Thursday, August 28, 2014

Billy Joel - Just The Way You Are (Audio)

Times change, and we change a little bit ourselves. 

Back in '77, I was way, way too cool to even acknowledge this song's existence, much less make a value judgment about it, much less actually like it.  In '77 I was too cool even for Jackson Browne.  More commercial acts I was ready to kill with my hands.  No, no, for me it was German trance music, Fripp and Eno, Japanese hipsters, Van Dyke Parks, Afro-Beat and Highlife, Italian Alt/Pop, Reggae and Calypso, some Brazilians.  I was out there. 

Not that I was cool myself.  One must be born cool, and I was not.  But I was hip there for a while.  Cool is a temperament; hip is a lifestyle.  Hip is just a matter of paying attention and keeping up with the latest revelations.  In my defense, I did actually love everything that I supported, and I still do.  That stuff is great. 

But so is Billy Joel.  There, I said it.  This cut is one of my Karaoke hits over here in South East Asia, I sing the hell out of it.  By now I love Jackson Browne too, love the dude a lot.  I can't believe that I used to think he was maudlin and cloyingly sentimental. 

Yes, we change.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Go To College! It'll Be Great!

When I was a young man, and the earth itself has matured considerably since then, college was thought to be the best way to get ahead in the world.  Back then there actually was a middle-class, and a college degree was seen as the key to achieving middle-class status.  Even then college was being oversold. 

In those halcyon days, the middle-class was so vast that it was easy to get in.  Anyone who landed a good union job was in like Flynn.  Any guy, it was mostly guys, who had a job that came with membership in the Teamsters, the United Auto Workers, a job as a big city policeman or fireman, a plumbers union, any construction union, hell, even the National Maritime Union.  You were in:  Welcome to the Middle-Class. 

It’s a lot harder now that the middle-class has been “reduced to the size where it could be drowned in a bathtub,” to paraphrase.  Harder to get in, that is.  The unions are gone, and college, however effective it might have been in the past, no longer does much for your chances. 

This has not prevented a lot of young people from trying.  Not thrilled with pulling coffees down at the Starbucks, or flipping burgers, they are willing to take big-time chances in the (vain) hope of crashing into the middle-class.  Vain hopes like getting a college degree, or, to be on the safe side, multiple college degrees.  It is increasingly obvious that these plans are misguided.  What they are finding out to their chagrin is that all of that college has actually destroyed their chances for happiness, rather than enhancing them.

This happens, of course, through the mechanism of student loan debt. 

Before 1976, tuitions were very reasonable.  Student loans were available, and they were reasonable too.  If you got jammed up somehow, the loans were dischargeable in bankruptcy.  Student loans are, after all, unsecured.  Those were the good old days.  It was easy enough to get a good education without borrowing money at all.  My own university, Queens College of the City University of New York, cost a big twenty-five dollars per semester at that time.  You read that right.  Beyond that you had only to buy the books.  Now that’s reasonable.  It was, like all state and municipal institutions of the time, a way for working class kids to get an education.  Not as a gift, mind you, but because: 1) their parents were building society and not getting rich doing it; and 2) with an education they could make a good living, continue the work of building society, and pay taxes.  No one cares about those things anymore, and tuitions have become astronomical.

It’s an aspect of the modern frisson between Liberty and Equality.  The equality value of free education has been shit-canned in favor of the liberty value of unlimited exploitation of people as a mere economic recourse.  But that’s another story.

By now, a university education is fabulously expensive and of dubious value as a tool for advancement.  How did this all happen?

The Dischargeability of Student Loans in Bankruptcy

 Before 1976:  Student loans are dischargeable in bankruptcy, just like any other unsecured loan.

1976:  Student loans funded by the government or by a non-profit organization (like a university) are dischargeable in bankruptcy after a waiting period of five years.

1990:  The waiting period is extended to seven years, but student loans are still dischargeable.

1998:  The seven year waiting period is eliminated, and student loans from the government or from non-profit organizations are now non-dischargeable for all time. *

2005:  ALL private student loans, from whatever source, are now non-dischargeable. 

*. . . unless for undue hardship.  11 USC 523 (a)(8).  As a practical matter, the undue hardship is almost never, ever granted.  I mean, you’d have to have gone to school to become a deep sea diver and after graduation to have been rendered paraplegic in a traffic accident.  Even then you might not get it, because, after all, you could do consulting or something. 

This section taken from

This is a Problem for All of Us

Americans today are afraid that they are being squeezed out of the middle-class.  That’s if they had already made it to the comfortable lifestyle that defines it.  Younger people are afraid that they’ll never be able to duplicate the standard of living that they had living with their parents as children, or, let’s say, as dependents, because by now many of them can’t afford to move out in the first place. 

Young people today are desperate to go to college in the hopes that they can someday have that comfortable lifestyle.   And they are willing to borrow money to do so, without really working the numbers to see if it’s worth it.  The resulting problem will affect us all.

Student debt is now over one trillion dollars, and is on schedule to more than double over the next ten years.  What are these kids thinking?  Many students are borrowing amounts that will be impossible to ever pay back.  Their lives have effectively been ruined by student debt.  (More on this later.)

As I mentioned, tuition in general was very reasonable up to about 1976.  But what has happened since then?  Tuitions have spiraled out of control, that’s what’s happened.  University tuition has doubled since 2004, and it has been going up dramatically since the ‘70’s.  Going up far out of line with inflation in general.  And it’s no coincidence. 

Every time student loans have become less dischargeable in bankruptcy, tuitions have gone up.  Doubled since 2004, you say?  Consider that in 2006 congress, in its infinite wisdom, passed the Federal Direct PLUS loan program, which allowed any graduate student in an accredited program of professional education to borrow 100% of the tuition, plus living expenses, for the duration of the program.   How amazing is that?  Students now routinely run up student loan debt levels of one hundred thousand, or up to two hundred thousand dollars.  All of this carries interest charges that are not gentle, rendering the outstanding balance very difficult to bring down with anything short of heroic monthly payments.

All of this is terrible for the student borrower; it is terrible for parents who find their children drawn into this trap; and it is terrible for society in general.  It is only a wonderful thing for the vested interests that make billions of dollars from the business of it. 

The Greatest Deal in History

The current situation in the student debt business is the greatest business advantage in history.  Institutions of higher learning can charge whatever tuition they want to, and pay themselves as much as they want to, and the Federal government will then loan their students 100% of their tuition for the duration of the program.  The institution gets the cash on the barrelhead, and the Fed’s (read: taxpayers) assume all of the risks for ultimate collection. 

No one should be surprised at the proliferation of for-profit universities, especially professional degree universities.  This is a capitalist’s dream of avarice.  No authority seems to be willing to discourage these universities from enticing students with lies about their future earnings potential either.  Nor are they discouraged from raising tuition to science fiction levels or paying themselves astronomical salaries.

The answer to the question,  “What Was Congress Thinking?” when they rendered student loans non-dischargeable or when they passed the Direct PLUS loan program shouldn’t be too hard to figure out.  Just follow the money.  Who benefits?  The lenders and the universities.  Who suffers?  The borrowing students and the taxpayers. 

Some Background

It is instructive to consider why we had such debtor-friendly bankruptcy laws in the first place.

America now is a big, strong, rich country, and it is all of those things in spades.  Recall, though, that in the beginning the United States was none of those things.  Only the distance and the ocean allowed us to preserve our independence until we were strong enough to do so without them.  The recent experience of colonization made the Americans feel like have-nots in a world of haves.  This feeling was reflected in the laws of the new country.

Many English laws were kept on the books, but many that were thought to be unfair, or to favor moneyed interests, were modified.  One such was the English bankruptcy laws.  There were still debtors’ prisons in England.  The U.S. did not want to go with that practice. 

Over the years our bankruptcy laws became more and more debtor friendly, culminating in the laws that were in effect up to 1976.  In a simple Chapter 7 bankruptcy, the debtor was allowed to keep certain property and all non-secured debt was discharged, i.e., washed away completely, never to return. 

This was not done in a spirit of altruism; there were hard-nosed economic reasons for it.  It allowed people to move on, to start new things, new businesses, to buy homes and cars, to keep the economy moving forward.  Keeping people saddled with old, unpayable debt was a drag on the economy.  This was a public policy decision.  (Google: Walt Disney, bankruptcy.)

In 1976 all of this began to change.  Public policy itself changed.  Congress, our esteemed leaders, began to listen to the bitter complaining of the banks and to make the discharging of unsecured debts harder and harder.  By now we have a growing class of debt slaves, people who are married to high levels of debt with little or no hope of ever rising above the tide. 

The Law School Example

(Disclaimer:  I am a lawyer.  I graduated from law school in 1991, at the age of forty-three.  My own experience was not typical, and did not reflect the situation described hereinafter.) 

I read a good article last week called “The Law School Scam,” by Paul Campos, in the Atlantic Magazine.  Very good article, Google will still pull it up.  I have cut most of this post from whole cloth, but I did lift a couple of stats from Mr. Campos.

The modern law school experience is the perfect storm of this student debt crisis, and it is a crisis.  Law school is the perfect intersection of inflated tuitions, easy loans, for-profit institutions or non-profits that act like for-profits, and exorbitant promises of future riches made to prospective students. 

It is now becoming common knowledge that being a lawyer is not as great as it is cracked up to be.  I will spare you a reading of the facts of employment as a lawyer, sufficient to say that it is not fun.  In the movies, and on TV, we are treated mostly to lawyers in big firm situations and lawyers in very successful private practices.  Both are relatively rare in the big picture of the legal world. 

Applications are down, so getting into a law school in the first place is now easier than ever.

Admissions standards are at an all-time low, and the information in the article was a shock to me.  It’s a massive bait-and-switch operation.  Students are being admitted who will have little chance of passing a bar exam, in the event that they finish law school at all.  The risk of these students never even entering the law profession is born entirely by the students and by the taxpayers who are the guarantors of the loans. 

My tuition at a rather good law school from ’88 to ’91 was in the neighborhood of fifteen thousand dollars per year.   I was also lucky enough to get a 25% break on the tuition.  I got a very good legal education, my graduating class had a bar passage rate in the high eighties, and that’s mostly for the famously difficult California bar exam.  Tuition at my school is now three times as much money as it was only twenty-three years ago.   Law schools in America now cost between forty and fifty thousand dollars for one year.  With all of this money, 100% of it, plus living expenses, easily available in non-dischargeable student loans, many if not most students are graduating with $200,000 in debt that will become their first priority for years and decades.  Many will never be able to pay it off.

Those big firm lawyers, those few, those (way too) proud, they make some good money, they can handle it.  The “very successful” private practice lawyers can make more, lots more in some instances, but they are very few and far between.  Most new lawyers by far, the ones who work at all, go to work for small law firms for between $45,000 and $65,000 per year.  Even the upper end of that will net you a big less-than-four-thousand-per-month.  Try paying off $200,000 on that. 


The law school thing is just the extreme example.  The real scam is with student loans in general.  Students are enticed into going to school, essentially frightened into borrowing money in a desperate attempt to get a better place in the world.  Schools cynically admit them and charge them unconscionable tuition for the privilege.  Politicians pass legislation to help the lenders and those who run the institutions of “higher learning.”  (No adjective on politicians, because I could not think of anything mild and non-threatening.) 

Those politicians have already put taxpayers on the hook for a trillion dollars, with an additional trillion scheduled to come on line in the next ten years. 

The number of young people who are caught in trap is growing as we speak.  They will be prevented from participating fully in American life and the American economy, from buying houses and cars, from starting businesses. 

The inevitable end to all of this will not be pretty.  

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Godzilla 2014: Second Viewing

Many times the first viewing of a movie is seen through rose colored glasses.  Watching movies like Godzilla, and loving them like I unabashedly do, the willing suspension of disbelief may obscure flaws in the movie that will become apparent in later viewings.  Nothing like that happened in this case.

The DVD became available this week and I got hold of one.  A nice letter boxed version.  I watched it on my Samsung flat-screen (not new, and only 26 inch). 

I still approve of the narrative, the characters and the dialog.

I still think that the new monsters are among the best in the canon and that the new Godzilla is epic.

I still think that it's a good movie, as opposed to merely a good Godzilla movie.  Only this one and the first one (original edit) are good movies in this unqualified sense.  (Well, maybe Rodan too.) 

The acting is very good; the direction is very good; and the story is excellent. 

I was a bit anxious about this movie before it was released.  I love Godzilla movies, almost all of them, and the thought of people playing with the character annoys me.  (It had been done before.)  It was a relief to me that this movie is reverential to the character and the spirit of the original. 

Additionally, it is a great movie. 


Saturday, August 23, 2014

Not A Movie Review: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

I went to see this movie for, let's say, social reasons.  My expectations were low.  In the end, I had a very good time and had lots of laughs.  I would have to say: I liked this movie. 

Watching the trailer beforehand I had gotten the idea that maybe Megan Fox had made some progress in the acting game, as opposed to the Movie Star game or the Great Looking Woman game.  Nope, sorry, the six seconds in the trailer in which it appears that she is actually acting are nowhere else replicated in the movie.  Sorry about that.  She is decorative, but then again, so is nice wallpaper. 

I'm not a fan of product placement, but some instances are more objectionable than others.  It is most objectionable, and highly out of character, and an affront to the great city of New York, to think that the turtles in question would be excited to see a pizza from Pizza Hut.  That would be beyond even my powerful ability to suspend disbelief.  I watch Godzilla movies for the fifteenth time with rapt attention, but Pizza Hut?  Mercy, please. 

This movie gets a terrible break on the IMDB, but it did okay on Rotten Tomatoes.  It doesn't belong on either a best of list or a worst of list.  It's a movie!  It's just a movie!  You'll laugh!  If you, like I did, know someone who wants to go to see this movie, go ahead, see it.  Not the worst way to spend an afternoon. 

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Professor Longhair - Rum And Coca-Cola

This is the other end of the mood spectrum from the cut below.  FUN, writ large, in the universal language of music.

'Fess was way too much altogether.  "What key do you like to play in?"  'Fess considers the question and says, "well, I probably play in all of 'em."  He sure plays the hell out of "Rum and Coca-Cola," forwards, backwards and inside out for good measure.

He's been gone now for quite a while, and things sure have changed.  I don't want to start criticizing modern music, but I don't really have to, now do I?  You know what I was going to say.

Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Percy Mayfield - Life Is Suicide

Percy Mayfield, the "Poet of the Blues."  Ray Charles was a fan . . . you should be too. 

Percy could go all the way dark in some of these songs.  Check out "The River's Invitation," yep, that's what it's about, "if you can't find your baby, come and make your home with me." 

So, "Life Is Suicide," is that an oxymoron?  in bad taste?  or just the truth?  I mean, you know where we all end up. 

Sunday, August 17, 2014

Robin Williams Is Not Depressed Anymore

This is not a Robin Williams tribute, I don’t have a license to provide that.  This is a commiseration, brother to brother. 

Another brother carried away by depression.  The ever thinning ranks!  Wish us luck, those of us who still struggle.  That is, if you haven’t run out of patience with our “doom and gloom,” and that is, if you had any patience in the first place!  Get over it!  What do you have to be depressed about?  I would go on, but it would get personal very quickly. 

They say that heart disease is the “hidden killer,” but at least when you die from heart disease the living will believe that you had an actual condition that led to your death.  They may even be compassionate, unless, of course, they’re too busy blaming that on you too.  After all, you ate butter or something.  People can be cold.  There are many ways to die from depression, but for many people there are even more ways to prove that depression had nothing to do with it, or, in the alternative, that it was your own damn fault.
The terrible truth:  while it is easy to imagine what it is like to suffer from some terrible cancer, as easy as it would be to imagine dying from a heart attack or a stroke, it is difficult, ten times as difficult, for the unexperienced to imagine what it is like to suffer from major depression. 

Yes, I’m going to split hairs here and dismiss mere situational depression.  If a beloved parent dies unexpectedly, a bereaved son or daughter may suffer from depression-like symptoms, for a time.  That is a horse of an entirely different color.  Life will reassert itself in these erstwhile sufferers, and they will regain their cheerful demeanor.  Sufferers of major, or clinical depression, are not so lucky.  For them it is a lifetime sentence. 

I feel bad about Robin Williams, but part of me is envious of him.  He had a good life.  There were ups and downs, and his personal life got a bit messy from time to time, but it was a good life after all.  He left behind a few children who seem to have loved him, and his third and final wife seems like a nice woman who loved him.  Good for him!  I’m very glad that he had those things.  He also leaves behind a body of work that anyone would be proud of, a lifetime of entertaining us that we should be eternally grateful for, and a sterling reputation as one of the funniest people ever to walk in the shoes of the show business.  Most of us would be very proud of, and satisfied with, that legacy.  If I took the same route as Robin, all that I would leave behind would be a few things that no one wants, with nary a ripple in the larger pool. 

And then, we are reminded, Robin Williams resorted to self-medication to deal with his “demons.”  (I do love this subtle semantic demonization of all depression sufferers.)  I resort to it myself!  And who could blame us for seeking islands of rest in the storm of our lives?  Alcohol is a woefully inadequate tool for any of its usual uses, but it does work at some level.  I have often referred to alcohol as a place, not so much an intoxicant as a separate reality that you can go to almost at will.  A couple of cocktails and you are somewhere else, all of the rules have changed, things may seem more tolerable, certain habitual behaviors may fade into the background.  Throw in a couple of Percocets and you’re on another planet altogether.  There are available drugs and combinations that will deliver you to other universes.  It’s all temporary of course, and it does no lasting good, but it works. 

Non-sufferers, you . . . oh!  I almost said a bad word!  Non-sufferers are very hard on us for self-medicating.  Sometimes they go so far as to suggest that the self-medicating behavior is the very CAUSE of our depression.  This putting of the cart before the horse serves two purposes:  for one thing, it proves that they are better than the sufferer; and for another thing, it proves that the sufferer is responsible for his or her own condition.  This works for the non-sufferer on several levels.  It restores order to their world, and it allows them to withdraw support and affection from the sufferer without drawing blame upon themselves.  I have experienced this phenomenon, and I condemn it.  If there were a God, It would visit the practitioners with boils. 

Oh! But don’t we have wonderful new medicines with which to combat depression?  SSRI’s, and endorphin enhancers?  My reading on the subject mirrors my own experience:  they do work, but only for a few years.  By then the brain has compensated and it’s back to the Merry-Go-Round. 

Depression and suicide go hand in glove.   Depressed people kill themselves when they reach the “I can’t do this anymore” moment.  The terrible instant when the entire horizon is taken up with a cry of “not another fucking minute!”  It’s a horrible thing, and it does probably have a bad effect on those loved ones left behind, but perhaps it’s not exclusively horrible.  It does, after all, end the suffering.  Maybe people who kill themselves get exactly what they want.  Should we be happy for them?  Or at least, should we not understand that in exercising the power that they had over their own lives they might have been achieving something that they really wanted?  Something that had been long denied them?  Isn’t Peace a wonderful gift? 

I see that Robin Williams once said in an interview that he would sometimes hear a little voice when he was standing at some high place, a little voice telling him to “jump.”  We hear that little voice frequently over the course of our lives, we sufferers.  It presents itself as a reasonable alternative to going on living.  So it is no surprise that many people finally give in to the suggestion. 

I don’t endorse suicide as a solution to depression.  To depression sufferers I only offer that death comes soon enough anyway, on its own motion, and there’s no real need to hurry it along.  That is the blessing and the curse of this earthly life:  as terrible as it is, it doesn’t go on for very long. 

There is some talk in the media that the suicide of such a beloved figure as Robin Williams will lead society to a new understanding of depression, and it is tempting to think that it might.  That would be nice.  Destigmatization would be nice; new and better drugs might be an achievable goal; easier affordable access to appropriate counseling would certainly help.  Let’s face it though, society famously lacks compassion regarding depressives.  Get over it!  That’s the common cry from the non-sufferers.  As though we chose to be depressed, and could just as easily chose to not be depressed anymore.  Family and friends expend their stores of compassion before long, if they had any compassion to begin with.  America in particular is not generous with money towards problems that are nebulous if not invisible, nor is America generous in spirit to those who exhibit a condition that renders them “others.”  It is likely that nothing will change just because Robin Williams killed himself. 

I say to those who suffer from depression, please carry on.  Please live.  Please take any and all available measures to protect yourselves from the worst effects of your affliction.  Learn to spot your triggers and pull back from your usual negative reactions to them; learn to comfort yourselves; learn about your condition in the hopes that understanding will make the suffering easier to bear; recall that you do not suffer alone.  Please be as happy as you can be.  Love yourselves, as I love you, my brothers and sisters.  Please live.  

Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Digging For The Bullshit

"Could the Egyptians have built this?" That, my friends, is the defining question for stupidity.  It was posed by this person, Josh Bernstein, on his History Channel show, "Digging for the Truth."  Who besides the Egyptians, you may correctly wonder, might have built it?  That's a short list right there.

Another stupid question:  Why did they live here?  On the cliff?  Why not down there?  (Re: the Mesa Verde Pueblo people in the old American Southwest.) 

This fellow had a decent education.  He majored in Anthropology and Psychology at Cornell university and received "a degree."  I did say "decent," he does not appear to have any post graduate degrees. 

He does have his Indiana Jones hat, although it's the wrong size, and he has his shirt with many pockets, and his Indiana Jones shoulder bag.  And he has his trim, youthful good looks too, that's very important on television. 

I'm not sure, but he may be mostly an eco-adventure tour seller when he's not asking stupid questions on the History Channel.  He's an energetic sort, he rides horses and runs up the stairs of pyramids in Mexico, but why is he on the History Channel at all?  I guess we know the answer to that one.  Once affectionately known as "The Hitler Channel," the History Channel now features mostly weird, non-academic, sensation-mongering fare that bares little relation to anything of importance to the real world, shows like "In Search of Ancient Aliens." 

I shouldn't complain.  The whole world has gone insane, not just the History Channel.  Maybe we should all just go insane and get with the program.

Robin Williams Has Crossed The River

I'll have an awful lot more to say about this very shortly. 

In the meantime, wasn't he a treasure?  Isn't this a great picture?  Didn't he make us laugh out loud?  Didn't he make us think in a lot of those movies, you know, when he wasn't being silly at all? 

I wonder if channeling all of that energy on a regular basis could even be done without blowing out some circuits eventually.  Plus, there was the complication, about which I will have more to say. 

This is just terrible. 

Monday, August 11, 2014

Another Nice Party

We had a nice birthday party for my friend Jee yesterday, that's her on the left.  It was also Mothers' Day in Thailand, celebrated on the Queen's birthday.  The party was in a private room at a good "Chinese Seafood" restaurant in Bangkok, An An Lao it's called. 

The big surprise of the evening was Jee's daughter "dropping in" from London.  I knew about it, but it was a big surprise for Jee.  Her daughter has been living in England for two years now, and she's doing very well for herself.  She's a Thai lawyer, and after a couple of years scuffling around with unskilled jobs she has finally landed a job with a big international law firm.  She made the trip to celebrate getting her permanent resident card in the U.K., which is like a permanent VISA, sure, good to see you, welcome back!  She expects to have a U.K. passport in another few years.  They make it easy over there, evidently. 

These are nice women, and it was great to see them so happy.

A Nice New Years Party

I go to some nice parties.  Not many, but nice.

That's Eddie over on the left, he was our host and chef for this New Years Party last year.  I don't meet many Americans over here that I really get along with, but Eddie is right at the top of that list.

He made us gumbo with homemade anduille sausage and shrimp.  Eddie lives in a residence hotel when he's here so he has a nice kitchen.  Great music too, lots of Miles and 'Bird and the boys, Eddie's old school.  The gumbo was first rate.

Good company all around. 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Who - The Last Time - 1967 45rpm

I've got this record somewhere, but I don't live there anymore. 

Turns out that the 'Stones got the song from a record by the Staple Singers.  Not quite a theft though, the song is "traditional."  I heard one of the Gospel versions tonight over the end credits of an episode of season seven of True Blood. 

Hadn't known that before.  Listening to all of them, I'd say that the Rolling Stones put enough form and substance into the song to claim a writing credit.  That's where the money is, after all.

I love the Who's version of the song.  It's all good, but Jesu Christus Corpus Dei, isn't Keith Moon a revelation here?  In ordinary reality, time it what it is, and only one thing can happen at a time.  Keith Moon lives in another universe altogether. 

The White World

The world has changed considerably since I was born.  The United States, in particular, has changed, and more dramatically than most countries.  I’m a Baby Boomer, born in the years immediately following World War II.  The old world, the world as I first encountered it, now exists only in memory.  You could call that old world “The White World.” 

After World War II the population of America was still under two hundred million people.  On the last day of the war, there were twelve million men and women in the armed forces.  That figure includes many black Americans, but they were not allowed to participate fully in the war or to share in the glory of winning it.  All through the war, and immediately thereafter, the military was segregated, with blacks relegated to working as transportation laborers.  World War II was the last white war. 

In much of the United States, Jim Crow laws enforced an apartheid system that kept American blacks almost invisible at the margins of society.  The rest of the country was not much more welcoming to blacks.  In cities large and small, across the north and the mid- and far-west, blacks had their neighborhoods and whites had theirs, and the two rarely met. 

Consider Major League Baseball.  Up until about the year that I was born, the major leagues were white only.  Two leagues, sixteen teams, white, white, white.  Blacks had the Negro League, among other organizations.  Most fans knew that the Negro League had a very high standard of play, but it didn’t occur to many white people that the black players should be integrated into the majors.  Negro League players suffered from much lower salaries and lived in conditions that were often dreadful. 

Consider the city of my birth: the great city of New York.  New York at the time was over eighty percent white.  The remainder were black, Hispanic, and Chinese, in that order.  The Hispanics were almost all Puerto Ricans, with a few Dominicans thrown in the mix.  And no need to say, “Asians.”  Our only Asians in those days were Chinese, with maybe a handful of Filipinos.  Blacks, Puerto Ricans and Chinese New Yorkers had their own neighborhoods, frequently separated from white neighborhoods by some physical barrier, like an industrial area, or a river, or a big road.  Virtually all of the police were white in those days, and all of the firemen, and almost all of the city officials.  My own isolated working-class neighborhood of 30,000 people had exactly two black Americans (an older married couple who worked nights and kept to themselves), one Chinese family (they owned the laundry!), a few families where only the mom was Puerto Rican, and at least one Filipino family.  That was the “The White New York.”


It is tempting to think that the United States began as a white country, a white Christian country.  It could certainly be argued that it was.  There was, however, a lot more diversity than most people care to recall.

Those American colonists/citizens had emigrated from numerous European countries.  Those countries, in Old Europe, had been rivals and adversaries in war for centuries.   In the colonies these immigrants often sought to live in communities of their countrymen.  Some states, like New York and Pennsylvania, had large German communities; New England was home to many Frenchmen; New York had been a Dutch colony and Dutch immigrants continued to be drawn there; many Irish went to the southern states as indentured servants, or otherwise.  Many cities had newspapers in several languages. 

Although all of these immigrants were white, and Christian, they were a very diverse lot.  Consider the fact that many of them had come to America in the first place because they adhered to some dissenter form of Christianity which was not tolerated in their home country.  They came to escape religious persecution.  There were more than fifteen Christian denominations represented in the colonies, maybe many more if you count them all, and they were often quite hostile to each other.   These religious groups also tended to form communities.  Maryland was the “Catholic” colony, in Maryland only Catholics were eligible to become public officials.  In many other colonies, Catholics were forbidden to become public officials.  Think of the poor Quakers!  And the Jews!  Only New York would have them, and in the case of the Quakers, not in the city itself.  The Quakers were allowed to form their own small community on the nearby north shore of Long Island (the town of Flushing). 

Of course there were some “others” among the colonists, the slaves certainly, some free blacks, the Indians, but the diversity was mostly among the whites, and only whites had power.  It was very different from old Europe though.  In France, for instance, all of the local white people were French, and Catholic.  America was a much more diverse place, from the very beginning. 

Even the white world of my neighborhood was far from monolithic.  When I visited the homes of my friends, their parents and grandparents may have been speaking Italian, or German, or Russian, or Czech, or Hungarian.  Whites all, but diverse in a typically American way.    

It was white people holding the power though, that's the point, throughout the period ending around 1950. In the early days of America the holding of power was exclusive to W.A.S.P.s (White Anglo Saxon Protestants), and they dominated the whites from "less desirable" backgrounds.  In the fullness of time the circle of white power spread outwards to include more and more kinds of white people.  That’s the process that continued until it included many people from well beyond the circle of whiteness.  It’s only natural! 

Who Cares?

I, for one, am not nostalgic for The White World.  I don’t miss it one bit.  So who cares?

The Tea Party crowd seems to miss it.  When they say, “take back America!” does anyone imagine that they mean anything but take it back from these coffee colored heathens who have invaded our shores?  And take it back from those uppity blacks who now seem to be everywhere.  Black police, blacks in baseball, blacks in the army, blacks in the Navy (and not just as cooks!), even a black president.  Who do they think they are?  And all of these immigrants, from countries that not many people had even heard of until recently.  Uzbeks!  Eritreans!  Where are those places anyway! 

This Tea Party thing is made up almost exclusively of white people who are my age or older.  They feel a sense of loss about the new diversity.  A loss of power, a loss of privilege, a loss of prestige, the loss of their position at the forefront of American society. 

The Diverse America

Some people’s nostalgia, wishing, and hoping notwithstanding, the White World is gone now, well and truly gone.  It lives on only in the hearts of a few people who will be dead before you can say Jackie Robinson. 

The new reality in the U.S. is wild diversity.  New York now is only fifty-something percent white.  Asians, from every Asian country, make up almost ten percent.  Puerto Ricans have been joined by people from every Spanish speaking country.  Africans, South Asians, Central Asians, New York is now home to all of the peoples of the world, and most neighborhoods are blended.  My old neighborhood now includes many Asians and lots of everything else too.   In Los Angeles it’s the same, there are a million plus Koreans alone, and every country is represented.  The high school that my son attended had 3,500 students, and school records included the languages spoken in their homes, eighty-five different languages.  Major League Baseball now includes not only black players, but also Hispanic players and players from Japan and Korea.  The services are fully integrated, up to and including the ranks of the general officers.  Our total population is now over three hundred million people.

This diversity is the great strength of America, its ace in the hole.  In no other country can people arrive from anywhere in the world and become thoroughly, culturally and politically, naturalized in only seven years or so.  Power sharing is not yet equally distributed among the different groups, but it is continuing to broaden its base.  There’s been progress. 

So, the White World, R.I.P.  Or should I say, “good riddance.”  

Saturday, August 9, 2014

A Moment Of Clarity Regarding Hamas

Hamas does not use women and children as "human shields."  That would be bank robbers or the like holding civilian hostages in front of them when trying to escape from police or something similar. 

Hamas stays close to civilians when attacking Israel so that civilians will be killed in the retaliatory strikes.  When this inevitably happens it results in big public relations victories for Hamas, as in the present instance.  It is not for protection, it is outright murder by Hamas.  Israel's cooperation in this plan is predictable, almost to the minute.  Israel killing the civilians is the goal of the enterprise.  Extra points for U.N. schools and hospitals! 

It works every time. 

Friday, August 8, 2014

Martha Reeves & the Vandellas - Jimmy Mack

The original.  A lot more views on this one! 

Says it was recorded in '64, but rejected until its release in '67.  So it was a draft song when recorded and a Vietnam draft song when released. 

Listen to this one and the cover version below, released in what, '68?  '69?  (I should look that up.)  Nothing wrong with either version. 

LAURA NYRO (and LABELLE) jimmy mack

Another one of those draft songs.  The fellow is away in the service, and the girlfriend back home endures one thing or another.

This album, by the way, is right up there with anything you might consider to be one of the best.  For instance, I wouldn't trade it for the Beatles whole catalog.  "Gonna Take a Miracle," by Laura Nyro and Labelle (the then recently re-named Patti Labelle and the Bluebells).  Man, I wore this record out when it was new, and it all still gives me chills. 

Am I An Atheist?

It’s starting to look a little bit dangerous to be identified as an atheist these days.  The circle of demonization has been extending itself since the infamous Nine/Eleven.  That event put Muslims on the shit list.  Homosexuals have been thoroughly demonized by now.  Liberals need not apply in some quarters.  People are angry, and as the world gets weirder and the changes in society come along faster, people are looking for someone or some group or groups to blame it on, to blame whatever the voices in their heads are telling them is happening on. 

Not only Muslims now, but, depending on whom you ask, also Hindus, Sikhs, animists (!!!) and atheists are coming up for the treatment.  Somehow anyone in any of those groups, maybe particularly the homosexuals, is individually and collectively responsible for all of the evils of our society, as delineated by the haters, the demonizers. 

Make your own list of the demons, it’s fun.  Hamas sympathizers!  Washington insiders!  Global Warming patsies!  Dissidents!  Contraceptive mongers!  Democrats!  Leftists!  Congressmen!  Federal agents!  FEMA!  The UN!  The possibilities are endless. 

This is all dangerous, especially if you find yourself in one of the demon categories.  Eliminationist language is frequently employed, often by semi-famous people on Facebook or the radio, and daily by anonymous paranoids in the comment threads of the Internet.  Often they do now shy away from mentioning their preference for Final Solutions. 

So I am moved to wonder:  do my views on religion make me eligible for death? 

What Am I?

I have never made a secret of my views on religion.  I don’t approve of it.  I generally claim that I respect religion, all religions, as other people’s business, it’s up to them.  But that’s not entirely true, the respecting part.  Really I think it’s all poppycock. 

Perhaps luckily for me and my fellow travelers, that may not be enough to make one an atheist.  Let’s hold this thing up to the light.

“Atheism/atheist:  a disbelief in the existence of a god or gods.”  (Not capitalized in the source.)  From the Greek, “a theos,” without God.  (All definitions from the Concise Oxford English Dictionary, Eleventh Edition, 2006.)

This might save me on a technicality, because disbelief, like belief, is an affirmative act.  You can argue with atheists, they have taken a position.  It seems to me that atheism is a faith, as much as any religion is a faith.  Atheism is a belief, based not on evidence, that there is no God.  It is based, if anything, on the lack of evidence for the existence of God.  In my Weltanschauung, either the belief in God or the belief that God does not exist are equally foolish. 

There is another category, a kind of “atheism lite,” a kind of wishy-washy almost atheism. 

“Agnostic:  a person who believes that nothing is known, or can be known, of the existence or nature of God."  (Capitalized in the source.)  From the Greek, “a gnostic,” without knowledge. 

Well, that’s a lot more like it.  “Agnostic” seems to sum up my feelings on the matter quite nicely.  As little as we now understand even about ordinary reality, which can be observed and quantified, it seems ridiculous to me to begin pretending that we understand the nature of God.  I am quite satisfied to continue to capitalize the word, “God,” while I remain unpersuaded on the subject of God’s existence of lack thereof.  Who knows?  Stranger things have happened than God. 

Agnostic still has a belief component though, and I’m pretty sure that I don’t believe in anything at all on the subject.  Besides, claiming the status of an agnostic when they come for the atheists would be a lot like hiding from the Big Bad Wolf in a house made of straw.  I’m pretty sure that such a narrow distinction would not be honored by hunters.  


So I’m going with faithless to describe my own condition.  I’ve written about my failure in this area before.   I’ve never in my life had any faith in anything religious.  It’s not something that I lost at some point, it never took root in me in the first place.  From the earliest attempts by teachers, or my parents, or the church, to inculcate some kind of religious belief in me, I have universally found those efforts to be dubious at best, frequently ridiculous, and certainly nothing that remotely lined up with the world that was staring me in the face. 

Could I be demonized for faithlessness?  It wouldn’t be easy, but those who might seek to do so paint with big brushes, so I guess anything is possible.  My defense would be that faithlessness is not a moral or intellectual position, it is a straightforward confession of fact.   Some may disapprove of it, but you cannot argue with it.  Faithlessness is blameless.  

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Chet Atkins - "Autumn Leaves"

And speaking of real musicians!  How about this Chet right here? 

On the Facebook the other day I was seeing something about "the greatest guitar player" and all of that.  People on numerous posts were naming the usual suspects, all big time rock star guitar-slingers.  Heavy on the old timers, because most of the people who think in those terms remember, you know, Eric and Jimi and the gang. 

I never like to pick one person as the greatest, or the most beautiful, or anything.  I threw Danny Gatton into the mix.  No comment on that one. 

But what about Chet Atkins?  How great is this cut right here?  And he could do it all, and did in fact do it all for a long and wildly distinguished career.  And live!  And he had fun doing it.  Just sayin'. 

Chet Baker - You Don't Know What Love Is

I'm just watching an Asian "American Idol" type show called "Academy Fantasia."  The singers are terrible.  Most of them are very attractive but they couldn't carry a tune in a fucking bushel basket; they couldn't find the notes with a GPS. 

I was reminded that finding the notes isn't everything in the singing game.  Another jazzbo, maybe Ornette Coleman or somebody, once said of Chet, "you know, sometimes you hear a guy, he can't sing for shit, but he sings the song and it makes you cry."  (I paraphrase, lavishly.) 

So sometimes maybe it's all about the sincerity.  Chet's got that going on.  He loves these songs, and he sings them with great reverence, and he is a real musician, after all.  I've listened to this cut a hundred times, and it still affects me. 

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Dining Etiquette: The Tale Of The Knife And Fork

I watch a few of those Masterchef TV shows.   It’s an English franchise, with spin-offs made in Australia and Canada.  So the dining conventions are European, and I see a lot of the judges holding their cutlery in the preferred European fashion, with the knife in the right hand and the fork, upside down, in the left.  It’s ridiculous. 

To watch these people, who presumably have a lot of experience with the knife and fork so deployed, attempting awkwardly to find their mouths with a load of carefully crushed peas and mashed potatoes balanced on the bottom of an upturned fork held in the non-dominant hand is usually cringeworthy and often hilarious. 

I am assured by an English friend that the lefties among them fare no better, being constrained by fashion to hold their knives in their left hands and their forks with similar difficulties in their right hands.  I could not say with any certainly where this trend began.  Not too long ago, most Europeans ate with one utensil, probably a spoon.  The fork is a somewhat recent invention.  Just watch one of those movies about Henry VIII and watch him go at it with his hands and maybe a knife.  It may have something to do with a perceived necessity to hold the knife in one’s dominant hand, but whether that is because one needs to apply a surgeon’s grace to one’s meat cutting, or whether the knife must always be available for self-defense, is anyone’s guess. 

The gourmands who judge these cooking shows should by this time have acquired some facility for both of the skills required with the fork, in the first place the balancing of the food on the convex bottom side of the fork, and in the second place, that of not spearing one’s cheek with the tines of the fork.  They are certainly game enough, but to me they look a lot like the Chinese tourists that I often see in the breakfast rooms at South East Asian hotels.  Many of these Chinese adventurers have obviously never used a fork before, maybe never even seen one.   They spear something, a piece of fruit or something, and then staring cross-eyed at the payload they very carefully more the food towards their mouths.  They do it with their right hands, by the way, and that alone makes them seem more reasonable in these matters than the Europeans.
South East Asian countries seem to me to be the most practical in the matter of dining etiquette.  All meals are rice based, and all meals are prepared so that the dish can be eaten with a spoon, held in the right hand.  A fork is held in the left hand and it is used almost exclusively for moving food onto the spoon.  The knives are all left in the kitchen. 

Europeans love to make fun of Americans, they love to act like we’re all so stupid and provincial.  They mock us for switching our knives and forks back and forth constantly while eating.  I guess a lot of Americans do eat in this fashion, choosing to both cut food and place food in their mouths with their dominant hand.  Be it a foolish custom or not, it has the advantage of allowing for the greatest degree of control for both instruments.  It seems to me that most Americans could place a forkful of food in their mouths with their eyes closed.  Try that left handed. 

In my case, I have no more desire to be constantly switching the knife and fork back and forth than any of the European elitists.  So I never do any switching.  Before my twenty-first birthday I had discovered that I was perfectly capable of wielding a knife against mere food with my left hand.  This frees my right hand for the delicate task of guiding the food to my mouth.  It’s only cutting a steak.  It’s not like you were trying to whittle the Statue of Liberty out of oak. 

I hold my fork right side up, which only seems prudent.  It’s much easier in every way, and after all, shouldn’t the bottom be facing down?  Aren’t those the rules, from physics to engineering, and everything in between?  Are we not reasonable people?  Can we not at least agree that a fork is best deployed right side up? 

Tradition is strong with the Europeans, and that might be why they eat the way that they do.  Maybe long ago some famous king ate that way and decreed that everyone in France or somewhere had to eat just like he did.  Whatever the reason, I would not expect this tradition to change any time soon.  The problem of global warming, indeed, the Israeli-Palestinian Stand Off, will be solved and done with and Europeans will still be dropping insufficiently crushed peas onto their vests because of this silly habit.  

Friday, August 1, 2014

JAMES BROWN Escape-ism (Part1)

There's a new movie out about James Brown.  You know him, Soul Brother Number One, the Godfather of Soul, the Hardest Working Man in Show Business.  I've read a couple of reviews of the new movie, and the best quote so far is:

This movie is a little long on the Godfather and a little bit short on the soul.

I paraphrase, but the jist of it is that the movie focuses a little bit too much on James the man, and it neglects the music, which was epic, original, wild, passionate, very popular, and classic in every way. 

Sure, James gets some credit for the music that he created, with the band that he put together and led.  But of all things, amazingly, it's way, WAY too little credit, really.  James was a ground breaker, no, he was a ground shaker, no, he was a planet smasher.  How many musicians could say that they influenced Miles Davis?  A few, but James was up there with any of them.

This was evidently a warm up session, just the boys fooling around with the machines on.  But this three minutes and twenty seconds is worth most people's entire catalogs.