient, you find something really . . . dare I say . . . amazing?  Keep digging on the YouTube, there are hidden depths.

It looks as though Marshall Crenshaw has backed away from his policy of fighting to keep everything of his off of the 'Tube.  That's good news.  The guy is great.  It's thirty years since his best known albums and they all still sound fresh as daisies.  This here video is a first class cover of an slightly eccentric Sixties hit. 

Nina Simone - Don't Let Me Be Misunderstood

I've been so busy writing challenging, informative, substantive "blog-posts" that I've been neglecting the music side. 

So, there's this. 

I watched "American Hustle" today, and it was "G to VG."  Lots of interesting cuts on the soundtrack, including "Dirty Work" by Steely Dan.  I almost posted that, but Steely Dan get too much play already. 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Current Situation In Thailand

First let me make clear that I will not complain about anything that is occurring now in Thailand, nor criticize anyone’s actions, nor offer suggestions.   It is not my place.

I’ve been here for ten years now, but that doesn’t give me any rights to have an opinion.  I stay resolutely out of Thai politics.  Let’s face it, foreigners should just shut up.  Talking to other Americans, I may complain bitterly about America.  But let a Frenchman complain about America and I bristle with anger.  Taking my own advice, I let Thai people talk about Thailand. 

Regarding the recent events in Thai politics, I would only offer two points of clarification for American (or foreign) readers.  One is general, and the other is specific. 

The general point is that democracy has never appeared in any country fully formed in its inception, perfect from the get-go.  Consider America’s experience.  Our founding constitution was a wonderful document, and it has stood the test of time.  Note, however, that it allowed only men to vote, and only men with property at that.  And of course there was the matter of slavery.  It was almost one hundred years before institutionalized slavery was washed out of our constitution, and it was well over one hundred years before women were allowed to vote.  My point is that the achievement of democracy is an ongoing enterprise for any country that seeks to go there.  Proceeding in fits and starts is normal, and the important thing is the desire to get there at all. 

My second point is specific to Thailand.  Thailand’s experience of itself is vastly different from America’s.  In America, I think that we tend to conflate culture and politics, because they arose at approximately the same time, and only a couple of hundred years ago.

Thailand, on the other hand, has been the home of the Thai people and Thai culture for over 3,000 years.  Thai politics has seen many changes over that time, while the progress of Thai culture has remained constant. 
That Thais value personal freedom and the rights of others cannot be questioned.  Democracy here is only a recent manifestation of this cultural priority.  The very name of the country, chosen when they were formalizing their desire to have a representative democracy, is “Thailand,” or “Brataet Thai,” which literally means, “the Land of the Free.” 

So I trust Thai people to take this as an opportunity to get closer to their goals as a nation.  It’s up to them, and they don’t need me or John Kerry telling them what is right or wrong.  It’s up to them, they themselves.  I could say that Thailand is blessed with many people who are well educated and well informed, but that could be turned into a political football.  Let me say instead that my experience of Thai people ranges from the upper limits of achievement to those who live and work way out in the rice fields, or up in the mountains, without two coins to rub together.  I find that Thai people across all demographics are friendly, cooperative, intelligent and very, very sensible. 

I trust them all to do the right thing. 

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Curtis Mayfield - Diamond in the Back

This is not Curtis Mayfield.  I mean, the guy in the picture is Curtis Mayfield, but the song is "Be Thankful for What You've Got," by William de Vaughn.  Isn't it great? 

The guitar does sound like Curtis to me, but that's not surprising.  Soul Music at the time was crowded with guys who played like Curtis.  I don't think the vocal sounds like Curtis at all.  Close enough for confusion I guess. 

So watch out for this whole Internet, knowledge at your fingertips thing.  Look at that hit count!  Three million people, many of whom had the wool pulled over their eyes.  Poor Mr. de Vaughn, one hit and they try to take it away from him.  This vid is even the lead in the Curtis Mayfield mix, Fifty Plus Videos!  Many of which are probably by Curtis.

The confusion spreads like oil on water.  There's at least one other version of this song posted as a Curtis Mayfield song.  Plus one or two that have a picture of Curtis but say NOT Curtis Mayfield.  And over on the Google, there's a mix of discussions of who does the song and did Curtis do a version and did he produce it and did he actually sing it, all kinds of shit.

And the discussion on some kind of Prince site, don't go there under any circumstances!  That site froze up my iMac like ice cream packed in dry ice!  It's still slow after a restart! 

Interneters, beware.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Medicare Isn't Fair To Expat's

Life, it’s a wonderful thing.  The “good life,” isn’t that what the American Dream is all about?  What about the “American life?”  What’s up with that these days?

In this rapidly aging Twenty-First Century, the “F” has been sucked out of American life, and all we’re left with is the “LIE.”  The “F” has been repurposed into a big fuck you for many of America’s poor, working class and middle class.  Oh, and retired Americans too. 

Ha! Remember the middle class?  It’s a sign of your chronological maturity if you do.

The American Dream became stressed in the early Seventies; since 1980 it has been under sustained attack by selfish interests in and out of government.  Outside forces like productivity gains from robots, computers and the ‘Net have only served to channel increased wealth to the upper end of the demographic.  Forgive me for being a Johnny One Note about this, but I’m not the only one complaining.  From what I read, even 90% of the One Percent are being left behind by now.  To paraphrase, “first they came for the poor, and I didn’t do anything because I wasn’t poor.”  Now they’re coming for 99.9% of us.   

By now the American Dream is moribund, lost to most people.  It is much harder to attain in the first place, and it’s slipping away from many people who once enjoyed it. 

Our Ungrateful Country

I love my country, I do, but they don’t make it easy anymore.  I’d like to live there if I could, but I don’t think that I could afford it at this point.  Approaching retirement I actually had a plan that would have worked.  That plan will still work out fine for my ex-wife, but I wasn’t so lucky.  So I live in Thailand where my skills are still marketable, age is less of an issue, and the cost of living is much more reasonable. 

I’ve worked all of my life and along the line I have served voluntarily in the United States Navy and the Peace Corps.  America is a funny place though, very free with the come-on-and-lend-a-hand stuff but not very free at all with its gratitude.  But, you say, at least I have my Social Security retirement benefits and my Medicare.  You’d be half right.  If I had one wish, it would be that Medicare would cover medical services provided overseas for expatriates. 

The Medicare Dilemma

Many retired Americans are living overseas these days, something like 500,000 of us.  I say, “us,” although my retirement plan includes working until I die.  Some just prefer to live overseas; some, like me, would be hard pressed to find the money it takes to live in America.  Let’s face it, even out in Honey-Boo-Boo territory everything is expensive, and there are taxes to pay.  At the present time, Medicare does not pay for medical services provided outside the United States. 

Well, it does pay for “some” American retirees overseas.  My research is in an early phase, but I’ve read that retired military and Federal employees are probably covered anywhere, and “some” veterans, and “some” Medicare beneficiaries.  This kind of unequal treatment is galling in itself. 

Why should overseas care NOT be covered?  Isn’t Medicare supposed to provide us with medical security as a big thank you for working and paying taxes all of our lives?  We need probably look no further than lobbyists for American medical providers paying politicians to keep it so.  It doesn’t make a great deal of sense from either a financial or a fairness angle. 

It’s frustrating to me, because Medicare would actually save money by paying Thai hospitals to take care of me if need be.  Thai hospitals are very good too, it’s not like I’d be getting shoddy treatment.  I can prove it:  American medical insurance companies are sending subscribers to Thailand for treatments ranging from knee replacements to heart surgery.  Would they do that if they thought that there was a liability issue?  I’m very happy with my own neighborhood private hospital here in Bangkok.  One of the reasons that I go there is that I found out from a friend in the Thai insurance business that Americans are being sent there so that they, and their American insurers, can save money.  The insured is given a choice:  get the care in America and pay a substantial co-pay, or take a free trip to Bangkok and get the work done there with the company picking up 100%, including transportation and living expenses.  I’m very happy with the quality of the services that I have received at this hospital.  The doctors speak English, they don’t fool around, and quite a few of them graduated from top American medical schools.

Fred Is Complaining, As Usual

But it’s not just me complaining.  You can bet that most of the half a million retired American expat’s are complaining. 

There’s even something called the Center for Medicare Portability, up in Washington, D.C.  I don’t know enough about them to know whether to trust them or not.  Signs are mixed. 

For instance, they seem to have proposed four ways that Medicare could be changed to allow overseas payments, and none of them is “just get the care where you are and Medicare will pay.”  All four proposals call for new levels of bureaucracy and “oversight” and accreditation that would eat up most of the savings.  Why a fully accredited Thai hospital would need to be further vetted is beyond me.  Many of them are American Board Certified already, and more would take that step if it would get them Medicare business. 

And the savings are real!  The money people are always complaining about the high costs of Medicare.  Wouldn’t they like to save between 50% and 70% on my care?  (That's 50% at an American Board Certified hospitals in Bangkok, and 70% at my neighborhood hospital, which is not.)  Maybe they should start sending Medicare beneficiaries residing in America overseas for some treatments, like the insurance companies do. 

And it’s not like we expat’s are saving the money that we would otherwise have to take out of our precious few Social Security dollars to pay for Medicare.  No, we have to pay for it even though we may never use it, or else pay considerable penalties for coming on board later.  There’s always the chance that I or someone just like me will come down with something terrible and have to return to America for the Medicare benefit.  There are terrible, long-term, debilitating diseases out there waiting for the unlucky.  So when we turn sixty-five we all sign up and start to pay the $114 every month.  That’s ten percent of my Social Security, by the way.  Thank you very much. 

Complaining won’t do much to change things though.  Maybe this is a political cause that I could get involved with in some more active way.  Time will tell, I suppose.  It’s always easier to just let go with some righteous indignation on a blog, but maybe it’s time to put on my tough-guy pants and try to do something.  Maybe. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

The Triumph Of Self-Censorship

Discretion being the better part of valor, I wrote a blog post this week and decided, oh! Hell no! can’t post that! 

It concerned the recent frisson around Donald Sterling and Magic Johnson.  There were two main points, one mild but rather controversial and the other one heartfelt and also rather controversial. 

As I was writing about Donald Sterling, I kept expanding the disclaimer to avoid misunderstandings regarding my motives.  I’m no apologist for racism, and whatever the man has actually said there are many in a position to know who firmly believe that the man has some funny ideas on the subject.   Mostly because too much of a disclaimer is often a sign of guilt, or at least a sign of a guilty conscience, I decided to forget it. 

Magic Johnson was the object of the second point.  My feelings about Magic are on record herein, and they haven’t changed.  (An old post on the subject, “Magic Johnson Is Not Who You Think,” has had ten hits in the last week, since he’s in the news and all.) 

But people obviously love Magic, people including Anderson Cooper.  They love Magic with an uncritical love that borders on adoration.  Maybe it’s not my place to explain to people just how cosmically wrong that is.  I don’t have to join them in their worship, but neither do I have to rub my opinions in their faces.  It would just make me look like a cranky outlier.  Let people be people, let them have their heroes.  Worse people than Magic Johnson have huge fan bases.  He did beastly, reckless things, but at least he’s no O.J.  So forget that one too. 

Former President of France Nickolas Sarkozy once told another head of state that he had just “missed out on a wonderful opportunity to shut up.”  Self-censorship can be your friend!  

More Self-Censorship

I try to shelter you, gentle readers, from the worst of my negativity.  But in my private moments, watching TV or reading the news on the ‘Net, comments to myself can approach, or cross, the borders of decorum.   For instance . . .

I saw a picture of two world leaders accompanying an article.  Chinese Premier Li Keqiang and Ugandan President Uhuru Kenyatta.  The legend told us, “Chinese Premier Li Keqiang (left) . . .”  As though the tall, black gentleman were the Premier of China.  They were having a meeting about business between the two countries.  I don’t know about you, but I’m very concerned about two things that came to mind immediately:  China’s “soft power” activities around the world, especially in Africa, and the treatment of homosexuals in Africa, especially in Uganda. 

My comment to myself was this, “we don’t care if you brand your homosexuals, herd them like cattle, and sell them as meat.  Just show us the money.” 

Was that fair of me?  Mr. Li may be a very nice man for all I know.  Perhaps I should limit my comments to things like, “where did he get that tie?!?!”  or, “couldn’t he afford a suit that fit him?” or the ever popular, “that dress is horrible!”  

Friday, May 9, 2014

Wat Rong Khun will never be the same

I've been to this place a few times, it's really unique and kind of startling.  It's up in Chiang Rai, Thailand, the straight up northernmost province in the country.

They had an earthquake up there last week.  Variously reported as 6.1 or 6.3, either way a Californian just smiles and says, yeah, that'll set off the car alarms.  That's below our threat level, we Californians, the earthquake-ready building codes in Los Angeles keep us safe from harm in a low-six quake.  Not everybody has it so good.  Recall that thousands can be injured in many central Asian countries in quakes lower than that.  Those mud-brick houses don't hold up so well.

And it looks like this temple suffered what might be a fatal blow too.  I'm no engineer, and I haven't seen any engineering reports, but those cracks look pretty real to me.

Not to worry.  The guy who put this thing together will probably just do whatever it takes to make it right, even if he has to start over again from scratch.  He has consistently refused money from the government or the monks, and he has turned down post-quake offers of help too.  He's an artist, a painter, his stuff has real merit.  He's also a great fund raiser.  I wish him luck with this new challenge.

Wednesday, May 7, 2014

Culture And Tradition

Someone asked me the other day:  what is the difference between culture and tradition?  This was one of those thought provoking questions commonly posed by English learners.   A native speaker tends to understand both things without thinking too much about the connection. 

Without reference to a dictionary I surmised that the elements of a culture were the traditions of a society. That the traditions were the individual things and all together they made up the culture.  Maybe the answer to “what is Thai culture?” could be answered by a list of Thai traditions.  This list would include holidays; activities like sports and Thai massage; historical persons and events; attitudes; laws; foods; languages; religions and the arts.  Anything that we think of as Thai. 

The dictionary supported my intuition.  For “culture,” the number two definition was, “the customs, ideas, and social behavior of a particular people or group.”  For “tradition,” the number one definition was, “the transmission of customs or beliefs from generation to generation.” 

This all begs the question:  what is American culture? 

America is an amazingly diverse place.  In wave after wave of immigration, for three hundred years, all of the world’s peoples have moved in great numbers to America.  They retain elements of their home cultures while adapting to a waiting American culture.  But what is that waiting culture?  Today, different individuals will offer different explanations.  For some, America is a white, protestant culture.  Some complain that America is a mongrel culture.  American culture has long been described as a “melting pot.”  Like I said, families retain traditions from their home cultures through many generations.  My own family celebrated thirteen holidays at my grandmother’s house, including St. Patrick’s Day.  No one there would have objected to being categorized as “Irish Americans,” but we all knew that our natural place in the world was the United States. 

Thai Culture

The culture question may seem much more straightforward as regards Thai culture, because it is easy to mistake Thailand for a homogeneous society like Japan or Denmark.  Thailand, however, is anything but homogeneous. 

Physically, the Thais are a very diverse population.  It is a crossroads nation, with influences running north to China (vocabulary, sound system, diet), south through the archipelago nations (vocabulary), and west to India (alphabet, vocabulary, religions).  So the shape of the eye in Thailand varies from heavy double-lidded to very wide open; skin tone ranges from bone-white to deep bronze; and hair texture also varies. 

There is also great variety to the languages regularly spoken in Thailand.   The official language is Thai, called either “central Thai” or “Bangkok Thai.”  There are many regional dialects, most of which are mutually incomprehensible.  At least half of Thai people speak one language at home and another one, central Thai, at school or business.  In the far corners of the Kingdom these local languages really predominate.
There are many things that hold the Thai people together, notably the monarchy and Thai Buddhism.  My own feeling is that the greatest glue is the ancient Thai tradition of getting along, or not giving offense.  Maybe, as a Korean friend suggested to me, this getting along is due to the huge area of the rice fields, where people worked, played, lived and ate together and getting along was important.  Maybe it’s just because Thailand is too great a place to screw up with contention. 

In spite of all of the diversity there is a recognizable Thai culture at work.  Its origins differ most from American culture in its age.  While Americans have shared the American character for only three hundred years (it formed before the revolution), Thais have been essentially Thai for 3,000 years. 

American Culture

So what, then, is American culture?  This has been turned into a political question in our time.  Clearly, America is not a homogeneous society racially or ethnically.  All of the world’s peoples are represented.  It is not, nor has it ever been, religiously or linguistically homogeneous.  This comes as a surprise to most people.  In the colonial period there were some fifteen different sects of Christianity, and there was great hostility between them.  There were large populations of French, Dutch and German speakers in the colonies, with their own newspapers if population density allowed it.  As we can see from the Thai example though, this diversity does not prohibit the formation of a common culture. 

America is a much bigger country, and that may once have generated regional differences.  In our own time, the distances have been shrunk to insignificance by advances in transportation and communications. 

What can we point to as elements of the uniquely American character? 

1. We have always been a commercial people, trade has always been the backbone of America.  We also like the idea of being our own bosses and striking our own deals with one another;

2.  We think big, we are accustomed to broad vistas to be explored and exploited, and we are accustomed to a full range of opportunities;

3.  We are a mobile people, we are willing to move around and we have plenty of room to move around in;

4.  We value individual freedom, both economic freedom and the freedom from political interference;

5.  We are plain speaking and hardworking, and we believe in fair dealing as a way of doing business; and

6.  We value the freedom to be a little different from each other and not be penalized for it.  Consider that many groups that are now considered mainstream, like Presbyterians, Methodists, Catholics, and even Episcopalians, were once persecuted minorities. 

These are the characteristics that separated us from our former countrymen in Europe.  At some point we were no longer “English” or “German,” we were American.  This was the genesis of our desire to find our own destiny as a new country. 

The waves of immigrants who have joined us over the years have universally embraced these attitudes and preferred them to the situation in their countries of emigration.  Few people return to their former homes, and if they do it is usually due to economic or family pressures. 


So yes, I believe that there is an American culture such as I have described, and that it has maintained its typical American character throughout our history. 

Further, I believe that our diversity is our greatest strength.  The United States is the only country in the world where a newcomer of any description can make a new home and become as American as anybody, and quickly too.  I think that it is horribly wrong to consider, as many do today, that this diversity is a dilution of true American culture.  Note that many groups that faced oppression in the past, such as the Italians or the Irish, have proven themselves many times over to be good Americans and are, today, accepted as such.  I could say that the Chinese too have proven themselves as much as anybody to be great Americans, but the acceptance part lags behind, doesn’t it?  Could it be . . . racism?  Well yes it could.  Racism is the reason for that “dilution of American culture” argument.  One can only hope that there will be progress.  Even “two steps forward, one step back” will get you someplace eventually. 

I’m still proud to be an American, although I do complain bitterly about many of the actions of our government these days.  Perhaps complaining is part of the American character too!  But whatever our government does to embarrass us around the world, individual Americans are still recognized as tolerant, friendly, co-operative and fair minded people (and welcomed in all of the world’s taxis as good tippers too). 

That’s our culture!  I only wish that our government would stay closer to our shared values.  

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Church And State, Together At Last!

The Supreme Court just took a big step in the direction of rejoining church and state, backtracking on one of the main reasons that the United States was founded in the first place.  Recall that the union of church and state in the old European countries and empires was generally accompanied by inequality, persecution, war and torture. 

Most interesting of all is that this travesty was accomplished in major part by Catholic members of the court.  The idea of separating church and state in the first place was intended to protect unpopular minority religions, like Catholicism, from the other Christians.  In many of the original 13 colonies it was specifically prohibited that Catholics should hold any public office at all.  Ben Franklin and the boys knew that that shit had to go.

I delight in explaining to my Thai students that although the 13 colonies may have been made up almost entirely of Christians, there were many varieties of Christians and the didn't much care for each other.  They didn't trust each other, and they outlawed each other if they could.  Many people subscribed to dissenter religions, like the Huguenots from France, or the Methodists and Presbyterians from England.  Then there were the Baptists and the Puritans, true English weirdos, not to mention the Mennonites and the Amish from Germany, that's some outsider stuff right there.  And don't even talk about the Quakers, they are outsiders to this day, big time.  

And there were Jews, a few in New York anyway, and no doubt a dozen or so Muslims and one or two Buddhists.  Each of the colonies had a different idea of religious tolerance, and the resulting religious intolerance was a bad idea whose time had obviously passed.  So there was the "separation of church and state."  Let the state be the state, and let religion be religion, the founders knew that they had no business in the same bed together. 

But our Supreme Court has decided that it's time to change all of that.  This is the Twenty-First-Century!  Racial discrimination is a thing of the past!  Fuck it, let's allow government to engage in the practice of religion too!  As long as it's Christianity anyway. They have just decided that it is okay for governmental bodies to open their meetings with Christian prayers. 

And what ever happened to "freedom from religion?"  Some of us would rather be left out of the whole stupid argument over which God is God.  Can we at least agree that if there is a God, it's God, call It what you will, and it's all well and good, congratulations, you're God, and thanks for everything.  Do I no longer have the right to be protected from the various, conflicting revealed documents of faith?  Let my fixed smile and slightly tensed jaw be your answer.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Meir Kahane Was Interesting

I woke up this morning thinking about Meir Kahane.  The things that overtake us in our sleep are mysterious, are they not?

I saw him deliver a speech in 1984.  I was attending Queens College in New York at the time, belatedly finishing a BA.  The campus had a very vigorous Jewish Defense League chapter, and it was they who arranged the speech.

That JDL chapter were an interesting bunch.  People usually think of Jews as quiet, intellectual people, but they are not all so.  It was common in our main cafeteria for a few members to walk in for a harangue.  One or two huge bone-crushers would stand by the doors glaring while the brains of the outfit would find center stage and begin.  "I look around, I know lots of you are Jews, but how do I know?" he'd start.  "I see maybe one yarmulke, and I don't see any tsitsis." They were hard core.

Security was tight at the speech.  There were three check points with searches: first at the door to the building; second at a landing after you walked up two flights of stairs; and third in the hall outside the room.  This was 1984, and Mr. Kahane was indeed shot a few years later, so the security was a good idea.  The speech was amazing, a word that I use sparingly. 

The really amazing part was the question and answer period after the speech.  He took questions from anybody, with no prescreening.   Questions meant to trip him up; lots of complex, multi-part questions; questions that were just plain weird; political questions; religious questions; he took them all with great confidence and supernatural calm.

His answers addressed every aspect of every question.  It was wildly impressive.  He would listen to a long, disjointed question and address the first point, then the second, then the third, then the fourth, he always seemed to have caught and understood the entire question in all of its parts and formulated good responses to everything. 

Meir Kahane is not someone that I think about on a regular basis.  I was familiar with his career only to the same extent as any other reasonably well informed person at the time.  I went to that speech out of interest, and I was indeed fascinated, but I made no follow up afterward.  He has been dead for almost twenty five years.  But I woke up this morning thinking about him.  It was connected to a dream that I did not remember in which I was trying to remember his name, first getting stuck on Meyer Lansky, which I knew was the wrong answer.  I am constantly surprised by the problems that our brains choose to work on overnight, while we sleep. 

Sweet dreams!

Friday, May 2, 2014

Alert The Media: Willie Pep Not Jewish

Willie Pep is one of my favorite boxers.  The "Will O' the Wisp" was a great Featherweight champion.  He ended his career with a record of 229 wins, 11 loses, and 1 draw.  I've always thought that he was Jewish.

But no, his real name was Guglielmo Papaleo, and, as that name suggests, he was Italian.  I suppose that it's possible to be both Italian and Jewish, but I don't think that was the case with Willie.

Check out this video.  Willie really earned his reputation of being hard to hit.  A better nickname might have been "Mr. Where Did He Go?"  Boxing writers called him an expert in "escapology."  He could hit too though, many of his victories were by knockout.

Willie is best remembered for a four bout series with Sandy Saddler, Sandy won three of those meetings.  Not surprising though, Sandy was a great boxer himself, with a record of 144-16-2.  Sandy was also a Lightweight (135 lbs.) to Willie's Featherweight (127 lbs.), and five feet, eight inches tall to Willie's five foot, five inches.

These few loses notwithstanding, Willie Pep was a great fighter.  You can almost see the guys in the video thinking, "wait, he was here a minute ago." 

You Will Be Chareed

I was in a hotel recently, somewhere in Thailand, I don't remember where just now.  There was a laminated card hanging in the room that said:

Dear Customer

Please do not use heavy items such as iron and hair straightening equipment in the room.  And damage caused or items within the room will be chareed 5000 Baht. 

It's a fair request and a fair amount for liquidated damages (5,000 Baht is  $150 or so).  And the English, they came "this close" to getting it right!  I always think:  they should have asked me to check it. 

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Spike Milligan - Pakistani Daleks

Spike was part of the Goon Show gang, he's great.

These days I mostly find the English (expanded definition) merely funny like, "ummmmm . . ."  But they can be funny "ha! ha!" too, and often. 

You should Google Spike, I just did.  As it happens, in spite of being a famous, well loved and funny-as-hell "English" comedian, and in spite of his having spent six years in the British military, they found him insufficiently British and refused his passport application.  How ungrateful was that?  He got an Irish passport instead, based on having one Irish parent.  

Well, whatever, dude brought the funny, that's for sure, and thanks to the YouTube folks for allowing us all to enjoy his work.