Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Air Travel, The New Thrill Ride

My first airplane flight was in 1952.  Washington D.C. to La Guardia on an American Airlines Lockheed Constellation.  I was four.  Since then I've taken hundreds of trips by plane, flying in everything from the relatively safe Boeings to the dreaded Lockheed Electra.  For most of my life I just enjoyed the excitement of it, without worrying about the possibilities of trouble.  More recently, I must admit, the thrill has become a little darker.

No surprise.  These days I even get a little bit scared on the upper floors of high buildings. 

I'll be leaving for the airport in a couple of hours.  This trip is one of those twenty-four-hour marathons from South East Asia to California.  As a cheerful sendoff, a GermanWings Airbus A-320 crashed into the French mountains this morning. 

Honestly, I still understand that there are a huge number of successful take-offs and landings around the world every day, virtually all of which are trouble free.  But the last year or so has not been without signs of trouble in the air travel business.  Pilot errors, total mysteries, and the growing suspicion that modern planes are so automated that pilots are forgetting how to fly, quite a litany of crashes. 

Still, the odds are with me.  I won't be getting any travel insurance.  I'll be fine.  I'm sure!  Probably.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Accommodation Of Impending Death

I just read about an established poet who was finding some kind of new success in his exploitation of his impending death.  From what, I didn't bother reading.  Dude might be crying about it, or he might just be trying to help the rest of us understand the process, I don't care.  We all die of something, and I'm not detail oriented.

I snorted a derisive laugh and said, to no one in particular, impending death?  shit, that's where we all live.  Maybe we should all cash in on that ticket.  We're all going there, why not all cash in?  Some of us will be gone in a heartbeat; some in an eye blink; some will last what seems like forever.  We're all going though, and it all works out to "soon" in the scheme of things.  

Am I dying?  Sure.  That's the only condition available to the living.  What, you think it happens all at once?  One day you will go to sleep comfortably alive and then, somehow, without warning, you will be dead the next day?  As Howard Stern's father used to say:  don't be stupid, you moron.

Upon reflection, it does happen.  It happens to people who die in unfortunate accidents in the prime of life, or even before.  I'll always remember Nancy Rennart, my little sister's friend, who died of misadventure on a bicycle at the age of about seven.  I remember my own friends Hilary and Flip, who died shortly after high school of car accident and fire, respectively.  For some, the end comes almost immediately.  There's a grave right across the isle from my grandparents that is a particular cautionary tale for me.  Little Joey Tanaka, Joseph, born the same August as me in 1948 and dead before his first September. 

For the rest of us, it goes a little like this:  at twenty-five, you're hardly dead at all; at thirty-five, you might start to see it on the horizon; at forty-five, you've begun to notice little hints that the party will end some day; at fifty-five, you're probably starting to panic; at sixty-five, you accept that it will happen, and you understand that it is happening slowly right fucking now; if you're lucky enough to be alive at seventy-five, you probably feel three-fourths dead already.  After that, every day is a miracle.

I don't think that it is cool when some among us discover that they are dying and thereupon become so interested in the process that they must devote themselves to writing about it, or, more likely, discover that they have just had a wonderful new meal-ticket handed to them, and if they should only share their suffering with sufficient elan it will ease their last days, financially, or at least find them a wider readership, finally.

Oh, I'm just being a bitch.  Such people are just trying to be helpful, in the manner of writers, trying to clarify our common experiences.  Aren't they?  Sure!  Believe it!   

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Magic Sam - Roll Your Moneymaker

You know that I love these underrated performers from days gone by.  I have a hunch that the best time around, back in old time Chicago, was Magic Sam up in some club somewhere.  The man's whole style spells FUN. 

From what I read, Sam wasn't particular about his equipment.  Maybe he'd show up with a guitar, or maybe he'd just play what was laying around, and for amps he'd always play the house set up.  I don't think that the man was particularly adept with money, relationships, or impulse control.  But he sure could play.  Maybe not a solid tone-Meister like some of the other guys, with the heavy fingers and all, but he could sure keep the musical idea coming on strong, and he could keep the guitar ringing, "like a bell," as they say.  He's a good singer too.  And as a performer, doesn't he sound like a real charmer?  A great little entertainer? 

I find everything about Magic Sam endearing.  That's the word.  His style; his smile; his flaws; everything.   Largely forgotten, and it's a shame.  I hope that he doesn't get lost in the shuffle along the line.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Yet More Adventures In Asian Cable TV

Yes, another teaching trip to another rural provincial capital.  And another clean but unexciting little hotel, The Diamond Park Inn in Chiang Rai, 600 Baht (about seventeen dollars), special price for the itinerant professor. 

The image on the cable TV was nice and sharp, and there were lots of channels.  All but four channels were in Thai.  The four foreign channels were:  RT (Russia Today!  All in English); Deutsche Welle (a presentation of the German government, also all in English); TV5 Monde (all in French, but almost always with English subtitles); and an uninteresting Chinese station, not CCTV. 

RT has changed over the years.  In the past I have remarked that RT was light on the politics and long on the fair-minded entertainment and news.  Well those days have gone.  The present incarnation of RT is a wholly owned propaganda subsidiary of Vlad “The Impaler” Putin, Incorporated.  Ably assisted by a whole slew of American on air personalities.  Including Larry King!  Imagine! 

I’m sure that you were all wondering, as I was, what Larry King was up to, and if, indeed, he was still answering role call.  His RT show is called “PoliticKing.”  He’s still a good soldier.  I saw him do a station promo in which he delivered RT’s tag line, “question more.”  I actually saw an installment of the show.  They’re about twenty minutes long.  Larry “interviewed” Robert Reich.  I say interviewed with a sense of humor.  Larry was trying hard to stay awake while reading unconnected questions off of a handy list.  It’s a job, I guess.

There were quite a few opinion shows that were vaguely focused on politics or the news.  The wildest one that I saw was “The Keiser Report,” featuring Max Keiser.  Max is American, as are most of the on-air personalities.  He reminds one of Louis Black in many ways, the wild eyes, the skewed tie, his general appearance.  The tone of the show was typical for RT:  critical of the American government but sympathetic to the American people. 

After a day and a half I was wondering why there had been no mention of Mr. Putin.  Finally there was a snarky piece about his recent disappearance.  He’d been off the radar for two weeks at that point, unbeknownst to me.  They commented on the silliness of Western news speculating that Putin had been ousted, or was sick, or having a breakdown or something.  “He’s a busy man,” the reporter said cheerfully, “he’s always off doing something and he doesn’t have to check in with Western media.”  And that was that.  Thanks for letting us know who the boss is over there at RT. 

Deutsche Welle and TV5 Monde are heavy on the cultural programming, so I saw quite a few European music acts.  These always fascinate me.  In general, people in Europe do not seem to understand that in order to be considered a very entertaining music act you should be either a great singer, or a great musician, or very good looking, or very charismatic.  Some combination of these things is ideal.  Noto Bene, my European friends, the complete absence of all of the above qualifications should be a fatal shortcoming in the music business. 

Having said that, most of the musical acts on these European shows are just dead dull.  Including, but not limited to, the French.  I rather like the French, at least until they get sucked up into that tornado of self-importance that is where they live.  I watched a show called “La Fete de la Chanson,” not without being somewhat entertained.  (What is that?  The holiday of the singing women or something.)  At least the French seem to understand that being attractive, for a woman at least, is an advantage in the music business.  Amazingly, being positively unattractive seems to be a requirement for male singers.  Sad, awkward non-singing is well tolerated among the men.  As for the distaff side, the more attractive the women are, the worse they sing.  The songs are musically uninteresting in general. 

I’ll allow that it may all be more substantive if one understands French, which I do not.  But what must they think of us?  And are we any better?  Is American music so great these days?  Regarding the popular stuff, I’d hate to have that end of the debate.  There was a time, but I often wonder if that time has passed. 

The challenge to credulity presented by the Deutsche Welle is wondering how the Germans have gotten so dull all of a sudden.  Only kidding!  No, really!  It’s the Deutsche Welle that is dull, not the Germans.  I wouldn’t want all Americans to be judged by CSPAN. 

It was nice to get back to my (rented) condo and see some REAL cable TV.  (That’s a joke, son.)  

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

lucio battisti - ma é un canto brasilero

I've shared this before.  Probably more than once.  But I'll say it again.  This kind of thing needs to be heard.

So listen!  Do yourself a favor, and do a service not only to music in general but to our collective souls.  Go ahead!  I know people don't often actually click on the music on Facebook or blogs, but go on!  Take a chance!  This shit is boss!

This cut is from the early '70's; Battisti is dead by now.  Oh, it is a pain in my heart that no one seems to value this music.  Was it only some kind of fantastic accident that brought me to it in the first place?  I happened to be in the retail record and tape business and lots of stuff crossed my "desk."  (That's a joke, I spent most of every day on my feet, physically moving product around.)

Don't get angry when I get all preachy like this, please.  Please bear in mind that for every episode that you see here in words, I have passed on a thousand impulses to bother you.  So say thanks!   And press "play!" 

Monday, March 2, 2015

City of Cleveland: 12-year-old Tamir Rice caused his own death by failing to ‘avoid injury’

City of Cleveland: 12-year-old Tamir Rice caused his own death by failing to ‘avoid injury’

This is all a story of how times have changed in our shiny new, modern world.  This boy is alleged to be responsible for his own death at the hands of police because he was playing guns in the park.

I say, "playing guns," as though everybody knows what that even is anymore.  In the 1950's, all boys played guns, extensively and enthusiastically, sometimes with real guns that our dads had brought home from the then recent war.  More likely with more or less realistic cap guns.  We ran around the neighborhoods, or the park, and we played variations on war, cops and robbers, cowboys and Indians, different scenarios, but all included us running around with pretty realistic looking guns and "shooting" each other.  To my knowledge, none of us were even so much as scolded for such behavior, much less shot by police, or shot by neighbors "standing their ground."  So many of our parents or uncles had been so recently off somewhere actually shooting people with real guns, or more likely facilitating the shooting of real people, that it all seemed very normal.  No one ever called the police to report an armed gang roaming the area.  It was normal for us boys too, somehow.  I'm not here to judge it now.

This game of "guns" may have died out by now, but it's not that long ago.   In the 1980's in Los Angeles, the most popular game on my block was "Hide and Go Seek Guns."  My own sons played, with lots and lots of other boys.  I chose that block because there were already a vast hoard of boys the same age as my boys on the block before we arrived.  They played with realistic guns, and some of the boys wore camo fatigues too.   It was, perhaps, a bit odd by then, but still more or less normal.  Boys play guns, it's a fact!  Get over it!  If you try to prevent a boy toddler from playing any kind of gun games he'll pick up a piece of spaghetti and it will magically become a gun . . . and he'll shoot someone with it.  It's a boy thing.   A few of the boys on the block later played a lot of paint-ball; most of the boys gave up all aspects of the activity with no prompting from parental units whatsoever.

But now, in our glorious, exceptional! post 9/11 world, in our "let's make everything illegal and let the District Attorneys work it out" world, in our "let's be so afraid of a vast laundry list things that we can hardly function" world, in our Brave New World of takers and makers, it has somehow become a Capitol Crime to be a boy, to be interested in Boy Things.  Now, the simple act of "playing guns" can easily lead to a boy "causing [his] own death" by "failing to avoid injury."  ESPECIALLY IF THE BOY IN QUESTION IS BLACK.

So yeah, our shiny, new modern world.  How safe do you feel?  How safe are your children? Where do your kids hit the Bag Test?  These are important questions.  This kid in Cleveland, doesn't he look like a sweet boy?  As they say in the newspaper business:  who, what, where, why and how. 

We need to ask ourselves who is at risk of what right now, and why, and we need to know ASAP, and how!  The only thing that we know is where, and that's EVERYWHERE. 

Alert The Media: Shrimp Dietary Update

In the knock-me-over-with-a-feather department, please note:

Shrimp are, of course, not Kosher,


Shrimp are, indeed, Halal. 

We had our graduation at school today, with the usual giant lunch room set up for those of us with official duties.  All week, in fact, today was just day one.  One of the five or so food stations was a Muslim outfit, three or four women in head scarves.  One of their food trays was full of shrimp, and it gave me a start.  I had thought that the dietary laws for Muslims and Jews came from the same place, both stem from the Abrahamic tradition, and both respect the Old Testament as a revealed document.  Leviticus is clear on the shrimp issue:  it's verboten.  So what's up with the shrimp here, I wondered, are they just too Thai to worry about it?  (Thais are really wild about shrimp.)  Turns out that Muslims have permission to eat shrimp, while Jews do not.

It called to mind the first-hand story that I heard one time about a Jewish lawyer who visits gentile clients at dinner time and is informed, "I'd ask you to stay for dinner, but we're having pork chops."  The lawyer says, "smells great!  It's okay, I'll just bless it and call it fish."  (True story.)  

Thanks, Professor Google!  Shrimp are Halal, Muslims are free to indulge.  (Crab, on the other hand, are Haram, forbidden.)  Sorry, my Jewish friends, still forbidden, and sorry my fundie Christian friends, if you really insist on living your life according to "Biblical principles," you'll still be needing to grow a beard and give up shrimp if you want us to take you seriously. 

Another of the mysteries of religion, I suppose.