Saturday, October 10, 2015

Random Maudlin Barking

Les Vieux (The Old Folks)
Jacques Brel
English lyrics, Mort Schuman

(The city is full of young people, shouting and yelling with pleasure as if for a sports event, but for no reason you know. So you turn to television and see a lower-key series of maudlin images and a song, meant to remind of our own mortality -- only, it doesn't seem quite so maudlin any longer. That this is so is comforting and frightening, in equal measure.)
The old folks don't talk much
And they talk so slowly when they do
They are rich, they are poor, their illusions are gone
They share one heart for two

Their homes all smell of thyme, of old photographs
And an old-fashioned song
Though you may live in town, you live so far away
When you've lived too long

And have they laughed too much, do their dry voices crack
Talking of times gone by
And have they cried too much, a tear or two
Still always seems to cloud the eye

They tremble as they watch the old silver clock
When day is through
It tick-tocks oh so slow, it says, "Yes," it says, "No",
It says, "I'll wait for you"

The old folks dream no more
The books have gone to sleep, the piano's out of tune
The little cat is dead and no more do they sing
On a Sunday afternoon

The old folks move no more, their world's become too small
Their bodies feel like lead
They might look out the window or else sit in a chair
Or else they stay in bed

And if they still go out, arm in arm,
Arm in arm in the morning's chill
It's to have a good cry, to say their last good-bye
To one who's older still

And then they go home to the old silver clock
When day is through
It tick-tocks oh so slow, it says, "Yes," it says, "No",
It says, "I'll wait for you"

The old folks never die
They just put down their heads and go to sleep one day
They hold each other's hand, like children in the dark
But one will get lost anyway

And the other will remain, just sitting in that room
Which makes no sound
It doesn't matter now, the song has died away
And echoes all around

You'll see them when they walk through the sun-filled park
Where children run and play
It hurts too much to smile, it hurts too much
but life goes on for still another day

As they try to escape
the old silver clock
When day is through
It tick-tocks oh so slow; it says, "Yes," it says, "No",
It says, "I'll wait for you"

The old, old silver clock that's hanging on the wall
That waits for us

Friday, October 9, 2015

Still Missed

John Lennon: October 9, 1940

Words are flowing out like endless rain into a paper cup,
They slither while they pass; they slip away across the universe
Pools of sorrow, waves of joy are drifting through my open mind,
Possessing and caressing me
Jai guru de va om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world

Images of broken light which dance before me like a million eyes,
That call me on and on across the universe;
Thoughts meander like a restless wind inside a letter box
They tumble blindly as they make their way,
Across the universe
Jai guru de va om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Sounds of laughter shades of earth are ringing
Through my open views; inviting and inciting me
Limitless undying love which shines around me
Like a million suns; it calls me on and on
Across the universe
Jai guru de va om
Nothing's gonna change my world,
Nothing's gonna change my world.

Across The Universe (Lennon / McCartney, 1969)

We don't care what flag you're waving,
We don't even want to know your name,
We don't care where you're from or where you're going,
All we know is that you came;

You're making all our decisions,
We have just one request of you,
That while you're thinking things over,
Here's something you just better do:

Free the people, now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.
Free the people, now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.

Well we were caught with our hands in the air,
Don't despair paranoia is everywhere,
We can shake it with love when we're scared,
So let's shout it aloud like a prayer:

Free the people, now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.
Free the people now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now

We understand your paranoia,
But we don't want to play your game;
You think you're cool and know what you are doing,
666 is your name;
So while your jerking off each other,
You better bear this thought in mind:
Your time is up you better know it,
But maybe you don't read the signs

Free the people now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.
Free the people now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.

Well you were caught with your hands in the kill,
And you still got to swallow your pill,
As you slip and you slide down the hill,
On the blood of the people you killed

Stop the killing now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.
Stop the killing now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now.
Free the people now,
Do it do it do it do it do it now...

Thank BLCKGRD for the reminder; normally, I put up a memorial on December 10th. Better, I think, to celebrate someone's birth.

Even though I was around when their music was brand-new, and have a perfect memory of hearing She Came In Through The Bathroom Window, terrifically stoned while standing on top of a sandbagged bunker on VCM359 outside Nah Trang, I can't say I listen to Beatles music too much myself, these days (though I did listen to the Magical Mystery Tour album last weekend, by chance, while padding through the Haight).

So:  Absent Friends -- Happy Birthday, John.


Turn Your Home Into An Arena Of Terror And Shame By Reading This


Dateline / Washington: President Boner To Go Away

President John Boner announced yesterday that he is stepping down from his position as Speaker-To-Animals in order to spend more time with his family and his expertly-crafted hairpiece. Upon hearing the news, Boner's family locked him out of his Georgebushtown Double-Wide home and he was forced to spend the night with a sheep, hooker, or kitchen appliance by himself.

Poor Boner. Since the exit of Lil' Eric Cantor, Boner had come under increasing pressure from members of the Amerikanischer Tea Partei who live in his pants to secede from the USA, end Medicare, divert the nation's Social Security funds to Lloyd Blankfein for His amusement, and provide treats to America's deserving wealthy.  Because Freedom. But Boner could not do this -- he could not wear his pants. The Powerbars that Be had a sad, and America didn't care, because Hillary!  Jebby!

Boner had been recently described by some Parteigenossen as "sick, old; his coat was no longer shiny and his nose was warm" -- clear signs, they said, that he should be taken out behind the House Barn and put down -- but humanely, with a shovel, or volume 2 of the House Rules.  Rather than allow himself to be publicly shamed, Boner ran away.

He is gone now. But we should remember his relentlessness, his turgid imbecility and Aspergerish mien withal. Remember how he sat behind the Pestident during the annual STFU Address and the teevee showed him making sour faces and farting into the seat cushion.

He accomplished so little for so many, and allowed the few so much; a Lickspittle Running Dog who cried on command, thought Gustav Klimt was a clothing designer, and who never stopped thinking of the Girl he left in his behind.

 (Britches 'n Cecil / ©2009 Paul Corrigan: Hey -- We Want More.)
Boner was last seen with Britches and Cecil, thinking of additional, last-minute Crumby Presints he could leave for all of us, on his way Out The Door That Is America -- that's the one spray-painted gold, with that cheesy lamp beside it.

 Dateline / Again Washington: President Mikky To Go Away Too, Also

Righthandy Guy to President Boner, Kevin McCarthy looked as if he was set to become Presidenty himself. But like a becalmed Sturgeon in a reduced-watershed Sacramento Delta, he too failed to find enough Tea Partei to live in his pants. Then, he marched proudly out to expose himself before the Press. Many wanted to look away, but America is a strong place which no deodorant can tame -- so we looked anyway, and it was cheesy, but it was real.

Mikky Tells The Press The Truth About Potomac-Town

McCarthy told everyone that Chopin's Etude No. 3, Op. 10 in E Major, was the equivalent of Proust's  "Remembrance Of Things Past". Many agreed. Many more thought Chopin was a brand of Chinese frozen food, or an ice cream Treat For Our Wealthy.

Then McCarthy told the Press that he had been in Washingtown a long time, and knew the Trooth: Alien beings who felt nothing (because they were Plant Matter), who were birthed from huge seed pods, replaced us while we slept.  "You're next," Mikky said to America with a smile. "I haven't slept in a thousand hours, I don't have the votes, and I need a new face." And then he -- like 2% of the Frog species of the Earth this year -- was gone too.

Dateline / You Know Where: Sad Vlad On Every Corner

Sad Vlad Desperately Seeks Totoro Approval. Think We're Kidding? Maybe. Or, Maybe Not.
Strutting and preening in a way designed to make even the simple Yak desire him -- Sad Vlad, The Putin, Botox Wrestler and All-Around Guy, got the better of everybody, again, by driving his military vehicle into downtown Middle East and parking in a handicapped zone.

The Nato, an all-but extinct creature in Europe, looked on and whinnied or grunted or keened -- you know; that noise that Natos make. Other major countries stood around and watched, fuming, with arms crossed, the very picture of being offended by simply unspeakable rudeness. Well; I never, they huffed.

"That's your fucking problem," Sad Vlad replied as he loaded a crate of Extra Pony-Size Trojan-Ezy into his armored car. "You never. I always."

Many Tea Partei members in that America found themselves curiously aroused by the melding of manliness and Cluster Munitions. If only we could do that, they thought to themselves privately as they watched the Russian BombCam footage on teevee. If Lil' Boots were here, then President Cheney woulda shown that Eye-sis. Guess we'll have to root fer the Russkis!

And Sad Vlad didn't stop there. He was spotted in a submersible, dashed down to Crimea, jetted off to New Ork and told a roomfull of people that Russia was On The March and would Be Great Again, by Soso's Last Underpants!  ('Soso' =  a nickname for 'Joe'; you can fill in the rest if you are licensed to do so.)

Vlad said he was building a new coalition with that Iran, and kicking the indecisive, candyassed Amerikanyets' Middle Eastern foreign policy to the curb. Bizarre Al-Asshat, Killer Dentist of Syria, would be propped up. Screw the Saudis and the UAE and those guys -- they'd come around, or else. He'd put a saddle on a Nato and ride it around, or he wasn't the Leader Of The Fee-Based World. "Take that, John Carey," Sad Vlad bellowed. "My face job is better than your face job!"

Fortunately, Sad Vlad said all this in Russian, without formal translation, and the roomful of people he was speaking to were a busload of tourists from Canada in the Tiki Room of a Holiday Inn in the South Bronx. Vlad's wranglers hustled him back to the big UN building in time for him to address the assembled nations and say more or less the same things. "Come and get me, Coppers!" Vlad growled, then looked up towards the heavens and shouted, "Top Of The World, Babushka!"

Dateline / Murrika: TRUMPOLA !

Be Still, My Weasel. (Photo: David Becker / Reuters)
Donnyboy can no longer control the Weasel Who Lives On His Head. It speaks to him; it purrs. He has listened and repeated whatever it says.  Whatever it has told him to do, he has done. And because the USA likes warm cheese and Amerikan Idle, and everything is now Reality Teevee, the antics of Donnyboy's faux-bling candidacy has fascinated the Americans (but not as much as whatever Sports Franchise Product we are supposed to be watching now).

Citizens understand in their bowels that they have no power. That the Game Is Rigged, in ways which -- if we bothered to read documents on Wikileaks -- would induce vomiting. So life for the powerless becomes theater, "Reality Teevee"; and suddenly the spectacle of politics makes sense: It won't make any difference what we do. We don't choose -- "They" choose.

You buy many things. You toil at jobs. Daily, you consume your own body weight in foods rendered from sugar, whale fat, and abused animals. You text. A lot. You watch teevee. You daydream about Taylor Swift and unconsciously imitate that little hop-step she has perfected. You keep saying It's possible for anyone to become rich in America; we're the land of opportunity. I can win the Lottery. I can make a profit in the Market.

Against that backdrop of rabid hope, a Donnyboy candidacy not only makes sense; it has an odor of inevitability about it (which smells just like the interior of a 1939 Mercedes).  Hell; in these conditions, even a Grand Turtlebear Bachmann candidacy makes sense.

But now, Donnyboy's luster, all Palmolive and Sprinklies from the soda fountain, has begun to soften in the heat. The Weasel is tired, and whispers even more nonsensical things for Donny to repeat. It dreams of escape -- of leaving Donny bald, with the Weasel finally able to live in seclusion, where it can repair itself from the PTSD it suffered during Donnyboy's marriage to Ivana.  It dreams of a Mrs. Weasel.

This was Donny's last Fifteen Minutes, and it came with commercials.  Only, Donny believed it was real; the Weasel -- old, bleached and tired -- knew better. As it always has.

Dateline / Murrika: We Who Are About To Die Want You To Go Instead

Be Selective.
As a Dog, I sleep. I enjoy the sleep. I doze where and whenever I have an opportunity. But you tend to miss stuff, and when you discover (for example) that the Selective Service Act is alive 'n well in USA -- just when you thought it was safe to put your hand in a fishbowl; Ha Ha Ha Ha, but WTF???
...yesterday’s emphasis on battlefield prowess with the people skills required of troops more recently focused on counterinsurgency. At a time when U.S. military action has become defined by targeted airstrikes, ships jockeying in the South China Sea and a reluctance to place boots on the ground, the Army is seeking to reassert itself on the strategic stage, experts say.

About a week ago, Selective Service pamphlets began showing up again in U.S. Post Offices across the country. With conflicts on the rise across the globe, the U.S. program has once again shifted into high gear to register all eligible U.S. males, legal and illegal, between the ages of 18-25 in the event a U.S. military draft becomes necessary. The timing of the move is sure to raise questions about what may be shortly coming down the pipe in terms of an “inevitable” global conflict.

And it turns out to be true. Male animals between 18 and 25 must register. Must. Well, I mean; Holy Shit. When did this happen??

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Henning Mankell, 1948 - 2015

Case Notes

Henning Mankell (Photo: Munro McLeod For The UK Guardian)

At the end of Faceless Killers, Henning Mankell's first crime novel, his main character, police Detective-Inspector Kurt Wallander, sits in the dark talking with his mentor, retired Inspector Rydberg, who is dying of cancer. A murder investigation is over, the killers are apprehended, and Wallander talks with Rydberg about the case.
     "We made lots of mistakes," Wallander said thoughtfully. "I made lots of mistakes."
     "You're a good policeman," Rydberg said emphatically. "Maybe I never told you that. But I think you're a damned fine policeman."
     "I made too many mistakes," Wallander replied.
     "You kept at it," said Rydberg. "You never gave up... that's the important thing."
     The conversation gradually petered out. I'm sitting here with a dying man, Wallander thought in despair... The incantation flashed through his mind: a time to live, and a time to die.
     "How are you?" He asked cautiously.  Rydberg's face was unreadable in the darkness.
Henning Mankell died yesterday at age 67, roughly eighteen months after being diagnosed with cancer. He was a playwright and director who married the daughter of film director Ingmar Bergman, and served for several years as Director of Sweden's national theater. He was most prolific as an author of fiction -- including thirteen stand-alone novels and eight novels for children.

But Mankell will be remembered in Europe and America primarily as author of twelve more novels, "Krimis", featuring Swedish police Detective-Inspector Kurt Wallander -- as vibrant, individual and human a detective as Simeon's Inspector Maigret, Agatha Christie's Hercule Poirot, or Raymond Chandler's Phillip Marlowe.

Detective fiction as a genre had been popular in Europe since the end of the First World War, but  publishers considered them entertaining diversions with formulaic, predictable characters and plots. Agatha Christie, E. Phillips Oppenheim, Georges Simeon, Erich Kästner, 'S.S. Van Dine', Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler all sold well enough, but detective stories were not taken seriously by publishing houses in Europe or America.

Neutral Sweden was untouched by WW2. Trading with Allies and Axis, it remained secure and became rich. After the war, a wealthy Swedish society could afford to provide all basic needs for its citizens -- a social safety net that was the envy of the world. But by the late 1960's, the open State was experiencing everything from rock music and antisocial teenage behavior, to drugs, organized crime; corporate corruption; and, as increasing numbers of refugees poured in from around the world, a right-wing backlash from some who wanted to end Sweden's its traditional open-door asylum policy.

The quiet, isolated northern country which had escaped the ravages of a world war found itself unsure of its future, and the problems imported from a larger world. At roughly the same time in the 1960's, a Swedish couple, Maj Söwall and Per Wahlöö, wanted to write novels exploring those issues -- and used the format of the crime novel as their vehicle.

Söwall and Wahlöö's stage was Sweden's capital, Stockholm, with a cast of police detectives led by a senior investigator named Martin Beck. Their framework was what we now refer to as the "police procedural": we follow the detectives as they piece together evidence, using the same methods, systems and protocols as real Swedish police.   

And, the two authors were among the first to present their policemen as all-too human -- they were cynical and idealistic by turns, and driven by a sense of duty. They had drinking problems, money problems; marital problems (one moves in with a barely above legal age girl). They argued with bureaucracy, complained about their pay, and fought with each other in petty rivalries around office politics. They had political positions (for or against America's war in Vietnam), and might occasionally smoke pot.

The novels immediately became popular in Sweden, then across Europe. Söwall and Wahlöö's Martin Beck and his squad were immediately accepted by Constant Reader, the person in the street, as valid, three-dimensional characters.  These Swedish cops reflected the world that the readers lived in. Publishers saw money to be made and began trying to find the "next  Söwall and Wahlöö".

Within a few years, a new niche publishing industry developed:  Krimis, from the German, Kriminalroman (crime novel).  It's no exaggeration that Steig Larson, Jo Nesbo, Hakan Nesser, Ian Rankin, and a large number of other Krimi authors would not have been as successful without Söwall and Wahlöö's work -- and that includes Henning Mankell.

By the time Mankell began writing his crime series, the Krimi industry had been developing for over twenty years; as a market, it was arguably over-saturated. What made Mankell's work stand out and succeed is, simply, his talent as a writer. He tells (as best we know through the translations of his works) a good story; the voice of his narrator is reliable.

His characters are believable; the pacing and the action in his plots follow the typical rising-action-to-resolution framework, but none of the details about his characters or events in the story lines disturbs our suspension of disbelief. And most important -- the character of Kurt Wallander is immediately familiar.

Divorced, diabetic, self-doubting, Wallander worries -- about his daughter, who can't seem to find her place in the world; about his father, a curmudgeonly artist who only paints one basic theme (with or without the Grouse) and who begins suffering from Alzheimer's. He tries to figure out how he might find the money for a dream of a small house, and a dog. We've met him, and whether you're male or female it's not hard to imagine being him. At a minimum, we find ourselves emphasizing with him, and caring about what happens to him.

He listens to opera, keeps buying one Peugeot after another, and worries about his connections to the world, about dealing with his superiors and peers -- but when Wallander is presented with a case, his self-doubts recede and he is focused, driven, and decisive. We like our heroes to resemble us, and we want them to be better, to rise to challenges as we always hope that we could; Mankell gave his readers a character which did both.

And, like Söwall and Wahlöö, the crimes in Mankell's novels spring from changes in Swedish society, brought on by events in a larger world. Faceless Killers, the first in the Wallander series, is about a brutal double murder seemingly involving non-European refugees. Firewall explores terrorism through digital technology; themes in The Fifth Woman and The White Lioness touch on modern Africa; "The Man Who Laughed" involves corporate piracy and a self-assured Oligarch figure above the law. Before The Frost is a look at religious extremism, an echo of Jonestown and the People's Temple.

Wallander became a worldwide phenomenon; two Swedish television series based on the character in the early 2000's were followed by the BBC version in English, starring Kenneth Branagh. Mankell had been involved with the Swedish production company, Yellow Bird, in developing scripts for stories not connected to his novels. There's more to that story; I've written about it here.

Mankell, like Oliver Sacks earlier this year, had written publicly about his battle with cancer, and had just sent a brief article to the UK Guardian before he passed away:
Eventually, of course, the day comes when we all have to go. Then we need to remember the words of the author Per Olov Enquist: “One day we shall die. But all the other days we shall be alive.”

Friday, October 2, 2015

Reprint: Gun Violence Again. Because Freedom.

Observations By Others

[Many people around the world collectively distrust and dislike Americans -- "Because Freedom", the usual reply of troglodyte animals like this knuckle-dragging liar -- but actually, they feel that way towards us because we are a loud, brash, childtime culture. With guns.  And little compunction to have adult conversations about limiting their number, availability or use in our society.

[Freedom has nothing to do with it. We're a violent culture, subliminally and overtly. That's why other people in other places fear and distrust us -- because a large number of us are children, with guns.

[This reprint is from December, 2012, and June of 2014, and I am sick of reposting it.]

 (Photo: AP, via The New York Times)

There are no real words for what happened in Connecticut, yesterday. There is plenty to say about how it happened.

I overheard someone at work (a classic gun nut owner who believes Negros persons of color will overrun his part of the planet) observing that "this [presumably, massacres committed by unstable individuals with firearms] is the new normal".

On PBS' The News Hour, a professional psychologist asked to comment said (and I'm paraphrasing) that "It's important to say... this kind of tragedy doesn't happen every day... that schools really are safe places."

I reject the first comment. The second remark made me think: This fellow doesn't go to many Inner City schools, then -- massacres with 27 dead don't happen every day, that's true; but there are shooting incidents, and kids packing, and metal detectors, and education occurring against a solid backdrop of poverty and violence, every day. 

The psychologist on News Hour was, I thought, trying to suggest themes parents might pass on to reassure their children (Don't worry, Timmy; It Can't Happen Here) -- that planes can crash, but the odds of going down in one, or having one crash on top of you, are hugely in your favor. And largely, that is true.

But planes do crash. Ships sink. Trains collide and buses plunge. Whenever that does happen, there are NTSB investigations, reconstructions and root-cause analyses. There are discussions with engineers and manufacturers about what to do to increase  the chances such a tragedy doesn't happen again.

Only in cases like Sandy Hook does our national debate begin and end with, "Guns don't kill people; the people using them do". And that's it -- Pilot Error, essentially, is the public finding; and any other meme is just filler in the media. That, and people repeating, "It doesn't happen every day."

I'm sure that fact is a comfort to the extended families of twenty children, who died because they were shot with high-powered handguns. Twenty children.

I grew up around guns. I've owned firearms; at various times because I was required to carry them, but afterwards had no sane reason to keep them. I don't want them in my home.

We live in a world of high anxiety, and there are persons who want to exploit those feelings of danger, threat, and imminent disaster:  Gun manufacturers, and their lobby, the NRA, are at the top of the list.  Mike Huckabee and the rest of his fellow Xtian evangelical ilk; there are 2012 World-Enders, predicting massive earthquakes and crustal displacement and 'coastal events', and ultimately few survivors.

There are White Power fascists, and Survivalists, and the people who manufacture and sell them freeze-dried food and plans for bunkers to shield against the EMP bursts from North Korean-launched warheads, detonating high above the USA.

What happened in Sandy Hook yesterday has happened before -- in Columbine, in Denver; In Virginia; in a mall in Seattle last week; at a Dairy Queen in the Northwest. There may not be massacres, but annually there are many multiple-victim, firearm homicides in America.

And they will keep happening, until something changes about how firearm ownership and possession is discussed, and regulated, in this country.

The debate is not about Operator Error.  It's not about something that happened "over there" in another city or state. It's about twenty dead children.

Along those lines are two, other very pertinent observations -- one, a part of the discussion at TPM Prime (Subscription Required):
Memekiller:  ...for me, it's all about the NRA. I'm anti-NRA, not guns, and am offended by the strangle-hold they have over our politics. And I'm angry that Democrats have ceded the issue, only to have the NRA, if anything, put twice as much effort into unseating Democrats and Obama who, if anything, loosened rules on guns ...

... And the gun culture the NRA fosters... Would the prevalence of guns be as frightening without the culture of paranoia and conspiracies they perpetuate? It's not just about freedom to own a gun. The NRA culture is a cult of xenophobia and insanity. They don't seem to be aiming their message at responsible gun owners so much as the disgruntled and those prone to paranoia. They are less about developing an advocacy group than they are about assembling a well-armed militia of the mentally unstable.  
And the other, at The Great Curmudgeon :
Our discourse, that is. Fortunately, we have DDay trying to repair it.
Just to pick at random, here are a couple headlines at the Hartford Courant site just from the past 24 hours: Woman Shot, Man Dead After Standoff In Rocky Hill. Armed Robbery At Hartford Bank, Two In Custody.It’s not that school shootings like this are abnormal. They are depressingly normal. The fact that there were no shootings in one day in New York City recently was seen as a major achievement, which shows you how desensitized we have become to gun violence as a normal occurrence of daily life.Just a reminder. The NRA is an industry lobby for the gun industry. The industry that makes consumer products largely designed to kill people.  Not deer. Not rabbits.


Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Dujuan Downer

News You Will Not See

Word has reached Before Nine™:  That crazy Typhoon Dujuan has made landfall on the China coast, and has fallen into a Depression. 

We know what it's like.  And we are very sorry that it didn't work out.  Counseling and meds may help -- you're in The East; try some of that herbal stuff.

But, look: You competed well in the international meteorological arena.  Not every pitcher is a Don Drysdale; not every golfer is a Se Ri Pak; not every writer is a Donna Tartt and not every painter is a Rothko or an O'Keefe. Not every major weather system turns into a Katrina.  

You know? Just have to keep that perspective. 

Monday, September 28, 2015

Leonard Cohen At Eighty-One

(Sorry; I Do Not Know The Credit For This. It's A Great Photo)
 Actually, he was 81 on September 21st.  I'm late, lighting this match lit in the wind, saying remember, remember; while he's still here.

I knew him as a poet before hearing him sing, then realized I'd already been listening to his music and didn't know it. Years on at college and I knew the lines of every song, on his albums -- but his poetry is what originally slipped into my pocket and stayed; it was that comfortable and familiar. And almost forty years on, he's still working; he still gives back.

One line that keeps returning for me, with humor and rue , as the years move on and grow shorter: The future seems unnecessarily black and strong / as if it had received my casual mistakes / through a carbon sheet.

Remember; remember. And, Halleluja; anyway.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Hot And Bad And Doing Everything You Want All Night Long

... Probably Get Some Interesting Traffic With That Lead
 (And you thought there would be Porn For You at the end of this. Ha Ha; no )

Over at The Big Picture, a financial blog offered by Barry Ritholz which I've mentioned before (see the post immediately below), is a bright spot in that part of the Internet created by and for actual, sentient humans.  There are others -- but TBP deals with finance, investment, and the occasional non sequitur side trip into this world we inhabit along with with trees, Gorillas, Carly Fiorina, 'Duran Duran', Fire Ants, and the New York Review Of Books.

One of those side trips is a post by Morgan Housel, a guest author, "We're Living Through The Greatest Period In World History", which has been posted around the Net in various places.  Herr Housel is an trader / investment kind of guy, and I would imagine is compensated at an, uh 'much higher level' than the average Jack or Jill.

Housel offers fifty (count 'em, 50) points to prove this thesis. I read some of them, nodding, as Dogs will do; while others left me thinking Oh Jesus God No; The Fuck You Talkin', Man? 

Reading Housel's thing at my Place Of Witless Labor™, I nearly did what I'm about to do (offer a partial rebuttal, one other thing Dogs do) -- but held back, because my Overlords would not like me to spend my time in this way. They're about to Reorg our department, and so it's about Peas and Queues and such-like these days.

Anyway; I'm not going to go through Housel's entire list of 50 proofs as to why we're living in the bestest fun times ever; but as a preface, I'll just say that perception is subjective. He presents a variety of facts about America -- that we work less, are wealthier; live longer; spend huge amounts of leisure time; have fewer homicides, and live in bigger apartments.

But the statistics have no context; there's no explanation of how they came to be, or whether they're true for a majority of the population. They simply are.

If you're a Syrian refugee, shivering in a field on the Hungarian border and trying to keep your family from starving, whether these are the bestest, most fun times humanity has ever had is sort of an open question. But Herr Housel isn't thinking about people and places outside our borders. He's speaking to an American audience, about how awesome it is to be Here. Not a great deal of compassion in that view -- more like, "Hey, I got mine, Jack!"

"U.S. life expectancy at birth was 39 years in 1800, 49 years in 1900, 68 years in 1950, and 79 years today. The average newborn today [lives] an entire generation longer than his great-grandparents could." (Yes, but apparent reported rates of dementia [including what would become known as Alzheimer's Disease], cancer, emphysema, diabetes, and Glaubner's Disease, were lower in 1900. And, a lack of fast food meant anyone named Ronald McDonald was guaranteed not to be a clown, and no one would invent Spandex for a long time.)

"The average American now retires at age 62. One hundred years ago, the average American died at age 51. Enjoy your golden years — your ancestors didn’t get any of them." (How do you know how those people experienced their lives? And thanks to the Social Security Act, brought about by that Franklin Roosevelt, most Americans will have at least some guaranteed income in retirement; all of the Republicans on the debate stage this week would like to end SSI and replace it with funds managed by Goldman-Sachs. And they would like to strangle puppies. Because Freedom.)

"... Infant mortality in America has dropped from 58 per 1,000 births in 1933 to less than six per 1,000 births in 2010, according to the World Health Organization... more than 200,000 infants now survive each year who wouldn’t have 80 years ago. That’s like adding a city the size of Boise, Idaho, every year." (And this population increase is a good thing, Pilgrim?)

"No one has died from a new nuclear weapon attack since 1945. If you went back to 1950 and asked the world’s smartest political scientists, they would have told you the odds of seeing that happen would be close to 0%..." (While that's a good thing, it's hard to feel terrific about the proxy wars between East and West between 1950-1989 (Korea to the Soviet Invasion of Afghanistan), and the "War On Terra" ever since.)

"According to the Federal Reserve, the number of lifetime years spent in leisure — retirement plus time off during your working years — rose from 11 years in 1870 to 35 years by 1990. Given the rise in life expectancy, it’s probably close to 40 years today. Which is amazing: The average American spends nearly half his life in leisure..." ('Leisure' is sort of a plastic term; again, kinda depends where on the socioeconomic food chain you are.  And it's about your health. Most of us like being alive, no matter what those conditions may be -- but it's a question of the quality, rather than quantity, of that 'life in leisure'.)

"We are having a national discussion about whether a $7.25-per-hour minimum wage is too low. But even adjusted for inflation, the minimum wage was less than $4 per hour as recently as the late 1940s. The top 1% have captured most of the wage growth over the past three decades, but nearly everyone has grown richer — much richer — during the past seven decades." (If you define "nearly everyone has grown richer" as more people being able to purchase consumer electronics [cellphones, tablets, PC and laptops; iPods, and large-screen Teevees] and have access to services [cable television, data connectivity], then I guess that statement might be correct. However, if you define "richer" in other terms -- that pesky Quality Of Life, again -- then, not so much. 

(Over the past 12-plus years, 90% of income in all forms, not only wages, has gone to the  top 1% of America's population.  But, most of that 90% has gone to the top one-tenth of one per cent -- about 320,000 men, women and children.  Reading this, chances are you're not one of them.  If you are, burn in Hell. Or, you know, not.)

"Worldwide deaths from battle have plunged from 300 per 100,000 people during World War II, to the low teens during the 1970s, to less than 10 in the 1980s, to fewer than one in the 21st century..." ([Sigh] Just one soldier dying per 100K of population, in a world of 7 Billion people, is 70,000 combat deaths.  It's true -- in 2015, more people worldwide die in accidents or of various diseases than soldiers in combat; but that figure doesn't take into account civilian deaths as well:  Since 2001, roughly 1,000,000 people have died in various 'little' wars.  That's less than 0.025% of the world's population, by the statistics -- but try telling that to the families of one million people.)

"Median household income adjusted for inflation was around $25,000 per year during the 1950s. It’s nearly double that amount today. We have false nostalgia about the prosperity of the 1950s ... If you dig into how the average “prosperous” American family lived [then] ... you’ll find a standard of living we’d call 'poverty' today." (The nostalgia is only false if you measure living in terms of personal wealth; what you can buy. There's a Yin and Yang about the Present and the Past -- for every technological advance or collective rise in living standards, there's something we've lost that we'll never get back. 

(Having smart phones, digital and wireless telephony, may be more "efficient" than analog, copper-wire PBX systems -- but when we make the leap from using keypad and mouse to voice-recognition systems like SoundHound or Amazon's Echo, people will constantly be talking into thin air, and another layer of social distance will be reduced by the intrusion of more sound. Get ready for it.)

"...the average American house or apartment is twice as large as the average house or apartment in Japan, and three times larger than the average home or apartment in Russia." (That idea is such a comfort if you live in a place like New York City, Los Angeles, Silicon Valley, or Kiddietown, and pay thousands of dollars for a tiny studio or millions for an 'average' home.)

"The average American work week has declined from 66 hours in 1850, to 51 hours in 1909, to 34.8 today, according to the Federal Reserve. Enjoy your weekend." (Herr Housel implies that the reduction in working hours came about because -- I dunno; technology; or, because The Owner Class really are a crew of enlightened beings who believe the welfare of their serfs employees is paramount. Or, "social progress".  Whatever. Housel doesn't say.

(It's worth remembering that reductions in the length of the work week occurred after generations of organizing and incessant pressure by labor unions on the Owners.  We have an 8-hour day; a 40-hour week; paid lunch and rest breaks; workplace safety codes and Workman's Compensation; "labor-management partnership"  -- all because union members risked their lives (and gave them up) to strike, picket, and pressure the Owners into making those concessions.

Thomas Anschutz, Ironworker's Noontime (1880)
Fine Arts Museums of San Francisco

(They were bought with blood. By now, everyone takes them for granted and assumes they're a right -- not an agreement which the Owners could decide to ignore.  Because Freedom.  And in a world where labor unions don't swing as much weight as they did between 1869 and 1984, it could happen.

(And, everyone I know works way longer than 34.8 hours a week. Perhaps just not in Herr Housel's office.)

"Adjusted for inflation, the average monthly Social Security benefit for retirees has increased from $378 in 1940 to $1,277 by 2010. What used to be a safety net is now a proper pension." (One dollar, in 1940, had the buying power of $17.24 today -- or, that $378 average monthly SSI payment would have been worth $6,517 today.  And if you think $1,277 in 2015 is a 'proper pension', please see "Rich People: Burn In Hell", above.)

"If you think Americans aren’t prepared for retirement today, you should have seen what it was like a century ago. In 1900, 65% of men over age 65 were still in the labor force. By 2010, that figure was down to 22%. The entire concept of retirement is unique to the past few decades. Half a century ago, most Americans worked until they died." (Hey; pal -- I got a news flash for you: No matter how 'unique' you believe retirement to be, these statistics are less meaningful when you consider that American workers, whose employer-offered 401(k) or 403(b) retirement plan savings were reduced in the Crash in 2008, will have to work years longer to make up for those losses and delay retirement. 

(After Social Security, these savings plans are the primary method available for workers to create additional income in retirement.  Over time they've replaced the union pension system (as the number of union jobs in America shrank), and what were once traditional pension plans of employers (now, too expensive; cuts into profits).  Unfortunately, salaries and wages in America have been flat for most American workers at least since 2005, making it harder to save and replace their losses from the Crash.)

"You need an annual income of $34,000... to be in the richest 1% of the world... To be in the top half of the globe you need to earn just $1,225 a year. For the top 20%, it’s $5,000 per year. Enter the top 10% with $12,000 a year. To be included in the top 0.1% requires an annual income of $70,000. America’s poorest are some of the world’s richest." (I swear to god; I'm not even going to go there.)

"Only 4% of humans get to live in America. Odds are you’re one of them. We’ve got it made." (Unless you're black, and getting pulled over for a traffic violation.)

Oh, and --  Hillary !  Jebby ! 

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Reprint Reprint: Our Lords, At Play In The Fields

How Brightly They Do Shine
[A Reprint Of a Reprint from July, 2010, just because I'm really in a mood about Our Fabled Elders and Betters, and because I can. Not that anyone cares.)

"It is pretty hard to tell what does bring happiness; poverty and wealth have both failed." —Kin Hubbard, Offered As The "Quote Of The Day", The Big Picture
Barry Ritholtz, whose blog I look at frequently, is an investment advisor whose take on America's class of super-rich occasionally rotates between gently mocking derision and moderate envy.

I've never been able to figure out what prompts him to gravitate in one direction or another, but I think the idea is that in his universe, it's no sin to be rich -- but it is if you were dishonest and rapacious about it.

If the quote above, gracing Barry's website this morning, was posed to him as a choice, Barry wouldn't be voting for Poverty. Quite the opposite. Neither would the poor little guy above (How's Poverty working out for him, by the way?). The happy people above don't have to choose wealth; they're too busy shopping.

While that kind of choice would hardly be news (most persons would choose physical comfort over penury), for the kind of world he lives in, Barry understands it's those with money to invest who butter his bread. Just something to keep in mind.

Barry Ritholtz: Good Head For Da Numbers, Dis Guy

Barry's a smart guy, believes as strongly in free-trade capitalism as one can, believes that business is about psychology and competition; and feels that predicting in advance the tidal shifts of money washing around in the markets is The Great Game, and it's all about Making The Right Call, because that's what other people pay him for: He's a principal in a modestly-sized investment advisory business in New York, and he blogs about the kinds of data, the solid (and suspect) numbers, and utterances and divinations of Big Names in the financial world.

Apparently, Barry and his Firm do rather well (God forbid it should be otherwise), and while I don't like the fish tank Barry's chosen to swim in or many of its other creatures, as a former financial analyst Dog, I can appreciate the idea of making decisions based on the most reliable data, and because he seems more fact-based than not I at least pay attention to his take on things.

It's my guess that Ritholtz feels too much of the Free Markets' decision-making is based on misleading interpretation of data provided by government and business, and poor analysis of the real data that is available -- all of which obscures what is really going on behind the curtain. I can appreciate that.

And, he's been critical of the greed and excess that effectively destroyed America's Middle Class, and has so heavily weighted The Game in favor of our Masters Of The Universe©. Barry was sounding skepticism, and then an an alarm, about the Markets and the underlying derivative/real estate Mambo long before the crash.

He's even written a book about it, Bailout Nation. It's a good book, and I recommend it. It's not a Manifesto, and it focuses on what happened in the last days of the Lil-Boots Bush regime, and the early days of Obama's administration -- and how the U.S. Government has effectively paid taxpayer's money to save failed financial organizations led by greedy, sociopathic losers; hence, the 'Bailout' in the title.

[Please Note: Those are my characterizations of the times and events, by the way, not Ritholtz's. His research is solid and his occasionally acerbic observations are worth the price of admission. Buy the book; you'll learn things.]

Cover Of Bailout Nation (via SamSederShow)

To sum up: I appreciate Ritzholtz' drive for accuracy, and seeking better fact-based methodologies for sussing out market trends: Again, it's what he's paid for. At the same time, I don't much care for the industry he's a part of; it's my right to wrinkle my nose and growl at it, deep in my throat, as much as it's his right to jump in his particular tank and swim.

Barry and his family are in The Hamptons for their Summer vacation. The fact that you may not know or care where the Hamptons are is an indication of your Wal-Mart-shopping, Beer-Swilling, Mall-trolling, Fox-News-believing, worker-bee, Drone-peasant status.

For You: Trip To Cardiovascular Surgeon You Can't Afford, Not Included

The Hamptons are an area that encompasses the eastern end of New York's Long Island, and above that, across the Long Island Sound, the south shore of Connecticut. It's a fabled place of summer fun for the wealthy, and a tradition for the East Coast's Hereditary (and Noveau) Rich -- just like Taking That Second Job, and Wondering How To Tell The Kids We're Losing Our Home are for the rest of us.

The actual Wealthy -- Old-Money Bluebloods and the Mega-Noveau Riche Hedge Fund Managers, Pop-Rock Starz Of The Moment, and Hollywood Mega-producers -- own homes there. There are no McMansions for these people,who manage the architects and designers they hire, and are concerned with "getting it right". They don't have to live within a construction budget imposed on them by a loan officer, and don't have to (Ca-Ching!) refinance to upgrade. They can afford what they want, right away.

The Bright Spot: Rising Sea Levels Will Put These Places Underwater

The less (but still respectably) rich who can't afford a Second Residence (not yet; but we have hopes for them; yes, we do) can lease a home in the area for the three-month Season (for some high-end properties, the cost is over $100K per month), then return to their co-op apartments in the West Seventies or trendy lofts in Soho and TriBeca.

Rich Hamptons Girlz, Partying With Their Kind Until Dawn

And, Barry is there, in the thick of it all. He blogs about it -- as much to proudly announce Je sui Arriveste!, as to report the season's activity an indicator that America's Elders and Betters have started 'living large' once again. The fear of appearing to be too conspicuous in their consumption -- of being heard to grunt too loudly at the trough -- seems to have abated since the 'unpleasantness' of 2008.

Out here in the playground of the rich and famous [Barry tells us], the schism between the two Americas is about as clear as one can ever see.

[Please Note: The photos below are not part of Ritzholtz' blog post. They, and their captions, are part of Before Nine and added as visual counterpoints.]
The slowing economic growth may be what most people are focusing on, but the brutally apparent trend here is on luxe spending. Conspicuous consumption may have had its setbacks the past few years, but it's on full display out here.

For Them: So Pretty, And Softshell Crabs A La Stone Creek;
And, The Best Cardiovascular Surgeons Money Can Buy

We went to several very nice, quite pricey restaurants. In Quogue, the Stone Creek Inn on Tuesday night at 8:30 was jammed. The parking lot was a teenage boy’s wet dream: Bentley GTs, Maserati Quattroportes, Ferrari SuperAmerica (dude, what was with that ugly gray?). Out here, 911s are de rigeur, and MB S550s are cars you give the nannies; they all get parked in the back. The restaurant was filled with beautiful people wearing designer clothes, oodles of jewelry (middle aged white guys should never use the word bling).

Oh, and way too much plastic surgery — everyone had a kinda surprised look on their faces.

2009 Maserati Quattroporte (Top); 2009 Bentley Continental
GT (Bottom); Barely Legal Mistresses, Always Optional

On Wednesday night, Starr Boggs in Westhampton Beach was jammed. It was a different crowd — more family, less “fabulousness.” Perhaps it had something to do with their prix fixe only menu (Sun, Tue, Wed) — both joints are 5 stars, but Starr Boggs cost about half of Stone Creek, where I didn’t get the sense that anyone ordered from the prix fixe menu.

...I found it particularly notable that the mid-line restaurants were only half filled; the action was all higher end places...

At East End Jet Ski, the girl who worked there said they had been reasonably busy. BTW, if you are thinking about dropping $5,000 on a waverunner, spend $75. Its great fun for a half hour, but I am less sure I would want to spend a summer on one . . .

Regardless, whatever disinclination to spend the wealthy may have had in 2008 and early 2009, it has been banished here.
We're defined by our choices and actions. I guess, with all due respect, we choose to invest our lives in what we believe most important -- the wealthy (certainly, those Ritholtz describes) have already done that. It's about, you know -- bread, and butter, and all that.

Monday, September 14, 2015

Have You Seen The Little Piggies

No One Was Surprised

 "Now The DOJ Admits They Got It Wrong"; Bill Black, September 10, 2015
As posted in The Big Picture, 9/13/15
By issuing its new memorandum the Justice Department is tacitly admitting that its experiment in refusing to prosecute the senior bankers that led the fraud epidemics that caused our economic crisis failed. The result was the death of accountability, of justice, and of deterrence. The result was a wave of recidivism in which elite bankers continued to defraud the public after promising to cease their crimes...

It is now seven years after Lehman’s senior officers’ frauds destroyed it and triggered the financial crisis. The Bush and Obama administrations have not convicted a single senior bank officer for leading the fraud epidemics that triggered the crisis. The Department’s announced restoration of the rule of law for elite white-collar criminals, even if it becomes real, will come too late to prosecute the senior bankers for leading the fraud epidemics. The Justice Department has, effectively, let the statute of limitations run and allowed the most destructive white-collar criminal bankers in history to become wealthy through fraud with absolute impunity. This will go down as the Justice Department’s greatest strategic failure against elite white-collar crime.

The Obama administration and the Department have failed to take the most basic steps essential to prosecute elite bankers. They have not restored the “criminal referral coordinators” at the banking regulatory agencies and they have virtually ignored the whistleblowers who gave them cases against the top bankers on a platinum platter. The Department has not even trained its attorneys and the FBI to understand, detect, investigate, and prosecute the “accounting control frauds” that caused the financial crisis...
A commenter at The Big Picture noted:
The Obama administration are just corporatists with a liberal social agenda, but ... with a regulatory agenda indistinguishable from Bush. Don’t listen to (R)’s that call him a Socialist. He’s not. Rahm Emanuel is the prototype.
Any questions?