Blog - 2011
Being an occasional listing of personal occupations.
Some entries have titles that are linked to most of the content.
Karma? What karma?
Monday, December 19, 2011
I hear folks ask, "Why do good things happen to bad people and bad things happen to good people?" The question has never bothered me, but I do have a similar problem: Why do some things happen to other people and other things happen to some people?
(I think Steven Wright might know, but I probably have Steven wrong.)
Saw that one coming...
Thursday, December 15, 2011, 7:30 PM
About forty-five minutes ago, I drove down Broadway, in the dark and in light rain, and was surprised to see a new traffic island dividing the road in front of the high school —with no signage whatever.
I was confident that there was a very strong likelihood that, especially if the rain picked up, someone would flip a cab or something there tonight. I continued on my very brief errand and went by the spot again a few minutes later.
When I got home, less than a mile away, I went to my basement to collect a traffic cone I had down there. I came upstairs and called the Cambridge Police communications officer to apprise him of the dangerous situation; he told me he would pass it on to public works. I then immediately got into my car with said cone and drove to the island.
The firetrucks beat me to it (but I was ahead of the squad car.) There was a wrinkled minivan sitting astride the island and a very rattled woman sitting on the stone bench beside the road.
I guess I should have driven straight home when first I saw the problem.
Rin Tin Tin
Saturday, November 19, 2011
To make a long story short, I like dogs more than people, and I just found a terrific book.
To make a short story long, a long, long time ago I tuned in, turned on, and dropped out; then I crashed with some fellow UMass '71 dropouts, Cyndi and Elaine, who had a place in Cambridge. Cyndi had a dog named Jackson, and I liked Jackson a lot. I think I might have been walking Jackson when Armstrong set foot; I know that I babysat him while Cyndi hitchhiked to Woodstock. (By the way, I got a first-hand report about that subsequently romanticized event from her: "It was a mess; it was rainy.") I liked the companionship of Jackson so much that I decided that I would get my own dog as soon as I got my own place.
A couple of days after I got my own paid-for spot in an apartment that fall, I put out my thumb on Mass. Ave. to catch a ride to the regular Sunday music and culture festival on Cambridge Common. A convertible pulled over; they were going there to find a new home for this gorgeous little German Shepherd named Poobah, whom I immediately adopted and renamed Hund.
Hund and I grew very close and nearly inseparable. Our friendship passed in a time when I could take her to the grocery store; to the bars (where I would put my ragged jacket on the floor under my stool or bench, so that she could lie down in the comfort of knowing I wouldn't leave without my jacket); to the dentist (I am not making this up.) And, yes, she did perform the classic function of preventing a mugging on at least one clear-cut occasion and, I am sure, many unknown occasions.
She wandered off one night when I left her alone.
Like anyone else, I used to have unpleasant dreams about some aspect or other of the vicissitudes of my life. Nightmares stopped as I got older and tougher. The last bad dreams to leave my sleeptime were those about Hund's disappearance. Such a circumstance may or may not reveal too much of my psychological health, but I offer it as evidence of the extent to which I like dogs. Although modern city dogs are very different from the critters we knew forty years ago, e.g., they are now genderless, I seem to have considerable company nowadays among the general populace in my canine affinities.
There is a good reason people like dogs. Most familiar farm animals were domesticated about ten thousand years ago. Dogs were domesticated sometime between a hundred thousand and thirty thousand years ago —and they are still not farm animals, so elemental is their symbiotic relationship with humans. I therefore claim that I am not too nuts to like dogs as much as I do. I don't keep one anymore, because I couldn't keep one the way they're kept these days in the city, as pets rather than as adjuncts. However, I do carry MilkBone with me, and most of the dogs in my neighborhood react when they see or hear me. (Some know the sound of my housekeys, and some know the sound of my car door!)
Did I mention that I am making a short story long?
Hund was a shepherd. She was so smart that she would challenge any man who came to my home to visit, and, when a woman came, she would jump on me. Smart and highly devoted dogs, German Shepherds, and still my favorite breed.
I was excited when I heard that Susan Orlean was working an a book about the most famous German Shepherd of them all. Then Wednesday night, there she was on this edition of The Colbert Report talking about her Rin Tin Tin: The Life and the Legend. As a fan of Golden Era Hollywood, I have always known that Rinty was a superstar, but Ms. Orlean's revelations about him during the Colbert interview made the book irresistible. I was glad to find a copy today at the Harvard Bookstore. (Click link for availability at the store.) Who'd a thunk there'd be copies left, after that interview, in the middle of this dog-nutty town?
Friday, November 18, 2011
Stopped today for sandwiches and such at a place that I had not visited since the greybeard owner's hair was black. I was ebullient that the place is everything and more than I had remembered.
Barry's Village Deli in Waban is the real deal, as far as this gentile can figure. The Rachel's pastrami with Russian dressing was just between "Yes, I'd be willing to die happily of a heart attack from a superabundance of these!" and "Well, no, I won't get circumcised to get more."
I brought back to Cambridge some latkes for a client who has more experience than I with delicatessen fare, and she averred that they were the best she had ever had.
If one ventures near the Waban neighborhood of Newton, one should seek this spot, if only for its ethnic genuineness, if not for its otherworldly Rachel sandwich.
Please excuse the title of this little entry. It was inspired by an old photograph I once saw of a roadside store in an area of the South where it was illegal to advertise that alcohol was offered. On the side of the building was an humongous sign reading, "COLD BEvERages."
Not Enough Trout
Sunday, November 13, 2011
I have not gone fishing since last spring. I theorize that that is why I have not written anything here lately. It is said that fish is brain food, and apparently my lack of trout has left me bereft of the writing habit.
Also, there has not been much to relate to my friends; I worked a bit too much painting interiors for the first couple of months of summer. The entire recreational part of the season comprised little more than two four-day outings in August.
The first trip was to attend a wedding in deepest, darkest Maine, at which I served as volunteer photographer. Of the 700 snapshots I took, there is probably only this one to which I can point with some pride. I am not skilled in photography, but I am very persistent, and sometimes persistence will pay off.
To my surprise, I was the only attendee at the ceremony with a necktie.
While I was there, I came to understand why there is a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms (ATF.) Those three ostensibly disparate things are certainly alloyed in great abundance up in the deep woods, but I wonder why Trucks are not included. It should be "Tobacco, Trucks, Alcohol, and Firearms," in that order.
The second trip was to the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont for some recreational landscaping. Here I am in front of an apple tree that has not been tended for a hundred years. As far as I am concerned, this is the loveliest area on earth.
That was it for summer. To say goodbye to the season, I took a daytrip to the Connecticut Valley for leaf-peeping, thinking I might be too late on the ninth of October. I was startled by the dearth of color. Here is a shot upriver from the French King Bridge.
More recently I have resumed my hobby of woodcutting. While doing so, the week before last, I was reminded of the way of all flesh. I had earlier placed a bunch of logs at the foot of a big pine tree. On this afternoon, I spent a couple of hours ferociously sawing and splitting them with a chainsaw, a big axe, a splitting wedge, and a couple of bow saws. When I got myself tuckered out and began putting the tools away, I noticed something peculiar about the spot where I had been noisily and violently toiling. This video suggests what a lucky guy I am. Knock on wood.
"Monsieur Chuck always breengs eez own."
Thursday, June 16, 2011
In some mostly forgotten Golden Era Hollywood movie, a restaurant patron is seen eating something that is unavailable to the other patrons, unavailable because of local economics or wartime rationing or some other reason. Another patron asks the restaurateur how it is that that customer is served that particular rare morsel. The restaurateur replies, "Monsieur (So-and-So) always breengs eez own." I relived that scene many times in the 1990's.
There used to be a place in Inman Square called Daddy-O's, where grilled trout was a menu staple. One of the two chef-owners did the grill work, and he grilled about fifty trout per week. He was very, very good at what he did. No matter how I tried, I could not cook one of my trout to taste anything like the sublime results of his attention.
Somehow I managed to connive a relationship with this generous chef such that I would bring my own trout to the restaurant and he would grill them for me. I would walk in and ask, "Any room on the grill?" and, if there was, I would bring my freshly caught trout, always much bigger than the ten-ounce standards that were being fired over Canadian hickory charcoal.
This place had an open kitchen, and startled custormers would gaze at a monstrous two-and-a-half-pound trout on the grill and ask, "What is that!?" My beloved chef would reply simply, "Monsieur Lapointe always breengs eez own."
Today that chef's sons are young men. When I ran across one of them, Chuck, recently, I ask him if he would care to join me in a fishing outing sometime. He answered in the affirmative. On Tuesday I brought to their home my catch of the day, which included three rainbows, one of which measured a very thick 16-1/2" and was the third-biggest trout I have ever caught. Chuck became even more enthusiastic, so when I ask him to join me today he did.
The limit in Massachusetts is three per angler, and we got our six. There are five lovely rainbows and a beautiful brown trout. Chuck got that one, the last catch and the biggest. —And he has fully qualified assistance to prepare it.
"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised"
Saturday, May 28, 2011
Just came across this article announcing the passing of Gil Scott-Heron. As I have been doing the last two months, I had been scanning the big news outfits for reports about events in Libya (especially Misrata, which seems to me to be the linchpin of the revolution there.) I ran across that article; the name sounded familiar; and the phrase "godfather of rap" got my attention. He was, I have just learned, the writer of "The Revolution Will Not Be Televised." I was living at 54 Green Street at the corner of Blanche (Neither address nor corner are extant.) when that "song" or poem was released. It made a great deal of sense to me. It posited that stopping the war and the concomitant racism would not be accomplished by liberals sitting on their couches watching television to determine the truth of 1960's history. The truth of the pseudo-musical piece was borne out by events. The victims of the Kent State Massacre (white victims) paid the price and saved this country from a far worse fate of more riots and class warfare, such as has happened, for example, when Russians had had enough and as is happening in the Arab Spring.
Don't know nuthin bout rap; think it's all crap. No music; not much sense. And the purveyors seem pretty fuckin dense.
—And musically impaired and therefore not something to be placed under the rubric "music." However, when the '60's were turning into the '70's, when that song was released, it sounded to me a lot like the truth of the matter.
As stated, I was living at the corner of Green and Blanche Streets. I remember looking out my third-floor bedroom window at night and seeing Cambridge police marching in formation, four abreast, around the front and side of the three-decker in which my peacenik self was spying in trepidation. In retrospect, I suppose that there may have been no particular reason that they were marching around my corner but that the police station happened to be located at the corner of Green Street and Western Avenue, and it was just, perhaps, a convenient place to drill. But why at night? Scary stuff! Also at that corner I had found a bundle of Black Panther newspapers, which expounded on such topics as the importance of killing one hundred before they got you and about the value of an M-16. Thus, I still do not know just why I saw those cops doing that on that night.
Later that spring some white kids were shot to death in the good ole US of A —not on TV like Vietnam— and things started to change. The change was not just some theoretical or philosophical shift for me; I had already been dodging the draft for a couple of years. Fifty-four Green Street was the last address that I reported to the Selective Service System. I was prime meat at the height of the Vietnam War, and, if I had been living almost anywhere but the zany world of Cambridge, I would have some very less tolerable memories of my twenties. Scott-Heron's poetry gave my difficult situation, the robbery of my youth, a political perspective. It also helped me to understand how much I had to learn to overcome my own racism.
"The Revolution Will Not Be Televised" remains a very entertaining poem for those of us who know the contemporary references and an historical landmark for many of us —black and white; cop and protester; vet and dodger— who navigated those tempests.
From Craig Hollingsworth of UMass Extension: "The tick that you submitted tested negative for presence of Borrelia burgdorferi, the organism that causes Lyme disease."
What's Up With That?
Saturday, May 14, 2011
Saw something somewhat memorable while driving down the Southeast Expressway this morning. This pickup had very unusual occupants.
Three large, robust, and apparently quite contented sheep were gazing out the back window.
Wednesday, May 4, 2011 (second entry today)
The first picture below is of the single trout I caught yesterday. The second is of the three that I caught today. The last fish that I hauled in was the big one, measuring sixteen and a half inches. Because of the nearly constant rain that I was enduring to bag my limit, because of the fact that it came last, and because it was the biggest I have brought in in a long time, it was an especially thrilling catch. It is baking as I write. In a few minutes, I will eat the whole thing—if I can; I am out of practice eating sixteen-inch trout!
An Argument for Cursive Writing
Wednesday, May 4, 2011
My response to an article in the New York Times.
Osama bin Laden
Monday, May 2, 2011
One thing keeps coming up in my head today:
I imagine what it would be like to be a particular Navy Seal today (assuming the shooter was human and not robotic.) People who want to do that have a great hunger for intensity, for dominance, and, if they are remotely qualified to be candidates for the job, for excellence.
To such a person, to a Navy Seal, what could possibly better represent validation and victory than putting a bullet into Bin Laden's head? The guy who did that must feel like he just quarterbacked a Super Bowl victory, got elected President, and walked on the moon all at once.
It must be an extremely satisfying feeling.
The downside is that he probably won't be able to tell anybody about it for a long, long time. It's like catching the world's biggest fish and not being able to tell one's fishing buddies. Only the folks on scene can know. I hope and presume that he's hard enough that he doesn't care.
Postscript May 3
Just read an article in the Washington Post that corroborates my simile for what the shooter felt. Former SEAL Richard Marcinko is quoted as saying, "This is playing in the Super Bowl and getting the Oscar all in one breath."
Saturday, April 23, 2011
Among the three (state limit) trout I caught this morning was this approximately 13" brown trout, probably the prettiest fish I've caught in many years.
Reading about the Pacific War
Friday, April 15, 2011
Last night I finished reading Evan Thomas' Sea of Thunder, a monumental piece of research that explains the Battle of Leyte Gulf, the biggest naval battle in history, with personal stories of some of the more important participants.
At the beginning of his course "The Pacific War," Harvard's Dennis Skiotis told us that that war was a fight between the US and two enemies: the Japanese and Douglas MacArthur. Sea of Thunder explains much about the war, and, in particular and in detail, it illustrates the lunacy of divided command. It took hours for US commanders around Leyte to send and receive —out of order— urgent messages.
The book also illustrates, almost accidentally it seems, the danger of mythologizing commanders for the sake of morale on the home front. Admiral Halsey was buffered against the reasonable second-guessing of his deadly mistakes in communications and in tactics; apparently this protection of his reputation was maintained simply for purposes of morale in the US and in the war theatres. While Halsey's greatness was not as fictive as was MacArthur's, he was not nearly as courageous, intelligent, or even skillful as were some of the men whom his blunders sent to foolish deaths.
One cannot with honesty completely blame Halsey for steaming in the wrong direction in the waters east of the Phillipines. After all, it is amazing how regularly battles in the Pacific were won by whichever side had the more aggressive commander, and Halsey was aggressive. However, one cannot excuse his tolerance of a communication system (born of the division of command between Nimitz and MacArthur) that was so useless (or much worse than useless) when it was most needed. Evidence that Halsey's failures are unforgivable lies in the fact that he apparently never forgave himself.
The book, published about five years ago, has some minor editorial flaws that one hopes have been or will be tidied. Also, after finishing it, I am not quite sure to which commanders the subtitle "Four Commanders and the Last Great Naval Campaign" refers. (This problem is probably mine.) That said, I wholeheartedly recommend this book to any student of the Pacific War or anyone who desires an understanding of the phrase "the fog of war."
Dar al-Islam Leapfrogs Renaissance and Scientific Revolution
Thursday, March 31, 2011
I have very rarely been able to follow current events, because what humans do to each other appalls me. I have read the media (I have almost never watched television news.) only during the McGovern-Nixon campaign in '72, during the Obama-McCain campaign, and during the current Arab Awakening.
Not since the '60's have I witnessed such a blossoming of human potential. What is happening in the Dar al-Islam right now might objectively be counted even more significant than the revolution in shared consciousness that happened across the West in the '60's. Why is the Arabian Awakening more important? Because it is being prosecuted not by youngsters as fortunately positioned in history as I and my generation have been but by youngsters who have very little to work with besides the consciousness-fomenting internet. The semi-educated kids driving back and forth along the coastal highway of Libya look plenty foolish firing their guns into the air for Western cameras, but, when we changed the rules in the Western world in the '60's, we had mostly just batons, beatings, and prisons to stop us — not our governments' artillery, tanks, etc. Also — and more impressively — we were generally not particularly hungry and did not have so far to go in terms of cultural development or political representation.
The Arab Awakening is leapfrogging the Renaissance, the Inquisition, and the Enlightenment and jumping right into modern liberalism (for which I have an extremely strong distaste, but that's another story.)
It would be fair rebuttal to point to the Arab world's importance to the Renaissance and to the fact that a state like Iran is arguably a Moslem Inquistion, but what is addressed here is the suddenness of the jump forward in social development.
When I have noticed the barbarism of such practices as the beheading of men or the stoning of women for allegations of adultery, I have told myself that it is a case of the Arab world's lagging behind the West by five hundred years. Five hundred years ago, Western Civilization was burning individuals for publicly disseminating their original thoughts; the West has made some significant, albeit sluggish, progress. Now I see a lot of catching-up in the Mideast. —And a society, any student of history will avow, that catches up often surpasses. It is not likely, but it is just possible that social structures about to come into being in some parts of the Dar al-Islam will be more just and reasonable than any political structure on earth since the anarchic tribal systems (now long since brushed aside by what we call civilization) toward which we all, in our deepest, most secret dreams, aspire.
GoDaddy Servers Down
3:15 AM, Wednesday, March 30, 2011
Just noticed that at this moment the GoDaddy website is down, along with some (or all?) websites that they host, including some that I write, e.g., YogaOfEnergyFlow.com. To use the Joe Biden phrase, "This is a big ******* deal!" GoDaddy is a major player in domain registration and hosting.
Postscript 3:29 AM
The outage apparently lasted about fifteen minutes.
Postscript 3:39 AM
GoDaddy and hosted sites are down again. I would like to follow up, but time to go back to bed!
Trout Fishing 2011
Saturday, March 26, 2011
Yesterday I caught my first trout of the season, four rainbows. (Since the legal limit is three, I released the fourth, which showed up while I was packing up my tackle.) The very first was the best, and I gave it to chef Jason Bond, who specializes in the use of fresh, locally sourced foods. He is owner of Bondir.
Last night this photo (reproduced here without permission!) appeared on the restaurant's Facebook page. I am so pleased that this beautiful animal is getting the cooking it deserves. I am also pleased that its innards were not wasted yesterday, as this couple can attest.
Raffle of Red Sox Tix for Family in Medical Distress — Ends Sunday
Friday, March 18, 2011
Dear friend Debbie asked me to participate in a raffle to help out a family with a young man who is quite sick and who has no health insurance. The raffle is for a pair of opening day Red Sox tickets; the drawing is being held this Sunday, the twentieth. I kicked in with $10 for three raffle tickets.
To participate in the raffle, click here; for more information, click here.
Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Führer
(One People, One Nation, One Leader —the rallying cry of Nazism.)
Friday, March 18, 2011
Want to see something really scary?
A few minutes ago, I was scanning for news about Libya, going through my regular circuit of late that comprises BBC, Al Jazeera, Washington Post, and New York Times. When I clicked my link to the Post, the website was down. Startled, I wanted to check that something very, very bad had not just happened in Washington, so I googled "washington dc" to see if other local sites were down. The first link I clicked was to the official website for the city, DC.GOV. The top of the website reads, "The District of Columbia 'One City, One Government, One Voice'" on the left, and on the right is the name and photo of the mayor.
St. Patrick's Day and the Secret Password
Thursday, March 17, 2011
During the '90's, I took a couple of courses on the history of Boston at Harvard Extension School, taught by Boston College Professor Emeritus & University Historian Thomas O'Connor.
When he got to the history of Irish ascendancy in Boston politics, I asked if Evacuation Day had ever been celebrated before Irishmen took over Boston politics. (In 1906 "Honey Fitz" Fitzgerald was elected the first Irish mayor of Boston —and later gave his name to a presidential grandson.)
Evacuation Day, unknown in the rest of the United States, was the day in 1776 that the British left Boston Harbor. The night before, General Washington had sneaked cannon up to the Dorchester Heights overlooking the harbor, which cannon gave the British the motivation to board their ships and to quit the vicinity. It became a legal holiday in Greater Boston in 1901, coincidentally at the same time that Irishmen were first taking over the local Democratic party and then Boston government in general.
—And, oddly enough, the historic event had occurred, 125 years earlier, on the seventeenth day of March.
"Well," says Professor O'Connor, "I'll tell you about that. One night I was giving a lecture in a big hall in South Boston." (South Boston is an area run by Irish politicians and, until about that time in the 1990's, by the Irish Mafia headed by Whitey Bulger.) "During my talk, someone referred to the tradition that Washington's troops used the password 'St. Patrick' on the dark night they moved those cannon. I said that I had never found documentation of the use of 'St. Patrick.'
"Someone shouted, 'Me granmudder tole me the password was St. Patrick!' Some guy fairly screamed, 'Fodder O'Malley tole me it was so!'
"I looked desperately all around me for the nearest escape route, fearing for my life. All of sudden a little guy in the back yelled, 'Ladies and gentleman, the refreshments are ready in the next room! And I'm sure Professor O'Connor will look until he finds the historical proof.' It was [State Senate President] Billy Bulger."
Professor O'Connor never did actually answer my question —to the delight of the class.
Among his many informative stories, one is my favorite because it is so strikingly succinct and illustrative. The Professor was telling us about the differences between the Republican and Democratic parties and their modi operandi in Boston at the dawn of the twentieth century:
A canvassing Brahmin lady knocked on the door of an Irishwoman and asked for a vote for her brother, an incumbent elected official. The Irish gal asked, "What has your brother done for you?" The blueblood replied, "Oh, my brother would never use his office for my gain!" The Irish gal retorted, "If he won't do anything for his own sister, what the hell is going to do for me?"
GreatSocialistPeoplesLibyanArabJamahiriya.com, Part Two
Tuesday, March 15, 2011
The first daily Google Analytics report for the one-page website that I put up this weekend is in: Yesterday it got fifty-one hits from eighteen countries. Those statistics for the first day of an unpublicized URL seem a little strange to me. Maybe the Harvard internet security specialist whom I consulted post facto passed around the URL, but I do not think so.
Three of the hits are from Washington; two from London; two from Paris. I hope that Western security agencies are not wasting their time checking my mental status or militancy. The truth is that I am actually a flower child who is just very pissed off by what is happening. It is quite sad for me to have to state that someone should die, but the case is manifest: The Gaddafi family is directing mass-murder. While the West sorts out its bureaucratic, diplomatic, and pragmatic priorities, the Libyan army is racing to kill off the protestors before action is taken.
The city that most visited the page is Tunis with five. Maybe my little graffito is encouraging in the right places. It seems to me that the Arab League could do more than request a no-fly zone. Didn't the US sell the Saudis AWAC's thirty years ago? What the hell are they for, King Abdullah? And where are the Flying Tigers —Arab or other?
Postscript March 16
The page was visited only three times yesterday, so I suppose the initial traffic was only that caused by a dissemination done by the internet consultant, who has widely scattered connections.
Monday, March 14, 2011
A couple of days ago while reading the Wikipedia entry for Libya, I read the official English version of the country's name: Great Socialist People's Libyan Arab Jamahiriya. Wondering if the name was registered in the .com domain, I checked. (I use my own webpage, with a DomainTools search, to check domain availability; it is here should anyone care to use it.) To my surprise, it was not registered, so I registered it and put up a page with my cyber-graffito.
I doubt that it will do any good, but I felt a need to make a statement in a manner that might possibly in some small way abet the rebels.
Saturday, March 12, 2011
One of my vices is watching NFL football. During this offseason, the league is giving me comic relief from other, more serious news that has been disturbing me quite a bit. In this video we hear the counsels for the league and for the players make their cases. NFL football is a nearly gladiatorial spectacle, and thus it's hard to avoid empathy for the labor side of the fuss. On the one hand, there are the players, who literally spend their bodies, and, on the other, the owners of —of what?— those bodies or the franchises, who spend their cash to make more cash.
Somehow I get a chuckle from witnessing the squabbling over a mighty big pie.
Tsunami in Japan
7:10 PM, Friday, March 11, 2011
Chris Matthews, broadcasting on MSNBC, was just consulting with someone who stated that the severity of waves related to the bottom at the shore such that shallower bottoms caused greater waves ashore than steep submarine slopes, which, the remote reporter stated, break up the waves.
Oy! The precise opposite is true, as is plain to anyone who has been exposed to rudimentary high school science courses. The more quickly a wave is compressed, the higher the wave.
I took note of that gaffe because I find it ironic —or revelatory?— that such an ignorantly erroneous report should come on the same day as reports of radical cuts in the public education budgets of several states.
For a report on an upcoming earthquake, closer to home for most of the readership of this blog, that will likely have far greater casualties, see here. While probably not nearly as powerful as the earthquake that just occurred off the coast of Sendai, this one will happen under and on land. It is noteworthy that the topic of the linked article is not conjectural; it will happen.
What is the purpose of the USAF?
Thursday, March 10, 2011
Today the BBC reports that the US Senate is told that Gaddafi will prevail and that "Hillary Clinton said the US would not act in Libya without international authorisation," even as other Arab states are asking for a no-fly zone.
In what war college would anyone profess that it is a better expenditure of US military intervention to fight on the ground in the mountains of Afghanistan than to use the vast superiority of the USAF to aid freedom fighters who already hold large areas of flat terrain, who are willing to die to free their Libya, and who are begging for the USAF?
Afghanistan is another Vietnam. Benghazi is another Kuwait. The comparisons are clear and the results have been as can be expected (or would be, in the case of Benghazi.) These comparisons are not novel; these same circumstances —the differences between using military prowess against natives in difficult terrain and using the same force in pitched battles— became quite clear when Victorians were prosecuting their little police-the-world wars.
The fate of eastern Libya may prove very sad, and, if so, it will entail the exposure of the cowardice of Western leadership and their apparently profound ignorance of history.
One thing is certain: The Arab world will not forget that, when Americans pleaded for gasoline, the US made sure that the emir of Kuwait could rebuild his fantastic palace; nor will the Arab world forget that, when people pleaded for simple freedom under much the same circumstances, Hillary said, "Absent international authorisation, the US acting alone would be stepping into a situation whose consequences are unforeseeable."
Top Ten List of Things I Hope I Never Say
February 17, 2011
9 — More perfect
8 — An alumni
7 — My wife and myself went
6 — More of a [whatever] than a
5 — With him being
4 — On some level
3 — If you're not part of the solution
2 — These phrases literally blow my mind.
1 — Well, Terry, I'm glad you asked that. That's a very good question.
Postscript April 6, 2011
Today's Washington Post website has an article about a Bob Dylan concert in China. The article includes (after an erroneously placed comma) this part of a sentence: " ...ended with an encore performance of 'Blowin' in the Wind,' whose lyrics became synonymous with the antiwar and civil rights protest movements." The word "synonymous" is currently, I think, more often misused than used correctly, but one would hope that the Post would engage better writers.
Tuesday, February 15, 2011
Recently had occasion to send a friend some photos of the Frank Gehry-designed group of buildings at MIT called the Stata Center. I figure, since I formatted them for email, I may as well put them up on the web. I took these in the summer of ought-four, when the place was brand-spanking-new. I think the photos might be interesting enough to merit a peek.
Friday the Thirteenth and Boy Scout Training
Sunday, February 13, 2011
Usually triskaidekaphobia is just a silly joke. Today I happen to remember one Friday the Thirteenth, forty-one years ago today, that gave one young woman some major discomfort.
I think of it now because, recently while cleaning a drawer, I ran across an old Fall River Herald News clipping depicting the Flaming Arrow Patrol of Troop 50, of which I was the fearless leader, who won a first aid contest. That contest was a lot of fun, because I had convinced Danny and Phil that we should not inform the adult Scout leaders that we intended to participate. We were a bright group, and we did not need the grown-up supervision that our competition had. It was a kick to stop by the Assistant Scoutmaster's house that evening to let him know we had won a district championship. We won the Massasoit Council (the finals) contest too, but then the adults came along for that one, so it was not the same.
Years and countercultures later, my then best friend Stevie Hawkins and I were on our way, on a Friday the Thirteenth, to see roommate Andy Paley's group Catfish Black do a gig in Harvard Square. (It must have been some kind of strange gig, because I remember that Andy borrowed Stevie's tights for the show.) Just after Stevie and I had crossed the foot of Garden Street in the Square, we heard a scream. A young woman, Marianne(spelling?) Dorsey, had just been pinned by two cars and was lying on the ground with a broken thigh.
When I asked Stevie to go on without me she agreed, and I stayed to do what I could. With my Boy Scout training, I knew that there was something called "shock" and that it was important to make an injured person feel as comfortable as possible. I put my arm or jacket (can't remember) under her head and knelt beside her while I told her that she was very near a hospital and would soon get swell care and all that. Hovering above us were a few guys of my age, one of whom said, "We're Harvard medical students." I ignored them and gave my attention to gal on the ground. I rode with her in the ambulance and then walked away at the hospital entrance.
I spoke with Marianne a few weeks later and learned that my attentiveness had been very helpful to her. I knew then that the training (parts of which were silly: think snakebites) that I had gotten in the Boy Scouts could actually be useful in a world far removed from the Boy Scout weltanshauung. Since that time, I have appreciated that no matter how screwy any given discipline might be, there is probably something that can be gained from it that is useful.
How screwy is Buddhism? "No matter what happens, it is what is happening and is therefore acceptable." Well, that's just nuts. —Unless one happens at some time, just to get by, to have need to reach toward equanimity. Buddhism comes in mighty handy at that moment. One does not have to buy the whole farm to enjoy the fruit.
Years later I was studying expository writing, and I complained to pal Ed that my teacher in a particular extension course was not bright enough to be very useful. He said, "That's no excuse not to learn something."
Made sense to me.
For search engines: Depicted are Gerald Tremblay, Gary Boyer, Donald Saucier, Daniel Gauthier, Paul Lapointe, and Philip Collard.
Another Outbreak of Freedom?
Friday, February 11, 2011
The events in Egypt of the last twenty-four hours are fascinating. It is another case of the suspension of belief in a bad system, allegorically akin to how my generation stopped the Vietnam War by ending our belief in it. The question now —aside from whether the military will fulfill the popular will— is what the new Egyptian belief system will engender to replace the autocracy and its attendant repression.
We have seen before that a shift in collective consciousness can ostensibly lead us from one evil only to find us espousing another. Today we think with abhorrence of the serfdom of yesteryear, a system in which people were tied to the land on which they lived, at the same time that we are surrounded by thousands who have no place at all to live. Today, in many countries, we reject the conscription of yesteryear, only to have the current US president work toward replacing it with universal conscription in the guise of a "fairness" and "equality." We saw feminism of the 1970's work toward a world in which women would have a choice to work in the marketplace. Now women have no choice but to work in the marketplace.
Blunders are a regular part of the progressive development of any collective consciousness.
When we feel glad that an autocracy is being replaced by a democracy, we ought at the very least to try to remember some of the fundamental principles known to the founders of Western Civilization. The word "tyrant" was not a pejorative to the ancient Greeks who coined the word. A tyrant was a man who took over the city-state and made things right when injustice overtook a democracy. We ought also to remember that Hitler was elected democratically. It is the collective consciousness of a people that makes its society good or bad, not its nominal form of government.
Sometimes when a political body is ahead of others, it retains unfortunate vestiges of what it is trying to improve. England was ahead of the curve with democracy; it still has a monarch. Sometimes when a political body is behind others, it skips the mistakes of its neighbors. Wyoming, the forty-fourth state, was the first to allow women to vote. Is it too much to hope that Egypt could find itself more in line with the latter example?
Government is a fiction created by collective consciousness. Mubarak is gone because Egyptians began to believe he was gone. Because of the pluralism of their society, because of the new world-consciousness afforded by the internet, because they are among the latest literate people to have a revolution, and most importantly because they understood that belief is more powerful than violence, we can be cautiously optimistic about what Egyptians might think up next.
A Crisis of Conscience
Wednesday, February 9, 2011
A couple of days ago I received an email intended for someone else. We all get these once in a while; these misdirected missives have been plaguing us since we (in my case, twenty years ago) have been using email, but this particular email gave me pause and gave me cause to review what is and what is not gentlemanly behavior.
This email concerned the management of money —the kind of money that might or might not (I couldn't tell.) change my lifestyle from subsistence to something more comfortable. I am generally, in the estimation of a fair number of decent, intelligent people, a good guy, but —Jumping Jehosophat!— what should a man do when he stumbles upon a cache that, precisely because of the injustice upon which our society runs, ostensibly belongs to someone else?
One the one hand, I avow that the only hope of justice in this world is the use of chaos (like misdirected emails) by people of circumspection and conscience. For example, Harvard Professor Erich Goldhagen, who taught courses on the Holocaust, told us that he liked corruption, because it was what got him out of the Holocaust. For another example, I am a Vietnam-era draft-dodger; it did not matter that I contravened the rules (and in so doing may have gotten someone else killed instead of me) or that I was a coward. I did the right thing. There is enough institutionalized evil, really bad stuff, in the world that honest persons must on a regular basis skirt the conventions of society to meet any reasonable standard of decency.
On the other hand, if I cannot be trusted by some poor little rich guy to allow him the simple mistake of misdirecting an email, how can I count myself a real gentleman, a moral man? If this fellow is only following all the rules laid out for him, by everyone he has ever known, to take care of his family, can I righteously justify the use of his mistake? To pose a less subtle question, if I witness a tool-laden pickup truck's skid on an icy turn into a chromed Hummer, do I really do the right thing by reporting it?
These are difficult questions for me. Fortunately, I have a moral pal who knows all about this kind of email, and he advised me that he would not open the documents attached. I completely erased the email and its contents.
Somewhere someone is laughing at me all the way to the bank. All I get from my little crisis of conscience is whatever accrues to one who has never been bought.
—Which conclusion is not to suggest that if I ran across an unmarked bag of cash...
A Little Story about a Man versus Bureaucracy
Monday, January 31, 2011
Today I shoveled about a foot of snow off a flat roof of about 500 square feet for dear friend and customer Kate. After I finished, I asked Kate for permission to retell an historical anecdote given me by her husband, Tom, who passed a couple of years ago.
When his WWII service began, Tom was a psychologist. (It was only later that, with the help of the GI Bill, he became an MD and psychiatrist.) Being an intellectual, Tom had some clear insight into what WWII was about; being a Jew, Tom wanted to do his best for the war effort.
Thus, when Tom was assigned to the most ridiculous unit imaginable, he tried to get himself transferred. What unit? Why, that would be the horse cavalry! Yes, because he could ride, Tom the psychologist was placed into the horse cavalry. According to the backward military thinking at the start of the war, it was still a viable force. His captain noticed that Tom's abilities were wasted in the cavalry, and somehow he found himself in a unit of combat engineers.
Since Tom had no engineering experience, he was trained in Morse Code to be a signalman with the unit. Combat engineers were very important to victory. My own father ran across the Rhine on a pontoon bridge, so I can offer family testimony to their importance.
Tom knew, though, that he was still not in the best place to fight Hitler. He wanted to join the OSS (Office of Strategic Services, the predecessor of the CIA.) While on leave, he managed to take a particular Army test that quantified leadership abilities. That test helped to determine that he was suited for the OSS. Finally, Tom got himself placed where he could do his utmost to defeat Nazism.
Tom did not want people to think erroneously that he was fearful of fighting at the front; he wanted only to stop the evil. So it was that he told no one outside family until many years later of a detail of how he succeeded in getting himself transferred.
Before the war, while Tom was an honors student at Harvard, he had been part of the team that devised the test that helped get him into the OSS.
Fish 'n' Chips
Sunday, January 30, 2011
Just ate some of the best fish 'n' chips I've ever encountered around Cambridge. It was cooked by Ashok Tammany at the The Tavern at the End of the World, which is at 108 Cambridge Street in Charlestown, just outside Somerville. It was different from the purist (and I think the best I've ever had) fish'n'chips that one can get at Sir Crickett's in Orleans on Cape Cod, but, my goodness, it was good.
Among the dozen beers on tap, I chose the Berkshire Steel Rail.
There is parking in the back. The place was two-thirds empty on this Sunday night in the coolest part of winter. I am going to return before this place gets crowded.
What Global Warming?
Enough With the Snow, Already; I Need to Park the Car
Sunday, January 23, 2011
Now, I like snow as much as the next guy, but, as my lovely City of Cambridge, Massachusetts weeds out the folks not smart or trendy or rich enough to buy inside-the-house parking spots, it is getting increasingly difficult to moor my old Mercury Grand Marquis anywhere within walking distance of New England. Repeated twelve-inch snowfalls just compound the problem, what with snow taking up so much curb space, and I am neither going to duke it out with my neighbors —all friends whether they like it or not— for parking places, nor am I about to stand this nonsense without I should do something about it!
So, recalling the thousands, if not hundreds, of TV shows I have seen wherein Injuns do dances to bring on rain, I sashayed around an idea of a strategy. If Injuns can bring rain with dances (and of course it would not be depicted so very, very many times if it were not so) then they can certainly bring snow when the temperature is down here in the single Fahrenheits. Furthermore, if one can dance up some snow clouds, then one can most certainly dance away snow clouds. Only makes sense.
So, inasmuch as I am part-Injun myself, I figure that I should, by all rights, have the genetic wherewithal to actuate the above-mentioned communications with the forces of nature to the end of finding a parking space. It is a case of what both ancient and modern philosophers would call a logical necessity. Gotta happen, right?
So, not wanting to presume to call attention to myself among my nearest neighbors, I walked a couple of blocks from home and, off to the side of the middle of a street, started doing my best intuited anti-snow dance. I was dancing pretty well, and I thought I was giving a good account of myself, when I noticed that this police cruiser was coming down the street and seemed to slow down a bit as it approched my vicinity.
So, realizing that these bluecoats were giving me the eye with an interest in protecting the safety of my own self and fellow citizens from those variations of human behavior that might be at variance with peace on earth, I nimbly decided that it was a good time to recalibrate my quest to ensure a safe haven for the Grand Marquis.
So, I visited my oldest uncle, the fellow who by virtue of still standing is the patriarch of my family and also, because he is the most experienced in not dancing near the middle of an icy street to get a parking space, might offer me an alternative. He, being a Canuck like me but older and still Catholic, recommended the intercession of one Jesus, of Whom with a capital "w" I had already heard, having been an altar boy. Been there; done that. God can do all kinds of mysterious stuff, but I know from hard-won experience that there is no way (in heaven, hell, or the earthly streets of Cambridge, Massachusetts) that He with a capital "h" can turn a Grand Marquis into a ZipCar. Even Japanese conglomerates can't, and they can make molehills out of mountains.
So, after saying a couple of rosaries just to hedge my bets, I did what any modern citizen of a democracy does these days: I placed the responsibility for my problem, for this superabundance of snow, on the gummint. I went to the office of my congressman, but the nice lady there stumped me with the question of whether the Grand Marquis had an elect-my-congressman bumper sticker. She had me there, and I knew it was a case of precipitation without representation, and there was no American Revolution in the forecast.
So, at my wit's end, I decided to take the case to the oldest, wisest person I know. He's a professor emeritus over to Harvard. When I got to his study in the big library building over there, I found that he was guarded all around by stacks of paper that were even higher than the snowbanks outside and a lot heavier, and those walls of paper were guarded by a grad student who informed me that the professor was very busy, and I needed an appointment. I said please.
So, the grad kid disappeared into the secret passages of the paper labyrinth and came back a while later. I asked can the prof help me? The kid said yes. When said I. The kid said, "March twenty-first."
Monday, January 17, 2011
Watched last night's elimination of the New England Patriots from what I, along with most of the football world, thought would be their clear path to the Super Bowl. I was, like other Pats fans, stunned and crestfallen, but I take a circumspect stance about such things. I was crestfallen not because they lost the game but because I won't have the next few months of delight in the vicarious pleasure of victory in this meaningless war we call sports. I was disappointed, and that disappointment defeats the purpose of watching sports, so to hell with it.
I didn't bother to watch the Jets' victory kneeldown at the end of the game; I just turned off the television and tried to divert my attention to other things, just the way I did when the Red Sox blew the '86 World Series. What's the point of hanging around to mourn defeat, when the point of giving sports any attention as a fan is to invest emotion in something that can have no inherent significance —and therefore no real harm— in the real world? I'll take the fun distraction and leave aside the bitterness; that's what it's for.
As Boston Herald sportswriter Ron Borges put it in a column last December about another Jets-Pats game, "isn't that why people get involved to the point of obsession with this meaningless stuff in the first place?"
Got Pipes? Jackie Wilson's "Danny Boy"
Friday, January 14, 2011
Heard something this past summer that amazed me, and I had to listen to it again a couple of times today.
We were swarming back from the woods or from Cape Cod or somewhere else south of Boston, and we had on this little radio station, WATD in Marshfield, Massachusetts, that is small enough to be one of the hippest stations I have ever heard in my few years. This station's musical selections are obviously not mandated by some dork of a professional programmer whose job is to locate the least common denominator and to pander shlock thereunto. This station employs oldies rock'n'roll DJ's who are masters at choosing songs from a blend of a few standards (like Buddy Holly's "Peggy Sue,") some ridiculously campy one-hit wonders that bring laughs (like Lorne Greene's "Ringo,") and a strong dose of truly great recordings (like Jimi's "Red House.")
I like rock'n'roll and related music and especially enjoy really fine rock singing. My favorites are Roy Orbison and Ray Charles. I used to sing along with the records of John & Paul, Roy, Elvis, et.al., and maybe that's why I really like good singing of rock, folk, and soul tunes. —And I could do it a bit, too.
When a dear friend got married a few years ago, she had their party around a karaoke machine. I did Roy's "Pretty Woman" and Elvis' "All Shook Up." Afterward, people said to me, "I didn't know you could sing." I hadn't known it, myself, really. The bride actually said to me, "If you sang at a karaoke bar, girls would come sit down beside you." Hearing that was a hoot. The upshot is that when I hear a really good singer do a favorite song, I have an internal need to imagine how it would feel to make my diaphragm, lungs, and vocal chords reproduce those sounds.
Sometimes I hear something that is truly great and that I cannot possibly imagine reproducing, and that combination transports me. (Think of Smokey Robinson.) One day I was painting a condo on a SuperBowl Sunday, but I left in a hurry at the appropriate time to get home for kickoff. On the way home, in the car, Ray Charles was singing live "America the Beautiful" for the opening ceremonies. It's a good thing it was a Sunday, because, after hearing him sing that song that day that way, I would have driven straight to a recruitment office. I really do get taken aback by some singing.
Well, as I was saying, there we were, driving along the Expressway into town minding our own business when this song "Danny Boy" came along the airwave of WATD. I have always thought that this is a smaltzy, maudlin song that is appropriate only to campy movie scenes of drunken Irish wakes. I have never liked the lyrics or the way they are generally delivered. But somebody named Jackie Wilson was singing it. I have never, ever heard any singing of a pop tune that impressed me more; I was transported; for me, it pushes the envelope of what can be done with a song.
Alright, I'll admit it: It gives me goosebumps. There, I said it!
Here it is on Youtube.
Sunday, January 9, 2011
Recently read Susan Orlean's January 7 blog entry about the use of the N-word. In it, she refers to the new edition of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn that replaces the word "nigger" with "slave." When I first heard about this new edition, I was too furious to give it much attention, but Ms. Orlean's sensitive and intelligent article recalled my attention to this absurd new development of political correctness, and I feel the need to put in my two cents.
"Nigger" is a word that is almost unique in American English. I say "almost" because there is one other word that —in a segment of the American population, men of my age— is comparable: "gook." The primary meaning of "nigger" in America is "a person who may be hung simply for speaking out." "Gook" denotes, for (Vietnam-era) American men of my age, "a person who may be shot for target practice." Neither word is acceptable to anyone who claims to be human, because to be human is of logical necessity to acknowledge the humanity of other humans. However, we cannot deny the past.
To exclude either word from reportage of the past is to deny the history of slavery or of the extreme racism of the Vietnam War. Imagine a history of the Vietnam War that purports to be an accurate depiction of that war that does not include the word "gook." It is not possible to understand that war without an understanding of the word "gook," and it is not possible to understand slavery in America without an understanding of the word "nigger." If anyone anywhere at any time cares to explain to future generations what slavery in the US was (for whatever reason, but hopefully to get beyond it) one must use that foul word just as one must use the word "gook" in any explanation of the Vietnam War.
One might suggest that Mark Twain did not, in writing Huck Finn, understand the import of the N-word. If anyone, perhaps an idiotic librarian or an unqualified school superintendent or an especially slimy politician, alleges that Mark Twain did not fully comprehend the N-word, I recommend to that person the reading of "A True Story, Repeated Word for Word as I Heard It." If one can read this piece and still claim that Clemens' work ought to be adjusted by the profiteers who edited Huck Finn, then I suggest that one should stop reading this post and go seek a vision of the Blessed Virgin in one's slice of pizza —which action will, I guarantee, make more sense than trying to tell Mark Twain how to write about racism.
Felling Another Tree
Monday, January 3, 2011
Went to the woods for some air and decided to take down a dead tree that was threatening an outhouse. It was only the second substantial tree that I have knocked down, a bit smaller than the first (about which I had more to show and tell.) I still do not know what I am doing, really, but I was quite successful insofar as not getting killed and putting it down where I wanted it. However, it was much more work than it should have been. I have a lot to learn.
Nice Fix for Mac Computer Problem
Sunday, January 2, 2011
About a fortnight ago, I acquired the latest Mac operating system, OS 10.6, called "Snow Leopard." The graphical user interface (GUI) that Apple created for OS X has gotten even worse. Apple calls the GUI theme "Aqua," but I prefer my own term: "WAlt Disney goes To HEll and dreams oBnoxious, eviL cArtoons in Nightmare inK" or "Wad-The-Blank" for short.
The expansion of the intrusion of Wad-The-Blank impelled me to do something, anything, to mitigate my annoyance with my Mac experience. I found an important something that I could do about it.
All Macs emit a chime upon start-up that is not optional. I suppose Apple builds computers this way so that, whenever you take a laptop (I don't have one, so I'm presuming.) to the library, you are forced to announce, "Hey, everybody, I'm using a Mac!" or, whenever you wake up in the middle of the night and absolutely need to know who Nixon's running mate was in 1960, you are forced to send the message, "Hey, Honey, I'm awake! Are you? Can you sleep through this racket?"
I searched for a remedy for the noise and found a link to a free little program mercifully and generously produced by someone in Japan at Arcana Research.
I installed it and found that it did not work on the first restart but has functioned grandly on every subsequent restart. Hallelujah!
By the way, I did previously find a work-around for that chime, but it is virtually impossible to use successfully every time. When I plug external speakers into my Mac, turn on the speakers, turn the volume on the speakers all the way down, turn off the sound on my Mac, there is no sound at startup.
My success with the startup noise has inspired me to seek a way to eradicate what Apple calls the "Dock," which I call "Pier," which is short for "Perpetually Intrusive and Evil Rubbish." With OS X, Pier replaced the convenient and legible dropdown menus of previous OS's. Maybe some kind programmer out there is, like me, literate and has developed a way to get out of the world of Looney Tunes-like icons and get back to the realm of common sense.
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