Headline Ooze

November 30th, 2007

~ Real reporting takes vision, ooze just takes pores.

Medical offices these days seem to always have TV’s; which is OK perhaps, a ‘sign of wealth’ as they are. The problem is that these television sets are often on, left on and on and on. The noise and flashing lights makes it ‘hard to think at all’; if one is used to thinking, or likes to think.

Soaps are better than ‘news’, the soaps don’t pretend to be real or to be connected to reality. The news shows do; they pretend; they pretend that everyone in America (in the world) (or almost everyone) doesn’t know that these ‘news broadcasts’ are totally scripted, even the ‘breaking’ parts. What we watch (if we watch) is ‘broken news’, apparently unfixable, totally disposable. Let’s move on.

I don’t watch television (anymore), I never watch the news, the news media, the mainstream news media circus. I don’t “subscribe” to the cable and satellite view on the world, or to their “services”, ‘funeral services’ as they might best be called or viewed or regarded if they are to be meaningfully regarded at all. The channels are a ‘death watch’ on or in America, which is why TV’s were originally placed in the parlors of the family home (where wakes were held).

I was scheduled into the office by the doctors, the doctors of eyes, to see how my new ‘bionic eyes’ were doing; after the operation and all (“all” meaning time passed and complications possible). They were happy; happy eyes and happy doctors and happy technicians too. “Good healing.” “Small Incisions.” “No infection.” “Twenties and more twenties, or twenty something’s.” These are the good words one wants to hear in offices such as these, the ‘good offices’ of the medical world, department of ‘eyes’ and ‘ayes’ when the ‘ayes’ have it and the ‘old eyes’ or at least old lenses have had it (passed as they are, into the past).

The big lens on the wall, in the corner, was on while I waited for the verdict (written above). Television was once promoted as a ‘lens on the world’, ‘through the camera lens’ they said. Now most people see the lens as a ‘screen’ (and rightly so), something that ‘screens things’ that keeps the reality of the great outdoors from ever coming in. A weave and a warp that tries to make the world artificially nice but really just makes it artificial. Everyone must open the door sometimes, even the ‘screen door’ and face the cold or hot hard reality outside.

I had forgotten how ridicules and insipid television and television news could be. It was even worse than when I left it (and the companies that purvey the crud) a few years ago; it was even worse than it was a month ago when I saw it for the first time following my last eye operation. Things were not always so, or perhaps until now or recently (being a few years or two, or four) I was always blind; it is the “Amazing Grace” metaphor perhaps.

With bionic eyes one sees clearly almost always, the exception is the ‘ooze’. Eye ooze is the something that seems to pour out of the pores near ones eyes, the stuff that cleans and lubricates. Tears wash things away. Ooze is the heavy lifting stuff, the cleanser and the cleanings left behind; waiting to be washed or picked or rubbed away so ‘clear eyes’ and ‘clear vision’ might again be had.

Because of the differences in focal length between old lenses and post cataract surgery ‘monolenses’ the ooze distorts and blurs vision more with the ‘new eyes’ than with the ‘old eyes’. Where in the past one might not be particularly bothered by ooze blurred vision, the plastic (and fantastic elastic) eyes accentuate the distortion, making it properly more noticeable.

There was always the ‘ooze factor’ in television, the ‘evening news report’ had often become the ‘evening ooze’ with little rapport and little to report. So Ted Turner (the billboard guy) decided to rent (and build) a house and put cameras in his basement and ‘put on’ news twenty-four hours a day 365 days a year with an extra day on leap year even.

I watched the ‘launch’ of CNN (The Cable News Network®) live on television, I believe it was in late November or early December of 1980. I was living (appropriately) on the Oregon coast in Warrenton, just south of Astoria and north of Seaside. Astoria was the site of the very first cable TV system in America, even in the world. They called it “community antenna” TV back then (CATV). Portland (Oregon) had many TV stations in the early fifties (many being five or seven or something). The “coast”, where the Pacific Ocean meets the Columbia and where Lewis and Clark first met the Pacific Ocean is on the other side of the “Coast Range”, a certain height of mountains that effectively blocks TV signals even when there is the highest of towers.

TV signals are mostly ‘straight line’ things, they can’t flow around turns in the river like water can, so the signals couldn’t “dump” in the ocean and along the coast like the river did. Which was too bad since people lived in Astoria, liked and wanted TV, and this was helped by the fact that happy Portlanders often vacationed in and near Seaside to enjoy the seaside (which was really the ‘ocean side’ since the Pacific is not a ‘sea’ at all). The good people of Portland had rapidly become used to TV and weren’t ready to take a vacation away from it. What to do?

During the war (WW II) the entire defense of the Pacific Northwest relied on a long cable that was towed by winches across the mouth of the Columbia between Astoria and the fort on the other side (being the Washington side). It was a small diameter and rather ridicules cable, but the Japanese Imperial Fleet and the local spies (if there were any) never seemed to know this so never sailed up the Columbia to win the war for Japan.

Local Astorians did know about the cable, hearing the winches clank and chug at night (and all) so they decided that maybe a cable could be laid all the way to Portland (or at least to the mountain tops) and they could have TV. Engineers and radio engineers soon came to the task, poles were placed, and the wire cable hung. With more wires being strewn and scattered about Astoria and Seaside and the reaches in-between the cable TV industry was born. Salesmen signed up subscribers and installers installed them (being the customers who were installed or at least were made to pay ‘installment’ type payments, never-ending). People soon called it “pay TV”, some didn’t like it much, “free TV” was better (they thought).

There was nothing ever ‘free’ about Turner’s Network, but it was spectacular. The first shuttle launch live coverage made his day and the days for CNN.

Inspired by CNN; I had always loved the news and watching it; I went to work for a cable television company a month or two after the launch (the first launch or the second) in California. Gil Cable® was centered in San Jose (California), started by a man named “Gilliland”, which was easy for me to remember because I once had a girlfriend by that name, ‘Barbara Gilliland’ (was hers). She was a nice girl, her parents were nice, or nice to me too. The name was the same, the families different.

I worked for Gil as a street grunt, a ‘cable guy’, an order gopher for Rick Mulbeck (as I believe his name was spelled) the sales manager. He was the kind of guy that built cable TV in America. He was a compliment to Mr. ’G’. I learned a lot about cable and cable companies and the way they did and do business. Much of it wasn’t great, it was the money thing. It was commonly known that to own a cable franchise was, “a license to print money.”

I was with Gil for the launch of MTV (one of the first companies to carry the network), met the gang, heard their pitch pitching “V-Jays” and other new fangled concepts such as video-clipped songs and song segments, voice dub-overs and lip synching (maybe lips sinking with the music). The MTV people had high hopes for their future as a part of the American “wasteland of television”. They were right.

Then came Headline News, another day another launch; networks if not rockets to the stars. It was hard to explain the difference between CNN and CNN Headline News® to the free TV folks. Attention span and sound bites was and were the real difference. CNN required a little intelligence (then); Headline News required almost none; it was a “no-brainer” (for people with few or no functioning grey cells). Turner was fast learning that the power of news was “entertainment”. “No one wants to ‘know’,” he probably thought, “They just want to be entertained, to be distracted from reality, not to know about it (about reality that is).” About this time he married “Barbarella®”, a girl once with spine and conscience known to some as “Hanoi Jane”, daughter of the legendary Henry Fonda, sister of Peter Fonda who stared in “Easy Rider”. Go figure. Was she a ‘sell out’, I don’t know; maybe she’s rich and happy and sends care packages to Biafra or Dafar.

Jane’s efforts didn’t end the war (in Vietnam) and if she made efforts they didn’t save the news. Turner sold it of course, took his billions and ran; leaving only ooze behind; the gleanings of America. I can now safely say I regret my each and every day spent selling and promoting cable TV in America (and now throughout the world). Community programming and channels were a part of the early promise. That part is clearly dead. Disconnect the channel boxes and the attached TV’s and screens and America could save enough energy to be free from foreign oil (or almost free). Fluorescent bulbs are small potatoes by comparison (tell your Sierra Club ‘new patent, more money, bulb salesperson’ that). But who wants to be ‘free’ when there’s “Headline Ooze” 24/7. Say Goodnight, Walter. Goodnight America, I hope someone’s watching.

Post Script: For those interested in total accuracy one should Google the topic of the history of cable TV. My version goes from the Seattle rebroadcast beginnings to the ‘sold system’ of the founder, minced by a few historical innovations accomplished by later system owners. The ‘official sites’ tend to be ‘gung ho’, about the industry, evidence I believe of the fact that they haven’t watched much Headline News lately.

[2007.11.30 / Friday – Headline Ooze]

Go with Goldwater

November 29th, 2007

~ AU H2O, New York, Phoenix, and Quito all over again.

1964 was a big year in America, Nevada, and the world. And in my life too. It was the last year of silver currency, the year of the Nevada Bicentennial celebration, the first year of the New York World’s Fair. I rest my case. It was also an election year; Johnson versus Goldwater or Goldwater versus Johnson, Barry versus Lyndon, gold versus the Texas sun (or ‘son’ I guess).

I was political then, way back then in my first life, in my political life when I was ‘political’; before I was struck by lightening and came to my senses (what does it take Mr. Clayton, before you see the light, to make you come to your senses?). It didn’t really take lightening (a literal and real bolt from the blue) to make me give up on politics and the notion of political answers, political solutions. By the mid-nineties it was gone, mostly gone. I actually ‘deregistered’ to vote, “Take my name off the list, send me nothing, expunge my name, it’s my right in a free country.” The clerk agreed, and did; but this was a decade or so ago. I don’t know about now, maybe it’s too late, “Hitler” needs you and your vote to create the illusion of legitimacy. It can happen here.

I liked Barry, he was Jewish and my best friend, David Kladney, was Jewish (although David didn’t like Goldwater, being a good democrat and all). But more important than David and religion was the family tie. My grandmother taught Master Barry Goldwater in school once, admittedly she was the substitute that day, that day in Phoenix, Arizona at Phoenix High School where Barry was freshman class president or something grand.

Hemme was a school teacher (licensed and credentialed and all, not like in Texas usually) in Arizona and in Phoenix where she lived, with her husband and with my mother. I still have the yearbook from that year, Barry’s portrait and all, with the big and imposing ad for Goldwater’s Department Store; the place where Barry’s Dad worked and which he owned. The place where Hemme window shopped and my mother wished to shop, but couldn’t for the prices.

Despite all this the Goldwater’s were a good and respected family; in Phoenix, in those days. Barry had some sort of falling out with Phoenix High, or his father perhaps; ended up at a military school ‘back east’ somewhere (it’s in his autobiography, the school’s name that is, not the fallout or the falling out). This led to more military, air force and all; everything LBJ didn’t have and lacked, having virtually no ‘military’ experience. He (LBJ) would make up for that void in Vietnam of course.

It’s probably a bad idea to vote for or support someone because they’re ‘family friends’, or you might have met them, shaken their hands, said hello one day, attended the same school. But people do this, it’s politics, it’s why politicians shake hands and say hello and try to meet people by the thousands, even tens of thousands. It doesn’t win elections necessarily, but it helps.

The early days of the campaign, New Hampshire days and snowy New England nights, were spent by Barry campaigning against the Republican frontrunner Nelson Rockefeller. Nelson was rich like Johnson, even richer. It was about ‘big oil’ bucks, and Rockettes (if not Rockets), and about the center of all New York, Rockefeller Center. Nelson didn’t mind about Barry, he knew all New Yorkers were New Yorkers first and Jewish second; New York being the center of the world, the only place that counts, or should be counted.

Barry was from the West, the western states from where there had never been a president; where New Yorkers and big city capitalists were held in suspicion if not contempt. It started with the railroads perhaps, Union Pacific and mergers and stock trades and interference in mines and with mining. Land grabs, stock grabs, water wars, swindles, Tea Pot Dome scandals; every hard knock of life in the West (to knowing westerners) could be properly laid upon the doorstep of some New Yorker, or some New York Corporation; or some New York cabal, conspiracy, or New York Syndicate.

Occasionally the west fought back, sending a native or borrowed son ‘back east’ to back a worthy enterprise or cause. Astor was one, building a good hotel and all, even a better barrio along the river; though few of Spanish surname lived there at the time. Mackay was another, ‘kicking the butt’ of Gould for awhile in championing the trans-Atlantic cable service and moving on to Mackay Radio® which revolutionized ‘wireless’ wires around the world. Mackay was a miner, a Nevada miner in the early days, he kept his money in the State mostly, not buying and building San Francisco like other “Nevadans” did, in their rush to become ‘Californiaized’.

Barry’s first slogan was, “A Choice Not an Echo”. He saw the Rockefeller – Johnson race as a “tweedle dum, tweedle dee” contest. Same old, same old. Old power, old practices, old people, old generations acting ‘oldly’; as in old ways of thinking, if they thought at all. Who wants a new ‘Rockefeller Center’ in Washington, when there’s already an old one in New York? In Barry’s mind the issue was ‘Choice’, Goldwater was the pro-choice candidate of the Republican Party.

I went to Ecuador that summer, while waiting to get my driver license. It seemed the thing to do, being neighborly, as an older neighbor by the name of Hardesty had suggested the trip. I paid all my own way from newspaper money (from my newspaper ‘route’, some route indeed). Hardesty had other things on his mind besides Inca gold and high thoughts inspired by the high Andes. The trip was cut short and soon I was back in Miami (Miami Beach in Florida) after a long flight over Cuba, alone, waiting for a bus back home or somewhere. I decided to ‘see the fair’ on my way back. It involved a detour of sorts, a ‘triangle fare’ as the airlines later called it. The bus companies just called it ‘tickets’ (or ‘tickets to ride’).

So I bussed up toward New York to see Flushing Meadows and the New York World’s Fair, and to ride a subway or two. On my stop in Washington I watched the convention on TV, Goldwater and the west winning, New York on the ropes, Rockefeller down for the count it seemed. I rode into the ‘big apple’ like a proud westerner, free at last and vindicated; gold had won, even if it wasn’t upearthed from Incan graves in the Andes.

The story of the fair and the trip home must wait for another day, but I did return home just in time to see Barry (Goldwater) speak from the steps of the old brick Municipal Auditorium in Reno. I was close, but I did not shake his hand, too young to vote as I was. However, I was not too young to campaign and to campaign with zeal and with vigor. I passed out campaign material in poor black neighborhoods (called Negro Neighborhoods then), talked to folk, shook their hands. I implanted signs along the highways. I plastered my (new to me) 1952 MG TD with bumper stickers; “AU H2O in ’64” and “In Your Heart You Know He’s Right” type slogans in two hundred point something type.

I finagled a rare copy of the 45RPM “Go With Goldwater” song and played it on my record player. Peter, Paul, and Mary songs were better, but they all seemed to favor the simple truth and honesty of the Goldwater campaign and of Barry Goldwater himself, son of a Phoenix merchant, done good.

As the fall came, the commercial came. It was a TV commercial, it only played once. It showed a girl in a field of flowers picking daisies. There was no sound. Then there was a terrifying flash in the background, and a mushroom cloud, then something about vote for LBJ. In a flash it was over, shock and awe campaign tactics, Johnson played the fear card and Johnson won.

There is much that can be said, much that can be read, much that can be written to explain and to revisit the presidential campaign of Barry Goldwater. Those whom he most deplored have since claimed him as their own. And he was changed, forever changed by the day of the cloud (on his name) and the commercial cloud and the resulting loss. He wrote stupid things later in life, even behaved stupidly, he had lost himself it seems, or had at least lost the vision that toppled New York and gave America a choice about going into Vietnam, with a leader who didn’t know crap about war, wars, or military campaigns.

So Johnson brought drugs to America, brought poverty, brought addiction. He championed Civil Rights on paper, but took it away out the back door in caskets. He divided America’s families right down the middle, and waged war on the middle class. He insured a Nixon victory by his pomposity, incompetence, and his greed. He was cruel to animals (the ever frequent doggie ear lift thing, to “hear them yelp”).

When (or if) you see the ‘flash’ and the mushroom cloud, remember Barry. Remember that there is a choice and that fear is not the answer. Remember the alternatives from Texas or New York and count the bodies in your mind (and name them, or give them names), someone will, and if you don’t someone else will for you. Go With Goldwater? Think about it next time, he or she might be a political long shot, but it’s probably the only ‘shot’ you’ll ever get.

[2007.11.29 / Thursday – Go With Goldwater]


November 29th, 2007

~ In Waco, and other places, or maybe its ‘whacko’.

It was when I was in Korea that I had a friend from Waco, more of a ‘classmate’ really. The guy was a bit strange, military bearing, or military family, or both. There’s a base there in Waco; and it’s Texas. I was never sure whether he was ‘from Waco‘ ‘the Base’, or from Waco ‘the city’. I guess if one says that they’re ‘from Waco‘ it doesn’t matter.

I don’t think that I get credit for inventing the term “Wacko from Waco“, even if it was 1962 or there abouts when I first said it. Maybe I borrowed the term, I’m sure the term was borrowed; borrowed as things are from an ancient Lexicon of things, and places even (the better dictionaries have both).

I’m sure there are many good and nice people that live in Waco (and in Texas); who are ‘from there’, were even ‘born there’. But in America it’s easy to malign people and places and people by the places from which they are from. It’s “like breathing out, and breathing in”; as natural as life itself.

I was born in Reno; Reno, Nevada as you may have figured out from earlier posts. I lived there too. Everyone I ever met (or almost everyone) knew all about Reno (and Nevada), even though they had never lived there, never had even been there. It was the original “sin city” (they thought), full of “evil gambling” (they thought), in the desert where it’s hot and never snows (they thought) (this was before the promotion and popularization of the ski industry).

The worst part was the ‘divorce’ thing. Reno, the divorce capital of the world.” It didn’t help much that it was also the place where “fast and cheap” blood free marriages (actually ‘blood test’ free marriages) could be and were performed hourly or even much more often on a daily basis for residents that didn’t even live there (meaning didn’t even have real residency in the city or the state). The Court House asked for an ID (sometimes), the wedding chapels almost never.

I guess my old home town was just a hotbed of sin, sex, depravity, and sedition; in a very hot and dry state, though notably a very ‘wet’ one in the ‘wet and dry’ state of things. In the sixties Ian and Sylvia fueled the fire of this fair (or unfair) frenzy by recording their song (song lyrics) “It’s a Long Long Way Down to Reno Nevada”.

It hurt. Buck up Waco, at least there’s no mainstream song about you. There are songs however about “being stuck in Lodi (again)”, and Fresno never gets an even break, even from Toyota® (they just don’t, can’t, or won’t stop).

Chicago and New York are towns that ‘fight back’. They know their national and international reputations; crime, gangs, mafia, corruption, political corruption, drugs, death, and did I say debauchery. But their sons and daughters sing songs about “Chicago, My Home Town”, and “Broadway, My Way, Make It Anywhere”. It’s bullshit of course, but this is Reno talking. Been there, done that; it’s time to move on (maybe literally, maybe now).

The reason for this rant (or wisdom) (there’s always a reason) is that I saw a show last night, “American Gangster”, not a Broadway Show (the strike and all, is it really over, where’s the fat lady?), but a ‘movie show’ as they were often called when I was young. A ‘Hollywood Movie’, lest we forget that movies are made a lot of other places now, and I don’t mean just the ‘filmed in’ aspect (or is it really just ‘aspic’). “They Say” it is a ‘four star (4 star)’ movie. I think not, “Harvey”, with James Stewart is a four star movie, or maybe a nine star movie in a four star movie world. Sometimes things don’t just ‘get better all the time’, sometimes things ‘crash and burn’; as in the movies, as in markets, as in the ‘among’ of the bigger things in life.

The movie was the typical fare of gratuitous sex and gratuitous violence and gratuitous moral decay. It was a gratuitous movie that was certainly not gratis in the ticket price and should be ‘persona non gratis’ in America, though it’s good for foreign audiences to see, so they might want to ‘buy American’ for the holidays and all; learn about New York; learn about Hillary and the “Big ‘J’” (Rudy Giuliani) (or is he really the “Big Jay” as in the bigbird, jaybird ‘bad’ from New York City (New York Bad, as in ‘Islam-a-Bad”, meaning “my home town”).

It’s a reoccurring theme in America and in these posts, the question, “Why live in the past when one can experience the same thing in the present?” Who’s the hero (or heroine, the ‘e’ matters) out there today that will stop the military aircraft, open the coffins, assert local control for the good, expose the fakirs, and just say ‘no’ to a million free dollars? Opportunity knocks, go for it, maybe it’s not just a movie anymore.

I was in Trader Joe’s® yesterday, doing the family shopping, picking up inexpensive morsels worth eating if one needs to eat. There was a nice ‘thirty something’ guy, doing the shopping with his cart and two kids in tow. One was in the basket (seat) and the other was (still) walking. We passed several times going in opposite directions down the aisles. Then we met again, as I passed him as I was moving toward the garbanzo beans (chick peas to those from Waco). He was talking to his daughter, “Do you want me to Whack You?” He was being conversational, not loud. “Maybe I should just whack you around a bit,” he said. “Would you like me to whack you around?” “Maybe it would be good if I whacked you around.”

I wanted to accost him, at least interfere, intervene, speak up or speak out; stop this thing going on in the sacred isles of food and shelter in even the better places of America (being Trader Joe’s® and all). But then I realized that if I did he would find an attorney to protect him, to find fault with me, to ruin my life, or to try and ruin my life for my effort at involvement; a case would ensue, my life (and his) tied up for years until the eventual Pyrrhic Victory would be won or lost, and nothing would matter anymore except for the time and dollars wasted. Why isn’t “Pyrrhic” in my spell-check?

Then I realized that he was just ‘an American’. Like the President, and Congress, and like in the movies we resolve things by “whacking”. Whack at Iraq, Whack at the Islamists, Whack at Iran, Whack at Peace, Whack in war, Whack the forests, Whack your neighbors light bulbs, Whack the China products, Whack civil rights and civil liberties. Whack, Whack, Whack. Why not whack your own child a time or two; the president does it, doesn’t he?

The movies love “whacking”. People are whacked off by bullets, whacked off by fists, whacked off by making the whack off movies. It’s gratuitous, but it isn’t free. It’s back to Waco, for one last time, fires and tanks again maybe, children and Wacko’s, and it was Janet Reno (maybe the Reno thing again, for me ‘no’). I decided a long time ago not to waste my time with modern movies, Hollywood style (I should not waver). More will be inclined to watch and whack than to ‘act out’ the hero/heroine roll, against their better nature. “Sheep or Wolves?” asked the trailer for yet another pathetic film. America chose ‘wolf’ a long long time ago, pack wolves, in wolf packs. Cry wolf now; or maybe run. Or get a ‘wolf axe’ from Pakistan, like they used to carry on the Troika’s in winter, in Russia, and places where it snows. They’re at the door. The wolves are real. And this time they mean to eat you, alive, even in the aisles at Trader Joe’s®.

[2007.11.29 / Thursday – Wacko]

Web Words

November 28th, 2007

~ Full disclosure on the road of writing.

This is not an Ode to Jack Kerouac but his words might be apropos to the idea of the moment when he described people, “who never yawn or say a commonplace thing, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pip and everyone goes ‘Awww!’ ”

I never read anything of Jean-Louis Kerouac, never a novel, never anything until I just found this quote and now have found a friend.

I never cared for novels, for much of my life I never cared for reading much, much less for writing. There was an exception or two, like when I was in second grade and rewrote the entire text of Horton Hears a Who (by Seuss). My version was probably better, and not bad as I slowly typed it out, on pounded key after key on my older brother’s old Olivetti typewriter. My teacher was not impressed, my mother was; which is why people have ‘mom’s’.

She sent the transcript to her mother, who read it I suppose, and filed it away among lost papers, the point being that ‘they’re lost’. But I did read, and early (and often). I read the daily paper, daily. I read magazines like Life® and Look®. I read a smattering of ‘children’s books’ in the family library, hand me downs mostly from the more prosperous and more hopeful days of my pre-war and ‘of war’ brothers. It was an older edition of the Book of Knowledge® (encyclopedia) that I loved and read the most. It had wondrous articles about topics like, “Why it’s impossible for man to ever actually fly to the moon”.

When I was twelve or something, living in Korea, the American Dependent Schools system had a reading program that required a certain number of books to be read by each student at each grade level. My eighth grade assignment was (a modest) 15 books. Unfortunately, the assignment came in mid-year; there was no reprieve for this ex post facto reading list. Promotion was dependant upon completing the book reading. My summer was busy as I struggled to stay up with my classmates, faster or more clever readers than I.

The problem was that I didn’t read just to complete assignments, just to fulfill ‘book lists’. I read things based on the look of covers, what the last page said, what the copyright date was; objective criteria, a fast indexing to things; a discredited and distained approach to books and reading according to the ‘real readers’ and my many ‘teachers’.

A Mouse That Roared captured my attention, and the sequel too. And then there was the large and ponderous book about Andersonville and the Copperheads in the Civil War, heady and heavy stuff (this is not “Andersonville” the novel, which is rather lightweight and insipid). By August I had my 15 books and my certificate under my belt or upon my wall. I had learned something. I had learned that I fairly hated ‘books’ and ‘book learning’, at least when it was ‘force fed’; certificates dangling like carrots with the stick of retention and detention jabbing to the backside. It was back to the daily Stars and Stripes and Korean Times newspapers and the finer point type of Risk® instruction sheets.

I don’t know when I realized that ‘the best writers’, who also were often from the best reading bunch were often not such good speakers. These good people had a way with words on paper, but not with the oral way of words. This made no sense to me. Anyone can have a conversation, even a good conversation. Public speaking is just a larger conversation, with more people, a larger audience. Conversations require not just weaving words, but listening; a talent also required in being a good public speaker. One listens to an audience (and not just during question time) or one has nothing to say. ‘Stump Speeches’ are always just that, dead wood, trees gone, no life and no shade.

By High School I had eschewed the reading and writing world for the world of speech (and debate). I still had to read (for research) and write (the speeches), but it was a different kind of writing; it was writing to persuade or to inform, not to just ‘entertain’. Good readers often said that, in disparagement of movies and of television. “My entertainment is reading, reading books,” they said, or such was often said; nose and head to the sky and in or toward ivory towers of parsimony.

In my Freshman year of college I revisited writing, English 101 being a requirement of course (a course of requirement). I strived to ‘creative writing’ in a rebellion against the ‘theme’ style favored by the prospectus in the course description. Heavy weather this, but ‘college isn’t for everyone’, so one might as well draw the lines early and let the sands blow where they may.

The sands blew well that day. The ‘prof’ was amenable, and started giving me a pointer or two, the better use of quotes, the finer points of expletatives in punctuation. After a seeming hundred schools scattered across the globe, east and west, French and American, military and free; all with strict disciplinarians all teaching different rules, all their own way, I was lost, ‘and beat’ (as Jack might say). My grade was an ‘A’ of course, but by kindness, not conformity.

The next summer I was at Stanford (the ‘Junior University’ as opposed to the ‘Junior College’ thing). The idea was born by the school’s name, “Leland Stanford Junior University”, a comma might have helped, but there are rules to grammar it is said, so no. I enrolled in a ‘creative writing’ class. It was the summer of ‘67 (1967), Summer of Love (in San Francisco) and fall of the Monterey Pops Festival (in Monterey, California) and all. Creative times I thought, and I was told.

At first I wrote freely. We would meet in the classroom in the Quad, and then at random locations from La Honda to the beach and points in-between. Talk was of Kerouac, Ferlinghetti, and Ken Kesey of course. People of whom I had never read and never knew and were not then friends of mine. I was at a disadvantage. Maybe it was that I was from Nevada, or Afghanistan, or somewhere in between. Or maybe it was that I read dictionaries, and newspapers, and magazines, and old encyclopedias for ‘fun’ or entertainment, and not novels or novellas or Broadway plays.

The graduate assistant teaching the course would each day read someone’s submission, several submissions at a time from several students. His favorites of course, from female students of course, at first of course. By mid-term he finally read one of mine. The rebuke was scathing. Of course there were a few nice words, ‘damned by faint praise’ as I was, as it were, in front of the girls and all (and the other boys too). I licked my wounds and decided to try and formulate what it was I wanted to say and how. Summer debate was another class, but old habits die hard.

A few days later it was all very clear. “People should write,” I explained, “Like they talk, like they talk in real conversations with real people.” “In sentences, and in sentence fragments and with run-on sentences.” “There should be interruptions, changes of tone and mood, interjections everywhere as people do when they try and pry their way into a thought or try to redirect the conversation elsewhere.”

It is like magazine writing in magazines, I went on. It’s not like the articles when they are piled up next to typewriters in script or transcript form, before the galleys and the ads and all. Writing is like reading, there are no clean pages, just text and counter-text, other articles and ads simultaneously vying for ones attention and thoughts, changing in their content with each turn of the page. Continued on…, and on perhaps; or somehow lost in translation or in transition between page 23 and the proposed continuance on page 76.

Who are these ‘writers’ who have never read a newspaper, never seen the presses whir or picked up a bale of text and thrown it up and onto a truck in the early light of morn? Who are these ‘writers’ that did not learn from the life of speech and talking and talking to people and listening to the din of crowds and public address systems and the rants of politicians before or after ‘pay day’? Who are they that have never learned a new language on foreign streets and not in language labs or from professors learned standing in front of lecterns wearing dresses or ties with white piping or dark brown pipes?

I got a ‘C’ in the course at Stanford, which is Stanfordese for “Crap”. A good friend of mine, Marly Swick got through the Stanford writing thing, eventually earning her Master’s. She’s all properly educated and all, and quite the writer it is said by some. I liked Marly, and I like her stuff. It’s good, but different, as different as Stanford might allow.

I guess hidden somewhere between the commas, the gerunds, the participial phrases, and the endless hours of diagrams and diagramming I might have found my ‘A’, my scarlet letter of success; proof positive of my willingness to adopt, adapt, and read proper things, properly. Too much the barrio I guess, or maybe the bazaars were to blame. Good luck and best of all good wishes Marly; and I mean that.

As for me, I write for the web in web times. The old rules are gone with blogs and text messaging and all; with ‘voices from the ghetto’, from the barrio, with voices from the bazaars and even all the hooches of and in Asia. Web writing is different, it does not involve an Editor hanging figuratively (or literally) over ones head, it is the algorithms and the newest of algorithms that are boss in the world of search engines and hits (and hits that count for “Hits”). It’s been forty years and forty years and more in the coming; but I think I’ve got it now, “By Jove, I’ve got it. By Jove, I think she’s got it. The rain in Spain stays mainly…”

“On the plane.” On Broadway it is probably ‘the plain’, which is why Kerouac was headed west, leaving the east. The sky’s the limit, blue sky seen from an earthly base. From the lofty spider’s eyes the earth is blue and brown with white clouds and sparkling nights, but spiders have more eyes and can probably see things with or in greater dimensions.

Thank you Jean-Louis, and I never knew you. You’re on the ‘to do’ list for next week reading perhaps. Maybe I did learn something at Stanford after all, maybe I learned (in a backhand sort of way) to write. Anyway, I thought you should know, disclosure and all. But it still comes back to this one simple reality, “If you can read this, thank a teacher. If you can’t read this, thank a teacher.”

[2007.11.28 / Wednesday – Web Words]

Meteor Crater

November 26th, 2007

~ Inflation in a depression on the way to Annapolis.

Annapolis is a pretty little port, a pretty little port town. It’s very Colonial and all. It’s the capital of Maryland, land of Spiro Agnew, the Vice President guy that made everybody afraid to seek to impeach President Nixon. As fate had it, it was OK to impeach because Spiro had it first; big troubles that is, in Maryland. He resigned and the road was clear to undo Nixon. Sometimes one just has to have faith.

There are nice little eateries in Annapolis, the crab cakes are good; made from blue crabs, or at least the innards of blue crabs, one doesn’t eat the shell, the visible body of the crab. One must dig around with special forks, or just smash the thing to get at the meat of the matter. The smashing approach means picking out a lot of shell fragments, some are always left in the crab cakes, for crunch and texture ones told by the nice little Inn owners. I’m not so sure.

Annapolis is that old ‘stones throw’ just east of Washington, once one gets beyond Silver Springs. Annapolis is like Chinhae in Korea, it is a naval port, ships and history, site of the national naval academy, boys in blue with white hats in the air upon graduation. It’s festive stuff in summer, in winter Annapolis is much colder; thick brick was the order of the day in old Annapolis, and warm fires.

It’s a long way from Annapolis to Meteor Crater, in northern Arizona. The crater is on the ‘Roadrunner Route’ across the Southwest, through the saguaro cactus, with a ‘left turn at Albuquerque’ to Santa Fe or Socorro depending on the direction and direction of winds; Beep, Beep. The crater is on the south side of the street (old hometown road Route 66) and still on the south side of Interstate 40. One can see the crater, at least a part of this great depression from the road, if one is watching the signs (or for the signs).

After Spiro left, Ford was Vice President. After Nixon resigned, Rockefeller (“I never want to be Vice-President of anything”) was Vice President (of the United States thing, or maybe VP of nothing in his own mind.). Google® it, it’s all true. There wasn’t too much left when Ford (he really was from Michigan) and Rockefeller (potentate of Albany® and New York, New York) left office. That’s when Carter came in, a naval guy, he knew Annapolis (Annapolis was a friend of his (or “mine”)).

The economy went way south under Carter’s watch, inflation and all, soaring oil and all. There were long lines at the pump, sand and sediment in fuel tanks as it was sucked up from the bottom of empty gas tanks at the stations and refinery tanks at the tank farms. Tanks everywhere it seemed, all full of Saudi sand and the detritus of a ‘sucked up’ time at the bottom of the last of the ‘sucked up’ energy flow. The debris in the tanks slowed things down a bit, both on and off the road. The question soon became, “can there be inflation in a depression?”

All the wizened old Economists, refighting the last economic war, insisted that it was impossible to have ‘inflation in a depression’, therefore they cited the existence of ‘inflation’ as evidence that the nation could not move to a ‘depression’. It was about this time that “interdisciplinary majors” were becoming popular in America; English and Philosophy might work, Economics and Accounting maybe. The nation was still not ready for the big ones, like Economics and Engineering perhaps.

From an engineering perspective….

I pause for a moment to state that I could assume that if one reads these posts at all that one reads from the bottom up, being the bloggers way of things, as designed by the stewards of blog themes and templates. On the other hand, intuition and training leads to reading top down. Railroad schedules were always written for efficiency; go south, top down; go north, ‘bottoms up’. The intent behind this blog is that it is written to be read in either direction, as you know I generally like railroads (when they’re on tracks, on track, even if the schedules are not always exactly reliable).

From the perspective of one raised in engineering the economists were of course all wrong and wrong headed. Or maybe they were just all from New York or the east and had never traveled much, never saw things through hot car windows on windy days with dust and the desert sands blowing around. Maybe they never saw the sky explode, meteoroids and meteorites fall from the sky, or the holes made when big bombs and big rocks go bump against the earth. The economists seemed not to understand ‘depressions’ and what might cause them at all.

And the same might be said for the topic of inflation. Inflation is caused by hot air, expanding gasses. It doesn’t matter whether its from heaters, politicians, or pundits. The ‘hot air’ creates ‘bubble economies’ big balloons that go ‘pop’ or deflate at parade’s end, and other balloons that simple float away, above the clouds to places around the world, in eighty days or more or not.

I was eager (your honor) in those days to make a case for my theory (really a perspective). I thought it would be nice to rent a hot air balloon, trailer it to Arizona, and inflate it (with the gas blast of hot air) in the bottom of Meteor Crater. I would then climb to the rim and take a picture (a photograph even) that was worthy of the front page of the Wall Street Journal®.

I pitched the idea to various friends. They knew I was short of cash which meant that with the pump prices and all I was also short on gas and Arizona was a long way from the realities of coastal California; regardless of how ‘right’ I might be or how ‘cool’ the picture would be. And (then) nobody had any idea of where to get a hot air balloon unless it was the old leaky one from the back lots of Hollywood, circa 1958 or something.

Now it’s easier to imagine, with the web and all; with google earth® and all. One could make a few phone calls and quickly arrange a holiday ‘mass ascension’ as they call it in Albuquerque these days. Thousands of brightly lit balloons could be slowly filled in the crater’s fallow, soon to be full with inflation and inflated air (airs), cell phone cams recording every minute of the mass spectacle of ‘inflation in a depression’. The video clips could be posted on a thousand web sites; and maybe then the economists sitting in their ivory or steel towers of New York could see, could finally see, and get the picture.

I think that this site in northern Arizona would be a better site for tomorrow’s meeting of middle eastern nations, if they are looking for peace. It’s in the desert, like the home countries are. There is a rock there someplace, that fell from the sky like there is in Mecca (the Saudi’s would be happy). The site is ‘shock & awe’ (really bigtime) so Iraq, Bush, and Lebanon would feel at home. It looks like a nuclear crater, Israel can be happy. There’s nothing there and not much left so the Palestinians would feel at home. The metaphor goes on, but you get the drift already.

So why Annapolis. It’s probably about ports and port and ships that go bump in the night, anchored as they are, metal against metal (or mettle). Or maybe it’s the location (location, location, and location), the ‘real estate’ angle, the ‘stone’s throw’ angle and the direction east (not west) of Washington. Or maybe it’s more about Agnew and the coming up of a New York President (take your pick, it doesn’t matter, it’s just “New York, New York in double ‘o’ eight”. Or just say, “No New York, New York Election” (a catchy bumper sticker no, just do it).

Anyway, it may be a day for the history books. Big bang, or little whimper. Great Expectations and all, Dickens for the holiday. I love November; because it’s not December yet.

[2007.11.26 / Monday – Meteor Crater]


November 25th, 2007

~ Auto-check off; spelling rants in the age of disinformation.

My father was an engineer. He was trained as an engineer. He was educated to be an engineer. He wanted me to become an engineer. I passed. Which is to say that I passed on being an engineer.

The reason I passed on the possibility and potential of a career in engineering is that I grew up in a world fairly dominated by engineering, my father’s world and to a large degree (though not degreed) my mother’s world. She held her own in both math and math theory and in drafting and design. She could do all the equations and calculations, run a transit, toe a line, and do the rest of the field work if necessary; although not quite as fast, but in other fields she was clearly faster.

What I learned early in life was that engineers think differently than other people do. They often see things differently. They see different problems in the same situation and see different solutions to the problems that other people see. My world as a child required the constant “double take”. First I would see things my way, then I would view things as an engineer.

This might be best illustrated by a little story. Just after I met my wife, but before she was my wife she suggested that we go for a Sunday drive, to see the fall colors; with the intention of course being to get to know each other better. I made the case for a drive along the Carson River where a hundred or a thousand years of cottonwoods lined the large stream in the brilliant hues of yellow and orange and light that only cottonwoods at their height may offer. She agreed.

As we passed along the river’s road and along the trees I offered the observation that if the trees were removed the river would be much larger. It’s an observation that an engineer might make; the issue of water resources and all, civil engineering and water conservation. I explained that cottonwoods are extravagant in their consumption of water. I explained how my father once trebled the flow of an irrigation ditch by suggesting the removal of the adjacent cottonwoods.

“But then there would be no fall colors.”, my would be wife wisely observed. “That too.”, I said, still doing double takes on life.

When the river road led to the dam she should have perhaps known it was time to turn the car around and find a new ‘boy’ with a ‘better perspective’ on fall drives, romance, and other relative things or things relative. The dam was an earth fill dam, faced with raw rock, it too had the colors of fall. It was an old dam, very old as it were in the scheme of the Bureau of Reclamation histories. It was the first dam, the first dam after the Newland’s project (named for Nevada Senator Newland) began; began to dam the river’s of the west and then (in imitation) the rivers of the world to create ‘new lands’ in ‘dead’ deserts and in ‘new cities’ fueled by water resources piped in from afar.

“My great grandfather once owned the first house ever submerged by a Bureau of Reclamation project.”, I observed. “It was this dam that caused the lake you see, that flooded the ‘big bend’ (of the Carson) and sank the cabin from where Mark Twain tried to swim the river as described in his first novel (or tale) “Roughing It”. My great grandfather was there that day, that’s when he owned the cabin. He sold long before they damned the river.”

I probably then went on a bit, noting the look of puzzlement on her face, trying to explain that almost all rivers end in dams or at the site of dams with often only trickles of water left behind (or left to go on beyond the dam) in a withering and often dieing channel where once even more cottonwoods once grew and animals flourished and farms rose. I began to move on to my story, my families story, about the Owen’s Valley, Mono Lake, and the building of Los Angeles.

“We’re visiting a dam?”, she asked, though it wasn’t really a question. It was an indictment of sorts. This was not the ride that she had envisioned in her mind, these were not her fall colors; they were more mine. Already she realized that she could never look again at cottonwoods along a river in the same light, or light of fall. One day, one ride, and the world was already changing; it was the ‘engineering’ thing at work.

I was always dubious about the notion of engineers designing and programming computers. Reread the above if you don’t see why. My father had toured the first Univac machine just after it had been set up in southern California, he was invited because he was an engineer. Later my brother Ken was hired by IBM (because he was an engineer) to program the first mainframe for the State of Nevada, a police computer.

“It’s faster than a slide rule” was not his only thought after witnessing the Univac in operation. There was also the issue of energy consumption and space, buildings and allocation of resources; civil engineering issues if one were a good civil engineer. He later concluded that an abacus in the right hands (skilled and learned hands endowed with ancient learning) might by faster than the Univac, or better in its answers.

Of course I could have begun this post by simply saying that I turned off my “Auto Correct(r)” designed by some clueless Microsoft engineer, inexperienced in life and romance and fall colors and all. I could have just said it isn’t working, because it doesn’t work, because it assumes too much, as engineers are often wont to assume too much; trained and educated as they are. I hope my posts are better now. I hope that “Champagne” can stay in a glass and not be moved to a river by an engineer (“Champaign” in the world of AutoCorrect(r)). But in the process I’ve lost my cute little, clean little, copyright ‘c”s, and registered ‘r”s, and the quotes look funny, being just straight, without the colorful slant to things.

It’s the ‘packaging’ thing, “bundling”. Like the ‘packages of loans’ created by the mortgage lending gurus. One gets the good and the bad all mixed together. Cleaning up requires throwing out the baby with the bathwater. It rains on everybody, and even historical houses are submerged in the rising waters of dams and floods and damn floods.

“There are no boats on the lake.” my lady observed as we began to leave the Lahontan Reservoir. It’s a desert, said I. “And Congress does not consider the Carson to be a ‘navigable river’.” Perhaps some things never change, or perhaps everything will return to as it was. In either case, Warren A. Beck (see the blog frontispiece, actually the ‘frontispice’ (or pica) portion) is probably right; which means we perhaps need to start changing things before all the time changes and things change faster and more unpredictably than in a world with Auto Correct(R) on.

[2007.11.25 / Sunday – Ranse]

Euro Bells

November 24th, 2007

~ Be happy, stay happy; it’s ‘Christmas Time in the Cities’.

In America the Christmas (winter holiday) Season begins somewhere between the fourth of July and Thanksgiving. Once the shopping and merchandizing began only after Thanksgiving, but there has been in recent times a major ‘rollback’ in the ‘rollout’. What ‘sleigh bells’ (jingle bells) may have to do with July is an open question, what ‘holiday purchasing’ has to do with Christmas is also an open question; unless it is the question of ‘buying holidays’, especially the holidays that were never supposed to be put on ‘sale’.

It appears that this year Black Friday went red, as in the red ink that was once a day of black ink for the retailers of America. A large part of America seems to be slowing down; down energy, down money, down time, down shopping (or is it ‘done shopping’?). Or maybe it’s the bells, sleigh bells, that are not yet done. “Are you listening?”

I was listening to the radio on Thanksgiving Day, virtually not a store open thank God. One day is still ‘blue’ in a ‘green’ world (blue law closings versus greenback buying). The problem is that nobody is buying the greenback anymore; it’s almost good for nothing some say, given the US debt and debt and debt. Even the oil nations don’t want it, although the fibered bills are good for sopping up oil spilled upon the beaches. It is the Euro that rings true (or a good bit more true), and is now the economic bellwether.

The ‘radio guy’ was sharp. He searched through and previewed (pre-listened to) 450 records to find the 14 that he would play for his show. Thoughtful, and I thought radio was all but dead. Near the end of his program he began to talk about the last great economic turning (Great Depression I) and the ‘play lists’ of the time. The biggest ‘depression’ song was, “Happy Days Are Here Again”. I guess I was wrong to believe that money and happy are a good mix. Money doesn’t buy happiness it seems, in America it is a lack of money that ‘buys’ happiness. At least that was what the songs say (or said) the last time around.

He (the radio guy) went on to explain that not one song in the first three years of the ‘depression’ addressed the failed and shattered economy. The airwaves were filled with ‘happy talk’, hope, good wishes. If the Martians were listening in to musical melodies on the radio while waiting for Orson Wells to do HG Wells (the War of the Worlds radio broadcast that many didn‘t realize was really ‘radio theater’) they would have thought that the economy of America was booming during the early thirties (1930’s). America is like that, the talk is about plenty in the midst of poverty. Apparently, it is what makes the nation ‘happy’ (even I can’t sort out all this convolution of fact and history). There must be a lesson here.

The lesson is simple. Adversity often brings out the best in people. The poor share in ways the rich never find or think possible. People in need hang together. People in plenty hang individually, on individual scaffolds, ropes around their necks as it were, usually of their own making. Jesus said that it was the ‘meek’ that would inherit the earth, not the ‘geeks’; it’s something worth thinking about.

Some in America would rather be “red than dead”; red hot dinners, red hot sales, red hot economy, and red hot market. “Stuff the turkey, stuff thy self, buy stuff for ones self.” It’s the perfect formula for red ink. It’s the path to poverty, maybe it’s the fast path (or fast pass) to happiness. “Come On, Get Happy”, to quote another great depression song, music for the breadlines of life. Contradictions and juxtapositions. Fragments and whole enchiladas with red chili, not green. It’s not the things that go “bump” in the night that might scare me; what is more frightening are those things that go “bump” in the day.

Some might say and some might see that America is rapidly coursing down a very bumpy ‘road to ruin’, no stop signs, no yielding, just full speed ahead with the radio on and navigation system off. But this cruise control metaphor might not reflect a ‘death wish’ after all; it might just illuminate a nation on a swift search for happiness, like the last time around. Maybe America can (or will) stay happy this time.

[2007.11.24 / Saturday – Euro Bells]

Laurie Williams’s Diary

November 23rd, 2007

~ Secrets locked away on the pages of time.

Whenever one moves with their parents to a new city the child instantly becomes friendless on the day of arrival. Unless of course a child’s parents are also counted among a child’s friends; then friends can make friends and introduce one to new friends. When I moved to Kabul this was the pattern of things, of things in my life.

“Laurie is your age.”, were the comforting words of my father. “She has a gazelle.” “It’s not too many children that have a pet gazelle as a pet.” “I think when we go over to her house she will be willing to show you her gazelle.” “What do you think?”

Laurie’s mother Lil was my father’s secretary. I’m not sure what Laurie’s father did, but he did something for the American cause in Afghanistan. Before I arrived with my mother and brother in Afghanistan my father had a different secretary. A very young and blond secretary. At least that is what my mother thought when she first saw the slide of the office picnic held on the side of a hill in the Pagman’s. My father explained in a later letter that not only was she very blond, she was also very engaged; to another man, another American in Afghanistan, a ‘nice young man’.

I think it was the party celebrating this wedding of “nice and blond” that was why I went over to Laurie Williams’s house that day, a May reception following a May wedding as it were, in Kabul. It was a chance for my mother to meet secretaries, for all the people to ‘toast the groom’, and for me to meet Laurie and to meet Laurie’s gazelle.

Her house was on a fairly typical Kabul street of the time, narrow curved and mysterious and lined with mud brick walls with painted and worn wooden gates every so often on either side of the street. We found the right gate by its color and by its construction and searched for the rope cord that would always protrude somewhere through the wood frame of the door opening.

It was the custom of things to have this cord in Kabul. The cord was always attached to a distant bell. Pull the cord, ring the bell. Ring the bell often enough and one of two things would happen; either the rope would break or the bell would crash to the ground, or someone would hear the bell and come to the gate and open it. The system encouraged politeness and patience. Swift jerks and jerking bells would not be answered, gentle rings would be. It was a good metaphor for a marriage party.

Laurie’s Afghan houseboy came to the gate and opened it. It wasn’t really ‘Laurie’s houseboy’, it was Lil’s and her husbands houseboy, but it was this houseboy that had found the gazelle in the bazaars and brought it home to be a friend for Laurie, from her other friend, the houseboy. From that day on things were fairly equal in the Williams’ household. Laurie had her wishes, her parents had theirs. The houseboy was pretty neutral, Laurie was pretty equal. The gazelle stayed. The houseboy stayed. The parents coped with and adjusted to the changing reality.

The gazelle pretty much had the free roam and range of things, at least outdoors and within the compound walls. All houses in Afghanistan were completely surrounded by these walls, the compound walls. Each house was a ‘compound’, separate from each other house and compound. The walls were generally at least six feet high and often eight or ten. The walls provided sanctuary and privacy. On the theory that ‘good fences make for good neighbors’ it might be said that ‘compound walls’ made for the best of neighbors. In Afghanistan the neighbors were never peering into ones life, trying to pry open secrets, trying to flaunt their excesses or excess joys. There was a moderation in things, an individuality.

It was the gazelle that had bounded to the gate first when the bell had rung, being faster of course than the swiftest houseboy. Only a hound, an Afghan hound, could be there faster; but Laurie had a gazelle and not a hound. It was her style, her approach to life; free and independent, intelligent, very fast, spirited, and maybe a little wild, like the gazelle she loved.

I was still ten at the time. I believe Laurie was too. It was Laurie who taught me to drink. It was Laurie that taught me the value of secrets, and of secret worlds, and of the importance of writing about secret things, recorded in secret places that might be opened someday with a key in the lock when the time was right. It was the diary thing, little books with locked pages, small keys and containing the secrets only girls, friends, or girl friends should know; or maybe that a gazelle or two should know.

Inside the compound walls the party was already going on. Lil came toward the gate as we were coming in, Laurie came soon after. “That’s my gazelle.”, she said. “That’s Laurie’s gazelle.”, Lil said. It was a simple world, the gazelle ran things, or at least ran around and over things, but not in the house, almost never in the house. The gazelle in the house thing had been resolved long before I ever went to Kabul, but the gazelle had been in the house before I came. Laurie told me the story that day, it was a good story (about the gazelle inside), but I don’t remember it, I was too drunk. Thanks Laurie.

Life is complicated. Life is complicated even when it is simple, ask Gandhi (or read about the life of Gandhi). I was not Gandhi, nor were the Americans in Kabul. Gandhi did not drink, not alcohol anyway, not alcoholic beverages. The Americans in Kabul did, it was almost universal. They did even though they were ‘serving’ in a Moslem land; a non-alcoholic land, where basically there was no alcohol; except for the American alcohol and the alcohol brought in by the rest of the “western” world (mostly composed of the European community). The Afghans generally tolerated the fact that the Russians and the Americans drank (the Russians were much more discreet about their drinking). The Americans tried to tolerate the fact that the Afghans did not drink. They were not so good at tolerating the fact that Afghans did not even like serving drink, serving drinks.

It started with the British, long ago, in their colonial outlook on things. The Brits didn’t insist that Gandhi drink, but if Gandhi wanted to work for the Brits he ‘damned well better be willing to help other people drink’. That’s what ‘the natives’ were for the Brits thought, to help Brits be British, help them get drunk if the needed to or wanted to; open the bottles, pour the poison, hand out the fire-water, and be on hand if there’s a real fire with real water because the Brits will all be too drunk to do anything about the problem. In Afghanistan the Americans chased after the Brits instead of observing the good graces practiced by the Russians. It was a shame and led to a great sorrow.

There was no television in Kabul. There were few western movies in the few theaters. There was only one local radio station, and that one broadcast in Pharsi and played mostly Iranian and Indian music. Board games and card games were not big with the adult crowd and weren’t good for big crowds anyway. The solution was ‘parties’, parties with alcohol. In fairness the parties were generally called “receptions” and these ‘receptions’ were considered necessary by the State Department and by French tradition; French being ‘the international language’ then and French traditions being the “rue de Concorde”, the road of agreement (at least among the western nation crowd).

The favored drink of much of French culture was Champagne. Not California sparkling wine, but real Champagne from Champagne in France (branded and all, before the thieves of intellectual property rights in America began pirating the Champagne trademark and began making counterfeit product). Lil loved the French and things French, and considering the party was about a wedding, Champagne (real French Champagne) was most appropriate. It was served by her houseboy and various borrowed Afghan houseboys on the day of the party with Laurie’s gazelle bounding in the background and the glorious sun of a late spring Sunday shining overhead.

Laurie had learned the drill long before, or at least she said she had. When the hand-wrought trays of brass would pass, filled as they were with crystal glasses of French Champagne, held by the hands of Moslems charged with helping others to get drunk though they did not believe in drink; it was only natural that they might take their charge seriously, being unacquainted with the laws and customs back in America, a land some 10,000 or so miles away that spoke a different language. If a culture is to drink, it must teach their children to drink, and in Afghanistan children are taught the things they need to know at an early age.

But still, it was not the Afghan’s fault I drank that day. It was Laurie’s. She is the one that pulled two glasses off the tray and handed me one, as she sipped the other. It was with the grace and ease that her mom had shown (not to Laurie directly, but by example) to her guests at the many of parties previous behind the secret compound walls of Kabul. Champagne is a good ‘starter drink’, a good ‘gateway drug’ to harder stuff not far behind. This is why it’s good for weddings and brides, and would be brides, and jilted brides that are used and never become brides at all. The Swiss brought their chocolate candy to Afghanistan, the Americans came with “licker”. I guess Laurie was hoping we might become “fast friends”. After a few sips, and a few sips more I could hardly agree less. Laurie was right, it was good to not just learn a bit of French in school, but to be French (cultured and all, like ones parents).

In time Laurie and I did become fast friends, being occasional ‘drinking buddies’ and all. She wrote this stuff down in her diary. It had a lock and a key. She kept it in her bedroom where we and other friends talked and played (on but not in her bed). The diary was kept locked when boys were around and open when the girls were there. Such has always been the life of ten year old girls, drinking or not, in Afghanistan or not. In time Laurie introduced me to an older friend, French of course, by the name of Beatrice. I liked her. Her parents were cultured too, being with the UN or the French Embassy and all.

Laurie tried to corrupt her gazelle, offering it Champagne that day. Unlike me, the animal just said ‘no’ or at least was not interested in licking the likker. It was for the best. The creature was intelligent, wild, and free without it; bounding through life even though enclosed behind high walls.

I don’t know what ever happened to Laurie’s gazelle. I’m not sure whatever happened to Laurie. That is the blessing and curse of being a child of the foreign service (like the ‘army brat’ thing). Many moves, many countries, like ships going bump in the night; one is left with a memory, but not the passage of completion, it’s a bit like the jilted bride thing, plied with alcohol and then left to drift.

Call me Laurie, if you’re out there (via E-mail of course). It’s been a lot of years, we need to drink a toast to times past, or Afghanistan, or your gazelle or something. Maybe water this time.

[2007.11.23 / Friday – Laurie Williams’s Diary]


November 19th, 2007

~ A river too far or a river too near.

There once was a great world war two movie entitled “A Bridge Too Far”. The plot involved an investigation of a true incident in the war about a military campaign that called for the taking of territory, river by river, bridge by bridge. The front line troopers ended up in a rather bad spot, often a dead spot to say nothing of a dead-end spot. After the disaster the surviving leaders summarized the carnage and the failure in cold words, “perhaps the plan called for going a bridge too far”. The movie and the incident that occurred in real life constitutes a compelling case for the argument that there are no “great world wars”.

Alexander the Great launched perhaps the first world war (WW I), circa 300 something BC (BCE) (you can ‘google the dates’ and the specifics if you care). Based on this better and more realistic approach to history we are currently looking at world war five or six about now; maybe world war nine (WW IX), the real war to end all wars, the final battle (if when it’s over peace may come).

My theory here is that a world war must involve conquest on at least three continents (it’s the Game of Risk® theory of world conquest). Everyone starts out with armies, but no one is a threat until they start moving from continent to continent, taking countries, or taking down countries. Then it’s a real war, a world war, a game of risk; but in real life it‘s obviously no ‘game’ at all.

Egypt and the Babylonians never crossed more than two continents, they engaged only in ‘regional wars’. The USA is involved in wars on at least three continents, it’s a world war, and it’s not world war three (WW III). Let’s be honest and let’s be hopeful, and let’s think of it as “world war nine”.

Nine is the number (traditionally) of completion (number nine, number nine). It was the arab contribution to this nation and our world, the concept of ‘0’ followed by nine numbers. It was a fight for awhile, but the Arabs won, overthrew the Romans and their ‘X’s approach to things, and it was over and is over (except for a few movie maker holdouts in the Hollywood film industry and a few ‘Free’ Masons laying building blocks. Even Gates and Jobs can see the writing on the wall; Roman Numerals aren’t for computers anymore. I’m not so sure the Roman Numerals even work so well for numbering the pages of the Old Testament. Get real, get a life, thank an arab the next time you see one on the street, there’s a debt here.

The concept of the system has to do with the circularity of life (circle game). The concept is that one begins with nothing and then things build, to something and to a conclusion. When the conclusion is reached (number nine) things start again; with a numeric aggregation, new possibilities within a simple and reoccurring pattern. Each ending is a new beginning. It’s not a bad idea, it comes from God, thank an arab. I said that, so let’s move on. To be technical the system may have been brought about by the Persian mathematicians (there is a debate), but in the current mood most would find it far too great a reach to “thank a Persian” for everything America holds near and dear, but who’s counting?

We were talking about wars, world wars (I was writing, you were reading, are reading). Beginnings are connected to endings and new beginnings. I was discussing Alexander, and WW I, and rivers. The first world war was a move east, from Greece to the Indus as it were. The Indus is a river, appropriately in India (Old India, New India, the All India Unity idea mentioned in an earlier post). The world in reality is a big place, “small world stories” not withstanding. Most “conquerors” don’t realize this. They get out their armies and ‘go’ (another great game).

There is always a ‘Waterloo’. A river, a body of water, a harbor or port where it ends. Only on a Parker Brothers® (Parker Bros®) game board does one ever get the whole thing. Any kid of the sixties (or later) knows this. For Alexander it came in the Punjab (land of five rivers); he went ‘a river too far’, his army revolted, defied him, just said ‘no’. It was over. It was the end of the war and the end of the Empire; though it did take a year or two for the fat lady to sing, during which time most of his army perished on the long march back home, retreating through the deserts of southern Afghanistan and all.

My father was a student of history, he loved the topic, and he passed that love on to me. It was my mother however that was the history major, mastering it as it were with a Master’s Degree from Berkeley at the age of twenty-one (21). Me, I just read a lot, and listen now and then, look at maps occasionally, and google a few things now and then to make sure that I’m getting my facts straight.

It was in the fall of ’58 (1958) when he first went to Afghanistan; or tried to go to Afghanistan. He flew the good flight all the way to Delhi and then boarded another flight, Air India, for his flight to Afghanistan (one couldn’t fly from Pakistan to Afghanistan in those days, it was the political strife thing). He got as far as the border (between Pakistan and India) and the plane developed engine trouble of sorts, or something; the pilot in prudence landed. The city was a pretty little border town, Amritsar, India; site of the Golden Temple, a stone’s throw from Lahore (in Pakistan, West Pakistan then, India once). The whole area is in the Punjab, land of the Punjabi’s, in the State of Punjab. You may have seen the place in the last Bollywood movie, it seems still a very pretty place.

They could not fix the plane. Time passed. More problems, more time. Fred had lots of time on his hands, to explore the city, see the temple, read books, talk to people; and then start the whole thing again the next day. In Kabul diplomats were waiting, on the president of Russia for one. So once the plane was fixed and took off it had to return to Amritsar again after circling Kabul, without landing in Kabul. The Russians had to land first you see. It’s a politics thing, a presidential thing. Things haven’t changed much. More time in Amritsar.

My father always said he wanted to write a book about the thing, “Weekend in Amritsar” was the title, the proposed title, even though the days there were more than a weekend, though less than a week. It was a pun (you knew that), the real spelling would have been, “Weak End in Amritsar”. I come by this stuff honestly.

The real title has more to do with Alexander (the Great) than Afghanistan or India, though both were in play and it all plays together. Amritsar you see is just a stones throw (being about thirty or so miles; assuming a big guy, with a small rock) from the river Hyphasis, the last river on Alexander’s trek across the world, the water he would never walk on, or never cross, the river too far where his troops said no and just stopped – a weak end to the war and to a ‘world’ Empire.

Fate is like that. It matches people and places and events in time. It offers the needful lessons on the platters of life so one is prepared for the future by knowing the past; stopped as one might be in (or near) Amritsar coming from or going to Afghanistan. Alexander did it, Fred Clayton did it. If you care, you can do it too (at least mentally, in your mind).

His book was never written. It is a shame, or more ‘a sorrow’. The book might have taught things, a lesson or two, a lesson in history or two; it might have prevented a war, even a war or two. There might not have been a Russian invasion. There might never have been the carnage in Kabul and across Afghanistan; there might not have been an al-Qaida or a Taliban pushing out and up through the mountain passes from Lahore. One man, one book; who will ever know? It’s the ‘pen and sword’ point. Which one has the keener blade, the finer point? Write it in ink, or write it in blood? I think I know, but I was closer to things and one might say that I have a ‘bias’, which is another name for this same river, still east of Amritsar, in India; the one that Alexander saw, one river too far.

So I come full circle (if you’re arab or persian thank you). It’s another Melanie Safka song, “Peace Will Come”. “There’s a chance peace will come in your life, peace by one.” It’s a song about the world and rivers and the end and about ‘you and me’ and everyone everywhere perhaps. It’s possible. The time is now. The book must be written this time, real or metaphor; in ink and not blood; before we move into ‘double digits on the dark side’. Music (thank you Melanie) may just get us through this thing, and words. “Let’s “write and roll!” I want to be right this time.

[2007.11.19 / Monday – Hyphasis]

Your loss

November 18th, 2007

~ After a high flight one has to come down.

It was on a flight from Karachi to Bombay in the summer of the year 1960. I was aboard a new Boeing® 707 headed east with my parents. It was one of those ‘mid-tour transfers’ that the government would decide to arrange from time to time; sending someone from an old post to a new post without the benefit of the requisite ‘home leave’ that had been promised as the ‘modus operandi’ before the contracts were signed, before one was assigned to the first post at the beginning of things.

We were on our way from Kabul to Seoul (religious words as they are in their soundings if not in their meanings). Others on the Pan American Airways jet were there for different destinations. It was a fairly long-haul flight in those days, the high flight from West Pakistan to East India, to Bombay; and the time went slowly even with a window seat and no one sitting next to one (to me). And then that changed. He was an Indian gentleman, “India Indian” as Americans would say. He sat down and began to talk, to pass the time perhaps, or perhaps for better reasons.

“What country are you from?”, he asked. He must have been a lawyer, knowing never to ask a question to which one does not already know the answer. There are many (far too many) lawyers in India (as in America) it’s the colonial legacy thing. Solve everything with laws that solve nothing except to solve the problem that more lawyers need more work in a seemingly never ending spiral and cascade of trouble.

I answered, “I am an American.”, avoiding the question in a typically ‘non-responsive way’. “The defendant is not responsive your honor”, he must have been thinking as he contemplated his best approach to “strategy and tactics” in this battle for the high ground, high above the ground of India below. But, I was not on trial. I was too young. I was an American on an American plane, with an American passport (diplomatic even), even if we were in Indian airspace, high above India and not in America at all.

“So that is the name of your country?”, he asked. America?” I said “yes”, too quickly, of course, to sure of my facts and the wisdom and the way of things. “I thought ‘America’ was a continent he said, “Your nation occupies the entire continent?, he asked in his question that was not a question at all. “No”, I said. “But there are two ‘American’ continents aren’t there?”, “You have not identified which continent that you “as an American” are from”; “Maybe you are from both, maybe you are a ‘real American’.”

It is always very embarrassing when someone from somewhere else knows your own land better than you, and your own habits better too. I redirected my answer (poorly of course), “I live in the United States”, I said. “Oh.”, he paused, “The United States of America or the United States of Mexico?”. He was enjoying this, I was not. But I was beginning to realize that there is often a confusion in things when one is not precise, not clear, not ‘specific’ even, even if it meant giving up my dream and fantasy of “being an American”. Where is manifest destiny when you need it, I for a moment thought.

My mind soon gravitated to the ‘America’ that he had seemed to propose, an America in both word and fact, a unity of linguistics and geography, an integrated reality. I could be ‘bi-continental’, a real American of the “western hemisphere”, free from Europe at last, ‘free at last’. Maybe I could learn Spanish I thought, or Portuguese, or both, French even (though I hated French). My answer was simpler. “I live in the United States of America.”, I said; realizing instantly that a plane over India (which is where I was living at that moment) was not the United States of America at all; it was just an outpost, an outpost in the air with not even an ‘American flag’, but only the flag of a small part of a multi-continental reality, on its tail. Some days it is hard to win. Some days there is just loss. But the time ‘flew quickly’ and the flight began to descend to the airport of Bombay, a city of India, with an Indian aboard (and not an ‘American’ Indian).

In case you are wondering, this really happened, every word (almost every word) is true. The tale is a metaphor; but much of life (yours too) is a metaphor of life, for life, and the needs of life. It’s a self-consciousness thing. Watch, listen; you are there.

This post though is not about law and India and airspace (or even consciousness), or not so much about those things. This post is about gain and loss, the things that come about with ‘sales’; the buying and selling thing, products and trade and ‘savings’. It is a topic, like being an American and America, that many ‘Americans’ seem to be confused about. This time I’m referring to the fragment, not the whole, or the whole dream, or the whole reality. I’m referring to the perspectives of a small few that influence the lives of a great many ‘Americans all’, except those that are also ‘Indians’ and even ‘Chinese’ perhaps (whatever those words might mean, or mean to you, or to them).

This began when I was reading in this days Sunday paper, the paper that is dieing every day and is already ‘more dead than alive’, waiting just to be buried in the ‘dust heap of history’ (but we‘ll wait til its totally dead to do that). The article, written by a well-meaning but poorly educated reporter, reported that a person that had just purchased an “auctioned house” for $250,000, that had been priced at $350,000 had “saved” $100,000. My thought was “what bank has this person deposited the $100k into”, and what interest are they (is one) being paid?”. It seems there is a confusion abroad about the word, the word ‘savings’.

Under the operative theory of capitalism and the American marketplace all Americans are ‘great savers’, even many of the often maligned ‘Boomers’. The ‘X’ers save even more, and all generations are in the ‘savings habit’. The economists and the theorists and the academics are clearly wrong on their understanding of the topic. Money in America does not have to go into banks, bonds, stocks, CD’s, or ‘Rainbow City’ to be saved. Money is saved each time one spends it. Like in the case of the “happy shopper”, the “happy house shopper” who has just ‘saved’ a cool 100k, by dropping $250k, a part of which may have come out of a bank, or bonds (or Rainbow City).

Since no one but the very rich pay retail for anything anymore (except if one buys a Prius), the ‘savings rate’ of Americans is now probably about 35 to 45% of income for most wage earners. Every time a shopper shops, they save. Albertsons® used to present their ‘shopping card’ customers with astronomical savings receipts even after the customers paid astronomical prices for grocery type things. This is the miracle of money in America, it’s a “print your own” way of life. Shop more, spend more, SAVE more; it’s as automatic as the check deposit at your local bank (ones local bank).

What America needs is a new law or two (either a lawyer from India or America will do, or a politician or two or three). The law would make ‘savings’ tax deductible. This way the rich would want to start saving too. People could save their slips, document the ‘mark-downs’, and show it to the IRS (on their tax forms) and the IRS could deduct savings from income making it possible for more people to save even more the next year as they ‘spend’ everything they have.

I don’t know if it’s just bad journalism, bad ‘press’, bad papers, bad economics; or if it’s capitalism that’s bad. It’s bad not to know what’s ‘bad’. Anyway, watch those sales and sale ads at this time of year. But if you’re broke (or near broke) and don’t have stacks of money in the bank or under the mattress (probably a better idea) then maybe it’s because you’ve been saving too much; either that, or talk to the politicians or the IRS about this problem; so they can ‘fix’ it for you.

About the person and the house. If the house is worth $200,000 and $250k was paid, the price does not matter. The transaction involves a $50,000 loss, L-O-S-S; no ‘savings’ at all. At least that is what the man from India would say; but he’s a lawyer and not a journalist, and not a member of the merchant class. With all the buying and all, the loss upon loss as it were, me thinks it might be a hard landing coming down.

[2007.11.18 / Sunday – Your loss]

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