Sunday, September 24, 2023
Saturday, September 23, 2023
It was a matter of some interest to me that on September 19, 2023 there were two large TORNADOES in China. Not the little cyclones that you see in big storms pretty much everywhere and never give a second thought, no, these were “Wizard of Oz” sized tornadoes, like three on the five scale. (China uses the same scale as the United States, so I guess the Chinese weather service wasn’t as surprised as I was.) These came with enormous amounts of rain and new flooding, adding more misery to what is already probably called “the Summer of Huge Fucking Floods.”
No less fascinating was the twenty or so inches of rain that fell in a day on a large but focused part of Libya, making a mess of a coastal city and destroying two earthen dams in the mountains above the city. The resulting water/ mud event washed away most of the city and the reporting of the death count was disturbingly imprecise. The spokesman said that about ten thousand people were dead, and another ten thousand were “still missing.” He assumed that many or most of the missing had been washed out to sea along with all of that mud. When the numbers get that round, it’s obvious that no one has any idea of the real casualty figures.
Huge amounts of rain in a limited time within a tight location is no longer considered exceptional. It has become a regular thing.
Warehouses are filling up with new stock footage of rapidly moving flash floods in a wide variety of settings. There are also large areas on multiple continents where it hasn’t rained at all for years. Climate driven migration has begun in earnest. Then there are the fires. The starving migrants must be lucky to avoid running into one of the many large fires. Crops have begun to fail, not only because of the droughts, but also because average annual temperatures have gone up a couple of degrees. A warming climate invites new insect pests. That’s no surprise, I suppose, but did anyone else read the predictions that a warming climate would interfere with crop propagation? I read that one, but I wasn’t supposed to live to see it. Only five years ago they were still talking about effects that we would see in 2030 or later. More imprecision.
Ocean temperatures are raising some eyebrows among the scientific community. Way too low in the North Atlantic, threatening to stall the Gulf Stream, and way too high around the West Indies and Florida, threatening stronger hurricanes. You needn’t look far for bad climate news.
Who remembers the way that George W. Bush and his “proud to know nothing” friends were laughing at a temperature rise of only a few degrees. Remember the asshole who brought a snowball into a meeting of the Senate? They, you know who they are, had a good laugh at that. Climate change was a hoax! Or, if it were a real thing, it was the Chinese trying to destroy the American economy. I don’t hear so much laughing now. If it was a Chinese idea, it backfired. The naysayers seem to be holding their tongues, but they have no proposals to offer in mitigation. One of our great statesmen was asked how he feels about the current state of climate change. “Autumn,” he said, “it’s called autumn.”
The only people who are happy about the situation are the lobbyists for the fossil fuel industries. Those companies just want to maximize profits while they can. Time to cash out boys! I’m sure that they have proper bunkers prepared, and food stocks put away for emergencies. It was fun to read about the plans they have to protect themselves from their own security forces. Now there’s an interesting conundrum: they obviously need the security forces to protect their compounds or bunkers from regular people, but then it’s also obvious that the security forces will see their own best interest in slaughtering the rich people and taking the security for themselves. Don’t worry, no beautiful women will be harmed in the course of these takeovers. I’ve already seen multicolored maps showing what areas may fare better, and what areas will soon be musts to avoid. The entire South West of the United States is a death in progress, with colossal heat waves in effect and water disappearing faster than a magician’s assistant.
I guess it’s good that people in every demographic seem to be getting the message that urgent action is required, but the people who actually have the power to alter our destructive habits are either going along with the wait and see thing or actively getting in on the cashing out thing.
It all strikes me as doom writ large, but that’s my nature anyway. So don’t listen to me. It’ll all be fine!
Tuesday, September 12, 2023
We received two newspapers every day and three on Sunday; we got our weekly copies of Life and Newsweek magazines; and we also subscribed to the National Geographic magazine. This means that our household was better informed than most. This was in the time when early television was a very poor information source, and computers were as big as automobiles, ran on punch-cards, and were to be seen only in certain high-value industrial settings. There was also a nice library in our town, a good sized branch of the New York Public Library, and I appreciated that. Our library offered little in the way of current events, although it was okay for history. (I enjoyed browsing in the card catalog and reading in the encyclopedia.)
I was always most curious about the articles that shed light on people’s daily lives in other countries. Once you were familiar with the four-color globe, and had discovered how many countries and people there were in the world, questions about their lives became of urgent concern, at least they did for me. The weekly magazines were often helpful, but the National Geographic was the best. That was their thing, wasn’t it? It was a monthly travelogue. It was lavishly illustrated with first-rate photographs, and it included well written text explaining what you were looking at. My favorite articles were either about distant lands where exotic women never bothered to cover their breasts, or about Russia.
Every article about a foreign land featured photos of the local people. Some looked prosperous and happy; some looked poor and miserable. The people in those countries were accurately reflecting the readers expectations, based upon their attire and their surroundings. Those things are to be expected. It got interesting when the people appeared either very poor, yet perfectly happy, or relatively prosperous, yet completely miserable. (Disclaimer: I’ve been living for twenty years in a country where most people are poor, but those poor people are very happy.) The countries that defied expectations were worth looking up in the encyclopedia. Why the tension between their situation and their emotions? Then there was Russia, where people appeared content and happy in propaganda photos, while looking like zombies in any unofficial public photos.
Moscow had good roads, albeit without much traffic. There were solid looking apartment buildings with windows and curtains. The people did not appear underfed, and their clothing seemed up to western standards, at least from a distance. There was public transport of various kinds, and it all seemed to be in working order. It looked fine. Those Russians of long ago displayed an affect that was unique: they all walked with good posture, looking straight ahead (although I’m sure that their eyes were darting about), walking with intention, like they might have quite a distance to cover, and on their faces they showed no emotion at all. They mostly stared straight ahead with their faces fixed in the expression called “blank.” It was as though they were autistic, or had been subjected to electroshock therapy when they were younger. How did they feel about their situation? There were no clues to be gleaned from photographs taken in public spaces.
I now understand that average Russians of the time were actually quite animated and emotional behind closed doors. Alone with their families, or friends sufficiently close and trusted, they were loving and quite funny. I’ve read many of the jokes invented by Russians and told among themselves over the decades, and they were acutely aware of the irony and contradictions raised by their existence as cogs in the Soviet machine. Many of the jokes are very insightful regarding the day to day lives of the big-shots, and of things like the Gulag and state-sponsored antisemitism. Out in the larger world, they braced up their posture and put on the mask.
It was hard then not to think about Russia. What about the bosses? Who were these despots who held large numbers of powerful nuclear bombs over our heads at every moment of every day? What about the people? Russian soldiers seemed wildly happy in private, unofficial wartime photos taken after they had killed several tens of thousands of Nazi soldiers. Now, ten or fifteen years after the war, they were all huddled down in their frozen wasteland of a country concentrating all of their energy on the manufacture of more nuclear bombs, bigger bombs, and no smiles in sight.
The bombs never bothered me. I never remember worrying about any hypothetical impending nuclear event. It didn’t seem possible, or as we say in the law, practicable. I was already familiar with the fate of Germany and Japan for having the temerity to start World War II. That was all recent memory at the time, and anyone with any sense could see that no one would be starting any all-out wars with either Russia or the USA any time soon. Germany and Japan had both been reduced to endless seas of rubble, not a stone standing on a smoking stone, and their people reduced to hunger and tears. That was the fate of countries that declared war on America or the USSR. I was sure that those bombs over our heads were being held very, very carefully. The price for a mistake was just too high, and intentional action was too stupid to consider.
The Soviets are a dead letter now. That unfortunate system left the scene unmourned. Don’t let that door hit you in the ass on the way out! No sooner had cracks appeared in the foundation than the entire building fell to rubble in no time flat. It was a perfect joy for me to see the unrestrained relief and happiness of regular Russian people filling the streets and celebrating the passing of that awful mess.
Aye, it was an interesting world, the world of my youth. It was full of strange behavior and weird events. I suppose that it still is, even if the strange behavior is now pathological and many of the weird events could have been avoided. Looking now at that four-color globe, one is forced to realize that most of the asylums are being run by the inmates. And what goes around still comes around. That old saying still holds. Old wine in new bottles. But I’ll let you consider the political changes of the world through the filters of your own experiences. You may be twenty-something, or seventy-something, but you have seen many changes. Things happen so quickly now! Several things are changing this very minute!
I wish us all luck.
Sunday, August 6, 2023
Monday, July 31, 2023
President Biden and I have come through the last forty years together, connected by newspapers. Joe, if I may be so bold as to call an old friend by his familiar name, was often reported in the newspapers, and I have always been an avid newspaper reader. From his hair-plugs, to his dubious record of bipartisan legislation, to his carefully cultivated “hey, man!” working class facade, Joe has always been a gold mine for reporters. There was always a good story in Joe, from his vanity, to his activities, to his shenanigans. It’s quite a trail of malarkey, and easy to follow.
Which makes me wonder: with so many decades of gold there to mine, why do our current class of content providers stay so close to the optical-illusion scandals recently created by Republican operatives? Barisma; Hunter’s laptop; the Biden crime family; Joe’s new surprise grandchild. None of that means anything anyway, and it all pales in comparison to readily discoverable and extremely disagreeable material in his political history. There lies the true mystery of Biden’s presidency.
I made some notes about it in early 2019, but I have never shared the results herein. The country was in serious trouble already, and Joe was clearly going to be the best chance to beat Trump in 2020. I thought that it would be unpatriotic to expose the dirt that could cost Joe the nomination, or the election, because to do that would inflict a deep wound on our country, already rubber-legged in its brawl with evil.
I decided that I would give Joe a pass. I would smile and watch the parade go by. I would go so far as to support the suggestion that he was doing a great job and not making a bit of trouble, no, not a bit of it. Why should I not behave thus?
You may consider the pass to be in effect now, and also that it will remain so into the foreseeable future. We need Joe. He’s really selling it. He’s got good numbers. The last new gripe against him was that he appeared in public wearing white sneakers. (Which means they’ve got nothing.) Joe might get elected and endure another four years. He might live!
There is also a good chance that Trump will be elected again. After his own fashion, perhaps. The nomination, at least, will happen before any of these trials now in various stages of pretrial foot-dragging. If Trump is nominated by the Republicans, we can be sure that the cry of “let the people’s voice be heard” will ring out across the land. If Trump is one of the nominees, he will, like last time, act like the casting of all of the votes makes him president immediately. That’s irrespective of the vote count. It will either be a clear Trump victory, or simply another stolen election. What happens then is anyone’s guess. My Magic Eight-Ball is in the shop.
Friday, July 21, 2023
There will always be more than one way to look at a problem. You may look at the problem through a different filter. You may examine the problem in a different light. You may look at it in a mirror. Sometimes simply letting your eyes go out of focus will cause the problem to stand out in brighter relief. A problem is part of a pair that also includes a solution. Some problems are solved, and may thereby be resolved. Some are never solved, which may be for better or for worse.
All individuals face numerous problems in their lives. Problems big and small; important or insignificant; interpersonal or within the individual. Our greatest challenge is recognizing the existence of the big, important problems. This is easier said than done.
Many of us are plagued in life by a swarm of problems. We may understand that they are all related to each other in some way, but that understanding gets us no closer to seeing the essential problem itself.
This is where I find myself in this end-game of my life. We seniors live from day to day, waiting to die. Waiting for our turn. We dream of dead friends and family, and are cursed to live in the ruin that we have made of our life. Our decades of experience may give us some perspective regarding our problems. Identifying a problem when it is too late to fix it is much worse than never having identified the problem at all.
Here is a good question: is a problem that is never identified really a problem at all?
Life’s greatest joke might be to provide us with the intelligence needed to identify the important problems in our lives, while denying us the cleverness that would be required to solve them.
Wednesday, June 28, 2023
Saturday, June 24, 2023
It seems like a silly thing to even consider. Descending to a depth of 13,000 feet in the cold, unforgiving North Atlantic ocean in a weirdly amateurish, home-made submersible. I followed the story of its loss with some curiosity, although without real interest. What kind of company slaps a thing like this together, ignoring the safety conventions and the laws of both Murphy and physics, and sends it down full of billionaire adventurers who pay $250,000 per person for the privilege? The answer seems to be: the kind of company that trusts its risk of liability purely to the customers’ signatures on liability waivers.
This morning I read the articles about the loss in the N.Y. Times and the Daily Beast, and both strongly suggested that the company would be building its defense to wrongful death law suits (more essentially, negligence suits) on its supposedly strong liability waiver. That thing certainly seems to mention “possibility of death” everywhere that it is possible to squeeze it in. Oh, if only it were that simple.
My first legal observation was, “those things are usually found to be against public policy, aren’t they?” Well, it turns out that the answer is “yes,” as long as you include the “usually.”
I like to check a bit before I shoot my mouth off, so I consulted Professor Google. I always favor real law websites, so I read a nice article in the National Law Review (June 24, 2023). I’d say that they have also been following events as they unfold.
They also started off by pointing out that liability waivers are unenforceable if in violation of public policy. They dropped in more of the subjunctive than I did by making it conditional on an extra “if.” The article relied quite a bit on a case named Atkins v. Skimwest. Atkins starts with a warning of what is to come, “case law does not favor liability waivers.”
Atkins goes on to say that liability waivers “are not automatically invalid,” but that they will in every case be “strictly construed against the party seeking to rely” on them. The waivers must be ridiculously specific about every single risk that exists and that the customer is waiving. What’s more, the person signing the waiver must have been given the opportunity to bargain over the waiver, to bargain not only over the risks to be waived but also over signing the thing at all! Have you ever heard of that happening? Me neither.
The customers here are people to whom $250,000 is a weekend outing for one. They are billionaires proving once again that it is hard to think of things to do with all of that money. Have any of them actually sought legal advice about the waiver? A good lawyer would advise them to bargain with the dimwits running this company. “Tell you what, I’ll give you $350,000 if I don’t sign the waiver.” The answer is no? “Okay, $500,000.” Still no? No counter offer (“for a million, you can go without the waiver”), no back and forth? You have not been given a chance to bargain in good faith. You must sign, or no deal. You can sign, and the waiver is void for violating public policy. The defense fails.
Just imagine the legal horsepower available to an estate worth billions of dollars. At least when the plaintiffs can be trusted to pay their bills. This should be interesting.
Wednesday, June 21, 2023
Sunday, June 18, 2023
Tuesday, April 18, 2023
Saturday, April 8, 2023
Saturday, April 1, 2023
The Bible is rarely a practical guide for anything, but it does on occasion provide a useful guideline. For instance:
The age when men finish growing up is twenty-eight.
Nor was the Hoary Head, Yahweh/ Jehovah, the only deity to find compelling circumstance in that age. There are other religions that find something happening around that time, and even some of our secular social scientists think that twenty-eight may represent some kind of final adolescence.
No less than Albrecht Duerer, the great late-Renaissance painter, being no stranger to self-portraits, created his most self-aggrandizing and elaborate self-portrait at that age (in the year 1500). You should look it up, just enter “durer self portrait” in the Google search. It screams, “I, Albrecht Duerer, am God!”
I myself experienced something strange at that age, although there was nothing self-aggrandizing about it. It was more like a nervous breakdown. I suddenly felt very old. It suddenly seemed like everything about my childhood, and early adulthood, had happened a very long time ago. I felt like I had been in high school somewhere around the Civil War. My attention was drawn to the rear-view mirror, even more than usual. It was a little like waking from a dream. It coincided with a difficult time in my journey of life, and I fell into a deep depression. What had I accomplished? Where the hell was I going? I was quite unmoored there for a while.
I snapped out of it. I realized that I had not even reached thirty, much less gotten “old” all of a sudden. I made a plan. The plan itself was a good one. My execution of the plan got me a BA and a JD to prove that at least I wasn’t stupid. It failed, unfortunately, in its particulars. That’s another story. At least one, maybe more.
This whole thing seems to hit young people harder when they have only recently moved from unknown and poor to celebrity status and loads of money. I’m thinking of the great number of musicians who have died at the age of twenty-seven. (Close enough, I’m sure, for rock and roll.)
Jimi Hendrix was twenty-seven years, 295 days old when he got careless with unfamiliar pills.
Robert Johnson was twenty-seven when he got careless and drank whiskey from an unsealed bottle.
Brian Jones, founder, leader, and musical guiding light of the Rolling Stones, died at twenty-seven after being hounded out of the band by snarky, upwardly mobile band-mates.
Janis Joplin died at twenty-seven. Between being pushed around by the money people and moving suddenly from object of derision to the status of divinity, I’m not surprised that her system just overloaded.
Ron “Pig Pen” McKernan died at twenty-seven. The band missed him so much that they declined to replace him as a vocalist, much to their detriment.
Amy Winehouse and Jim Morrison both died at twenty-seven, although not the same year.
Kurt Cobain died at twenty-seven. You could see it in his eyes in all of his teenage photos: he didn’t expect to last very long.
I’m going to include Johnny Ace, who suffered a strange death at twenty-five. He had been scuffling for a long time already at that point, trying to make a living as a singer, trying to have a hit. He had a show the night of the day that “Pledging My Love” was released. Before the show, he was probably having a few pops with the band, and he was fooling around with somebody’s pistol. He was hoping against hope that the new song would be a hit, but his confidence was low. He had been disappointed before. He emptied the pistol, put one round back in the cylinder, gave it a spin, and put the gun to his head. “Well, boys,” or something to this effect, “if I live, it’ll be a hit; if I die, it won’t matter anyway.” He really should have asked for better advice at that point. He pulled the trigger , and it was goodbye Johnny Ace. The song, of course, was a giant, crossover hit, and remains one of the all time great songs. “Forever my darling…” or at least until about 8:30 tonight.
I think it’s true that there is some kind of hinge period during our late twenties. A shift in our thinking. A surrender of childish things. An emotional Schwerpunkt.
If you are not there yet, dear reader, fear not. It is just an illusion. A trick of memory. You are still young, and you will be fine.
If you have made it past that hump, good for you. I hope it was all very easy for you, and that it all worked out great.
Monday, February 27, 2023
Sunday, February 26, 2023
Saturday, February 11, 2023
Saturday, February 4, 2023
We all start out as a tiny bundle of genes and then it's off to the races! Within nine months we have developed into a tiny person, ready or not, about to enter into the wonderful world of human interaction. During that nine months, we have been provided with fingers and toes, etc., and, more importantly, the genetic blessings and curses that we will be forced to live with for the rest of our lives. Intelligent or stupid, weak or strong, fumbling or coordinated, we have been dealt our cards. We try to blink, but fail, with no idea where we are or what is going on. We have been born. Now the fun starts!
During that nine months we have already developed the temperament that will control our emotions until the day that we die. Some babies in identical circumstances are born rather casually, as though they were just interested to know what just happened. Other babies are born angry, because they've never been cold before, nor been forced to breathe, nor been held upside down, nor hit on the soles of their tiny feet. Some are born afraid, and immediately become inconsolable. Mixed temperaments are frequent.
The real wild-card in this game is the parents.
Babies grow quickly, and they learn by experience as they go. These experiences are initially beyond their control, but as they add muscle, mobility, and brain power, they take a certain amount of the initiative for themselves. By this process, they develop what is called a “personality.”
The parents may have loved the baby almost beyond measure when it was helpless, when it was always easy to know what the baby needed. It is, however, very common for the parents to find the growing personality of a four-year-old totally annoying. Parents may also discover that the process of raising children is a much greater intrusion on their own time than they had expected. Some realize for the first time that the process will take another twenty years. In the meantime, things can go radically wrong.
There may be hitting and screaming, abandonment, expressions of disgust, general neglect, unreasonable demands. This is a situation that can go sideways quickly in a myriad of ways. From what I have seen, people can get away with a lot of negative behavior before family, friends, or the state will step in to assist the child or children.
All fifty states have departments devoted to providing social services to various categories of people, families, and children. The level and the tone of the assistance varies wildly from state to state.
I can tell you that in California, if an eight-year-old so much as tells her teacher that she is regularly beaten at home, and God forbid she shows the teacher marks on her back, that child will be in foster care before her parents get home from work. The parents will be notified as fast as it is reasonably possible, by phone, or a notice on the door, or even a police visit. Whatever it takes. There will be a hearing in the Dependency Court within forty-eight hours, where the child's personal interests will be looked after by the social worker on the case, and the child's legal interests will be represented by lawyers from the California Department of Social Services. The parents can hire a lawyer, or the judge will select a lawyer from the panel who will be appointed to represent them. The social worker will already have started her file, including her first report to the court, and copies of any relevant photos. The child will probably not be in attendance. Cal DSS gets involved at the drop of a hat.
This process, often lasting years, is guaranteed to traumatize the entire family.
As I mentioned, there is a broad spectrum of possible responses available in different states. Ranging from overkill to almost nothing. Many families hide the abuse. Many states have very limited budgets that are already stressed by taking care of the children of single mothers who have been incarcerated for whatever reason.
This leaves many children to live their entire young lives in serious distress.
Is there a moral here? None that would not require money. None that wouldn't require a great deal of preparation for the parents-to-be, more education, more assistance, and maybe even counseling for the lost and failing parents.
Maybe the take-away is that not everyone is cut out for parenthood. People should put more thought into it at the front end. There is no shame in avoiding the great demands of child rearing.
Tuesday, January 31, 2023
Monday, January 30, 2023
Tuesday, January 24, 2023
Monday, January 23, 2023
I say that a lot, both herein, and in real life, often to myself but also sometimes out loud. I also talk about the ability to separate fantasy from reality, mostly in connection with the now general failure to notice any difference at all. Wilkommen zum Wolkenkuckkucksheim. The legendary home of the cuckoos in the sky!
We have been placed in the awkward position of receiving way too much new information every day. Much of it sounds perfectly reasonable, but may have been fabricated to manipulate our better natures. Much of it sounds fatuous, but may turn out to be true. An uncomfortable amount of it is in a kind of gray area in the middle, where anything is possible and any failure to recognize the importance of some of it may place us at a disadvantage. Now you can add the mischief of deep-fakes and ChatGPT.
We ordinary humans are expected to sort all of this out.
We are exposed to commercial programming that seeks to sell us gold. “Gold,” they say with confidence, “is the ultimate hedge against inflation.” You may wonder if they want us to lug a bunch of the stuff back to our houses and sew it into the mattresses. When I was a boy, this was one of the jokes that adults made about the French. (The other common joke was that the French are too cheap to heat their houses. They prefer to wear sweaters and smell bad.)
Mais non! These companies don't want to give us any gold at all! They want us to buy into their “precious metals exchange.” After that I'm pretty sure it's like a game of Three-Card-Monte. “Where is the Queen?” Oh, sorry Charlie, there is no queen.
Now we are forced to navigate this world. I read in the NYTimes this morning an article about nice young people struggling to save money. They know which way the wind is blowing, and they're not expecting any help from the Land of the Free after they have the gall to stop working. No, they see clearly that they must prepare for the worst when another sixty years have passed and they have become frail and sickly. They know that the long range plan is to turn that entire demographic out into the street. That's freedom! Freedom to take advantage of and exploit the gullible and the old, frail, and sickly. And freedom to discard them when they are no longer useful.
It was so poignant to read about earnest, intelligent young people talking about how they are still living with their parents, post-grad, and making forty or fifty thousand dollars a year, and how they struggle to save any money. Most still had large student loan debt. One admitted that all she could manage to save per month was about twenty dollars. One was saving quite a bit more. He wouldn't say what his income was, but he admitted that, “most of the people in my neighborhood earn between $150,000 and $250,000 per year.” But riddle me this? How much will be enough to save you from financial disaster forty-five years from now? That's almost the year 2070.
May I be blunt? Is anyone reading this even willing to hazard a guess what name the United States of America will be going by in 2070? Will Tom Cotton's face still be on the money? Or will it be the face of the ruling Pope/ Emperor? Will there still be a Florida? How many dollars will it take to buy a can of tuna? Will $500 cover it? Will there still be fish? Who fucking knows?
We are a race that is blessed with a large cadre of very talented scientists. We are also a race that is in danger of losing its entire ecosystem and life support system. This dynamic always leaves me breathless with terror, because our scientists act as though nothing were threatening our existence at all. They stay focused on their work figuring out what happens in the interior of black holes. They are fascinated by the incidence of volcanism on certain moons of the outer planets. They sit, essentially, and twiddle their thumbs. (That was me being very, very polite. Did anyone catch it?)
Our pharmacologists are also hard at work. Working on nonsense while strangely ignoring the existential problems that are staring us in the face. Here the problem is corporate. While warming temperatures and shifting latitudes are moving the “tropics” northward, along with its bacteria and its bugs, those companies remain focused on products that will produce short term profits. There may be a few Jeramiahs among them, warning of the new disease vectors rejoining us after millennia stuck in the permafrost, and the like, but most of the pharmacology business remains dedicated to more profitable products, like boner pills, mood lighteners, and expensive cancer treatments. Antibiotics are expensive to develop, and they don't pay off in a business sense.
None of this is surprising to me, because we are a people of supernatural folly. Rather than make an effort to extend the presence of humans on the earth beyond the next one or two hundred years, our decision-makers prefer to spend our money on really boss hyper-sonic missiles, smaller and lower yield nuclear weapons, submarine yachts, and space-tourism.
It will be interesting to observe, if you live to see it all play out. Look especially for the major crop failures. Those will be fun. It turns out that temperatures rising by less than you'd think interfere with plant pollination. How exciting it will be when one of these “little proxy wars” reaches near-earth space. Three to six months of no Internet? Over the whole world? That should be fun. Is there a plan to deal with that scenario? Why, certainly not! We're busy investigating the Biden family.
The really rich, and our wonderful statesmanlike politicians, will be fine. Don't worry about them. They will have plenty of food, total security, and limitless credit. Regular folks can forget it. You may have money in the bank, but no Internet means no access. No ATMs. All Branches closed. The banks will only be keeping track of all of the houses that they can seize after the computers come back online.
Food and water? That will become an unpleasant subject quickly, so let's leave it out.
My guess is that the inside of black holes is solid, and black. It will be fun to find out for sure!
Thursday, January 19, 2023
Saturday, January 14, 2023
There was a time when this blog was full of politics. I went so far as to gather the more readable posts about politics between 2008 and 2018 and self-publish them on Amazon. I received an e-mail the other day from a nice couple living in the Northwest. We've been best friends for about fifty years now. The wife was kind enough to mention that it's been four years since Political Rants went on sale, so she started re-reading it. She enjoys it. She figured, “a lot has happened in the last four years. You should write a Part II!”
That was a very nice thing for her to say, but I just wouldn't have the stomach for it. It's been day after day of whatever crazy shit Trump said yesterday, backed up by a quick update on all current investigations, impeachments, and law suits. “Indictments are sure to follow before spring.” We all read that every day, but I'll believe it when I see it. Even if they did indict the man for something, and even if they did get a conviction, the appeals process would go on forever and a day. If any of the appeals made it to the Supreme Court...well, as an officer of the court, it would be undignified if I were to put into words my true feelings about our current Supreme Court.
This blog started in 2008. It was a time when the degradation of American politics was already well under way, but it was possible to think that we still had a toe-hold on traditional politics. The 2000 election was a wake-up call, and W.'s eight years were a nightmare of lazy-minded warmongering. Crashing the economy of the entire world was a nice cherry on the W. cake, and losing all of that money to greed and foolishness seemed to get people's attention. They decided to vote for something very different than the usual greedy, lying white devils who had come before. They elected Barack Hussein Obama!
I was intrigued.
Was there a chance that things could improve? Was there a slim possibility that our government could return to the days of calm deliberation, cooperation, and compromise? (Such as they were, but better than they are now.) President Obama's honeymoon lasted about twenty minutes. I didn't really think that things would improve, but the prospect was wonderful there for a minute. Instead, the Republicans declared immediately they they would never offer anything but direct opposition to whatever President Obama proposed. They would dedicate the next four years to one thing and one thing only: making Obama a one-term president. That this was in direct violation of the Constitutional oath that they had all taken. As it turned out, the Constitution held no power over them. As for the American people, whom poll after poll show to be a reasonable and relatively progressive people, a substantial number, approaching fifty percent I'd say, reacted with an intense burst of racist hysteria.
Obama won his second term, so we were treated to eight years of political chaos and racist mischief making. The so-called “social media,” Facebook and Twitter, were just getting off the ground then, and they cheerfully got fat cannibalizing American culture and turning people into rabid animals.
For me, Brexit was the canary in the coal mine for judging people's slipping grasp of reality. When the cousins voted to leave the European Union, that was the sign that even formerly reasonable people had lost the ability to separate fantasy from reality. That was the moment when I said to myself, alone in a hotel room watching the news on TV, “Trump will be nominated and elected.”
By now we've had four years of Trump bulling his way through all of the china shops, plus two years of him saying that “the election was stolen.” He has not, in all of that time, said one true thing, or done one thing that helped working families. Trump is the gift that keeps on giving...for comedians.
Trump was like a volcano of negative energy, and, like a volcano, he has marked his passing with a dense plume. That presents as the large and growing pack of idiots that has infected the government in all branches and at every level. Many are actual textbook idiots who have mastered only the shouted, rambling speeches that make no sense and add up to nothing. Others are intelligent, well educated people for whom only money, power, and self-interest matter. The whole crew are as devious as they are ambitious.
The great lesson of Donald John Trump has been that none of our laws, norms, or traditions can stand in the way of a politician who ignores them in favor of shouting lies into microphones. Many dangerous people now have their eyes on the prize that Trump proved can be had by any bully who pushes hard enough. There are four or five men now, and a couple of women as well, who are positioning themselves to seize power beyond merely the presidency. Becoming the Pope/ Emperor of a newly christened theocracy appeals to a few of them. Others would settle for a title like, “The Leader.”
Write about politics? Politics is dead, and roasting in hell as we speak. It's not politics anymore. It's a circus run by the sideshow freaks and the clowns.
The worst part is that these dangerous lunatics seem to be beyond the law. There have been so many laws broken in plain sight, but ignored; so many indictments that go nowhere; two obviously meritorious impeachments voted down by party hacks in the then Republican Senate; so many convictions that stall on “released pending appeal.” Does anyone believe that any of the victims of our mania for mass-incarceration think that any of that “beyond the law” stuff is funny? I'll help you: they do not.
Did George Santos get sworn in yet? It appears that he has. Is he getting in trouble yet? He's already got the resume item, so maybe he doesn't care. He'll be a reliable vote, so they'll probably keep him. After all, the Republicans run the joint now. The laws, the rules, the norms, and the traditions, these things mean nothing to them. Have they abolished the Ethics Committee yet? If not yet, soon.
There is currently no calculus available that can reach all eight corners of our reality cube. Which is unfortunate, because the world's corruption has extended itself into all eight corners of that space. And it's killing us.
Comedians are having a field day. The jokes write themselves. I guess that it only makes sense to laugh about the doom, because no one in authority seems to care. Under the circumstances, the doom is all we've got to look forward to.
Many of you do, anyway! Not me. But my granddaughters will be among those unfortunate generations sacrificed to the doom. When 2050 rolls around, they'll be in their thirties. I don't like to think about it.
Let the record show, by the way, that when all of the birds have come home to roost, and all that's left is a full-house of catastrophes, you will not be able to blame it on the Baby-Boomers. Although I'm sure that you will. Maybe we are responsible, who knows?
We all had a meeting, you know, when we were six years old. We were already running the world. All of us white six year olds had a meeting. We decided to stick with the old standbys. The things that worked! Fossil fuels; war; asbestos; racism; big lawns; lots of beef. Plus a lot more of that new stuff, plastic. We probably looked silly, smoking big cigars and drinking scotch, bunch of six year olds, but remember, we were not ordinary six year olds. We were Baby-Boomers, damn it! You think it was easy planning the total destruction of the world? That was some meeting. There were strippers and hookers there, but none of us knew why.
Friday, January 13, 2023
Friday, January 6, 2023
It was only a month after my seventeenth birthday when I arrived at what is called “college” in America. I had been raised in one of the remotest towns right in the heart of New York City, completely unlike most of the more populated areas that close to the action. It was like a border town, even though it was far from any border. It was home to about thirty thousand people, but it was surrounded on three sides by water (the East River, which is an estuary), with the other side mostly blocked by a huge swamp.
My experience of grammar school was bucolic, if nightmarish. My high school was mostly annoying, also way out in the boroughs, and I spent four years there ignoring them, copying all of the homework moments before it was due to be handed in, and passing the tests by “this much.” (Holds two fingers very close together.) I had given up on school around the seventh grade and taken charge of my own education. I had no business going to college at the time, and I proved that to anyone's satisfaction over the following two years, in which I scored a 1.7 GPA.
I had not, however, wasted my high school years. I became a pretty good chess player. In the beginning, I was still reading my way through all of the Fu Manchu books, and Sherlock Holmes and Edgar Poe. At some point I discovered Evergreen magazine. I will be the first to admit that its initial attraction was two fantastic, sexy comic-art stories: Barbarella and Phoebe Zeitgeist. I got around to reading the other content, which was avant garde stories and poetry, along with some criticism along those lines. I joined the Grove Press Book Club, and it was off to the races. I Am Curious, Yellow. That one was a novel before it was a movie. I read several of William S. Burroughs' books, and those, particularly Naked Lunch, were a real “you can write like that?” moment. I also picked things up almost accidentally. I loved the movie version of The Loved One so much that I bought the book, where I learned to love Evelyn Waugh in general.
Manhattan was all new to me, so I always signed up for classes early in the day. That left a lot of time to just wander around. Manhattan was an endlessly fascinating place. Every corner that you turned into contained some wonderful new surprise. Most of the old architecture is probably gone now; it was mostly gone by the time I left New York in the 1970s. There were still buildings in the old days whose fronts were entirely covered by those old tin squares that had designs stamped into them. That was the old middle class New York, full of regular people doing regular jobs in regular buildings, walk-ups, not too tall, approaching decrepitude. Rents were affordable. Not like now, when everyone in Manhattan is either a billionaire or homeless.
I was sitting in the hall one morning, waiting for my eight o'clock class, ignoring everyone and reading A Handful Of Dust, when I was approached by a nice looking, elegantly dressed black fellow about my age (turned out to be one year older). He smiled, introduced himself, and sat down next to me. “Hello. My name is David! We are going to be friends,” he announced. “I approve of anyone who appreciates Evelyn Waugh.”
He was my best friend for the next thirty years. We had a lot in common, including the habit of talking over whomever we happened to be speaking to at the time. Most of our conversations were conducted with both of us speaking continuously, without seeming to stop to take breaths. David asked me what else I was reading, and he was pleased with the list that I provided. I think that I had also just discovered Kerouac. He immediately recommended, commanded me to read, actually, A Clockwork Orange, by Anthony Burgess, which had been published the year before and would not become a movie for many years. He seemed very professorial.
The subject of movies, oh, excuse me, the cinema, came up very quickly. That was, and continues to be, his primary passion. He had always been a solitary child, and he had fallen in love with the movies very young. Very, very young. David had been a precocious child, and I'd say that he was as close to being a genius as anyone that I've known. He is certainly the most intelligent person that I've ever known. He not only habitually watched the end credits, but could remember a lot of what they contained. Like who had done what on every movie that he had seen. He is also the only person that I've ever met who sees the tiny triangles in the upper right corner of the movie when they change the reels. Each reel, in the duplicated section, has that triangle, and the projectionists use them to line up the two reels. They must put both triangles directly over each other. David saw that naturally, and was always a bit surprised that no one else knew they were there. They caught his eye every time.
My own experience of the movies was limited. I went to the movies often, but my main interest was in the solitude. The theater was a place where you could sit in the dark for a few hours and no one would bother you. If a high quality movie was featured on PBS, I would try to catch it. I had seen Wild Strawberries, by Ingmar Bergman, and I was favorably impressed. I had also seen a Fellini movie, but I don't even remember which one. Probably La Dolce Vita. David had seen them all, and read books about them in English and French, and subscribed to Cahier du Cinema, and he thought that he was exactly the person to provide me with a decent education in “the cinema.”
The 1960s were the Golden Age of cheap, high quality re-run houses in New York. There was the New Yorker Cinema; the Bleeker Street Cinema; another one that I forget. The Museum of Modern Art was a great place for movies. You could buy a student yearly pass for about eight dollars. That would get you into the museum free for the year. You could just show them your card and ask for a ticket for the seven o'clock movie. They showed two films every evening. There was at least one YMCA that also showed old films, for one dollar I believe.
Over the next few years I became well versed in the French New Wave, Italian Neorealism, the modern films from those places, the films of Ingmar Bergman, Rainer Fassbinder, the pre-war German Expressionism. All of Fellini, and Michelangelo Antonioni. After each movie, David would provide me with a comprehensive lecture on the subway ride home. (He didn't live too far from me. We both took the same subway to the same terminus.)
I discovered Japanese cinema on my own. David, for some reason, ignored that corner of the film universe. Too heterosexual, perhaps, or somehow unknowable, like the Renaissance paintings of Jerome Bosch. I tripped over a tiny movie house on one of my marathon walks and it was all Japanese, all the time, two new movies every Thursday, plus a couple of shorts. I just let those films wash over me, stunned by the color, and the scene blocking. The editing of Japanese movies is very different from American or European movies. That theater showed a bit of everything. It was definitely not all high-brow “cinema.” Some weeks it was one cheap Yakuza vs. detectives thriller plus one torture-porn sword movie with very little of the class to be found in the best movies of that genre. I didn't care. I loved it all.
And I loved my professor. David was a shining light in my life. I moved with my little family to LA, and a year later David and his partner followed us. We talked frequently on the phone, still both talking non-stop. That was really the only way to talk to either of us for most of our lives. We continued to see films in LA, which had the Nuart and the Fox Venice theaters showing re-runs. The Nuart may still be open. LA was Japanese movie heaven for me, do to the large Japanese population and the general interest in the better Japanese films.
Something happened twenty-five years ago, and David and his partner broke it off with me. They said that I had changed, and they were probably right. I had become a lawyer after fifteen years in California, and it was not a good fit for me. Too stressful.
My life has never been a stranger to abandonment, in fact abandonment is the repeating leitmotif in my life. I take it in stride now, simply smiling and saying, “thanks for everything.” Losing David was hard, though. For twenty years in LA, he and his partner, and a few of his friends, were fixtures at all of my family's holiday parties. We were all friends. We had a lot of holiday parties, too. Sit down dinners for more than ten people, big barbecues. I miss the whole crowd.
There are many things that I miss, but I don't dream about them. I do still dream about David. He shows up frequently in my dreams, and we are happy, loving friends again, briefly, before I wake up.