Sunday, December 4, 2022

Suicide: The Nuclear Option

If you have friends who are openly talking about killing themselves, you can probably relax. I don't think that people who talk about suicide are likely to follow through. No, generally it comes out of nowhere from an outside point of view. Like Anthony Bourdain. He was a guy who seemed to have it all under control. Plenty of money; well respected; great job; plenty of friends. Everything to live for! Then, suddenly, he hangs himself in a fucking hotel room. You may think, “wow, I never even knew he was depressed,” or you may think, “no surprise, really, his mood always was a bit dark.” But if someone is bringing up the possibility in casual conversation, you probably don't need to notify the authorities.

There are many categories of people who are not serious about suicide. These include, but are not limited to: people who announce the intention without forming the intention; people who “attempt” suicide; people who are hung up on choosing a methodology; people who are planning an ideal suicide; people who are wondering if it “hurts” to wrap your head with a dry-cleaning bag; people who are wondering “how long it takes to drown;” people who still think that suicides might go to hell; and many others.

People who are serious just do it. Quite a while ago, the sister of a friend of mine killed herself. She had a failed attempt with pills, and she ended up in a locked room in a nice crazy house. The first chance she got, she knocked out one of the cleaning staff, let herself into the maintenance closet, bared the door, and wrapped a garbage bag around her head. She got her wish; dead as a door-nail before they found her and broke in. She was serious.

One lesson here is that pills very often lead to a mere “attempted suicide.” You'd do better with a good, solid plan. Nobody wants to end up sitting in a wheelchair drooling into a cup. Jumps from high places, and even self-inflicted gunshots, can also leave you alive and miserable.

What's the rush anyway? It comes for us all in its own good time.

Sunday, November 27, 2022

Draft Dodger Rag


You may be wondering why the hell I joined the Navy during the Vietnam War, and sometimes I wonder myself. It was certainly easy enough to get out of being drafted, to get 4-F'd, to just forget about the whole thing and ignore the news. 

This song may have had something to do with my joining up. I didn't want to be this guy. 

At least in the Navy you had your "three-hots-and-a-spot," three hot meals and a bed to sleep in. 




Thursday, November 24, 2022

Four Dead In Fiery Car Crash In Queens

Teenagers dying in car crashes was a common occurrence in New York during the 1960s. The streets of New York, particularly the boroughs of Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx, were largely devoid of car traffic after one or so in the morning, but they were fraught with danger for any regular Joe driving home from a straight job with weird hours. There was a lot of “joy riding” going on. I think that it's safe to say that this was true every night. And why not? It was certainly fun, and nothing could have been easier.

The teenagers would at least be drunk, even if they were under age. Obtaining all of the beer that you could afford was no challenge at all. Nor was buying Robitussin, or pain killers. CIBAs were popular, and available over-the-counter at a small number of legitimate drug stores that were having trouble paying their rents. The owner would simply charge fifty or sixty percent over retail to teenagers without prescriptions. The cars of that era were ridiculously easy to steal.

All two-door GM hardtops had no “B” post. That's the solid part which separates the doors on a four-door car. No B-post made it easy to pull up the lock button with a piece of coat hanger. Once inside the car, all you needed was a screw-driver. There was a chrome plate where you inserted the key, if you had one, and all you had to do was pop it off with a screw-driver. What you saw then was a bronze disc with a slot in the middle. Insert screw-driver into bronze plate and turn clockwise and you had ignition. It all took about forty-seconds.

I am neither proud nor ashamed to say that I participated in this activity, although I prefer to keep most of the details to myself.

The night that I found myself recalling just now was in 1964, best guess, maybe early 1965. My best friend at the time was another Fred. It's funny how the same name can be handled in very different ways, isn't it? His birth-certificate said, “Fred,” while mine said, “Frederick.” Also, he went by “Freddie,” while I went by “Freddy.” Anyway, we two Freds were out driving one night. Of course, we were drunk. Neither of us owned the car that we were riding in. The other Fred was driving, and he had a famously heavy foot. The car was a 1961 Oldsmobile, which was a big, heavy car, with a huge engine. Plus the usual lousy brakes and shitty balloon tires.

It was a beautiful night, not too hot, not too cold, not raining or snowing. One of those rare nights in New York when the weather is not somehow making you miserable. The event, or the circumstances that might have led to an event as described in the above title, occurred at about three a.m. We were taking the car “back.” The custom was to park the car either in the spot that you drove it out of, or close. That was the polite thing to do under the circumstances. We were good boys in most ways.

There was a hill, which sounds a lot simpler than the reality of it. 122 Street running north was on high ground until you got to Eleventh Avenue. Right at the Avenue, the street fell off into a very steep hill. One where you could clearly see that the houses lining both sides had foundations that were built at a considerable angle. One side was, still is, about one or two feet, and the other side is about five or six feet. That's a four foot drop within a frontage of less then thirty feet. I'll let the next guy figure out what that makes the angle of the hill. “I'm a lawyer Jim, not a civil-engineer!”

Cresting that hill, going north, a driver was completely unaware of what was in store for him on the other side. Fred, the other one, had an idea that he had long entertained. He wondered how much “air” a car could get heading into that downfall at, let's say, 100 mph.

Now this is a narrow street, with barely enough room for two cars. Both curbs were full of parked cars. Way in advance of the hill, Freddie announced his intention to give it a try. He hit the gas, hard, and the car shot forward. I simply smiled and relaxed, vaguely hoping that the coast was clear and naively trusting fate after my usual fashion. We got to the edge, and while I cannot say how fast we were actually going, or whether the tires actually left the ground, the results were enough to make a big impression on anyone.

We did temporarily lose sight of the actual road, and the bounce, or bounces, must have been a sight to see. I'm sure that the sparks were most impressive. When we could focus on the road again, we were mercifully in its middle, going straight, and there was not another moving car in sight. Gott sei dank.

If there had been a car coming up that hill, and it was in just the wrong place at just the wrong time, the resulting accident would have been at a combined speed of at least 100 mph. We were probably doing seventy, and the other car a more judicious thirty. We would have taken out a few of the parked cars in the process, and all four people in the cars would have perished. That one would have made the papers. We both laughed at our good fortune, and Freddie wanted to try it again because he “hadn't been going fast enough.” I had no desire to roll those bones a second time, so I suggested that we just take the car back and get some sleep. That's what we did.

1964, '65, that would make me sixteen at the time. Freddie too. We were both still in high school. Neither of us had a license to drive. Serious accidents which did kill one or more of the teenagers in the “borrowed” car were so common that they didn't make the papers. They did, however, ruin lives. The drunk and reckless driver of the car killed one or more of his friends. That one stays with you. The dead have lost their futures, and their families have lost a son, perhaps their only son, or even their only child. There was one that still bothers me, because the boys were a few years younger than me and I knew the big sister of the driver very well. In that case, it actually was his car and he did have a license, but I think the boys were only seventeen. The driver survived. He was also driving on 122 Street, further south, when he lost control and went over the curb into the columnar post of an old field-stone wall. The post was hardly scratched, but the car was crushed and set ablaze. I guess the owner/ driver was thrown in a magically perfect way; his passenger and best friend died.

The passenger's name was Bobby Kerr. He was movie-star handsome and universally liked in town. People still tear up when they think about it. I would trade places with Bobby in a minute, because I'm sure that he would have made much more of a success of his life than I have.

I am certain that neither of us would have born any malice towards the drivers who killed us. They were friends that we loved, and we were both willing participants in the wild-ass excitement of driving way too fast on rather narrow, pot-holed, unpredictable roads.

This was all a long time ago, but from what I hear from friends, our old town is still subject to teenage mischief in the midnight hours. Methodologies and the drugs of preference have changed along the way, but the behavior persists. On a bright note, the teenagers are still good boys most of the time, and the friendship groups are now multi-ethnic. At least that's an improvement.

Ed: I only used real names sparingly, and only because both of those individuals are dead. Freddie has been dead for some time, but he did live to grow up, get married, and have a family of his own. We both joined the Navy in 1967. After that he stayed near his last duty station and I only saw him once or twice. I'm sure that he remained the handsome, silver-tongued devil that we remember so well, going back to grade school. I'm also sure that he and Bobby are resting in the peace that waits for all of us.

Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Bessie Griffin - Sometimes I Feel Like A Motherless Child


I know that I have been a disappointment to many people in my life. My parents, my first wife, maybe even my second wife, probably my children. In their treatment of me, it is obvious that they feel no need to hide their disappointment. 

But, call me crazy, I think that I was a good son, at least until their ridiculous mistreatment of me drove me into a shell. I think that I was a pretty good husband to my first wife. I was at least as good a spouse as she was. She was no saint, and she could be a real pain in the ass. But I didn't complain. She gave me a family, and I loved them, I loved them all. In the end, after forty years, she kicked me out like a filthy, biting dog. I think that I've been a great husband to my second wife, but people often have unreasonable expectations. Think of poor Lord Jim. He doesn't survive his book by Joseph Conrad. 

My sons, I have no idea what their complaints are. It's a mystery to me. What did I do to them? We, they, have a thousand photographs. We did things; we went places; we took nice vacations; we were all smiling! Isn't it cruel to deny a man any contact at all with his two granddaughters? I know parents who failed miserably in the roll but whose children lack the gall to exclude them from their grandchildren's lives. 

I complain, as usual. Maybe that's the point. I never deserved any of it, and shutting the door on me is the only proper response. 

Monday, November 21, 2022

Our Town - Marshall Crenshaw


Marshall Crenshaw might have been too over on the mild side for the rockers, and too old-timey for the kids, and too proper for the hipsters, but he was a hit with me from the first listen. My little sister, God love her, told me in a letter, "you should listen to this guy . . . you might like him." She was right. 

He was one of those YouTube hold outs, you know, "NO MARSHALL CRENSHAW FOR YOU." He had his own web site where he was trying to sell the stuff. He gave up a few years ago, like many musicians, and figured that YouTube listens will drive sales for tix to live events. Which he excels at, by the way. 

I hope he's making a living. I doubt if he sold enough of these records to retire to a private-jet lifestyle. So many of these musicians have brought me so much happiness that I sincerely wish them the best of good fortune. 

Sunday, November 13, 2022

The Rule Of Whose Law?

The “Rule of Law” is constitutionally understood to mean that the government must apply the principles of due process before applying force, or any other type of legal process, on anyone falling under the protection of due process. A closely related legal principle is probable cause. I still remember the bar-exam definition:

Probable cause is facts and circumstances which, in themselves, would cause a reasonable person to believe that 1) a crime had been committed; and 2) a particular person had committed that crime.

We see this on police TV shows and in cop movies all the time. “Yeah, but is it enough to take it to the judge?” They need evidence to back up their request for a warrant. The trouble is that now, in our crazy-quilt Never-Neverland of a country, probable cause means different things depending on the location of that jurisdiction and/ or the status of the alleged perpetrator.

The DA thinks: who is looking over our shoulder? The judge thinks: can I get yelled at if I sign this warrant? This same kind of variable thinking goes into the decision to indict someone for a crime. “Is it enough to take before a Grand Jury?” Location and status rule.

Let's say some famous snitch gets picked up with a couple of grams of coke in his pocket out in kickstump somewhere. Cops know him. “Fucked up again, 'eh Robbie? Got anything good for us this time?” Robbie, a duskie gentleman and a fine witness with plenty of experience, spins them a tale about two guys he knows that are planning to buy a half pound of powder cocaine, turn it into crack, and sell it forward. What's more, one of the guys has a sister that has a carry-permit for a gun, and sometimes she lets the brother borrow it.

What do you think? Do those police have probable cause to arrest the two black guys, and the sister, and charge them all with conspiracy to traffic in narcotics, including crack, backing up the conspiracy with a gun? In many jurisdictions they certainly do. Federal police in Washington DC did, in this matter.

They pick the three of them up for questioning. They're just in a bar having some laughs. The sister is not carrying her legal gun, that's at home locked up like it's supposed to be. The guys deny everything, and the girl doesn't have any idea what's going on. The bartender says, “everybody in this place is looking to make money off coke.” All three were placed under arrest.

Who that does coke occasionally doesn't just talk about it sometimes? Who that has no money never talks about how we could get some money? The snitch is a famous rat, and talk is cheap. Is this enough to indict the two guys for the conspiracy? One has a prior small coke bust; the other has an old assault rap from when he was a teenager. There's no real act in furtherance of the conspiracy. What about the sister? The sister has a clean record and a good job.

To me, it's all hearsay and the gun is properly licensed and legal.

I read about that one, and the set up was just like that. Very thin on the evidence. All three were charged and found guilty on the conspiracy, with the crack enhancement, and the gun enhancement. Federal; no parole; long bids.

The whole paradigm shifts when the allegations circle around a high-status individual.

Take our whiney little baby of an ex-president. Everybody knows he's been breaking the law on a daily basis since fucking forever. Since he's been out of office, how many times has he been subpoenaed to show up somewhere, or surrender some documents, and he just says, “no.” The New York State Attorney General finally got him to show up for a depo, and he answered the first question, “Fifth Amendment,” and the next 150 questions, “same answer.” And yet, he's still just waving his Schwanz at the legal establishment wherever he encounters it.

They did get a warrant to search for documents at his residence down on the flood plain, and they found a lot of them. They represented proof of a crime, and there was every indication that some of the documents had been sold or otherwise separated from their folders, and evidence that many additional boxes had been moved to other locations.

Where's the indictment? It was a legal warrant, they found the evidence of a crime, then they ran right out of gas.

For any of the crimes that he has been getting away with for decades, a small-timer like me would be in a basement cell in a Federal Penitentiary working on about 100 years. That's the white-privilege sentence; a black defendant would be doing the whole 225 years. Remember that cute little white girl who got ten years for ONE document?

Either I'm missing the point, or there are a lot of “unless” clauses in the Constitution that have escaped my notice.

Here, I've been thinking that the “Equal Protection” clause means that the law as it is written applies equally to white and black, rich and poor, etc. Maybe it actually means that the law applies to all rich, high-status individuals equally, while bearing in mind that it also applies to all low-status black individuals equally, although not in the same way as the high-status individuals, and in a still different way to all low-status white people, etc.

And to certain people, evidently, the law does not apply at all.

Bill Evans "Alfie"


I've been wondering, off and on, why Alfie didn't catch on more with the jazz players. I don't rush to the computer every time I get a random thought like that. I was happy with the occasional, Alfie, that would really work for a small jazz combo, wouldn't it? 

I came across this today, and I was happy that I did. 

Wednesday, November 9, 2022

Saint John Coltrane

Coltrane was certainly a miracle of human potential. He was only a man, but he was way out in front of the other people plying the same trade, the trade of trying to make a living by playing jazz music. I love many of the musicians contemporaneous to Trane, but really, there's Trane, and there's everyone else. When it was Trane's turn to solo, he immediately exploded into a dimension that was unfamiliar to the other musicians. The question of, “what can I do to compete with that?” quickly became, “what the hell is that he's doing?” John Coltrane was on another level.

It's not surprising that many fans caught the scent of the divine in Trane's music.

Something like this had happened before with Charlie “Yardbird” (generally “Bird”) Parker. A church arose around the worship of Bird, with Bird's music as the sacrament. I'm going to number the names of some churches herein to make the changes easier to follow:

Number One, “The Yardbird Temple Vanguard Revolutionary Church of the Hour.” This was in San Francisco during the 1960s.

It may help to recall that John Coltrane was born in September, 1926, and he died in July, 1967.

At some point in the sixties, a nice couple in Oakland decided that there was no better way to spend a Saturday than listening to Coltrane records on a big hi-fi in their garage. With the door open; neighbors welcome. Before long, the crowds were growing. In light of Trane's death, the divinity angle started to come into focus. In 1969, they declared themselves a congregation and purchased the Yardbird Temple, calling the new church:

Number Two, “The Saint John Coltrane Church of San Francisco” (1969).

This went on fine for about ten years, but there was some kind of court battle in 1981. The Saint John Coltrane church was taken over and renamed, “The One Mind Temple Evolutionary Transitional Church of Christ.”

Wasting no time, the Coltrane church reorganized themselves and opened at a new location as the:

Number Three, “The Saint John Coltrane African Orthodox Church” (1982).

This church may still be there for all I know. They have about eighty saints, with Coltrane occupying the top spot. They create beautiful icons for each of the saints, nicely done and very ornate in a very Eastern-Orthodox manner, featuring lots of gold. The Trane icon is labeled:

Saint John Will-I-Am Coltrane.”

I personally do not approve of religion in general, but this one can claim a much more direct connection to the divine than most. The music, of course.

Monday, November 7, 2022

I Idolize You - Ike & Tina Turner


Those were simpler times. Not better in every way, no, I'm not going that far. Not perfect, certainly. 

But, let's face it. Any honest man, black, white, or Puerto Rican, could find some job in a factory or a store and raise a family on the salary. All medical providers and insurers were non-profit, and almost every job came with a family health care insurance plan. People settled extreme disputes with their fists, and guns were rarely involved. Even the gangsters were more gentlemanly. If they had a beef with you, they just killed you. Now they kill everybody in your house. 

And, most amazingly, politicians from both major parties could take breaks from arguing once in a while to pass important legislation that benefited the whole country. They even compromised on big, important issues! Can you imagine? 

And Ike and Tina were on the radio. Maybe not every station, but they were on WWRL anyway. Man, I miss the Big-RL. The "Weekend Spooktacular!" Yeah, those were simpler times. 

Sunday, November 6, 2022

You Did Your Best? Really?

You often hear people use this old saw, “well, I did my best.” They seem so sincere, and maybe they even believe it. It is, however, almost never true.

It is much more likely that they have not, in fact, employed all of their natural abilities to their best advantage while applying the greatest possible energy to the entire enterprise. In almost every case, you will find that their efforts lost efficiency due to one or more from among many factors. Social anxiety; fear of failure; fear of success; despair; stage fright; passive-aggregation; any of the many emotional handicaps that afflict modern humans; laziness; being unprepared; failure to avail one's self of good luck when it presents itself. This list could be stretched out a lot further.

I am at the stage of life where the scales fall off of our eyes and we are forced to see what has been there all the time. Our failures, in Technicolor and Panavision, which we are forced to watch like that juvenile delinquent towards the end of Clockwork Orange. There are no Mulligans, no do-overs. These are the things that we fucked up, and we see them with eyes open or shut, awake or asleep, haunting us. The only course open to us is to smile and try to make a good show of disintegrating in real-time and finally dying. Or, disregarding once again the feelings of those who may enjoy our company, taking the easy way out. Attempts at contrition just make it worse, and there is no “Way-Back” machine that we can use to travel back forty or fifty years and do things differently. No, we are left to tell ourselves, “I did my best.”

Even though it is a lie. Most of us know it to be a lie. What we did was, at best, as much as we could manage at the time, faced with our own set of challenges. In my case, it has never been enough. Ask anyone.

If you are my age or thereabouts, and you were also blessed with a family, good for you. This may be a family of your own procreation, or a family that you were born into, which has always surrounded you with fellowship and love. It may even simply be a family of good, long-term friends, who look out for each other and share a strong bond of love. Not everyone is so lucky. I feel very lucky to have had the opportunity to raise two fine sons, only having to divorce their mother when my sons were already in their forties.

If you, dear reader, have had that opportunity, and your family has always been generous with forgiveness and acceptance, and they still share their love with you, I salute you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2022

Don't Hit Me No More - Mabel John (1967)


A very good song, and a great lesson in the evils of spousal abuse. Also a great job by the session gang over at Stax Records. 

Mabel John, incidentally, was the older sister of Little Willie John. He was a tragic figure. Dead already at this time, after a brief blaze of glory and a few years of trouble making. RIP, Willie, and Mabel too. Mabel died this August at the age of ninety-one. 

Sunday, October 30, 2022

Old Age Is Full Of Surprises

Our own increasing age, and also the ages of our children, are always accompanied by a yearly crop of surprises. Your first child is born, and you've never taken care of a baby before. As soon as you get used to the baby's needs, the baby turns one year old, and you've never had a one year old before. Then two, and three, etc. Some of the leaps are more consequential than the others. The leap from six to seven brings a whole new perspective for the child, and a whole new set of challenges for the parents. The leap from twelve to thirteen is another big one. Every year you are faced with a new child, and a new set of problems that must be solved.

This experience is mirrored in our own lives. We turn thirty-seven, and we've never been thirty-seven before. Things are changing, slowly at first. Geezers can all look back and see where the major changes in perspective took place. The professionals recognize more than one “adolescence.” Being a teenager can be difficult, but the worst ones hit us at age twenty-seven and again around age forty.

We don't get old all at once. It comes one year at a time. Then, around age seventy, everyone's body announces to its owner that this entire Merry-Go-Round has become tiresome, and it's about time to shut the whole enterprise down. Again, not all at once, but everything begins to degrade at an accelerated pace.

I enjoy reading novels that are variously described as “noir” of some kind, “hard-boiled,” or simply “detective” or “crime” fiction. My own literary-criticism suspicion is that they are not really novels at all, because there is a major element missing: the psychological development of a protagonist. 

Long ago I read some newspaper writer describe her attempt to break into the world of fiction. She wrote a novel, which is as different from newspaper writing (or blog writing) as Mars is different from Neptune. She asked a professor type friend of hers to read it and tell her what he thought. “It reads fine,” he told her, “but nothing happens.” She was confused, so the professor broke it down. “Yes,” he said, “there are characters, and there is a story and a plot, and there is action, but nothing happens TO the characters. None of the characters change. They don't develop.” She saw the light and gave up fiction writing.

Anyway, I'm reading my way through all fourteen of Philip Kerr's “Bernie Gunther” novels, for the second time. They are terrific, if you like stuff like Raymond Chandler, Ross McDonald, George V. Higgins, and Charles Willeford. On the subject of encroaching old age, Bernie, approaching sixty, describes getting up in the morning like this: “it always feels like someone must have stolen my real body in the night and replaced it with my father's.”

I have been using a similar formula for years. I tell people that I wake up feeling fine, pain free, arising easily, gliding smoothly to the bathroom, but then encountering the shock. When I first look into the mirror, I look a bit confused and wonder what my father is doing here. Him being dead and all.

Hopefully you all paid careful attention to the above comments about turning seventy. You WILL be getting stiff and frail; you WILL be spending more time with medical and dental professionals; all of your individual systems WILL be failing; you WILL be investing more money in the enterprise of remaining alive. Perhaps a lot more money. Everyone is different. Experience varies.

After seventy, the going gets rough. We reach what I sometimes think of as, “the place of bad roads.” The way becomes more difficult, and progress slows. The road, of course, has an end.

Our end may be easy, or terrible, and comfort is not awarded on the basis of merit. We are, each of us, on our own.

Hey! I don't make the rules. I just wake up in the morning and find the game and the rules by which we all live. As long as you can hear the man say, “play ball!” you're in the game. Just put the glove on your left hand and take your position. You made it, again. Make the most of it!

Bantam Rooster - Run Rabbit Run


In English grammar, the preferred sentence format is, "subject, verb, object." It turns out, however, that the object is not required. "Subject, verb" makes a perfectly good sentence. 

"Jesus wept." 

In conventional rock and roll, the power trio is often considered to be the ultimate reduction in manpower, guitar, bass, and drums. Here too, a further reduction in payroll is available. "Guitar, drums." 

Sounds good to me. 

(I know, Jack White was aware of this. He did very well with "guitar, drums." He also knew these guys.) 

Tuesday, October 25, 2022

The Future? What Future?

It has been brought to my attention that recent polls of millennials indicate that most of them find the entire idea of having children ridiculous. For one thing, the finances of most millennials are already on life-support, and more importantly, who in their right mind would be part of launching a tiny human into any likely version of the future? I think of my granddaughters and I share the horror that millennials feel.

Someone born in 2025 would, according to reality as it is currently practiced, graduate from high school in 2053. Where are my optimists? Raise your hands! Come on. Who want to paint me a rosy future for those graduates? Jobs? Universities? Housing? Nutritious food? Air quality? Clean water? Health care? Weather? Coming up with any prediction that does not amount to almost instant death is a challenge.

Last year one of those fishing posts showed up on my FB page. I can't imagine how they make money or gather valuable information from those things, but they just ask an innocuous question. Thousands of strangers respond. The obvious ones ask for info about your name, the street you grew up on, “how old were you when they landed on the moon?” Some are very obscure. The instant spam post asked the question, “In three words, what advice would you give your nineteen year old self?”

I never answer such posts, but one answer to this question jumped immediately into my head. I rejected it as too negative, even for me. I kept trying, mostly to come up with something funny, or at least not so dark. I wasn't going to enter an answer, but my knee-jerk scared me. That first response was the clear winner: kill yourself now.

The idea still returns to me on a regular basis. It would have been the perfect time to do it. I had already wasted two years at what we quaintly called “college,” drinking and smoking my way to a 1.7 index, which is almost impossible when you consider it.

I had already been in and out of the Navy. All by the age of nineteen! Going in was my idea. I didn't mind the idea of military service. I just knew that I was no gunslinger, and sleeping outdoors was out of the question. Join the Navy! I had always been positively disposed to the U.S. Navy. Stephen Decatur had been an early hero of mine. My early exit from the Navy was their idea. They liked me as a person, but they recognized my total lack of military bearing. Honorable discharge, “character of service: honorable.” It was a thanks-but-no-thanks discharge.

I was nineteen.

I had an on-and-off-again girlfriend who didn't seem to totally approve of me. I had no desire to have another go at college. Working did not appeal to me. I got my old bedroom back and collected unemployment as long as possible.

What advice...” That was the perfect year for me to commit suicide. It would hardly have made a ripple in the pond. I would not have been leaving anyone in the lurch. In fact, I would hardly have been missed. I know now that my little sister would have taken it hard, but at the time I had long thought that my family would be much happier without me. My parents had never been particularly fond of me. My girlfriend would have cried for five minutes and gotten a better boyfriend almost immediately. At my funeral, probably. She was a looker. I had a group of friends that I liked a lot, but they were as depressed as I was. They would have understood. I couldn't stand being around happy people in those days. Nice, clean exit.

I let that golden opportunity pass, but it's still fun to dream about it. I lost my interest in the future early in life. It appears that I was simply ahead of a curve that millennials are embracing. I'll let you look up their suicide rates. Can you blame them? They have less to look forward to every day.

Outkast - Hey Ya! (Official HD Video)


Great act; great song; great video. This thing is a major league home run. 

Outkast! Some great output, and then...something happened. 

I bet Questlove could tell us all about it. 

Friday, October 21, 2022

WILSON PICKETT - FUNKY BROADWAY (ATLANTIC)

Things To Come

If it's an expert that you're looking for, keep it moving. Nothing to see here. My own field was the law. After fifteen years in the trenches, I found my way into a teaching position. I held steady at instructor for fifteen years. I enjoyed the work/ life balance. I lack ambition, yeah, that's it, I lack ambition. The reasons are beyond the scope of this outburst.

It's true, however, that I have maintained a vigorous amateur's interest in politics and current events for many decades, with a healthy dose of history on the side. I do have a decent education, including a doctorate in law, but my main credentials for the instant opinion piece come from about twenty years of subscribing to the New York Review of Books, and regular reading of the New Yorker magazine, the Atlantic, Harper's, and good newspapers, including the New York Times, the Christian Science Monitor, and the Wall Street Journal. Oh, and I read books, too.

Right now I'm getting a very unhealthy volume of tingling in my spider senses. I sense danger. This current bout of the yips is due to the upcoming midterm elections.

Bear in mind that I am a famously negative thinker. It is possible that the Democrats will maintain control of the House, and it is even conceivable that they will also gain control of the Senate. We could all let our breaths out a bit if that happened. To push the metaphor, that would give us a bit more breathing room to try to improve our situation.

More likely, there could be an outcome that would leave us just about where we are now. Some kind of stalemate. This would be far less than ideal, but would at least delay the final Gnandenschuss, the coup de grace, the mercy shot for a near-dead soldier on the battlefield. We're leaning in the wrong direction, though. Leaning into it, putting our shoulder into it with all of our might. The end of the American Experiment.

And the worst could easily happen. The Republicans could get the wins, take the house, and win a clear hold on the senate as well. Why not? Not only America, but also the entire world, seems more than willing to vote for any Jimbonie with a nice snarl. Look at today's Republican party. The old-school liberal Republicans are all gone, and the more reasonable centrist Republicans are retiring from politics in droves. We're left with a bunch of really unsavory characters. Hundreds of them will not even admit that Trump lost the 2020 election. That alone is a pathological level of disengagement with reality. The current crop of Republican candidates is a laughable bunch. Some actual idiots; some over-educated voluntary idiots; and many who are just so crooked that they'll say and do anything to get voted in. For only one reason: that's where the money is.

There is one prominent GED recipient from the Rocky Mountains who has only been in the House for two years and has already increased her net worth from “bankrupt” to forty-million dollars.

To be fair, there's not much that I wouldn't do for twenty-million dollars a year.

If the worst happens, what can we expect? Why would they not impeach Joe Biden? The House could trump up some charges, and the Senate would find him guilty. Isn't that a no-brainer? Why would they not then impeach Kamala Harris? Then wouldn't the Speaker of the House become the President? Why not President Marjory Taylor Green?

Does anyone else recall the speculation along these lines that circulated last year about appointing our former president Speaker of the House, and then using this procedure to anoint him President? Why not? In our current anarcho-fascist world, anything seems possible. No one, outside of a very few, smallish countries, is behaving reasonably.

No matter whose name is on the Republican ticket in any particular jurisdiction, there are a lot of folks who will vote for them. In a couple of weeks, many of these people will vote for Herschel Walker. The reason they will give for this absurd vote will be, “well, I just trust the Republicans more with improving our economy.”

What a sick joke that is! The Republicans have had many chances to guide the economy over the last hundred years, and on every occasion they have run it straight into the ditch! (Possible exception: Eisenhower.)

2023 will be the 100th anniversary of the unexpected death of Warren Harding. He's the Republican fellow who won the presidential election of 1920. Remember the Teapot Dome Scandal? Look up “the Ohio Gang.” Harding led the most corrupt administration in modern history, and that's a tough race to win. Remember the Great Depression? Remember what happened to the value of your house and your 401K in 2008?

But if you are easily led, and watch Fox news all day, go ahead and vote for Republicans.

What you'll end up with is a borderline moron handing your money to the rich in tax cuts and the corporations in the form of deregulation, oh, and tax cuts. The middle-class will get increasing desperation, and the poor will get the gutter.

Look, I don't love the current crop of Democrats either. There, I said it. But there is a difference, a big difference. Working people right up to doctors and lawyers, even coders, are better off with Democrats in office. That's just the truth. If you have hundreds of millions of dollars, go ahead and vote for Herschel Walker. I wouldn't blame you. But honestly, would that additional tax savings be worth it? Have you no pride?

We have a secret ballot in America, and if you're one of the lucky few who have not had your vote already eliminated by gerrymandering or voter disenfranchisement, you should really get up off of the couch in a few weeks and go out and vote. Me, I'll be dead soon, so you've almost certainly got more on the line than I do. Use your head, and very carefully make up your own damn mind. Don't let anyone tell you who to vote for.

Not some random nut-job like me, and certainly not some totally bent old asshole like Mar-a-Lardo. Use your own head. That's what it's for. May the Gods guide your hand.

Thursday, October 20, 2022

The Way I Walk


RIP, Robert Gordon. That's what I heard anyway. I always like his work. 

Monday, October 17, 2022

Kinks-Some Mothers son Lyrics


This is from the LP "Arthur," which was released in 1969. I had had a brief, intense affair with the Kinks from 1964 to 1967, but between the release of "Something Else," in 1967, which I loved, and the obviously altered landscape in 1969, that all changed. 

The Kinks, like so many talented and popular bands in the mid-sixties, had gotten sick of working furiously without a break while making no money, were feeling around for a way to get into the VIP room where a very few bands were making big money. 

I, like so many people, had been completely broken by the year 1968. Not as in, "by that time," but rather by living through the year itself. My mood had gone very dark, and my attention had become very hard to grab and even harder to hold. 

I had disengaged from the Kinks by the time Arthur came out, and I never heard this song. If I had heard it, my reaction would have been to leave the room, smoke a cigarette outdoors or in the bathroom, and try desperately to forget this song. Those of you who did not live through 1968 have no idea what it was like. The Trump years were like a sunny day at Disneyland smoking great weed compared to 1968.

Casually reading something unrelated earlier today, this song received some mention. So I looked for it, and found it. Isn't it great? My sincere apologies to the Kinks for ignoring what I'm sure was a great deal of excellent material.  

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Stardust - Nat King Cole


I don't approve of the whole idea of something being, "the best," or someone being, "the most beautiful," or someone being "the best (fill in name of instrument) player." All of those fields are too crowded with talent to narrow any of them down to "one." 

Let's not even complicate matters by recognizing that this kind of value judgment is necessarily very personal and subjective. You cannot reduce any form of art or music, and certainly not beauty, to any form of numerical scoring system. Those are very individual matters. 

We all can, however, recognize the top-drawer of any particular category of thing. We know when something is clearly outstanding in its field. Like this song, for instance. 

Or Nat King Cole, for that matter. 

Saturday, October 1, 2022

Happy End Of The World!

We've got an interesting year going so far. Please believe me, I'm completely sincere: I want to prove to you that I'm serious in the worst way.

What could be more interesting than the end of the world? Some of us will not be around for the final gasp, but the process has well and truly begun, that much is for sure. We might as well enjoy it.

Bill Mahar is impressed by the fact that insurance companies will no longer write fire insurance policies for California properties. There was a time when I owned a home in California, and, unless my memory is playing tricks on me, my mortgage required me to keep in place a policy of fire insurance. It really seems like the interconnected web of requirements inflicted on us by our various bureaucracies is breaking down, as some of them change their rules, some transform into other forms of business, and some just say, “hell no,” and carefully transfer all risk to their loyal customers. This is done, of course, in ways that are totally legal. Even if new legislation is required. “Just tell us what you want” echos through the halls of state and federal legislatures all over the country.

There's so much to choose from! Where to begin! The fires are scary. I've seen those things up close. When the hot cores of the fires turn that intense red/orange color, that tells you that the fire is up around 1000 degrees Fahrenheit. That kind of fire makes it's own winds to carry it to more flammable materials. The fire has taken on a life of its own.

Floods can really ruin your day. Take Florida, please.

Public officials are quick to point out that whatever just swept your town away like a dust mot was a rare event. I actually heard some clown down in Florida say that Hurricane Ian was a “500 year storm.” He immediately shifted to the idea of building back the lost houses. These public officials can always be trusted to work for the corporate interests. Anything but admit that the climate of the world is changing in many ways, none for the better. I hate to break it to those people listening to these corporate shills, but even though the last storm of this magnitude came through many years ago, the next one will be coming to Florida within a year or two. This is the new normal.

Flood insurance? Problematic, I think, at this point.

I hear a lot about this idea of rebuilding. That burnt to a crisp town north of Los Angeles where every building was destroyed, hey! Let's build it back! Then they build the same kind of houses, with wooden frames, flammable furniture, and wood-shake roofs. Same kind of fire will burn it all off next time too. It's the same song and dance in hurricane territory where the wind and water will be back faster than a bad penny. Let's build it back! Same crap houses that'll have the same stupid roofs blown off, houses built on the ground, so they can fill up with water again, and get washed away again.

Does anyone else think that this is a stupid plan? I happen to think that it is a complete failure of the imagination.

The worlds of engineering and architecture are choked with great ideas for work-arounds where bad weather is such a menace. Out in tornado ally I've seen lots of houses that were built into the ground. They looked like that Teletubbie house on TV. From a distance, it appears as a grassy knoll. No roof to blow off, and it's all tornado proof. It's easy enough to do the same in fire areas. Engineer some solutions! Floods and high winds will be tough, but putting some talented people to work on new designs might be a good idea. Certainly no one has lifted a finger to prevent the weather situation from getting worse year by year. We had better learn how to live with it, and all of the old designs have been rendered unsuitable for this new world of ours.

It wouldn't be my blog if I didn't mention politics on the way out. Remember about twenty-five years ago when pundits were talking up the bright future of the BRIC countries? That would be Brazil, Russia, India, and China. Sure enough, they did all show signs of progress over the years, showed interest in becoming important parts of the global economy. Now they are all presenting at the clinic with problems that are beyond the ability of our political philosophies to deal with. Brazil is going fascist and destroying the Amazon rain forest; Russia has taken off the mask and shown us the fascist/ gangster reality, threatening to use nuclear weapons; India wants to prove that it is a Hindu country even at the expense of expelling 140 million Muslim citizens whose families have been Indian for hundreds of years; and China has put about a million Uyghurs into labor camps where they are learning to be more Chinese if they know what's good for them. So no, I don't think those four countries are excited about building a prosperous future for our world.

In the meantime, the entire playhouse is collapsing. What fun! Happy End of the World!

Friday, September 30, 2022

The Greatest Alien Invasion Film Ever -- Full Movie!


This is a rare moment for me, recommending something like this. With the link. I might be named in the law suit! 

This is a fifty-one minute "movie" made by some super-fan somewhere out of about a thousand snippets from hundreds of alien-invasion movies. It was only posted this week, and I doubt if it will stay up long. Way too much copyright infringement going on. 

So many movies! So many languages! So many countries! Blame it on COVID maybe, due to so many people having time on their hands and resources at their disposal. 

It's a lot of fun! Remember to take a few deep breaths before watching, because this roller coaster has nothing by fast twists and turns. 

Saturday, September 24, 2022

Why I Am Not a Christian by Bertrand Russell (1927)


Bertrand Russell is a wonderful example of an idea that has almost disappeared from the world. The idea is that there is great value in what may be referred to as a classical education. In the American context, you may think of it as a "liberal education." Either way, the value that was once commonly derived from such an education has now gone out of fashion. 

How would it profit a university student to learn all of the conjugations and declinations of ancient Greek? Not to mention Latin as well. Consider all of that vocabulary! We are now disposed to consider that all to be a waste of time. The liberal, or classical, education also included a close reading of a great number of large books by or about the great philosophers. Also the great writers, in multiple languages, ideally in the original text. 

What they were teaching those students was how to read closely, how to understand what you are reading, and how to remember things that are important. They were teaching, on a good day, how to take a huge amount of information and use it to create, explain, and defend certain huge ideas that were important to you. 

They considered the university to be the beginning of a student's education, not the end unto itself. The student had learned how to identify and locate the further information that he needed to continue his education. A process that was held to continue until one died. 

Bertrand Russell had such an education, worked at it for the rest of his life, got great results, and shared them generously. I salute him. 


Tuesday, September 20, 2022

Rico and The Ravens - Don't You Know - Raw 60's Philly Rock Tune / Garag...


All I know about this record comes from the comments on YouTube. But there are some good ones. Nice of someone to point out that there's more to Pennsylvania than only Philly and Pittsburg. 

1964 is my guess for first-release date. Based on the comments. I hope the guys all came out of their band experience alright. They had all probably been in multiple bands before the Ravens. Maybe they made a living. I could see them playing the state-fair/ vacation lodge circuit. 

I like the record a lot. It makes the sound of "fun," don't you think? 


Friday, September 9, 2022

Sonny Sharrock - Dick Dogs (Live In Prague 1990)


His was a fascinating career. Busy in the late 1960s and early 1970s, he then disappeared for ten or fifteen years, coming back strong and working more than ever. He was hard to categorize, I think that's safe to say. 

I just saw a video on YouTube about jazz guitar. The premise was, "is string-bending allowed in jazz?" My first reaction was: can you imagine saying to any of the great sax players that some technique that was easily available to them, on their own preferred instrument, in creating their own damn music, was forbidden? No, you cannot imagine it. So fuck yeah, I thought, bending is allowed. Then I thought of Sonny Sharrock. I'm sure that Sonny routinely does a lot of things that jazz critics would say was "not jazz." (Jazz musicians were obviously cool with it all, because they hired Sonny to play on their LPs.) 

Google, and Wikipedia for that matter, are pleased to put Sonny in the "Jazz Guitarist" category. 

My own criteria is "fun." If the musician had fun making the music, I have fun listening to it. 

Aw, Sonny. Dead a long time. This kind of pathfinding, and rule defying, is important in music. Thanks, Sonny, for doing some heavy lifting to help the kids along. 

Thursday, September 8, 2022

My Last Job

A simple list of all of the jobs that I have had would fill the page. My work history has been a vagabond's journey that began with me outside the church after each of the Sunday masses hawking the diocese's weekly newspaper, the Tablet, and a smaller magazine called the Sunday Visitor. That took at least six hours. Me and my friend Bobby, and I can't remember if they paid us or not. That was sixty years ago. Last week I resigned from what should almost certainly have been my final job.

Almost certainly?” I hate to break this to you, but our exciting new world has denied us certainty in any matter that you could think of. I could peacefully live out my remaining years, or I could be reduced to begging for coins in return for teaching young English-learners the mysteries of English grammar.

Several of my jobs were pleasant, but difficult. Some of them were physically demanding and totally annoying. A couple were just annoying. One or two were mellow and almost enjoyable. The lawyer jobs were all very stressful. My worst job was letter-carrier for the US Postal Service. In New York weather? Are you kidding me? Summers are way too hot, and winters are way too cold, and it rains all year. I lasted just under two years. The second winter was out of the question.

I recently realized that I had spent most of my adult life sleep-deprived. I was lucky to get almost seven hours of rack time, and often had to settle for six. I've been making up for it, and enjoying every extra minute.

My last job was in the “mellow” category. I worked there for almost fifteen years, a statistic that amazes me every time I consider it. My previous record was three-and-a-half years. My vagabond's journey of a career made many stops, lasting between one day and about eighteen months to two years.

Does the Peace Corps count? My ex-wife and I joined together. Peace Corps spun the Fortune Wheel, and it stopped on Thailand. A teacher training program. That was mellow, and I believe that they were happy with my contribution to world peace and understanding. That was a term of two years and three months. It turned out to be too much of a good thing. The resulting rebound-depression back in California resulted in the end of my forty-year marriage.

I returned to Thailand, because I knew the situation, had many contacts in education, and I knew that I could easily get hired and provide myself with a good quality of life. I taught for a time at a big high school full of naughty, lazy students, and then received an offer that I simply could not refuse for what turned out to be the last job I'd ever need.

My last position was as a lecturer for the Faculty of Law at a big government university in Bangkok. I taught undergrad and graduate classes, and was asked to travel to the school's remote campuses all over Thailand about ten times every year (until COVID hit). My deepest thanks and appreciation to all of the faculty and staff at Ramkhamhaeng University, and a special mention for several who have predeceased me, and many who have already retired or simply moved on. Thanks to everyone who ever helped me or made me feel welcome. I almost never felt like an outsider.

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

James Black - The Hook & Sling (Instrumental) [US, Funk] (1960s/70s) -- ...


James Black is the drummer. Very New Orleans style, and, in fact, he worked mostly in NOLA. He always make me smile. 

The Andrews Sisters - Rum And Coca-Cola(Cover by The Barberettes)


I will allow that much of the new music is really very good. As it turns out, most of the good new stuff comes from overseas. Not all music from Korea is that K-Pop crap. These enthusiastic, talented young women are Korean. 

THE FANTASTIC JOHNNY C BOOGALOO DOWN BROADWAY


These days this is deep catalog, but weirdly enough, deep catalog is what's selling. People are realizing that today's new music is mostly crap. 

Saturday, August 27, 2022

Do You Feel Tense?

It's been a while. Sorry, but I've been a bit preoccupied.

Russian propaganda claims that their check points and filtration sites, used to monitor the movement of Ukrainian citizens away from the explosions, are there simply to intercept “bandits and fascists,” who only wish to pass into Mother Russia to blow things up and kill Russians. The wording is familiar.

Long ago, when Mao was alive and the USSR was definitely on the Chicomm shit list, Chinese propaganda liked to refer to Russians as, “Soviet-revisionist-fascist-bandits.”

There was a time when I was very interested in politics and current events, a time when I found such oafish lies interesting, or even amusing. That time has passed.

Living, as we do, in the midst of a never ending oaf carnival, our daily bread now consists of hilariously obvious lies. The lies have gotten more preposterous over the decades. 1940s? “The Democrats are mismanaging the war and wasting money!” 1950s? “The State Department is full of Commies! I have a list!” 1960s? “The fluoridation of water is a Communist plot!” 1970s? “Commie university professors! Student protesters lost the Vietnam War!” 1980s? “Big government! Tax-and-spend Democrats! Trickle down economics! Tax cuts for the rich will make America productive!” 1990s? “Whitewater! Monica Lewinsky!” Then came the wall. We hit it hard in late 2000.

That election fiasco in 2000 should have frightened American citizens to death, but most people just let it slide. People still had that naïve confidence in American democracy that had sustained us through thick and thin for a couple of hundred years. Our great democratic institutions! Let them do their work.

Since then it's gotten exponentially worse. “It's your money!” Saddam Hussein was behind the whole 9-11 thing. WMDs in Iraq. Permanent war and corruption in Afghanistan. How many Iraqis got killed for nothing? We midwifed the birth of ISIS. Then it was eight years of the Kenyan witch doctor, and his wookie wife! (How the Obamas handled all of that so gracefully is beyond me.) Some of the connective tissue was dissolving in America. Not only in the country, but in individual brains, lots of individual brains. Trump took an ax to all of the mooring lines, and we've been adrift in a sea of blind idiocy ever since.

Does this make anyone else tense? I can't be the only one.

School shootings are just crisis actors, no one was hurt. Or, if anyone did die, it was a false flag job to make the Republicans look bad. There's a portal above the White House where demons from another dimension can enter and control President Biden. The Democratic party is a cabal of cannibalistic, demonic pedophiles, who kill and eat babies. Afterwards they make masks from the cut-off faces of the babies and wear them to their Satanic rituals.

Jewish space lasers! Lizard people!

And that's before you get to fascist superpower geopolitics, the unfortunate weather situation, failed states, nuclear brinkmanship, growing income inequality, the creeping threat of artificial intelligence, universal surveillance (related problems, those last two), greed, corruption, and homicidal mania.

It's all got me a little wound up. How y'all doing out there?

Wednesday, August 10, 2022

Chet Baker-Blame It on My Youth


Singing is a fascinating thing to consider. The voice; the song; the ornamentation; the accompaniment; the emotion; the singer's commitment. It's all on display. There are surprises in the final analysis. 

It turns out that deep, rock-solid sincerity, and an emotional commitment to the song that is totally heartfelt and perfectly expressed, are more important than a great voice presented in an emotional vacuum. 

Chet obviously loved these songs, and he understood them, and he needed to share them. The results are wonderful. 

I think that it was Ornette Coleman that said, "It's crazy, but the guy doesn't have much of a voice, yet when you listen to him sing the songs, he makes you cry." (Or something to that effect. I ain't Sheldon from BBT. 

Tuesday, August 2, 2022

PIZZICATO FIVE きみみたいにきれいな女の子 ( A beautiful girl like you ) single version


When did Japanese culture first get its hooks into me? Let's see. I guess the first Japanese movie that I saw was the Mysterians (1957). Right around then, Godzilla, the horrible Raymond Burr version, showed up on the Million Dollar Movie. This was closely followed by Rodan. I was getting the bug. This shit was boss. 

Kyu Sakamoto somehow got Sukiyaki on the radio in 1963. Not exactly my style of music, I was more Bo Diddley/ Beach Boys by then, but it was nice to find out that Japanese was a good singing language. No tones; no difficult sounds; uniform stress across all syllables. Tailor made for singing. Then in about 1966 I discovered Japanese cinema, the entire catalog, at a tiny all Japanese/ all the time movie theater close to Times Square. I was sold; I was on board. 

There wasn't much music around. Themes to TV shows; Sadistic Mika Band; Pink Lady. We had moved to Los Angeles, so there was lots of Japanese TV and the rerun houses played the Japanese classics. 

In the late 90s a law client of mine gave me a copy of the soundtrack to the Doom Generation. The client was involved with the production somehow. There were two Pizzicato 5 cuts on it, and I was over the moon. 

It's all historical now, memories of a bygone era. Their music still resonates with me. It's not just that Maki Nomiya is so elegant and beautiful, although that doesn't hurt. Yasuharu Kinishi's composing, production, and playing are all wonderful. 

This music is out there now for all of us to discover. I highly recommend it. "It" being P5 and the discovery process in general. 
 

Saturday, July 30, 2022

Giant Steps


Stephen Colbert has a bit that he stole from Vanity Fair magazine, who in turn stole from Proust. The "Proust Questionnaire" retains its provenance in Vanity Fair magazine, which also uses much the same questions. "The Colbert Questionnaire" uses questions that are fewer and cheekier. 

One of Colbert's questions is, "if you had to pick one song to be the only song that you could listen to for the rest of your life, what would it be?" 

This is my song. The version of Giant Steps that appears on the 'Trane LP of the same title. 

It contains twenty-six chords! That should be enough to keep anyone busy for a lifetime. 

PIZZICATO FIVE / 恋のルール・新しいルール


Pizzicato Five were an unheralded blessing for an ungrateful world. 

Friday, July 29, 2022

The State Of The World

The state of the world, and especially my opinion of the world, even my consideration of my place in the world, are all subjects that I try never to think about. I struggle like the hero in Children of the Damned to build a solid brick wall between myself and such matters. I get results that are mixed.

Just now an old memory came to me. A fifty year old memory. A memory from an age that is well and truly gone. I was driving taxis in New York at the time, and one night after one a.m. I found myself waiting on a taxi line at the terminus of the Seven train in Queens, listening to my radio and leaning on the open window, I guess it was not winter. As the District Attorney said to the witness, “did you see anything unusual?”

Why, yes I did. There was a pretty famous bar across the street. They sold hot dogs boiled in beer, and called themselves an “Oyster Bar.” They did a good business. I heard a commotion, and looked over to see two big white guys dragging a very intoxicated black gentleman by the arms between them. It's a broad street there, and they took him a couple of steps past the curb before they launched him, stumbling, out into the street. He landed right on the double yellow lines marking the lanes.

The man was no kid; he was about sixty years old. Or maybe a hardscrabble fifty-five, or, as things go, sixty-five or more, it being famously difficult to judge the age of individuals belonging to a race other than one's own. He laid there peacefully for a long moment before pushing himself up onto an elbow.

Motherfuckers,” he said. There was no particular emotion in it, just a simple statement of fact.

Low-down motherfuckers.” (With a bit more conviction.)

Dirty, low-down motherfuckers.”

Filthy, dirty, low-down motherfuckers.” (Anger slowly building.)

Stinking, filthy dirty, low-down motherfuckers.”

He had slowly worked himself up to a seated position, leaning forward on his knees. He had some wind back in his sails now, as he looked back towards the bar and said forcefully, “pair of no good, stinking, filthy dirty, low-down motherfuckers!”

He found the strength to rise to his feet. He held his arms out slightly, for balance, testing his abilities before attempting to walk. Satisfied that walking would probably work out okay, he looked around a bit to get his bearings and set off up the street. He walked along the double yellow lines until he was well past the bar and then moved to the sidewalk, disappearing into the distance.

It occurs to me that the old man's opinion of the people who tossed him into the street is very close to my opinion of the world, and probably sums up the state of the world as well.

Love Look Away Sung By Leslie Odom Jr.


A nice little palate cleanser after that last outburst. 

Thursday, July 28, 2022

Globalization Nostalgia

My oracular faculties are such that I generally limit my opinions to things that are happening now or which have happened already. The result is that I am often blindsided by enormous events that come as a complete surprise to me.

Which is the more difficult challenge: seeing things coming in advance, or knowing that existing things are about to be eliminated?

For an example of the second challenge, I never expected to live to see the collapse of the Soviet Union in my lifetime. I knew that the day would come, but I was ball-parking the date at something like fifty to one hundred years after the actual event. It happened quickly too, when it happened.

Often the things that are coming are masked by larger, seemingly more important events. For example...

Going to the moon was nice, but the real surprise there was the miniaturization of all electronic devices, most notably computers. Up through the 1950s, computers were as big as houses, shrinking only to the size of cargo-vans by the early 1960s. It's been a rapid, amazing ride since then. I'll spare you the details, because they are too squalid. The whole thing has become an unbelievable waste of potential, both machine potential and human potential. All of us now have a computer in our pockets that serves as a vast library of facts and history, a device enabling instant, worldwide communication, and apps for the extent of which you must ask a younger person for an explanation. People use them mostly for exchanging obscure messages containing only photographs and/ or emojis, listening to music, and watching brief, weird videos that are intended to be entertaining.

That's a chain of events that began with JFK's “going to the moon” speech, and has left us in our present decadent situation, culturally and politically.

My first few commercial airplane rides were on equipment that had been designed and prototyped during World War II, driven by propellers, which were powered by piston engines that had been on the drawing boards since before World War II. Ah, the comforting hum of four Pratt and Whitney R-2800 Double Wasp engines on a Douglas DC-6. The thrill of trusting your life to four Wright R-3350-23 Duplex Cyclone radials on a Lockheed Constellation! It was easy to see the jets coming. Jets quickly replaced all of those old relics by about 1960. The only really shocking thing about that bit of progress is that it now takes twice as long to get from Los Angeles to New York as it did in 1970. Efficiency, you know, and deregulation. Now you must stop once or twice, get off the plane, and wait between two and four hours to catch another plane. And people hardly complain at all! That's the amazing bit. We really are like cattle. Aim us at some food and water when we need it, and tell us where to go. Moooooo!

The changes are coming ever faster and more furiously.


RIP, Globalization

I really did not see the end of the fifty-year trend of globalization coming. Sixty years ago, if you were watching TV in America, it was on an Admiral TV, or a Sylvania TV, or a Zenith TV. If you were watching TV in Germany, you were watching a Blaupunkt TV, or a Grundig TV. Cars, the same. Also refrigerators, stoves, washing machines, etc. All domestically produced, everywhere. Then, at first, more things were coming from Japan, and by now, everything is made in China. My Panasonic refrigerator and washing machine, and my Mitsubishi air-conditioners, were all made in China. This, in spite of the fact that both companies are Japanese.

All of that was working very well for everybody there for a long time. America, and everywhere else, was getting good products at good prices (made in China), the Chinese were employing all of their available workers, the foreign companies were enjoying the cheap Chinese labor. It was great. Most of the shoes in the world are now made in China or one of a few smaller countries where labor is cheap. Same with shirts, pants, underwear, everything. It's hard to find anything in an American Walmart that was made in America. Your smart phone contains sub-assemblies and raw materials from multiple countries. Your new car carries a famous old British name, but it was designed in Switzerland and made in a factory in Brazil that is owned by a Korean company. All of this was making most countries, most corporations, and many individuals unspeakably rich, and the average Joe didn't worry about it as long as the big-screen TVs remained cheap and very, very nice.

Then, of course, everyone had to go and fuck it up.

China is now leading the march away from globalization. Oh, for the good old days of that wonderful version of Chinese communism driven by the vision of men like Dung Xiaoping, and Cho En Lai. Those men, and others that followed them for twenty or thirty years, lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese out of poverty and connected China to the entire world through commerce. They also, very hush-hush, used soft-power to expand China's influence around the world and bind developing countries to China by the careful application of debt. They were quietly on their way to taking over the entire world.

They were not angels, those old Commies, but look around! There are no angels, and there never have been any angels! The game is, of course, self-interest. The people that we remember as great heroes are those leaders who applied self-interest in ways that raised no dust and got no one killed!

The new Chinese leaders prefer to shoulder their way to the center of the room and shit on the carpet. They are not making any friends with this approach. If total control of every citizen, at all times, requires the country going it alone in the world, then fuck globalization. Let's start a war!

And Russia? Oye, vey ist mir!

I remember as a boy seeing articles about the USSR in magazines like Life, Look, and the National Geographic. I remember feeling great sympathy for the average people walking down the streets of Moscow, or Novosibirsk or something, wearing shitty clothes, never smiling or looking around, just grinding out their long walk to somewhere, wearing grim expressions and looking at their feet. When I became a teenager, I read more about the Russian people. I discovered that with their family and friends, behind closed doors, they were actually quite animated and friendly. I read jokes about the Soviets, Russian jokes, written by Russians and intended for the Russian audience, and in the jokes I discovered real respect for the Russian people and the deep hope that their burden would be lifted someday. So imagine my joy at the demise of the USSR!

You could see it, too, in the photos of Russian people. They were in the streets, laughing and hugging each other. They seemed to feel a great sense of relief. That feeling did not last very long. By now, they are back under the heel of a new brand of authoritarian bullshit. New bottles; old wine. Their smiles are fading.

Russia is also choosing to disconnect itself from the web of commercial interaction that was globalization. This is especially puzzling, because Russia has nothing to sell but natural resources, and nowhere to sell it but elsewhere. Oh, they also sell weapons, also “elsewhere.” They are poster-children for globalization, so what do they do? Piss off the entire world. They've already started their war.

War is a lot like the old “Cinnamon Challenge” that made the rounds on social media a few years ago. The rules are simple: just eat a heaping teaspoon of powdered cinnamon and successfully swallow it. Videos of the resulting eruptions and screams became viral on YouTube. There was general laughter, and mockery of those who had attempted it. War, like the Cinnamon Challenge, looks easy enough in advance, but turns wildly to the dark side of experience almost immediately.


And Now What?

I admitted at the outset that I am no oracle. My crystal ball is permanently in the shop. If, as seems possible, both China and Russia opt for hegemonic power in their immediate areas, we could see the rise of more local groups forming either alliances or areas of coercive exploitation. What happens to India, Brazil, Turkiye, and Iran? Can Europe keep itself together and remain democratic? Cracks are forming there. As usual, America is well placed geographically to face these new challenges.

It was Bismark that said, back in the 1880s or so, that “America is geographically beloved of God. It is surrounded on the north and south by large, weak countries, and on the east and the west by fish.”

In the words of the highly underrated social observer, Rodney King, “why can't we all just get along?”