Saturday, October 31, 2020

Practical Advice From A Surrealist


How fitting! 2020 has been nothing if not surreal.

There is a quote that I have mentioned frequently in settings both verbal and documentary. I knew that I wasn't getting it exactly right, so I looked it up today. Google has gotten so sensitive to our needs that putting in a vague approximation of the quote put direct reference to it at number one in the search. The real quote goes like this:

Don't bother about being modern. Unfortunately it is the one thing that, whatever you do, you cannot avoid.”

Salvador Dali said that. I humbly concur.

The lesson today is for the large portion of the American electorate that are fighting a desperate, hopeless struggle against modernity. Not only Americans, now that I think of it, but also people around the world. People, you cannot avoid modernity.

The pace of change has been extreme for decades, and it has been a challenge to keep up with it all. Many people have chosen to join efforts to unwind the changes and move backwards in time to some fictional, non-specific “Golden Age.” Now we are cursed with politicians who cater to this desire by promising to pass laws that will restore things to some former way of life. They claim to be conservatives, but that is a lie. They are reactionaries, and unfortunately many of them and their adherents have degraded themselves even further and become vigilantes.

The Republicans lead this charge towards the wrong goal posts.

Many people want to overturn decades of progress in civil rights, and many politicians have been helping them. People feel threatened somehow by the existence of homosexuals, even though they are our friends, co-workers, and beloved family members. Many people want to return to the days when race and sexual preference were treated as status crimes. The Supreme Court, or perhaps it is more accurate to say, “a Supreme Court,” found a privacy right in the Due Process clause of the Constitution that protected a woman's decision to have an abortion, or someone's right to love whomever they wished, among other things. None of this has caused upheavals in society.

The rich, it goes without saying, have opposed every attempt to advance social justice since the early days of the American nation. They had a burning hatred for FDR, and have labored ceaselessly to unwind the New Deal ever since the various parts were passed into law. They are hard at work this minute, trying to take back everything that they were forced to share with working people. They've won a lot of it back already.

The modern world bothers the hell out of some people. People who lost some of their lordly authority over all of the cash. Insecure people who see minorities and immigrants as a threat to their own white privilege. People who see something in homosexuality that frightens them, and I'll let you fill in that blank yourself. People are desperately afraid of change, and the ways of the modern world that are strange to them. So afraid that they want to carry an assault rifle and one hundred rounds of ammunition to protect themselves on a little trip to Walmart. There are intersections in all of this fear and umbrage. I'll let you figure that one out as well.

Take it from the master surrealist, my friends. To paraphrase, don't worry about the modern world. It arises naturally from the actions of almost eight billion people every day, slightly altered with every new dawn, the changes becoming noticeable over time. There is nothing you can do to avoid it. And take it from me, we could no more return ourselves to the past than we could through a pure act of will place ourselves suddenly in the future.

Do you want to fight against something? Fight against the forces of chaos that are tearing at the fabric of America. Do you want to fight for something? Fight for peace and brotherhood, human rights and cooperation. Fight to bring comfort to those who suffer from the lack of it. Think of the power of it! The actions of individual human beings create the modern world anew every day. You are part of that. What kind of world do you want?

Carefully consider your answer.

Thursday, October 29, 2020

Lou Reed - I'm Waiting for the Man (American Pop)

Recommended by my son. I love Lou; he loves this movie. It's a good vid, a good snapshot of the life. Death or prison, the poor souls. 

Monday, October 26, 2020

More Population Funnies

This fine video from the American Museum of Natural History takes only a few minutes to watch. It's a fine snapshot of our brief history on the earth.

100,000 to 30,000 BCE*

There's hardly anyone around. Numbers in the tens of thousands? Sprinkled across the northern temperate zone.

15,000 to 10,000 BCE

The beginnings of an up-tick as the weather improves and humans take up agriculture. Gets up to about 5 million.

1700 BCE to 1 CE**

Things really get rolling after the end of the Bronze Age. The first big surge in world population comes between the collapse of the eighteenth century BCE and the year zero (beginning of the use of the Augustinian calendar, typically mischaracterized as 1 A.D.) The humans are almost all in that northern temperate zone, Europe, Egypt, the Indus Valley, and China. There are sprinklings of dots (one dot equals one million people) in Africa, North and South America, Indonesia, and Japan. World population in the year 1 CE reaches 170 million.

500 CE

The population rises only a bit, to 177 million people. The distribution remains about the same.

1000 CE

254 million by now, with more dots appearing in Africa and Japan, and dots starting to show up in Russia.

1350 CE

The arrival of the Black Plague! The only really noticeable drop in world population ever to occur sees a drop from 365 million to 340 million over the course of about fifty years.

1700 CE

587 million! A huge bounce-back beginning after the plague thing settled down. The plague directly enabled big advances in science, technology, and the social contract. These enabled profound developments in finance, entrepreneurship, business entities, navigation, bookkeeping, medicine, and education, which in turn led directly to the increases in production and the population.

1800 CE

1 billion people.

1900 CE

One and a half billion.

2020 CE

Almost eight billion.

2100 CE

Projected population, 11 billion. Predicted to level off at this point due to social changes affecting the so called fertility rate. (Really, the rate at which people benefit from procreation or feel like procreating.)

I marvel at their ability to find people who would dare to make predictions for the next one hundred years. Such people must have either the courage of the martyrs or the gall of cat burglars.

*BCE “before common era.”

** CE “common era.” Referring to the years by the former designations of BC (“before Christ”) or AD (anno domini, “year of our lord”) is anachronistic and a bit sad. The year “one” was so called because it was the first year of the use of the Augustinian calendar. It could not have had anything to do with the birth of Joshua, called Jesus by the Romans, because he did not rise to public recognition until decades later, at the age of about thirty. The modern calendar, commissioned to replace another calendar that was not sufficiently precise, worked so well that it is still in use today. The Emperor Augustus added the extra day every four years that was required to adequately mark the passing of a year.

POP Goes The Weasel!!!

Long ago, when the earth and I were mere pups, there was a lot of talk about overpopulation. There were many dire warnings of shortages and plagues to come, based on an analysis of the raw data. After all, it had taken fifty years for the earth's population to grow by one billion, between the years 1900 and 1950. One billion extra mouths to feed within the space of only fifty years! Pundits were aghast.

They were even aghaster when an additional half billion people had arrived in the statistics by 1960. Half a billion in ten years! The aghastion was palpable. Wasn't there a book called, “The Population Bomb?” I'll ask Amazon. (Brief pause. Amuse yourselves.)

Yup. Paul Erhlich, “The Population Bomb,” 1968. There were many others, and numerous articles in the serious magazines. “Bomb” was somewhat alarmist, with frightful predictions starting with the 1970s. That made it somewhat of a Cassandra/ Chicken Little situation. Ehrlich pushed a bit too hard on the alarm button. The world, after all, did not degenerate into chaos in the 1970s. No, that has taken a bit longer.

Let's look at some numbers:

Year          Population

1950          2.5 billion

1960          3.0 billion

1970          3.6 billion

1980          4.4 billion

1990          5.3 billion

2000          6.1 billion

2010          6.9 billion

Now            7.8 billion

Wiki says that it took humanity two million years to reach a population of one billion people, and only two hundred more years to reach seven billion. You'd have to admit that the big picture does show a dramatic increase.

The dangerous part of all of this is not the over all increase, but the increase in the increase, so to speak. The level of the yearly increase is now such that the overall population will continue to zoom-climb. This should come to no surprise to anyone who pays even a little attention to world events. Advances in health care, personal hygiene, and sanitation, mean that whereas a poor couple out in the stix somewhere not long ago had ten children, of whom maybe three or four lived to adulthood, that couple in those same stix now has fewer children, maybe six or seven, but they all might live to adulthood. That's about twice the survival rate, out in the stix. All of those people are also living longer.

The above numbers roughly show that a rate of approximately half a billion new humans per decade persisted through the 1950s and 60s. Then it jumped to almost a billion new humans per year, a rate which remains the typical increase today. That's overall. There is, however, some good news elsewhere in the statistics.

It seems that over this same fifty or so year period, the rate of increase has gone down. Due to other societal changes, this still yields a considerable yearly increase in the overall number of people, who then procreate, etc. The world population is still climbing, some would say alarmingly.

Our modern society is beset by numerous complex and dangerous problems, and it is very difficult to prioritize the threats or analyze their interactions. People are just people, after all, and they act like people, for better or worse. Frequently for the worse. People in the world of one hundred years ago were well accustomed to eating a diet that included beef, pork, chicken, and fish. (That's the simplified list.) At some point, producing all of those provisions for a hugely increased population became problematic. This has led to giant messes, huge clouds of methane from the cow farts, over-fishing, and multi-acre pools of pig poop. Then there's the trash problem, or problems, there's the creation of trash, and the disposal of trash, and often the simple dumping of trash. That's only two of the problems that we face. All of them are made worse by human nature, capitalism, and population growth.

Reasonable regulations and sensible plans could provide solutions to these problems, but finding reasonable people among politicians, businessmen, and consumers, is practically impossible.

Achieving any meaningful decrease in the world population would be difficult to impossible, short of a new Black Death or a major war in which CBN weapons would be freely employed. (“CBN,” Chemical, Biological, and Nuclear.) Reining in the brand of capitalism now rampant in the world is another dead end. No one is answering the call for “statesmen” anymore, probably because there's too much money in the air. It appears that we will be continuing our slow-motion downfall. Most people are too busy trying to navigate our new thicket of TV streaming services, trying to find a way to watch their favorite shows without going broke in the process. It will take something really shocking to break us out of this malaise. Something like the full-throttle explosion of the Yellowstone caldera, something really impressive. That would yield ten years of winter, which should be enough to force changes in practically everything that needs fixing.

Or not. Our Ayn Randian rulers would probably only use it as an excuse to steal the rest of our stuff and what's left of our rights, blaming it on God, or maybe Obama. Alas, Babylon! Today I read that the White House has officially given up fighting the COVID-19 virus, preferring to simply wait it out. The world is obviously not in the mood to grant us much of a break.

Evie Sands - I Can't Let Go

Another great original version from Evie Sands. The Hollies had a major hit in England with this song, and to be fair, they knocked it out of the park. I don't approve of comparisons, and I think deciding which is "the best" is vanity, and a waste of time. I love both versions. 

Evie Sands - Angel Of The Morning - 1967 1st recorded hit

Evie Sands! Only two years older than me, and the years look a lot better on her. We're both still alive, that's the main thing. 

She once referred to herself as, "the greatest demo singer of all time." There were a lot of records that she recorded and released first, which then went on to be big hits for other singers. Like this one. This is the original. 

Saturday, October 24, 2020

Corruption, American Style

 An article that appeared on Salon dot com on or about October 23, 2020, reported that the Republican Party has spent almost one million dollars on something that smacks to me like a quid pro quo. The writing credit for the expose went to Roger Sollenberger. “Quid pro quo” means “something for something,” and the article was a mini-clinic in one of the payment methods for American corruption.

I teach law overseas. Not in Rwanda or something, but also not in a fully developed country. Somewhere in the upper range of the “developing” scale. It is common for one of my students to ask me if there is any corruption in American politics. Here is what I tell them:

Well, we usually don't do the bag of money in America. It's almost never stacks of cash that are passed across a desk somewhere. But there is rather a lot of corruption in America. It's just much quieter, it's harder to see.

If a corporation wants a politician to vote a certain way on an issue that is before congress, an agent may go and talk to the politician about it. We call the agent a “lobbyist,” those are people with licenses that permit them to approach politicians and try to convince them to think a certain way about something. Even if you videoed the conversation, you could not use it to prove that the politician had taken corruption money. Here's what happens.

They talk about it, and the politician learns what the corporation wants, and he (or she!) learns that the corporation will show their appreciation. The politician votes the way he was told to vote, and if he does, there is a reward. Not a bag of money, like I say, but let's say that the politician has a son or daughter in university at the time. When the son or daughter graduates, years after the vote, the corporation finds them a wonderful, high paying job, a VERY high paying job, a job that they have no experience for, that they have no ability to perform, and for which they may not even have to show up at work every day. They pay the payroll taxes, and the son or daughter pays the income taxes, and everyone is happy.

Or, sometimes, they agree on a future book deal. Perhaps the corporation owns a publishing company, and they come to an understanding. If you vote my way on this issue, in two years we will sign a book deal with you that includes an author's advance of two million dollars. We won't worry about it if the book doesn't sell.”

That's how it works in America. It's all corruption, but it's all quite invisible, and all of the taxes are paid.”

The wonderful Salon article illustrates this pattern nicely. (Also available on The Raw Story dot com.)

Quote from the article, “this week the RNC reported $492,308 in expenditures on 'donor mementos' at book retailers...” That money was spent in September, 2020. Much of the money was spent buying copies of a new book “by” Sean Hannity, “Live Free or Die.”

Combined with August receipts, it is possible that the RNC has spent more than $900,000 on Hannity's book over the last three months.”

Hannity, of course, hosts a nightly “opinion entertainment” show on the Fox Entertainment Network, formerly known as Fox News. He spends most of his air time every night pushing the Trump agenda, defending Trump, and ridiculing Trumps opponents. Coincidence? That, dear reader is up to you. It is dependent on your attitude towards what is going on now in America.

It is worth noting that the infamous elephant murderer, Don Junior's book, “Liberal Privilege,” is also in those RNC gift bags for donors above a certain level.

Money Won't Change You

Ain't it the truth. Money doesn't mean too much when the doctor gives you the really bad news. Sometimes money works okay; sometimes it falls flat. But time, time works its magic on everybody at the same pace. One year at a time. And time will wear your lonely ass out, my friend. 

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Tom Hayden And I

 Mr. Hayden is dead now, so I feel free to recount the occasions upon which our lives intersected. There were a couple of them. If I seem a bit rough on Tom in the beginning, please consider it in light of the new Netflix movie about the Chicago 7 (or 8). Tom doesn't seem like a particularly pleasant man in Eddie Redmayne's portrayal either. I learned along the way that he was a good man.

The Sixties have been remembered well in popular memory. Much better than they deserve, if one is being honest. The actual results were mixed, and even that is being kind.

There were some successes, some high points, but upon close examination they were either no big deal, or more like the prelude to a backlash that undid all of the good. Sure, we landed on the moon, and made it back alive, that was really something. Nothing much of note followed, however, and the lasting benefits of the “race to the moon” were found only in things like the miniaturization of computers and advances in metallurgy and rocket fuel formulation. Sure, some important legislation was passed with bipartisan support. The Civil Rights Act; the Voting Rights Act. Great Society! War on Poverty! We've all see how those things worked out over the long haul. To be clear: not very well.

I beat the rush, myself. I was already well and truly alienated before the turn of the decade. Happy New Year, 1960! A few years of high school and the assassination of JFK put the icing on the cake. A couple of years of college and a brief stint in the Navy failed to improve my mood. 1968 finished me off. I cut the power, and the blackout lasted for many years.

Tom Hayden was about ten years older than me, and in the late Sixties “ten years older” was an enormous chasm of time. Those were the days of, “never trust anyone over thirty,” and it was true for the most part. They had a very different experience of life; they liked different music; they were politically alien to young people; they were beyond the reach of the draft, and if they had served at all in the military it had been in those lazy days of the late 1950s, early 1960s. The Elvis Army, you know, they send you to Germany or Georgia and they teach you how to make pies. 1968 wasn't like that.

I had been aware of Tom Hayden for years before 1968. Aware of the Students for a Democratic Society, the SDS. I thought that it was a bunch of crap, and I don't recall the subject coming up frequently in my social circles. I thought, in fact, that anything to do with either politics or hippies was a bunch of crap. Not that we thought that the SDS were hippies, no, they were even worse. They were, in our eyes, straight kids pretending to be radicals while playing at parliamentary procedure. I was aware of a few of the individuals who would come to be known as the Chicago 7, or 8. Tom Hayden, Abby Hoffman, Jerry Rubin, and Bobby Seale. The whole thing was not my scene. Much too public.

Mostly, we didn't waste any time on such things. I, for one, had much more important things on my mind. Things like girls, literature, music, movies, museums, and Italian food, or anything that would tend to enhance my enjoyment of those things. And, I suppose, anything that would help to dampen the signals from the outside world on less delightful subjects.

My experience of 1968, and the Democratic convention, was more like Haskell Wexler's “Medium Cool” (1969) than like the recent Aaron Sorkin film, “The Trial of the Chicago 7.” Like Wexler's cinema verite point of view, my life took place in quieter spaces, involving ordinary people, with the worst of the craziness buzzing around the edges, only briefly and occasionally including me in the action.

As usual, it has taken me six hundred words to get to the point.

By the mid-1970s, Tom Hayden and I had both gotten married and moved to Los Angeles. I'm not sure if we did those things in the same order. It's not much of a story, but here it is.

In 1976, Mr. Hayden ran in the Democratic primary for the United States Senate seat of John Tunney. Wikipedia describes it as a spirited contest, with Mr. Hayden closing the gap near the end. Good run, but he lost the primary. That was the beginning of Tom Hayden's quest for a career in California politics.

My wife at the time, my ex-wife you might say, was an educated professional woman who ran her own business during the day and taught classes in her field at the local community college a couple of evenings per week. She was a pistol, that one, full of excess energy. It flew off of her in sparks. A beautiful, vivacious woman with a big personality. People like that sort of women. She was active in the profession's organizations, and this meant that she worked with some people who were very active politically. And, as is the way with such things, with some people who had a lot of money, since politics and money go together like Ben and Jerry. Some time in mid-1982, we were invited to a fundraiser in a ritzy, beachy suburb north of Los Angeles, a fundraiser for none other than Mr. Tom Hayden. At the time he was running for a seat in the California State Assembly, the lower house of the state legislature. He was still questing for that elusive career. Trying to find the doorway, so to speak.

Now I should mention that it was not only SDS that had always rubbed me the wrong way. Tom Hayden had always had the same effect. I was somewhat abrasive for what amounted to at least half of my life, but I had learned to be civil. I was properly dressed, and I knew some of the people at the affair. I was fitting right in for most of the evening. My wife and I were introduced to Tom and I shook his hand. We exchanged pleasantries. For all he knew, I might be rich, so I'm sure that he was on his best behavior. We both were.

We all had a few drinks, and some expensive finger food, and Mr. Hayden gave a little presentation in support of his candidacy. Then it was question time, like a press conference. It was going pretty well, but then the devil on my left shoulder fed me a doozy of a question and I let it fly.

Mr. Hayden,” I said, “you started out in the race for the U.S. Senate, and it didn't go your way. Then you tried for the House of Representatives, then the California state senate, and now you're in the race for the state assembly. My question is: if you lose your run this year, will you lower your sights still further and try again? And what position in politics would be too low for you to consider?”

I was way too pleased with the question to pay much attention to his answer, but I recall that it was brief. He won that election and served in the California Assembly for ten years, followed by eight years in the California State Senate. He did a pretty good job of it. I'm sure that he was a much better person than I had given him credit for.

Five years later, he showed me a different side and indirectly did me a solid. Our lives again intersected, although on that occasion it was not in the same room. He was still in the assembly, and by a total coincidence he and one of my wife's professional friends were seated next to each other on a commercial flight. They were well acquainted, and happy to see each other. First, a bit of background.

I was not the only abrasive personality in my family, and my ex-wife had gotten us into license trouble with the Department of Social Services. She had brusquely asserted her right never to be bossed around by anybody, under any circumstances. Not an unusual occurrence in itself, but on this occasion the person receiving the metaphoric back of her hand was a DSS official. They pulled our license, which put us in a spot. Luckily my wife was very popular in her professional circles, and well loved by her business clients. A couple of things happened rather quickly.

First, one of her ex-clients, a high-powered lawyer with offices in Century City, asked her if she was represented by counsel. No, so he simply said, “I'll take it on, don't worry about it.” DSS was accustomed to running these drills against unrepresented individuals, so imagine their surprise when, in quick succession, they receive a representation letter, and a phone call to quickly set up the hearing in the matter. “As soon as possible, please, because lost revenues are adding up,” he said. “Next week, if possible, and please allow two days for the hearing.” That made the poor DSS attorney swallow his bubble gum. “Two days?” he said. “Well, we will be calling quite a few witnesses and references.”

Very soon after, our friend took her seat next to Mr. Hayden on the plane. A flight scheduled to take about one hour. Tom had a situation that our friend might be able to help with, and he asked her if she'd mind if he ran it by her. He was seeking her advice, she's as bright as the sun. She said, “sure,” and for about a half hour they discussed Tom's situation and she had some ideas for him. With ten minutes to go in the flight, she said, “Tom, I have something that you might be able to help with too.”

She wrote down our names and address to give him, and told Tom the story of our license problem. He said, “I'll call them. It should be fine, from what you told me.” Being officially in state politics comes in handy in these situations, even if you are only in the assembly. The next day, Tom called the head of the legal department at DSS in Sacramento, who gladly took the call from a famous assemblyman. After telling the guy our name and address, he said, “do you know who these people are? Do you know who they know?” Donors, he meant, Democratic donors. That attorney then called the guy handling the matter in the Los Angeles County, who almost immediately sent a letter to us, and called besides, more or less apologizing for the mistake. License restored as of this second. We never saw the offending official again.

In light of all of this, it occurs to me that I owe Tom Hayden an apology for my rude question, and more of a thank you for helping us out of that jam. Those I now send with great reverence into the void, because Tom was part of the great die-off that we all experienced in 2016. That was a banner year for death, wasn't it? Really got the ball rolling.

Tom died of a stroke. I hope that he did not suffer too much. He was 76.

Saturday, October 17, 2020

Friday, October 16, 2020

Caesar, Cromwell, And President Clarabell

 David Frum is in the latest Atlantic magazine warning us about Trump, AGAIN. I'm not complaining. In fact, I salute him. God knows people need warning. Mr. Frum has the patience of a saint, because by now it's obvious that warning people about Trump is like beating your head against a heavily reinforced ferroconcrete wall eight or ten inches thick. That thing ain't going nowhere. People get it or they don't. Carve that right into America's tombstone.

Whatever you may hear, there remain tens of millions of people who love that stupid comb-over, who quiver with excitement when he waves those tiny, flaccid fists in front of his fat, marshmallow chest, who long to hear him once again proclaim his burning hatred for the people, places, and things that they also passionately hate. Will there be enough of them to win another election? We'll find out soon enough.

I'm getting tired of reading about how Trump's poll numbers are tanking, and how whole demographics are abandoning him like the rats that they resembled when they voted for him in the first place. Doesn't it feel a bit like the campaign of 2016? The thought of Trump winning was by equal measures horrible and ridiculous. He can't win, can he? God, that would be a rough ride. Could the country survive? We now know the answer to those questions. Yes, he could win, and no, the country could not survive. The whole house of cards has already surrendered to gravity, and people are still hoping for the best for the simple reason that the cards are still in the air, falling. No one will believe it until all of the cards are laying flat on the table, dead as door nails. It won't be long now.

American media is full to overflow with similar warnings. Everyone from simple bloggers like myself to more erudite journalists like Chris Hedges, and more astute observers like Charles Pierce, to genuine academics like Paul Krugman, have chimed in regarding this problem on a regular basis since it began. Ha! For all the good that it has done! We stand on the edge of losing our democracy, our freedom, and our way of life. Our only consolation is that the entire world seems to have lost its collective mind. We are not alone in our folly.

Mr. Frum alludes to only four of the torments inflicted on us by Trump. That sounds a bit light, but to be fair, even Charles Dickens being paid by the word would have a hard time compiling a complete list of Trumps transgressions. Mr. Frum lists abuse of the pardon power, which is certainly true, but perhaps the least of our worries. Abuse of government resources for personal gain, also certainly true, but Trump is such a small-timer that the damage is manageable. Directing public funds to himself and his companies, visible day to day, but it has amounted to less than Jeff Bezos earns in a matter of hours. And inciting political violence, which to me is the most telling and dangerous of the four. This indicates that Trump seeks to install himself permanently at the head of American affairs. To hell with constitutional freedoms and independent courts. There is your tyranny, all of you militia assholes.

Our venal Republican “representatives” remind me of of the German industrialists who backed Hitler's rise to power because they thought there was money in it for them, and they felt that they were safe, because, after all, Germany was a civilized country. That's what they thought. This time around, our Republicans, and their truly rich friends, backed Trump because they believed that they could control him. They figured Trump would lower their taxes and get rid of all of that pesky regulation, and he has delivered those benefits. Those Germans thought that Hitler would get the economy humming again and spend a lot of money with the big arms manufacturers. It wasn't too long before Hitler was firmly in charge, and the Nazis started taking stuff that they liked from the rightful owners, whoever they were. Hitler's flunkies helped themselves to the property of the rich Germans. Perhaps the Republicans will have better luck, but a second term might put them at a similar risk. It might put us all at risk of losing everything.

Mr. Frum mentions that Alexander Hamilton clearly foresaw this danger and wrote about it in the Federalist Papers. The danger of a Caesar overturning our republic, or a Cromwell seizing power to fill a vacuum of some kind. Gaius Julius Caesar was a great Roman general and statesman, a fine writer and historian, and a popular leader of men. His personal urge to power put an end to the Roman republic during the first century BCE. Caesar was ultimately murdered for his hubris. Oliver Cromwell became the self-appointed “Lord Protector” of England after the chaotic civil war and regicide of the Seventeenth Century. Cromwell died of natural causes, after raising considerable hell not only in England and Scotland, but also in Ireland, where he is remembered, not fondly but well. Those were men of charisma and substance. For us, it seems, an insignificant Clarabell was all that was needed. A honking, clownish, cartoon billionaire, and a broke-ass billionaire at that. A reality TV show simulacrum of a billionaire. A billionaire in debt only.

Oh, blah, blah, blah. One grows tired of this game. Trump is only part of a larger problem. A very limited number of individuals, over a period of almost one hundred years now, has been engaged in a mighty struggle to oppress working people and oppose, delay, or minimize every slight benefit that more enlightened government officials sought to extend to the powerless. Any piece of social justice legislation that has snuck through and become law has been added to the list of targets to be destroyed. The New Deal; the weekend; Social Security; the vacation; civil rights; overtime pay; the Great Society; all of it. Their memories are long, and their blood is hot. Their enemies list still includes hippies and college professors. They see all of this as threats to their mastery of society and to what they consider to be “their money.” That would be all of the money.

If Trump is re-elected, we'd better hope that the Republicans can do a better job of reeling him in than the German elites did with Hitler. Maybe they can. After all, Trump is no Hitler. Hitler was many things, but “an idiot” was not one of them. Then again, Hitler did not have an Internet to supercharge his propaganda, so who knows?

Monday, October 12, 2020

A Quote From Anne Frank

By Anne Frank

Diary Entry, July 15, 1944

It's utterly impossible for me to build my life on a foundation of chaos, suffering and death. I see the world being slowly transformed into a wilderness; I hear the approaching thunder that, one day, will destroy us too. I feel the suffering of millions. And yet, when I look up at the sky, I somehow feel that everything will change for the better, that this cruelty will end, that peace and tranquility will return once more.”

I've never read the entire diary, nor entered the house where she had been in hiding. I saw it though, from the outside, and I walked the neighborhood in Amsterdam. The diary, towards the end, includes quotes much darker than this. Even such irrepressible optimism as is expressed above must finally yield to the horrors of life.

Baby Washington Handful of Memories

Justine "Baby" Washington! One of the greats. And still alive, as of this writing! She would have been twenty-two or so when she cut this track. Thanks for everything, Justine. Many of us still remember and appreciate your gifts. I hope that you're doing fine! 

Our Sad Condition, The World And I

Most people have trouble judging themselves, or evaluating their own work product. That's been my impression anyway, and I've known a lot of people. Oh, there are always the Donald Trumps of the world, people who give themselves high marks for whatever damn thing they may be doing. But most people, people who are not crazy, have a hard time making value judgments about themselves. Or maybe I'm just projecting. Who knows? I don't know.

Of the writers that I've known, including myself, there is a common refrain. “I looked it over when I was done, and I liked it a lot. I read it again after a few days, and I thought it was all crap.” Or visa versa. I suffer the same phenomenon, not only about my writing, but also about myself. Some days, I think that I was a good boy and a good man, an all-around nice guy. Other days, I'm not so sure.

The Good

Certainly, I have my good points. I am a generally polite and charming man, on the outside. I am not only tolerant of diversity, I genuinely embrace it. I am capable of working quite hard, at least I once was. I have achieved many good results at a variety of things, although the overall scorecard is mixed. I test well (the secret is a good plan and intense preparation). I enjoy praising people when they have earned it, and I keep my mouth shut when they have not. As a supervisor, I reprimanded people gently, and always in private. I have a rich history of good deeds, from little kindnesses to acts requiring more commitment and sometimes a bit of bravery. Those are unknown and unprovable, because I have never sought credit for such things, believing them to be simply a necessary and normal part of life. I also have, however, a good public record of positive contributions and service to my country and my community. I joined the U.S. Navy during a war, and received an honorable discharge. Later on, I joined the Peace Corps, and I cheerfully served my two years helping to train English teachers in a developing country. I have done a lot of volunteer work, including about 100 hours per year for most of the time that I was a lawyer in Los Angeles. I started the public interest law foundation at my law school. That added a lot of work to my second year! (The first year, they scare you to death. The second year, they work you to death. The third year, they bore you to death.) I was a Cub Scout den leader and Pack treasurer! I've never been arrested, nor have I come particularly close. Does any of this count for anything?

The Bad and the Ugly

Not really. It certainly doesn't count for much.

You can be Mr. Wonderful for ten years, but the first time you lose your temper and make a scene, they cut you out of the circle of love. The typical human community is not a very forgiving place. They like predictability; they like consistency. They prefer consistent slight disagreeability to ten years of cheerful assistance with one ten minute explosion.

The people who are stuck with you, children, parents, wives/ husbands, they feel much the same way about it. You can be a good father, even a very good father, 99% of the time, and you can lose all of your good-will with that 1% of time spent losing your shit. Or, as in my case, you can merely be depressed. That requires a certain measure of patience and understanding from your fellows, and compassion fatigue may set in long before the natural end of the relationship. The same goes for friends.

By the time I was ten, I was completely alienated and withdrawn. I still had friends, but I was less comfortable around them. My relationship with adults became toxic. All metrics of trust had been broken, and I avoided all contact with adults. When contact was unavoidable, I faked it, desperate to get away from their influence. It was all due to a combination of temperament and environment, against the background of a dysfunctional family. I had no safe space until I got married and we got our own apartment. I learned to cope better over the years, but I have never gotten over this early training. I have always had friends, but very few at a time. I treasure my time spent alone, and I am never bored. There is always something to read, or write, or watch, or listen to. Every time I walk out of the door into the world of reality, I become hypervigilant and fearful. I am happy in my way, but my way would probably feel like misery to you.

But, enough about me! Oh, wait. This is a blog. It's all about me. Maybe I should stick this one in the “Not for Publication” file.

The Dead

I'm at that certain age, when the truth is that you feel okay every day, unless you try to pick something up off of the floor or something. In any case, however, you are getting unambiguous signs that all of your systems are approaching their end of service date. I try to focus on the fact that true frailty is still more than a few years off. Then I recall how quickly the past ten years have disappeared in the rear-view mirror, and I realize that the next ten years will certainly pass more quickly, because that is the nature of things. The odds for my living another ten years are about fifty-fifty. I try to look at the bright side: I'll never be this young or capable again, so enjoy it while you can. It's not an easy posture to maintain.

I listen to a lot of music from the 1950s, 60s, and 70s, and many of the artists were my age or close to it. Most of them are dead now, and the news contains reports of more deaths daily. Many of the newly dead are younger than me; many much younger. Musicians, dead. Movie stars and directors, dead. All of my aunts and uncles, and both of my parents, dead. Authors, dead. Entire pillars of civil society, like newspapers, civic and religious organizations, and education in general, dead. Politicians, dead. Politics as we knew it, dead. Painters and graphic artists, dead. Just this morning I received a report of another old friend dying. All of my memories are clouded in a miasma of death. Some days it's hard to keep up my mask of neighborly good cheer. I just want to go into the bathroom and cry into a towel.

This Star-Crossed Year

The entire notion of a peaceful, happy retirement, safe in the bosom of one's family, has become quaint. Only a lucky few can experience it in the circumstances that are prevalent today.

On top of all of the financial and societal barriers to a happy old age, we now must deal with this fucking plague. What a mysterious, mischievous virus this is! It's all over the world, and it's invisible half of the time, asymptomatic. If you've had it already, you may or may not be able to catch it again. That all adds up to trouble. We may never be completely rid of it. And by then, we will almost certainly be thrust into the midst of a new coronavirus. That's what coronavirus means: NEW. We may be in masks, and fearful, for decades. The next one, or the one after that, may be much worse. Say goodbye to shaking hands, and hugs, and ordinary socializing. Young people who need to get their ashes raked must be at their wit's end.

This will also go down in history as the year that politics went completely off the rails. It has derailed, tumbled into a deep ravine, and exploded into flames. It's not only America that is experiencing this spectacular failure. Many countries around the world, whole regions, even, are dissolving into their own brands of madness. Even Merry Olde England is riding the crazy train to ruin. Trumpism is spreading to Australia and Europe. Dare I say that China is flirting with a resurgence of Maoism? Some new type of capitalist, expansionist Maoism? (Maoism with 5G, an Internet, and aircraft carriers.) Fascism is making a big comeback in largish countries very close to the major trouble spots from the mid-Twentieth Century. Evidently, sufficient time has elapsed for people to forget what a nightmare all of that brought about the first time. You'd think that fifty million horrible deaths would make more of an impression. You'd be wrong.

So who cares about my self-image? We've got bigger fish to fry. My little problems aren't worth the powder to blow them to hell, as my grandfather was known to say. Not worth a greased jack-pin to ram them to hell, a phrase that John Steinbeck coined in “Of Mice and Men.”

Don't worry about me, and worry less about yourself while you're at it. We should all be concentrating on a return to a civil society, alleviating this terrible climate situation, and passing forward some of the better aspects of our culture to the screen-addled younger generations that are growing up as we speak and headed right into the arms of Q-anon.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Tom Waits- Christmas Card from a Hooker in Minneapolis (Studio Version)

I should be happy, but what the hell, it's all relative anyway. Every year in September I go through a real clench, important paperwork, you know, more to it than just filling out forms. But it all worked out again, so I get to stay where I am, and keep working, and I'm current with the tax man. It all worked out, so I should be happy. Just look forward to the holidays! Ha! That's a good one. You have to admit, I've got a good sense of humor. 

Friday, October 2, 2020

Alert The Media: Trump Has The Virus

 First someone told me on Line. They got it from CNN on their phone. I returned to the bunker and checked CNN, “yes,” with a statement from Trump's doctor. Not fully trusting CNN, I checked the newspaper-of-record (the failing New York Times, for your information), and they confirmed it. Trump is infected with the Sars-CoV-2 virus, aka, COVID-19.

First . . . is it true? Did he really catch it? After that “debate” the other night, I think we are in general agreement that no dirty trick at all would be beyond the man. Trump has a total absence of impulse control; he has no filters, and no scruples. His nature is to consider only his own best interests and to lie even when it is not necessary. “I have an idea!” says Trump. “We tell them that I've got the COVID! I cough a few times and smile at people, look brave. I do a little press conference wearing casual clothes and a mask. Tell them that my temperature is 99 or something for a few days. Then, poof! Like Harry Potter, Trump is fine again! I kick COVID's ass!” Growing up in New York did not make me a trusting soul. I'll believe it when he's dead.

If it is true that he has the disease, the mathematics would become extremely complex very quickly. Where are the good outcomes here? Are there any? If it really lays him out, you know, hospital time, a ventilator, pulmonary symptoms, blood clots, the works, and he narrowly survives, does he get a sympathy vote? At least if it nails him hard people might get the message that this thing is real, and terrible. His fans might even start wearing masks. That would be helpful.

If, however, he gets a mild dose, hangs around the house for a while and then starts playing golf again, America loses, big time. “The China virus couldn't stop me!” he'll say. “I've got great genes!” That would play right into his, “no big deal! It's just a flu!” narrative. A mild case would get 100,000 people killed, because all of the Trump fans would flout the precautions even worse than they do now.

What happens if he dies? Pence becomes the president immediately, and I don't think there's time for the Republicans to replace him on the November ticket. I bet that Pence's first private moment would be spent on his knees thanking Sweet Baby Jesus in the Manger that he didn't have to debate that horrible colored woman Kamala Harris! (Sarcasm alert!) 

If Trump dies, I would venture to guess that his brand would die with him. Especially now that we all know he's broke. Billionaire my ass! It would be fun to watch the rest of them scatter like cheap tents in a hurricane. I trust Melania to take care of herself and Barron. I'm sure that she has a nice nest-egg tucked away in several untraceable places, and plenty of connections waiting to be of service. She'll come down on her feet. But what about the other Trump children? Other than a future of federal and state criminal prosecutions, I mean.

Let's speculate. How are the chances that Don Jr. goes to rehab? He's been looking pekid. That might keep the wolves at bay for a while and generate some good will. His girlfriend will dump him immediately, which may also make him a sympathetic figure. Expect many photos of him smiling and his own children pretending to know who he is.

I figure the entire family has been laying the groundwork for scapegoating Eric all along. They'll paint him as the mastermind and try to pin it all on him. He might even be flattered by his sudden importance. “Eric, we need you to take one for the team.” Eric is as close as you get to a sympathetic character in this family drama. That fact alone is quite sad.

Tiffany and her mom return to California, and obscurity. Isn't Tiffany a lawyer now? She'll have to work, because it doesn't look like there'll be a lot of cash after the dust settles. (Dust = multiple bankruptcies and law suits.) She can get married and work under her married name.

Ivana Marie? (I refuse to call these rich kids by their nicknames, like Mitt, or Jeb.) Ivana Marie could start going by Yael Kushner, which is one of her legal names. “I've met them, of course (referring to her family), but I don't know them very well.” She has another financial house of cards to run to.

We could expect some world-class, middle-European snark from the namesake Ivana, who calls herself, “the first wife.” And a book, of course. Non disclosure agreements die with the intended beneficiary.

Is it a sin to wish someone dead? Here is my quandary: on one hand, it will be a horrible tragedy if Trump has a mild dose of COVID and lives. That undeserved experience of good luck would lead to many tens of thousands of unnecessary deaths, as credulous, ignorant Trump fans go with the “hoax” thing and get themselves killed. So I'm pretty sure that the country and the world are better off if Trump dies.

On the other hand, it probably is wrong to wish someone dead. Probably? Usually? Technically, “always” is the most likely philosophical result. But we can dream, can't we?

Let's leave it at this: my hopes and prayers are with the huge number of lives that will be saved if something happens to shock the Trump fans out of their failure to avoid dying of COVID-19. Yeah, let's leave it at that.

Cue the dancers! Jazz hands, everybody!