Sunday, May 31, 2020
This album was like a wake-up call to the music world. The 1960s were a time of great change in many fields of music, free jazz, new classical music, new forms arising in pop and rock, great advances in electronics and recording equipment, and by the early 1970s, the possibilities for everything had been wildly expanded. This LP illustrated this new freedom to non-musicologists like me.
Happy June 1st, everybody!
Friday, May 29, 2020
This is a respectable cover, including an appearance by Robert Fripp, if the comments are to be believed. The real star, as usual, is Ms. Harry, shown here in an extensive collection of very nice photographs.
I would tell you how much Debbie looked like my first wife, whom I had already been with for ten years, but you'd think I was just showing off.
Tuesday, May 26, 2020
So many questions are left unanswered in life. So many are unanswerable! People's hopes and dreams are often unattainable. Many people have no hopes or dreams! It doesn't matter much, in the sweet by and by. Almost everybody is disappointed in the end.
There is, however, one hope that can immediately be brought to fruition. One dream that is never denied. One wish that will always be granted, every time. When the day comes, when you understand completely and clearly that you cannot do this even one more time, you cannot wake up again and try to go through the motions even one more day, or perhaps not even for one more hour, when your only wish is for it all to be over, that wish is within your own power to grant. Your wish to be quit of all of life's hassles, embarrassments, disappointments, humiliations, and pains, will be granted. Your dream to be free of it all will come true. And for once, there will be no strings attached. It's not like the story “The Monkey's Paw,” by W.W. Jacobs, where there are terrible penalties for interfering with fate. You will simply cease to exist. You will return to the great nothingness that is the common ground shared by all future and past tense human beings. Present tense humans have the power to end it all any time they wish. Their verb changes to “was.”
It concerns me that I seem to think about suicide more than most people. Or, who knows, maybe thinking about it is more widespread than I imagine, and the difference is that most people don't talk about it as much as I do. In either case, I have come to think of suicidal ideation as a control technique. That, and a safety valve. In a world where the individual of limited resources is tossed violently on the heavy seas of human society, it comforts me to know that if the time comes when I can no longer stand it, I won't have to. According to the fire codes of life, the exit doors are always left unlocked. We are all free to exit any time we choose to do so.
Please note that I am not recommending suicide. Not for any individual, and certainly not for everybody. For most people, the natural order of things will deliver them into the comforting arms of death soon enough. Our time on earth is short, and it passes quickly. This is one of the few kindnesses that fate shows us. I, for one, am grateful.
Also note that I have no immediate plans to end my life. Nor, however, am I just fooling around. Somewhere in between, let's say. There may be someone close to you that is sending out signals that frighten you. If that is the case, here is a tip: people who really want to kill themselves rarely talk about it. They just do it. People who talk about suicide may be knocking the idea around like I do, reassuring themselves that there will be a way out if push comes to shove. Or they may be playing with your emotions. That is unfortunately a popular thing to do.
“Attempted suicides” often fall into the same category as confessions of intent. They're just messing with you. It's not like killing yourself was difficult. Quite the opposite, it's very easy. There are plastic bags everywhere, and any one of them will do the job just fine. Dry cleaning bags. You can drown yourself in a toilet bowl if you're serious about it. Any domicile is full of things that will serve perfectly well to hang yourself. Guns, of course, are a no-brainer (pun intended).
One sure sign that someone is just playing with your emotions is when they wonder out loud about the “best” way to kill yourself. Then they find something to worry about with every method. They wonder if it hurts to asphyxiate yourself with a plastic bag, and how long it hurts, or even how long is it uncomfortable. How long does it take to drown? Does it hurt? If they are worried about their own comfort in the act of self-destruction, they are not being serious. You can feel free to ignore them. In fact, go ahead and make fun of them.
I have obviously thought about all of this, so I should include a few cautionary tales.
Pills! Pills seem like such an easy way out. Tell a sympathetic doctor that your back is killing you, maybe do a bit of doctor-shopping, and get a script for Oxy, or Percocets, or something. Save them up, wash a bunch of them down with vodka, and voila! That sounds like the easy way out for a lot of people. You do need to be careful, though. Remember what happened to Lupe Valez. Excuse me, nobody remembers what happened to Lupe Velez. She was a movie star in the way-back, and when her star dimmed she decided to kill herself with pills. Her mistake was first consuming a meal of her favorite stuff, chili. Followed by pills and whiskey. When she began to vomit, she made her way to the bathroom, where she ended up drowning in the toilet bowl. Not a glamorous way to be discovered after the fact. I'm sure that she had spread flower petals on the couch to leave a more beautiful tableau for the cops. You also run the risk with pills of not taking enough, or getting the mix wrong. Many attempted pill-suicides wake up in the hospital with brain damage, a tube down their throats, and a huge hospital bill.
Shooting your own head off is a popular way to go, but there's an important trick to it. Don't shoot yourself in the temple! We see that so often in movies, or even cartoons. If you shoot yourself in the temple, you're liable to miss your brain all together. In one side and out the other, and the only thing that you lose is your eyesight and part of your sinuses that you didn't need anyway. Again, you wake up in the hospital with bandages around your head, fully aware of your situation, with somebody reading you the bill. At least this way you can hang around in bars and tell the fascinating story of how you lost your eyesight. Maybe people will buy you drinks.
Jumping from a high spot appeals to some people's sense of drama. Done properly, it does work. Here too, however, great care must be taken. I read one time in the Long Beach, California newspaper about a guy who decided to end it all by jumping. He made his way to the roof of a twenty-three story residential building, condos, apartments, I'm not sure. But twenty-three stories. That's well over two hundred feet, so it was plenty tall enough. I was working right down the road at the time, and both buildings were on the ocean side of the street. You want to pick your landing spot carefully in these situations, and check for windage. This poor guy omitted those steps. He jumped, and somewhere in the first two hundred feet the wind caught him and threw him into a big tree. He made his way painfully through the tree before it threw him out the other side, where after a brief sail through the air he landed on the awning of the building. Sturdy thing too, and springy. He bounced off onto the grass. He was scratched to hell from the tree, and he broke a few bones, but he was as alive as you or me. Disappointed? Embarrassed? Relieved? Pissed off? Probably some combination of those things.
Drowning in freezing cold water is total must to avoid. Over the course of my long life I have often read stories about people who had apparently drowned in frozen lakes after falling through the ice. I say apparently, because apparently when the body drowns in freezing cold water it goes into some kind of hibernation instead of dying right off. People drown in frozen lakes all the time, but it only makes the papers if some fireman revives them after they've been in the water for ten or twenty minutes. Think what you will, but that sounds like the plot for a horror movie to me. I'd rather be hit by lightning, and from what I've heard, that's no party.
The car in the garage; the head in the oven; the high speed crash into a bridge abutment; the cutting of the wrists; the pajama clad walk into the snow storm; there are a million ways to go. In a bed, of old age, no matter how sick you may be, is probably as good as any of them. Your conscience will be clear that way. I don't believe in any kind of judgment, but a clear conscience couldn't hurt. Who knows?
It's up to you.
Monday, May 25, 2020
(If this has been taken down, note that it is the cut, "Catch Me Daddy," from the CD "Live at Winterland, April 1968," by Big Brother and the Holding Company.)
This fantastic CD is a story that is very happy and terribly sad all at the same time. After a couple of years as a spongy jam band for stoned, uncritical dancers, Big Brother started getting some attention. Mostly directed at Janis. They went on their first nationwide tour, and they took it seriously. They practiced, for a change, and they all finally got their act together. Good new covers, and some good new songs by Sam Andrew, the five of them grew up and learned how to play for people who sat and listened. The tour turned them into a rather good band, working very well with Janis, whose hurricane-in-a-duststorm approach was becoming popular. The last three shows of the tour were at Winterland, and this CD is drawn from those three shows. All of that hard work paid off. The band is very tight and professional, and they all sound happy. And then . . .
Somebody listened to somebody's bad advice and pulled out the wrong Jenga block. Later, probably 1969, I saw Janis fronting the band that she put together, more like the band that was put together for her, after that somebody had talked her into dumping Big Brother. The new thing was called "The Full Tilt Boogie Band" or something. It was a very professional outfit, in both the positive and the negative connotations of that word. Never a big fan, I remember thinking that Janis was a better band member than a band leader.
Much later I bought this CD. Janis had been dead for over twenty years by then. I realized that the band, including Janis, had really turned itself into something that they could be proud of. I thought, good for them. I hope that the guys made a living.
Saturday, May 23, 2020
Some people hide their true natures from others as a way of sneaking their faults under the radar until it's too late. They go out on dates and order mineral water, instead of their usual six or eight cocktails. They turn down reefer at parties, when they usually smoke a gram every couple of days. Ladies, be careful. That ardent lover that you're considering marrying may turn out to be a selfish and lazy lover after the honeymoon. Look for the signs, ask around. I don't know how you discover the truth. I ain't no Dick Tracy. But try.
Some men, like me, are the opposite. In fact, I tend to broadcast my true nature, my likes and dislikes, very early in any budding relationship, whether potentially a friendship or a love interest. I have abandonment issues, and one way of avoiding abandonment is to clear the air right away so that there are no surprises. If there's something about me that you don't like, I won't be keeping it a secret. Better that you know these things right away. The sooner you skate, the better it will be for both of us. I'm not here to waste anybody's time.
I kept no secrets from the woman who became my first wife, that's for sure. She married me anyway. Much to her eventual chagrin. If you have any questions about our divorce, don't ask me. I never understood why she loved me, and I have certainly never understood exactly why she kicked me out. But honestly, can't we agree on this? It would have been better if she had stopped returning my calls after the first few months. Better than kicking me out after we had raised two children together, and we were both already on Medicare.
Surely, she saw the signs. I was totally indifferent to making a living. In fact, my favorite form of employment was unemployment. I was a bundle of nerves, a hive of anxiety, and deeply angry and depressed. I drank alcohol every day, and I preferred to sleep very late. Along with my friends, I bought my share of everything that we could get our hands on. My friends and I enjoyed it all together, on a very regular basis. I hated school, although I was a voracious reader of unassigned materials. I hated conformity, authority, work, society, my parents, politics, and myself.
Even my positives were annoying. I was a serious, motivated movie fan when we began to date. No, I was a serous fan of cinema, that's it! Cinema! World cinema! I'm still a fan, but for about ten years there I was crazy on the subject. I went to see films two or three times every week, either alone or with a friend. The Italian Neo-Realists; the French New Wave; silent films; Bergman; Fellini; screwball comedies; and, perhaps especially, Japanese movies. Art houses, museums, re-run theaters, the tiny Japanese-only theater west of Broadway in the high-40s, wherever the good stuff was being shown cheap. I guess I did begin by taking my then girlfriend to sure things, like “Blazing Saddles,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” or maybe Marx Brothers' movies. Who doesn't love the Marx Brothers? But I went too far very quickly.
We went to see a triple feature one time. Was it at the old New Yorker theater uptown? Yes, it was. The first movie was “Un Chien Andalou,” by Luis Bunuel, credited, I believe, to Bunuel and Salvatore Dali. That film was, let's say, experimental. Surrealism on the movie screen. I was spellbound, so I didn't notice that she was less than thrilled.
The next feature was, “The Night of the Living Dead,” the original, about a year after its first release. Again, I was fascinated. Not just to be watching the movie, but to consider how one very talented man could have put that movie together for almost no money, obviously having to spoon-feed all of the (probably) amateur actors all of their lines and stage direction. It was a real triumph of the will. The will of one man, “I'm going to make a feature film, damn it!” My future wife was unimpressed. No, that's not true. She totally hated it.
Bear in mind that the theater was crowded with very respectful cinephiles. It was the times.
The third movie was Ingmar Bergman's, “Hour of the Wolf,” which, to be fair, can seem a bit obscure to the uninitiated. Again, I was too wrapped up in the movie to notice that my girlfriend was grinding her teeth, sitting there like an unexploded bomb, with her arms tightly folded and her chin making a mark on her pretty breastbone.
“That's the last time I let you pick the movie!”
If you had asked me, at the time, to make a list of everything that I loved about her, I could have filled pages. If you had asked her to do the same thing about me, she might have sat there for five or ten minutes with a furrowed brow, chewing on the pencil. The nicest thing that she ever said to me was, “at least you're not boring.”
In light of subsequent events, she might have added, “. . . yet.”
You might also like Robert Palmer's cover of this song. Many of the same musicians on both versions. If it ain't broke, don't fix it!
Thursday, May 21, 2020
Yesterday, Trump announced that he has been prophylactically taking hydroxychloroquine. Side effects include “delusions.” Today, Trump accused a TV journalist (via Twitter) of murder in the accidental death of an employee at the journalist's office in 2001. He seemed to understand what he was saying. He called for an investigation. That is slander-per-se, for one thing, untruthfully accusing another person of a heinous crime. (Or libel-per-se, if a Tweet is officially considered to be publication.) The death was that of a young woman at work in the office at the time. She was stricken by some medical event, lost consciousness, fell to the floor, and hit her head just right. The blow to the head killed her. There was a police investigation, and it was written up as an accidental death incident to the medical event. The journalist wasn't even in the state at the time, and no one who was in the office caused her to fall. Trump's accusation at this late date is the action of someone who seems delusional. I think that it's fair to ask: which came first, the hydroxychloroquine or the delusions? He says that he has only been taking the medicine for a couple of weeks (and that he will be discontinuing it in a couple of days).
Anyone familiar with Trump's public behavior over the last four decades knows that “delusions” have always been part of Trump's profile. It's easy to get bogged down in examples, so I'll just go with, “biggest crowds of any presidential inauguration in history.” For a post-hydroxychloroquine delusion, let's go with “Obamagate,” and the afore mentioned murder accusation.
A better question might be: is Trump actually taking hydroxychloroquine? Which he, in his way, refers to as, “the hydroxy.” I would bet that he is not now taking it, nor ever has. It's just part of his sales pitch, because he has a financial interest in the company. “I've been hearing a lot of good things about it.” It's safe to say that the promotion is making money for the corporation. Trump's fellow traveler in Brazil, President Jair Bolsonaro, is now pushing the drug for general use on COVID-19 sufferers there.
COVID-19 is a dream come true for Bolsonaro. The odds are that it will kill off primarily Brazilians from the lower economic demographics. As a bonus, it seems to have fatally moved into indigenous populations. The virus will provide an effective distraction from Bolsonaro's program of leveling the entire Amazon rain-forest. The Indians who have called that huge jungle “home” for eons were already on Bolsonaro's shit-list. These political leaders who are now blowing it so spectacularly will probably come out okay in the end. They'll figure out a way to take the credit when the whole mess is ready to wrap-up, either by way of a vaccine or the virus itself running out of steam. People who believe and follow guys like Bolsonaro or Trump will believe anything.
The virus is now doing boffo business in the heartland states of America, where Trump has had his greatest electoral successes. It will be interesting to see the result when the spike in COVID deaths comes from Trump's base. They were happy to laugh it off when Trump was saying that it will all go away on its own, and the dying was mostly occurring in coastal states. Very quickly they were desperate to get back to work, which was understandable, and desperate to get back to Applebee's, which was not understandable. And to get back to their phony churches, of course, because it's so important to handle that collection plate and give your last money to those phony preachers. They want to do all of that without masks or social distancing. They're suffering now, and how they react will be illuminating. Trump is already steering them towards blaming China, and my guess is that their natural dislike of the coastal states will lead them to also direct blame at New York and California. Eventually, as is usually the case, someone will suggest blaming the Jews. Reason would suggest blaming Trump, at least for the severity of the pandemic in America. Trump's base seems adamant, though, about “dancing with the one they brung.”
I have heard that older Americans are beginning to wonder if their trust in Trump was misplaced. Maybe Trump really is an idiot, as most older Americans had firmly believed throughout his career in the public eye, up to the point where he chose to run for president. I will also believe that one when I see it, and not before. My own geezer Trump fan Facebook Friends are still hard core.
Ultimately our protection will fall into the hands of President Michael Pompeo. Mike loves his religion, and you will too, if you know what's good for you. America will return to universal conscription in preparation for Armageddon. Church services, at the churches of government approved evangelical Christian religions, will be mandatory. (Sunday services, and Wednesday evening Bible study. No masks please! We have Jesus to protect us.) Antidisestablishmentarianism will again be a hot topic in our political discourse. Heretical sects will be terminated. Buy stock now in private prison corporations; avoid the rush. All against the backdrop of continuously rising temperatures, climate catastrophes, new pandemics, and weather driven mass migrations.
I'm afraid that this train is just getting rolling.
Monday, May 18, 2020
The four founding members of Can were Holger Czukay, Jaki Liebezeit, Michael Karoli, and Irmin Schmidt. (Not in order of importance, a concept that they all would have rejected in its entirety.) Can were the best band that you've never heard of, and the echos of their influence have been important to rock, pop, jazz, classical, and progressive music since the day that the band was founded. They had no intention to be popular, to be groundbreaking, to be well liked, or to make money, although they casually, almost accidentally, managed to do all of those things. If you have heard their music at all, it was probably in a film score, or, if you are German, the score of a TV show. Or even an advertising jingle. Those things paid the bills, while Can made records that were gobbled up in the dozens by enthusiastic fans.
This was the 1970s, and early on, suddenly, there was a burst of energy from Germany. Really, energy, since the music followed the rules of physics as well as the rules of music. Kraftwerk was the door to this music, but Can was the destination. There were a lot of very good outfits in this scene, Guru Guru; Amun Duul; Popol Vu; Faust; Tangerine Dream; to name a few. I will still say that Can was the destination, because their music was the most consistently excellent, challenging, and entertaining.
I am not the type who keeps up with things; I am the type who lets things slip into the twilight of memory. I do not forget things that had a powerful effect on me, and I revisit the music and the visual arts that I have loved along the line, but they will usually be considered as objects of memory, as opposed to ongoing interests. I was surprised, for instance, to discover that Holger Czukay, Can's bass player, had released a steady stream of terrific solo-albums during the 1980s and 1990s. There was one question, however, that remained in the back of my head for almost fifty years: why did this positive explosion of innovative electronic music appear in Germany in the 1970s?
A friend from that time recently made me aware of a book called, “Can: All Gates Open,” which presents the story of Can in microscopic detail. I got a Kindle copy, and I'm a few chapters into it, and I can report that it will be answering my question about “why?”
Thinking and reading about Can, I have unfortunately discovered that only Irmin Schmidt remains alive. I am glad to have lived as long as I have, but there is a sadness in the closeness of death that comes along with it. I am daily reminded that my contemporaries are succumbing to death, which forcefully implies that I will be joining them soon. Michael Karoli, Can's guitarist and the youngest of the group, has been dead for some time. Holger and Jaki both died in 2017, and it occurred to me that I could easily have died that year myself. Very easily, and, in fact, I probably came very close.
Can one experience a heart attack and simply wait it out, without dying? It appears that I did just that some time in 2017. The facts suggest that it did happen, as later confirmed by a medical professional and an experienced heart attack victim (my friend Bill, five heart attacks, all with bypass operations). Why would anyone just wait it out, when the symptoms were so unambiguous? That's a fair question. The answer is in the variations in the human personality.
Kevin Smith is a popular, successful performer and movie maker. I enjoy his work, and I'm glad that he's okay. He has traditionally been on the heavy side, and after a stand-up comedy set not long ago he began to experience symptoms. Chest pains, thermal blasts, shortness of breath, left arm pain, the usual. He laid on the floor and had someone call 911, this all happened backstage in the dressing room right after his set. The hospital rushed him through an echocardiogram, an ECG, and whatever else, maybe a cat scan, and they decided to put him on the table immediately and do an angiogram. They found things they didn't like and they put in a few stents. They had fixed some very constricted areas of the one they call, “the widow maker.” In America, that all comes to about $100,000, including the ambulance and a night or two in the cardiac ICU. After that he was fine. That's the way it happens when the victim is a relatively well-adjusted person with some money, great insurance, and a successful career.
But I'm not that guy. You may recall that I live in Thailand, for one thing. My story begins in 2016, when there was a shocking emotional event in my life. That followed closely on the heels of another shocking emotional event in 2014. In 2017 my blood pressure started to crawl upwards. Now, bear in mind that I had never had a chest pain in my life, no one on either side of my family has ever, to my knowledge, died of a heart attack, and after a previous echocardiogram the doctor had told me that I had “the heart of a race horse.” A pattern emerged in 2017: my blood pressure would elevate beyond acceptable limits as the evening progressed. This happened whether I was having cocktails or not. It got to the point where I was taking notes and seeing a cardiologist. I had a machine to keep track.
One evening, at about nine p.m., I began to experience chest pains. These grew quickly to alarming proportions. My left arm began to hurt. I went to the couch and took my blood pressure. It was 183/105. I had never seen anything close to that previously. I returned to my desk, where by now my ears were whistling, and the chest pains were sharp, and both arms were aching, and my hands were beginning to hurt. So the question became: what should I do? I could get a taxi to the hospital, or I could call the hospital and they would send an ambulance. It's a very good hospital, no fooling around, and they had my file. I thought, sure, and I'll get there and my BP will be way down, the pains will have subsided, and then I'll have to hang around all night while they do a stress test and an echo, which is already a few hundred dollars, and maybe a cat scan, which is another eight hundred. So I said fuck it. Let's just see what happens. And I rode it out. It took about a half hour, with half of that time being descending action. After a half hour, my BP was within normal limits (if a bit on the high side), and I felt fine.
Over the next few months, I got the stress-test, and the echo, and the cat scan, and the angioplasty with the stents. Two stents on the widow maker, in fact. Over that few months I had experienced recurring chest pains, which I treated with nitro pills provided by my cardiologist. They worked every time. The difference in our approaches to the problem is the difference between Mr. Smith and me. My budget is a closely watched thing, with narrow margins for error, and my health insurance policy is very limited in scope (although they do pay their share, which I appreciate). But the critical difference is that I am deeply depressed, and I would leave behind only a lifetime of underachievement. Only my second wife would mourn my passing, and she's a Buddhist, so she would accept it pretty readily at my age. It was easy for my to sit there and think, “fuck it, if I die, I die, I'm riding this shit out.”
The early death of Mr. Karoli saddens me. He gave a lot to the world, and he died at the age of 53 of an unspecified cancer. That always makes me suspicious that the cause of death was actually something more dramatic, but that's probably because I watched too many years of “All My Children” when I was a younger man (age 35 to 55). Mr. Czukay and Mr. Liebezeit lived fuller, longer lives, but their deaths were tragic considering the contributions that they had made in life. I wish Mr. Schmidt the best of luck in what I call, “the place of bad roads.” (Old Age.) If he wants to live forever, that's okay with me.
Me? I've had my seventy, my three-score-and-ten. Plus. So I'm on Golden Time. Whatever it is that overtakes me, and whenever that happens, is okay with me. As for funeral arrangements, to paraphrase Mark Twain, “the person in whose honor the event is being given does not care if there are flowers.”
Sunday, May 10, 2020
This happens to me too often: great musicians have to die to get my attention.
The band goes like crazy, and Richie himself is phenomenal, but you've got to hear the piano solo that comes after Richie's opening solo. Not only is Bobby Enriquez a fantastic conventional hard bop piano player, but he's got a bag of wild tricks up his sleeve. Too many piano guys make a dead spot when you shine a light on them. Bobby is so full of life cops want to blood test him.
RIP Richie. Nice nickname. Nice to meet you; I miss you already.
I've actually been to Brunswick, GA. That was long ago, before Route 95 was an interstate highway. Well, technically it was already an interstate highway, but at the time you were driving on a two-lane-blacktop with no lights that went straight through every little town between Roanoke, Virginia and the Florida border.
My grandparents had moved to Florida in the mid-1950s, and we went down to visit them regularly. One year, on the return trip, my father decided to stop in Brunswick overnight so we could do some sightseeing. It was one of our summer trips to Florida. Brunswick is the gateway to Sea Island, which is something like the Newport, Rhode Island of the south.
Sea Island is a really beautiful place, and if you've ever been there when it's hot you know why it's very popular with rich people. Especially rich people long ago, before air-conditioning. Georgia is a very hot, humid place, miserable, actually, but on Sea Island, it's like the air-con is on high all day long, even when there's no air-con. To get to Sea Island you first must find Brunswick, and from there, a low causeway bracketed by reeds leads out to Sea Island, which I believe is actually a couple of islands. As you go out the causeway, the temperature starts to drop. If it was ninety-five in Brunswick, which is nothing in Georgia, it'll be about seventy on Sea Island. Maybe even sixty-seven. It's cool. Hence the rich people. The houses were very impressive.
Ahmaud Abbery got gunned down for nothing last week in Brunswick, or some other little municipality on the outskirts of Brunswick. I'm not surprised at all. They say that he had been running around various neighborhoods for fun for many years. I'm surprised that he lasted as long as he did. Brunswick might look nicer than almost any similarly sized town in Georgia, but that doesn't make it a nice place. Those people are still fighting the Civil War; they have not yet accepted that they lost the Civil War. Black Americans? Hell, they hate most white Americans too. I learned that lesson very young.
Another year, on another trip, we had been to Florida for Christmas and my father knew that it was freezing cold in New York. We stopped for gas in Georgia, and he spotted a hardware store very close to the gas station. For those of you who mercifully grew up in a place that never froze, the door locks on a car will freeze solid if the car is left out in freezing weather overnight. You need to un-freeze the locks to get into the car, and the easiest way to do it is with this little spray thing of graphite powder that is called Lock-Ease. So my dad set me up for an adventure. I'm sure that he knew what he was doing. He gave me a buck or two and sent me to the hardware store. “Ask them if they have Lock-Ease.” Very simple. I had seen the stuff, and I knew what it was. I walked into the store, a nice eleven year old white kid, as white as a sheet of loose-leaf. “Hi,” I said, “you guys sell Lock-Ease?”
There was a guy on my side, and he just laughed and turned away. The guy behind the counter made a face and said, “Lockees? This is a hardware store! We don't sell cigarettes.” Just like that, as God is my witness. I was a regular little Bugs Bunny at the time, so I was happy to sarcastically explain to him what LOCK . . . EASE was, and ask him again if he had any. I guess it doesn't freeze overnight in Georgia, because the answer was still no. The lesson was that as soon as they heard my Nu Yawk accent, I was immediately put on the shit-list.
What chance did Mr. Abbery have running around places like that? He should have known better. He was a tall, sturdy, athletic black man too, just running around the neighborhood like he owned the joint. That's a good way to make the white folk angry in Brunswick, GA. God help him if he ever tried running out that causeway to Sea Island! I'm sure they have a gate by now, checking IDs. He'd have been killed long ago if anyone saw him running around a neighborhood on Sea Island.
This is your shining City on the Hill, America. What a bunch of bullshit.
Saturday, May 9, 2020
The YouTube algorithms presented for my approval a video about how the year 536 AD was the worst year of all time. I can't resist things that I know a little about. I'm a great enough fool to watch the whole video just to confirm what I already know for purposes of ego-gratification. It happened that I did know part of the story, plagues and steps along the path of the fall of Rome, but there was a major piece of the puzzle that had eluded me. 536 was the first of five or six years of very weak sunlight and cool temperatures. Growing seasons were severely affected all around the northern hemisphere, and famines and malnourishment became commonplace. These conditions probably set the stage for the onset of a plague, usually called the Plague of Justinian, which was almost certainly an early occurrence of the more famous Black Plague. That would be the Black Death of the Fourteenth Century. Death rates were comparable.
It was volcanoes. Iceland; El Salvador. There was a big eruption in the northern hemisphere every couple of years there for a while. It is a good lesson for us to note that up to the year 535, everyone was thinking that things were going very well. Good enough for them to become complacent. Justinian's great general Flavius Belisarius was stomping Goth butt all over the place; business was good; Constantinople was prosperous; and the Muslims had not yet arrived on the scene. Things often proceed this way. History lulls us into a false sense of security, and then, BAM! Right between the eyes.
We were as complacent as they must have been.
We completely took for granted all of the advances made in the lives of working people, things like weekends, vacations, sick-days, unemployment insurance, retirement security, affordable housing, and good free educations. And we hilariously took for granted all of the regulatory advances in the areas of cleaning up the environment, insuring worker safety, and preventing abusive banking practices. Many of us took pride in the advances that had been made in the area of civil rights, and those who did not agree with us learned to stay quiet about it. Slowly and covertly there were reactionary forces working to undo it all. Most of us missed it. Some, like me, saw the signs but lacked the courage, the time, and the energy to do something about it.
Now we are faced with our own year 536 AD. Surprise! Instead of volcanoes, we are being torn to pieces by a rapacious class of billionaire gangsters and their attendant wannabes, along with the Republican Party led by President Trump. With his cotton-candy hair, his awful parody of a suit and tie, and his deep catalog of comical facial expressions, Trump is the political equivalent of the fictional Pennywise, the clown with teeth, the clown who leaves a trail of blood-smear behind him wherever he goes.
Amazingly, even people who should know better act like all of this is something new. Yahoo News got ahold of a tape of President Obama saying that the rule of law may be at risk. This was in connection with the Justice Department, and Attorney General Bill Barr, dropping all of the charges against General Flynn after his fair-and-square conviction. He's the one who confessed and admitted twice in open Federal court to lying to the FBI about some political improprieties in eastern Europe. Obama belatedly believes that the rule of law MAY be at risk? It's like he fails to recall even the “Year of the Eight Justices.” Where was the rule of law then?
They don't even try to disguise their delight anymore. Someone asked Mr. Barr the other day what he thought history would make of his decision to free General Flynn. Barr has a grin that reminds me of Renfield in the Dracula movie, in his cell at the insane asylum bragging about all of the flies he has caught and eaten and how happy their deaths will make his master. So Barr puts on his own crazy little grin and says, “that depends on who writes the history, and history is usually written by the winners.” An FBI investigator named Asha Rangappa Tweeted that, “he seemed to be strangely confident that he'll be on the winning side.” Wondering out loud in the Tweet, “why would that be?”
The answer, Miss Asha, is that he knows something that we don't know. He has knowledge from a place where most Americans will not even allow their thoughts to roam. Even most Republicans still believe that they and their party are just playing hardball by the rules as they have always existed. Mr. Barr knows the truth. The rules mean nothing anymore. The Constitution means nothing anymore. Dear reader, your rights don't mean anything anymore. A couple of decades ago, politics in America became an all-or-nothing game where the ruthless beat the rule-bound every day of the week, and twice on Sunday. Win or lose in November, the Republicans will win, just like they consistently won during the eight years of Obama. Barr knows that this game is over.
Welcome to the new 536 AD! We even have our own plague! The major difference is that Justinian didn't want people to die. The famines will be here presently. Rule of Law? Requiescet in pace.
Thursday, May 7, 2020
Tuesday, May 5, 2020
You never know what you'll find if you look over in the dark corners of the show business. James Ray is known to most people for the simple reason that George Harrison covered the closest thing James ever had to a hit, which was I Got My Mind Set on You. I never really cared for either version of that song, but the rest of the album is terrific.
Saturday, May 2, 2020
Google describes “woke” as “an awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice . . .” There's certainly nothing wrong with that. I was blessed with such an awareness early in life, and I'm proud of it. It's much more complicated than that now. Being aware of such issues, and being firmly and verbally on the right side of such issues as they arise, is no longer enough. Many artificial issues have been promoted beyond their worth to society. The requirements of woke culture now constitute a list of do's and don'ts at least twice as long as the official Rules of Baseball.
I would pass along the origins of the term, “woke,” but that would put me at odds with woke culture PDQ. The Woke Police are hyper-vigilant, and you're probably violating their rules just by reading this.
I was triggered to write this post by noticing an article on the Huffington Post site this morning (May 1st). The article was a nice shout out about the actress, Holland Taylor, titled, “The 77-year-old actor's career is brighter than ever . . .” Not immediately recognizing the name, I assumed that Holland was a man. Most people named Holland are men.
Ms. Taylor is a familiar face to anyone who regularly watches television. She has 120 acting credits on IMDB (mostly TV, but a lot of very good TV). I originally encountered her on the soap-opera All My Children in 1982; she was also the Harper boys' mother on Two and a Half Men. Holland Taylor's pronouns are her and she. She is referred to as an actress on her Wiki page and on IMDB, and is described as one of three daughters in her birth family. The use of the term, “actor” in the title probably originated with either the author of the article or the woke policy of the web-site.
“An awareness of issues concerning social justice and racial justice . . .” is a noble thing, and one of the hallmarks of a good person. It is good to pay attention to these things, but carefully restructuring the language to make all nouns gender-neutral seems like an odd priority. Do we want to do this before we reduce the incidence of spousal and child abuse? Actress, aviatrix, stewardess, waitress, these are all words in various stages of abandonment. Language changes over time, usually in the direction of simplicity. Woke culture notwithstanding, I do not believe that women gain from rushing that process along. Nor do women profit if we think that anyone who refers to Meryl Streep as an actress should become a pariah.
Fire-fighter, letter carrier, and police officer, those are easy enough to understand in a world where these jobs have been open to women for almost fifty years. Those jobs only became available to women at that time. One of my own high school friends was the first, or one of the first, woman fire-fighters in New York City, and another became an early female police officer. Women have been actresses for a long time. Not as long as men, but more than a thousand years longer than women have been “firemen.” The term aviatrix died a well-deserved death in the 1930s. Today, if you described someone as a “great actor” most people would think that you were referring to a man. That remains the common usage of the word, “actor.” No one seems to be in a hurry to discard all of the “female” categories in the Oscars ceremony. Best actor, and just lump everyone in there together? Happening soon? I could be wrong, but I don't think so. I don't think that the actresses would stand for it.
In many languages, all nouns describing tasks are gender-specific. German, for instance. A male teacher is a Lehrer, and a female teacher is a Lehrerin, und so weiter. I am not aware of a movement in Germany to discontinue this practice. There could be, but I doubt it. The Germans are justifiably proud of their language, and I believe they are ill disposed to start tinkering with it. (A discussion of the arbitrary assignment of gender to all German nouns, masculine, feminine, or neuter, is beyond the scope of this post. Take my word for it, it is often arbitrary and it gets nuts in a hurry.)
Woke culture is very involved with finding clever new terms for sexual identities, and also with discovering a much wider variety of sexual, or gender, identities. These may or may not have anything to do with anyone's preference in the arena of sexual practices. It can be hard to follow.
Most people understand that you do not have to be a man to love women, and that not all people who love women are men. And vice-versa. That part is very easy to understand. The only social justice that is required here is to accept the fact that some people prefer the company of members of their own sex, and if they do it is none of our business. This seems obvious now but it upset a lot of people not that long ago, and off-and-on again throughout history.
A vocabulary to describe many aspects of this behavior has been in place for over one hundred years. Men who sought comfort from men were homosexuals. Women who sought comfort from women were also homosexuals, but specifically they were lesbians. “Queer” was a rude, informal word for homosexuals. Individuals who got a kick out of dressing the part of the opposite sex were transvestites. Transvestites may or may not have been homosexuals. In the case of men, most often not. Transvestites were also considered to be queer, homosexual or not. People who went so far as to seek surgical sex reassignment were transsexuals, or transgender individuals. (The Christine Jorgensen case in 1952 got a lot of attention.) That small vocabulary was sufficient, probably because the whole scene had been driven underground and these phenomena were little studied.
Gay was an early alteration of this system, and of the language itself. To be homosexual became “to be gay” around the early 1970s, I believe. (Late 1960s?) I have always assumed that it was due to the famous fondness that male homosexuals have for old MGM musicals, like The Gay Caballero. To be gay meant, until that rebranding, to be happy and carefree. Very few would dare to use it in that context now.
Around the same time, bisexuality became recognized. Theretofore anyone who had sexual congress with members of their own sex as well as the opposite sex was just a homosexual. (Scientists might have called them “pansexuals.”)
Even quite recently, LGBT covered all of the bases. (Lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transsexual.) That has been modified to the more modern LGBTQ, or even LGBTQIA plus Non-Binary. Now we're down the rabbit hole. Gender fluidity has achieved critical mass, and now anyone is free to design and declare any gender description that appeals to them. All of this has happened very quickly.
Queer now means anyone who is not heterosexual or not cisgender. Is that one new to you? You are not alone. “Cisgender” means that your gender identity matches your gender as assigned by the hospital at birth. Note that cisgender people may be heterosexual or homosexual. Cisgender gives rise to cissexism and cisnormativity
Cissexism: the belief that the gender identity, etc., of “cis” people is more natural and legitimate than the gender identity of trans people.
Cisnormativity: the belief that those born “men” will naturally grow up to be men, etc. This is also problematic in woke culture.
Transsexual and transgender have separated in meaning.
Transsexual: people who have a clear birth identity as one sex who have a strong feeling that they actually belong to the other sex. They must wish to surgically transition to other-sex physically, or else they are merely:
Transgender . . . dressing up and acting like the opposite sex while retaining all of the physicality that they were born with.
“Non-binary” means any individual who rejects the entire concept of gender. They may be heterosexual or homosexual, or bisexual, but they chose to present as gender-neutral in dress and personal grooming. They affect a “choice” of pronouns, often “they” and “their,” and also a choice of honorific, frequently the gender-neutral “Mx.”
Where have the transvestites gone? They are still with us, but the term, “Transvestite” is no longer polite. Now we must refer to them as “cross-dressers.” I'm pretty sure that “female impersonator” is also out.
As far as I know, there is no vocabulary to use to identify which people in this matrix are interested specifically in sexual behavior with either one sex or another. I'm sure that additional required vocabulary is coming soon. In this way, the number of possibilities becomes almost infinite. My attitude remains, go ahead and live your life. I believe that substantive due process allows you to live any of the lives described herein. But don't publish a handbook called “Fifty Shades of Trans” and expect the legislatures to mandate its universal use in ordinary conversation. Also, if one is a man who has been molded by doctors and female hormones into a simulacrum of a woman, but who still prefers to have sex with women, do we really need a new word whose meaning encompasses all of those details? Probably not, but I'm expecting one any minute.
I am surprised that there is not an ongoing protest against the words “wo-MAN” and “MAN-kind.”
Honestly, don't we have bigger fish to fry? Humanity itself is facing multiple existential crises; the world's democracies are under attack, and are losing ground; the American legal system has become untethered from Constitutional guidelines; failed states are multiplying like bunnies. I suggest that we are fiddling with minutia while the house burns down.
The racial aspects of “woke” also seem to place the cart before the horse. It is easy to see the offensiveness of having a cartoon American Indian* as the logo or mascot of a sports team, and we can all agree that the time is past for that kind of nonsense.** But there was a recent example of overdoing this clean-up program. Land-O-Lakes butter has always featured an American Indian woman on their box. I'm certain that it was part of their trademarked logo. No special attention was aimed at this inclusion, and there was nothing disrespectful about the artwork. Yet last week she suddenly disappeared from the box. This is a perfect example of misplaced priorities. American Indians to this day live with a huge catalog of honest grievances against the United States. These include matters economic, political, and legal. They are still subject to very serious discrimination, neglect, and abuse. For that matter, they are still subject to negative visual portrayals in many formats that should be addressed. The respectful portrayal of an American Indian woman on the box of a product called “Land-O-Lakes” seems fitting when you consider that the Land of Lakes, which is the multi-state area around the Black Hills, is the ancestral homeland of the Lakota Sioux nation of American Indians.
Society changes; language changes; cultures change. That is all okay with me. I'm not one of those geezers who finds fault with the modern world in all of its details. Maybe all of this is important, but my point is that accomplishing anything important requires prioritization of the tasks at hand. We learned that in law school. People don't realize it, but the emphasis in law school was on teaching us a method for handling complex intellectual problems. The above described problems of social justice and racism are both complex and intellectual. You cannot simply start with the low hanging fruit. If your goal is social justice and equality for all of us, you cannot start by focusing on vocabulary or on minuscule subgroups of society. If your goal is to better educate American Indian children, you cannot start with demanding the removal of that lovely American Indian woman from the butter box.
No, you must analyze the problem and break it down into bite-sized pieces. You must decide very carefully what is very important, what is somewhat important, and what can wait. What are the threshold issues, the ones that must be tackled first. The ones the solution of which may automatically solve or eliminate other problems down the line. You must have an overview, a master plan. Then you tackle the pieces in order of importance, according to the plan.
Would you rather insist on being referred to as “Mx.,” insisting on your non-binary pronouns, or would you prefer to achieve greater freedom and acceptance of anyone whose natural path in the world is atypical in some way? Isn't the most important thing the complete acceptance of the wide range of normality in humanity? I would include all of the above sub-groups, plus people who are autistic, people who are not physically attractive, everybody. I would love to see a strengthening of our Constitutional rights, and a return to a system where our votes meant something. I would love to see the reversal of the current trend which disenfranchises so many voters because of race, religion, criminal history, poverty, or national origin. Would you rather have that inoffensive American Indian woman removed from the butter box, or see American Indian people elevated to a place of equality and respect in our society?
Woke? Let's start with wake the fuck up. We need to get our priorities straight.
*American Indian. I could not say what the preferred woke term is for the people that Columbus found when he stumbled upon the New World. I can, however, tell you that the Indians themselves have rejected “Native Americans.” That term had already achieved dubious utility in the 19th Century, when it came to mean “the Protestant white people,” as opposed to those damn Catholic immigrants. Our present day white supremacists have further sullied the term.
What's left? “First Nations” and “indigenous people” are popular in Canada, but to the best of my knowledge, American Indians have to some extent decided on “American Indians.” Just smile and be respectful, and that should be fine.
**Incidentally, I haven't noticed anyone complaining about Lucky Charms cereal. Leprechauns indeed! As usual, Irish Americans are expected to accept this kind of thing with a smile. (See luckycharms.com) The Paddy Wagon; hooligans. And we do smile through it. Do you know why? Because it is unimportant compared to the desire to be accepted as American citizens with full economic and political rights. That was a struggle of hundreds of years, and hard fought. Give us full equality and then you can go ahead and call us Harps, you bloody fools!