Monday, July 27, 2015

Food, War, And The Decline Of England

You could be forgiven to think that I have it in for the English, but that’s not true, not really.  Mostly I find them . . . interesting. 

I watch Master Chef on the BBC Lifestyle channel and I am amazed that English people are still allowed to prepare food.  The menus are so ludicrous, and so pretentious, and so essentially unappetizing, that I wonder where they can find judges that would find anything nice to say at all. They try to defend the brand by sticking to items that represent traditional English cooking, like squab, haggis, and boiled meats, with strange jellied condiments, and vegetables that are essentially just heated up.  Making those things edible is a real challenge.

Food aside, there was a time, I readily admit, when England was a notable success, as a culture and as a country.  They were, for a not inconsiderable time, a world power.  Before that happy window opened, they were most notable for having been conquered and substantially altered by the Romans, some Germans, and the French.  The French did the most comprehensive job of it, providing most of what is now called “the English language” along the way.   Maybe the horrid character of English cuisine was part of an attempt to resist French culture.  Resistance to the language failed utterly; resistance to the food was a whopping success.  Did anyone benefit from that success?  It is not likely that anyone did.

The world-power window closed in the 20th Century, when the continued existence of England was enabled only by lavish financial, industrial and military assistance from a former colony, or, more accurately, from former colonies.  Australia and India, and others, helped a lot, but most of the help, the help that made the difference, came from the country that arose from thirteen former English colonies, the country now known as the United States of America.

By now, England barely exists at all, except in the world of sports.  England has become the United Kingdom, which now consists of England, six counties in Northern Ireland, the Falkland Islands and the Isle of Man, with grudging and shrinking participation by Scotland and Wales.  Not that England is going away any time soon.  She has re-invented herself as some kind of multi-cultural island Switzerland, a financial center of some importance, small but prosperous, and still confident of the backing and protection of the United States.

There is still a monarch in once mighty England.  She performs her queenly duties well, in my eyes, and bears her reduced importance in world affairs with dignity.  I’m sure that the vast income that comes with the throne is considerable consolation.  That and the ownership of all of the sturgeon caught in a certain section of the sea, and all of the adult swans on the Upper-Thames.  Isn’t she also the nominal monarch of Canada?  That must be fun.

The English do seem to be getting a bit defensive about this diminution in importance.  They look for opportunities to tout their brand, venues where they can make it seem like they are still important.  When they do this on cooking shows, it is fairly bizarre; when they do this by hysterically backing Andy Murray at Wimbledon, it’s just sad. 

I also watch some of the history shows on TV, among them are shows produced in England, excuse me, the UK, about World War II.  Their lack of objectivity is disappointing coming from a country that makes a claim to ethical rigor.  Watching these shows, one could easily come away with the impression that the English, or British, army won the war against Hitler and the Japanese single handedly.  When British or Commonwealth troops accomplish anything, they are so identified and praised to the high heavens.  When American troops accomplish anything, they are identified as “allied forces,” and it is often hinted that the actions were too little and too late.  British successes, fewer and further between as the war dragged on, are emphasized throughout.  I guess that it was somewhat embarrassing being thrust into the role of junior partner by a former colony (or colonies) and a bunch of communists, but isn’t acceptance of reality the gold standard of maturity?  And isn’t it vaguely silly to be attempting at this late date to reconstruct a more flattering past? 

In the Pacific, against the Japanese, the English were largely absent, so those shows have no English successes to concentrate on.   It must be added that Australian troops performed admirably in the Pacific, and definitely punched above their weight, but their small numbers necessarily limited their contribution.  The English TV productions usually focus on any action or decision of American armed forces that could be considered a mistake of some kind.  This was the case in a recent show about the Battle of Leyte Gulf.  The battle was, in fact, a resounding defeat for the Japanese forces, which lost six or eight capitol ships, including their last four aircraft carriers, and accomplished nothing except burning up most of their remaining fuel oil.  In the English retelling, the American forces were repeatedly fooled by Japanese warfare-by-deception tactics and only came out ahead by the skin of their teeth.  Certainly there were a few dubious decisions made on the American side, but the battle was an unambiguous America victory, including one utterly heroic, and virtually unmentioned, aspect where the Japanese had vast material superiority.  A small American force of some destroyers and a couple of escort carriers left to protect the invasion fleet beat off a huge force of battleships and cruisers that included the IJS Yamato, the biggest, most powerful battleship ever built.  They did it with shear, ferocious energy and daring, and the American invasion fleet was kept safe, but do they get credit for it in this telling?  No, all we are reminded of is that leaving them there in such small numbers was a huge error.  The negatives must be mentioned, but to dwell on them alone betrays an agenda that does not flatter the English presenters.

My advice to my English cousins is to get over it.  England is still a place with much to recommend it.  Not English food necessarily, but with all of your new diversity there’s plenty of good food in the country for a change, you know, curries and the like.  Of course the weather is still rotten, but all of that rain makes the island nice and green.  As long as the Gulf Stream doesn’t turn south, it’s not as cold as it should be at that latitude either.  That’s a good thing. 

And yes, I call them my English cousins advisedly.  My great grandfather, Robert Ceely, was the last Ceely in my line to be born there.  He died in New York City, the city of my birth, and to my knowledge he never mentioned England at all in conversation or in song, although he did sound like a Londoner until the day that he died.  It’s my heritage, and I’m not unhappy about it.  The land of Shakespeare and all.  I just wish that they’d stop trying to prove to themselves and others that it’s still a greater place than it is.  It’s only England.  

Friday, July 24, 2015

What's A Poor Black Man To Do?

For starters, what is a black person, in the estimation of white Europeans? 

Up to the 15th Century, the black man was a curiosity.  Almost no one had ever actually seen a black man. I doubt if white Europeans thought much about Africa or blacks.  

In the 16th, 17th, and most of the 18th Centuries, white Europeans knew that Africa was full of black people, but they didn’t really care about it, or them.  There was the casual belief that blacks were not real human beings.  Slavery and exploitation were the natural order of things.

In the 19th Century, many white people were beginning to wonder about black people.  Some were even beginning to suspect that blacks were human after all.  Or maybe “almost human;” or “on the road to becoming human;” or “some kind of junior human.” 

By the 19th Century, white scientists were beginning to tackle the race idea.  There was a growing acceptance of blacks as one of the races of mankind.  Blacks were different, but what was the difference?  With typical racial narcissism, the scientists applied racist filters to their enquires. 

Francis Galton was an English scientist.  He was the founder of the “science” of eugenics, and a cousin of Charles Darwin.  Writing on the “comparative worth of different races,” Galton posited that the standard deviation from average intelligence within a particular race could be expressed in grades labeled A, B, C, etc., down to G, with A being the smartest of the group. 

His stated goal was to compare the races of man, one to the other.  Where does the “A” of one race fall in the grades of another race?  He suggested that, “if Class A in one race be equal to the ability of Class C in another, then the ability of B in the former shall be supposed equal to Class D in the latter . . .”

While allowing that the “negro race” in America had been affected by “social disabilities,” his calculations led him to believe that the total of all Classes of blacks above G, that is, A, B, C, D, E, and F of blacks, corresponded with Class F of white Europeans.  No blacks above “F.”  That’s harsh.

I’m sure that Mr. Galton was very confident about this research, because, after all, it was scientific.

Even 19th Century philosophers got involved in these enquires.  No less a light than G.W.F. Hegel got into the act.  There’s a chapter in his Philosophy of History (1830-31) called “The African Character.”  I’m pretty sure that Hegel had never actually spoken to an African, or any black person, when he wrote this.  His ideas seem to be based on secondary sources that he no doubt considered to be reliable.  Like Herodotus (484?-425? BCE), who characterized the religion of the “Negro” as mere sorcery. 

Hegel himself decided that “the character of the Negroes” was distinguished by “want of self-control.”  Here I am quite sure that Hegel would have admitted under cross-examination that he firmly believed that all of the non-German peoples of the world suffered from want of self-control, more or less.  In Hegel’s opinion, African blacks also suffered from “fanaticism,” and a general failure to recognize the importance of God and the law.

Hegel characterized the social state of black Africans as “sensuous barbarism,” even including a partial nod of approval to slavery.  He does mention that slavery is “an injustice,” and that freedom is the goal, but he suggests that in the case of Africans “slavery is itself a phase of advance from (a) merely isolated sensual existence.”  As in, just a helpful interlude during which the white man can help those backward Africans to mature to the point where they are ready for freedom. 

With the kind of sweeping generalization seen frequently in philosophy, Hegel declared that “Africa . . . is no historical part of the world.”  

All of this is, of course, ridiculous in light of the actual state of African societies throughout the period.  Europeans chose not to acknowledge the reality of Africa as they found it.  The rule of law in African societies, the highly developed trade regulations and customs, the relative degree of social justice and the general ethics.  This reality did not square with their desire to exploit what they found in Africa for their own selfish purposes.    

The 20th Century saw a rapid development of the white world’s understanding of its black brethren.  I will not rehash here the many fits and starts of that development, because life is short.  But by the end of the 20th Century it was possible for many white Americans to say, and to believe, that America had entered a “post-racial” phase in which the discrimination against, and the oppression of, black Americans had become things of the past.
Blacks themselves would have disagreed.  I disagreed myself, and I was not the only white person to do so.  But there arose a need in many white Americans to claim that they, and indeed American culture, had become race-neutral, or “color blind.”  This was more of a political statement than a social observation.  Kind of like a parent saying, “I love my children equally.” 

And then a black man was elected president of the United States!  And thereupon, all of the poisons that dwelled in the earth, to paraphrase Claudius, suddenly hatched out.  (BBC’s “I, Claudius.”)

President Barack Hussein Obama had a very brief honeymoon in office.  Measured in minutes, it was.  The hatching out happened very quickly, before you could even say, “see?  We’re post racial now!” 

He’s not even black!  He’s half-black!  (This one kills me.  Look at the man, he’s black.  If you are black for the purposes of discrimination, you’re black.)

He’s African!  He’s not a real American!  (No he’s not; and yes he is.)

He wasn’t born here!  (Yes, he was.) 

He’s a radical!  (Zero evidence of that after seven years in office.  In fact, he might be the most dead-center centrist politician that I can think of.)

He’s a socialist!  (Ditto.)

“Take back our country!”  Now we’re getting somewhere.  This is the “white America” myth.

I already thought that it was terrible when Republicans hated Bill Clinton on the theory that, “here’s this French-fry stealing Bubba who is smarter than us and who beats us bloody at election time.”  I like it even less now that “half-rican nigger” has been substituted for “French-fry stealing Bubba.”  (“You gonna eat those fries?”)

Mr. Obama has done a fine and honorable job as our president.  That’s a test!  A litmus test!  What color was your test strip?  If you agree, you are a reasonable person who is able to tolerate a black president.  If you don’t agree, you are suffering from a pathological prejudice against blacks. 

What?  Can I even say that?  Well yes, actually, I can.  Mr. Obama has not provided even a hint of a reason not to like the job that he’s been doing as president.  “. . . a fine and honorable job as president” does not mean that you must agree perfectly with every single thing that he has done.  You might not like the ACA, but you will use it to save money on health care if that works for you.  You might not like gay marriage, but the president had nothing at all to do with that.  You might not like the Iran deal, but you’d like it well enough if it prevented your child from dying in a war with Iran.  Myself, I certainly don’t agree with Mr. Obama on all counts.  I don’t like all of the intrusive surveillance at all, and I don’t like the drone war, but Obama’s only the president!  He’s not the Emperor, he’s not the Fuehrer.  He’s doing a fine and honorable job, and reasonable people can disagree on policy details. 

Oh, reader, search your conscience.  If you don’t like President Obama, are there genuine reasons?  Or is your dislike more based in what you hear on the radio and what you read on the Internet?  Or is it more of a bad feeling in your stomach, based on almost nothing? 

It is beyond argument that that the President is a good man, a good, family-oriented man, who has behaved impeccably in office and before.  He has been measured and thoughtful in his responses to situations around the world, while being appropriately decisive when it was called for.  He has considered both the general good and the selfish needs of business when acting domestically.  He has moved the ball forward on important social issues, most notably health care security.  And, remarkably, he has retained this equilibrium through seven years of constant, hysterical character assassination from a wide range of political opponents. 

In his personal life, he is, in fact, the most clean-cut, low-key, and scandal free president in my lifetime, with the possible exception of Jimmy Carter.  (For the record, Jimmy Carter was a good president too.)  Mr. Obama is manifestly a decent, honorable, hard-working and highly intelligent man.  So yes, anyone who can find only fault with this president, and engage in ad-hominum  attacks, and long for his eclipse, or his downfall, or his impeachment, that person is doing so on grounds of racial prejudice.

So what’s a poor black man to do?  President Obama is black, and he is one of us.  One of our best.  We are us; we, all of us, are Americans.  The fallout of this anti-black-president mania has had terrible effects on the entire black community in America, but that must be a subject for another day.

The failure to accept that America’s great diversity is a good thing will hurt us all socially, economically, politically, and historically.  I fear, though, that it is our fate to reject diversity while living in its midst.  Many of us prefer to embrace the white America myth, embracing white Christianity to the exclusion of what many people now perceive as the “other.”  If they don’t count non-white or non-Christian people as real Americans, where are they?  What color is the sky on their planet? 

I fear that the real “post-racial” age is still a long ways off.  I won’t live to see it, but at least I lived to see a black president!  And a great one at that!  Maybe that will help a little. 

(The African Character, by G.W.F. Hegel, and The Comparative Worth of Different Races, by Francis Galton, are included in the Norton Critical Edition of Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad.)  

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Chicken Little Says, "Watch Out For Global Warming!"

Perhaps you can forgive me for my fixation with the end of the world.  Perhaps you can’t.  Whatever, I’m stuck with it.  Put “end of the world” in the word-search box and you’ll see what I mean.  I blame it on having spent decades under the threat of Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD).  

I read a couple of good articles last week that fed my interest in the end times. 

One was a very serious article about global warming that went way, way beyond the usual levels of threat and urgency.  “Mass Extinction:  It’s the End of the World as We Know It,” by Dahr Jamail, for Truthout (and on to me through 

This one was more or less an interview with Professor Guy McPherson, professor emeritus of evolutionary biology, natural recourses and ecology at the University of Arizona.  He also has a blog, “Nature Bats Last,” but I haven’t checked that out yet.  The University of Arizona is on everyone’s list of serious institutions of higher learning, and the “professor emeritus” thing only comes with faculty/alumnae participation, so this guy is an academic big-wig.  The Professor is way over in the pessimistic end of the global warming debate.  WAY over.  He believes that it’s too late already, it’s a done deal, we’re toast, adios M.F., “by-by Brookleen.”  He presents compelling arguments. 

He has amassed a list of fifty of what he calls “self-reinforcing feedback loops” to prove his case.  One of these, taken as an example, goes like this:  permafrost is melting . . . methane is released into the atmosphere . . . this causes warming . . . more permafrost melts . . . more warming . . . etc.

Yup, he’s got fifty of those.  He makes it sound like the entirety of the support system for human beings could disappear any month now, and suddenly too.   Consider the imminent “ice-free Arctic Ocean.”  Either this summer or next summer there will be zero ice at the North Pole.  Freaky, eh?  Nobody seems to know or care, but the Naval Post Graduate School, no less, says that it’s true.  No ice up there means more methane released, and, you guessed it, more warming.  (And more methane!  And more warming!)

Professor McPherson is a Cassandra alright.  He’s so down-beat that after reading the article I wanted to start spending down my bank money to avoid being caught at the end of the world with money in the bank.  I thought, maybe now is a good time to go and see Venice, you know, before it sinks in the lagoon, and why not fly first class?  Maybe I’d just been looking for excuses to go to Venice and fly first class.  I got over the impulse in time, thankfully.

The Professor even mentions a recent paper in Science Advances that says that the sixth “great mass extinction” is already underway.  They could be right, species great and small are disappearing right and left.

We see these things in the paper all the time.  I say, “in the paper,” as though anyone reads newspapers anymore.  I mean on the Internet and TV.  The ice; the glaciers; Greenland actually becoming green; the Larsen Ice Shelf in Antarctica running away faster than an abused teenager; the droughts in California, Thailand and elsewhere; the fires in the west of Canada and the United States (starting in June!); the floods; snow in Hawaii in July!!!  These are facts, and although guys like McPherson may be Cassandras, many times the Cassandras are correct.

The other apocalyptic article that I read last week had to do with earthquakes.  “The Really Big One,” by Kathryn Schulz, in a recent New Yorker Magazine.  It seems that the Pacific Northwest is way, way overdue for a huge earthquake, an earthquake that could range up to nine-plus on the Richter scale.  It's all settled science now, it's all been worked out.  The reason that it has only come to light recently is that "recorded history" in the Pacific Northwest only started in 1805 or so.  The last "big one" took place in 1700, unnoticed by scientists, historians, or anyone who could write.  Huge quake, huge tsunami, killed a lot of American Indians. 

We remember the Tohoku Earthquake in north-eastern Japan in 2011.  We remember the earthquake, with its associated tsunami.  That was a 9.0 earthquake.  I can hardly imagine those myself.  I’ve been caught in a lot of earthquakes, a lot, but most of them were in the 3.5 to 5.5 range.  Those aren’t bad at all.  I’ve experienced a couple in the low sixes, they make you sit up and prepare to do something, but they’re over before you get started.  The longer they shake, the stronger the quake.  I sat through the 7-point-something earthquake in Los Angeles in 1994, and that one really got my attention, I can tell you.  It shook for almost thirty seconds, and the shaking was very unpleasant.  By the time it was over, I was sitting on the edge of my bed with my pants on, both socks and one shoe on, watching bookcases fall over and a TV crash to the floor, listening to my wife screaming, standing over in the door jam as we’re told to do, and my big MagLite was already on the bed next to me.  Thirty seconds is a long time.  The 9.0 in Japan shook for four full minutes, and produced a tsunami that inundated a vast area.  A couple of tens of thousands of people were killed, and a couple of hundreds of millions of dollars worth of damage was done to property. 

So, the Cassandra.  It seems that earthquakes have an upper limit that scientists can predict.  Without much certainty, as it turns out.  The predicted upper limit for the east of Japan was 8.4, and Japan was the most prepared nation in the world for earthquakes.  Up to 8.4.  A guy named Jasutaka Ikeda, in 2005, told his colleagues at some seminar that Japan should expect an earthquake of 9.0 “in the near future.”  Yup, they didn’t listen. 

The Take Away

Earthquakes are one thing.  They can come this year or in a hundred years, or two hundred.  But global climate change is another thing altogether.  It doesn’t happen suddenly, like an earthquake.  It happens over time.  (Unless some of the Cassandras are right and it will reach a point and then just spring into action within a few weeks.) 

Scientists are in greater agreement than usual regarding the phenomenon of global warming.  There might be some disagreement about details, but as far as the big picture goes, they all get it.  It’s happening.  It’s accelerating.  It’s serious.  Something needs to be done.  Here’s the problem:  no one is listening to the scientists.  Not people in general; not politicians; nobody important except the pope.  Amazingly, Pope Francis is the island of reason in this non-debate!  No one really gives a shit what the experts say.  If you Google, “global warming warnings,” you get twenty-five million hits.  Most of these are middle-of-the-road “things you should know” kind of web sites, and some of them are global warming denial sites, but a lot of them are real, hard science sites with a serious message.  Real science publications; real science faculties.  The America Institute of Physics or something.  The research on the issue goes back to the mid-Nineteenth Century, and by now new research is being published daily.  It’s all very worrisome.  Shouldn’t people be paying attention? 

Lots of Americans are actively hostile to the scientific and academic communities in the first place.  Most Americans think that the time line is way too long to affect them personally.  American businesses don’t want to spend profits this year to create a potential and speculative benefit at some future date.  It is the first of these groups that I find most interesting, the hostile Americans.  Most of them don’t know shit about science, so why the hostility whenever global warming comes up?   

Look at a site, a “news site,” like the Daily Caller, for instance.  Maybe it’s a political site masquerading as a news site.  Most of the articles are about politics in general, and about how “Libtards” are ruining the world, specifically.  There’s very little that is newsworthy.  It loves to feature articles on the subject of global warming, although articles about other areas of science are largely absent.  These are always of the “actually, it’s getting cooler!” type; the “then why is it so cold this February?” type; the “it’s snowing in Hawaii!” type; the “Al Gore is a numbskull” type.  They sure do love to pile on poor Al Gore, and they love to make fun of science in a broader sense.  What do they know!  Why have we had some winters that were colder than usual!  Who cares if it gets “a couple of degrees warmer?”  This is obviously part of The Daily Caller’s agenda, an anti-caring-about-global-warming agenda.  (I’d say “anti-global-warming,” but you can’t be against something that you don’t believe is real.)

It’s political.  The site is part of the right wing echo chamber, they’re all wholly owned subsidiaries of the Republican Party.  The program here is to court the anti-intellectual vote, and to kiss up to corporate interests.  The platform is pro-business, and anti-academia; anti-science; anti-worker; anti-retiree; anti-minority; anti-woman; and anti-democratic.  It’s all about the short term profits. 

I hate to tell you, but the Republican politicians and the corporate big-wigs all understand that global warming, or more accurately “global climate change,” is a problem.  They know that it’s real.  The reason that they mock the scientists and deny the problem is naked greed.  The corporate types are protecting their profits, their fabulous salaries, and their shareholders from having to support an effort to tackle the problem.  The Republicans are protecting their positions and their prosperity.  None of them care about the inevitable result of our failure to take action in a timely manner to mitigate the effects that humans are having on the environment.  They care about their own short term economic interests. 

If push comes to shove, they’ll all be able to explain their behavior away somehow.  Probably by blaming President Obama, or Democrats in general. 

And yes, those Democrats, yes, they should be doing more.  They are, at best, the lesser evil when it comes to climate change.  The best that can be said is that Democrats are not out hard-charging, 24/7, blocking any effort to even acknowledge that global climate change exists.  The rest of the world are involved too, and they are a mixed bag of tricks at best.  What is needed is a lot of "we mean business and we will take the difficult steps," but what we're getting varies only from "we'll make a gesture to try to look good," down through, "we need to start working on this," and all the way down to, "who gives a shit?"  

Oh, I wish that it were not so easy for our politicians and our corporate news media to distract us with fluff.  The last thing you want to hear from a lawyer or a doctor is, “I wish that you had taken my advice when I offered it to you.”  You know, after it’s too late.  We may get that message from the scientists someday, too late.  That’ll be a bad day.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

AC Reed - I stay mad - Age

It's always interesting to find out what's NOT on Youtube.  I have this cut on a compilation CD, but just now I forget which one.  The song came into my head today and I wanted to hear it, so I checked the 'Tube. 

For "I Stay Mad"  I got a whole lot of "I Can't Stay Mad at You," and down at the bottom of page two there it was, this one, the one that I was looking for in the first place. 

Great off-balance production, check out that organ crunch with the guitar over it.  At 283 views after two years up this is one of the more obscure cuts on YouTube.  Nice to hear it again though.  I think that I've got the CD around here, but nothing is in any order, nothing in the packages that they came in.  Put it all in order!  Another project that I'll never get to. 

Thursday, July 9, 2015

The Rolex Wristwatch

In most ways I am thoroughly repulsed by luxury.  Ferraris, I admit, are fine automobiles, and I’m sure that they are great fun to drive, provided, that is, that one has had the training required to be able to drive them properly.  But I’m not interested in Ferraris, not even if the Ferrari is yours and you offer it to me for an afternoon.  First class air travel?  I’m sure that it’s nice, but it comes at a 700% penalty over economy.  No thanks.  And Hermes bags, and pretty much anything bearing the label “Chanel,” are just ridiculous.  So why am I strangely attracted to Rolex watches?

Actually, I know why.  I grew up in Queens, New York, and over the course of the late 1950’s and the 1960’s I walked the length of Main Street, Flushing, one or two thousand times.  From Northern Boulevard to Roosevelt Avenue I closely examined all of the store windows time after time.  One of the nicest windows belonged to Greenwald’s Jewelers, and the things that attracted me most were the Rolex watches.

The Rolex “Oyster!”  What a cool name for a watch.  I didn’t even know that you could make a watch waterproof, beyond those special things that divers wore.  Mostly, I thought that they were beautiful.  Just very simple, strong, elegant and totally beautiful.  I must have seen advertisements for Rolex watches, because I read the New Yorker, and the Sunday New York Times, and Life and Newsweek magazines, National Geographic even.  There must have been ads.  I don’t recall specifically.  All I remember is admiring them in shop windows, notably Greenwald’s. 

They weren’t cheap, but doesn’t everything from those days seem strangely affordable now?  Up the block at Florsheim’s, you could get real alligator shoes for $29.95.  There must have been high-line Rolexes in the window, but the ones that I liked, the ones that I remember, were stainless steel and cost between $200 and $220.  That was only five or six weeks’ pay at the minimum wage at the time.   ($1.25 per hour; $40.45 take home for 40 hours.)  I worked summers in high school, and I had more than enough in the bank to cover a Rolex.  When I was thirty years old I kind of regretted not having bought one.  Other than a couple of cameras, I pissed away that bank money in my late teens anyway.  Now I realize that buying one would have been silly.  I mean, you could get a perfectly good Bulova watch for $29.95 or less, and I already had a Benrus watch myself, which was more expensive.  (A gift from my grandmother.)  It would have been strange for a fuck-up like me to show up wearing a Rolex.  Quite pretentious, you know.  I lived in a working class milieu.  Even my father, who had a great job, wore a $20 watch.  A Rolex would only have attracted thieves.

So now I’m watching the Wimbledon Tennis Tournament and most of the ads are for Rolex watches.  Roger Federer, whom I greatly admire, wearing a ridiculous fashion-forward suit in the modern, ridiculous style, wearing an enormous Rolex, strolling uncomfortably around some kind of art museum.  Usually I find these ads for luxury products objectionable, but in the case of Rolex I experience the nostalgic old longing for the watch.  A more modest model anyway.

Maybe I should buy a coffee-table book of Rolex watches.  I would enjoy looking at the pictures.  Maybe I should go on e-bay and look at the Rolexes for sale there.  Even today I could find the money in the bank to buy a Rolex, but buying one today would be just as silly and pretentious as it would have been years ago.  I have a perfectly good watch already, don’t I?  It’s a Wilson watch that I purchased seven years ago for $45.00 (1,500 Baht, in Bangkok).  It’s an attractive watch, it keeps perfect time, and it still works.  Case closed.

The longing for luxury is a terrible suffering for people who can’t afford it.  The advertisements, I believe, are acts of violence against ordinary people.  I hate being reminded every day that airlines do not value my frequent purchases of economy tickets, that they only really love their first class passengers.  The purchasing habits of the rich should not be rubbed in our faces like that.  Their fabulous ability to pay is an affront to our dignity. 

But the Rolexes!  Aren’t they beautiful?   

Tuesday, July 7, 2015


The version below has better sound, but it's cut short.  Here's the entire cut. 

Volumes - I Love You

We're often given to believe that popular music in America before the Beatles had fallen into some kind of malaise.  People will mention Frankie Avalon and Fabian as examples of how the industry was trying to create new versions of Elvis or something out of whole (plastic) cloth, and dumbing down music in the process.  True, as far as it goes, but nowhere near the entire story.  

This cut is from 1962, and it's as good as anything cut before or since.  There was a lot going on between, let's say, 1959 and 1964.  It just wasn't all rolled up into one package.  It was spread out, from California to Oregon and Washington, from Texas to Cincinnati, from Chicago to Boston, from New York to New Orleans, and back to Cleveland! 

Blame the industry.  Who needs a hundred great acts that you can sell 10,000 each of, when you can find one Elvis that can sell a million!  They're still reaching for that brass ring.  Music has suffered accordingly, but let's not blame it on the artists. 

The Confederate Flag Kerfuffle

One of the kerfuffles that is currently dividing Americans and distracting them from their real problems is the debate about the meaning of, and the proper usages for, the Confederate flag.  Americans in general have suddenly become aware that reverence for that flag has a distinct racist component, and white Southern Americans in particular have thereupon dug in their heels for the right to employ it as a symbol of pride and a matter of cultural heritage.  As so often happens in kerfuffles, neither side is entirely right, nor entirely wrong.

Let’s be clear about two things:

1. Flags have meaning.  They are powerful symbols for the political entity that they represent; and

2. Revisionism is a bad thing.  Political entities and historical events must be judged on the facts, as they were at the time.

I’m about to go off on the Confederacy, for which I have no sympathy.  The Civil War was a horrible idea, rashly begun, and millions of people suffered needlessly because a handful of artificially wealthy men got their panties in a twist.  But first I want to admit that I believe that the individual white Southerners who constituted the Confederate Army deserve our respect, and that they do, indeed, have my respect.  Those brave fellows were not asked to vote on the war; they were not consulted in any way.  The war was presented to them as a fait accompli.  They were only asked to “defend their homes,” and their “way of life.”  That they did so, and the manner in which they did so, were generally honorable.  (Without making a list of the dishonorable things, let’s just say except for the treatment of Union prisoners.) 

That’s the soldiers.  The generals, I’d say, were less admirable, because they knew much more of what they were doing.  But even the generals had little to say about the starting of the war.  They also fought and died in a war that was not of their invention.  I prefer to judge them on their actions as generals, rather than judge them harshly on the decision to fight for their states. 

The Flag

Having said all of that, the flag in question, the Confederate flag, is the banner of a political entity that had no right to exist from the beginning.  The United States had existed for almost 100 years, all of the states in the Confederacy had signed onto the Constitution of the United States and all of the amendments thereto, and all of the politicians in the Confederate States had sworn allegiance to the United States and its constitution.  Rather than honor their commitments, they turned away from the country of their birth, created an insurrection, and started a traitorous war against their own country.

They did this for one reason:  to preserve and institutionalize the system of human slavery that had made some of them rich. 

And yes, I can say that so straightforwardly.  The Confederate States wrote a constitution of their own, and it tracked the U.S. Constitution in remarkable detail, with one exception.  Slavery was codified, and the rights to own slaves, and to profit from their labor, and to buy and sell them as freely as you might sell a desk, were guaranteed. 

That’s what the flag stands for.  It stands for an insurrectionist pseudo-government that was pro-slavery, white-supremacist, anti-black, and at war with the United States.  Revisionism notwithstanding, there are no two ways to look at it.  It marks one for a fool to suggest with a straight face that it was a war over “states’ rights,” or a “war of Northern aggression,” or "a war between the Confederates and the Federals,” as though they were two sides of the same coin. 

Back To The Kerfuffle

The last month has been quite an education about the various flags used by the Confederacy and their utility.  The flag that we now recognize as the Confederate flag turns out to be the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia.  So be it.  It is, nevertheless, the very Confederate flag itself in our memory and in current usage. 

I think that there are two true things about this flag:

1.  There are many honorable, non-racist people in the South for whom this flag is a symbol of the struggles of their forbearers during the Civil War.  They see that struggle as having been honorable, based on what they believe to be their forbearers’ honest feeling that they were defending their region.  In light of the entirety of American history, this is not hard to understand.  The key element running through the formative years of America was “local control.”  The thirteen colonies rejected not only control from England, but also control from the other colonies, later the other states.  I think that it would greatly overstate the case to say that the entire Civil War was fought over the issue of “states’ rights,” because it was so specifically about slavery.  This is obvious from a reading of the history of the ten years leading up to the war.  It is, however, fair to say that there was a measure of local control in the minds of non-political, non-slave-owning Southerners that were caught up in the war; and

2.  A very substantial number of the white Southerners now waving the Confederate flag and complaining about some kind of a genocide of white Southerners are using the flag as a symbol of racism and white supremacy, in the same spirit in which the Civil War was declared. 

In light of number two, and in spite of number one, I believe that the flag has no place in modern discourse, and its display outside of historical contexts should be condemned. 

A Word About Confederate Monuments

Within the last month, this flag kerfuffle has spread to include Southern institutions and municipalities named after prominent Confederates and monuments to Southerners who died in the war.  This is almost certainly overreaching on the part of the righteously indignant.  The individuals whose names are invoked, and more certainly the individuals whose sacrifices are memorialized, do deserve their place in the historical context.  Defacing statues of ordinary soldiers is a cheap way to advertise one’s non-racist, politically correct bona fides.  Stone Mountain Georgia should remain safe in its impressive and imposing dignity.  Sure, some of the racist element will employ these monuments for improper purposes, but the monuments themselves remain valid expressions of historical recognition. 

The flag should go back to the museum, but the monuments can stay.

Friday, July 3, 2015


This song played over the end credits of a Sopranos episode that I watched the other night.  I loved the guitar part, doubtless the inspiration for The Bristol Stomp by the Dovells a few years later.  Doubtless?  Maybe not.  Those chords were kind of in the air at the time. 

I was sure that it was Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers, so I had a hard time finding it on the 'Tube.  But the Internet is amazing these days, and I quickly found a couple of sites that list every song played in every episode of the Sopranos.  The Students!  From Cincinnati!  Great job, fellows.

Teaching Trip To Korat

The official name of the province is now Nakorn Rachasima, but no one seems to call it that.  Thais prefer to stick with the traditional name, which is Korat.

I got to the Moachit bus station in Bangkok with no trouble, but then everything went to hell pretty quickly.  Note to self:  from now on always go to the bathroom and buy a couple of sandwiches BEFORE buying the tickets.

The NOW problem.  Now means something different in Thailand.  In Thai or in English, the concept is viewed in a different light.  I bought the ticket and asked, in good Thai, when the bus was leaving.  The answer was, "now."  They even had a guy bring me to the bus.  I told him that I would like to use the bathroom first and he said that I had to get on the bus "now."  I sat on the bus for a half hour before we finally left.  I'm sure that it was still "now."

The ticket said "1st Class," and the bus said, "1st Class," but really it was a lousy old bus from the get-go.  Zero suspension; tired air-con; uncomfortable seats with no arm rests; exposed wiring some of the lights and speakers.

The trip to Korat should be three and a half to four hours, and the first two and a half hours were trouble free.  Then something broke, the hydraulic system or something.  Maybe the clutch?  That vocabulary is over my head.

The crazy Farang sitting behind me started mumbling immediately.  "This is not good," over and over again.  We were the only two Farang on the bus.  I'd seen him at our fueling stop, standing over to the side making weird faces and repetitive, circular hand movements, and had there and then resolved not to talk to him under any circumstances.  I didn't have to worry.  Within a few minutes of the bus stopping, he took up all of his things, put on his hat, and got off the bus in the middle of nowhere.  I didn't see him anymore.

We were there for two and a half hours before another bus stopped.  Same company, at least ten of their buses had passed us already.  This driver was also a bus mechanic, and he had some ideas.  Our own driver and the "bus assistant" had been poking around to little purpose beyond getting dirty with the oldest, rustiest set of tools in a ratty back-pack that you've ever seen.  The new guy began supervising, and within fifteen minutes or so something in the bowels of the bus gave up all of its pressure with a huge sigh.  The new guy seemed pleased and prepared to leave, buttoning up his shirt.  He had been joking with me me a little bit and talking at some length to another passenger that I had also become friendly with.  We were about the only passengers on the bus, us and two Tamils who never looked anyone in the eye, including each other, preferring to glare off into space.  My friend was a factory mechanic and he was interested in the proceedings; I found standing around outside equally uncomfortable so I switched off between outside and sitting on the hot bus. The driver exchanged words with my friend and he told us not to make a fuss but to keep quiet and come with him, he only had two free seats on his bus.  The rest of the passengers had to soldier on. 

To be fair, this was only the third time in over ten years that a bus had broken down on me in Thailand.  

So I left the house at 8:50 am and got to Korat at 5:30 pm.  I was so hungry that I ate at the bus station.  The tuk-tuk to the hotel was a bright spot.  He gave me the Thai price right away and was a very nice guy, very helpful regarding buses back to Bangkok.  I gave him a forty Baht tip and he was wildly appreciative.

I had booked and paid for the hotel room on Agoda dot com, but the hotel was not expecting me. I didn't have a print out, but I did remember the confirmation number.  That didn't really help.  I fired up my Chrome Book on the wi-fi and showed him the confirmation.  He was still lost.  He made a couple of notes and went back to the office for a while.  When he returned, he had a paper from his "manager," and said the manager told him that it was all good.  They got confused the next day too when I didn't check out.  I got back from teaching and they thought that I was going to check out late and leave.  No, I explained, I paid for two nights.  They issued a new room card and I could stay in the same room, so it could have been worse. 

The hotel was only okay.  I won't give the name, because they had so much trouble with the Agoda that I don't know if I trust them.  It was okay, though.  There was hot water, the free breakfast buffet was great, and the air-con worked.  Only Sy-Fy and the Universal Channel on the TV, plus a soccer channel in English.  The rest of the channels were in Thai.  So it was two days of House, and Law and Order, and 500 Mile Per Hour Storm.  (I only watch Sy-Fy in hotels, and of all things the last time I stayed in a hotel the same movie was playing.  500 Mile Per Hour Storm is okay, for a Sy-Fy movie, but isn't it funny how these things work out?)  One wall in the lobby was covered with pictures of military aircraft, most of which were signed by pilots and crew from many other countries.  The U.S., Singapore, Australia, Europe was in there too.  Some signed their names, some their call-signs, some both.  Thor; Minion; Bookworm.  Many said, "To Top and the rest of the staff at the ___________ Hotel."  Top sounds like a call-sign too, so maybe the owner of the hotel is a former pilot.   I guess there's a big training air base nearby. 

Later on I went to the lobby to inquire about the less-than-intuitive wi-fi in the rooms.  I rode down on the elevator with an old Asian man who probably wasn't Thai.  He was dressed like a Commodore, white military cut suit, white peaked cap, white shoes.  We smiled but only I spoke, I tried Thai and English but neither worked very well.  When we got off at the lobby he took a handful of amulets out of his pocket and gave me one.  The only thing he said the whole time was, "good luck!"

Teaching and the return trip were uneventful.  The bus coming back was much nicer, cooler and more comfortable, and I got to watch Lucy in Thai.  It's nice to travel, but it's oh, so nice to come home.