Saturday, July 31, 2021
Friday, July 30, 2021
I have never been a fan of Matisse. I like the stuff well enough, but it never grabs me. I discovered today that he and I share a certain outlook on life.
I was looking around to find the attribution for a quotation that I like. That and the exact wording. I thought that it might be Matisse. In the course of my Googles, I read a page of Matisse quotes. The one that I was searching for was not there, but I found one that interested me.
Henri Matisse: “I don't know whether I believe in God or not. I think, really, I'm some sort of Buddhist. But the essential thing is to put oneself in a frame of mind which is close to that of prayer.”
This quote tracks my feelings on the matter point by point.
I've been living among Theravada Buddhists for sixteen years now. Theravada is considered to be the oldest school of Buddhism, and is currently practiced only in a few countries in South East Asia. It is the main “religion” in Sri Lanka, Burma, Thailand, Cambodia, and Lao. I put “religion” in quotes advisedly, because there is nothing supernatural about Theravada Buddhism. For me, all supernaturalism is foolish. The belief in any typical religion requires a gigantic leap of faith, it requires belief. One must travel beyond the realm of science, experience, and evidence. So, for me, believing in any particular God, or any particular theology, is similar to the belief in ghosts. There is no evidence for the existence of ghosts, or an afterlife, or a God of the type associated with religions.
Theravada Buddhism concerns itself purely with life on earth and the condition of mankind. It only requires that one wishes to improve oneself. It suggests a path, and a method. Expressed most essentially, there are three rules to follow.
Do good things;
Don't do bad things; and
Try to improve yourself.
I can get behind that. Meditation can be involved, but is not required. There are prayers, but when you hear what they mean in English it will be something like, be good to your parents; if you are a boss, be kind and fair with your workers; if you are a worker, work conscientiously for your boss; things like that. Help people who need help, seeking no praise or benefit. Be a good husband and father. It all concerns itself with ways to improve the self, and the community. Here and now. No afterlife is mentioned.
Some schools of Buddhism do concern themselves with reincarnation, and I have found that those people talking about reincarnation in Thailand are incorporating ideas from other schools of Buddhism. Reincarnation is very big in Buddhism of China and India. I've seen it used here as a threat, like, “if you keep kicking that dog, you'll come back as a dog after you die!” I've also seen it cruelly used as an excuse not to help the poor. Even by teachers condescending to poor children rather then even trying to teach them. “They are poor because they did something in another life,” or, “let them play, they're just going to be farm laborers anyway.”
This line of thinking can cause people to blame the handicapped for their own conditions. “It's a punishment.” Those people are ruthlessly cruel, and should thank their lucky stars that reincarnation is as big a crock of shit as heaven and hell.
Thai funerals are exactly the same as Irish Catholic funerals in my experience. Everyone in attendance shares the conviction that the dead REST. The dead are GONE. They have returned to the state that they were in before they were conceived. Which is to say, they are simply DEAD. After a couple of days of crying about it, Thai families burn the body. The Catholics bury theirs. Nobody expects any reunions, in this world or any hypothetical next world. Fair thee well, Tommy! We'll miss ye.
Am I a Buddhist? I never claim to be. I certainly don't practice Buddhism. There's a calendar, and holidays, and customs, none of which I honor. I visit the temple sometimes, usually with Thai friends or family. I generally hang back when they approach for their blessing from the monk. I put some money in an envelope and pass it to my wife, who places it in front of the monk. I appreciate their efforts, and those temples don't run themselves. I consider Theravada Buddhism to be a philosophy, one with which I agree, and one which I draw some inspiration from. I offer very limited support within that context.
I'm with Mr. Matisse on the prayer angle too. Meditation is a state of mind; prayer is a state of mind. Saying a sincere Rosary should put you in a similar state of mind to meditation. So should serious reading. So should simply exercising your imagination. Writing these silly things works for me. There are many ways to quiet one's mind. Whatever works for you, I recommend the effort.
The quotation that I was seeking was from Flaubert, by the way.
Gustave Flaubert: “Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”
Flaubert was a writer, but this advice would work for other artists just as well. I doubt if Mr. Flaubert would make this same recommendation to an accountant.
Thursday, July 29, 2021
Huffington Post ran an article today which began with an explanation of an aspect of Ms. Lovato's life that was unrelated to the subject matter of the article. The writer considered it a threshold issue, because without a substantial explanation the rest of the article would not make any sense.
The writer briefly described meeting Demi Lovato for the first time, including this tidbit, “. . . a 19-year-old Demi Lovato, who recently came out as non-binary and uses they/ them pronouns . . .”
This was soon followed by sentences like this one:
“. . . I watched with interest as talk show host after talk show host documented their heroin-induced strokes and heart attack, along with their struggles with depression . . .”
That sentence has a clear meaning in English. At least it used to. Those poor talk-show hosts! Oh, wait.
The writer went on, “[l]eave that poor child alone,” I [she] thought, “let them find their way in peace.”
My first reaction was to suggest that we simply abjure the use of pronouns with such a person. Just say, “let Demi Lovato find Demi Lovato's way in peace.” I quickly realized that this would be certain to further infuriate people like Demi Lovato. Claiming new uses for plural pronouns seems to be designed to infuriate people in the first place, and the people who engage in it seem to be infuriated about unrelated matters already. That's enough infuriation for one set of plural pronouns, which after all have never done anything but assist us in the past.
I realize that there is already a proper way to use plural pronouns that is quantity non-specific. Consider the following dialog:
A: I know somebody who can do some really fancy card tricks.
B: Yeah, well never play cards with them. At least never let them deal.
B's advice is not limited to the individual in A's statement. Never play cards with anyone who can do card tricks! And as God is my witness, if you let them deal, you will regret it. When the identity or the number of persons under discussion becomes uncertain, or unimportant, “they or them or their” are perfectly acceptable. They neither add to, nor clarify, the uncertainty, and that is fine.
Another way to look at it is to realize that English already has perfectly good neuter pronouns. Why not use “it?”
Go with, “let it find its way in peace.” I expect this would also be infuriating on a number of levels. “Let Demi Lovato find Demi Lovato's way in peace” is more polite.
Please note that none of this makes me transphobic or homophobic. Objecting to the existence of trans people or homosexuals is not an option. That would be like objecting to the existence of ice-hockey. Even being censorious about other people's sexual preferences or practices is really a non-starter. Who asked you? None of it bothers me anyway. You and I both, no doubt about it, have characteristics that some people might find odd, or objectionable. But if I maintain a lifelong obsession with Godzilla movies, that's nobody's business but my own. My gay, Godzilla hating friends are more mainstream than I am.
My only point is this: we have a wonderful language here, our own supremely useful English language. Usage changes over time, I get that, but such alterations should be kept to a minimum. It is also important to note that those changes should arise naturally out of the daily speech of the population speaking that language. For example, when I was a boy, “presently,” had only one meaning: about to happen. “He will arrive presently” meant, any minute now. That meaning has changed over time to include: happening right now. “He is presently entering the house.” This is reflected in dictionaries. People were using presently in a way that was wrong, but over the decades that vernacular misuse of the word made it correct.
It is a mischief that sows confusion to effect these changes in usage and meaning by committee, or in academic settings, or for reasons that are revolutionary or political.
Sunday, July 25, 2021
Say thanks, everybody! Last night I spontaneously grabbed a notebook and started writing. It began:
“It's all too much! Personally, medically, politically, meteorologically. How are we supposed to plan?”
It all went downhill quickly after that, for about four pages. Today, my plan is to spare you that solar-flare of complaining. Instead, here's a warning about the world of the future! There remain details that need to be worked out; there is a lot of math that needs to be completed. 2030? Longer, probably. 2040? Could be. 2050? You can bet on it.
First, the problem, then, the causes.
We live in a surveillance state, and there are countries in the world where it is already much worse than America. Imagine, for a moment, what this will turn into within twenty or thirty years. This will happen almost on its own motion, by its own inertia. The surveillance state of the future will be your constant companion, creating on the fly a complete record of every aspect of your life.
It is too creepy to consider what will be watching and listening to us in our own homes, so I will leave those speculations to you.
Going out is a different story. There will be cameras at every doorway, on every street, at every intersection, watching public transportation from every angle, and there will be hundreds of cameras observing every public space. Images of you will move seamlessly from one camera to another. You will be tracked every minute, everywhere, by facial recognition software. License plate readers will track every movement of your car. A license plate that does not match the make and model of the car will draw immediate police response. Where you go, what you buy, whom you talk to, all of it will be carefully observed, and preserved, in HD. It gets worse.
In the future, every conversation will be recorded. Not only telephone conversations, but every conversation of any kind or duration. If you talk to yourself, it will be recorded. All of this will be saved forever, perfectly collated both personally and chronologically. Careful attention will be paid to all interpersonal information. Whom do you know? Where do you meet? What do you discuss? Lists will be created, and relationships will be clarified. All of this information will be available to any law enforcement agency, however specialized, small, and obscure, at any time, and without probable cause or warrant.
All of this will be sold to the population as a great advance in public safety! What, do you have something to hide? Planning a crime, maybe? Are you a terrorist? If not, you have nothing to worry about. If you complain, you must indeed have something to hide. You will have made yourself a person of interest to the authorities. All of this will be done purely to protect the citizenry. They will say, “you can trust us!”
The full flowering of this program will be enabled by true familiarity with fully functional quantum computer networks.
Our ubiquitous current computers work pretty well, but they can only go so far. Sure, they are still getting faster, and the new generations of super-computers are impressive, but they are severely limited by their reliance on switches that have only two positions. This is represented by a “1,” or a “0” in the writing of code used for software. Software is the set of instructions that tells the computer what to do when some flash of whatever it is hits that switch.
Software has traditionally lagged way behind hardware. It still does. Operating systems are large structures made of software that enable a piece of hardware to function at all. Some operating systems are hopeless (stage cough, Microsoft!). Some are marginally better. None are trouble free, secure, and easy to install and use. We already have artificial intelligence (AI) to an extent, and it is getting better at learning new things and moving beyond its human programming. But even the super-computers are still pretty slow, and our home computers are kind of sad.
Quantum computers will brush aside all of these weaknesses in a nonce. They will probably begin almost at once to communicate with each other and write their own software. It's hard for normal people like me to imagine what they will be able to accomplish. If they were being honest, I think it is also hard for computer professionals to imagine what that new landscape will look like.
What the hell is quantum computing anyway? (The writer takes a deep breath.) Let me try to address it in the simplest way possible, which is coincidentally the only understanding of it that I possess.
We, I say we, I mean physicists, people like that, the Big Bang Theory crowd, have been digging deeper and deeper into the reality that makes up matter. One of the Greek philosophers came up with the idea that there must be an incredibly small thing that comes in different flavors and that combinations of these tiny things should be called atoms. Over the centuries, our scientists have become more familiar with these tiny things, and by now they are discovering ever smaller generations of tiny thing. They are beginning to wonder if this process will ever end. How small do things get? That's the question, unanswered as we speak.
These super-tiny things do not behave like the larger fragments of reality. They exhibit “quantum mechanics.” I have no understanding of this subject, in spite of having read numerous articles and even one smallish book about it. The importance of things quantum to computer development has mostly to do with superposition and entanglement. They often change, in ways that scientists are now desperately trying to understand, and they seem to come in pairs, which can be separated by considerable distance. Wherever they are, they can affect the behavior of their mate.
If current computers have two dimensions, open or shut, quantum computers will have something like a dozen dimensions. That's a guess. It might be eighteen, for all I know. This will allow quantum computers to operate at speeds that will require a completely new vocabulary to describe. Qubits! Millikelvins! It has already started.
The geniuses say, hey! Don't worry! Quantum computers won't be able to do anything that one of our modern computers can't do! Small consolation, I'm afraid. After all, you could say the same thing about a super-computer just being a slightly more efficient version of your laptop.
In truth, we will be facing limitless powers of data collection and analysis, limitless powers of collation, limitless powers of memory and retrieval. All at the speed of light (figuratively). Will your quantum computer's encryption tools protect you from your enemy's quantum computers?
2050! Thirty years away. What's to become of us in the meantime? Is anyone expecting democracy to make a comeback? Anything can happen, I suppose, but anything includes many alternative fates. In the last thirty years, we've seen our American government, under both Democratic and Republican administrations, criminalize almost everything, put wildly increasing numbers of Americans in prison (mostly black Americans, for mostly non-violent crimes, and for numbers of years that are hard to fathom), weaken Constitutional rights and traditional Common Law protections, and increase the number and power of Federal police forces. We've also seen American culture reduced to fake-tits and celebrities who are famous just for being famous. American education has been degraded to the point of uselessness. Unless, that is, one is blessed with rich parents who can afford a real education. (And even the products of those elite institutions don't seem to have learned much while they were there.)
Is there any reason to think that this slide into legal and intellectual oblivion will somehow reverse itself?
Quantum computing faces additional challenges before it can become self-aware and take over, or at least allow our autocratic leaders to take further control of our lives. These challenges include, but are not limited to:
Weird materials, like Helium-3, which so far only exists as a byproduct of nuclear research. Cheaper replacements will be found. Probably on the moon.
Many of the final components will require superconducting abilities that are hard to come by now. Thirty years to solve that one? Piece of cake.
Quantum computers must be isolated from the surrounding real world, lest “entanglement” interactions ruin the whole effect. Easy.
Scientists must learn to avoid “quantum decoherence.”
I leave you to go and figure out that last one for yourself. I love to be helpful, but there's only so much a man can do.
Saturday, July 24, 2021
Wednesday, July 21, 2021
Sunday, July 18, 2021
Politics today looks to me like a jungle where all of the trees are full of monkeys throwing scat at the passers by. I usually try to avoid the mess. I do try to touch-base everyday with some reliable sources of current events news, but it is all so otherworldly and disturbing that I wonder if there is any benefit from the effort.
And writing about it? There seem to be enough people already beating their heads against that brick wall. I can offer them my sincerest gratitude and admiration, because it would be terrible if no one wrote about it. I am not tough enough to engage with that task seriously. Reading up on current events is difficult enough.
I like to watch trailers for new movies. The volume of product that now appears monthly inevitably includes some real clunkers. I watch the trailer, and my reaction is often, “who gave this bullshit the green light?” My reaction to most of the news is very similar, “whose fucking stupid idea was that?”
I'm going to get this off my chest right here and now: this is what happens when you put the stupid people in charge. I know that I regularly beat this dead horse, but since people keep voting for fools I suppose it's worth repeating. Forty years of stupid in America, plus stupid off and on in most of Europe, and really fucking stupid permanently in most of the world, whether they are dressed in nice suits or ridiculous military uniforms, stupid people have been driving the bus for a long time. And now, while they are checking their bank transfers on their phones, they are piloting the bus right off the damn cliff. That strange silence that has come over our existence only means that we have become airborne. Don't look out the window, people, just close your eyes and make your peace with God. It's Thelma and Louise time.
The political news is not without its comedic value. Rudi G., the Kraken squad, that idiot Louis Gohmert (whose name includes the term, “Gomer”), other senators from states that shouldn't even have senators, they're all filling up the Federal Courts with weird, frivolous lawsuits. I'm a lawyer myself, and I admit I love to watch them twisting in the wind when those lawsuits are dismissed, and the judge starts yelling at them and awarding lawyers' fees to the other side. Defending a case in Federal Court is expensive, even if your team manages to get it kicked out early.
I am thrilled when these miscreants are separated from their law licenses, even when it is only a suspension. Regular people have no idea of the huge amount of work that comes with a suspension. You cannot practice law; you must notify all of your clients in writing; you must return to them any money of theirs that you are holding in your trust account. In California, and probably most jurisdictions, you must also take a course in legal ethics, and re-take the “Professional Responsibility” portion of the bar exam. Failure to comply gets you disbarred. It's a nightmare! What fun to watch!
Didn't I read this week that the legislature of the great State of Tennessee has gone 100% anti-vaccination? Now illegal to mandate vaccinations of any kind in the legislature? Something like that. People should be free to make their own decisions. Who, you may ask, comes up with these cockamamie ideas? Actually, stupid people come up with them, that's who. Stupid legislators, writing stupid laws, to impress their stupid voters. Reactionaries who long for the Good Old Days when children died of diphtheria and whooping cough. Stupid, probably religious people, who think that God blessed us with Rubella, measles, and the mumps for a reason! Who are we to stand in the way of God's viruses and bacteria? Thank God that we saved some small pox in a lab somewhere.
Always in the name of FREEDOM!
It's not surprising that so many people prefer to get their news from Q.
How's The Weather By You?
I have family in the Rhineland-Palatinate in Germany. In truth, they are my ex-wife's family. Her mom was raised there, long story. I love this family. They were always good to me. I'm a “sprecher,” as the Hassidim say. Ich kann ein wenig Deutsch sprechen. They visited our first apartment in New York when we were newlyweds. They always made a fuss about our hospitality, and how much they enjoyed the big meal that we prepared (veal parmigiana), and they returned the favor when we visited them in Germany. I even visited once on my own, and I was treated like one of the family. I was reading today about areas very close to them that were devastated by floods CAUSED BY RAIN. I want to emphasize the fact that floods in these Rhine River adjacent towns are traditionally caused by the river flooding and breaking it's levies. Water from up stream, water from Switzerland. I read in a German source that in one town in the valley of the Ruhr River it rained, hard, for fifty-four hours straight.
By the way, similar rain has also been falling in Switzerland, causing flooding there. The big lakes there are overflowing. This water will soon be rushing down the length of the Rhine, causing additional flooding in Germany and the Netherlands. This rain ain't natural.
Nor are the fires already smoking California like a Country Ham. Remember when the “fire season” was September and October? Sure, all Californians remember that. Our new “fire season” starts in June, and the flames cover the entire West Coast, including British Columbia. These fires ain't natural.
Nor is it natural for the Siberian permafrost to turn into mud right up around your boots, like some Penn and Teller gag. Didn't I read that about two million acres have burned in Siberia this year? So far, it's still July. Putin seems to like all of this, because there will be a lot of money to be made from the new “Northern Passage,” the new “Polar Sea Route” to the Pacific AND the Atlantic. Maybe easier to drill for oil too! Hey, can we make some money on all of this new methane that is being released?
And did you notice that ocean-side ten story condo building that collapsed in Miami the other day, killing over a hundred people? Sea level rising much? They are already starting to see danger signs in the underpinnings of the lake-side sky-scrapers in Chicago. Cliff-side was the hot set up along the California coast for decades. Mansions; more affordable developments. All starting to collapse now.
It's July, and we've already had our fifth named Atlantic hurricane.
Are there any politicians offering sensible responses to this weather hell that has descended on us? Maybe the occasional expression of concern when someone pushes a microphone in their faces. That's from Democrats anyway. Republicans still say that it's all a hoax. Look at that snow! So much for Global Warming! They all get their scripts from the money guys, along with their money to offshore accounts.
As far as deeds go, what we are seeing is too little, and much too late. No one in either politics or business is taking this climate catastrophe seriously. I do see some young people getting suitably worked up about it, but they are individuals who have no power, people whose warnings and complaints will be wasted on the air and the trees. (As the great man said, “bitch at the air, bitch at the trees, just don't bitch at me.” Big extra points to the reader who can identify that movie reference!) No, the stupidos in charge are frozen in their corruption bubbles.
The name of the game is short-term profits for corporations. The future will sort itself out. Who knows what will happen? We answer to our shareholders.
Drum Roll, Please!
Any fans of Democrats still out there? Any die-hard fans of the great Democratic Party? Anybody still expecting them to come up with the guts to win while they're holding all of the cards? The presidency, the Senate (barely), and the House? Dream on, dreamers.
Hey, Democrats! Here's a free martial arts lesson for you:
When you put your opponent back on his heels, don't allow him to regain his balance. Swarm him and knock his ass down;
When you put your opponent on the ground, don't just stand back and catch your breath. Don't let him get up. Start kicking him as hard and as fast as you can. If he covers his head, kick his testicles, kick his floating ribs and kidneys; if he covers his lower areas, kick him as hard as you can in the head. The back of the head is best. Do it again. Don't stop until he is unconscious;
If he has really managed to piss you off, drag his ass over to the curb, lay his arm straight out into the street, elbow up, and then stomp the elbow as hard as you can. If this does not result in a satisfying “snap!”, do it again.
Brother, that's the way you win a fight.
The filibuster! Kneel on that thing's chest and choke the life out of it. Gouge its eyes out. WIN! Simple majority! You win! Now get busy, because you are the only ones who can save American democracy, and maybe even something corporate-approved to mitigate this climate mess.
Is it going to happen? No. The STUPID is going to win again.
Okay, I feel better. Thanks for reading. Do what you can, or don't. See if I care. I ain't in charge.
Monday, July 12, 2021
New York in the 1950s had a lot going for it. For one thing, it had three professional baseball teams. Being a small boy, I appreciated that. Most of the games were on TV, and our families gradually all obtained TVs. By 1955, almost everybody had a TV at home, and they worked most of the time.
Regarding TV, we had it much better than the rest of the country. We had seven channels of TV; the rest of America, which we casually regarded as the countryside, or the farms, or the stix, was lucky to receive two or three channels. Nowhere, of course, had TV all day and all night. It was all snow everywhere between midnight and about seven a.m.
The Radio in New York was outstanding, at least in the number of stations. There were a few stations dedicated to popular music, which quickly became dominated by Doo-Wop. In 1956, Elvis Presley's success insured that a lot of full throttle rock-and-roll was included. It was all still very regional, and a lot of the best rock records never made it to New York, but between the baseball and the radio, one remarkable thing happened.
Both baseball and the radio were thoroughly integrated. My generation was the first whose heroes, in sports and music, included black players. Some children grew up in households where the adults were infuriated by this, and were very vocal about it. Those children took a certain message from that. My family never mentioned it, so for me it was simply a fact. I loved Doo-Wop sung by groups of Italians, groups of white boys and girls from mixed backgrounds, groups that were all black, and, remarkably, by groups that included white and black singers. When rock hit, Little Richard and Chuck Berry became very popular. Many big hits came from black artists in New Orleans. Same stations, salt and pepper. Not so remarkable, perhaps, because that racial mixture was also present on the baseball field. No, let's call it remarkable in general. None of it would have been conceivable only ten years earlier.
I benefited from all of that, but I was still a small child who was stuck in a very limited space.
All through my elementary education my experience of New York was limited almost exclusively to my neighborhood and rare trips to the nearby transportation hub of Flushing. My area was coming to the end of its heavily industrial period. I might as well mention the name of the place: College Point. There were still many large factories. Chilton Paint; Max Factor make-up; two big defense plants (working on military contracts); the giant Kleinert's Rubber plant; Lilly Tulip (maker of most of the paper plates and cups in America at the time); a commercial refrigerator factory; Hoffman soda; and any number of smaller factories turning out everything from baby furniture to coffins. It was a busy place. Many of the houses were still heated by coal, adding to the dust, the smells, and the general pollution of the industry.
As though to balance out the filth, large swaths of the town had an absolutely bucolic air about them. These were once the large estates of the millionaire industrialists who built the town in the Nineteenth Century. Now they were covered with pleasant single-family homes, carefully arranged in the midst of the lavish planting of trees that had covered the old estates. The town had a long coastline along the East River, which is, in actual fact, an estuary, but there you go. It must have been beautiful back in the age of sail, before the advent of the automobile. It was still pretty nice in the 1950s.
But only barely. I am a Baby Boomer, and in every way that I can think of, that has been both a blessing and a curse. I have always been part of a large bulge in the population. I was one of a huge number of children about the same age. On the good side, this meant that I could always walk out the door and find someone to play with almost immediately. I could walk to the park on any day that was free of rain and find other boys waiting to start a baseball game. There was a distinct drawback in this swarm of children, however. The luck of the draw being what it is, many of these children, boy children, did not harbor only benevolent feelings for the rest of us. They had discovered their own strength, and had begun to delight in inflicting it on other boys. Even the three baseball teams were a source of conflict among the boys of College Point. Fans of the Yankees were accustomed to winning every day, so bullies gravitated to the Yankees. If the Yankees won, these bullies might get overheated and feel like starting a fight. If the Yankees lost, it's a long season and even the Yankees were bound to lose sometimes, their fans might be inclined to win a fight to even their scorecard for the day. There was a cross-town rivalry between the Yankees and the Dodgers, and that could lead to trouble. Honestly, no one seemed to care much about what happened to the Giants. They might as well have been from Jersey.
The demographic in College Point varied only from semi-prosperous to rather poor, favoring the poor side of the bell-curve. If you were out of your home, you were going to get into a certain number of fights. This was a fact that drove some of the boys to stay at home and avoid the fray. You simply never saw them outside of school. That was not an option for me. I spent as much time as possible out with whomever was around, come what may.
We had zero adult supervision during our revels, but eventually we had to go home. Sympathetic, nurturing, cheerful, and loving parents were in the minority. I observed some, and heard tales of others. The truth is that it was a lucky boy or girl that lived in a family where their parents were happy to have a couple of nice children, and actually showed it in words and deeds. Money was not important; the children who felt loved were rich, and to be envied. Most parents viewed their children's lives as already well out of their control, and that's the way they liked it. Let the chips fall where they may! The best that most of us could hope for was benign neglect, and the absence of physical violence. I would have traded a finger or two for that last option.
It is my unfortunate duty to report that my parents did nothing to make my life easier, and worked diligently to make matters worse whenever they could. There was a division of labor. My mother was in charge of screaming and beating, and my father became an expert in malign neglect. Even if he was home, which was a rare occurrence, he was so good at giving me that look of disgust and turning his back that I would almost had rather gotten a beating. Almost.
All of the other fathers who were absent from the home as much as my father were either policemen or gangsters.
I should add that I had a wonderful little sister, almost five years younger than me. She was so kindhearted and courteous, so obedient and gentle, that even my demonic mother took a much softer line with raising her. It is as though my mother could sense that anyone who roughed up such a wonderful child would be struck dead by God in an instant. My adult self fully realizes how my father's rejection of our entire family must have been very difficult for my sister, but she endured it without complaint. She is still kindhearted and gentle on the outside, with a core of high-carbon, weapons-grade steel.
I do dearly wish that I had been sent to the public schools. What a luxury it would be to have school as a place of refuge! I'm sure that some of the teachers must have done some yelling, but I am informed, and believe, that they were forbidden to hit their students. And the mean boys, I'm sure that they'd give you a hard-ass look once in a while, but they were also restrained from actually punching you in the stomach at school. Once the final bell had rung, and you were on your way home, all bets were off. It would be a race to see who would hit you first. One of the other boys, or your mom, driven mad by some gossipy phone call or something. Anything. My mom didn't need prompting. She generated her own mysterious hostilities.
The peace of the public school was denied me. I was sent to the Catholic school, where we were left all day at the mercy of the Sisters of St. Dominic. In the course of eight years, I do recall at least two of these poor, exploited, religion-besotted women fondly, and, I think, two others with mere indifference. Many of them were demonic. They were constantly hovering, waiting to strike suddenly. The slaps could leave a welt that would earn me another beating when I got home (my mother could tell that I had been hit at school). The famous rulers, the flying textbooks. Isolation. Chewing and swallowing chunks of that awful Kirkman's Borax Laundry Soap. (My vocabulary was already quite colorful, and I've always been a chatter-box.) Today's United Nations would declare the behavior of those nuns “torture.”
I'm going to gloss over my high school experience. There, too, I was denied the pleasures of public school. Mostly, the presence of girls. There was almost no physical punishment at my all-boys Catholic high school, no, there the abuse was all verbal and emotional.
High school brought one major advantage: it broadened my horizons. My school was now remote from my little neighborhood. Two buses were required to get there, with a transfer in Flushing. The atmosphere in Flushing was much more urban, more cosmopolitan. It was still almost exclusively white at the time, but it had a more international feel to it. There were first-class magazine stands near the subway entrance, so I could buy Punch magazine and the New Music Express newspaper (both English). There were record stores that had almost anything that you could think of. The pizza was better. Just window shopping the stores along Main Street was wonderful. Alligator shoes! Rolex watches! It was a big step up.
My last few fights came during the summer before high school. We were all getting too big for it, and people were starting to get hurt. I had no desire to hurt people or to get hurt.
I got through high school without getting into one fight. My strategy for this success was lining up close relationships with several boys with whom no one in their right mind would consider starting trouble in any way. Consider that at high-school ages, one may have friends that are over six feet tall, weigh 180 or 190 pounds, can do a couple of hundred push-ups without breaking a sweat, and are not loathe to pick up and break someone who picks a fight with their good friend, Freddy. For a reference point, imagine that I am standing in a bar, drinking alone. In walks Howlin' Wolf, and he says, “hey, Freddy, how the fuck are you?” And I say, “hey, Chester! First one's on me! Set 'em up! It ain't a party till the Wolf shows up!” Now imagine, if you can, anyone in the bar fucking with me after that. Ever.
Regarding authority, I had mastered the art of passive aggression. I can sum up my approach in one number: out of 291 boys in my graduating class, I was number 271. I ignored them, while working diligently on my self-education. I was a library fan, and paperback books magically appeared in my room, lacking receipts. I hated authority of any kind. I hated all adults and spoke to them at all only when it was absolutely required.
My greatest failure during those four years was social. I had many friends, but I got all the way through high school without finding a girl-friend. And believe me, I was looking. I was friendly with a lot of girls. We spoke and laughed together often on the phone. They smiled and said hello if we saw each other around. But if I so much as asked them to the movies on a Saturday, they would laugh and say, “no!”
Not to worry. Everything got better after high school.
To Be Continued.
Saturday, July 10, 2021
New York, New York! The city so nice, they had to name it twice. It has a lot to recommend it, of that there is no doubt, at least it did over all of the years that I lived there, covering every minute of the 1950s and 1960s, and half of the 1970s. I've been gradually losing track since then, and by now I hardly recognize the place.
One's experience of a thing depends to a great extent on point-of-view. For a young child who is trapped in a shitty neighborhood without amenities beyond a decent park and a few good pizza places, New York was a mediocre place at best. As my horizons expanded, New York revealed itself to be the greatest city on earth. Now I'd have to add the caveat: if you can afford it. Even for run-of-the-mill stuff, like ball games, the museums, the tolls on the bridges, Broadway shows, the fares on public transportation, the prices have all risen to eye-watering levels. Everything now is priced for the rich. Geezers like me, however, remember a time when everything was priced so that a young, working class lad like me, could easily take his young bride to a very nice restaurant once in a while, the occasional Broadway show was easily affordable, and the city was full of world-class attractions that were either cheap or free.
I'm going to tackle these one at a time. The New York of my early childhood, and the New York of my salad-days. What happened after about the 1980s is none of my business. But if you ask me, Satan was involved.
To Be Continued.
Tuesday, July 6, 2021
Sunday, July 4, 2021
Friday, July 2, 2021
And willingly, too, shouting with glee, wearing stupid red hats.
Oh, don't be offended, it's not just you, or just the Red-Hats. It's all of us. I humbly include myself. Humans are simply one of the filthy species that inhabit this tiny speck of filth that we call Earth. Only our shame at our nakedness separates us from the rest of the worms and the bugs, the pigs and the pangolins, the so-called fauna of the Earth. We are pretentious, therefore we are.
You can find a more detailed explanation here, written on another of the rare days when my darkness overcomes my generally charming nature.
Our nation, indeed, our world, is well down the slippery slope to the muddy river, soon there to dwell, as dead as the silt that occluded the once clear water in better days.
What exciting times! The ocean has begun to reclaim Miami. Bad enough when the temperature exceeds 110 degrees Fahrenheit in Woodland Hills in June, but can we all agree that it is a sign from God when a whole town in British Columbia, Canada, reaches 121 degrees Fahrenheit and BURSTS INTO FLAMES? Those are Death Valley numbers. Have you looked at a weather map of Siberia recently? They are showing temps in the one-hundred-and-teens! What horrors lurk in the collapsing permafrost! We'll find out soon enough. We will be introduced to all of them!
I notice from recent photos that the golf courses in our western desert areas are still green, so obviously the seriousness of our water situation has not yet made any impression on the self-absorbed minds of our public officials. They have either not seen, or have not understood, the photos of the major reservoirs in the western states. Too bad, really. They don't care, because their country clubs are nice and green, and they had wonderful showers this morning. If they are thinking about water at all, they are considering the possibilities! When every homeowner must rely on keeping her own water tanks full with deliveries from private companies, imagine the revenue stream! Awarding contracts; accepting kick-backs. It will be a bonanza!
Politics! Save some of your terror for politics! American politics has been running against the grains of common sense and human decency for at least fifty years now, and Sweetie, those chickens are coming home to roost. We are faced with some interesting (!) questions.
Whose will be the new face on the money after the autocracy takes power? That some form of autocracy is imminent is obvious. What form will it take? That's the only remaining question. Will it be primarily patriotic? (Tom Cotton.) Or will it be theocratic? (Mike Pompeo.) Perhaps it will be Jesus on the money! What fun that will be.
It makes little difference whether Trump is successfully prosecuted for some crimes or other (unlikely, in my opinion), or whether he drops dead tomorrow (better chance of that happening). One thing is certain: seventy-one million Red-Hats voted for that asshole, after watching him embarrass himself, his schools, and his entire family every day for almost five years. They STILL voted for him. That shows you the enormity of their need for some kind of certainty in this confusing modern world of ours. If need be, they will transfer this need to another host.
That host will not be Joe Biden. It will not be a Democrat at all, nor even a democratically inclined person. It will be a Republican. They are the party of autocracy now. The ones with all of the answers.
Trump had one thing going for him: he had a carnival barker's talent for firing up a crowd. If he becomes unavailable somehow, the Republicans will need to find another effective speaker. Notice that I did not say, “another good speaker.” Trump is not, nor has he ever been, a good speaker. Tom Cotton is a fair speaker; he never really shines in the role. Mike Pompeo is a sadly inadequate speaker. Governor DiSantis of Florida is also an awful speaker. Who amongst the Republicans can really deliver a proper stem-winder? They'd better find someone quick while they're holding a stacked deck. Someone may break out a new deck of cards and spoil the gag.
A completely unscrupulous great speaker may come along and take over the entire game. That would be a quick death for democracy in America. The alternative is the kind of slow drift that we have become accustomed to. Both paths lead to hell.
Hell! The fires have already started.