Wednesday, June 29, 2016

This Buckshee Blog

“Buckshee” is a new word for me. I encountered it in "A Rifleman Went to War,” (1930) by Herbert McBride, an American who joined the Canadian Army to fight in the First World War.

McBride goes into some detail about the word, which he says was in general use in the trenches before he got there in 1915. According to him, it means:

1.   Something that can be shared;
2.   Something that can be used not in the intended way;
3.   Something left over; or
4.   Something odd that the army has in low quantities and not for general distribution.

Examples given by McBride are sticks of dynamite obtained from engineering companies, or artillery shells obtained from artillerymen. (Both intended by the infantry to be used in making bombs to be used in trench raids.)

McBride suspected that it was originally an Indian word, guessing that it had been “backsheek.”

Google brought up a lot of good information about buckshee, with the sources being at considerable variance as to the origin and meaning. That’s what usually happens, isn’t it?

Dictionary dot com just says that it’s a “gift, gratuity or small bribe.”

Mirriam Webster dot com calls it something that is obtained free, adding, “. . . especially extra rations.”

Urban Dictionary dot com gives it as, “often used by the army, meaning spare.”

There’s a big entry at the British Army Rumour Service ( They say that it is simply excess kit hoarded by soldiers. They make it look like a silly habit, like carrying extra mess tins or web belts. Arrse is way up on the derivation of the word, though. They say that it comes from the Urdu word, “baksheesh,” used even today over a wide area to mean a bribe.

Grumpy Man’s Gripe is a cute blog ( They say that it means, “free.” According to the grumps over there, the origin of the word is Arabic, from the word, “bakh’sheesh,” meaning a gift or a present. (With variations in Urdu and Turkish.) They say that buckshee was brought back to England by British soldiers in North Africa during the Second World War.

Well, we have it from a reliable source that it was in full use during the First World War, and I also like Mr. McBride’s definition and usage. His book was published in 1930, so there is no reason to suspect that its origins lie in World War II, and his usage is much more military-specific. His definition goes well beyond anything that is merely free, and applies to items that are more useful and important than extra mess tins. (Unless you need one, I suppose, and your friend has an extra.)

This word game is endlessly fascinating, is it not? 

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Gamera Under Mysterious Circumstances

Okay, so I'm watching Gamera: Guardian of the Universe on the wi-fi over here. I always think of this movie as the first of the "new" Gamera movies. And then it hits me: this movie was made over twenty years ago!

That's how it works. You meet a nice young doctor and find out that he was born in 1988. You play a song by the Shirelles and realize that it was recorded over fifty years ago. Time is not only right here and right now all the time, it also recedes at a frightening rate. So there's that.

The version that I'm watching is in the original Japanese, which I appreciate. I don't understand the language, but I've seen so many of these movies that I can easily imagine what they are saying. This version includes Spanish subtitles, and it's surprising to me how much of that language I can read and understand. Many of the Spanish words are recognizable to English speakers, and we all pick up a lot of Spanish vocabulary along the way, we Americans, especially those of us who have lived in New York and Los Angeles all of our lives. I'm embarrassed to say that at this point I can read Spanish a lot better than I can read Thai, after having lived here for over ten years. That hurts, in its way.

Anyway, great movie. I recommend it.

Saturday, June 25, 2016

Stephen Colbert Is Wearing Better Suits

I've been complaining about Stephen's "fashion forward" suits since he came on the Late Show, so the least that I can do is acknowledge that he has changed his stylist.

Thank God! This one is an appropriate suit for a grown up, and it looks great on him.

So, is this a fashion blog?

Friday, June 24, 2016

Rene Descartes Was A . . .

I forget the exact line from that Monty Python song about philosophers. It was a corker, I'm sure.

(Was it, ". . . a drunken fart?")

Ambrose Bierce's "Devils Dictionary" defines Cartesian in the usual way, something that follows Mssr. Descartes' particular philosophy. He's famous for saying:

"Cogito, ergo sum." ("I think, therefore I am.")

Mr. Bierce would improve on this sentiment:

"Cogito  cogito, ergo cogito sum." ("I think that I think, therefore I think that I am.")

I'm with Mr. Bierce on this one. Anyone who is too sure of himself, or too sure that he is right, or way too sure of his own position in just about anything, should be kicked straight in the kneecap.

The most intelligent thing that a human being can do is to doubt himself a little bit.

Cool Website Alert: Public Domain Review Dot Org

Or, in Net-Speak,

There's a ton of stuff on here. Books, articles, whole movies, photographs, songs. Stuff both old and new, with the common thread being that it's all in the public domain.

I came across it by opening an article at (dot org?)

Those are both great places to find six or eight thousand words about something that you had no idea was so fascinating. Or new information about something that you've been interested in for years, or in my case, decades.

It's all Kindlized within minutes. Happy hunting!

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Eno & The Winkies - Peel Session 1974

An issue of first impression, and at this late date! Lovely versions of familiar tunes. Perhaps I should remain alive after all.

(Perhaps Apocryphal) Cool Name Alert

I'm reading "A Rifleman Went to War," by Herbert W. McBride, on the Kindle. The author was a Canadian sniper in World War I. It's interesting enough to justify the ninety-nine cent price on Amazon. It's written in a quaint vernacular, and our Herbert seems to have been one of the few people who actually had fun in the Great War.

The author fills us in on only those parts of his early life that contributed to his love of guns and his expertise at shooting. This includes a two year stint in the southwest, where he rubbed shoulders with some of the famous gunslingers. These included "Bat Masterson, Jim Lee, Schwin Box and Nat Chapin, just to name the best of them . . ."

"Schwin Box!" I shouted out loud. That name alone would be worth the price of the (e) book. I set a course for Professor Google to see if I could find any mention of Mr. Box.

Bat Masterson is a name that we recall. He was a real person, if TV and Hollywood movies are to be believed. Google had no record of a man called Schwin (one "n") Box, only a few more recent non-gunfighter people with the last name Schwin and a lot of information about how to purchase Schwinn bicycles at big-box stores. For good measure, there was no gunfighterish information about any Jim Lee or Nat Chapin. Doesn't mean there was never a man named Schwin Box, though. History picks and chooses, and history often overlooks a chance to preserve something really interesting.

And what could be more interesting than a man named Schwin Box? Why, nothing. Nothing at all.

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Even More Problems, Part III

Super Bugs and Antibiotics

Apparently there’s no money in antibiotics these days, so Big Pharma doesn’t bother with them. All of these bad bacteria that we hear about are as busy as can be mutating to avoid being killed by the existing antibiotics, and many of them have been supremely successful in this enterprise. So far, the bacteria are winning this battle. 

All of that mutating to become more survivable should be clear evidence that evolution is a very real part of life on earth, but no one seems willing to acknowledge that fact. It’s “survival of the fittest” in action. Whether the scientists call evolution a “theory” or a “law,” they all agree that it is a fact, and that it has been churning along since the dawn of time and has created the face of our modern world.

It’s not God that’s creating these problematic “Super Bugs.” They’re creating themselves through a natural process of biology. It would be so great if our capitalist overlords and our democratic representatives would throw some resources at developing new and better antibiotics to deal with the problem.

This problem is not abstract at all. It’s “in the pipeline five by five,” as they said in Aliens, and it’s probably in the pipes down at the hospital, too. Why wait until some president’s daughter dies of a super-strong new kind of staph infection after a routine appendectomy? Ten years ago would have been a great time to have started.

The Crisis of Democracy

Governance and democracy are elements of the classes that I teach, and my students often have questions about the process of developing a democracy. I tell them a few things:

1.   Don’t focus on the popular vote. It’s really all about the democratic institutions. Democratically elected individuals come and go, but the institutions remain. They must be strong enough to weather the changes in staff;
2.   Democracy has never come to a country overnight. The experiment must begin and then it must be nurtured over time. It’s like a child, I tell them. When we are children, we think as children, and there are many things that we don’t understand. As we grow into adults, we think more clearly and understand things better. The idea is to make a good start of it and then perfect the democratic institutions over time; and
3.   Even a mature democracy must be constantly on guard against the erosion of democratic values or institutions. It may happen quickly or slowly, but democracy can be lost.

Numbers one and two are of most interest to new democracies that are feeling their ways through the early stages of development. Number three is frightfully important to many long-term democracies at this time. It’s important to the United States, certainly, and also to a few of our European partners. We’re not being careful about losing our democratic rights at all.

Our constitutional rights in America have been seriously eroded. Our police, our legislators and our courts are all complicit in this process. Those are the kinds of democratic institutions that we are supposed to be jealously guarding! We’re losing everything that we have worked for since the founding of our country.

Almost no one seems to care, though. I do see the occasional academic, long-form article about the process of loss in general or some of the abuses in particular, but very rarely does any of it make the new instant news process. And no one is really talking about it, except maybe John Oliver. Regular people seem to prefer to either keep their heads in the sand or stick with talking-points taught to them by various non-democratic power centers.

I know that I’ve mentioned some of these things before. Forgive me if you have spotted my redundancy. But as few people as there are who read this blog, I doubt if anyone will have noticed.  

TRIPLE 9, A Warning

As an introduction, here's the German trailer for "Triple 9," a Hollywood movie from earlier this year. It's on Asian cable TV as we speak, so they must have given up on it already. I show the German trailer because almost anything is more fun in German. That's truer than usual in the case of this movie. 

If I could buy back the time that I spent watching Triple 9 in my hotel room last weekend, I would. That’s impossible though. Luckily, my secondary goal is to forget the movie. That will be much easier.

The movie opens with a bank robbery. About a battalion of heavily armed, body armored and solidly masked gangsters take the bank. Shots are fired; bombs are exploded; and it seems to take more than the recommended time allotment for bank robberies. But don’t worry. It’s not like they got away with much. Just a huge red dye-pack that explodes in the getaway van. The gang barely gets away.

Who writes these movies? These scripts are supremely unlikely on both the macro level and in their details. The gang here is mostly police officers, which does not tend to flatter police officers. The only smart thing that they do in the entire movie is communicate in simple Spanish during the initial robbery (clever because only one of them is Hispanic). Beyond that, everything that they do is stupid, un-criminal-like, and uncommented upon.

For example: all of the gangsters in these movies touch everything in sight. Nice shiny metal surfaces, touching, touching, touching. As in, leaving fingerprints. In this particular movie, they are police themselves, so they should know better. Often, the criminals are ex-military or experienced criminals, who should also know better. Whenever a criminal in a movie touches anything, I cringe. I get to cringe often.

The guys in this movie couldn’t steal a magazine from a candy store, much less get away with a bank robbery. If you told them, “go steal me a girlie book from that magazine store,” they’d probably shoot the store manager and come back with a National Geographic.

This is a terrible movie, with no sympathetic characters that I can recall. There are so many big names in the cast that I wonder what dynamic brought the movie to its terrible reality. Misguided friendship? Were they all sabotaged by their agents? If this were the 1980s, I’d be sure that cocaine was involved. 

He Is The Boy - Little Eve

The second verse takes an interesting turn. Reminds me of, "He's Sure the Boy I Love."

Songs like this are an inspiration to all boys that keep their most valuable characteristics under a bushel.

(Heard this song last week in the movie, "Hit and Run," by Dax Shepard. I say, "by . . ." advisedly. Dax stars in it, he's in almost every scene, he wrote it and directed it, and I think he took a co-producer credit, too. Funny movie, and quite endearing.)

Hat Yai Marching Band

I saw a high school marching band in central Hat Yai, Thailand, over the weekend. I went down to teach a class on Saturday. As usual, Thailand was fascinating.

There were many touristy hotels and a couple of malls within a few block area that included my own hotel. It was Saturday evening, and a weekly night bazaar was in progress about a block away. I walked out to get some dinner and the band was across the street. They’d been playing in front of another hotel, and they were just leaving for another location.

They were a typical bunch of high school students. They were wearing their school clothes, which had seen better days. There were only about a dozen of them. They played a few saxophones, a couple of trumpets, and mostly drums. They had some talent, and some enthusiasm, and they did seem to be enjoying themselves. They stood, marched and played with that studied casualness that is characteristic of most such endeavors in Thailand.

I heard two of the songs that they played.  They were:

1.   Jingle Bells (this was June 18th); and
2.   The Marine Corps Hymn (“From the halls of Montezuma . . .” etc.)

“Interesting choices,” I thought, as I got more serious about dinner. 

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Problems Update, Part Two

The Climate

This one gets a lot of play in media of all types, so I’ll assume that the details are familiar to most people by now. There is one aspect of it that doesn’t get the attention that it deserves, however. That would be the responses of the world’s governments and its big businesses.

The responses are mostly lip-service and some hand wringing. Those strategies have never solved a single problem in the history of the world. You can mix in the frequently totally stupid pronouncements and decisions of members of various governments and the business and academic communities. There’s a lot of wait-and-see, like it might just blow over without ruining everything. Now honestly, does anyone really think that there’s much chance of that?

How’s that new weather pattern working out for you, Houston?

Meanwhile, a precious few countries, mostly in northern Europe, have managed to switch over to clean renewable energy sources that are providing, even as we speak, a substantial share of their energy needs. And they’ve managed to do that with the technology that is already available, which has a long way to go before it’s really efficient. What a shame that they’ll all be ruined along with the foot draggers when the shit hits the fan. What a real shame.

The Rich

Not to beat a dead horse, but the rich are still a problem. Income inequality gets a lot of attention, but somehow the rich themselves often get a pass. They deserve closer examination.

The rich themselves should be very worried about their developing position. It is not in their own best interests for them to suck up all of the wealth and prosperity like selfish little Hoovers. There are plenty of historical examples of oppressed people getting explosively, violently fed up with an entrenched, ridiculously entitled class of non- or semi-productive oligarchs. I’ll be that you’ve thought of an example already, mai oui?

The most annoying thing to me is that people with fortunes just park them somewhere and then the fortunes magically enjoy great returns on investment. This is happening while the rest of us are grudgingly offered .78 of a percent on our bank money. Oh, and the other really annoying thing is that those people pay so much less in taxes than we do, at least on a percentage basis.

Both of those things hurt the rest of us. We’re paying our fair share of the taxes, more or less, but the rich are manifestly not paying their fair share. That degrades government services for the rest of us, like schools and the justice system. The interest that the rich appear to be enjoying will only make them richer, thereby sucking even more money out of the system of productivity and prosperity. I mean, once you have a hundred million or so, you’ve already got more than you could possibly spend or use. An additional hundred million, obtained passively over the course of less than a decade, is just more money wasted for any purpose beneficial to society.

The rich, and their descendants, will be considered the useless eaters of the future. People’s patience will begin to wear thin at some point.

The Current State Of Money Itself

The world’s money continues its slide into increasing uselessness. The whole idea of money as a medium of exchange has fallen apart. Now, money has none of the intrinsic value that propped it up in past times. Instead, money has become some kind of Siegfried and Roy Review, featuring smoke and mirrors but very little meaning. It’s disturbing.

And dangerous, too. This is what led to that collapse in 2008. Hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of value were created when actually there was no real value at all. That’s the smoke and mirrors part. When it was realized that there was no real value there, something like a trillion dollars simply went up in smoke (more smoke!).

Does anyone think that a box seat to a Yankees game is worth what they charge for one now? Or that the supreme (dubious) pleasure of watching a Lady Ga Ga concert is a good value for the money? Do you think that that iPhone is worth what they charge? How should we feel when buying a stand-alone, downloaded copy of Microsoft Word from the Microsoft Store for almost $100? Is that a proper exchange of value? They send you that turkey in a heartbeat at virtually no cost to themselves.

If I read about one more Silicon Valley billionaire who started some company that I never heard of ten years ago that was then bought out by Google for several billion dollars just to take the company off the market, or get the rights to use some small aspect of their software, I’ll scream. That money came out of the air; that company’s value had no basis in reality.

Part of the problem is that there are too many newly minted hyper-rich people with way too much ability-to-pay. Too many rich people chasing the good stuff puts the prices out of the reach of anyone with more modest means. Some of these problems are mutually reinforcing. The modern nature of money facilitates the relatively few people who accumulate vast wealth. The existence of vast wealth allows prices to be set artificially high for a great number of products and services. Somewhere there’s a dog chasing its own tail.

I’m not expert, and I certainly don’t understand all of the vagaries or our monetary system. I have no suggestions for how it could be made more equitable, how it could be made more fair to the regular people. I would only suggest that someone, somewhere apply some thinking to how the system could be returned to some kind of balance, some kind of quid pro quo, some kind of equivalence between x kilos of product A and y board-feet of Douglas fir. Then forty-five minutes of a working man’s time would be the equivalent of a ticket to a first run movie, like it was up until about 1967. (1967 . . . a few years after the silver was taken out of the money.)

(Okay, Part Two. I’ll be away for a couple of days, teaching down in Hat Yai ["Big Beach”] Thailand. I hope y’all pass a good time!) 

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Problems Update, June 2016 (Part One)

Periodically I enjoy reporting on the world’s problems. I mean the real problems, as opposed to the distractions preferred by our Galtian masters. You know the ones that I mean. I don’t mean Mr. Trump either; that problem will sort itself out before it even achieves real problem status. 

No, I’m talking about . . .

The Jobs Problem

Real jobs have been disappearing from the industrialized world at an ever increasing rate for decades already. At the same time, populations in most industrialized countries have been increasing. So, let’s see now, there are more and more people and fewer and fewer jobs. That’s a problem. It’s a very big problem, because the jobs that were lost are not coming back.

Automation; robotics; computers . . . all of these things have taken over for human workers in many fields in recent decades. That process will continue, and it will probably accelerate to include fields that were once considered safe for human workers. In five years, we’ll be calling for self-driving Uber cars, and the taxi drivers will join so many other workers on the trash heap of history.

The number of full time jobs these days, jobs with benefits like health insurance, vacations and funded retirements, has shrunk right down to a precious few. More people than ever are making due with one, two or even three part-time jobs that don’t even pay overtime. Even a so-called “education” doesn’t protect the modern worker.

The response so far from the powers-that-be has been to throw some smallish social programs at the “no jobs” problem. That and pit groups of people against one another in a manufactured competition for the jobs that do still exist. The first of these will never be anything but a pathetic Band-Aid approach; the second will lead to one of several kinds of explosions, which could range from mere noise-making to the use of piano wire and hooks.

Even leaving out the problem of a living wage, this shrinkage in available jobs is going to be a terrible problem before long.

The Internet Problem

I read articles on the Internet about how the Internet is making people dumber. Not just the Internet itself, but also the entire digital environment of games, apps and social media across all platforms. The quality of written language is suffering as people substitute shorter, less grammatical sentences for what they should be writing. I know that it’s true.

Sometimes even the articles describing that process are very brief, conclusory and written in bad, typo-ridden English. Thus proving their own point.

I feel blessed to be inclined to write longer pieces like this post. In fact, I enjoy writing like this. (Disclaimer: my writing style on this blog is not quite academic, and I do take liberties with grammar on occasion. I try to keep it a bit on the light and conversational side. So bear that in mind, and bear in mind that I know it.) I do notice, however, that when I send a Line message to a friend, or when I comment on Facebook, I must always remind myself to include a subject and make proper sentences, with proper punctuation. Sometime, I fear, I fail to remind myself in time, so I’m contributing to the dumbing down of our culture even as I’m struggling to save it with my blog posts. What can I do, though? We are all creatures of our times.

One thing for sure about the Internet: it’s making people crazier. It’s making people more isolated, less discriminating, less sociable and less reasonable. The Internet allows people to seal themselves in echo-chambers with only other people who share certain views. These self-reinforcing information loops comfort the kind of individuals that feel as though they have been cast adrift by modernity. They are also comforting for individuals who are desperate for some illusion that they understand what is going on in the world. All of this is silly, of course, and none of it represents any real understanding at all. It also tends to foster and encourage extremism of one kind or another, and there’s nothing silly about that. People are getting killed behind this shit.

Finally, the Internet has created an army of monsters who believe that they are well informed. All that they have done is to fill up their heads with information of dubious value, which is limited to some narrow point of view that was decided for them by someone else, but they honestly believe that they are fully and correctly informed about the state of the world. They hold these beliefs with a rock-solid certainty. That’s always a bad sign. I mean, beyond knowing your own name, and that two plus two equals four, 100% certainty is hard to justify.

I read those Websites, and I read the comment sections, too. These acolytes learn strategies for attacking “non-believers” in comment threads, either on their own favored sites, or sites featuring opposing political/cultural views, or on some poor Schmo’s unsuspecting Facebook page. “What have you done?” “On what do you base your opinion?” “Where did you get that information?” “Please provide me with facts to back up your statement.” The true paranoid in political matters is always a faux academic.

It’s not funny, although frequently I do find it all funny. Mostly though, I find it very dangerous.  

(Let’s call this, “Part One.” It’s already four times the recommended word limit for a blog post.) 

Monday, June 13, 2016

Tina Turner - A Fool In Love (1960)

Sorry to clog up the blog with songs, but I'm on a roll here.

This is Tina, Ike and the band at the height of their powers. These are the Sue Records years, up in New York City, when they did what I think is their best work.

(Don't forget to go down the column a bit to find my latest text extravaganza. It's about snoring, a subject that I'm sure is near and dear to many of my male readers, the married or otherwise attached ones anyway.)

Ike & Tina Turner - Bold Soul Sister

For my money, Tina without Ike was always like soup without salt. There was something missing, you know?

Nothing missing here. All of the parts are screwed on. I do love Tina, if all of the parts are screwed on.

Motörhead - Enter Sandman

Okay, here's the other side of the coin. (Read the below post first.)

Gin and Juice by The Berlin Project

I love cover versions; I love Ska (especially Ska Punk). So, here it is!

For me, the proof that a song is great is when it can be covered in different styles while retaining its greatness. Like this one.

The other side of that coin is when a band can cover a great song and totally take it over. But that's another story.

Everyone Is Different: Snoring Edition

Can we say that everyone is different? More likely, there are just a great number of general categories that we can be grouped into on different subjects. One category could be listed as, “the ability to tolerate snoring.” Some people tolerate it very well in a spouse or in a more casual sleep-mate. For others, snoring is a capital offense that is prosecuted with extreme prejudice. Oh my, but we are a multi-various race, we humans.

This last weekend I went on a two-nights-in-a-hotel seminar with my faculty, the Faculty of Law at Ramkhamhaeng University in Thailand. I was assigned to a room with a professor that I know very well, probably because his English is excellent. He's a lovely man, and I am proud to call him a friend. I warned him that I snored, and I chose the bed that would aim the worst of it away from him. I needn’t have worried; he snored as loudly and as constantly as I did.

I say that without knowing for sure. I have never actually recorded myself snoring. But the odds are that it was at least a toss-up.

The fact is that his snoring didn’t bother me at all. I wake up many times in the night. I wake up to pee; I wake up after a vivid dream; I wake up just to turn over because one shoulder has started to hurt.  I only heard my roommate snoring if I was awake; I don’t think that he ever woke me up just by snoring. And if he was snoring loudly while I was returning to sleep, well, it never seemed to prevent me from going back to sleep at all. I hardly noticed it. 

Perhaps I am just a good sleeper. Sleep is, after all, my second favorite thing in the world. But like I say, everyone is different.

Take my ex-wife, please. She tolerated my snoring not at all, not even a little bit. It was probably a function of her sleep pattern. I’m pretty sure that she is a shallow sleeper. An unenthusiastic sleeper, actually, I’m sure that for her sleep was not the supremely comforting thing that it is for me. It was certainly easy to awaken her from sleep. As soon as the sun cleared the horizon in the morning, or slightly before, she sprung to vigorous life from the bed, ready to begin another day of frantic activity. Sleep for me, on the other hand, has always been a refuge from the world; for her it was a burden that was barely tolerated.

As a result, she did not tolerate my snoring very well. I’m sure that it’s true that I must have awoken her several times every night. She’s always been a light sleeper.  I mean, she woke up if a bird farted in a tree within forty feet of our bedroom window. But I’m mostly sure that my snoring woke her up because she let me know in a very immediate way. Usually by elbowing me sharply in the ribs and barking at me, “turn over!!!”

These days I am married to a woman who hardly seems to notice my snoring at all. She snores herself, at about the same relatively quiet level that my ex-wife did. I just think that it’s cute. I always have. It just reminds me gently that they are there, and I do appreciate their presence. Honestly though, I don’t miss my ex-wife’s daily snoring reports early of a morning, usually delivered in angry tones. After all, there’s nothing that I could have done about it. My current wife never mentions it at all, and if I bring it up, in order to peremptorily apologize, she just smiles and tells me not to worry about it. She’s correct in this attitude, of course. The coin that we wish to possess has two sides, and to possess the coin we must accept both sides of it.


Lose track of this great truth at your peril, dear reader. 

Wednesday, June 8, 2016

The Wisdom of W.C. Fields

Here's my personal favorite:

"Attitude is more important than the past, than education, than money, than circumstances, than what people do or say. It is more important than appearance, giftedness or skill."

Why, he almost sounds like Tom Ripley! (In the Ripley novels by Patricia Highsmith.) There are a couple of points in the novels where Tom explains that it is not what happens to us that is important, rather it is our attitude to what has happened. I think that both of these gentlemen have a point there.

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

The Right To Counsel Is Under Threat

Many details and all substantive quotes come from an article in the new Atlantic Magazine, “On the Defensive,” by Dylan Walsh. It’s on their website. Very good article, and timely, but a word of warning: it will make you angry. Whatever looks like indignant commentary is probably mine.

The 6th Amendment gives Americans the “right to counsel at trial” in criminal matters. With the Miranda case in the late 1960s, this was defined by the Supreme Court to include the right to counsel in any custodial interrogation, which was defined to include almost every phase of a criminal proceeding, from arrest to sentencing. A string of cases refined “counsel” to include “effective assistance of counsel.” Those were the days of favoring equality, and we, America and Americans, sought to give poor defendants something of the rights in court that a prosperous American might enjoy. So that’s the dream, anyway. The reality has not been quite as misty eyed and glossy as the dream.

Every jurisdiction in America has a mechanism for providing counsel to criminal defendants who cannot otherwise afford a lawyer. These vary from dedicated Public Defender offices to panels of private attorneys, or some combination of those things. This is not working out well in our new “you’re on your own” political climate. Decades of tax cuts for corporations and the rich have left most, if not all, local and state governments impoverished. It turns out that the concept that “there is just no money” does not work very well in the provision of the constitutional right to effective counsel to indigent defendants.

The America that has evolved since that prick Reagan was our president has moved away from equality and towards the favoring of liberty. We have given the rich the liberty to keep any money that they can get their hands on and to spend it any way they chose. We have also given corporations the liberty to keep any money that they can make and not spend it or invest it at all. I fall on the “equality” side of the equation, myself. After all, none of those individuals or corporations could have made a damn dime without us all chipping in. (And defending them when push came to shove, etc.)

Most criminal defendants do not have the wherewithal to pay a private attorney, and are therefore subject to the courts provision of free counsel. This has been an imperfect system at best, but by now the entire public defender system is in chaos due to underfunding. Abuses are rampant.

The article makes examples of a few states:

Louisiana: A local attorney in Concordia Parish is offered $1,000 for every 100 cases she accepts. That’s $10 per case. Public Defenders caseloads are many times the recommended maximum. In New Orleans, “until recently,” the Public Defender’s misdemeanor office handled 19,000 cases per year, “affording them an average of seven minutes for each client.” Indigent defense in Louisiana is funded largely through court fees. A defendant found guilty of a misdemeanor is required to pay court costs of $250. (If they cannot pay this, along with any fines, they are jailed for contempt of court.) The New Orleans Public Defenders office has resorted to crowd funding on the Internet. Louisiana has one of the “highest rates of proven wrongful convictions” in the country. And the public defender budget continues to be cut. The article states that “[d]istricts across Louisiana are firing lawyers and support staff, creating client waiting lists, canceling contracts with basic legal-research services, and dumping more cases on fewer attorneys for less compensation.” The 2017 Louisiana budget cuts funding by an additional 62%.

Georgia: A class action lawsuit in 2015 “revealed that Georgia juveniles were regularly denied legal representation before and during court appearances.”

Utah: “A recent report . . . found that more than half of defendants facing misdemeanor charges in municipal court appeared without an attorney.” Amazingly, sometimes there was not even a prosecutor present. The judge did everything him or herself. These judges advised defendants and negotiated plea deals, flying solo. Of course, the judges also did the sentencing themselves.

Other states that have been sued for violations include Idaho, California, New York, Washington and Michigan.

Who are these defendants? One case that is described in the article was that of a twenty-one-year-old who had been found in possession of weed while on probation for a prior drug conviction. His plea offer was three years in prison followed by two years in a residential facility for drug rehab. The alternative was certain conviction and a twenty year prison sentence.

This dovetails nicely with another huge modern problem: prosecutorial overreach. These days, everything has been criminalized, and there are usually sentencing guidelines and mandatory minimum sentences in place. Prosecutors charge every defendant with a long laundry list of offences that usually end up with a “potential sentence” that will consume the average lifetime. (Like that kid’s twenty years for weed.) Under those circumstances, defendants will tend to take horrible plea bargains that will result in less than ten years, which is nothing these days. They will often do this even if they are innocent of the charges. Looking at twenty years, or life in prison, and having talked to their public defender for about ten minutes, they jump at the vague chance of ever returning to civilian life.

Noto bene Gideon v. Wainwright, Supreme Court 1963. The case held that “lawyers in criminal court are necessities, not luxuries.” The defendant had been convicted and jailed without a lawyer, and the court overturned the conviction. Upon the fiftieth anniversary of the case in 2013, the U.S. Attorney General, leading legal scholars, and just about everyone agreed that Gideon was an important case and that its spirit had been violated by underfunding.

The states’ argument that there is no money is not persuasive. Missouri was the subject of an American Bar Association study that suggested that their number of Public Defenders should be increased by 75 percent “to meet a basic level of quality.” The director of Missouri’s public defender system made the case for changes. He explained that the proposed changes would save the state money by lessening the artificial rise in the prison population that occurs when people are essentially railroaded (my phrase). The state legislature liked the idea, and passed a funding increase of $3.47 million for the public defenders’ office. It was vetoed, and the veto was overturned, and then the governor used his executive power to withhold the money. After being forced to provide it, he simply reduced the same budget elsewhere by the identical amount of money. Here’s the lie in the “no money” argument: the governor during the same period approved four million dollars for state fairground improvements; fifty two million dollars for a new state park; and a whopping $998 million for a new football stadium. So, the money was there, after all.

These days one hears a lot of mostly loose talk about criminal justice reform. There is a lot of bipartisan support for certain types of reform. Bail reform; the reduction of mandatory minimum sentences for non-violent offenses; prosecutorial discretion gone wild; the huge costs involved with mass incarceration. “But strangely absent from this discussion,” says Mr. Walsh, “is the role of public defenders.” What we have now is clearly not equal justice. The things that are under discussion are important, but talk, talk, talking about them will not change anything. I fear that that’s all it is, loose talk with little intention to actually do anything. It sounds so great! Someone cares! People sure are easy to fool, aren’t they?

I think that it would be great if we cared more about poor and mostly black Americans who have been accused of crimes, but that is not a popular position in today’s America. And anyway, I’m sure that that new football stadium is great. 

Monday, June 6, 2016

Mustafa Hamsho, Great Muslim Athlete

Donald Trump reportedly said in the recent past that there were no great Muslim athletes in the world. I could make a list, if I were ambitious, but instead I'll just draw your attention to one of my favorite athletes of all time, Mustafa Hamsho, who happens to be Muslim.

Mr. Trump has more recently said nice things about Muhammad Ali, perhaps America's most prominent Muslim. But I'm certain that to Mr. Trump, Ali will always be Cassius Clay. Same with Kareem Abdul Jabbar, he'll always be Lew Alcindor to lots of people. Lots of people, including Trump and I, were thrilled by those guys in the Clay/Alcindor days, and change is hard for some of them.

Mustafa Hamsho was a hugely entertaining fighter, and he had a great career. He'd have been the champion were it not for Marvin Haggler fighting at the same weight. (As Jean-Paul Sartre said: in football everything is complicated by the presence of the other team.)

Outside the ring, Hamsho was a nice guy, very friendly and respectful. Inside the ring, he was a terror. You could say that he was a dirty fighter, or at least that he flirted with tactics that are not entirely legal. He seemed like he couldn't help himself! He'd try to cut you with the laces of his gloves, hit you with forearms and elbows, and boy, you really had to watch out for his head. He used the ropes better than anyone that I ever saw. Sometimes he'd throw the opponent into the ropes and hit him as he bounced off; other times he'd throw his back against the ropes and use the bounce to add power to a punch. He was a caution, he was. I don't remember him being disqualified, though. Such things are part of boxing, and are accepted, within limits.

One thing you'd have to admit is that Mustafa Hamsho was a great Muslim athlete. There are tons of others. The website Muslim Matters includes a list of the top ten Muslim boxers. That would be a drop in the bucket, but okay as a starting point for skeptics.

Oh no, I just got into the Fact-Checking-Trump game! But look for the good. It's steady work.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Ipi 'Ntombi Featuring Margaret Singana - The Warrior

I have this record! Or should I say, I HAD it. My records are with my son now. At least he seems to value them. Keep them in the family, you know.

The record came out in the early 1970s, and I was working in the retail record business at the time. I developed an interest in African music and came across it in the store that I was working in.

Great song, isn't it?

Liberal Redneck In The House

Trey Crowder? Is that this fellow's name? If it's a gig name, it's a good one. "Trey," like the third son in a redneck state family; Crowder, as in the bad clan on Justified. I cannot gauge at all the degree to which this is an act, but it's a great act in any case.

‘Liberal Redneck’: ‘F*ck Donald Trump with a prickly pear’ — but don’t get complacent about November

"In my town, you were considered a rich kid if your daddy carried the mail!"

Thursday, June 2, 2016

Pizzicato Five The Girl From Ipanema

I'm in total true love with Astrud Gilberto, but I'm all the way in love with Maki Nomiya too. I love me some Pizzicato Five.

There's plenty of room in MUSIC for all kinds of stuff. Let's just open up and have some fun!

My feeling when I listen to something is that if they had fun making the music, I'll have fun listening to it. Pizzicato Five qualifies every time on that basis.

The Shaolin Afronauts - Journey Through Time

Acid Funk? Afro-Beat? I don't know for sure. Call an expert!

Nice cut though, and what a great band name! The Shaolin Afronauts! How cool is that?

Maybe I'll check Prof. Google, but this might even stump him.

(Please see comment for Google results.)

There Was A Shock

I received quite a shock recently. My father died at the age of ninety-five. No, that wasn’t the shock. It can’t be a shock when a ninety-five-year-old man dies. He was a very fortunate man in general, and so it was at the end. Although he had had a lifelong, painful arthritic condition, he had never gotten sick at all, and his heart was fine. He simply dropped stone dead of a stroke one day, about a month ago.

The shock came with the reading of the will. I went to Arizona to be with my sister, and after a few days she broke out the will and we took a look. I was mentioned, as is proper in wills. “I have one daughter, (name), and one son, Frederick Ceely.” It went on to say, “I also have one daughter-in-law, (name).” That was my ex-wife. The bequest was, in equal parts, to “my daughter, (name), and my daughter-in-law, (name).” I was left out.

What’s the difference between unreal and surreal? I should look it up. My feeling at the time was one of those. I’m feeling that way yet.

The will was a new one, drawn up in December, 2013. I had filed for divorce in November, 2013. So you’d have to think that those were related events. Excluded from a will on account of getting divorced, you say? Surely there was more to it than that! Well yes, there probably was.

Let me say clearly at this point that it was his money, and that he could do anything that he wanted to do with it. I have always maintained that anyone who counts on money from the dead is a fool. Strange things happen. At least he didn’t leave it to a church. On the level of WHAT he did, I am at peace. All of my inner turmoil comes from wondering about the WHY.

It was not a total shock, actually. I had been expecting some shenanigans. Something like generation skipping, some kind of hair-splitting, maybe the employment of trusts. But the will was as simple as can be. Some introductions; a bequest to two people equally; a no contest clause (aimed at me); signatures, the end.

I’m afraid that my exclusion stemmed from the fact that my father had never really approved of me. The divorce was only the last straw. He had always thought that I was flighty and irresponsible; that I had generally bad judgment and bad habits; that I was lazy; and that on top of it all, I was probably a bit stupid. He had probably formed this opinion of me when I was in high school, the stupid part anyway. It was a fair assumption based upon my high school grades. I hated high school and was being generally uncooperative. Very late one evening I listened in on a conversation about me between my parents. “What’s wrong with him?”  my mother said. “Maybe he’s just not that smart,” replied my father.

My father and I were of very different temperaments, which I will sum up by pointing out that he had only one job that lasted for his entire adult life, and he had been very successful at it, while I have had over fifty jobs in my life, largely without success. (That’s “50” plus jobs; it wasn’t a typo.) Also because of his temperament, once he had formed an opinion, nothing could shake him from his belief in his own judgment. He was supremely confident in all such matters.  

He liked to let you know what he thought, too. He always got his little digs in. When I was in my fifties, I got him a subscription to the New York Review of Books one year for Christmas. I told him that I had had a subscription for years and that I enjoyed it very much. On a subsequent visit to my parents, he gave me a bundle of them. I had already read my own copies, of course. “You might want to try reading these,” he said. “It’s hard reading, but you might like some of it.”

Saying things like that hurt me as much as the will did, and there were many instances over the decades. How would you have felt if your father had told you when you were seventeen, “not everyone is cut out for college . . . maybe you should take the test for the Sanitation Department.”

I’m no Donald Trump character, always explaining how smart I am, so I will not make any such claims here. There’ll be no lists of my accomplishments. Let’s just say that the record shows that although I may not be a genius, I am also not exactly stupid.

He was also of the opinion that I was reckless with money, probably based on the feeling that I had neither made enough money, nor saved enough money in my life. None of that had been reckless, though. While it was true that I’d probably spent too much money over time on magazines, records and the like, it was also true that my habits included a jealous husbanding of “bulk money,” or “bank money.” I was always aware of which money was set aside for bills, and what money could be fooled around with. I was also more careful with credit cards than most people, including my ex-wife.

Well, based upon some or all of the above, my father zeroed me out at will time. Was he just trying to be practical? Was he trying to give the benefit to my children in some left-handed way? (Like before I could squander it.) Did he just love and trust my ex-wife more than me? Or was it, as I fear and suspect, a final act of disapproval and rejection? I should never know for sure, absent the discovery of new evidence. It would have been a great relief to have the extra financial cushion, but I’ll probably be okay without it. Baring, that is, some extravagant medical catastrophe.

It has been said that “no man is an island.” I think they mean that no man can exist all on his own, with no support system. If any man ever were an island, though, that would have been my father. He had the strong suspicion that everybody but himself was crazy, stupid, or both. He trusted only his own counsel, and he lived by his own rules. But he’s gone now, so it’s all water under the bridge. As usual, the living are left to wonder, and suffer. 

Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Donovan & Byl Tumbling Tomfoolery from 'Randle and All That' 1945

Did I post this a while back? Lazy me, I suppose that I could check.

Donovan & Byl, I can't say that I've ever seen anything quite like it. Complete with fart noises. I just watched it again, and once more I laughed until I cried. So can you! It's on the house!