Monday, February 28, 2022

World News In An Uproar

Everything, actually, is in an uproar. Language is in an uproar! The Ukraine isn't the Ukraine anymore! My apologies, Ukraine. My excuses are two, first, I learned about the Ukraine a long time ago, and second, I've studied a lot of German and it will always be Die Ukraine to them. Not all countries take an article in German, but there is a short list of countries that do. Der Schweiz (Switzerland), for instance. But now, just “Ukraine,” and it was no surprise after I considered the matter. German is crazy for articles. Notice that Ukraine is feminine, while Switzerland is masculine. They can't get enough articles. The articles alone are like a little puzzle. Slavic languages have no articles at all.

This Russian invasion is full of surprises. Similar things have happened before. Georgia, Azerbaijan, even Ukraine! The Russians grabbed Crimea years ago. That was all small bites, and all of those limited actions went very well. This Ukraine business is much more visible, the justifications are angrier and more numerous, and the Russians are not limiting their advances to those two fictional “break-away regions” in the Donbas.

The Russians certainly gathered an impressive array of mobile ground strength, and they've been in place for a while. It's somewhere around half of their ground based military. I was sure that if they were going to do it, they'd do it while the ground was still frozen. The Russians know that area very well; I'd wager that they know every foot of it. They had been over it four times with the Germans, twice in each direction. If your plan included mechanized, mobile warfare, you did it while the ground was frozen. If you waited until the ground thawed, you got stuck in mud that is so aggressive, so deep, and so dangerous that they have given it a name:

The Rasputitsa!

It happens every year, like clockwork. When February had almost passed and the front was still quiet, I figured that was it, no war right now, the ground will be starting to melt. But they did attack at the very end of February, and sure enough, photos abound of Russian tracked vehicles, tanks, self-propelled guns, stuck in mud over the tops of the tracks. It's like something that the Red Army general staff would trick the Nazis into doing back in the Great Unpleasantness.

And why are there so many photos of Russian recon vehicles abandoned because they ran out of fuel? Even whole tanks, intact. The general staffs know very precisely the range of these vehicles, and part of their job is to set an assembly point about eighty percent into the range of the most vulnerable vehicles and be prepared to met them there and refuel them all. Or, send them out a certain distance with orders to about face and return before they go bingo-fuel.

These are all rookie mistakes, and if the Russian POWs are any indication, it does look like they have sent in the greenest, youngest, least experienced troops first. All of this is very confusing to the onlooker.

To make matters worse, Putin is throwing around the threat of escalation, even hinting at using nuclear weapons. On whom? He is silent on that point. Ah, to be threatened by gangsters. Heaven at once.

Being threatened by nukes is nothing new to people my age. We grew up with it; we lived with it for decades. Personally, it never bothered me, because I was fairly well informed and I trusted the Soviets not to do anything stupid. These new gangsters are worse than the Soviets. The Soviets at the top had zero desire to lose their regime, their country, and their very cushy way of life. I also trusted the American officials at the top. Nothing could be worse for business than nuclear war, and they didn't want to get yelled at. The generals on both sides? We had more cowboys than the Soviets did, but luckily they all kept it in their pants. I wonder if we can trust this new bunch of yahoos that are in charge of both countries. (Russia and the U.S.)

Besides, nukes are so passe! We modern folk should be much more worried about cyber-war, space-war, and, dare I say it, 'Net-war! Kill the electric grid and black-out the entire country. That would get people's attention. No wi-fi? No Internet? No Netflix? No access to your cash? Wow. You think world logistics is bad now? Try it without electricity. No Amazon Prime!

But it's unspeakable! Or is it? Things could get out of hand PDQ. In politics, nationalism is still popular. We love America! We're patriots! I hate to break it to you, but the really rich people don't feel like that anymore. They've gone all the way international. They've got money and assets stashed everywhere, and they've got their own planes, with pilots, to move them out of harm's way when push comes to shove. They all speak the same language, money, and nothing else matters to them. They are the new aristocrats, the ownership class, and they are stateless. Or they could be part of any state that they want to be part of. As Herman Melville wrote so eloquently, “evil, if wealthy, travels freely, and is never bothered to show papers. Virtue, if a pauper, is stopped at all borders.” (From Moby-Dick. Paraphrase alert.)

So these new oligarch scumbags don't care what happens in Ukraine, or anywhere else. They don't care what happens in their own “home” countries. Putin; Bezos; Musk; Pablo Escobar's widow; they're in the Tens-of-Billions-of-Dollars club. Hell, the Hundreds-of-Billions club. Go anywhere, anytime, get the red carpet rolled out. Need a visa? Permanent residency? New passport? Right this way, sir! Does anyone think that they care if a few cities around the world get microwaved? They'll sign off on it pretty fast if it will make the value of their Bitcoin go up.

Might be just the thing to get the working people back in line. Quit bitching about freedom and rights and health care. You don't watch out, the next city to get the pika-don* might be yours!

Would you put it past them?

*Pika-don: what the Japanese called those atomic bombs. Literally flash-boom.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

The Suicide Machines - I Never Promised You A Rose Garden

I Never Promised You a Rose Garden, by the Suicide Machines

This is among the most successful covers ever. Right up there with Big Youth's cover of Touch Me in the Morning. And not to forget, the Suicide Machines' amazingly propulsive version of What I Like About You. 

And maybe the Spin Doctors' version of Spanish Castle Magic. 

Man, great covers are downright entertaining. 

Friday, February 18, 2022

Wisdom Is A Two Edged Sword

With age, comes, I don't want to say wisdom, but something that is very much like wisdom. Mostly, what comes is the clear understanding of every stupid thing that you've ever done, and, low and behold, most of what you've done has been stupid. Every reader who is already intricately familiar with the machinery of Medicare and all of the Senior Discounts will recognize that I have nailed this one. As for my younger readers, just take my word for it. You're probably doing something stupid right now.

Stupid little things, and stupid big things. Sometimes the stupid is obvious from the git-go. Other stupid sneaks up on you. Wow! That was pretty stupid! You see things more clearly with one foot in the grave.

It was a totally stupid idea for me to go to law school. It was a “change of life” thing for me. I was lulled into a false sense of security by my ability to do all of the required tasks easily and well. I was always a quick thinker and a fast talker. I was a good writer, and a close and observant reader. I had a high tolerance for ambiguity, enhanced by a long-time fascination with European and Japanese cinema. I aced the LSAT; was accepted at every school that I applied to, including two scholarship offers (partial); my grades were comfortably good in law school; I passed the California Bar on my first try. I was on my way!

The point that I missed was that I comprehensively lacked the temperament that being a lawyer requires. How did I miss something so obvious? Even the Titanic saw the iceberg before they hit it. These are the stupid things that you can get up to when you spend your life consciously trying to distract yourself and avoid reality at all costs.

There was, however, a powerful benefit to those years that I spent tormenting myself by working court cases of various kinds. It qualified me for teaching law! Then, by that special providence that fate reserves for people like me, I stumbled into a great job teaching law while I was not even looking for one. (“People like me:” people who are basically good but essentially clueless and ill equipped to take care of themselves.)

Another disastrously bad decision was marrying my first wife. That one I could see coming a mile away, but I talked myself into going through with it. We had been going out for four years, and it had been a wild ride, full of twists and turns, ups and downs. I could see that she had deep seated anger issues, but it was also clear that I did seem to relax her and make her, if not genuinely happy, apparently substantially happier.

She was also very pretty, with a cute little figure, and she also really liked the rock and roll part of going out with me. That was also the source of the biggest red-flag: she was regularly throwing in on other guys while we were going out together. Friends of mine; guys she met around town. Attractive girls' lives are full of opportunities to fool around. Sometimes I found out by my own resources, and sometimes she made sure that I found out. It was a sure fire way to get back at me for some real or imagined slight. Looking back, that really should have been a deal breaker.

To paraphrase something that Stephen Colbert said today, when they do that, just get up and leave the restaurant. Don't look back; don't go back for your coat. You can buy another coat. Just get out of there. But not me. Again, I chose the iceberg. Stupid, yes, I know it now, but there you go.

A couple of years later we got married. My ex and I had both attended Catholic grammar school and high school, and that is enough to sour any sensible person on the Catholic Church. Being more than sour about our Catholic years, we set up a date at St. Paul's Chapel in lower Manhattan, where I was on good terms with the minister. That's Episcopalians, whom I consider to be among the most reasonable bunch of Christians around. Our parents raised holy hell at that idea, and we figured, fuck it, who cares, we'll get married in a Catholic church if it will make them shut up.

We tried to keep the whole thing from getting too far out of hand. No tuxedos; no long dresses; no limousines; no elaborate reception; no professional photographer. There was a war on, and hundreds of American boys were dying every week, not to mention the many thousands of Vietnamese combatants or the unknown thousands of innocent Vietnamese civilians. Keep it simple! It seemed disrespectful to make it all too fancy.

We had a small wedding party, and I tried my best to keep it all very low-key. I didn't want to offend anybody. For my best man, I chose a good friend of mine who was kind of an outlier among our friends. Everybody knew him, but he was not from this group, or that group. Plus, he had just gotten married himself, and he already had the black suit, frilly shirt, and big red Western style bow tie. He looked like Johnny Cash at Christmas. Perfect.

For the ushers, I chose the only two friends that I had who owned suits. They would also be behind us at the alter, to mirror the two bride's maids. This also turned out to be problematic.

My bachelor party was epic, without being typical in any way. Led Zeppelin played in the old World's Fair grounds on the night before the wedding, at the New York State Pavilion. That's the one from the first Men in Black movie, the one with the two large pillars topped by what looks like flying saucers. Inside was a big open area, and that's where the concert was. We had no tickets, so we just lazed around on the grass outside, enjoying several of the things that we liked and drinking a bit. I'm sure that it was just as loud, and the sound mix was great outside. That part worked out.

We had had a rehearsal the day before the wedding, and it went off without a hitch. I slept late on Sunday, the day of the wedding, but my ex agreed to go to church with all four of our parents. There was trouble, with a capital “T.” My mother, a well known hysteric, and a trouble-maker in general, objected to one of my ushers being on the alter. (I keep wanting to say, “the stage.”) He looked great, tall and handsome, in his well-cut and very dignified Brooks Brothers' business suit, single breasted, no vest, all very quiet and sharp. He was also black, and gay, and that double-whammy almost put my mother in the hospital. The one where they have the padded rooms.

My mother was still hyperventilating and yelling after a sleepless night in a tiff over it, and after mass she made the mistake of trying to give an order to my young bride-to-be. Nobody gives my ex orders. NOBODY. I was at home, blissfully asleep at almost noon, so I missed it. Too bad there were no smart phones back then. The explosion would have been viral on TikTok by lunch time.

I was awoken by the sound of someone unlocking the front door and stomping up the stairs. “Hi!” I said cheerfully, placing a hand behind my head to raise it slightly on the pillow. It was my bride-to-be, wearing sun glasses with tears still streaming down her face, screaming at me about how if the friend can't come on the stage with us, she won't be there either, and my mother can go straight to hell, etc. I said nothing, adopting a serious expression, still with my head on the pillow. After another few minutes of what was really an Oscar worthy performance, she turned and stomped back down the stairs, slamming the door on her way out.

I took at least ten minutes giving serious thought to packing it all in at that point. Just fuck it. Pack a small duffle bag, bus, subway, Port Authority, bus, Ohio, here I come! That would have been the smart thing to do, but no, I sailed yet again into the iceberg.

As always, it pays to consider the role of providence, and look at the big picture. My ex and I were married for a long time. We managed a successful move to California, and we both completed impressive educations. We birthed and raised two healthy children, and they grew up to be fine men. I could have done worse. We were together for almost forty years, and it was eighteen or twenty of the best years of my life.

Beware, pilgrims, the blessings and the curses of wisdom! Don't dwell on the past. If you happen to also be a geezer like me, don't dwell on the future either. No good can come of either dwelling. Better to simply get the laundry and the dishes done, read good books, do what the doctors tell you, and try not to do anything stupid. Just a suggestion.

Tuesday, February 15, 2022

Candido - St Thomas - 1973

There must be more posts of this song, because this one has been up since 2011 with only three thousand hits, twenty-three likes, and zero comments. That makes me sad, because this is one of the best LPs that I own. 

Candido and his New York session buddies having fun, and the company giving Candido a chance to put out a record under his own name. 

Thursday, February 3, 2022

Tom Petty Performs "American Girl" (Live) - Fridays

I've always liked this song, and it's good to know that the band could actually set-up and play the hell out of it when they felt like it. I admire that in a band. The live part. 

Nice job, fellows.