Wednesday, May 31, 2017

The Last War, Finally

I've got this review up, finally. It's the fourth post below this one.

The Black U.S. Navy Experience

Destroyer (1943, Columbia Pictures)

Happy Memorial Day, everybody! 

This is a lovely movie starring Edward G. Robinson and Glenn Ford. It’s fairly entertaining as a patriotic wartime Navy movie, but it’s more interesting for what it does not show. In the movie, the crew of the ship is all white, whereas in the real Navy in 1943 that would not have been the case.

Even before World War II there were black sailors on almost all Navy ships. They became more numerous as the war progressed, because there were a vast number of new ships that needed crews.

The American military was still segregated at the time. It was possible in the Army to keep the troops separated and assign them tasks that would prevent them from rubbing shoulders, but that luxury was only partially available to the Navy. A Navy crew all live in the same house, so to speak, and they are forced to rub shoulders every day. They could still be segregated as to their tasks, though, and that much was done.

Blacks in the Navy only had a few rates available to them, all involving the preparation or serving of food. They could be cooks, commissarymen, or stewards. The special nature of Navy life at war meant that this attempt at separation would routinely fall apart in a war zone. Everyone on a ship was assigned to a battle station and drilled in tasks associated with actual sea battles. The black sailors were most often assigned to help with treating casualties, becoming assistants to corpsmen and pharmacist’s mates. Some were assigned to helping with the flow of ammunition to gun positions, which was a busy situation when the shells started flying.

In other words, the black sailors were not on the ships only to handle food and say, “yes, sir.” They were actively engaged in battle when the time came. They had a clear role in “fighting the ship.” Under threat of death, the crew suspended animosities and temporarily overlooked race as an issue.

It is to be assumed that many of the white crewmembers would be ill disposed to their black shipmates under ordinary circumstances, like back at home. But the crew of a warship in a hot-zone is operating under the most unusual of circumstances. It has been said that going to sea in a ship, even in peacetime, is like being in prison with the additional danger of drowning. Multiply this danger by a thousand when enemy submarines, aircraft and surface combatants are making every sincere effort to destroy your ship, with you in it. The crew literally has no one but themselves to rely on in that situation.

I’ve read a lot of books about the Naval aspect of World War II in the Pacific, and I have never come across an episode of tension between white and black sailors when they had to work together in battle. On the contrary, more than one writer has commented on the fact that there was never a drop of animosity when a black commissaryman was performing duties like applying a tourniquet to the stump of a blown off leg and administering a shot of morphine to a white sailor from Alabama. In fact, it is noted that none of the white boys complained and that the black sailors generally acted with great kindness and gentleness. Up to and including one reported scene where a delirious, dying white sailor begged his black shipmate to, “hold me, momma!” The black cook held the man while he died, and survived the war to report this incident to a historian.*

Hollywood missed a small chance by leaving the black sailors out of the movie “Destroyer.” I’ll give them a pass, though, because they did step up to the plate on many opportunities. Like they did in “The Bedford Incident,” which I’ve also reviewed up on this blog. (Word search available.) The role of Life photographer in that movie went to Harry Belafonte after it had been written for a white actor. They didn’t change a thing, so the effect was that there was a black man on the ship being a bit of a pain in the ass and no one mentions that he’s black. That was cool. Also in that movie, the officers’ wardroom is correctly shown to be served by numerous Filipino stewards. In 1970, seven years after the Bedford Incident was released, 80% of Filipinos in the U. S. Navy were still stewards, dressed in white linen and serving the officers’ meals. (Sorry, I forgot to write down the citation for that number. The phenomenon is described in detail all over the Internet, though.) I should try to find something about the role of Filipino stewards at general quarters.

*I’ve read five substantial books recently about the Pacific war, but I can’t recall exactly where this incident was described. It’s hard as hell to find specific passages in Kindle versions. The authors were James Hornfischer and Ian Toll. All of the books were terrific, perhaps especially “Neptune’s Inferno” by Hornfischer.  It’s in there somewhere.    

Saturday, May 27, 2017

The Tourists - I Only Want To Be With You (1979)

I'd never heard anything from the Tourists either, but of course we know two of them through their subsequent work as the Eurythmics. That would be Annie Lennox and Dave Stewart.

I think that this material is okay, I'll listen to some more of their songs. But I suppose they were right to jettison some of the payroll and move on to more sophisticated productions. Never anything wrong with trying to grab the brass ring of pop music sales, though. If at first you don't succeed, try, try again.

Luv - Trojan horse 1978

I'd never heard of this act, which is one of the few wonderful things about our dark, dismal new century. The new digital universe is full of "content" that we are not yet familiar with.

There's not too much to say about their style. It's all beautiful girls in the frame, with a cheerful soundtrack. The material sounds very ABBA to me, or you could say very Eurosong. Nothing wrong with that, I suppose.

The comments for this and other Luv videos come in several European languages, which could be fun for you cunning linguists out there.

Thursday, May 25, 2017

Julie Driscoll, Brian Auger & The Trinity - Tropic Of Capricorn

I was just sitting here, almost ready for bed, and fooling around on the YouTube, and I challenged myself to recall something that I've been neglecting for a long time.

Don't you love the sound of the Hammond B3 organ? Doesn't everybody?

Almost A Movie Review: The Last War

The Last War (1961, Toho Studios). Staring Akira Takarada and Yuriko Hoshi. (Available for wi-fi TV viewing on YouTube.)

This is a terrific movie with a heart and a powerful message. The main thread is the story of a very nice family in Tokyo. There’s a slightly goofy father and a sweet mom, with three children. Two of the kids are young, and the big sister is Seiko, played by Yuriko Hoshi, looking radiant as usual. Yuriko’s boyfriend is the ubiquitous Akira Takarada, a lavishly handsome and very talented actor. Mixed in with the family’s story are many scenes of war-games and minor conflicts between the major powers around the world.

There are excellent miniatures of the war sequences and many views of old Tokyo, only fifteen years after World War II. The full-daylight miniature scenes of missiles and planes are beautifully done and naturalistic. There are great vehicles in general, planes, tanks and ships in the battle scenes and real cars in the Tokyo scenes, including the father’s 1959 Chevy.

The family scenes are touching. Dad tries to be the boss but he’s a soft touch. He’s very easy going with the young children and mom, and his concern for his eldest daughter never runs to scolding or bombast. He’s a guy that likes a drink, and it’s very sweet to watch his wife and daughter work diligently to keep his glass full. In one sequence, he starts out with a small sake cup but the girls switch him to a water glass when they get tired of all of that filling.

There are two major military powers in the world as it is presented, as there were in the real world at the time. They are not named. One side is dressed in very Nazi looking brown uniforms, with riding breeches tucked into tall, black boots and heavy leather belts with a strap over one shoulder. They wear hats with long peaks and the officers bark orders with gusto. The other side seems much more casual. Their uniforms are grey and comfortable looking, and their leadership style is very cooperative. This casual side includes some diversity, with black soldiers in evidence.

I’ll refer to them as the Nazis and the Casuals. I think it’s clear that the Nazis are meant to be the Soviets and the Casuals are the Americans.  

The “Casuals” vs. The “Nazis”

These are, I repeat, optical illusion Nazis who are meant to be the Soviets. You can’t tell the authoritarians apart without a scorecard! Neither side is identified.

There’s a close call malfunction on the Casual side. It’s a two-second “oooops!” moment where an accidental launch on an ICBM farm is barely avoided. The world, we are shown, is dangerously close to a military catastrophe.

Asians are involved with the problematic military displays. South East Asia is a hot-zone. There’s a proxy conflict in progress. There’s a miscalculation, and nuclear weapons are detonated half by accident. This is allowed to pass.
Danger! The film now tours the world showing miniature scenes of world capitals! This is a certain call-back to later destruction in these movies.

Yuriko Hoshi (“Seiko”) is a kindergarten teacher back in Tokyo. There’s a big set up, and then the kids all get together and sing, “It’s a Small World After All.” It’s meant to tug at our heartstrings and it kind of does.

Oh! Another big “oooops!” moment! The Nazi team is up at some Artic base and soldiers are trying to remove ice so that a helicopter can take off. They’re using light explosive charges. The boss is running early, or late, and he wants to leave, so stern orders are given to “double the explosives!” The boss cannot be held up! This is a terrible mistake, because the base is a kind of doomsday device. The stronger explosions set off the device, but again the process is halted with moments to spare. The boss is a fat Herman Goering type. His relief is almost comical, almost.

We don’t have to wait long for the actual triggering of the catastrophe. It takes place in that Arctic setting. There’s some kind of mutual war games and an encounter between fighter planes and drones from both sides goes hot and becomes a furious air battle. Nuclear weapons are deployed first by the Nazi side, and the Casuals respond in kind. It all escalates from there.

There’s great panic in Tokyo, and the city is ordered evacuated. Dad feels like it’s pointless to run, though. The family gathers for a very sad last dinner in their Tokyo home. They prepare all of the food in the house and have it all on the table. The younger children are delighted to see all of their favorite foods present at the same time. “That’s it, children,” says dad. “Eat all you want.” Mom, dad and Seiko are somber. All of the ICBMs are soon in the air, and there it goes, air-burst, sayonara! Sure enough, the miniature capitals are all destroyed.

Akira Takarida is in the merchant marine, and he’s out at sea when all of this happens. His ship is a dramatic device to allow the unspoken hope that someone will be left to rebuild the world.

The voice over at the end is an excerpt from John Kennedy’s speech about the “nuclear sword of Damocles.”

These Days

In our world today we live with more abstract threats that are just as terrible but somehow more mundane. There’s global climate change, overpopulation, and the menace of the soft-fascism of unregulated capitalism, with the possibility of a nuclear side-show to add color to the doom. By now it appears that the world will end with a whimper, not with a bang. You can decide for yourself which one you would prefer. I preferred the bang, myself. 

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Bill Deal & The Rhondels "May I"

The Reggae echos in this song had probably re-crossed the Caribbean to add a little skank to Beach Music. (Provided here by the organ.)

Kansas City-Wilbert Harrison-1959

Come to think of it, this song does have a little scratch-beat from the piano, and a rolling beat overall.

(Re: the Reggae/Kansas City connection. See second previous post and above post.)

My Poor Teeth!

My Christmas basket of gifts from God at birth was a mixed blessing. It included some good things, some bad things, and many things that fell somewhere in the middle. It wasn’t a very bad deal, but it certainly wasn’t a full-house, or even three Jacks. More like two Jacks, maybe, or two aces and two eights. You don’t want to bet heavily on the Dead Man’s Hand.

My teeth, for instance, have always been a gift of dubious value.

The first problems arose when my adult teeth started to come in. What is that? Age six, or seven? There just wasn’t enough room for all of those full-sized teeth. I have what is called a “Celtic palate,” which is a poetic sounding description of a condition where the teeth are way too numerous and big for the available gum space. It seems that, evolutionarily speaking, our jaws are shrinking faster than our teeth, and this situation is most often observed in the Irish. My genetic background is predominantly Irish.

Both of my sons had the same condition, and both of them wore braces for many years. That’s the usual response these days. They received their treatment from a very talented pediatric orthodontist and they both had good outcomes. Back in the dim recesses of time, when I was a boy, parents and dentists resisted the idea of employing braces on young teeth. It was expensive and uncomfortable, and that particular dentist probably wouldn’t be getting the billing anyway, so why not just pull a few teeth to make room and see what happens? Our parents saved some money, and the dentist made some money. That’s what they did with me.

“What happened” in my case was that the teeth came in with a certain amount of twisting and overlapping, giving me the smile of a character actor. It also gave me a less than perfect bite. Can you place your upper and lower teeth together and press? I’ve never been able to do so. I’ve never been able to chew gum, either. Leverage, you know.

It also happened that all four of my wisdom teeth came in impacted, which is to say, below the gum line and invisible. Getting those pulled when the time came was a party. In fact, it was three parties! There was one for each of the tops and later on a big party for both of the bottoms. It was all quite an adventure. Everybody’s favorite thing! Adventures in oral surgery!

I would say that I have always been pretty good about tooth care and dental visits. I’ve always gone to the dentist regularly; I never waited until something hurt, anyway. It’s always been something, though. There have been an awful lot of cavities over the years, and they still come at a frightening rate. Many of the early fillings were large, and have required replacement as time wore on. There have been a few crowns. These have been good work, on balance, they seem to last very well. I am no stranger to dentistry though, and it’s never been an easy road.

I became a lawyer in my forties and there were several negative effects that the profession had on my health. The stress of it was a problem for me. One effect was tooth-grinding during the sleep period. It seems that grinding the enamel surfaces together causes the release of lactic acid in the mouth, which hurts the enamel and actually causes bone loss in the jaws. How amazing is that? It’s the kind of thing that goes on unnoticed for too long and is then only discovered after the damage is done. I was given a mouth-guard and the effect was halted, but not before I had lost a few molars to the grinding. Nothing that showed, being in the back, and nothing that required expensive replacements, but I know that they’re gone. I miss those teeth.

And now it appears that I will soon be missing several more.

The Current State of Affairs

For the past thirteen years I have been at the mercy of Thai dentistry, and my general opinion is that those mercies are tender. I have no pattern of complaints. Nothing is perfect anywhere, and my experiences with Asian dentistry have provided a bit of drama, but Thai dentists are well trained and qualified. They all speak English. Some speak it better than others, but all speak it well enough. The standard of care is high, and the standards for sterilization are as good as they are anywhere in the world. I’d recommend that my American friends consider getting big jobs done here. If you’d be out of pocket for a couple of crowns and a bridge in America, you could come over here, have a six week vacation, get the work done, and still save good money after the air-fare and the room-and-board. More people should try it.

I went to the Samitivej Hospital for my first five or six years in Thailand. I came over with the Peace Corps, and they send volunteers to Samitivej. After the Peace Corps, I stuck with them. They’re a bit pricey for Thailand, but still between twenty-five and forty percent of what you’d pay in America. The dentists that did the run-of-the-mill work had been trained at Thai universities, but the fellow who did my crown had done his DDS and post-graduate studies at NYU. He was an artist. (The dentist who did the root canal for that job had a DDS from the University of Virginia. That may have been the only root-canal in history that caused zero discomfort.) Samitivej was a considerable bit of traveling from my apartment, so I looked for a change.

I switched to the R. Hospital, which was a short walk from my apartment. It was also a bit cheaper than Samitivej. The dentist spoke terrific English, and her work seemed fine. It was, in fact, fine, as far as it went. I went to her for over five years. It was a lot of visits, many fillings, and many cleanings. As always, I tried to do what she said and return within six or eight months for checkups. Towards the end, something happened.

Sidebar: Here’s the deal in Thailand. There are a few hospitals that are certified by international medical boards. They are a cut above the rest, and you can trust them with your life. Samitivej is one of the top four; all of them are popular destinations for medical tourism. R. Hospital is a good place with high certifications. I decided to switch my business to them when I discovered that American insurance companies send their insured for heart procedures and joint replacements. American insurance companies are extremely risk-adverse. I figured that if they could trust R., I could trust them too.

But, something happened. I’ve always had “office hypertension,” aka “cuff-fever.” I blow higher BP numbers at the doctor’s office. This became especially true for dental visits. The numbers could be alarmingly high, whereas in normal doctor visits, or at home, the numbers were within the guidelines for “not an emergency.” I get check-ups every year or so as well, and it had never caused a doctor to even say the words, “BP medicine.” As the dentist office readings crept up, my dentist got strange.

On my last visit to R., I hit very high numbers. No one said anything about it, they just smiled as usual. The dentist filled a big cavity, and she did it without the customary shot of Lidocaine.  There was no explanation, even though it would have been well within her powers of English. It was a thirty minute ordeal and it left me shaking for another fifteen minutes. And then she just told me, “come back in six months,” without having done the customary cleaning. I thought that something must be wrong.

To make a long story . . . not short . . . but not so long, I finally figured out on my own that there are guidelines for BP that go along with that “international hospital” certification. If your BP is over a certain reading, no Lidocaine; over a higher number, no work at all. I really wish that someone had explained this to me. It took me an additional, painful procedure at X. Hospital to work it out for myself. After that, I went to a cardio at Samitivej, started on a combined angio blocker and calcium blocker, got my blood pressure down, and by now I’m getting the dental work done there.

I guess that’s the good news. The bad news is that I have huge bone loss problems and gums that are receding faster than coyotes disappearing over the hill when the plains are on fire. Samitivej took much better x-rays than the other two hospitals had, and the news was unambiguous and bad. I now have four teeth on death-watch. They are beyond saving by mere crowning, and probably beyond implants as well. The word “dentures” has appeared in our conversations.

As for news falling between good and bad, my crooked, annoying front teeth seem ready to stand strong and unattractive for another twenty years. Is that irony? I’ve never adequately understood irony.

All of this will be expensive, even in Thailand, and it will keep me on a schedule of frequent dentist visits for the immediate future. On the positive side, my teeth do not ache on a day-to-day basis, and the dentists are trustworthy. So the outcome should be good, and I should then have several years of reprieve from large dental bills. Also, my blood pressure is down to a very unthreatening range, 110s or 120s over 70s (twenty five points higher on top at dentist visits). As a side effect to the BP medication, I’ve had to cut my drinking way back, which can’t hurt my general health.

This is in the pattern of my life. The negative things that happen to me are usually only in the annoying range, and so far I have managed to avoid catastrophe.  The negative never overwhelms the positive; I have always been, and remain, a generally lucky man.

For that I am grateful. 

Two Faces Have I - Lou Christie- 1963

I've often read that Jamaican musicians got that skip-beat for Ska and Reggae from American pop music, and I believe it. It's often attributed to soul records from Kansas City in the late 1950s, early 1960s. Jamaican DJs would travel to KC and New Orleans looking for records that would make their shows stand out. It's a very plausible story.

I don't know how this cut would fit into that narrative, but it's certainly got a Reggae beat.

Monday, May 22, 2017

Richard Passion, Boatswain's Mate First Class

It has been said that anyone who has served in the military never forgets his first drill instructor. That’s the fellow who runs your company at boot camp, the one who wakes you up in the early morning darkness by banging something against a garbage can cover and then commands and insults you all day long in a booming voice. They are a special breed, and I’m sure that they are all memorable in their way. The giants among them certainly live on in clear memory among the men who received their guidance.

Mine was certainly a memorable character. I wrote a post seven years ago about boot camp in general, and Dick Passion featured prominently. He wasn’t very tall, nor was he particularly muscular, but he did have an athletic build. He was sturdy, at least, and his posture was straight and solid. More than being physically imposing, he just looked dangerous. He had brush-cut blond hair and a gleam in his eye when he snarled, and his face and forearms had been kissed by a lot of weather and been suitably roughed up.

He commanded our physical respect, I’ll say that. When we were starting to learn the “96 Count Physical Exercise Drill” he gave us a demonstration. After a few boys had complained about the difficulty of holding the M1 Garand at arms-length, he grabbed one and held it straight out in one hand. He lectured us for a while about what big babies we were, and finally issued a challenge. “If any of you pussies want to try, stand up right now and hold your rifle out straight with both hands. We’ll see who lowers the rifle first!” No one took him up on it.

That episode illustrates a critical point about boot camp: they never ask you to do things that you cannot do. The repeated doing of things that you would have thought impossible builds confidence.

Towards the end of boot camp the DI’s start to ease up a little. They become proud of their work in molding us into sailors (in my case) or soldiers or Marines. By week number eight we saw him smile occasionally. He remained demanding until the very last day, but we could see that he was pleased with the job that he had done with us.

All I know about Dick Passion is that he had a family. He lived with them off-base. I don’t know any of the details. I think that he had been raised in the South.

That was Company 360 at the United States Recruit Training Command, Great Lakes, in northern Illinois, from August 2nd to the middle of October, 1967. That’s fifty years ago any minute now. I remember that entire ten weeks very clearly, although the names of most of the boys now escape me. Regarding our drill instructor, however, I will remember the man, and his name, clearly and fondly until the day that I die. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Funniest Joke I Ever Heard Show 2 Victor Borge

This is one of a series of jokes that I have been sampling on the YouTube. I've heard some good ones. This is the first one that has brought tears to my eyes.

And what a great delivery! Borge was a genius. And he can play the piano with both hands like he really means it! That's not easy.

Lester Young - There Will Never Be Another You (1952)

Another nice cut from Pres.

Seu Jorge - Rock n' roll suicide

These Bowie covers by Seu Jorge were a highlight of The Life Aquatic for me. They really added to the slightly off-center, surreal tone of the movie.

Remember The Life Aquatic? Bill Murray movie? About twenty years ago? Highly entertaining, slightly bewildering, totally great movie.

Wednesday, May 17, 2017

Juke Boxes: A Strange Value Distortion

Juke boxes were very common in the early 1960s. They were in many soda shops, every diner, most bars, and all of the many bowling alleys. They were in all of the White Castles, and the donut places. We played them, too. It was very exciting to find a song that you really liked on a juke box, and it was lots of fun to play songs that you knew would make the straight people crazy (like Bob Dylan’s “Sad Eyed Lady of the Lowlands,” the B-side of “Rainy Day Women”). I don’t remember discussing the value-for-dollar with my friends.

Those juke boxes were ten cents for one play, three songs for a quarter. By now I realize that twenty-five cents was a lot of money at the time. The minimum wage was $1.25, which came to about a dollar after taxes. (That’s $50 per forty-hour week; $40.41 take-home with one dependent.) In other contexts a dollar seems to have gone much further.

For instance, twenty five cents would buy:

1.   Two good comic books (now $6);
2.   Most of a pack of cigarettes (then thirty cents, now between $7 and $12);
3.   Most of a gallon of gas (then ditto the cigarettes; now about $3);
4.   A piece of great pizza with a Coke on the side (now $4 or $5);
5.   1.8 Subway rides (fifteen cents each; now 1.8 rides would be about $5);
6.   One transit of a major bridge (now between $5 and $12).

We pay more or less cheerfully the inflated prices for these other things, but would we pay a similar increase for mere songs on a juke box? Without video, no less?

Maybe it was the coin-operated scene in general. When I was in first grade the candy store across the street from school had a Mighty Mouse viewing machine that cost a dime. The dime let you watch a very short cartoon of the Mouse of Steel kicking some cat’s ass. That’s pretty steep too, when you think about it.

Some research is in order. The previous price had been five cents for one song, and a dime for three songs. Now at that time you could get a good sandwich for fifteen cents, and a meat-loaf dinner for thirty-five cents. Those songs were pretty steep, too.

Maybe we were all just crazy about our tunes!

What are the outstanding value distortions right now? Maybe you could say books from Amazon. They charge you the same price for an actual copy of the book or the transmitted file. There’s real overhead for the book, but very little for the file. Once they have the hardware and the software, sending it to you is free, actually. I still buy e-books from Amazon. Song files on iTunes are another freebie for the vendor. Those I don’t buy.  

I’ve talked about a couple of those weird new value distortions on this blog. Ticket prices at baseball games and concerts have spun all the way out of orbit, losing all touch with reality owing to the extreme increase in the ability of the rich to compete for all of the good seats. Then there’s the exponential increase in the price of a university education, well beyond any budget based requirements, along with the disappearance of the old free university education for the children of working class parents at city or state institutions. Gone like the wind, that last one. For the private universities it’s all due to sheer greed; for the public universities it’s due to the Republican politics of lowering taxes to nothing and then pleading that “there’s no money!” The intent being to reduce all benefits and services associated with the old Social Contract. It’s a crime, or it should be.

Are there still juke-boxes? There are none where I live, anyway. Everyone in Thailand has a smart-phone that’s packed with songs and games. They carry extra battery packs so they never run out of juice. Me, I’m happy to wait until I get home. There’s plenty of good listening up on YouTube, and the price is right. 

Tuesday, May 16, 2017

Alma não tem cor - Karnak

Way back in 2000 or so, I discovered the OG Napster. I still think that it was the greatest thing to happen to music since the invention of the piano forte.

By the time that I caught up with it, Napster had everything and anything, in spades. Fourteen million users, and seven or eight million on line at any given time. One morning I got up for work as usual. While I was drinking my tea and reading the New York Times I came across an article about a Brazilian band called Karnak. It was one of those Talking Heads kind of moments, the writer was having trouble describing their music. I went upstairs to take a shower and get dressed and the first thing that I did was check Napster for Karnak. I downloaded six songs while I was in the shower and listened to them while I was getting dressed. Later that day, I got a direct message from another Napster user. It was a teenager in Brazil who thought it was great that I liked Karnak and wondered how I'd heard about them in the first place.

So yeah, Napster, and Karnak. Now it's all up on the YouTube anyway, I suppose. Good for us!

Lester Young - Stardust (1952)

It's always good to be reminded that such music exists.

Little Richard - The Girl Can't Help It

A very good cut by Little Richard, and a very funny movie staring Tom Ewell and Jane Mansfield (both 1956).

Most of the accompanying photographs are of Jane Mansfield as well, so for once the cheesecake is appropriate.

Monday, May 15, 2017

The Blind Spot In Politically Correct Culture

Political correctness is a relatively recent term that is “used to describe some language, policies, or measures that are intended to avoid offense or disadvantage to members of particular groups in society.” (From Wikipedia.) The proscription against giving offense has been getting stronger, and the list of “particular groups” has been getting longer. In my own life, I have tended to avoid giving offense to anyone from an early age. I did this without outside direction. This was partly because I have always thought that it was not nice, and partly because I didn’t want to get my ass kicked.

By now, Stephen Colbert saying that (redacted’s) mouth isn’t good for anything other than as Vladimir Putin’s “cock holster” gets a furious reaction. This even though (redacted) is himself so rude and offensive that no one should consider his feelings at all. The reactions came not only from the gay community, but also from conservatives in general and on anti-crudeness or blasphemy grounds from the overly sensitive. So we can be sure that Political Correctness can be expressed not only on protective grounds, but it may also mask an aggressive desire to condemn political opponents. Admirable flexibility, that.

But, P.C. We must be alert not to offend homosexuals (“faggots,” “. . . his butt plug came lose at this point”) lesbians (“dykes”), the handicapped (“retards,” people who “stu . . .stu . . . stutter,” “oh! I don’t know what I said!” [Donald Trump, mimicking cerebral palsy]), minorities (“beaners,” “rag-heads,” “sand-eaters”), Jews (“good with money”), and others. The list now includes fragile students at our universities who must be protected from “trigger words.” That just seems to me to be a doomed attempt to protect them from the true nature of the wider world, which is volatile and senselessly cruel.

I don’t mind this effort to be solicitous of the feelings of others, but I do wish that the program was more careful not to exclude groups from the protected circle who obviously qualify for our consideration.

Senior Citizens

At least one group is still fair game: the elderly.

(Disclaimer: If I am not elderly already, I will make the cut within six to eight weeks. These days, I don’t feel a day under 100.)

Here Donald Trump is a victim as well as a bully. He has dementia! (Never mind that he’s always been this way.) He can’t get it up! (Viagra jokes in general are offensive to older Americans.)

Jimmy Kimmel chose last week to follow his triumphant speech about his son’s difficult birth with a sketch called “the Cane Cane.” That would be a device that would prevent a dropped cane from falling to the floor. The bit featured Kimmel and others made up to look like old folks dropping their canes on the floor, and then having huge difficulties picking them up again. One faux old lady fell down on her face! Hilarious! (Not.)

The whole thing made my knees hurt just thinking about it. Believe me, picking a dime up off of the floor becomes a challenge at some point. There’s not a single thing funny about it, not after you reach that point, anyway.

These slurs and digs against the elderly are thrown around willy-nilly. Older Americans are routinely spoken of as though they were useless-eaters. There are casual suggestions that the elderly are hogging all of the assets, you know, the things that they worked so hard to acquire when they were strong in an effort to avoid destitution in their old age.  They are presented as a drag on the social-safety-net, as though there were still such a thing! Same goes for the medical system, the elderly cost us a fortune with their damned maladies! There’s anger and viciousness in these in this treatment of our senior-citizens, and it doesn’t make much sense.

Bear in mind that the elderly are just like those other protected groups. Like them, the elderly are our own beloved family members, friends and neighbors. They are our fellow citizens. They raised subsequent generations, worked and paid taxes, fought in wars, and created art and music. Is no one disposed to be grateful?

More importantly, they are us. They are me, soon, and they are you, in the near or distant future. That’s if you are lucky. “As you are, so I once was; as I am, so you will be,” said the statue of a skeleton in the graveyard.

Fate Has Your Number

People under forty-years-old are the worst offenders. They, most of them, have not yet achieved the basic understanding that old age will someday overtake them. Perhaps they are just ignoring the possibility, or perhaps they think that diet and exercise will prevent the worst of it. Either way, many of them feel a misplaced sense of immunity to the problem.

But no one is immune, and no regimen of diet and exercise can protect you. We are, for better or worse, machines. And just like the best maintained car, if our machinery is run at full power, all day, every day, it will someday wear all the way out and die on the road. It’s no different for us. Systems from skin, to heart, to eyes, wear out over time. Our very skeletons wear out! Knees and hips only have so many shocks that they can take. Shoulders, elbows, fingers, all of that friction adds up. Even if you take superb care of your teeth and drink your milk there will be bone loss in your jaws and your teeth will suffer. No vitamins or supplements can prevent some degree of osteoarthritis, eventually. There’s a reason that the doctors call these things, “normal degenerative changes.”

One day a key system fails, or a terrible disease overtakes us, and the writing on the wall bursts into flames, “it’s (almost) over, Johnny!” And that’s only if you didn’t get hit by a bus in the meantime. No one is guaranteed the “Golden Years” of retirement.

Sometimes I wonder if these whippersnappers are just whistling past the graveyard to calm their fears about getting old. Then I remember, no, they just don’t know shit about life.

Someday they’ll figure it out, just like those of us on the ebb-tide of life have done. They’ll undergo the same process of education that we did. I sincerely hope for their sake that following generations are gentler with them than they are being with us.

A Generous Offer

So can we just put the “elderly” on the protected list? Can we cool it with the jokes about Depends and Viagra? Jokes about canes and memory loss?
Geezers have feelings, too.

In return for you all laying off the wise cracks, we older Americans would be glad to stop asking you troublesome questions like:

“Who was president in the 1980s?”

“Who did we fight in World War II?”

“Who won the Civil War?”

“Which country gave America the Statue of Liberty?”

And, the really tricky one,

“Who is buried in Grant’s Tomb?” 

Tuesday, May 9, 2017


Speaking of 1965 . . .

BTW, I graduated from high school in 1965.

ALPHAVILLE de Jean-Luc Godard - Official trailer - 1965

Alphaville was released in 1965, just like Hail! Mafia. See it if you can find it, it's great. Eddie Constantine is probably wearing the same trench-coat! Or double-duty top-coat, or whatever it is. There's nothing "B" about Alphaville. This movie is high-tone entertainment.

Thanks again to my friend David A. Ehrenstein for taking me to these French New Wave movies when they were new, and patiently explaining to me why they were so important.

Monday, May 8, 2017

Eddie Constantine ♫ Je suis un sentimental ♫

I knew Eddie Constantine from his portrayal of Lemmy Caution in a couple of mediocre French detective B-movies and most notably in "Alphaville," which is excellent. Silly me, I've always thought of him as a French actor.

BUT, in reality, he was an American singer who made quite a career for himself in France, including a side career as an actor in French movies. The French thought that his American accent (in French) was cute! These things are like onions, many layers to be pealed back.

If you'd like to see one of Eddie's gangster B movies, "Hail! Mafia" (1965) might be fun for you to watch. It's a French-Italian production where the action takes place mostly in France and the dialog is all in English. It's on YouTube.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Friday, May 5, 2017

Fleetwood Mac w. Peter Green - Homework - 1968/12/31 - Paris

The original name of the band was "Peter Green's Fleetwood Mac." The core of the band was, indeed, Peter Green, Mick Fleetwood (drums) and John MacVie (bass).

Great band. And Peter Green really does answer a certain question that I am much too culturally aware to mention here. The answer is "yes," or at least, "well, some of the crazy ones can, anyway."

James Brown Live in Paris 1971 (Original video remastered)

This is from that same tour as the recently posted (by me, here) video from Italian TV. Bootsy Collins, Jesu Christus Corpus Dei, was really throwing down at this point in his musical journey. Here he is again,  holding it down, not straying from the path of ultimate bass. Really great band, this one.

Tuesday, May 2, 2017

Jimmy Kimmel Monologue 5/1/17 : "His Son’s Birth & Heart Disease"

(Some heartless bastards took this video down, but of course you can still see it if you Google, "jimmy kimmel monologue 5/1/17.")

We've all heard stories about parents whom fate has jammed up with complications of childbirth. I know that I sure have. Like a friend of mine who had to divorce his wife as part of a plan that would put her on welfare and make the child a ward of the state for medical purposes, you know, so the child could receive the necessary care for the necessary twenty-odd years until it died a natural death anyway. Like a friend of mine who was married to a Canadian woman and living in New York City who had to move the family up to Canada so that a severely handicapped child would receive more than minimal care. Parents of limited resources are up against a huge burden when a child is born with overwhelming medical needs in America. It shouldn't happen, but it does.

Jimmy Kimmel, whose comedy work I appreciate, and his wife came up against such a Fate's-Mighty-Curve-Ball last week. Luckily, they were in a wonderful hospital when it happened, and luckily they have very substantial ability-to-pay so everyone on the medical team flew into high gear immediately. The baby was transferred to Children's Hospital and saved by a team of medical miracle workers. God knows that I wish Jimmy and his family the best of continuing luck and happiness, but I want to take a minute to thank him for realizing: not all parents in their situation are so lucky.

Jimmy, to his immortal credit, took considerable time on his show to empathize with parents of low economic means when the worst happens. The audience was strongly supportive of the proposition that any family, or any baby, in that situation should receive all of the help that the medical profession can provide. Jimmy seemed to feel, like I do, that it's a huge blot on the reputation of our country, and an embarrassment before the world, that they do not receive that care . . . that those babies die unnecessarily.

I still hear many vague rumblings about how Single-Payer medical coverage will be available to all Americans at some point. Like "sooner-or-later" or something. I'm pretty sure that it will be "later," myself. Because, let's face it, no one in America cares. Certainly not our so-called representatives in Washington, or in more than a very few state capitals. It's either a question of "there's no money," or "America is too large for such a program," or "people need to be self-reliant." All of those responses are total bullshit, and many of us know it. The problem is really 1) the billion dollar pharmaceuticals industry; 2) the billion dollar medical insurance industry; and 3) the billion dollar medical industry. (Actually, those are multi-billion dollar industries and they are not the only ones in the problem-chain.) It's profit over your health, and your government consistently sides with the profiteers.

Thanks again, Jimmy, for saying something meaningful about this issue out loud on your show. And good luck, everybody. May the worst never happen to you. And may God have mercy on the unlucky.

Monday, May 1, 2017

Lightnin' Slim - It's Mighty Crazy - 1954

I'm with Slim on this one. That thing is crazy.

The One, The Only, Bob Hamm

This is my friend, Bob Hamm. That would be the late Bob Hamm; it's been some time since he abandoned the earth for greener pastures. I, and the earth, miss him quite a bit. 

If you wished to discuss 20th Century sorcerers lore, horror fiction, the War Between the Russians and the Germans, Aztec Gods, or the relative merits of imported beers, Bob was your go-to guy. He was dogmatic yet considerate; sophisticated yet innocent; strange yet never pathological. 

Bob was an extremist. He loved smoking, drinking and coffee. Of the smokes, he always had on hand Sherman's English Ovals, Galois, Kools and several bags of loose tobacco for hand-rolling. When he drank, he drank for several days, after which he was too sick to drink for a day or two, after which he would drink for several days. For coffee, never instant, he preferred Bustello (a Caribbean brand popular with Puerto Ricans), or various other very strong grinds. He kept several kinds of sugar around the house, because he felt like different coffees called out for different sugars. His favorite was a brand of sugar cubes imported from Jamaica, which consisted of the same sugar that was used in the production of premium Jamaican rum, which he also liked. Bob was a lively companion.

He was the only person that I ever knew who gave up coffee, cigarettes and drinking all at once. Of the coffee, he said that he'd had headaches for a couple of days but that was it. Of the drinking, he just noticed that he had more time on his hands, and got more reading done. The cigarettes he missed every day, a lot. I believe that the only vice that he returned to was the coffee, but without the mania. 

Bob had a way about him. He kept you guessing what might be around the corner. Here's a good story: one night in 1973 I was driving a Checker taxi around Manhattan. I was stopped at a light going south on Park Avenue, in the mid-50s. (Streets.) I hadn't seen Bob for a year or two at that time. A couple crossed the street right in front of me. The woman was tall and exotically black, a model or something; the man was bald and about Bob's height. He was walking with Bob's characteristic gait and smoking a cigarette, wearing a fur coat that went down to his knees. (It was winter.) I honestly wondered for a minute if it could be Bob. That's when I realized that nothing that he could do would surprise me. 

This picture was posted to me in a Facebook message from Bob's daughter. It was nice of her to think of me while she was scanning photos for her mom. I am of the firm opinion that there is no afterlife, but if there were such a thing, it would be nice to see Bob, and some others, again. And maybe it's set up so that you can avoid the people that you don't want to see ever again under any circumstances. It's idle speculation, I know, but we'll all find out soon enough. 

Lake Street Dive - "You Go Down Smooth" (Live at WFUV)

A friend of mine from the old days included this video in a comment on Facebook on a post about our favorite concerts. I think that his point was that there are still some great bands out there doing great shows.

He was very generous in his praise of Lake Street Dive, and I think he hit the nail right on the head. This is a great band.

So . . . Facebook is good for something, sometimes. (And thanks, Bill L.)