Wednesday, January 30, 2019
This is the soundtrack LP to a nice English RomCom movie from 1968. The Spencer Davis Group provided many of the cuts, and this one is definitely the hit.
This must have been a matter of minutes before Steve Winwood left the group and landed in Traffic. The whole group was very professional and quite entertaining. It's a shame they don't get much play outside of the Winwood connection.
(ed. The soundtrack credits over at IMDB inform me that most of the cuts on the soundtrack, including Looking Back, were, "written and performed by the Spencer Davis Group." There are a few cuts credited as being, "written and performed by Steve Winwood and Traffic." So evidently the transition was in progress.)
Tuesday, January 29, 2019
This fellow just died last week, so let's get that out of the way. He was massively popular in Zimbabwe, for reasons musical, cultural, political, and spiritual. He's a great guitar player and singer.
I rarely make a science of anything, so I'd never heard of him before. I've been listening to African music since the 1970s though. I play the guitar myself, so I've been particularly interested in the African guitar players. Nigerian Highlife music is very guitar-driven, and the musicians of Mali took to the guitar with such passion that guitar based music became part of the bedrock of Malian culture. In the manner of such things, the African guitarists sound African, almost all of them.
I have said many times that all music is theft, but that's probably just for effect. What is really true is that all music draws on everything that the new player has ever heard. From the wildlife, to the urban noise, to the traditional instruments, everything. When you listen to African guitar players like Mr. Mtukudzi here, you can hear echos of thumb pianos and other traditional African instruments, and local rhythm patterns that have existed for hundreds of years. We all pick up an instrument and look for sounds that we know. It's all pretty fascinating.
This fellow's music has great merit. I have to put up a Post-It note to remind myself to listen to more of it.
Monday, January 28, 2019
We think of the dawn of man as having come somewhere around the end of the last Ice Age, between fifteen and ten thousand years ago. That seems to be the time when people really started paying attention, you know, paying attention to the seasons and the stars, counting the days, figuring out that they could influence the characteristics of the plants and animals that they liked to eat. We had long since become the people that we are today; for tens of thousands of years already by then we had looked and thought much as we do today. We were finally getting good at it, that’s all.
How old are the oldest cave paintings? What are they saying now? Thirty thousand years? Maybe they’ve pushed it back, but let’s just say thirty for the sake of this post. The cave paintings prove that we were thinking symbolically. We would have had dogs by then, dogs that could be trusted around children, I mean. Domesticated. We were pretty domesticated ourselves. Tools were getting better. Fire had been mastered. If we were painting on cave walls, I would say that language must also have been developing into something more useful. My hunch is that language had remained very basic for a very long time, because life was straightforward (if not simple) and people didn’t live very long. The use of language requires the same kind of symbolic abilities as the cave paintings, so I am sure that we had bigger vocabularies by that time and were speaking together more effectively.
So, thirty thousand years ago, small bands of hunter-gatherers following crops and game around a tract of land that they were familiar with, communicating better with each other, passing along more information, becoming more successful, and accelerating into what by the year 10,000 BCE was a rush to modernity. What were people like thirty thousand years ago?
I would guess that empathy and cooperation were well established already in human society. I say that with confidence because for a small band of hunter-gatherers, every baby is monumentally important. Infant mortality must have been staggering, so living babies were a matter of survival. Constant attrition in members of the band of all ages would have made every person important. And as for the elderly members of the band, you know, the thirty-seven-year olds, they were slowing down by then but they were precious themselves. Old Og had fallen out of a tree and couldn’t really run anymore, and Uma had had that sloth step on his leg that time, and it didn’t heal right. They had valuable experience, however, and there were plenty of things that they could still do.
In such a small, delicate group, people must have learned to get along, and learned to value every member of the band. The loss of any one of them impoverished them and reduced their security. They must have learned to look out for each other and help each other as much as possible. Or else they would have died off.
I’m also convinced that every band had a group of hunters who were specialists in that trade, and it is likely that the hunter who was a bit smarter and faster and stronger than the others was some kind of chieftain, if only for ceremonial purposes. I believe that the caveman movies and stories that we are familiar with are comically wrong in portraying a constant round of envy and contention, often culminating in violence. A scene like that would be counterproductive, although, being humans, problems must have arisen.
One thing is for sure, any kind of leadership group or individual would have needed to put the well-being and security of the entire band first, or else. If there were a chieftain who was just plain mean, and left old people to die because they couldn’t keep up, someone who was cruel in any way and allowed to band to be reduced because of his character flaws, well the band would just get rid of him, wouldn’t they? Why wait until the fool gets us all killed? Who wants to starve to death because this mean-spirited numbskull wants to go kill a mountain goat and refuses to take us to the place where we all know there will be plenty of fish in about a month? I’m sure that our distant but doubtlessly recognizable ancestors would simply do away with such a chieftain.
Lest we forget, this guy is fast and strong, so my guess is that the second-best hunter would get the job of smacking old chiefie in the head with a huge rock while he was sleeping. The new chieftain would then get a talking to from the circle of elder females, and the band would have fish again that year and make it through another winter.
They couldn’t afford to fool around back then. Every single thing that happened every day was a matter of life and death. We’ve got it a lot easier now, and to prove it we do nothing but fool around. Right now we have a whole ruling class that does not give one good Goddamn about the security and prosperity of our band, our tribe, our nation-state, our people. They do nothing to help us, they allow the least of us to die from neglect, and they care only about lining their own pockets and hoarding wealth. And it’s all a big yawn to most people, as though there were nothing to be done about it.
Our primitive ancestors would be ashamed of us. They would never have stood still for such a failure to care about the future of the group. We have lost some of our essential humanity in the interim. I only hope that we can regain our will to live before it is too late.
Sunday, January 27, 2019
This great hit was released in 1955. The recording is really clean for the era. Most studios still had trouble with drums, but it sounds like a full drum kit here. Great record all around.
I woke up yesterday and within an hour or so my entire head was taken over by this song. I hadn't heard it for a long time; I wasn't thinking about it at all; but there it was. I've been thinking about it for thirty-six hours now. Why?
Things just pop into our dreams unbidden, often in response to some unfinished inquiry that our mind has been chewing on. I think that this song may have invaded my subconscious because, tell me if I'm wrong, it seems to begin with a presentation of the chorus.
My notes go like this: chorus; verse; verse; chorus; sax solo; verse; chorus; nice, long ending.
This is always interesting to me, because Beatle maniacs love to claim that a major proof of the genius of the Beatles was beginning She Loves You with the chorus. They claim that no one had ever done this before, which is a silly thing to say, the long history of pop music being what it is.
I would love to hear a comment from someone who had a much better understanding of the song form and musical theory than I do. I'm just some kind of gadfly-hobbyist-know-it-all. Help me out here.
(Watch, the comment will be from a Beatle fan, telling me how wrong I am, and how great they are!)
Saturday, January 26, 2019
Friday, January 25, 2019
One of the saving graces of writing a blog is that it doesn't really matter what you write about, because almost no one is reading it.
During the entire 20th Century the world seemed to be in imminent danger of running off the rails and into the gorge all at once, ending in a huge, fiery explosion and killing just about everybody. Everything about the 20th Century, including the prosperous bits, had an air of mania and desperation about it. The 21st Century, so far, has not been like that.
Not that it has necessarily gotten any better. If the previous century threatened sudden obliteration, our new century settles for the slow death of everything that we need to live. The environment; our infrastructure; food crops; the existence of fish; the social contract; our peace of mind; democratic norms; the medical standard of care; education for our children; our government and the governments of many countries around the world; effective pharmaceuticals; all concepts of privacy or security; all in a state of slow, quiet degradation, culminating perhaps in unburied death, or maybe just mass casualties and sheer misery for those poor souls remaining alive. The old air of mania and desperation has been replaced by despair and depression. Mania and desperation evidently required hope, a commodity that has become functionally extinct. I'm thinking that yes, Mr. Sacks was right when he sang his little song. “The whole world is shitty.”
Why Today, Mr. Fred?
What's so special about today? Why pick today to get your knickers in a twist and harsh everyone's mellow? Choosing one thing from the vast catalog of nightmarish horror that besets us would not only be impossible, it would also be a waste of time to try. Like rearranging the deck chairs on the half-sunken Titanic. Nobody seems very well informed about the extent of the problem, and very few people who have had a glimpse of it appear to be overly concerned.
Most people are either oblivious, or they believe that the world has always been like this, teetering on the edge of destruction. There have always been fluctuations in weather, haven't there? There have always been wars, and the threat of more wars. There has always been disease, in fact the disease part was much, much worse in olden times! This very Pollyanna-like attitude very optimistically holds that humanity has been through worse, and it has always prevailed. Trump? That's nothing! We've survived Caligula, Napoleon, and Hitler!
Well no, honey-child, the blogger patiently explained, nothing like our life-threatening 21st Century has ever happened before. There has never been man-made warming of the atmosphere and the oceans before, not on this or any other scale. It simply has never happened before. There have never been seven billion people living on the earth at one time before. Something like three billion of them are under forty-years-old. There has never before been a commercial human society that was willing to stake its entire future on the efficacy of fiat currency (the idea that money is worth whatever people will pay for it, and no longer grounded in any kind of equivalency computation). There has never been a time when technology and productivity have made such giant leaps on such accelerating time scales, and in a related development, there has never been a time when the prosperity generated by lesser advances was not shared with working people.
So, why today? What was the straw that broke the camel's back? There wasn't one. The cumulative effect of just every damn thing requires me to let off some steam once in a while, lest the entire engine blow sky high.
There are, however, things great or small that push my anxiety level up more or less permanently.
My blood pressure goes up every time a correspondence from the Social Security Administration hits my mailbox. To be fair, I visited their office in the Federal Building in West Los Angeles a few years ago and a very nice man helped me quickly and efficiently after a very reasonable wait in a comfortable lounge area. I have also received timely assistance from a very nice man in the SS office in Manila, in the Philippines. I was very grateful for their assistance, and I thanked them effusively. There have been problems that arrived in the mail, though, and I am nine time zones away from California. Even Manila would be an expensive, time consuming, international visit. The real problem is that the entire enterprise is unwieldy, inefficient, probably running Cobal on sixty year old computers, the left hand rarely knows what the right hand is doing, and no one above the level of the two gentlemen who assisted me in person cares what happens at all.
Here's a good example. I turned sixty-five several years ago and got the materials for Medicare. I read them carefully and decided to sign up for parts A and B only. I live overseas, and I have no plans ever to reside in America again, so the odds are that I will never receive any Medicare benefits at all, because our congress, in their rush to please American companies at the expense of the working man, has mandated that only medical services rendered within the United States may be offset by Medicare. Note that Medicare would save a fortune paying for care provided in my local market, rather than the four or five times that amount for work done in the U.S., but that's another story. I signed up on the off chance that I might come down with something downright horrible, like Parkinson's Disease, or ALS, or something like that. A life sentence with a ton of money required every month. There are huge penalties when you say no to Medicare at sixty-five and then want to sign up later.
I paid them for the first year out of pocket, about $1,300, and then when my Social Security kicked in I had the money deducted every month. It went on that way for years.
Last week I got the notice in the mail telling me that my benefit amount was being raised by some insignificant amount. The form also showed a breakdown of my benefit and any deductions therefrom. THERE WERE NO DEDUCTIONS LISTED. And sure enough, this month's direct deposit was in the exact amount of the new benefit. Like I mentioned, they had been taking out over one hundred dollars every month for years for Medicare, and during that time I have received mail from Medicare, and I possess a Medicare members card. On its own motion, the Social Security Administration dropped me from Medicare.
This is the level of consideration that we can expect from our government. That much is disturbing, but I quickly realized that I'm better off without it. I'll take the $1,300 every year, thank you, and I'll save it to pay for medical services over here. They'll be keeping the $6,000 that they essentially stole from me in the five years that they let me keep paying every month, but we can't let little things like that ruin our precious days. We've got bigger fish to fry.
Our Government In General
Nothing about Washington DC is recognizable when compared with the government that existed only sixty years ago. That was a smaller country, only 200,000,000 people or so, and everything moved at a much slower pace. Communications, transportation, everything. People got jobs and kept them, often for their entire lives. Almost everyone who was working had a policy of Blue Cross/Blue Shield medical insurance that covered all family members. If someone in your family was crazy, there was a government hospital for that. For my parents generation, the money that their parents received from Social Security was enough to live on. Cars, refrigerators, TVs, they were all made in America. Things were much tougher for black Americans, and if anyone among our family or friends was homosexual, we didn't know about it, but in general things were more cooperative and secure than they are today.
Now we live in a “you're on your own” nightmare. The difference is that equality has been replaced by liberty. Equality, paid for by fair employment practices and progressive taxes, has given way to a system in which the rich are at liberty to keep almost all of their money and corporations are at liberty to gouge workers as terribly as possible and reduce thereby their overhead. Every American is free to sign up for all of the medical insurance that he or she can afford, and if you can't afford any, well, then you don't have any. We still receive Social Security benefits, but it's not enough for anyone to live on. We get Medicare, but if you get sick enough the co-pays and the medicine will suck almost anyone's bank account dry in a couple of years, probably including the equity in your house, if you are lucky enough to have any. After that, it seems like the plan becomes, sell the house, move into an RV, and work until you die. I've noticed that more and more people are going to Mexico for affordable medical treatment. (You may be surprised to find out that the dentists and doctors are excellent in Mexico, and the quality of the care is very high.) More Americans, myself included, are choosing to live overseas.
Welcome to the 21st Century! If you're not living in a van and working seasonal jobs in Amazon warehouses, you're way ahead of the game.
Wednesday, January 23, 2019
What comes to mind when you hear the term “military contractor?” Years ago, I would have thought first about Blackwater in the waning years of the second Iraq war. Heavily armed civilian bully-boys who were making the big bucks after completing their enlistments in the real military. Then a young relative of mine became a civilian military contractor in Afghanistan after his second tour in the Air Force (both in Afghanistan). He was far from being a gunman. He was doing his old Air Force job, which was warehousing aviation fuel and getting trucks full of it where they needed to be. He did that for years, and he made very good money. He left that job for another one that offered about the same money, more travel, and less gut-crunching terror. When I thought about it, I realized that skills of shipping, computerized record keeping, and communications, were involved. “Military logistics” would be a good description.
That’s the way that I found out that a large number of ex-military Americans are employed at civilian jobs that support our military efforts around the world. They do a little bit of everything. Many of them still carry guns that they may someday have to use, but most seem to do more mundane things, like install and de-bug computer systems; drive trucks; install plumbing; construct barracks; or instruct locals in how to best serve the needs of the American military bases in their countries.
I traveled to California last year, and I spent a few hours sitting in a large “lounge” area at the airport in Taipei waiting for my flight to LAX. I usually get some reading done in those situations, getting up for a walk every now and again to stretch my legs a bit. On this occasion I was sitting very close to a few men who had obviously known each other for a very long time. Listening to their conversation was fascinating.
There were three of them, and they had all retired from the U.S. Navy. Two were white, and both of them had been Chief Petty Officers of some kind, I never caught the rating. The third man was a Filipino. He had been a Petty Officer himself. His rating in the Navy was commissaryman (cook), but I got no indication that that was still his trade. That last bit is very typical for the Navy of my period. I was only a couple of years older than these guys, and I had been in the Navy myself while we were all young. Even then, in the mid- to late-1960s, most black or Filipino sailors were directed to ratings having to do with food service.
The Flip always heartily agreed with the other men, fairer to say that they all always agreed. Judging by his accent, he might have been born in California. Either way, he was definitely on the team. He was, in fact, wearing an American flag t-shirt.
The two white guys were both sixty-six years old. The subject of age had come up while they were discussing their heart attacks and the various procedures that they had endured to keep them alive. They seemed to think that it had all been very funny, so much so that I wondered if they were really so cavalier about those near-death experiences or if they were “whistling past the graveyard,” laughing to forget the horror of it. They were both rather overweight; the Flip was not. The Flip had no history of medical trouble at all to report. There is a lesson there.
One of the white guys was nicknamed, “Guppy.”
All of them were returning home to America after a twenty-four-day assignment at the old Subic Bay Naval Base. It sounded like they were frequently sent to Subic Bay. Their employer kept them busy alternating assignments ranging from a few weeks to a month or so with a similar amount of time to hang out at home.
Their conversation had the same kind of high-energy jocularity that is common to much younger men in the armed forces. They appeared to be having great fun talking about whatever subject came before them. Second and third wives were an entertaining subject, and they all seemed to know each of the multiple wives for each other. There was talk of who had been “trading-up,” and a bit of who had been lucky to get rid of a certain woman. I found it odd that no children were ever mentioned, adult or otherwise.
They also joked somewhat ruefully about the nature of their assignments. Living quarters were not always luxurious, being on many occasions simple tents. Same for the food. The locals were a fit subject for complaining. They were often a bunch of thieves whose favorite thing in the world was, “taking advantage of Americans.” The locals could be trusted to steal any tools that were not carefully secured, and nothing was safe from their predations. “Remember that time somebody got into your tent while you were sleeping and stole your shoes?” They then marveled at how good a thief the guy was. “He even got the tent-zipper back up without waking me.”
These three were hale fellows, well met, in spite of being a bit rough around the edges. I’m sure that they had no trouble at all getting along with anyone that they worked with at their various destinations. They were fairly typical American men, and there’s still a lot that’s appealing about that. I’m pretty sure that these guys worked hard, knew what they were doing, and had long since given up starting fights just for the fun of it. (I would be amazed if they had not engaged in that behavior when they were young men. Like I say, I was in the Navy myself, and I was their contemporary.) I’m sure that they had been hard drinkers at one time too, although now they are almost certainly being more careful on doctors’ orders. Smile, get along, treat people fairly, take your work seriously, these are all traits that the world still associates with Americans.
Not a bad trio of cultural ambassadors, all things considered.
Monday, January 21, 2019
I feel like I'm including this mostly as an illustration of the fact that by now, YouTube contains a whole lot more than you think it does. Whether or not you believe that things like this should exist at all, they do, and you can find them on the 'Tube.
Teachers for the Los Angeles Unified School System are on strike. They were offered a paltry cost of living increase, and that was annoying, but that’s only a small part of the reasons for the strike.
Teachers are standing up for the general disintegration of the entire primary and secondary education system that they are part of. Class sizes are way out of hand, with over forty students being the norm; individual schools do not have a nurse on the premises, they must share one school nurse among many schools; the same is true for school psychologists, share one among a group of schools; taxpayer money is being diverted to private “charter” schools, which lowers the already diminishing budgets for the existing public schools. The teachers have ringside seats for all of these shocking developments, and they have decided to stand up and be counted. They deserve all of our support in this effort.
Charter schools have only been around for twenty-five years or so. The idea is to publicly fund a local school that is then given broad latitude to run its own affairs. The hope is that such schools will thus be free to innovate new and more efficient methods of educating students. There will be no tuition charged, because the schools are publicly funded. This is the idea as it is described in the sales literature anyway.
In reality, charter schools are most often associated with large education corporations. They are run as profit centers, whether the corporations are nominally for profit or non-profit. They receive money from the state based upon the number of students, and they economize by leasing space in government buildings and hiring non-union teachers at lower than union wages. There are numerous real estate opportunities for the corporations to profit. The salaries of the executives at the school and the corporate levels can be shockingly large.
Charter schools are expected to justify their existence by achieving better educational results than the local public schools. The fiction is that all students in the district have the freedom to choose which school to attend, but this is not quite true. Usually, the charter schools enhance their achievement statistics by cherry picking the better students from the district and washing out low-performing students, sending them back to the public schools.
Charter schools are a barely disguised excuse to move tax-payer money to private corporations and rich individuals. This is all part of an effort to degrade the American public education system that started way back in the late 1960s.
President Richard Nixon
Ah, the 1960s! The cars were fast, the girls were pretty, the music was terrific, and love was all around! Right? The actual 1960s were a lot more complicated than that.
The civil rights movement had been percolating since the late 1940s, but it didn’t really fill up its sails with wind until the early 1960s. For the record, this was a long overdue good thing, and it should have been obvious to all of us white devils that our patient and longsuffering black brothers and sisters had every right, legally, morally, in every conceivable way, to receive the full value of their rights and privileges as full blooded, natural born American citizens. A lot of the white devils didn’t see it quite that way.
Those diametrically opposed to giving black Americans any kind of break at all included, but were not limited to, self-identified conservatives, Republicans in general, Richard M. Nixon in particular, most Democrats, most self-identified liberals, and most of the average white devils in the street.
Political dissent in the form of protests against the Vietnam War had also reached critical levels as seen by Nixon and pretty much all of the above list of anti-black running dogs. Nixon and his gang of criminal associates came up with several very effective ways of isolating blacks and dissidents and neutralizing them as threats to the status quo. It all worked out well for the Nixon Gang.
The idea was to identify the undesired groups and demonize them; break up their power centers and get as many of them off the streets as possible; and render both groups incapable of organizing any trouble in the future. It was all surprisingly simple.
Blacks were identified with heroin, and hippies were identified with marijuana. All college students and dissidents were identified as hippies. It was shouted from all of the rooftops that both substances were rampant in America and would destroy the entire country if allowed. Drugs, a vast laundry list of drugs, were criminalized to a degree that had never been seen before. After 1970, drug laws all over the country were made exponentially more severe. Punishments were like from outer space, they were numbers of years that exceeded sentences for violent crimes. One joint could get a college student seven years; ten grams of weed (one third of one ounce) became possession with intent to distribute, carrying a sentence of twenty years. Things like that. It was even worse for heroin. This was the beginning of the mass-incarceration that has by now made America the most imprisoned nation in the history of the world.
Yes, we have Tricky Dick to thank for all of that.
The Destruction of Education
It was decided by Nixon and the rest of the aforementioned idiots that education was primarily to blame for political dissent and anti-war protests. They became convinced that all of those hippies and draft dodgers had been radicalized by commie professors on various university campuses. So higher education itself became the enemy of the state.
This started a process where there have been fewer and fewer tenured professors and more and more gig-economy lecturers. Obtaining a university education has become more and more difficult for children of parents of limited means. Laws have been passed at all levels to make it harder for young Americans to get a good education. (Bankruptcy laws, and others.)
By now, access to a quality university education is a lost dream for a wide demographic of American students, and for many of those to make it through on borrowed funds the future is a dark vision of debt-slavery.
What about primary and secondary education? They were gradually drawn into what became a war on education in general.
First came the standardized tests. As part of the anti-union fever of the Reagan years, it was suggested that virtually all schools and all teachers were underperforming. This was blamed on teachers’ unions. The solution offered was the implementation of a battery of standardized tests to measure the performance of one school against other schools, and one teacher against all other teachers. Money would be taken from “underperforming schools,” and diverted to “high-performing schools.” Quite intentionally, the underperforming schools were populated by minority children for whom English was often a second language that had not yet been mastered. Also intentionally, the high-performing schools were in prosperous white neighborhoods. Permission was sought to fire the union teachers struggling in already financially stressed underperforming schools.
Then came the charter schools, further enhancing the education of students from prosperous, white backgrounds and further degrading the education of students that may be from various minority or troubled backgrounds. The charter schools also divert huge sums of money to executives who may not even be education professionals and corporations and their shareholders. They also add to the creation of a larger class of non-union teachers, weakening the solidarity of teachers and reducing the power of teachers’ unions.
Our Allies in Los Angeles
This is the battle that the L.A.U.S.D. teachers are fighting. They are fighting it for all of us. They are struggling on behalf of the entire education system at the primary and secondary levels in every one of the United States.
Keep the money in the public schools; charter schools are tools of the devil; keep class sizes manageable, so that teachers can do their jobs properly and students don’t get lost in the fog towards the back of the room; put a nurse in every school. (I’ll let greater minds than mine grapple with the question of the need for school psychologists.) Listen to the teachers! They are professionals, and they are closer than anyone else to the problems.
Don’t listen to weird dilatants like Betsy DeVos or Bill Gates, who have agendas that vary from religious theocracy to unfathomable evil. There are many people involved in these discussions that believe that the population of America has gotten so large that it would be best to maintain a considerable portion of it in ignorance. Three hundred and thirty million people, and there are those whose boots shake at the idea of that many well informed voters.
It is worth remembering that the main purpose of the public school system from its inception through the middle of the 20th Century was to take an extremely diverse student body and homogenize them into typical American citizens. The curriculum was standardized over the length and breadth of this country to turn students from every cultural background into American citizens who spoke the same cultural language and were prepared to work, and if necessary, fight, together for common cause.
Put me on record as believing that that public school system was a good idea.
P.S. I’m a union backer, too.
Monday, January 14, 2019
Here's a post from March, 2017 that may help to break this log-jam over the border wall. Satire Alert! Do not take this post literally.
Spin Easy Time!: A Modest Proposal To Reduce The Cost Of The Border...: After months of wondering whether such a thing were even possible, it appears that Donald Trump is the President of the United States and t...
Spin Easy Time!: A Modest Proposal To Reduce The Cost Of The Border...: After months of wondering whether such a thing were even possible, it appears that Donald Trump is the President of the United States and t...
Saturday, January 12, 2019
Anyone who goes to a new place must be aware that any little thing might be done very differently in that particular place. Let’s call it, “Local Rules.” Be cautious and pay attention for a while until you get the hang of it. That person’s behavior might be rude, or there might be a reason for it. Never assume that the rule on any subject is the same in the new location as it is back home. The penalties for insensitivity to local rules vary from you making a total ass of yourself to you getting your entire family killed in a twisted steel car wreck.
A simple example is Manhattan traffic. There are rules, and you had better learn them before you start trying to run lights or jump stop signs.
I should say “were,” because I don’t have a clue about the rules for driving in Manhattan these days. I haven’t driven in Manhattan since the mid-1980s. I had learned to drive in New York, but I had learned in Queens. My teacher was my cousin, nine years older than me, and he had a very good approach. “You’re going to be driving in traffic,” he said, “so you’re going to learn to drive in traffic.” He handed me the wheel immediately, and he directed me to the nearest transportation hub, which was Flushing, the terminus of the number 7 train and about half of the buses in Queens. It was also the destination of at least thirty percent of the car traffic in northern Queens on any given day. I already knew how to drive, way up on the sly, so I just went along.
My cousin had a motto, which was, “what man has done, man can do.” It’s a good motto as mottoes go, and it does sum up how he felt about himself: if anybody else can do it, I can do it too. He was a pistol, my cousin. So immediately upon our arrival in Flushing he has me drive up Northern Boulevard. I was driving a 1962 Chevrolet Impala SS, belonging to my dad. As soon as he spotted a 1962 Chevy pulling out of a tight parking space, he told me stop! Park it here! If he got that one out, you can get this one in. “What man has done, man can do.” I knew the basics of parallel parking, so I parked the car. Easy-Peasy. But Manhattan was a horse of a different color.
Later on, I became a taxi driver. It was the “warm body” job in New York at the time. If you weren’t dead and cold, you could drive cabs. If you wanted to make a living driving a cab, you had to go to Manhattan and stay there. That’s when I learned the conventions for driving in Manhattan.
It was very different than Queens, or anywhere else, for that matter. In Manhattan, there are Avenues that run north and south for many miles, and many Streets, “cross streets,” that run across Manhattan island from one side to the other. The Avenues are a big deal; the Streets not so much. There were many Local Rules to learn.
For instance, if you were going along with the flow of traffic downtown on an Avenue, let’s say, and you wanted to move to the right side of the Avenue to make a right turn, all you had to do was look straight out the window to your right. If there was not a car right there, straight in your line of vision, you could just change lanes to the right. No signal; no nothing; just go. You could assume that there was no one in your blind spot, because that would be stupid, and New Yorkers are anything but stupid. Every driver naturally arranged themselves into a pattern where no one was in anyone else’s blind spot. They all assumed that someone in the lane to their left who wanted to move to the right might just go for it. So, they hung back. It made sense. It was Local Rules. And it worked.
The visitors to the city who were not familiar with these rules could make a real mess. Remember, you’ve got to be careful until you figure out the Local Rules!
I drove cabs for a bit more than two years, nights, and I saw a lot of accidents. I was in a few, in fact. Mine were simple rear end, low impact, no injury accidents, which were the most typical accidents in Manhattan. Most of the traffic wasn’t going very fast, with the traffic jams and all, and most of us knew the rules. It was the out-of-towners who caused all of the death and destruction.
One of the rules was: if you are traveling north or south on an Avenue, and the traffic light ahead is a stale yellow, just hit the gas and run the light. If it turns red when you are fifty feet from the corner, go even faster. No one will be poking their head out of a side street, or starting to cross the street, just because the light was green for them. That would be stupid! See above: New Yorkers are not stupid.
Another rule was: never run a light like that on a side street. If you are going east or west on a Street, and approaching an Avenue, jam on those brakes, brother, because any car on the Avenue has the right of way to run that light. Over my couple of years, I had many opportunities to slowly pass big accidents late at night in Manhattan, and the bad ones were generally this kind of rule breaking, side street red light runners, and more often than not, the ones where I could read the license plates showed that the fools were mostly from New Jersey. I even saw one from Delaware. What were they thinking? I know, actually. They were thinking: what do these New Yorkers know that I don’t know? With a few drinks in me, I’m as good as any of ‘em! They can run lights, I’m running lights too! Thereupon they, and their families, died horribly.
It is important to remember when traveling that you are not at home and your accustomed behavior may violate the Local Rules in the place that you are visiting. Remember, there is nothing special about the set of rules used where you live. Your rules do not travel with you. Your rules to not trump their rules.
The converse is also true: their local rules may violate the rules that you use back home. That’s okay too. Here’s an example.
I have been living in Thailand for ages now, and there is a custom among Thais that annoys several of my friends whenever they encounter it. I must admit that at first the custom kind of annoyed me as well. At least until I understood the reason for it.
In Thailand, like almost anywhere else, you will often see signs in a store window listing the hours that the store, or office, will be open. The sign might say, “Open Monday to Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m.” On most days you may visit the store or ride past and observe that it is open during those hours. Then one day, you wish to actually go to the office, let’s say it’s the office of the big cable TV provider in Thailand, and you arrive at the office at 2:00 p.m. on a Wednesday, in my case after riding my bicycle for a hot, sweaty twenty minutes, and there is a sign on the locked door that says, “closed today.” It’s a handwritten sign, in Thai, written in ball-point on a piece of paper torn out of a notebook. On that occasion, I found the situation very annoying. And that wasn’t the last time, or the most egregious circumstance.
This phenomenon began to make sense after I had had a couple of years to observe Thai people in work situations. The thing to remember about Thai culture is that people are more important than things, or money, or jobs. People come first. If you leave work in the middle of the day, or don’t show up for work at all, because a family member urgently needs your assistance, everyone understands immediately. Of course, you need to go! Your baby needs a doctor’s attention! You should be there! I then understood that the cable TV office was closed that day because the woman who manned the counter was needed elsewhere for family reasons. Her mother probably called her and said, “honey, get over here quick, I just damn near cut my hand off with a machete.” In Thailand you do not need to contact your boss and ask permission when this happens. You just go, and bring the boss up to speed later on. Shops and small restaurants can be closed for days at a time for reasons like these. These are the Local Rules, and usually it all works out fine. Those cable bills will be paid, in a day or two. No effect on revenue at all! People come first.
Isn’t that a great idea? To put people before mere things? I have always thought so. I was also pleasantly surprised when I discovered that the entirety of Thai culture is built upon the idea that everything works better when the greatest number of people are happy, or at least contented with the decision being considered. Always consider the equilibrium of the group when making personal decisions. The happiness of the group is of greater importance than the advantage of one individual. I thought, how wonderful! That’s how I feel about it!
I would not say that Thailand is perfect. No place on earth is perfect. I will say that most of the Local Rules in Thailand are designed to create the greatest possible harmony among the greatest possible number of people.
I can support that message.
Thursday, January 10, 2019
Shinya Kimura builds these things by hand. Every one is different. I don't think that he builds anything to order, and for all I know he doesn't 'sell any of them either. He gets ideas, and he builds the bikes.
How about this one? Isn't it a beauty? Ever seen one just like it?
I doubt it. This fellow is an artist.
We don't die all at once, as though we were alive one minute and dead the next. Neither do we age and die one year at a time. It's more like we stay on a certain plateau for a few years until some event pushes us along the road to death. We die a little bit at a time, at intervals. That point was driven home to me at the age of thirty-eight when I experienced a burst appendix after six months of what had been a mysterious malady. It was mysterious in my case mostly because I didn't have insurance. Someone with insurance in the same situation would have been diagnosed properly, using various scans and maybe an MRI, and the problem would have been discovered. But that's another story. As so often happens, I digress before I even begin! On that occasion, I lived, so all's well that ends well, right?
The point is that after those months of weakness due to undiagnosed infection, and after pillar to post abdominal exploratory surgery, and after a period of recuperation, I had the clear impression that I had aged at least five years, when really only a bit under a year had passed. I don't think that I had changed at all for the five years previous to the onset of the infection. Afterwards, however, the weight that I had lost came back in a different shape, my resistance to things like viruses and infections was lower, and immediately thereafter I began to put on weight without having changed my eating or exercise habits at all. If anything, I was eating better and less. Aging is like a French New Wave movie: it comes in jump-cuts.
The Build Up To Death
For me, as I am sure it is for many other people, I hardly seemed to age at all between the ages of twenty-five and forty, except for losing a bit of hair around the “male pattern baldness” spot and that episode with the appendix. After that, every little health challenge seemed to knock a bit more of the wind out of me.
That's another important phenomenon, the shift in the tide of our lives that happens more or less around our fortieth year, give or take five or six years, depending on the individual. For one friend of mine, it happened around the age of thirty-two, and he was dead way before he turned sixty. It happened to Clint Eastwood much later than forty, but the tide finally changed on him as well. For the first forty or so years of our lives, the tide is rushing in. We are full of life, immune to viruses, bacteria, and the effects of drinking and cigarettes. After forty, and from then on, we become increasingly susceptible to all of those things. We have begun, in fact, the process of dying, a little bit at a time, and most of it happens in those jump-cuts.
I was very lucky, myself. I wasn't very careful about my health, other than some fortuitous accidents. My diet as a child was just terrible, consisting mostly of sugar, pan-fried meats, and buttered bread. When I got to high school, I supplemented this meager fare with some pizza every chance I got. The only vegetables visible in my house were potatoes and cans of peas. The canned peas could remain in the cabinets for years. My mother rarely cooked even the potatoes. There was never any fruit. Then I married a woman who was raised in a family where they actually ate nutritious food. Thanks to her efforts in our family's kitchen, my sons and I had a rather good diet.
Regarding exercise, I got an awful lot of exercise before I got married. The atmosphere in my house was so poisonous that I remained outside as much as possible, and when there were no games going on I simply walked around looking for friends or something to do. After I got married, I had jobs that included a lot of exercise for twenty years. I carried the mail; I worked in warehouses for ten years; my wife and I were child-care providers. I was on my feet for almost all of every working day, walking and lifting things. But you die anyway. You cannot eat or exercise your way out of it.
After forty, I was at law school or working as a lawyer. That's a more sedentary lifestyle. Either way, though, no one gets out of these blues alive. I was still luckier than most. My weight went up and down a bit, but at sixty-eight years old I weighed only 160 pounds and got a fair amount of exercise, eating a pretty good diet of mostly Thai food and sandwiches. Then I came to a major jump-cut.
The jump cut of all time, as it turns out. It was brought on by that soap-operaish moment when I was forced to confront the fact that I had never been more to my parents than a source of embarrassment and disappointment. The was the moment shortly after the death of my father, the second of them to die, when I discovered that he thought so little of me that he declined to trust me with even a nickel of his money, nor even with the care of one book or other item of property. Nothing in the will about me but the usual threats aimed at obvious potential heirs who are zeroed out. To add insult to injury, he left what would have been my share to my ex-wife. That would be the woman who kicked me out after forty years of marriage and told me never to come back, and then had the nerve to complain when I filed for divorce after five years of forced exile. Not having that money reduced my medical security considerably, and will almost certainly shorten my life. And whatever my father thought, you may believe me that I would not have squandered any of it on fancy cars or vacations. To me, bank money is sacred. Bank money is for matters of life and death, like doctor bills.
This happened almost three years ago, and it has added no less than ten years to my actual age. That means that my internal organs are acting like I'm eighty years old. That makes it “Bucket List” time.
I am just beginning to relax about those family matters. It's terrible to be so outmaneuvered by a dead man, by what the law calls, “the bony hand from the grave.” This was a man who effectively abandoned us when I was ten and my sister was six. These people are clever, though. They set up the play so that they appear blameless. My father stopped coming home from work. He would come home evenings for one or two days at a time, and on those days he would arrive home late from work, or the airport, make his own dinner, and sit by himself, reading and listening to music on the radio, generally opera. He made sure to present his charming person at every family gathering, on every holiday. All of my cousins think that he was the best dad of all time. At all other times he left my sister and me at home alone with my mother, a bitter, violent, resentful all-day drinker who seems to have blamed her failed marriage on me. (It was a little better for my sister, I am happy to report.) Between them, they left me with an ACE score of five out out of six. (The only one that I missed out on was sexual abuse, thank God for little favors.) I have since deduced from evidence that my mother was blaming me for the large monthly household budget overrun caused by her bottle-per-day drinking habit. She covered it by telling my father that my allowance was thirty dollars per week. Bear in mind that this was when either a piece of pizza or a ride on the subway cost fifteen cents. $125 per month was a mortgage payment! No wonder my father always saw me as a wasteful spendthrift. I had to laugh at that one, but he believed it, and she got away with it.
The will thing was a blow that I almost did not recover from. There were immediate physical repercussions. Orthopedic, dental, cardiac, and psychological. At odd points during the day I would mumble, “but I was a good boy!” And I was. Not to mention that I was very good to them as an adult. I chose to accept their shortcomings and be a loving son to them. We must set a good example for our own children. I called my mother often, and we spoke for a long time. We visited every year, taking turns making the coast to coast trip. For the last nine years of my father's life, I visited him every year around his birthday. Flying from Thailand, no less! I'm bitter about it, I'll admit. (Incidentally, I now get the cold shoulder from my sons, too.)
The Actual Dying
My own belief about death has not changed since I first formulated it in my late teens. I expect being dead to be the single easiest thing that I have ever done. In many ways, I am looking forward to it. I've been over this ground on the blog before, so I'll keep it short. Before we were born, we had no existence of any kind. After we die, we revert to that state of nothingness. When I came to this conclusion, over fifty years ago, the belief made me an outlier, but now I encounter more and more people who have come to the identical, obvious conclusion. The being dead part is unthreatening and unchallenging. It's the dying part that give us all pause.
But hey, it's been done by every human being that has ever lived on the earth. Done successfully and with no particular effort required. Even suicide, where indicated, is dead easy. (Get it?) Death may be painful; it may be disgusting; it may be embarrassing; but it has been done by everyone who ever lived. And having accomplished the actual dying part, you won't be around to worry about it.
So how hard can it be?
Monday, January 7, 2019
Got six to eight thousand extra hours that you are looking to fill with excitement and end-product motivation? Why not learn to machine your own miniature metal engine parts and build a replica of your favorite car or airplane engine about the length of your forearm?
These miniature engine guys amaze me. Imagine the size of the valves on these engines. As big as your pinky nail. Little tiny springs. It's all home made, from original blueprints, scaled down by the builders. These gallant home machining enthusiasts take the cake for patience, dedication, focus, and sheer sticktoitiveness. They get these little beauties to run! I am wide eyes and gape-mouthed every time I watch one of these videos.
Some of the guys in this video even build the entire vehicle to go around the tiny engine. How about that guy who built a whole miniature Spitfire to go around his miniature Merlin engine? I say miniature, but the Spitfire would fill the bed of a pick-up truck. Got to stay in the right scale, you know! It flies, and presumably he can land it too. Another fellow built an entire 1940 Ford Coupe hot-rod to go with his miniature supercharged V-8. The dedication required to do this kind of thing is extremely bad-ass.
Me, I'll stick with reading and watching Netflix. These guys are inspirational in the way that professional athletes and top scientists inspire us. They show us what we humans are capable of. Vast investments of talent and time, dedicated to the simple satisfaction of a huge job well done. No commercial potential that I can detect! It's all truly amazing.
Thursday, January 3, 2019
I'm just finding out about these guys. The guitarist and the drummer also work with the Delvon Lamaar Trio, and Mr. Lamaar sits in on the B3 with the True Loves. Great roots/retro music from both outfits. Too bad all of the money in music goes to six acts at the top of the food chain.
I came late in life to jazz, and slowly. Take Five, by Dave Brubeck, was an early wake up call. I was in my mid-teens. I bought an off-label LP out of a cut-out bin at Woolworth's for less than a dollar, and when I played it I remember thinking, “wow, you can do that?” But still, it did not exactly seize my imagination.
Later on, with a growing record collection and having listened occasionally to WBLS, I grew outwards from the old “guitars, three or four chords, the blues, and probably a saxophone,” to listen to things with a bit more variety. Still, however, it was the cliched choices of a white boy from Queens. Wes Montgomery (guitars), and Jimmy Smith (who doesn't love the B3?). The black touring bands like James Brown, Ike Turner, and B.B. King helped a lot to expand the pallet. Some of the English bands helped out too, and I did love Julie Driscoll, singing with Brian Auger and the Trinity (another B3 band). I don't know, slowly my ear became more flexible. I was becoming a better player myself (guitar), and learning more theory, and it all expands the consciousness. Learning about Salsa music brought brass into the picture.
Much later I learned the mantra of jazz combos, “everybody solos.” Very democratic, and I approve in general. I say, “in general,” because if you've got 'Trane in the band, let him blow to his heart's content. If he finishes up the set, or if he closes the place and they shut the lights off, just let the man play. No complaints. But it's a nice idea to give everybody their own couple of choruses to sing the song. That's what I call, “me, getting to the point.”
“Everybody” includes the bass player and the drummer, and I endorse that idea completely, WITH THE FOLLOWING CAVEAT:
- The bass player and the drummer should stick to singing the song, like everybody else. If you are a bass player, don't just pick the key and do whatever the hell you feel like in that key. Stay on the chord changes; keep the time; find the themes and the melodies; sing the song! And the rest of the band, please note. The bass solo is not your cue to lay out and smoke a cigarette. Comp the bass player! He's been compin your lazy ass all night. And even the drummer. Stay with the song as much as possible! Sing it! You have a beautiful instrument there in front of you, don't just punish it! Follow the changes and the melodies. It has been done. Even I have heard it done. And band, don't just leave the drummer out there on his own either, same as the bass player. Accompany the drummer!
Oh, it's not only the bass players and the drummers. Piano players get lost in their solos too. Just lose the band and go searching for fascinating new chord inversions. The hell with that. You have a perfectly good song here. Play it! Sing it! Fuck around on your own time.
I mean sing it with your instrument, of course.
I mean sing it with your instrument, of course.
Thank you all for allowing me that time to rant about what is no doubt an obscure peeve. Your attention has been a rare gift in this despicable holiday season. I see, for instance, that the last of the BRIC countries has fallen into Satan's grasp. That would be Brazil, where the forecast is for sudden extremes of racism (in Brazil, no less!), homophobia, and environmental destruction on a scale that is only possible in Brazil, because no one else has that much forest left. As the world continues to descend to the lower depths, please remember that music is one of our few reliable pleasures. So let's try to get it right, okay?
Tuesday, January 1, 2019
Happy New Year, y'all! How's this whole 21st Century thing working out for you? You okay? No worries about money? Social Security? You getting all of your health care and your medicine right on time? You got a pension or something? Still working, like I am? Got that Supplemental Medicare? You can afford to live comfortably? You giving up all of your info on social media while they make billions and never share any of it with you? The provider? You're cool with the government, your government, listening to every phone call and reading every e-mail? You okay with that? You get your shakedown up at the airport and you're okay with that? Like you were some terrorist or something? Take off them shoes! You drive from Arizona to New Mexico and get one or two shakedowns along the highway, and you're cool? “Are you an American citizen?”
You're okay with all of that? When I hear that “American” question on the highway I bite my tongue until it bleeds. “Yes, officer,” I say as gently as I can. What I want to say is, “listen to my fucking accent and you tell me, you fucking idiot!” And get that dog away from my car. I'm on my way to visit my elderly father, unless, that is, such a thing has become illegal.
You know that American citizens around the world who are identified as terrorists by college aged hipsters with dubious credentials are getting zotzed by Predator drones firing Hellfire missiles and you're okay with that? What happened, you got tired of Due Process or something? And what about collateral damage? “It's cool, take out the whole wedding party.” You know that toddlers are being yanked from their mothers' arms IN AMERICA and being sent to “Tender Age Detention Centers” and you just go ahead on with your happy life? You can do that? Some of you are grandparents, as I am. And yet, very few of us seem to have any compassion for these “tender aged” prisoners. Have you seen the videos of those four-year-olds appearing in Immigration Court alone, and being asked questions by the judge? Not a lawyer in sight, except the lawyer representing the American government. What has happened to this country?
And by now, you're okay with a State Department made up of empty hallways and vacant offices? Who needs ambassadors to shit-hole countries anyway! And they're all shit-hole countries! We're America! We don't need the rest of the world! We don't fucking negotiate or cooperate! When we want your opinion, we'll beat it out of you!
Would you be comfortable relaxing your grip on that delusion for a moment and considering that this shit is not normal? Maybe you're so young that you grew up in this vicious simulacrum of America and think that it's all normal. Well, it's not.
Even George W. Bush, who is generally and correctly considered to have been a total asshole as president, kept the Federal Agencies fully manned an allowed them to do their jobs with their customary dignity.
There was a time, in my lifetime, when just the thought of requiring the constant showing of ID was anathema; the thought, just the thought, of being searched on a regular basis without probable cause was considered to be Soviet or fascist bullshit. Sure, this freedom allowed some people to get away with things, relatively inconsequential things. Like smuggling weed or something. Who cares? Have you ever considered “Beyond a Reasonable Doubt” as a standard of proof for criminal cases? No, I daresay, you have not. That standard is designed specifically to let some guys off in spite of the fact that the jury was pretty sure that they actually did it. Don't take my word for it, I'm just a lawyer licensed to practice law in the state of California and in the Federal Courts of two districts. Look it up. You can do that, you know. When things get that important, give the accused the benefit of the doubt.
But hey, what can we do about any of this? You? Me? We're just riding this runaway train hoping for the best. Or, as I often pray, “please God, just don't let the worst happen!”
So Happy New Year! Now please consider this situation and decide whether you're totally cool with it all, or if you might want to lift one pinky finger off of the table top to do some good in the world while you still have some breath in you.
I won't hold it against you if you don't want to help. Most people don't, so you're in good company. Happy New Year!