Wednesday, January 28, 2015

Tony Joe White-willie and laura may jones

Thinking about Tony Joe White because a friend of mine shared the below cut on Facebook.  This is my favorite of his songs. 

The guy had a lot to offer.  I didn't appreciate him at the time, and that was a failure on my part.  It was only after I became familiar with this song by the Persuasions that I took the time to figure him out.  Yeah, for sure, the guy has a lot to offer. 

Tony Joe White Groupie Girl on Playboy After Dark 1970

My friend Cathy C. shared this on Facebook, and I'm grateful for the heads-up.  For one thing, it's a great song and a first-class, professional performance.  For another, this has to be the most clueless audience of all time.

I have no doubt that Tony Joe chose this song as a message to the Bunnies, who were little more than glorified groupies, let's face it.  How could they even listen to a song about a girl "getting passed 'round" without crying?  Well, they were all loaded, that might explain it. 

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Who's Afraid Of A Cocaine Negro?

Everybody’s afraid of something, and different cultures have different patterns tracking these fears.  Some societies are very sensibly afraid of the true threats in their situation, while others ignore the true threats and are mostly afraid of imagined threats.  Guess which group includes America?

I’ll help you out:  America is preoccupied with imaginary threats.  Real threats are ignored or glossed over.  Americans should be very afraid of traffic, for instance.  Traffic accidents kill many tens of thousands of people every year in America.  But no, not so scary.  After all, lots of people live all their lives and never die in a traffic accident!  Same with gun accidents and gun violence.  Both things kill loads of people in America, world record breaking numbers of people.  Again, people’s main concern seems to be buying and carrying as many guns as possible.  Obesity?  Watching the news from around America it is obvious to me that people have no fear of obesity.  People ignore these real threats while they walk around in absolute terror of real or imagined things that represent little or no threat at all. 

Americans are afraid of shark attacks, even though most of them never swim in the ocean.  Americans are afraid of being hit by lightning.  That fear is much more reasonable, but still only a remote possibility, unless you’re a telephone lineman or something.  About five hundred people a year get hit by lightning in America, and about ten percent of those people die, but almost all of them worked or took recreation outdoors for long periods of time.  These are the silly examples.  Others are not so silly.

Americans these days are afraid of terror attacks.   Since the September 11, 2001 World Trade Center attack this behavior has been actively encouraged by the Federal government.  Not that people seemed to require much encouragement to be afraid.   This is about as silly as the fear of lightning strikes.  In reality, these so-called terrorists have managed to kill very few Americans since that one, early home run.  Most years terrorism runs a poor second to lightning.   Mostly these terrorists kill each other, or innocent people of their own religion, or American soldiers that we send to kill terrorists.  It’s a case of the fear only hastening the result that was feared in the first place. 

Many of America’s pet fears are very abstract.  People are afraid of immigrants.  They are afraid of gay marriage.  They are really, really afraid of socialism.  They are afraid of God, which they suppose is a good thing.  They are afraid of the Federal government itself!  They are afraid of the United Nations and FEMA.  Liberals; science; the Enlightenment; Humanism; anything “secular;” evolution; all of it.  The one thing that most people are not afraid of is Global Climate Change, because they are convinced that it is a hoax.  That would be a good thing to be afraid of, but most Americans prefer to be afraid of the imaginary hoax. 

Right up there in the abstract realm is America’s long, intense love affair with being afraid of black Americans.  We should be spending more time examining this fear, because its disastrous effects are much in the news these days.   Black men are killed out of proportion to their population statistics in encounters with police, or vigilantes masquerading as police, or just private citizens, a vast catalog of Jeez-Louise!  Did you see the size of him?  And he was black!  I was afraid for my life!  Thank God I had that gun on me.

I should mention that it’s not only black men.  Black women get killed for little or no reason too, by frightened non-black civilians or police.  My advice to black women motorists who break down out where there’s no cell phone coverage:  don’t be knocking on doors looking for a good Samaritan.  Just wait it out. 

There’s nothing new about this fear of black Americans, nothing new in the least.  It probably started within fifteen minutes of the first boat load of slaves to reach Charleston.  Someone there, among all of the greedy slavers and the merely curious, must have thought:  those poor buggers, they’ll slaughter us if we give them half a chance.  Over the centuries our treatment of them has mostly gotten only worse, and even in our Twenty-First-Century the horror of it has moderated only slightly.  Americans are still sure that black Americans stay awake at night to dream up ways to get back at the white man, either by scamming the government for a ”handout” or by outright violence.  It’s all poppycock, of course.   Black Americans have, if anything, shown more forbearance than any group of victims in history, seeking only to live and work in peace and with some dignity.

This filial attitude on the part of the blacks has only been answered with lies, terrible calumnies and brutal violence.   Black Americans spent the years immediately following the Civil War kind of catching their collective breathes and figuring out how to navigate their new situation.  By the early Twentieth Century, however, they had some wind in their sails and they were starting to make their presence known in American culture.  They did this in ways that were predictable, like the entry of blacks into the sport of boxing, and in some ways that were just magically delicious, like the invention of jazz.  This new participation in American culture should have been appreciated, but it was not.  This new cultural assertiveness did not go unnoticed by officialdom, and the response was anything but appreciative.

The Harrison Act, which criminalized narcotics, was passed in 1914.  Up until then you could just cruise down to the local apothecary and buy whatever you wanted, as much as you could afford.  It had come to people’s attention that blacks were among the customers, and non-blacks found that thought disturbing.  As long as it was just white old Uncle Joe taking something for his headaches it was fine.  Real newspapers all over the country came alive with stories of “negro cocaine fiends,” and ridiculous stories circulated describing the imaginary crimes and capabilities of these monsters.  Jazz musicians were a particular bugaboo.   Why, they play this ungodly, foreign music while they’re high on marijuana!   Who will protect us from these hopped up hoards?  Somebody came along pretty soon.

Prohibition ended in 1930, eliminating the need for a Department of Prohibition.  In response to this imagined negro drug problem a new Federal Bureau of Narcotics was formed, with Harry Anslinger as its head.   Harry had some powerful misconceptions about drugs, particularly concerning the power and the dangers of marijuana, and he had a powerful prejudice against blacks, particularly jazz musicians.   Why, didn’t you know that smoking marijuana slowed down the very perception of time and placed its users in some kind of alternate reality where morals just flew out the window?  That’s why jazz is so disorganized and discordant!  To Harry, jazz sounded like pagan jungle rituals.  I’ll bet he enjoyed imagining what terrible stuff they got up to out there in jungle/jazz land. 

In 1939 Billie Holiday started singing a song called “Strange Fruit,” which is about lynching in the South.  It was, and it remains, a powerful protest song, a cry for justice.  Billie was already a highly regarded and well compensated musician, and Mr. Anslinger, and others no doubt, felt like she had some nerve to complain, that she was being ungrateful and, well, uppity.  She obviously needed to be taken down a peg.  Over the next fifteen years they succeeded in taking her down quite a few pegs, they succeeded in fact in causing her death.  From the evidence, it appears that they were proud of their efforts in protecting the (white) American people from Billie Holiday. 

To clarify that this was a racist effort aimed at protecting society from specifically black drug “fiends,” we need only contrast the Fed’s treatment of Billie Holiday with their treatment of Judy Garland.  Judy was as big a drug addict as Billie.  In fact, Judy was probably a bigger drug addict, because she had more money and a more sedentary lifestyle.  Anslinger made a special trip to California to meet with Judy personally, explaining to her that it would be better if she got off the drugs.  He spoke of her in glowing terms as a wonderful woman and a cultural asset.  He met with studio bosses too, counseling them to be gentle with their wayward star and help him in doing what they could to help her kick the habit.  She, of course, switched to pills and booze and everybody was happy. 

Billie, on the other hand, was seen as a filthy, drug-addicted jazz miscreant who needed to be hounded, set-up, brutalized, framed and incarcerated even if it killed her. 

So it’s no surprise that “Black Lives Matter” is still a controversial stance to take.  Many people obviously still don’t think that black lives do matter.  That it’s nothing new should not surprise us either.  Anybody who’s been paying attention knows that the good old days were nothing of the sort.  America’s fear structure needs a major overhaul, especially America’s fear of its black brethren.  Whatever you call it, the War on Drugs, Law and Order, the War on Crime, talk of Handouts, Takers, Thugs, anything Urban, it’s all the War on Black Americans, and I for one am sick of it.  I’m such a sweet man and it all makes me look very, very bad!  So let’s cut it out.

Recommended reading: 

The Hunting of Billie Holiday, by Johann Hari (Politico dot com)

No Man's Land, by Eula Biss, (The Believer Magazine, referencing The Culture of Fear, by Barry Glassner.  

Friday, January 23, 2015

"Chicken Rock" Guru Guru

Kraftwerk and Tangerine Dream became household names in America over the years, Kraftwerk had the hits and Tangerine Dream worked on many famous movies.  Lots more depth to that Kraut-Rock "invasion" though. 

Guru Guru were always entertaining.

A Brief Mention Of The Death Of Edgar Froese

Calling all Tangerine Dream fans . . . and I apologize for being a buzz-kill.  Edgar Froese has died, at age seventy, of an unanticipated pulmonary embolism.

I'm a fan, but not an expert, so someone else should verify that Edgar was the only continuous member of the band throughout their long career.

Tangerine Dream came to prominence with the release of Phaedra in 1974.  I was already into the Kraut Rock, and I loved Phaedra big time.   There was a whole big scene back in the 70's.  Not only electronica, but also jazz and rock, free and otherwise, and some very good pop music too.  Amon Duul put out a lot of great stuff; Guru Guru, and their side project Manni und Seine Freunde, were particularly good; Can were and maybe still are great, I'm out of the loop; Kraftwerk were very popular.  There were many others.

I saw Tangerine Dream once or twice.  At the Santa Monica Civic Auditorium for sure, in 1976 I think it was.  As soon as the lights went down to start the show a solid cloud of smoke began forming over the audience.  That was a great show.  Luckily, no one shut down the show thinking that there was a fire or something.  I mean, that smoke was pretty thick.  I've seen that happen at other shows, but never to that extent.   Maybe they thought that it was part of the special effects. 

Edgar was still working, but I guess this puts the final punctuation on new Tangerine Dream projects.  Too bad about the whole thing, my condolences to the family, I know that he had one.  Sudden death is a terrible visitation.  Good luck to all affected parties.

(After-correction-notice:  First time through I had Amon Duul giving rise to Manni und Seine Freunde, when actually Manni was the drummer for Guru Guru.  Bad mistake!  Blame it on my youth!  Amon Duul were good, but very serious; Guru Guru in general, and Manni in particular, were very playful and irreverent.)  

Wednesday, January 21, 2015


I don't know about you, but I need something to cheer me up.  This cut always works. 

These guys did a great job, I sure hope that they made some money along the way (but I doubt it).  And listen to that crunch from the guitar! 

(Find the comma splice!  Win a prize!  My favorite grammar error!) 

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Design Excess Vehicle Alert Bangkok

This Kawasaki is becoming popular with big bike enthusiasts in Thailand, at least in Bangkok.

I think that the Kawasaki design bureau got a little carried away with themselves, don't you think?  I'm sure that this thing is fun to ride,and I trust Kawasaki make it a safe ride with a strong, reliable motor.  So I'm sure that it's a good, modern engineering job, but the design?

What do you think?

The State Of The Union Message 2015

(Written within an hour or so of the event.)

Very good speech, Mr. President, as one frequent public speaker to another.  The delivery was great, and I liked the content too.   It was all Mom and Apple Pie and the American Flag.  One could wonder who would object to any of it, although many have already objected to much of it. 

The tension remains the war between Wall Street and Main Street.  Between those who feel like America is composed of its people, its society and its culture (not many of them anymore, and almost no Republicans) and those who feel like America is composed of its large corporations, Wall Street and the rich.  Kudos or objections were raised exactly along these lines.

What Did The President Say?

Mr. Obama started off with a general pep-talk about the current state of the economy.  There are many positives to point to.  Better growth rates have returned . . . “fasted growth since 1999!”  A little dig there.  And a hint about common purpose being better than factionalized politics, a call-back to the big finish. 

He specifically mentioned the energy situation (traditional and non-traditional domestic production way up), education (more graduates at all levels) and health care (many more people now insured) He mentioned that the deficit is way down, which he can definitely take a lot of credit for, and that Wall Street is riding high, which is probably more due to their self-directed goals and record keeping. 

In a real Main Street moment, Mr. Obama spoke of middle-class economics, policies that are designed to strengthen the middle-class.  He praised historical successes in this area, things that came about almost entirely because of the efforts of Democratic administrations.  New Deal stuff, Social Security, workers’ rights, Civil Rights, Medicare and yes, the ACA (the so-called Obamacare). 

“Middle-class economics works  . . . we need to restore the link between hard work and opportunity.” 

During this recitation, the Republican members of congress sat quietly in a state of impending stroke.  They were breathless, struggling to maintain their composure.  John “Boner” Boener slumped in his chair, his growing anger showing in his deeply knit brow and chin. 

The president next went through a list of ways that the middle-class needs help right now:

1. Child care is a necessity, and families need help.  This should be a “national priority.” Families need more affordable child care slots, and tax credits could help a lot;

2. Sick leave and maternity leave.  We’re alone in the developed world in not providing these things to all workers.  All workers should get seven paid sick days per year.  (Amazingly, they currently do not);

3. Equal pay for women.  “It’s 2015, people!”

4. Raise the minimum wage;

5. Unions give workers a voice, and they should be encouraged.  Not just by government action, employers need to get on board;

6. Free community college!  40% of college students start out in community college.  Tennessee provides it, under Republican leadership, so why not all agree and make it happen?

7. Student loan relief.  This was only a vague reference to this huge problem, and the only suggestion was that we come up with “ways to reduce the size of payments;”

8.  Help returning veterans.  “Hire a vet!”

9. Rebuilding infrastructure.  This was a dream list in the form of a jobs program;

10. Encourage innovation.  On the Internet, in the area of prosthetic limbs, in the energy and manufacturing sectors.  (He didn’t mention Wall Street, I guess he feels like they’re innovating enough already.)

How are we to pay for all of this?  According to the president, and I agree, the tax code as currently constituted is “rigged by lobbyists” to favor the top earners and large corporations.  “We need to stop up some of these unproductive loopholes.”  Trade agreements designed to bring jobs back to the U.S. would help too. 

And the big enchilada:  a new tax on accumulated wealth!  I’m all for this, of course.  The wealth of the top 0.01% will sit unproductively and eventually suck all of the air out of the room unless we do something about it.  Believe me, they don’t need the little bit of money that any possible legislation will deny them. 


Here came the first mention of terror.  Mr. Obama’s emphasis was on the need to avoid blustery, big ticket non-solutions like military action.  “We stand with our allies around the world, from Pakistan to Paris.  ISIL?  Bad.  Russian aggression?  Bad.  ISIL might even require the application of non-specified force. 

But Cuba?  “Our policy of sanctions against Cuba is long past its use-by date.”  Makes a lot of sense.  The point was, it’s been fifty years now, maybe it’s time to try something new? 

How about Iran?  Nobody wants a nuclear armed Iran, but sanctions are preferable to military intervention.  The sanctions now in place may need to be reduced, and he’ll veto any new ones.  And war, in general, must be only a last resort.

The president quoted Pope Francis:  Diplomacy is a process of small steps.  Keep taking them and you’ll get there.

Some Miscellany

Hackers bad!!!  We need a coordinated protective effort.  With a nod to Main Street in the form of preventing identity theft.

Climate Change is real!!!  2014 was the hottest year on record, capping off the last fourteen years as the hottest years on record.  So the president thinks that this is a real thing.  “Many say that the debate is ongoing, and that efforts to reduce global climate change are not necessary at this time.  They say, ‘I’m not a scientist, so I don’t know.’  Well I’m not a scientist either, but I know a lot of good scientists!”  And they all agree, you know that they do.  He mentioned that even the Pentagon agrees!  We can all agree that the Pentagon is not a collection of science loving Liberals.  So international action is a good idea, and we’re already cooperating with China on the issue, and the smaller world economies are coming along. 

Condemn discrimination!!!  We need to discourage anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hysteria, and to confront religious discrimination wherever we find it.  Also anti-gay discrimination, etc. 

Gitmo!!! Time to close it down.  All it does is generate anti-American feelings and more terrorists.

Too much surveillance!!! But only the briefest mention, and a call for protecting privacy.

Big Finish

The president finished up with a very heartfelt call for more dialog and cooperation in Washington politics.  He acknowledged that cynicism might be tempting at this point, after so many years of divisive politics, but he condemned it as useless and counterproductive. 

In a rare nod to the prevailing insanity, he pointed out that “some say that it is ironic that a black president has somehow engendered more division between the races.”  He gave a little dig to those “who profit from division.”  No (well deserved) excoriation here, just the occasional gentle nod. 

He asked that people recall that there has been real progress over the last seven years or so, giving gay rights as an example.  Good example too, because that issue has been coming along nicely, and the push has come from ordinary, good hearted people, and churches, and the push has not come only from the affected community.  So, he suggests, there’s a lot of good brotherhood going on. 

The suggestion being that Washington can learn a lot from Main Street. 

He generously allowed that there are good people “on both sides of the aisle,” and suggested that we need to debate issues and facts like reasonable people, “considering people’s daily lives.” 

“We need to lift people up, not tear each other down.” 

There’s plenty that we can agree on.  Whichever side of the abortion debate you’re on we can all agree that in terms of raw numbers abortions are way down and that’s a good thing.  There should be a lot to agree on regarding immigration reform because we are a nation of immigrants after all. 

We should be agreeing on lots of things, we should be, but we’re not.  Can we not agree that the right to vote is sacred, and should be protected?  Lots of disagreement on that simple point right now, and the right to vote is under attack in many states.  (Ed. Comment, “from certain circles.”)

We need, the president says, a better politics. 

And now the big laugh line.  Mr. Obama pointed out that there will be no more campaigns for him, and he was thereupon interrupted by applause from the Republican side.  Without missing a beat, he turned to them and said, “I know, because I won both of them!”  This was met by general laughter. At least no one called out, “you lie!” when he was talking about the good things that have been happening.

And the end of the speech, “so, Republicans, let’s talk, let’s work together to make the United States strong.  Let’s be the UNITED States of America.  (And the God bless, etc.)

Republican Response

There were at least twenty Republican responses, with everybody trying to get into the act.  The official Republican response was delivered by Joni Ernst, the new senator from Iowa.   Instead of referencing the speech itself, she chose to give a stiff reading of Republican talking points, enlivened only by a long description of just how awfully poor she and all of her friends were back in small town Iowa, you know, in the 1970’s or something, and just how hard all of their real American, white parents had to work to get them new shoes or something, without ever asking for help from the government.

It was a typical “Fuck Main Street” response.

The problem, it turns out, is Washington excess in the form of big spending and regulation of business, with a special mention for the hated “Obamacare.” 

But now that the Republicans are in, things will be different!  She claims that Republicans will create jobs for a change, like she hasn’t noticed that it’s happening already, and she doesn’t recall that more jobs were created under Bill Clinton.  How, pray tell, will Republicans create these jobs. 

You know already.  The Keystone Pipeline!  She called it the Keystone Job Creation Program or some new euphemism like that.  Obama just wants to block it!  He doesn’t want jobs!

They’ll break down trade barriers!  (No specifics.)

They’ll simplify the tax code!  She wants lower tax rates!  We know what they mean by that too. 
Lower echelons will pay more; higher ups will pay less.

They’ll defend life!  (No specifics, but you can imagine the effect on women and families.)

They’ll repeal Obamacare!  Because it’s so terrible for everyone, with everyone being dropped from their (useless and illusory) policies, and everybody’s rates going up. 

Dream on, honey, in your wooden, clueless manner.

For a big finish, she swung into big mentions of our brave veterans and soldiers and the great American people, because “America is the greatest country in History!”  And of course, God Bless America! 

Perhaps Mr. Obama was a tough act to follow.  If this was the best that the Republicans could do, it becomes even more amazing that so many people keep voting for them. 


So, to recap:

We have a Democratic president paying eloquent lip service to Main Street while avoiding any real mention of Wall Street running amok, or the Pentagon using up all of our treasure for the benefit of their friends, or our precious Constitutional Rights continuing to be eroded, or a few other terrible things that I’ll think of within ten minutes.

And we have a Republican response that just trots out the same old tired bullshit about cutting taxes, deregulating business, supporting religious values, and destroying the safety net.  Trickle Down redux on the way to a poverty stricken theocracy, and all hail Wall Street and the rich. 

It’s sickening.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

A Nice Family From Singapore

The young gentleman in the middle was the groom at that wedding I wrote about last month.  He is joined in this picture by his mother, his sister and brother-in-law, and their children.

It's a very nice family.  Everybody spoke Chinese with mom and a mix of English and Chinese among the adults.  Everybody but mom spoke English with the children, but even the children spoke Chinese with grandma.  They're a very cosmopolitan bunch.

Singapore is an interesting place.  Lots of Singaporeans are very disciplined and hard working, and very well educated too.  The place itself has too many police to suit me, and the entire social fabric can seem a little tight fitting to an American.  I like the people though, especially the Chinese Singaporeans.

The wedding was in Bangkok; the bride was Thai.  The wedding was at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel, which is a really, really nice place.  

The Forced Observance Of Religion

In the news last week was a Cleveland woman named Sakeema Majeed.  Ms. Majeed was in jail (not prison) for something that really happened, and there was nothing untoward about her conviction or incarceration.  She made the news because in the Cleveland jail she was required to attend Christian church services.  Ms. Majeed happens to be a Muslim.  A law suit has been filed.

This is as close to the state establishing a religion as I have seen in my lifetime.

Oh, I’ve seen similar things, but nothing so blatant.  For example, I have written here about the policy of the United States Navy at their Great Lakes Recruit Training facility, back in the 1960’s.  They would not take my heartfelt “no preference” as an answer to the question about religion.  No, we were all to have a religion at boot camp.  With considerable snark, I said okay, I’m a Buddhist.  That was not one of the choices, which were Catholic, Protestant, or Jewish.  I was put down as a Protestant without further adieu, because, as the petty officer said, “I was protesting something.”  As indeed I was.  For ten weeks I attended non-specific Protestant services every Sunday morning.  In 1967, I was, of course, no more a Buddhist than I was a Jew or a Hindu.  But back then I wouldn’t even admit to being a Christian of any kind.  I had been raised Catholic, and had attended Catholic schools for both grammar and high school.  That experience had put me off religion in a comprehensive manner.  I’d say that I was no more of a Protestant than a Jew or a Hindu either, but there I was.

This was not like the establishment of a religion though.  All that was required was that each of the recruits practice some form of religion, within narrow parameters.  The Cleveland jail system is requiring all of its charges to practice Christianity, probably without even the Catholic option.   This might be something new.

“The government shall make no establishment of religion . . .” (I paraphrase.)   This is the Establishment Clause of our constitution.  But where are we going with this thing at this point in our history? 

In our brave new Twenty-First Century world, any politician who wants to get elected in the United States must at least pay lip-service to the Christian God.  “God bless America!”  Except maybe in Vermont, or Brooklyn.  There are one or two professed atheists in our government, and a sprinkling of Jews, Muslims and Hindus, but the Protestants are clearly ascendant.   And they are a busy bunch too, with an active religious agenda. 

Not just the Sarah Palins of the world.  The entire structure of American government is well to the right of center now, including almost the entirety of both houses of congress and maybe even the president as well.  Not to mention the Supreme Court and the Joint Chiefs of Staff and most state and local governments too.   The entire Right Wing Establishment feels somewhat beholding to the religious fanatics among us.   I don’t think that it’s even all about the votes anymore.  They’ve decided that religion is of great assistance to them in matters of crowd control and fear mongering. 

There’s the talk of America being a Christian country, which is always dramatically overstated, and the feeling that America must get back to God.  The Ten Commandments have more adherents these days than there are people who can actually recite them.  Abortion and gay rights issues are deliberately used as clubs to drive people apart.  Religious considerations, so-called Christian religious values, are being inserted into a broader range of our laws with each passing year.  Many are specifically Christian, or specifically anti-Muslim.  (Sharia Law!)  The anti-abortion struggle is morphing into an anti-contraception crusade.   Religion, the non-specific “evangelical” form of the Christian religion in particular, is waging a war against our American democracy.  They are cleverly masking it behind a claimed war on religion, a claimed war on the Christian religion. 

They want us to believe that there is a war on Christmas!  That saying “Happy Holidays!” is actually some kind of code for Christians ‘raus!  The paranoia is running so deep that many overly credulous Christians feel like there are deep conspiracies against them, and that some kind of socialist or United Nations takeover is imminent in which they will be rounded up and put in camps.  Run by FEMA!  All of this against the backdrop of an American government that is obviously on a march to establish Christianity as the National Religion of the United States.  Maybe, like in The Handmaid’s Tale, they’ll  call it the United States of Gilead. 

The laws that are being promulgated are intended to force all of us to live by the laws of their religion, as interpreted by them.  To shove, as it were, their religion down our throats.  The worst of it is that they are, in the process, ignoring all that is good and noble in Christianity.  The brotherhood, the charity, the social justice.  We may end up wishing that we were only being dictated to by Episcopalians.  

Maybe you’re thinking, Oh, Fred, you’re so oversensitive.  You’re the one who’s being paranoid.   I hope that I am.  But that whole pendulum swinging back and forth thing doesn’t work as well as it used to.  I’m afraid that these days momentum rules and pendulums are found only in antique clocks.  The momentum is clearly with the right wing so-called conservatives, and they’ve got so much wind in their sails that it might be hard to reverse all of the mischief that they’ve been up to for almost forty years now. 

As usual, I wish us luck and move on.   I’m halfway through an interesting article about the mess in the Ukraine.   Things like that calm me down.  The history of the Ukraine, present and recent, is such a catalog of horror that any problems that America has quickly pale into insignificance.  

Teaching In Si Saket Province

Here I am with a few students from my masters' degree class, English for Lawyers.  They were a good bunch too.  Not so up on the English, but very pleasant.  I admire how they all give me great attention, with good eye contact, even though for most of them I might as well give the lecture in German.

My technique these days is to first go over some new vocabulary on whatever point of law I'm introducing; then I explain it in simple English, with some repetition; then I try to throw in a story or an example in Thai to clarify what I was talking about.  I do what I can to help them, I try to keep the lessons simple.

It's always fun for me, in any case.

Saturday, January 10, 2015

Train ~ Expressway to Your Skull.wmv

Train, from the album Expressway to Your Skull, released in 1968.  This video has received only 404 hits since 2012, so yes, people forget.

It's refreshing to recall that some good things happened in 1968, which stands out in the memories of the experienced as the worst year in living memory.  1968 was a catalog of unrelieved horror from beginning to end.  The wars, the assassinations, the social turmoil, the extra-judicial killings, the revolutions, the bitter demonstrations around the world, the urban riots, oye, vey ist mir, all against the background of impending nuclear destruction.  Next to 1968, our problems today are like a pleasant trip to Disneyland.

It's also incredible to think that this burst of creative energy, and many others in 1968, came only four years after the sweetly saccharin hits of the Beatles in 1964.  Boy, that was a busy four years of progress right there. 

Buddy died in 2008, still working, at the age of sixty.  Neither he nor the Buddy Miles Express are in the so-called Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, further destroying the credibility of that institution.  So yes, people forget.  

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Why Are Police Acting This Way?

I happen to like police.  They seem to me a lot like baseball players, members of an exclusive club, children who never quite grow up.  They live in a parallel universe boys club with different rights and privileges than normal people.  They find their comforts and their rewards in a manner that is very different from the rest of us.  I do, however, find them to be generally honorable, and likeable.  I still think so, but something has changed. 

Not a day goes by now without our being informed about some police action somewhere going terribly wrong.  A SWAT team somewhere serving a warrant injures a child; more or less innocent people, mostly black, are shot, choked or merely beaten senseless in events ranging from traffic stops to simple encounters on the street; dogs are shot; shots are fired into vehicles almost willy-nilly; the serving of warrants is now a military style operation.  What, pray tell, is going on? 

I still like police in general, but it does seem that many of them are being carried away on some kind of emotional wave.  What kind of wave?

My Formative Years

My attitude towards police was formed in my youth, like most people’s.  I grew up in a working class neighborhood of New York City in the Fifties and Sixties.  Some of my neighbors were policemen; many were the fathers of my friends.  Over the years I had my share of interactions with the NYPD, my share and more.  It all went very well. 

This was the old time white New York, and if you were white you received a certain amount of consideration.  So there were the usual traffic stops:  riding a motorcycle with no helmet; making a right turn on a red light; going through a red light; making a left turn on a red light into a one way street.  I never got the ticket, not once.  I was scolded and reminded of the consequences, and finally the cop would, with a wave of his nightstick, tell me, “get the fuck out of here.” 

In my late teens we’d get taken on by police sometimes driving around in the middle of the night.  Parked on a dark street, police would want to know what we were doing.  It was a fair question, what we were doing was illegal, although it was quiet and non-threatening.  I was unfailingly polite, and nothing ever came of it.  Once we were stopped and vigorously searched by drug enforcement police (NYPD) after we stopped and knocked on the side door of a house that had been raided, resulting in a seizure of several pounds of marijuana.  We were clean; they let us go.  That was a close one.  Never any trouble though, and there was generally a reason for the police interest. 

I saw police in other situations as well.  Coming to a house or apartment in response to some kind of call the police followed a simple script.  First, the knock on the door, an earth splitting blast, usually with the butt of a nightstick.  Two police would enter, one waving the stick and the other hanging back with his hand close to his gun.  The cop with the stick had a few preliminary questions:  whose place is this?  Who else is here?  Are there any weapons in the apartment?  Where’s the kitchen?  (There are knives in the kitchen.) What’s the problem?  If everyone was sober and reasonable, the police would settle down immediately and try to be helpful. 

Nothing to hate about any of that.  The NYPD were very reasonable, as long as you were white, anyway.

Those Police Were Not Always Benevolent

 They could get rough sometimes, even with white boys.  We kind of asked for it, we were a bunch of hell raisers.  Shoplifting was involved; we fought at the drop of a hat; boys got stomped; cars were stolen; drugs were purchased, sold and used; underage drinking was common.  We might be visited by police if we were just hanging around on some corner of town.  If one of us was impolite to the officer, they might receive a poke with the nightstick.  My friend Tommy got a poke in the solar plexus one time that dropped him like a bad habit.  (Tommy should have known better, his father was a cop.) We could understand that and we couldn’t complain.  We were out looking for trouble, waiting for a soda or beer delivery truck with an incautious driver or something.  One friend of mine was loudly drunk after midnight one time and was taken to the police station.  Whatever he said to the police, or however he was acting, it was enough to get him thrown down a flight of stairs with his hands cuffed behind him.  Luckily he was so drunk that he only dislocated a shoulder.  We understood that too.  We knew that some of us would be police someday, and that we’d probably do the same.

The Old Time Black Experience

I know that it was rougher, even back then, for black boys.  The rough treatment was probably about the same, but maybe with a little more fury.  The black boys were probably more likely to get arrested if they were caught drinking in the park.  (For us white boys, the cops just took any remaining beer and told us to clean up and “get the fuck out of here.”)  I think that the big difference was that the black boys were much more likely to get set up for something that they didn’t do. 

From George Whitmore, Jr. to Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, police seemed to think that in the interest of rapidly solving crimes it was generally best to grab some semi-plausibly guilty black male and get him to confess somehow.  Somewhere between lies, coercion, and beatings, police got confessions from a lot of black men who feared that they’d get more time if they didn’t cooperate. 

Even for blacks, though, it was the nightstick or fists, and not the fifty bullets or a choke hold that they are likely to encounter today. 

As regards the black community, these tactics were a continuation of an older pattern of keeping black Americans in their place, wherever that was thought to be at the time.  It was a step up, too, because one of the older techniques was lynching.  Lynching was often arbitrary and almost always fatal; fisticuffs and wrongful incarceration are slightly to be preferred, I suppose.  Where there’s life, there’s hope. 

Today’s news headlines indicate that the pattern has swung back to fatal solutions, usually based on either, “he fit the description,” or “the officer feared for his life.”  It’s one small step for a police officer, but it’s a giant leap backwards for American society.

Can We Talk About This?

Our news these days comes in a “battle of the echo chambers” format.  You love America, or you hate America, etc.  Either you hate immigrants and want them all to leave, or you love immigrants more than you love America and want to turn the country over to immigrants.  All of the middle ground has become no-man’s land.  Regarding this new police behavior, as in all other matters, the discussion has become instantly polarized.  We must be either blindly supportive of police, out of some kind of love or respect, or we are anti-police and we do not value police lives.  How stupid is that?

Police violence is now a problem.  Isn’t it more reasonable to acknowledge the problem and discuss ways to achieve some relief and put in place some kind of accountability?  To do so is in no way equivalent to being anti-police or devaluing police lives.  Who is served by adopting the position:  my police, right or wrong? 

This failure of discourse is even worse than that.  Does anyone think that it’s a good idea to set up the dichotomy of blacks v. police?  One must somehow be either for police or for blacks?  This would add a dimension of evil to the simple stupidity.  Not to mention that many police are black, and many of the victims of this new police enthusiasm for unthinking violence are, let’s say, not black.  Police forces, in urban settings at least, now feature considerable diversity, and from the news reports it seems like we’re all in the crosshairs, regardless of race.  There’s a racial element to this problem, the horror is falling on black Americans out of proportion to their numbers, but it’s not the whole substance of the matter. 

Can we talk about this? 

Police, And Others, Are Afraid

I think that it’s clear that some police are overreacting out of fear.  They’re not the only people that are afraid, but we’re talking about the problem as it relates to police.  In the case of the police, the fear is not unreasonable. 

Much of police work involves simple, repetitive tasks.  Police serve warrants; they respond to silent alarms; they answer domestic complaints and noise complaints; they perform traffic stops; many such things.  In past times, none of these activities were likely to result in the police getting shot. 

Now, all too frequently, police knock on a door and are met with gunfire.  American citizens themselves have become much more prone to fearfulness and violence.  This may indeed be more of a white problem than a black problem.  Consider the anti-government crowd, who have been responsible for many individual murders of police, and others, and who can even take the credit for a few mass murders by explosives.  (Timothy McVeigh is the poster child.)  How about the Sovereign Citizen crowd?  They don’t recognize government authority at all and have displayed a willingness to kill police in order to try to spark a revolution of some kind.  Not to mention various militias out in the woods on military maneuvers preparing for a zombie apocalypse or a U.N. invasion or something.  Many of them are anti-government too.  The American citizenry in general is heavily armed and increasingly driven by fear.  Fear of something, or generalized fear of everything at once.  There’s a lot of hair triggers out there, and often the police find them first, and frequently police die in the event. 

Police these days have every reason to be afraid when they start their shifts. 

The Result

Somehow the result has been that the now common violent overreactions on the part of police fall mainly on black Americans.  If police are afraid generally, that is largely justified.  If police have become more afraid of blacks in particular, there is no justification for that.

Blacks, like Jews in many prior scapegoat scenarios, are being blamed for the dangers facing police far out of proportion to any reasonable analysis.  This fear of blacks makes police trigger happy in situations where the people being taken on are black. 

There is no doubt that many black people, mainly but not all black men, are being killed unnecessarily and without any rational justification.  Many of the victims are totally innocent, they’re just shopping at Walmart or returning home with take-out.  Some are guilty of something, but not guilty of anything that justifies the use of fatal force.  It is a great shame, and a big problem for America that this blacks and police problem has been allowed to get so far out of hand.  It is a problem that needs to be addressed quickly and urgently.   Black lives matter; police lives matter; people are dying.  That’s the very definition of an urgent problem.

Race is involved, and racism is probably a factor, but racism alone does not completely explain the phenomenon.  Police are now in the habit of applying unreasonable force to individuals who get on their radar.  These individuals may be possible lawbreakers or just people passing by, and they may be black, white or other.  Police are being killed for the perceived status crime of being police by shooters of different races.  Federal agents fare just as badly.  My strong hunch is that most of the ambush killers of police and Federal agents are white anti-government types.  Police of different races have been killed.  It’s just a mess in every direction. 

It’s American society that has the fear problem, and fear of blacks and fear of police are only two aspects of it.  Two out of many, like considering only two facets of a diamond. 

We should be discussing these things.  What are people afraid of?  Are the fears reasonable?  Can the fears be mitigated?  Can they even be controlled?  What do people need to learn?  How can they be calmed down?  Who are the individuals or groups who are encouraging people to be afraid?  What can be done to stop this senselessly violent behavior on the part of not only police, but also of ordinary citizens?

Well, something sure needs to be done.  We’d better get started.   It won’t help if you just go to Facebook and click on, “Share if you love police, and appreciate all that they do for us!”  This is going to take some real effort.

Vocabulary tip for my English Learner friends:  "to take on . . ."

 When police approach someone, to talk to them, or give them a traffic ticket, or arrest them, any time that the police will not take a turned back without offense, they are "taking him on."  There's something that they want, and they mean to get it.  That's what it means as it relates to police anyway.  There are other meanings.

Tuesday, January 6, 2015

The Hell That Is High School

This year will see the fiftieth anniversary of my graduation from high school.  For the record, I hated high school in general and my high school in particular.  But many of the fellows were all right, and some much better than that (we were all fellows at my Catholic high school).

One member of my class has put together a comprehensive list of the students in our graduating class.  It must have been a great labor too, only a few names have no information and the rest have either current locations or dates of bereavement for the guys that have died.  It's remarkable to think about everybody now.

The Dead

Of the dead, Hilary Carroll went first.  Hil was a good friend of mine, and his death in '66 was a terrible thing.  That whole story is here on the blog, see "Three Deaths, Part I."

We had a pair of twins in our class, and boy were they hot stuff.  The Faster twins.  Very cool kids, tall and handsome.  John was the cut-up, he was a laugh riot.  Getting our junior year class picture taken we were all bobbing and weaving as a bee flew around us.  John said, "what are you scared of?" and grabbed it out of the air, threw it on the ground and stepped on it.  "They can't sting you if you keep shaking them in a loose fist."  Victor was the twin that most thrived, this is common with twins.  Vic was a little more solid than John and a lot more level headed.  He was as good a student as John was a lousy one.  Both died terribly.  John was thrown off a Long Island Railroad commuter train in some kind of a fight; Vic was killed by traffic after his car broke down on the Long Island Expressway.

I knew about John and Hilary, but there were many surprises on the list.

John Connolly was an interesting guy.  He loved explosions and it was his downfall.  He'd been a very good tennis player in high school, on the school team.  He was playing with his chemistry set one day and subjected himself to an unfortunately large, close range explosion.  Both of his hands were on the vessel, and the blast and glass tore up both of his hands and arms.  He lost some grip strength, and any tennis career that he might have had.  Died of natural causes; had his own interesting business; lived in a rich neighborhood.

Tommy Moore . . . oh! Tommy!  This one hit me the hardest, of the surprises.  Tommy was a great guy, and a great friend.  Tall and athletic, and tough, he was an important part of my security detail in my town and my high school.  Never afraid to step in between me and some bully, his presence defused several close calls for me.  Not the half of it though, we got along great.  I walked an extra ten blocks almost every morning to swing by his house so we could go to school together.  On the way to the bus stop he'd usually steal a newspaper, and he usually ate his bag lunch on the way to school.  He loved to tease me (I've always been easy to tease) but he treated me with respect too.  I loved him.

William Van Ohlen and John Yarbrough were boys from my town.  I'd known both of them all through grammar school.  Neither particularly exciting nor interesting, both were solid boys who were pleasant and capable.  I hope that they lived happy lives.

Shouts To The Living

Greg Curran . . . hey, Greg!  A very lively companion and a fine bowler, but only if there was a dollar in it.  On our intramural bowling team he had a mediocre average and usually made little effort.  But if you bet him a dollar that he couldn't do it he'd make any spare on the alley, and if he decided to show off he'd just throw strike after strike.  Happy New Year!

Mike Scally . . . another boy from my town.  A lovely, polite, friendly boy, tall and athletic, and a joy to know.  Thanks for everything Mike, and now go be well and happy! 

Michael Dooley . . . one of the most talented among us, great line with a pencil and a great imagination.  Also very good natured and a good friend.  I wish that I'd been a better friend to him, and that we'd never lost touch.  He's had an interesting life, using his talent to build a successful career.  I couldn't be happier for him.  Kudos! 

Michael Sheehan . . . A good friend and fellow Surf Music enthusiast.  Also one of the finest chess players that I knew.  I beat him only once, and it really pissed him off.  We're both lawyers now.  (Although I'm teaching law these days.)  Mike, I hope you're happier with the law gig than I was.

Gary Pagano . . . shout, bro!  Gary was a lot of fun to be around.  He was a band guy, he played and sang in rock bands.  He  gave me the best advice that I got from anyone while I was in high school.  I expressed an interest in playing guitar and the whole band thing and he told me, "there's a million guitar players, so it's tough to work.  Better you should get a bass and a big amp, learn to play and sing backup.  Maybe get a P.A. too.  You got all that you'll always be in a band."  I didn't take the advice, I went after the guitar anyway.  Never in a band, but I played with friends and had fun with it.  Thanks again, Gary!  Sorry that I didn't listen.

Robert Cavanaugh . . . another big surprise!  Glad that you're alive man!  In the late sixties someone told me that Bob had been killed in Vietnam, and I believed him.  I've always thought that he was long dead.  I thought of you often, Bob!  You were a good guy and a friend in high school, and I thought that you were the only one of us that had died over there, which made you kind of a hero.  I'm very happy to find out that the report of your death was exaggerated, and I hope that you're doing great. 

And Happy New Year to the rest of you too!  Safe, happy and the rest, wherever you are.

Saturday, January 3, 2015

Thanksgiving Dinner, 2014

This was my Thanksgiving dinner last year.  That's a very nice fish, I sprung for the big fish for a change, and a nice bowl of very spicy Isan soup with short ribs, and a dip made with shrimp, coconut and God knows what all else.  About $17, including the Cokes and water and rice.

Good company too, but just the three of us.  And no, I do not require my guests to dress for dinner.  Chris was on his way to teach a class after lunch.

It's Good Luck Day For Tech

I have admitted herein to being "not quite a total Luddite," and I often have trouble doing things with computers that I'm sure most people these days can do with ease.  Like loading pictures from various sources onto my lap-top.

Today, success!

Cool Vehicle Alert: Honda CBR150

This is the hot set-up in Thailand.  A CBR150. 150 cc's is the cut-off for a big bike over here.  It's a single cylinder with four valves and double overhead cams.  Not quite a rocket, but it goes.

These 150's have been around for many years, and they have traditionally sold for a little over 100,000 Baht (a bit over $3,000).  There was a Honda sales set-up at my local mall last month and they had this model as well as a new 300 cc model.  The 300 cc was stickered at 120,000 Baht (four grand) and the CBR150's were going for about 90,000 Baht, about $300 less than the former price.

I'm sure that the 300 cc bikes are nice, but the 150's are enough for local conditions.  It's not like California, where you can really go nuts on great roads and predictable traffic.  No, it pays to ride very conservatively in Thailand.

Nice bikes!