October 31st, 2007

~ Songs and sentences and the message between.

“There are some days that you just want to sing”, said my mother sometimes. Which was hard for her as she knew she had virtually no innate “musical talent”. This “lack of talent” of course didn’t mean that she couldn’t or didn’t appreciate and love music, she did. In fact she loved music all the more because she could not herself create or share in the creation of the music herself.

I received my musical education, my “music lessons” from her. These were the lessons about the sight and sound of music, the patterns, the cadence, the mood, and the movement (personally moving) nature of the words in songs (I don’t think she ever used the word “lyrics”). These were not the word terms much less the “terminology” of a formal instruction based on harmony, melody, discordance, treble clefs, and syncopation. But the lessons have served me well nonetheless. One goes with what the environment provides.

This is like a day of singing, a day of live music, a day of bands blaring and waltz music in the evening air. It might be (to me) because it is Nevada Day, a day that I long learned to appreciate as “band day” parades and evening events with LP discs played on spinning record player turntables and amplified through the aid of public address system cone horns mounted on poles in the park. Music is a visual thing, the excitement as the approaching music gets louder or as it gets louder as one approaches a musical pavilion in a park, or the makeshift stage of four-legged chairs and a banjo or two elevated at best by a platform of “two bys” and wood planks.

My great grandfather was a professional musician. He was also a vigilante, a camel driver, and a hero of the west, but that is a story for another day. He was a professional because he was paid to strum and sing. He played at dances and weddings and public days of celebration and at all the other times when it seems like the sound of song is worth a quarter or more. He played alone and with others; different towns, different venues, different stages – he played in a lot of cities that don’t exist anymore and there probably isn’t a building still standing that held the weight of his feet. Music moves on.

In his day music was not recorded. The industry was diffuse and diffused. There were bigger names and smaller names, stars and hits yes, but for a “replay” one would have to find a real musician and hire him or her with money or barter or the currency of friendship, need, or spontaneity. It was thus the airwaves, the valleys, and the hills were filled with… (OK, I won’t say it – but mentally reference a movie).

The collapse of music probably began with piano rolls and the Edison-o-graph. These devices began the trend of the marketability (and marketing) of music by persons with no musical talent themselves who might even have been (or be) totally tone-deaf. It also enabled the censoring of music, there were no “jamming session” improvs on piano rolls and no “music of the Caribbean” on the Edison cylinders. The technology enabled the nationalization of music, the exaltation of God Save the Queen and Old Kentucky Home as acceptable songs as opposed to the old songs of Sweden and of the Irish coast that were sung by the mothers of my mothers to the children of their birth in a time when songs and harmony came from within and without and the lyrics were improvised at home and within the closeland to meet the needs and the mood of the moment.

With no disrespect to Gershwin, Glenn Miller, Buck Owens, Elvis (sightings), or even the Beatles it is fair to say that there was a lot of marketing and packaging involved in the creation of “the music industry” during the 20th Century. Most of the money went to musical “no talents” and not to the musicians themselves, so much for the value of the “middle man” effect.

I grew up in this era of marketed musical monochromism, music without the color of great diversity as the purveyors of payola and profits pried the purse of the American experience open with “Billboard® hits” and “Top Forty®” tempos timed to the patterns of paydays and weekly allowances. “We” (read the collective of applicable generations) were conned, cleverly and willingly conned though it may be. This of course brings up the issue of “old music”.

The notion of old music is brought about by the notion of “new music”, as in “let’s buy some new music”, the operative word being “buy”. The concept is based on the notion that the secret of musical money is based on the notion that if one changes the music machines often enough all the “old music” will not play and one will have to buy all new music (I-Tunes® anyone, buy your MP4® players while they’re hot).

My cousin Cecelia, enough older than me to know better, bought a large collection of 78 RPM (breakable records) during the period of popular transition (circa early to mid 50‘s) to 33 RPM (LP’s) (unbreakable records). She was a music major in college. Her intent (as I remember it) was two-fold, (1) make money on the collectiblity of soon to be rare 78’s; (2) preserve the music that will never be re-released on the new format. She was half right and half wrong. 78’s are now worth $500 a piece, but all the songs from the old 78’s are available on the web as pirate downloads (not). In reality 78’s in pristine condition still sell for less (even in inflation bucks, not real-time money) than she bought them for when the “music was dying”; second, virtually none of her collection or any of her songs ever made it to the web much less the I-Tune® (virtual music) shop. The music died, as in “kill the music before it corrupts the youth and multiplies or brings back memories that conflict with the world view of the “master-minds” of musical prophecy, profits, and taste.

Musical conformity was never my strong suit. Which brings up my Melanie record album and a few dozen more albums of the same or even more esoteric ilk. Let me explain.

I buy (virtually steal, but its all very legal) my music from my local library. They have a “library sale” once a month for a day or two. Record albums (unbreakable LP’s) are a quarter each (25 pence) which has been the going rate to just hear three songs (much less own twelve) ever since they put juke boxes in restaurants more than a “ka jeebers” number of years ago. The really cool thing is that I get the usual twelve, (12!, count em) song tracks for this quarter, less than 2½ cents each (including full color extra-large album covers, lyrics, real cardboard containers, and genuine recyclable baked vinyl from oil fields), “take a bite out of that apple, Steven Jobs”.

At the last sale I coughed up a two dollar bill (or offered two one dollar bills that came to two dollars) and went home with eight albums free and clear (virtually free music, mostly clear sound tracks). I had forgotten how good (and different) analog music really sounds. I had forgotten how important it was to have music that ages (with you, with one) as in grooves that are wearing down as the growing older body is wearing down. “Groovy” music is a prelude to the inevitable process of the progression of age. The “record wrinkles” that carry the music and the memories become wider and deeper, more apparent, there is dust and scratches, each songs sound changes and the change is good. There is no botox for old records, except for the illusion of MP3 players and the ubiquitous I-Pods which seem everywhere (a nation in denial, as if everyone were equipped with digital bodies that will never grow old and never die).

Don McLean wrote something about Chevy’s® (the GM® thing), levees (the post-Katrina thing?), and the “day the music died”. It (the song) has been embraced by a whole new generation that maybe is the one who it was written for (words of the prophets written on the subway walls thing) in the first place. Or maybe it’s just another old anthem of the Boomer past, music that died long ago but just hasn’t been buried yet or is (or should be) “broken” as in the breakable 78’s of Cecelia’s lost and missing music collection.

But before I get too maudlin or cryptic I should get back on track to Melanie and her roller skates in an after-oil metaphor world. The song I like and remember best is Baby Day on her Gather Me album. It wasn’t the White Album and it wasn’t the Stones, maybe that’s the whole point (there’s the Bush and friends (FOB) vision, there’s the rather different Melanie vision) there is a choice. One persons bad songs are another persons great songs. There is no such thing as “good music”, some music is “breakable” and some music is “unbreakable”, that’s all. It’s where the music takes one that matters. As my mother said, “Listen, see. Sing”.

[2007.10.31 / Wednesday – Melanie]

Gun Nut

October 30th, 2007

~ Money buys things.

In another day it will be Halloween, in Nevada it is called Admission Day.

Most states have an admission day, the day when a land and its people move from the second-class status of being a territory of a foreign state to the theoretical advantage of becoming a state of the state. Unlike most states admission day is a really big event in Nevada. The day is a state holiday and the biggest parade of the year is held in Carson City. Traditionally, admission day was also the opening of the gun-hunting season.

“Gun-hunting” is the phenomena that used to be closely related to the “deer hunting”, or “game hunting” season in the days before everyone in America was armed to their teeth with racks upon racks of guns safely locked away in gun safes with child safety locks that are bought by the dozen because they are cheaper by the dozen or more often just sold by the dozen. In Nevada, for a few dollars paid to the state anyone over the age of eight (so much for the safety lock concept) could get a hunting permit (an animal death permit) and go out onto the extremely plentiful wilds of BLM and national forest lands and try to kill things or at least shoot-up bottles, beer cans, rock formations and anything else that seemed to move in the still morning air of a Nevada fall.

The problem was, most eight year olds and even a lot of older Nevadans did not own a gun (the no money thing). With the approach of the fall “bounty-of-the-land” free food season (virtually free food) one would have to go hunting for a gun, “gun-hunting” (the search for borrowing and sharing opportunities), if one wanted to eat reasonably well during the long winter months or wanted just to play “cowboys and soldier”.

I use the words “bounty” and “plentiful” selectively. There were tens of thousands of square miles of BLM and forest lands in Nevada but there were not an especially large number of animals left on these lands, even in the early 1950‘s.

In the early days of guns and America the average hunter could get about twelve feet away from an animal (like a deer) and pull back his flintlock hammer and slowly pull the trigger and the animal would just watch, and at the appropriate moment of impact fall dead, or mostly dead, and the quick thrust of a knife by the “sportsman” would resolve the failings of ammunition. The secret to this early hunting experience was a very naïve and trusting animal population and a great abundance of these animals. The guns and gun nuts of the “early American” period quickly resolved this problem of “trusting and abundance” and it soon became apparent that future hunting would require more guns, and guns with a greater accuracy and firepower.

Colt and Winchester came to the rescue and soon America had Colts® and Winchesters® that could mow down even the most cautious of animals at distances that a one-eyed man could barely see. The animal population of the land declined precipitously needless to say. With less “game” there were less hunting opportunities and fewer people inclined to buy guns.

At the outbreak of the US Civil War Nevada was a sparsely populated, but in anticipation of the war (a gun makers golden opportunity) the area was a newly claimed “territory” of the United States. By 1864 the war had gone sufficiently badly for the “north” (a name fiction that ignores the existence of the vast territorial holdings of the young empire) that the great glut of paper money used to buy union guns, union ammunition, and union draft deferments was becoming worthless. It was a war and debt thing. What to do?

Lincoln and the arms manufacturers (war profiteers) sat down and came up with a plan. Stabilize the currency and the war thing can go on, the union will not have to sue for peace, the election can be won, and the Sherman march to the sea contingency plan can go ahead; “everything will be fine if Nevada‘s gold and silver can back (give credibility) to the collapsing greenback dollar”. The only problem was was that Nevada didn’t have the population required by law for a territory to become a state.

“Not to worry” (or something in a similar vein), said Lincoln. “This is war and damned the Constitution, the war must go on and Nevada will become a state and we will do this thing now” (paraphrasing). The urgency was so great that the entire Nevada constitution was literally telegraphed to Congress so that the vote could proceed before the election. Congress agreed, “damn the Constitutions” (referring to both the federal one and the Nevada one; paraphrasing of course) and Nevada was admitted on October 31st (Halloween) and the election was held a few days later. Lincoln won, the dollar was saved, and the war continued.

So you see that Nevada comes honestly to a tradition of gun awareness and lawlessness; it was a federal and political mandate built into the birth experience of the state. The more Nevada or Nevadans are regressed back to their roots, the more contemptuous of Washington, Washington politics, even all politics they become. It’s a birthright.

The union gave up on Nevada and Nevada’s gold and silver a long time ago. The state was used when it was useful. The complaints are legion starting with the fact that the feds still claim title to, and ownership of, approximately 87% of the land area of the state. Periodically they (these feds) take some of the land from the forest service or BLM to create nuclear testing areas or the ubiquitous “this is forever” nuclear waste dump of the nation (thing). If capitalism and free enterprise is so great why is Nevada still an 87% held colonial territory of the United States one hundred and forty-three (143) years later? Good luck Iraq.

Tomorrow is Halloween and the federal reserve is going to try once again to decide how to save both the union and the greenback dollar. I don’t know if anyone is watching, but even Apple® has decided that the currency is so worthless that they won’t accept it (and they aren’t the first company to do so). This is a clear violation of the promise printed on the Federal Reserve Notes® about dollars being good for all debts, public and private (for you money lovers, “whatever”). Bernecke as Lincoln, it’s a little odd, but it’s Halloween so the costume might fit, or work, or do whatever costumes are supposed to do. The only difference this time is that there isn’t a Nevada anymore to admit to the Union, no gold and no silver lining.

But all is perhaps not lost. Nevada (with a little help from Cheney’s Wyoming) might save the day once again. The feds could “sell off” all the forests and BLM lands of Nevada and Wyoming (including the federal lands in Washington, Oregon, and California if necessary) to the Chinese, Japanese, and all the other greenback holders around the world in a spectacular fit of “save the currency” “shock and awe privatization”. (Category this post under sauces, as in for goose and for gander). Cheney® could even sell the Nevada Test Site® to Iran or North Korea (maybe to a New Iran® and New North Korea®) and solve a multitude of problems. After all, the privatization and corporatization of everything can solve all problems according to the cult of Milton Friedmanism and the “neocons”.

Does Nevada “rock” or what? Or, maybe it’s just a “gun nut” thing. Or maybe Category this post under, “oh no, not the briar patch, please not the briar patch” – because 143 years is a long time to wait for freedom, political or otherwise.

[2007.10.30 / Tuesday – Gun Nut]

Buster Brown was Right

October 29th, 2007

~ Things that go bump in the night and glow in the dark.

Somewhere between learning to read and recess games of marbles there would occasionally arise the topic of shoes, even new shoes (the Emelda Marcos thing). The discussion would somehow emerge because the game of marbles required getting down on ones hands and knees with both knuckles and toes to the ground. The hand-me-down shoes that some of the Carson kids wore (me sometimes) left their toes showing, making shooting marbles more difficult; more for the ridicule than the physical pain.

The solution of course was new shoes, if ones parents could afford to buy them; that was of course the point in the first place. They sold shoes in Carson City, after all it was the Capital of Nevada, even if the population was only 3,000 souls (6,000 soles). But the better shoes, the best shoes, according to the kids who knew came from the Buster Brown® shoe store in Reno a fairly long thirty miles away.

I never knew who “Buster Brown” really was. The corporate logo that borrowed his name and reputation depicted a rather Schwartzeneger type “girlie boy” with bows, long quaffed hair, delicate and structured clothes, a very cute straw hat, and a dog that seemed like an overgrown and wide-eyed pug and bulldog cross. Most kids seemed to be able to get beyond the logo in their quest for shoes. The real appeal of the Buster Brown shoe shop in the early fifties was the in-house X-Ray machine. This marvelous device was ingeniously designed to bring all the fantasy horror themes of Halloween type monster movies together with the relevancy of school science and the Atom bomb into one “kid friendly” learning experience. The parents liked the practical side; the machine allegedly helped them buy shoes that fit their kids feet better.

The kids liked the fact that one could insert their feet under the X-Ray gun while standing on the rubber mat of the machine and look down and see the skeletal bones of ones own toes wiggle. The price was cheap; just pretend to like one pair of the god-awful shoes they offered and the salesperson would invite you over to the machine to “see how they fit”. Then the wiggling could start. Left, right, up and down; dancing skeleton parts of your own body before your own eyes. In the simple life of fifties homogeneity before there was even a Disneyland this was a “kid wonder” early video-game type thing that should never have to stop.

Wiggle, wiggle. Wiggle for ten minutes or an hour if possible on a slow business day. Wiggle ones toes in a timeless world while the radiation poured down from the ray gun; it was a big Wow! It was even bigger when one went back to school in Carson with new Buster Browns® and with tales of wiggles and wiggling.

Eventually, the state decided that these machines might be just a wee bit dangerous for pediatric peds and suggested that the machines be subject to safety standards, be occasionally inspected, and the extent of their use be intelligently monitored. This was all too much for the Buster Brown® company and they decided to pull the machines. This was OK because Disneyland opened soon afterwards and children could get their requisite dose of radiation from watching Mouseketeers® on the cathode ray tubes in the privacy of their own home.

America has always been fairly enamored with radiation and things that glow in the dark. As Boomers, we all grew up with Big Ben® clocks on the tables and Roy Rogers® Timex® watches that had each ticking analog minute marked with the passing of glowing radium arms as they moved past the glow of radium numbers. These “thousand points of light” were mostly hand-painted by women wielding delicate brushes dipped often, day after factory day, in the radium paint of the time factories. The brush tips needed to be kept sharp the supervisors told them, a quality control thing. So the willing workers gently licked the radium tipped points day after day to keep the time pieces of America shining, even at night.

The cancer treatment was never really covered by health care; not that it mattered much. The cancer was almost always fatal in time; a time that could be slowly marked by the passing of radium numbers even if the pain couldn’t be. Eventually government got intelligently involved and stopped the whole thing, but most consumers were never told the truth of the matter and just complained about the clocks going dark until these ever present time pieces started being replaced by electrified ones.

Meanwhile on the test site battlefields of Nevada other experiments were going on to test how much radiation really was harmful to the men and women of America and the world. Bombs of various designs and magnitudes would be detonated after “volunteer” troops were positioned in trenches under the projected heliosphere of the bomb. The radiation would rain down as the molten desert sand would turn to an imperfect glass. The question was how soon after such an ordeal could America’s warriors recover and move on. Not infrequently these soldiers would sit in their trenches at the moment of blast and watch their buddies turn to skeletons. A few minutes later things would return to “normal” as these troops realized that their Halloween type vision was a radiation thing, not an instant death thing. Later of course, they too would sue for the damage done on these fateful days of their youth and innocent zeal, this time they would sue the very government that had intervened to save the radium workers years earlier. Go figure.

What made me reflect on all these recollections of youth was an article syndication in today’s newspaper from the South Florida Sun-Sentinel regarding the CT (CAT) scan thing in America. These are profitable machines. They have all the attractive appeal of the Buster Brown Shoe® store machine, except they are bigger and mostly better. The good news is ones whole body can fit into the machine, not just the feet anymore. The bad news is that one is not supposed to wiggle, wiggling distorts the image and one might have to “re-up” for another experimental nuclear shot (I mean scan).

It seems that some 70 to 80 million scans per year are performed on Americans. Each scan involves a dose of rads (radiation) that is 150 to 250 times the dose of a single typical chest X-Ray. It seems that the resulting cancer from these radiological visual investigations kill over 3,000 Americans per year, a number equal to the entire population of my home town of Carson City and more people in number than nine-one-one (911), and this is from nuclear radiation (the alleged dirty terrorist bomb thing that Portland drilled for last week).

Before I ask the question about “enemy’s and us”, I should point out that we allegedly nuked Hiroshima and Nagasaki to “save lives”, maybe it was just X-Raying for nuclear medicine. Maybe it was just the Halloween wiggling skeleton thing. Maybe we will find out later like the Koreans in Hiroshima did, the Japanese in Nagasaki did, the women at Big Ben® did, and the GI’s of the Nevada deserts did. Or maybe we should put “homeland security” onto the nuclear threat caused by their own GE® (CT) machines placed in our own airports (how many people do they scan, irradiate, each year and who are they?). Do you feel better about flying now? File this under wolves and henhouse category.

I can smell the denials already. Just about every one of the most powerful forces in America are on the same page for this one: GE® , Homeland Security®, The Pentagon®, the Feds and State government regulators, the medical establishment, the media with their intensely radioactive broadcast towers, the nuclear power industry. But, if radiation is so good for people why can’t Iran “grow their own” and why the dirty bomb paranoia? When the “so-called experts” start denying everything, remember to look at the dial of your analog watch and remember the radium women workers.

When I was young, only Nevada had gambling and nuclear tests. Now it seems, the nuclear / gambling thing is everywhere. Does Nevada “rock” or what? Maybe not. Maybe it’s just about shoes and the passing of time. Maybe Buster Brown was right.

[2007.10.29 / Monday – Buster Brown was Right]

The Web Dogs

October 26th, 2007

~ The Web Dogs and the Dogs of War – Woof, Woof.

Some posts are longer, some are shorter. This one is to be on the shorter side, like shorter dogs. The “dog thing” is often a metaphor for the state of life; “going to the dogs”, or “a dog’s life”. Actually the quality of a dogs life has improved remarkably over the past twenty years in much of America with the emergence of the “X’er dog” generation. This is the new generation of “grand-dogs” that are grown and coddled by a newer generation of humans that is a bit adverse to both marriage and families (as in the traditional family thing with kids and multigenerational dinner table conversations).

Actually the X’er generation is the biggest and richest generation in American history. As a rule they think that the “Boomers” are the biggest and richest, its like the Californians in the 1970’s that still thought the center of power and population was still resident in New York State. It was nostalgia, not reality (except for the stock market and media “ghost power” thing).

But this isn’t about skirmishing in the generational war (thing). As Yoko said, “Wars Over”, As Bush said, “the cold war is over”, because we have the new hot ones all over everywhere. “Hot Wars!”, “Hot Wars!”, “Get your hot wars now.”, he sounds like a huckster from the streets of the lower east side – but wait, he is from the streets of the lower east side (south and east) of America.

Dogs. No, not Bush, Shar-pei’s. The Shar-pei is the ultimate fad dog, maybe the ultimate dog. It is both cute and unique. It has all those wondrous folds, folds upon folds upon folds of fur and skin and wondrous dog. I always wanted a Shar-pei, but I had a child so I didn’t need to offer a “grand-dog” to expectant parents (the last-gen grand-parents). And I didn’t need a dog, it’s the “tongue and nose thing”, or the “yapping thing”, or the “feed the hungry, not dogs thing” – it’s why both dogs and cigarettes are not welcome in restaurants, other customers are bothered (as in their whole restaurant experience is ruined and there are also the health issues).

I digress. My thought is that the Shar-pei is a metaphor for good writing, folds and folds and folds. A point is made and it dips into new territory (perhaps invested with skin, dead hair, and fleas; or do I mean infested, is a dog an investment or an infestment?) and then reemerges with another new “high point” that is merely a restatement of the earlier point. It’s the sales thing strategy, tell everything three times. It’s the debate thing, tell everything three times. It’s the advertising thing, tell everything three times. You get my drift. An academic or a philosopher would characterize my point as the “three mounds of Shar-pei fur axiom”; good writing is dependent upon telling and retelling and keeping it cute or unique, or cute and unique. Woof.

[10.26.2007 / FridayWeb Dogs]

Random Stuff

October 26th, 2007

~ Dogs, Afghanistan, Egypt, and the President Cleveland.

As if most American’s don’t have enough predisposition to hate the Moslem (World if Islam) World, including a disposition toward most Afghans, I offer this observation about dogs. In traditional Afghan culture dogs are considered the lowest of the low, they are dirty. One of the biggest insults is to state that one is “very doggy” (like a dog).

Dogs are not as low as pigs however, an animal that is of no dietary benefit because of its filth and therefore of no economic benefit from its habits, which includes conspicuous gluttony and a propensity to easily go wild and thereby become very aggressive and mean (even murderous).

Dogs are on a par with camels. They are dirty, ungainly, ugly, but utilitarian. Camel drivers are not unlike the mule skinners of the American teamster tradition. Their lot in life is hard, but without them there would be no exchange of goods and food across the reaches of the world. In each case success was (is) firmly rooted in an ability to flaunt social values and customs in order to spend a life dedicated to understanding and working with the despised creatures of Gods creation, or in the case of mules, perhaps mans creation but equally despised.

Dogs in Afghanistan are tolerated because they are utilitarian, they bite and bark and thus they warn and guard. They will easily die to protect their wards. They are selfless in their life of dirt and toil and scant food and the ever present assault of the sticks and stones of children that seek to demonstrate their parents and their parents social, if not religious, values.

Afghan Hounds are not considered dogs in Afghanistan, they are “human”. They are neither dirty nor ungainly, in their intelligence and speed they can outrun even the gazelles which they overtake and then topple by running beneath and through their legs. The claim is that these hounds are the oldest of dogs, first bread in Egypt, they partnered with man for his comfort, companionship, and uplifting. The best bloodlines were vested in the domain of the King and passed through on occasion to the care of his ministers. It was from a ministers hound from which my family received the “not a dog” that became the family dog near the end of our stay in Afghanistan.

“Sheila”, a very ancient and not uncommon Afghan name, was very unlike the British bred Afghan Hounds that were descended from the hounds smuggled out of the country in the days of the British occupation and protectorate. An excess of home island dog shows and misguided values turned these “Brit Hounds” into a dog that had few of the characteristics and charms that it took three thousand years of breeding and companionship to create. On casual observation they looked almost the same, but were really a “false flag” version of the real treasure of Afghan culture.

Sheila continually confounded our family in her behavior. She just would never behave like we expected a dog to behave. There had been many family dogs before of various breeds, and neighbors dogs, and neighborhood dogs too. She (Sheila) had the requisite teeth, tongue, and tail of true dogs but even these were not “doglike”. The fur was more akin to hair or once matted, thick wool. Physically and emotionally she was very high maintenance. Her preferred and necessary “dog food” was an exotic combination of local bread, ground sheep organs, salt, and a few esoteric ingredients of which even I was never sure, mixed and baked for the requisite time. She preferred the meal warm. She would not eat the concoction if the salt were omitted.

When we left Afghanistan and the bread and mutton and moved to Korea Sheila almost starved to death adjusting to a new and foreign diet. Neither wet or dry factory food would do. Our Korean maid was not amenable to cooking dog food and could never see beyond the tail and teeth to the human side of things. Life was hard enough without dog / humans from Afghanistan. Sheila became anorexic.

Her cruise across the Pacific on the President Cleveland improved things. It was probably the salt air. After the sea voyage she boarded south of Gilroy, near the San Juan Bautista Mission and slowly adjusted to accepting California cuisine and the company of “doggy dogs” that were less than human, but did after all offer a modicum of companionship during the incarceration period of kennel life. Prison can occasionally reform people, even apparently anorexic females, and once she flew back to Korea with us (steerage class in the aircraft hold) she shaped up her eating habits and gobbled down the occasional USOM Club hamburger (provided it was properly salted) like the best of humans or dogs. She was becoming Americanized.

The kennel quarters on the Cleveland were, I believe, in the base of the false stacks of the ship. The false stacks were those overbuilt contrivances on ocean liners that made them look like ocean liners, the Titanic had four, the Cleveland I remember as three. The neat thing about these stacks was that within them it was always night, one could see the stars and starlight through the narrow openings above even during the sunlit day. This shipboard feature helped star reckoning if the compasses, ships radars, and radio telemetry went bad. It also provided Sheila with a more romantic cruise touch than even the best of the first class passengers for all their money and pampering could enjoy.

Except for the Cleveland Sheila was annoyed and bored by travel. It was uncomfortable and it exhausted her. The plane trips, except when she first left Afghanistan, were (as mentioned) steerage. The car trips were better, the head and tongue out the window thing that she learned about from kennel dogs while in prison. It was probably more defiance and “being bad” than an effort at air intake. I may be wrong. It might have been as close to speed, independence, and Gazelle hunting as a native Afghan Hound in America would ever get. It may have evoked memories of a life now lost in a land now forever past where only the stir of ancestral memories can bring meaning to life.

She died in her late forties or early fifties as measured in dog years. “Without issue” as measured in the phraseology of the subcontinent near her birth. The “Brit Hounds” would continue to dominate the Afghan category of American dog shows. But then even that is only fair, they are dogs, Sheila was human. Her progeny were fittingly “no shows”.

[2007.10.26 FridayRandom Stuff]

Terms of Endearment (aka: Use)

October 25th, 2007

NOTE:  If you’re looking for the “List of Americans in Afghanistan” and Google sent you HERE, you should really go Here.

~ The How’s and Why’s of this WWWebsite (Blogsight).

“After you’ve had cataracts vision is not just a metaphor.”

I’ve never been big on creeds, pledges, dogmas, oaths, or loyalty oaths. That is, except for the two that I learned when I was five, “Home Means Nevada”, and “Home On the Range”. In “Home Means Nevada” the promises seemed simple enough, they were about land and water: “Home means Nevada (Nevada means snow-capped), home means the hills, home means the sage and the pine; out by the Truckee (or Carson) silvery rills, out where the sun always shines; there is the land that I love the best, fairer than all I can see; right in the heart of the Golden West, home means Nevada to me.” The “Home On the Range” lyrics (statement of loyalty and faith) added things about the animal world: “Oh give me a home where the Buffalo roam, where the deer and the antelope play, where seldom is heard a discouraging word, and the skies are not cloudy all day.“ In hind sight these two songs represented an “oath to nature” with the implicit understanding that if nature were well, then the people too would be well, and with well people there could manifest a well world and from within this reality one might find a personally accessible universe.

Neither song (oath) talks of log cabins, brick houses, or model homes as “home”, the message is not of stone or electric hearths, relatives or relations, or lots or plots on the right side of town or of the figurative or literal railroad tracks. Home is implicitly connected to “heart” (love the best) and the heart is connected to the land and the creatures up and on (upon) it. It’s a red, blue, brown, and green approach to life and the earth.

Westerners traditionally viewed themselves as freed prisoners, or maybe as reformed drunks (the AA thing), they mostly came from the east, the south, or Asia; the lands of the abyss where souls were bought and sold by an uncaring state or within the mercantile holes of the various versions of the company store. In the “West” agreements were based on handshakes, truth conquered all, and even suckers were given an even break as a matter of personal honor. Wrongs were easily forgiven and bygones remained bygones. All the ills of life could be attributed to “backsliding easterners” who had “fallen off the wagon”, the very symbolic wheels of temperance or of the equally symbolic wheel of life. In the Rotary Club (ROTA meaning wheel) creed this spirit is captured by the question, “Is it fair to all concerned?” Nevada was held to be always “fairer” than all I could see. The implication being that the innate fairness of life, while inherent, might remain beyond the range of normal ken, it might to many or to most remain hidden.

Nevada was substantially founded on hard rock mining; caves, shafts, and tunnels. The mine experience is not unlike the Kiva of the Southwest, the oppressive rains of new or old England, or the cave world experience of Mesoamerican culture. All, and many others, are based on the “enlightenment” that comes from emerging from a dark place, world, or age. In this process, both the world and the person are meaningfully reinvented if not substantially reborn into a “new birth of freedom”, wonder, strength, and possibility.

Somehow, you are probably thinking, this has something to do with cataracts.

But before I continue, I offer the observation (not original or unique to me) that the planet’s present course and reality is troubling. As a people we are at a point of crisis and peril. The status quo, quite simply, cannot continue. Changes upon changes are afoot. It is the time when the world experience will change from the old order of complexity to a new world dominated by the notion of a rapidly increasing truth-based simplicity. The times they are a changing. This message is not a test.

There are different visions regarding the new reality. Some envision the simplicity of an authoritarian elite, some foresee the freedom of simplistic excess and abandon, others wish for the success of a purely scientific techno state, and still others wish for the wrath of a vengeful God.

These might be seen as the dreaded “discouraging words” (seldom heard). I see things differently. I believe in the inherent capacity of people to change (when they need to change) and to remain steadfast (when the need is steadfast). I believe in growth, the real growth that is personal and of personality. I believe in the possibility of not just a better world, but of a “good world”. These are the terms of endearment and the terms of use that govern this electronic (post nine-one-one) window to the world.

In days past I would have written and posted long and complex legalistic “contracts” governing content and “fair use”. Now, I do not believe there is the need, or the time, to worry about such things. The “bad guys” might “be bad”, if so “My® bad”. The rest of you are probably honorary Westerners already, a virtual handshake will do, and I wish you the best and God-Speed in your decisions. Attributions, asking, and links are a good thing.

Beyond my beliefs, I have “opinions” about, and may offer “observations” concerning many things (the walrus said). In this endeavor there is always an implied intent to stimulate individual thought, but no intent to cause concern or harm. If you feel the possibility of injury, tell me. In most sincere cases I will either retract or explain. But remember, I am an ageing Boomer, perhaps subject to various lapses of memory, good judgment, and patience. Mine is a quest for understanding, not justice. I may very well make mistakes, and may even at times be mistaken; or at least I may be poorly or wrongly understood, thus bespeaks the poverty of both the written word and of language.

Blindness is a poverty of vision, not of words. To communicate insight, the web requires a certain amount of “outsight”, even if it involves the occasional surgical solution. While somewhat painful, and not without complications, the cataract surgery was an unfathomable success. After two years of an ever increasing darkness, I now see true colors and a new light, but me thinks it‘s more than surgery and plastic. Yeah Kiva.

[2007.10.25 / Thursday – Terms of Endearment]

Better Homes and Gardens

October 24th, 2007

~ The Season of the witch (fire) and for what it’s worth.

“There is something happening here. What it is isn’t exactly clear.” “So strange. You have to pick up every stitch.”

So California is burning (again). Not really, California is really a very large place, it’s South California that is burning. Well, if the truth be known, it’s mostly San Diego County (a very large county as counties go) that’s burning. Been there, done that. But before you jump to too many false conclusions, let me explain just a little.

San Diego County is where America really began, long before Jamestown and the English, in the days of Cabrillo and in the days of very small sailing ships driven by strong winds and adventurous men. Years later Junipero Serra (not just a freeway name) started the first California Mission in Mission Valley, a few miles upstream from the mosquitoes and riparian refuge that was Mission Bay. He built a few fireproof structures of adobe, planted a garden, and thanked God for this new “Heaven on Earth”.

As the years passed more ships came and the community grew, with it Old Town and the legend of Ramona. A little later (as time goes) Kit Carson brought the Mormon Battalion to the county just in time to prevail at the battle of San Pasqual and ensure that the Bear Revolt would be over and California would go union (be annexed to the USA instead of being an independent republic).

So we set the site for the fires. Actually however, there is also a middle history. First the stages brought people to San Diego, then after the war (US Civil War) the railroads. It was the railroad, the Santa Fe, that brought my grandfather (Guy) to San Diego about 1907. He was a carpenter, hired to build train depots in the rapidly opening suburban communities of California and South California (southern California, So Cal). He married a bright young girl (Hemme) from Kansas and soon left the railroad and the railroad depot subcontractor to build houses, to build houses in San Diego. His first was a very modest effort on a plot of land now occupied by the Naval Hospital (downtown).

As the years and wars passed he built houses on Coronado Island and in other areas on the outskirts of San Diego (like where the PSA jet would later crash) not far from Lindberg Field, where Charles Lindberg actually started his long flight to Paris (France not Hilton). In those days the San Diego Union was edited by Forrest Warren, a “fellow” Kansan. Hemme had run a newspaper in Arizona during the war (WWI), so Mr. Warren allowed many of her articles and other offerings to be published. Some of these boosted Kansas, others boosted San Diego and the business community.

San Diego always had a “boom and bust” real estate cycle. Speculators would poor in, buy land and sell lots and move out. Jobs would then become scarce and people couldn’t work to live or live to work. The ones that stayed often had to plant gardens next to their California cottages to eat. This was easy enough in the fertile hills and valleys of San Diego for San Diego was blessed with both good earth and the best climate under the sun, this side of heaven.

The next boom was promoted by the civic leaders with the “Heaven On Earth” campaign. The campaign extolled the sun, the surf, the soil, the navy base, the superior local “air mindedness” (airplane and flying stuff), and the wondrous health advantages of the whole San Diego area. The civic campaign succeeded in that it caused lots to be sold and even a few houses. But, it was still the depression and it was the bungalow gardens that kept people fed between and during their day jobs. Pearl Harbor changed everything. The naval base boomed, aircraft factories went up like bats out of hell, workers poured in on the trains, there was an acute housing shortage, and the town was soon hopping and mostly happy once people realized that German bombers were not really going to attack the city from secret bases in Mexico.

A people who are without a history are without a future. The “modern” San Diego that has emerged since the sixties and Vietnam is very different than the community of Junipero Serra and even the later days of the Panama Pacific Exposition. San Diego in earlier times was never “rich” and entitled, it was the hopeful but humble home of emigrants from the Midwest and blue-collar assembly line workers who were often women. It was then like a suburban coastal city in China is now. San Diego was not just another gigantic retirement community and San Diego was not burning.

Some have compared the San Diego firestorms of 2003 and of 2007 to the Katrina disaster. I disagree. Arlo Guthrie sang about the City of New Orleans disappearing from the metaphorical “railroad news” (“15 cars and 15 restless riders”). He never sang a song about San Diego, the fifth richest city in America. New Orleans was poor and minority, most of San Diego is rich and white. The average house in San Diego is worth $500,000, a very great many are valued at a million or two. San Diego has an allegedly superior government that can even “reverse 911” call most all the houses and most all the people. But there seems a revealing statistical hitch in this otherwise seamless stitch of this once seemingly heaven sent San Diego fabric.

On the third day of the fire the government reported that a little over six million dollars had been spent fighting the fires. On this same day this same government reported that at least 650 homes and 100 businesses had been destroyed. The media did not do the math for us. The media did not properly inform us that the value of property destruction was close to 750 million dollars (at least) and that the governments of San Diego spent only 8 / 10ths of a cent (.8 cents) to prevent every dollar of property loss.

This .8 cents does not include the costs of the evacuation of 500,000 people (two days average at $200 per day income loss/per diem cost would be $500 million). The three day fire toll has created an economic and property loss of well over one billion dollars. Government apparently spent a paltry ½ cent to prevent each dollar of loss.

Before we explore who will pay for the $994 million dollar fire deficit we should note another interesting governmental statistic revealed by the fire.

According to First Coast News at noon (citing government sources) on Tuesday 274,000 houses were “reverse 911” called resulting in 300,000 people being evacuated in the mandatory evacuation. This clearly communicates that in the fire areas of San Diego there are only one and one tenth person per household. A later statistic suggested that 346,000 houses were called resulting in 516,000 people being evacuated. In this case there is only 1½ person per San Diego household. It appears that most of the SD homes usually have only one to two people living in each home. If a home in San Diego has three people living in it, the home next door is statistically empty.

No wonder there is a mortgage crisis in America. It appears that half the homes in San Diego are vacant. Or it appears that the government is not good at compiling and reporting statistics. Or it appears that the wealth and lifestyle in San Diego may be so far removed from that of the rest of America that the mind boggles (or should boggle). Why go to Qualcomm center when one can go to an empty house across town if one could just borrow the keys. In any case, it is clear that the media is incapable of asking good questions or reporting good answers in the face of a shockcastrophy.

San Diego County has a population of about 3 million with 1.2 million houses and .4 million apartments (with an average of three people per unit). A billion dollar loss, equally shared on the basis of homes is only about $665 per home. If the “extra, vacant houses” are owned by investors from China or France, then these investors can pay the $665 per house fire cost. As an alternative each three person San Diego household can pay the $1,000 per household for apartment dwellers and $665 per household for homeowners in special assessment fire costs.

The third solution would call for a San Diego bailout in the form of an insurance industry national rate increase. This way, everyone in America can share equally in the pain and cost for San Diego’s unprotected and frequently fire ravaged subdivisions and estates where there is apparently almost one house for each girl and half a house for each boy (or the reverse). Or finally, San Diego can do the FEMA thing and add the disaster costs to the ka-zillion dollar national debt so that there won’t be even enough money to payback the next-gen its Social Security contributions.

Maybe Cabrillo could have just sailed on past San Diego and never written in his ships log (ships blog?). Maybe Junipero Serra was right when he built structures with fireproof adobe walls and foot thick adobe roofs. Maybe the expectation that each house in San Diego would be protected by a green space for a garden plot of edibles was a good idea. Or maybe the person that blogged in about a national fleet of Martin Mars water bombers at the ready on a secret base in Colorado was on the right track, (maybe even super-Martins from Venus designed by Intel® and Air-Bus® to fly through both cyberstorms and heavy Santa Ana winds). America could meet the challenge or at least could buy product from a country that can.

It is obligatory to say that the firefighters have done a great job, the volunteers were wonderful, the clean-up crews were heroic, the insurance agents patient, the shelters clean and well-run, and that the donations are still (thank God or thank Bush) tax deductible. All hearts go out to the good people that lost their homes. It is probably still morning in America, somewhere, at least in TV lala land. May that Cinderella (a metaphor for San Diego and its people) be swept away from her cinder past and the evil witch fire by Halloween Eve as she is pulled in her pumpkin carriage toward the future by the eight proverbial white horses (the things people write to increase the likelihood of random Google® hits).

But closer to reality, San Diego is a city far removed from Disneyland®, Fantasyland®, and the cheap thrill rides of Magic Mountain®. Real people should not be expected to plan for and insure for a four year cycle of firestorms as predictable as a coming presidential campaign. The fires are not acts of nature, they are (according to reports) acts of a failing electrical grid and poorly built cars. Regardless of how they start the fires spread because of the practices of builders, sub dividers, mortgage companies, insurers, and the governments own land use and permit process. The winds are a given, not a cause (or an excuse, Hello!).

San Diego is not alone in entertaining policies and practices that “play with fire” as if a devastating fire were nothing more nor less than a media event with the rush and excitement of talking heads, video loops, and “breaking news” banners. Perhaps Smokey the Bear (now Smokey T. Bear) was right, “only you can prevent wildfires”. The answer is better homes, more thoughtful communities, and maybe making room for a hundred thousand more vegetable gardens. It can happen.

[2007.10.24 / Wednesday – Better Homes and Gardens]

The Happy Baker

October 6th, 2007

The Happy Baker

~ Food as a metaphor on a hungry planet.

The first post in a new blog should probably provide some type of explanation or perspective as to what the web page is about, or where it might be going, unless of course both the title and the graphics of the web page make both points abundantly clear.  Hopefully “Qala Bist” is not a term that elicits much of any image, much less a strong image, in the mind of most of those that cruise the web.  If it does, the juxtaposition of “Qala Bist” and “apple pie” is designed to sufficiently and immediately quash any preconceived image that might be associated with the ruined city that is located somewhere in the southern deserts of Afghanistan, or its symbolic and attendant arch.

It is by this mental convergence of the exotic, the ancient, and the unknown; with both images of culinary delight and the known; and spiced with a hint of mystery and danger that hopefully tempts ones mental palette to venture with tongue and senses where one has not mentally gone before.  This web page is not designed to be the “Big Mac® and fries” type offering for the mentally hungry of the world or of the websphere.  Bland and corporate fare are not on the menu of this site.

What then, is on the menu?

To answer the question of menu, one should know something about the chef, the cook, or in this case the metaphorical “happy baker”.  It is the person of “food prep” that is the ingredient most often missing in the usually uninspired American corporate fare.  When was the name or person of the “cook” or “baker” at McDonald’s® or Starbucks® ever presented to you.  Of course not, the food is “pre-cooked” and “assembled” in the corporate house, where the purpose and the point is anonymity, the creation of a soulless food where always absent is the “missing ingredient”, that of personality and individuality.  In the corporate reality the apple pie is baked without the figurative “mom”, the food fare is made by machines or by unnamed and underpaid persons trying desperately to both work and to be like machines.

My name is Donald, no “Mc” and no “Duck”.  It is a wonder that I can even use my own name in a world where “Donald®” is a very legal “intellectual property” possibility.  I have lived in Afghanistan. I have been to Qala Bist.  I eat apple pie and am aware that it is often a metaphor for everything American, with or without the presence or appendage of “mom”.  I have eaten apple pie in Afghanistan where I have also observed bald eagles fly (the real ones) though they are seen there more as scavengers as they are not the Afghan national bird.  If Benjamin Franklin’s views on the subject had prevailed the turkey would be the national bird and we would probably breed and eat bald eagles for holiday fare.

I have eaten fresh turkey for the holidays in Afghanistan, Ben Franklin not withstanding, although the bird I ate was not native and had to imported by a DC-3 aircraft (alive in a crate) from, I believe, India.

By now you may be beginning to have a fairly clear idea of what this blogsite is all about.  It is about ideas.  It is about what may be considered in many cases as “new ideas”, even “new thinking” – original in spirit and inherently creative and diverse in nature.  Often, these new ideas may probably not be new at all, they may be nothing less than old ideas from the past that have been too long buried under the dust and sands of time and empire.

My overall thesis is simple.  Simply stated, I believe that we are in a struggle for the “hearts and minds” of the planet.  The mind part consists primarily of “ideas”, images, and the thought associations and correlations that go with them.  I contend that when compared to the expansion of “scientific” terminology and a varied imagistic vocabulary the word growth of “philosophy and faith” has languished, leading to a linguistic and ideational poverty on the planet.  The solution is equally simple, the philosophers and faithers have to “cook up” about as many new words as the scientists and corporations have “cooked up” in the past thirty or so years. These must be good and everyday words, not just “misto-weirdo” “babel words” from the radical fringe of experience.

The words must convey clear ideational concepts that are relevant to the experiences of the planets population as this population encounters the encroachments of corporatism and conformity, centralization and consolidation, uniforms and uniformity.  Further, the words and associated ideational concepts must be presented within the context of real stories from real “everyday” people, stories that replace and challenge the “media stories” and “media scripts” that dominate and preoccupy so many among the population of America and the population of the planet.

By now you have probably come to realize that “Donald as baker” (and writer) has a rather serious, maybe heavy, even political side.  What I must remember during such periods of apparently dark writing is the old adage, “remember the light and the light will remember you”.  Random, unexpected, deep and juxtaposed; welcome to Qala  Join the party!

Turkey dinner in Carson City, Nevada - November 1953

Photograph of Holiday turkey circa 1953 in Carson City, Nevada.  The person in the center of the picture is Kenneth Clayton.  The person on his left (your right) is his younger brother Donald Clayton (meaning “me”).  The table under the white tablecloth is solid teak, shipped by Fred W. Clayton from Burma.  It is a ping-pong table in size.

DC-3 over Kabul, Afghanistan - Afghanistan stamp circa 1958, printed in Great Britain

Reproduction of the image of a five Af. stamp.  The engraving shows a DC-3 passenger plane flying over Kabul.  The postage stamp was printed in London, by Waterlow and Sons, Limited.

 [First posted:  2007.10.06 / Saturday – The Happy Baker]

Qala Bist Website – Heading

October 1st, 2007

“There has never been a civilization built on irrigation that has lasted any appreciable time.” ~ Warren A. Beck

But I think it was Judy Collins that sang, “who knows where the time goes”.

It was in a coffee house where I had tea, or in a tea house where I wished for the smell of good coffee, or maybe it was somewhere else with a glass of wine, or perhaps water; it was probably long ago but it seems like only yesterday that I was conversing with friends  about future things, about the past, and about the present…

Note:  The above text has been the “masthead” for Qala Bist dot com since October of 2007.  However it was a graphic, so the words were not searchable via Google or other search engines.  On October 11, 2009 this omission has been corrected.