Friday, August 31, 2018

All Or Nothing

In a situation where I have nothing to do, I am content.

In a situation where I must do everything, I shine. It is a clear cut problem. You must identify everything that needs to be done, prioritize it all, and get started. When it's all done, you're done.

In all of the in-between situations, I get lost and probably do less than my fair share.

Thursday, August 30, 2018

I Almost Love Facebook

These days, “I love Facebook” sounds almost like, “I love Big Brother.” I'm close, though. I use Facebook, and I think that, on balance, the experience is positive.

I try to limit my time these days, the time every day that I spend just poking around on Facebook. The volume of new items appearing in one's feed cannot be challenged directly, and it would be difficult for a casual user to prioritize it. The only way to control the input is to keep the number of “Friends” down to a reasonable figure, like one hundred, but that's a hard resolution to keep.

There are entire categories of people for whom I will automatically accept a Friend request. Staff at my university, both office and teaching; people whom I have worked with over the decades, especially people from a job that I liked and where we all actually hung out together; people from the neighborhood in New York where I grew up. Or actual friends of mine, that goes without saying. It all gets out of hand quickly. I think I'm up to almost four hundred by now.

Politics almost ruins the entire experience, but most of us seem to have realized that it's important to take every opportunity to keep your mouth shut. When your friend from the old days posts something along the lines of, “God bless President Trump!”, just let it go. Don't say anything. Don't even leave any emoji. Just make the sign of the cross and mumble to yourself, “Via con Dios.” There's nothing that you can do to change anyone's mind at this point. And when the Second Civil War breaks out in fire and flame, you don't want your name appearing on the wrong lists. People are watching. Facebook itself will be providing the death lists, for a profit.

People are so sensitive to political issues in the Age of Trump that one must take care not to get into a muss with one's own friends and political allies. I happen to think that Kellyanne Conway does a very impressive job of appearing on TV and defending Trump, trying to spin the awful things that he says in some positive direction, trying to find some dignity in his daily mud-slinging rock-fight of a presidency, trying to obscure the damage from stupid things that he has said and done in the last few days. It's an almost impossible job, and yet she manages to make a very good show of it. Oh, but God forbid I should mention on Facebook that I note with displeasure how good she is at her job! It all gets personal quickly, and some people transfer their hatred for Kellyanne to me. People that I don't even know are calling me names. People that I know, friends that I love, friends that I still sometimes see in person, even they judge me harshly, as though I were defending Hitler or something. People are touchy; people are on-edge. I don't blame them; I am on-edge myself. I guess that I need to be more careful.

I love getting the birthday notifications, though. Isn't that great? I say “Happy Birthday!” to everybody, and if I really know them at all I say some little thing, and if I know them well I always try to say something really nice. I love it when people do that on my birthday, and I'm pretty sure that other people like it too.

Facebook is the only thing that is providing some of my Facebook Friends with any sense of community at all these days. They lead isolated lives in states where they have no long-established connection. We're getting older, some of us, and forging new bonds of friendship might be more difficult than it once was. Some of us walk a financial tightrope every month to keep body and soul together. America does not make that easy, and even the best laid plans of youth can fail to protect Americans from financial ruin when it is too late to really do anything about it. (Although I'm sure that there are seventy-year-olds now studying coding in a desperate attempt to get a real income.) I like to offer encouragement where I can, and at least remind some old friends that I still remember them fondly and value their friendship. I have Facebook Friends that are up against it, frankly, and a few of them are very depressed about it, or maybe depressed in general. I know what that feels like, and I try to put in my cheerful two-cents whenever I can in the desperate belief that every little bit might count. If someone sees the darkness in me and says something encouraging in a message, I cry for happiness, it's true, and sometimes it's enough to turn a day around.

Facebook can be annoying, and using Facebook hurts your privacy interests, but maybe there is some good in it. The price is right! At least they don't charge us for the privilege of mining our personal data and predilections.

I guess I'll be seeing you there, at least for the foreseeable future.

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Baby Washington - Only Those In Love

Certain singers get all of the play, while others are neglected. The process by which this occurs is totally unfair. 

Certain female singers were associated with men who were themselves dynamic forces in the music business. Bandleaders with important careers as record producers and A&R men, business savvy guys who could keep a great band together, meet the payroll, and deliver hit after hit, year after year, for multiple acts. Those women had an advantage, and we remember all of their names. I'm not mentioning any names right now. 

Baby Washington did not have that advantage, and that is unfortunate for the world. She's one of the greats. She's still alive, seventy-seven years old as I write this. Jeanette, aka Baby, aka Justine, I love you, and I wish you the best of good luck. 

Wishing For A River

This is a lovely song from the Blue album. I am not in a situation that is analogous to that spoken of by the singer, but I find the narrative to be very compelling and heartfelt. It's a great piece of storytelling, regardless of whether it was cut from whole cloth or taken from direct experience. I listen to it frequently, and cry half of the time.

When Joni sings of the wished-for river, I wonder if she means a river that would lead her to the next adventure or the big river that takes us all away in the end. She went from adventure to adventure there for quite a while, didn't she? Different lovers, different countries, different musical associations. All of that requires a certain temperament, and a certain amount of money. That kind of freedom is not cheap. The river to adventure is denied to many of us. The other river is the one thing that we cannot avoid. (Unless, like Salvador Dali, you count “being modern.”)

I wonder, but in my heart I'm hearing it as the river to peace, to the absence of memory, to the end of suffering. The river to that great gift, the gift which is denied to no one. The silver lining to the cloud that we spend our lives in. That river.

We can wait for it, or, if things press in on us with great enough urgency, we can lace up our skates today and set off. I like to think that I can wait for it, and I try to fight a tendency to long for it.

Oh, I wish I had a river, I could skate away on ...”

Best to listen as though it were a simple song about a lost love. Don't read too much into these things. But that's what makes great art. Everyone who looks at a great painting sees it a bit differently than others; everyone who reads a great poem understands a different lesson; everyone who listens to a great song hears a personal message. That is what elevates art to greatness.

Joni Mitchell is a gift from God, and I try to be grateful.

Round, Round, Get Around, I've Been Around

I’ve been to three circuses, two World’s Fairs, and a rodeo. I’ve lived through thirteen presidents and seven popes. I’ve traveled to thirty-seven of the United States, two provinces of Canada, five countries in Europe and five more in Asia, not counting stop-overs in airports. Hell, I’ve lived in Asia for fourteen years now. I’ve seen the Grand Canyon (north rim!), Niagara Falls (New York side), and several kinds of genuinely giant trees. I’ve seen restaurants that had signs outside saying, “open; gator; coon.” I have seen performances by Jimi Hendrix, Cream, and Jeff Beck in clubs as small as your basement. I’ve seen hundreds and hundreds of Japanese movies, and most of the films of Ingmar Bergman, the French New Wave, and the Italian Neo-Realists. I speak three languages (I’m only fluent in one, but I get along okay in the other two). I lived through 1968! I’ve seen a lot.  

Nothing that I have seen or done, however, has prepared me for this tournament of chaos that is masquerading as our government this year.

I’ve experienced a lot, too. I’ve had the flesh-eating bacteria. It was some kind of super-staph infection secondary to a bad flu that I tried to work through, failing miserably. That was a party. I’ve still got the scars! You know that you’re in trouble when you take your shirt off for the doctor, and his eyes go wide, his jaw drops, and he says, “wow” with three exclamation points, like a cartoon character.

Scars, hell, I’ve also had hidradenitis sepurtiva. That’s some horrible stuff. Ugly and smelly. Antibiotic-resistant, I finally had to wait it out with daily squeezing, and swabbing. It was fresh bandages and a very painful cleaning every day for about six weeks. (Thank you to my great amateur nurse, a real angel with the courage of a Marine. She knows who she is.) A couple of those things left scars that look like healed over bullet wounds.

You want scars? I had a burst appendix in my late thirties. Got the whole laparotomy, with the pillar-to-post scar included at no extra charge.

Stress? I’ve had the entire catalog of stress manifestations all of my life (the hidradenitis was the worst of those). Depression? Check.  Anxiety? Check. Headaches; spastic colon; “nervous stomach”; nightmares; sciatica; sleep-walking; shingles; panic attacks; check. You think that you’ve had nightmares? My nightmares could eat your nightmares for lunch.

Yet all of that hard-won experience came in a domestic political setting that seems like Disneyland compared to this new shit. The Sixties and Seventies, God knows, were super-fucked-up, but at least there was a semi-functioning government, and at least some of the officials in that government acted like adults. Now it’s all some kind of lunatic flea-circus run by the fucking fleas.

The Age of Trump has been hard on me. Two times in the last couple of years I have experienced events that almost certainly were cerebral vascular episodes. Strokes, you’d call them. It started both times with tiling in a small area at seven o’clock (direction!) in my field of vision, about half way between the center and the edge. Tiling, like a malfunctioning DVD, little squares (tiles; pixels) of color instead of the program material. The area would grow until it was obscuring almost twenty percent of my vision. I’m not a doctor, but the investigator in me figures it was happening in the brain, not in the eye. First of all, it was bilateral, meaning that when I closed one eye at a time, the effect persisted. It was in both eyes simultaneously. Not only that, but even if I closed both eyes the zone of no information remained. Why didn’t you go to the hospital, Mr. Fred? Oh, congratulations to anyone who would ask that question, because it means that you have better access to health care than I do. I don’t look for ways to spend money at the drop of a hat. I’ve got a few dollars, but not enough to throw away on false-alarms. I figured that if it started to hurt, or if I lost my vision completely, I’d go to the hospital. In the event, both times, it cleared up within a couple of hours and never caused any discomfort whatsoever. Think of the savings! 

I know that I have had one heart attack, but that’s a long story. I sat that one out, too. The issue has been addressed by now. Thank Sweet Baby Jesus in the Manger, high quality doctors and hospitals are very affordable in Thailand, and I am fine, thank you.

There have always been several things that I desperately hoped never to see in my life, and in this, at least, I have been lucky. I would hate to be around when unambiguous evidence proves the existence of off-world intelligent life. Just the communications from another race of beings on another world would disturb every aspect of life on earth, especially if there were visuals and additional proofs of authenticity. If aliens actually land on the White House lawn, forget it, the entire world will simultaneously go insane. We’ve dodged that bullet so far. Another real game-changer would be a fool-proof lie detector. What do you mean, you wouldn’t agree to report to a police station every six months for examination? What do you have to hide? Anyone who avoided them would become a suspect. It does not appear that one of those is coming any time soon either. Please, celebrate with me!

There are other things that I never expected to happen in my lifetime, and there we are much less fortunate.

I expected the Soviet Union to endure. I was comfortable with that prospect. As annoying as the Soviets could be, at least they were predictable. They were thinking in terms of the last war, World War II, and the main idea in their minds was never doing that again. The “nuclear peace” of Mutually Assured Destruction was a powerful force for stability in the world. Now we are faced with an autocratic Russia run by unpredictable gangsters. This new crowd of murderous oligarchs is no longer worried about that old war long ago. They are much more willing to push any perceived advantage, and much less concerned about possibly starting the next war. They still have much of the military potential of the Soviets, some of it anyway, and they still have the nuclear missiles, etc. I’m not happy about that.

I also expected civilization to continue to make progress on social issues. I suppose that reasonable people may differ on this issue, but the results are, at best, mixed. Huge areas of the world have gone dark; many countries are now officially “failed states.” Many liberal democracies are on life-support, and others have given in to single-party authoritarianism already. I’m not happy about this part either.

The worst part is that poor, naïve little me expected the United States to remain a semi-chaotic two-party representational democracy in which the two parties could continue to fight tooth-and-nail while also continuing to actually talk together and cooperate, even compromise, when it was good for the country. That ship has sailed. Call it “the American experiment,” some kind of push-and-shove government favoring the rich but finding benefit in improving the lives of ordinary citizens. Yeah, that’s all over now. I didn’t expect that. We’re going to miss it. I am downright unhappy about this development.

Please excuse me, but I’m rather busy these days. I need to line up potential new income streams to replace my Social Security for when they figure out how to steal that from us. I need to brainstorm investments that will better survive the crash of the dollar, which often seems imminent. You don’t want to have too much money in the bank when that happens! I need to make escape plans in the event that I need to leave my current briar-patch of choice. You shouldn’t put too much trust in any good thing lasting these days. There are a number of stable, peaceful, affordable countries, where the weather and the medical care are good, and that are decent about letting in people who can pay their own way. Preferably a country where they speak some English, I’m getting a bit long in the tooth for tackling another new language. Maybe not too much English! Maybe the old man can make a few of the local monetary units teaching them English!

Oh, Fred, you’re such a pessimist! But you will admit it if you are honest. Standing there fifty years ago, in the wreckage of 1968 and looking ahead to the year 2018, it was not the optimists who were seeing things clearly. Very little good has happened, and so much that it terrible. I think that the pessimists won that forecasting contest.  

Tuesday, August 28, 2018

Mariya Takeuchi 竹内 まりや Plastic Love

1984, it all seems so long ago. I had never heard this song, and I had never even heard of Ms. Takeuchi. Seventeen million hits! I must live in a bubble! 

But wait, I do live in a bubble. Sometimes it works, and sometimes I am denied. That's life, I suppose. 

Very nice job, and interesting to see the lead up to Pizzicato Five later on. Music is a collaborative art that takes place over time, among people who have never met. 

Sunday, August 26, 2018

Friday, August 24, 2018

Little Willie John - Spasms - King 5108

I woke up thinking about this song this morning. Must have come to me in a dream. Sleep is a mysterious thing, is it not? 

I Take What I Want - Cliff Bennett & The Rebel Rousers (Live 67)

Note to self: 

Put a great go-go dancer in the band, full share. 

Thursday, August 23, 2018

My Favorite Bike

This is a picture of a Yamaha Seca 650, but it is not a picture of MY Yamaha Seca 650. I didn't get any family photos in the divorce. Mine was identical to this one, though. It was a great bike. 

I bought mine in 1982 for only about $2,800, new, from Ted Evans Triumph/Yamaha on Washington Boulevard in L.A., near Lincoln Boulevard. Famous place. You can see it in the background in the Hollywood movie version of "The Asphalt Jungle," (1950) with Sterling Hayden and Sam Jaffe. They were a famous Triumph dealership back when you could sell such things. They still had a couple of Bonnevilles around in 1982, but people had learned their lessons about English bikes by then. This Seca was a much better bike in every way, and mine ran great for many, many years. 

This thing was comfortable and fast, and it handled great. All right out of the box, no modifications required. Flat bars and slightly rear-set foot pegs, nice low riding position, but not too low. Shaft drive, so you didn't need to be fooling with the chain all the time. Same  colors as a Southern California Edison truck, but they look okay. It had a big gas tank, and a headlight that wouldn't have looked small on a locomotive. My only complaint was that it had a dead spot at fifty-five mph in top gear. You only noticed it if you tried to cruise the bike at fifty-five. The throttle went flat. That was the "national speed limit" at the time. No problem, just exceed the speed limit. 

Once every week for years I took it up to Malibu and spent a couple of hours going way too fast in the coastal mountains. I was always careful, though. Before I made a high speed run along a piece of road, I'd go back and forth nice and regular, looking at the road surface, and the points of ingress from smaller roads, and for blind turns. You don't want to discover patches of gravel or oil by surprise. Once I had the thing scoped I'd let out the leash and really take my life in my hands. "Hanging off and scraping," we called it. You take the turn so fast you have to hang your ass way off the inside of the turn and hunch down to keep the bike a bit upright. The effect was to keep more rubber on the road. By then the center-stand is scraping along the road, throwing sparks. I had a couple of close calls, but the Seca really did handle beautifully. No surprises, great balance. Those were the days. 

I did some commuting on the bike, and it was docile in traffic. I also took a few road trips up to the San Francisco Bay area, and it was no challenge to let the bike carry you along for four hundred miles. Mine always had a tank-bag on it, and that was it for luggage. I had friends that I liked to visit in Berkeley and the South Bay, and I'd take day trips while I was up there. I had this bike over all of the major bay bridges multiple times, and took a long ride through the redwoods once. I rode it all around San Fran, including down Lombard Street. Top drawer general-purpose bike in my opinion. 

I wouldn't trust my balance or my reflexes by now, but I enjoy those memories. 

A Last Chance For Our Democratic Institutions

We have reached the point where something appears to be happening in the Washington Witch Hunt. My Facebook feed is abuzz with misplaced triumphalism. Now Trump will be impeached for sure! None of his appointments should be considered at all until this is settled! This is all a bit premature.

The United States depends for its existence not on its Founding Fathers or its Armed Forces. It lives or dies on the strength of its democratic institutions. The sad truth is that we've been neglecting our democratic institutions for some time now, and we have, in fact, allowed most of them to be weakened or simply taken over by political factions that no longer feel that democracy is the way to go. They'd prefer something darker and more authoritarian. The real debate now is not liberal democracy or authoritarianism. The current argument is more about the degree to which our new authoritarian America should be a theocracy or simply a secular dictatorship.

Let's look at a couple of examples to see how our democratic institutions are losing their ability to protect us:

Trial Court

First: Our trial courts. This is where the real action is. Facts and law, baby! What really happened? Guilty, or not guilty? (Note that no one is ever innocent in trial court. Only little babies are innocent.)

Our trial court system was designed from the beginning to follow the English model, applying Common Law traditions with a history much longer than the existence of the U.S.A. Judges in Common Law courts were given more leeway with the law and procedure than their Civil Code counterparts. This was because the judge is actually the man in charge, IN THE ROOM. He looks everyone in the eye, hears and sees all of the evidence, and is witness to all of the argument in the case. The judge is in the best position to find the good guy, and the judges were given some discretion to allow justice to result when a mechanical application of the law might lead to injustice. (See, “Equity.”) This tendency in the Common Law was strengthened by our Constitution, if anything.

Trial court judges make dozens of little legal decisions during the course of the trial. These days most cases by far do not reach the trial phase of the process, but it is still true that the judge assigned to the case will make dozens of legal decisions over the life of the case. At the very least, there will be some law and motion involved, with the judge deciding every motion. There may be rulings on evidence. If a criminal case is plead out, the judge must approve the plea agreement. The judge will decide on the punishment to be meted out after a guilty plea. There was a time when judges had a lot of discretion as to how to proceed.

That is no longer true. Our gung-ho, anti-crime legislators have saddled judges with a thousand constraints. These include, inter alia, mandatory sentencing rules, sentencing guidelines, strict-liability criminal offenses, and anti-recidivist laws (“Third Strike Laws.”) Where a judge might have preferred a sentence of probation, that defendant might pull a two-to-five because the judge's hands were tied.

How about the issuance of warrants? Warrants for arrest, or search, or seizure. Pursuant to our Constitution, those are to be issued on a demonstration of “probable cause.” This has gotten a whole lot easier in the last thirty-five years.

Probable cause is facts and circumstances, which, in themselves, would convince a reasonable person that: 1) a crime had been committed; and 2) a certain individual was guilty of that crime.” Did I get that right? It's twenty-five years since I took the California bar exam, and I have never practiced before the criminal courts.

These facts and circumstances are set forth in a sworn application by some combination of district attorneys and police. You may recall them from your television viewing. There were great probable cause scenes on “The Wire.” “This application is very thin, Bob,” says the judge, with a drink in his hand. “Try again when you find some evidence.” That sounds quaint by this time. I saw a defense attorney on cable news a few years ago who was asked, “what is probable cause these days?” His reply was, “whatever the District Attorney wants it to be.”

That, my dears, was one of our democratic institutions in the process of dying.

I've been talking about trial courts, but the courts of appeal must be included in this complaint. Judges can be taken up on writs; cases where the judge exceeded his discretion can be appealed. Here too, it is judges who decide the matter. If the appeals judges say that the action taken was fine, it was fine. That level of our judiciary has been similarly degraded, along with many of our precious Constitutional rights. Which leads us to:

The Constitution and our Supreme Court

Second: The Constitution and our Supreme Court. It is a little appreciated fact that our Constitution is written in language that is remarkably economical. Very important aspects of our rights and freedoms, our very relationship with our government, are disposed of in a very few words. Take Due Process, for instance:

[N]or be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law . . .”

That's part of the Fifth Amendment, and the identical language appears again in the Fourteenth Amendment. No further clarification is offered. What is due process? How do we know if the government's planned action against an individual citizen follows the due process guidelines? For that we must look to the Supreme Court and read their cases.

All questions of the meaning of the words in the Constitution are left to the Supreme Court. The court has the constitutional power to declare any court wrong on any issue, to declare any law passed by any legislature unconstitutional, and to decide the meaning of the words in the Constitution in every situation. This power derives from the 1803 Supreme Court case, Marbury v. Madison.

This is a scary huge power, but it tends not to frighten us, because it has nearly always been wielded by men of sound legal judgment, admirable judicial temperament, and good will. That it has been so in the past does not mean that it will always be so in the future. There are already a few clunkers on there, with another one on the way as we speak.

Within the power of the Supreme Court to interpret the meaning of the words in the Constitution is the power to change their minds if and when the issue appears before them again. Consider our Constitutional right to counsel (a lawyer) at trial:

[T]he accused shall enjoy the right . . . to have the Assistance of Counsel for his defense.”

This also appears in the Fifth Amendment. It has always been taken to mean that lawyers would be appointed and supplied by the government to criminal defendants who could not afford one on their own. Over the years, however, there has been a long-running dialog over just when that lawyer should be assigned to the case.

To keep this section manageable, let's just say that the first time this issue reached the Supreme Court, they were comfortable in saying that counsel should be appointed for the trial, because that would be where his defense would be presented. Later on, the issue again reached the Court, and they were persuaded that appointed counsel needed time to prepare for the trial. They issued a new ruling which overruled their previous ruling and henceforth provided appointment when it provided the lawyer a bit of time to investigate the matter and prepare his defense. In Miranda v. Arizona (1966), the issue was revisited, and the Supreme Court again changed their minds. Previous Supreme Court cases were overruled, and the new system would provide the accused with a lawyer before the police were permitted to even ask her questions about the case.

This phenomenon, dear reader, is why it is so important that the Supreme Court must not be used as a political football and stacked with political hacks who will decide cases based on the prevailing political winds in Washington D.C., or upon their own prejudices, with traditions and case precedent ignored.

Such a clown-car full of hacks could, for instance, look for a “right to counsel” case for the direct purpose of delaying the appointment of a lawyer until the accused was arraigned for a crime. We are dangerously close to having a Court that would cheerfully do such things for political reasons.

Why,” they may feel, “should the state appoint a lawyer even before the individual is charged with a crime?” They could do that, and the new Supreme Court ruling would replace all of the rest. It would become law, Constitutional law. And the police could resume their previous practice of beating and coercing confessions out of people under arrest just to make the whole thing easier for law enforcement, which was exactly the kind of police behavior that was on full display in the Miranda case, and which was exactly the behavior that the 1966 Supreme Court sought to eliminate.

Throughout this journey through time, the words in the Constitution had never been, and would never be changed. They would remain the same through every interpretation of the meaning of the words. And their meaning would always be what the Supreme Court said it was, whatever that happened to be at the time.

Just to be clear: do you want police to be beating a confession out of your son? Why no, you don't, regardless of whether he actual did the thing or not. So this degradation of our Supreme Court is important to you. The Supreme Court is one of our democratic institutions that has been allowed to lose its focus and become weak in its role as protector of our Constitutional rights.

This power is not limited to due process and the right to counsel. It applies to all of our rights and freedoms. The Court also has the power to define or limit the powers of the president and congress. If they say, “sure, he can do that,” well then, he can do it, and no one else can stop him. It amazes me that more people are not very worried about this.

The Congress of the United States

Third, Congress. Consisting of the Senate and the House of Representatives, Congress was intended to be our most powerful democratic institution. The House, anyway, was intended from the beginning to provide all Americans with a locally elected individual to represent his locality in all matters of Federal lawmaking. (The Senate was initially appointed, to provide extra political power to the monied interests, but Senators have been elected since the passage of the Seventeenth Amendment.)

Congress was once a place where loyalty was rewarded and compromise was possible among men, almost all men, who could be civil to one another even in disagreement and come together to act in the country's best interest. They understood that democracy cannot stand without compromise. Those days are gone. Congress has been contaminated by money, partisan politics, and weird religious and political theories that none of them seem to properly understand. (Ayn Rand? Really?) Trusting any of our current crop of assholes is something that very few people would suggest with a straight face.

One of the powers of Congress is impeachment, which is much on our minds these days.

The President . . . shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other high Crimes and Misdemeanors.”

That's in Article II, Section 4 of the Constitution. How, exactly, would that be accomplished?

The process, as it stands, is as follows:

  1. The impeachment may be commenced by any member of the House of Representatives. (There is a separate process available for certain non-members.)
  2. The matter of impeachment is then referred to the House Judiciary Committee, which is intended to debate the matter and then vote on it. If the committee votes by majority in agreement that grounds for impeachment exist, it is sent to the floor of the House. The Judiciary Committee must set forth specific allegations, known as the Articles of Impeachment.
  3. The House debates the matter and votes. A simple majority in affirmation sends the Impeachment to the Senate.
  4. There is a trial in the Senate. House “managers” serve as prosecutors. The accused may provide his own defense. The entire Senate becomes the jury. The Senators must take an oath to be honest about everything and to proceed with due diligence. After the trial, the Senate deliberates in private, followed by a vote. A two/thirds super-majority is required for conviction.

Incidentally, the President cannot pardon officials who are impeached by this process.

According to the above, the House Judiciary Committee has the power and the discretion to decide which matters rise to the level of impeachable offenses. If they vote it down, they are saying in effect, “no, we don't see it.” And that's that. They have that power.

Then the House majority party has the power and the discretion to nix the whole thing. “No,” they can say, “we don't see it.”

Even if it goes to the Senate, a bi-partisan agreement will almost certainly be required, because the likelihood of one party, the impeaching party, having a two/thirds majority in the Senate is very slim. It's slim even in the long term, the way things go. In the short term, it's totally impossible.

So we're stuck with Trump for the foreseeable future, and probably stuck with the Republican pirates for even longer. And stuck with money controlling our politics, and stuck with a lousy system of medical care that does less and less for more and more money. We're between a rock and a hard place. Stuck.


That's three of our democratic institutions that are on life-support by now. There are many more. Consider the sorry state of education in America. Universities, primary and secondary schools, our entire education system has been ruined over the last forty years. The prices! The curricula! The results! Just three, or four, examples of the shambles that is being made of the very framework of our freedom.

All of the rest of our democratic institutions have been similarly weakened, from the State Department to local police forces. The last three years have seen real catastrophic damage up and down the line. The sad truth is that there may be nothing left to save us.

Adventures In Engrish

Someone at this company thought that it would be cute to say, "Shmaker," instead of "Maker." This happens to me all the time. I often wish that someone has asked me first. 

In American English is it common to use the "shm-" as a code for negation. For example, if you say, "President Trump," I might say, "president, shmesident!" So a Shmaker would be the opposite of a Maker. 

Is that even true anymore? Does anyone remember that old, quaint custom? It was in Hollywood movies, so it's not just a New York thing, although it may have started there. 

I wonder. 

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

A Silver Lining In Presidential Politics

The news has been so bad, for so long, that it's hard for an optimistic fatalist like me to find any good in it. One possible silver lining for the cloud that has been raining on us occurred to me today.

Presidential politics is not only studied on a day-to-day basis, it is also studied carefully beneath the microscope of history. Mr. Trump will be generating an awful lot of study, for an awfully long time. People across the political spectrum are already quick to compare him to other men who have held the position. One fascinating area of study will be the reasons that a persistent minority of American voters place Mr. Trump at the very top of the list of presidents, while the majority of the people are more likely to place him very near the bottom. Oh, excuse me, the silver lining. I digress at the drop of a hat.

When one considers the last three presidents, the three presidents so far in our young 21st Century, one thing jumps right out. The president in the middle was black. There it is! Right in the photos!

We've had George W. Bush, Barack Obama, and Donald Trump. Bush destroyed the world's economy and started several wasteful and destructive wars, and Trump has been rushing pell-mell to destroy the entire fabric of American life, social, political, and economic, since the day that he was declared the winner of the election of 2016. Both of them had the stated goal of destroying the social safety net and moving all of the money towards the very top while cutting social programs and moving working Americans along the road to either prison or debt-slavery. To make matters worse, both Bush and Trump always manage to sound rather illiterate and foolish in their public pronouncements. They always manage to sound like a couple of idiots, don't they? We all remember that they do.

And here is the silver lining, shining brightly in that overcast sky. Barack Obama, the black president, was always well considered and intelligent in his public discourse. His temperament was one of relaxed awareness, like a Samurai, and he took whatever the office, or ungrateful white Americans, threw at him with equanimity and good humor. In the meantime, he managed to do a very good job of steering the country through perilous times, getting us out of some of Mr. Bush's real messes in the world, restoring some of our allies faith in us, lowering our budget deficits, representing the country overseas with dignity, and taking at least some baby steps to improve the security and prosperity of the American people.

Mr. Obama, the BLACK president, stands as the clear choice for best president in the 21st Century to date. In contrast to Mr. Bush, he is a highly intelligent and well organized man with a strong moral compass. Compared to Mr. Trump, Barack Obama is a fucking genius across the board, and a saint besides. And he's black!

The black man wins! The black man shows those white mediocrities how it's done! Isn't that wonderful? What a wonderful lesson for our children! Doesn't that make you smile?

Multiple Cool Vehicle Alert: "Big" Motorcycles In Bangkok

There are a million motorcycles in Bangkok, but almost all of them have engines that displace 125 cc or less. Most of them, in fact, displace 100 cc, with a sprinkling of 115 cc engines. Those are all step-through frame jobs with the gas tank in the seat. Suzuki, and, I think, Yamaha, make step-through framed bikes with 150 cc engines, just to try to create and fill a market niche, but you don't see many of those. Any bike displacing 175 cc or more is automatically a big bike. Almost all of those have tube-down frames and a gas tank up where it belongs.

There are a few manufacturers marketing single cylinder 250 cc motorcycles. That's the next step up, size wise. Yamaha makes a beauty; it's really a classic. I've posted pix of those on many occasions. I love those bikes. These two shown above, I encountered the both of them this week for the first time.

The top picture shows a Kawasaki that was designed to be as close a replica of an English 500 cc single from the 1950s as possible. Except for the giant, vented front disk-brake of course. It's a handsome bike, and I'll bet that it makes a beautiful sound. Fast? Don't be silly. Even those old English bikes weren't fast, at twice the displacement. You could row them through the gears for seven or eight minutes and get them going 100 mph, but everything “quick” was denied them. With either of these bikes in the photos, even 100 mph might be too much to ask.

The bike in the bottom picture, however, might have more of a chance of reaching the “ton,” as the English lads once called going 100 mph. It's a Honda, and it has nothing to do with anything old, design wise or anything else wise. It's water cooled, and almost certainly double cammed with four valves per cylinder. It certainly looks faster, and probably is rather faster, than the Kawasaki.

This is all very interesting to me, but I realize that I may be trying my readers' patience. Not everyone shares my sense of wonder at everything to do with motorcycles. Well, let's be real. Whose blog is this anyway?

Honda makes a really beautiful 400 cc single, but it's so rare that I have never had an opportunity to photograph one. I saw one again yesterday, and man oh man, it's a beauty. What a sound! That's a real thumper right there. It's all laid out cafe-racer style, Old School English all the way. You could make the ton on that one, definitely. If I were thirty years younger, I'd buy one. Might as well drain the oil and keep it in the living room on display though. Living in Bangkok, there's no place to let out the leash on a fast bike.

I'm too afraid of orthopedic injuries these days to really push the envelope anyway, so who am I kidding? But I still take the taxi-motorcycles on my Soi down to the main road. The guys love me, because I give them double the fare as a tip and talk to them in Thai. It's only an extra quarter. I have loved every second that I have ever spent on a motorcycle, since that first ride long ago, 1964 to be exact, when my friend Hilliary's brother drove me home from Bayside to College Point on the back of his Honda CB-305 Super Hawk. I was smitten, and I've never gotten over it. If I die tomorrow on the Soi, people will say, “what the fuck was a seventy year old doing riding on the back of motorcycle-taxis in Bangkok?” You can tell them for me, “he was just enjoying himself, that's what.”

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

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(Sarcasm Alert!) 

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Have a blessed day!”

(Matthew 7:1 “Judge not, lest ye be judged . . .”)

Tarheel Slim - Number 9 Train (Fury 1016)

Number Nine Train

The guitar moved forward in the mix all through the 1950s, while the sax began a gradual process of being squeezed out. This cut was released in 1958, and there's not a saxophone in sight. In the place usually occupied by the horns, two or three guitars stir the roux all through the song, while one fellow cuts loose towards the end with a killer guitar solo. 

I don't read much about it, but recording technology and the electrification of the guitar had a lot to do with changing instrumentation over the course of the entire 20th Century. While guitars were straight-up acoustic, the banjo was a necessary part of a jazz band. It was the only stringed thing loud enough to cut through the horns. Horns make a terrible racket. If there's a sax player in the group, sometimes you just have to tell the guy, “please, don't aim that thing at me.” The horns could drown out a guitar, no problem.

Then came decent guitar amps and better microphones in the Thirties, and the guitar moved up at the expense of the banjo. Before long, the banjo was a rare thing to see in a jazz outfit. The guitars were still regular hollow wooden boxes with lousy pick-ups on them. They were okay for chords, and could generate some volume, but feedback was a problem, and horns still took most of the solos.

The clarinet was popular there for a while for reasons somewhat analogous to the banjo. They have such a high, penetrating sound that they could be heard over any racket that the band could make. 

That was it throughout the Forties. In the early 1950s, Les Paul and Leo Fender simultaneously introduced very good solid body electric guitars with much better pick-ups. And Leo also came out with some new amps that could just blow like hurricanes. It was a few years before the guitarists got the nerve to really push those amps, but guys like Guitar Slim really started to have some fun. Distortion lost its stigma and was no longer considered to be a problem. By the time Number Nine Train came out, guitars were taking over.

The drums were still a problem. The mics of the time just weren't up to the challenge of accurately recording drums. On a lot of mid-1950s rock and roll records, the drum part was recorded by putting a mic inside a cardboard box and playing a simple part on the box. All of that had been sorted out by the early 1960s, and thereupon rock and roll took over the world.

I love songs like Number Nine Train, and I love artists like Tarheel Slim, and I'm grateful to record producers like Bobby Robinson, of Fury Records and many other smaller labels. This is one of his records. Bobby had a great ear and the energy to put the whole show together and sell it. Without guys who can do that, we're all just sitting under a tree strumming the blues for the birds.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

Are You Hip To The Jive?

I've enjoyed most of the output of Dash Hammett and Raymond Chandler, while managing to avoid the clinkers, if there are any. Out of curiosity I recently read one of Ross MacDonald's Lew Archer novels. Those three gentlemen are often mentioned in the same breath by critics. Let's get this out of the way right now: I liked it a lot.

Ross MacDonald turns out to be the “main pseudonym” of “American-Canadian” crime writer Kenneth Millar. Some of these guys act like they are running from the police themselves, the way they use multiple aliases and addresses. To say “American-Canadian” might be gilding the lily for a guy who was born, grew up, worked, and died in California. It's a free country, though, so I'm willing to let all of that slide.

I read “The Galton Case,” and it was a good place to start. It comes right in the middle of the long series of Lew Archer books. A lot of the action takes place in mid-1950s San Francisco, and there are Beatniks involved. As was customary in the Fifties and Sixties, new forms of artistic expression come in for some gentle ribbing.

The detective visits a jazz bar at one point, and he hangs around long enough to develop an opinion about the band. The small combo was “playing something advanced.” Did Mr. Archer understand it? “I didn't have my slide-rule with me.”

There may have been an age cut-off for this kind of thing. (Mr. MacDonald was born in 1915, so he was forty or so when he wrote the book.) Maybe people born before a certain year could not get hip to the jive of 1950s jazz and literature (poetry included). Same for the 1960s. Look for the video of the Rolling Stones on the Dean Martin TV show. Old Deano and all of his Rat Pack friends fancied themselves to be genuine swingers in a world of squares, but this new mess swung a bit too hard for an old warhorse like Dean. I'll bet that something similar was happening with Mr. MacDonald (Millar).

The musicians themselves, of course, were hip. They got it. They “smiled and and nodded like space jockeys passing in the night.” (How do you like that double-barreled dog-whistle about drug use?)

The melody was “done to death.” The pianist “bent over his keyboard . . . like a mad scientist.” The detective was forced to listen to multiple songs. Before long, “another tune failed to survive the operation.”

Before long our detective is discussing the artistic fine points of the age with an effete, but sympathetically rendered, Beat poet. “You can't make a Hamlet without breaking egos,” says the poet. But you could, evidently, still write a novel in the mid-1950s that had its feet planted firmly in the Thirties and Forties.

No complaints from me, though. Just an observation. “The Galton Case” is a good read.

Friday, August 10, 2018

Rufus Thomas - Jump Back

I love these nonsense songs that were a staple of black American music in the 1950s and 1960s. Bo Diddley, by Bo Diddley; Don't You Just Know It, by Huey Piano Smith and the Clowns, it was a certain formula of nonsensical negation, and it was very entertaining. 

Twenty five years later, this music was called Uncle Tom stuff, but people forgot one important thing about it. The acceptance that was won by cheerful, friendly men like Rufus Thomas made the world safe for the anger of Public Enemy. 


I can't 100% guarantee the propriety of this song, but it's a nice, crisp example of the Stax/Volt/Enterprise funk machine at the height of its power. (The tension arises from the real-life father/daughter relationship of the singers.) 

Thursday, August 9, 2018

tommy hunt i am a witness

I love the way this cut is put together. Nothing like the usual A, A, B, A of the time. Could this be part of a sub-genre? Could you call them, "story songs?" I'll let greater minds than mine figure it out. 

Definitely Tommy Hunt's ticket to musical immortality, though. Great job all around. 

Almost Missed It!

I've been keeping a careful eye on my e-mail for a couple of weeks. The hotel that I stayed at in Indo wants to send me “invoices” or something. That's another story. They sent me an SMS message of all things. Who sends those?

You probably don't realize it, but Hotmail has gotten even more inconvenient since the major update about a year ago. You are probably using g-mail, unless you happen to be an older person like me. We are creatures of habit, we oldsters. I'm dancing with the one I brung, even if it is a pretty lame platform.

They now divide your e-mails into three categories. There's junk mail, of course, but now the non-junk mail is prioritized by mysterious algorithms into two categories, what are they, Focused and Casual? Something like that. If it looks important, they put it in Focused; if not, they put it in Casual, or whatever it is. I had been in the habit of checking the Casual every few days, but it's only since I've been looking for this e-mail from the hotel that I'm checking the junk mail.

And what a lucky break! I almost missed a fabulous opportunity! Junk mail my ass, this thing was important! I was personally contacted by a Emirati gentleman named Sifri Khaled, who is the Chief Economic Officer of the Emirates Investment Bank in the UAE. It looks like a great chance to make some extra money for my, what do we call it these days? Not retirement, that ship has sailed. Ninety percent of us are on the work till we die and scramble frantically for extra cash along the way program.

Wish me luck anyway, but don't worry. I won't be responding to Mr. Khaled's e-mail. I wouldn't work for anybody who would hire me for that kind of law work at this point. They obviously don't know what they're doing.

Thursday, August 2, 2018

BUT OFFICER by Sonny Knight

These days we are all too familiar with the bad habit of police officers taking on young black men for no good reason. It's a bad habit that often leads to bad treatment, and it's a problem of great concern to many of us. This record is archival proof that there is nothing new about the phenomenon. 

Political Poetry Incorrectness

Anders Carlson-Wee had a fourteen line poem called “How-To” published in The Nation magazine on July 24, 2018. Should we say, “good for you, Anders! What a coup!” Why no, we should not. We are not allowed. If we congratulate Anders, or if we have enjoyed the poem in any way, we are as bad as he is. The preferred response these days is to throw up one's hands and shout, “j'accuse!” Such a poem is no longer to be tolerated.

Here is the offending poem, in its entirety:

If you got hiv, say aids. If you a girl,
say you’re pregnant––nobody gonna lower
themselves to listen for the kick. People
passing fast. Splay your legs, cock a knee
funny. It’s the littlest shames they’re likely
to comprehend. Don’t say homeless, they know
you is. What they don’t know is what opens
a wallet, what stops em from counting
what they drop. If you’re young say younger.
Old say older. If you’re crippled don’t
flaunt it. Let em think they’re good enough
Christians to notice. Don’t say you pray,
say you sin. It’s about who they believe
they is. You hardly even there.

(My sincerest apologies to the Copyright Gods, although I don't think that Anders would mind. I'm on his side, after all.)

The poem caused a giant shit-storm in multiple communities and among desperately sincere social justice warrior wannabes. There were letters to the editor and torrents on social media, and the kerfuffle made the New York Times this morning. The two main problems were identified as: 1) a white poet attempted to use black vernacular; and 2) an able person included the word, “crippled.”

Let's look at the cripple problem. The complaints seem to have revolved around the mere use of the word “cripple,” which is now judged to be disparaging and ableist language. Ableist! Can you even imagine? That is a word now! For all I know, poor Anders may himself have a limp, or even mild cerebral palsy, but I don't think even that would excuse him in today's hypercritical climate. No, the world must be purged completely of such words, all of them. I have never seen a list published; please let me know if there is such a list. Let me know so that I can ignore it, when appropriate.

I would probably use the term “handicapped” myself, at least in my personal discourse. Or maybe “disabled.” Handicapped, after all, includes mental and emotional conditions that rise to the level of pathology. Even there, one could be mentally handicapped without being mentally disabled. There are gradations to everything. What's a poor writer to do?

How about the cultural appropriation problem? How about it? Is it a cultural emergency when a white writer attempts to use “black vernacular?” That is a slippery slope. Does that mean that we must remove “Huckleberry Finn” from the catalog? Or must we only purge it of all dialog sections. How about a suburban, Harvard educated black American poet? Would she be able to use the black urban vernacular of big city thug life? That's a serious question. Here's another one: if she were writing a novel, would she be able to use the vernacular English of a white housewife from another part of the country? How about the broken English of a recently arrived immigrant? Would the ethnic information about the immigrant have any bearing on her permission to “attempt to use” it?

What a fucking mess.

The poem is a first person narrative. Are we now to impose all of the constantly shifting rules of political correctness on every character in every fictional narrative? Oh, honey, that ain't going to happen.

Can we agree that there is a difference between using offensive words in personal conversation, live presentations, dialog presented in quotes in fiction writing, and third person fictional narratives? There is also a difference when the word is used in poetry, with similar gradations if the word is used in the first, second, or third person. Each situation requires viewing through a different lens.

If I write a novel, and one of the characters uses the totally offensive term, “nigger,” in quoted dialog, am I to be publicly condemned and required to apologize from the deepest depths of my heart and soul? That is going to happen within a year or so. You may wish to begin sharpening your knives in preparation.

I think that it's a pretty good poem. I'm no critic, but if I were assigned to debate the proposition, I'd rather have the “this poem is fine” side than the “this poem is a racist, ableist abomination” side. I've written poems myself that are a lot more offensive than this one. I wrote them for effect; I chose the words carefully. I stand before you now as a licensed, experienced attorney, and I've been some kind of junior academic for over ten years, teaching university classes. Before that I was a worker at various jobs, many unsophisticated. Before that I was a teenage borderline hooligan in the Borough of Queens. Before that I was a boy in a very rough working class neighborhood of New York City. Which of these vernaculars am I still permitted to use? How about in fictional narratives or poetry? How about in blog posts about the old days? In my own speech, I was never comfortable with “nigger,” but it was a commonly used word in my milieu. Not only as a noun, but as an adjective, “niggerized,” which applied to anything that had been decorated in an elaborate way, no longer being limited to having anything to do with black Americans. (A white man could have a niggerized motorcycle, with lots of chrome and extra lights and reflectors.) We definitely called stupid people stupid back then, and cripples were cripples, and that was universal. Interestingly, faggots were not homosexuals. They were boys who would not fight back or stand up for themselves. Am I barred from reminiscing about these old customs? It's my own vernacular, after all.

I stand four-square for artistic freedom. Anders Carlson-Wee should be free to write his poem in any manner that he sees fit. It's his Goddamned poem! Those are his words! To oppose his right to express himself in his own art is nascent fascism. It's a mini-book-burning. Leave the man alone. Making him, and the poor poetry editors at The Nation, grovel, begging for forgiveness, makes you look ridiculous. That our culture has descended to embrace this kind of drum-head rhetorical criminal trial makes us all look ridiculous.

So, that's how I really feel about it. Some days I'm very happy to have a blog.