Friday, May 28, 2010

We have a winner

"Man in Women's Clothing charged with Statutory Rape of 15yo Memphis boy" is most bizarre headline I've read this year.

Although... "Captain America arrested with Burrito in Pants" is very bizarre too.

Well what else is in the news? It's about to be Memorial Day, and we all know what that means. Hamburger buns are on sale at Kroger's. Must be some other reason for Memorial Day though... must search memory attic...

Charles Manson auditioned when they were casting the 'Monkees' show. "Hey hey we're the Mansons, and people say we murder around"... factually accurate, yet has squat to do with Memorial Day David.

Reason Germany still dominates Pharmaceutical industry is because in 19th century, synthetic dyes for textiles desperately needed. That's what started everything. Also, as part of the treaty ending WWI, France lost patent rights on the word Aspirin. Also, a very popular textile dye is a vivid red, made from crushed bugs. Well, that's factually accurate too David, and I'll be sure to tell the first person I meet who gives a crap, but we came to the memory attic looking for Memorial Day origins, remember?

Oh, here it is! It was right behind the stuff about Kidd and Culliford. Say did I ever tell you about those two? Focus David, focus...

Memorial Day is about honoring Americans who died in war, and so never lived to attain their full potential and live their full arc in this world. It's been expanded over decades to include appreciation for those who fought and returned.

Every nation looks for inspiration in the courage of its native born warriors. I suppose in the cases of France and Germany, this must be problematic, for very different reasons, but they handle it.

So, are American soldiers just singularly more brave, when compared with those of other nationalities? I don't much see how that could be. We have the blood of every nation in our veins, after all. I suppose it's noteworthy to state that while men do great feats of courage while defending native soil, many American combat deaths took place on land far from home.

There has been much American bravery in combat. Started with Valley Forge, daring Christmas attack on Trenton, forward through the terrible War Between Brothers to 2010. Sebastian Junger in latest book writes of time spent with our troops in Afghanistan, and seeing a soldier carry a wounded comrade more than a football field's length down a rocky slope, under enemy fire all the way.

Mostly, every American soldier fights for his buddies, same as all other soldiers probably, since the invention of flags. They fight far from home, in conflicts they didn't vote for, some times giving the last full measure of human devotion. They fight for their buddies, they fight to prove they were worthy members in the band of brothers, but in the back of their minds, way back in their minds when bullets are flying?

They fight for a crazy vague ideal, very new to human history really, totally alien to Alexander or Ceasar's troops. They fight believing they're citizens of a nation clumsily stumbling towards doing the right thing. Their birthright, the belief in a nation that wants to do right, but doesn't always understand at the moment what that is. For the buddies, for personal honor, for the crazy ideal they have fought, and many have died.

In this world where humans live, always reaching for the Eternal, there are a few shades of red more vivid than what crushed bugs can provide.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

De-mythologizing McCarthy

Well, can't say I'm surprised, but it's still sad. Turns out as part of bailout plan, Greece will have to cut back on some gods and godesses. Also, Mt. Olympus is now up for a 'naming rights' sponsorship. At this writing, both Adidas and Gatorade have expressed interest.

And in other news, Texas schoolbook controversy is semi-settled for now, although I suspect some court challenge options are being explored. History is always in the news... because folks keep rewriting it.

Biggest US 20th century flashpoint of contention will always be the 'McCarthy' era. There are of course others, but Senator McCarthy gets blood up quick. So here's what really happened...

Very early 1950's most of middle America was looking around wondering what the heck just happened. They'd won a contest for survival, capping it off with the biggest tech breakthrough in recorded history, and now 7 years later, and NOW????

Moscow has the A-bomb too, and China just went Communist! Berlin airlift, Korean War, Rosenbergs... oh excuse me. Was starting to sound like that Billy Joel song for a minute. Middle America wanted answers. Senator McCarthy, that's your cue...

Joe drove some audience in West Virginia nuts, with a speech about Communist spies in the Truman admin. Next thing, Senator Joe had more fame than he was mentally enabled to handle.

He held some hearings, ruined the careers of at least a dozen low level government employees. He grilled a few prominent Left-leaners who'd served the FDR admin, but none had careers ended, and none of them were spies.

Get right down to it, Joe McCarthy couldn't catch a cold at the North Pole. He was a stupid, alcoholic gloryhound. As an aside, should I ever sign up for a stupid alcoholic gloryhound Scavenger Hunt, I'm heading to Washington first!

That's the total direct effect of Senator McCarthy's crusade. He ruined a dozen innocent people, and briefly pestered some prominent Left-leaners.

Joe's big tactical error was taking on the US Army. Middle America still remembered and revered its military. Bad ju-ju Joe.

McCarthy's legacy has grown to include Hollywood blacklists and guilt by association tactics.

Well first? Joe didn't have one thing to do with the Hollywood biz; that wasn't even a Senate committee. And any blacklisting wasn't ordered by Congress. It was done by overly sensitive Studio heads. This was near end of the Hollywood Golden Era. Those Studio guys, whoa! Did they LOVE cinema! They didn't much understand most of the audience though. These are the same cats who wouldn't allow an Asian to play Charlie Chan. They over-reacted in their perceived best interest.

Guilt by association, hmmm... those are the skirmish lines of history, where everything becomes subjective. The popular narrative is that Joe McCarthy whipped into a frenzy the latent insecurities of Americans during an insecure time, so it's all his fault really. Well, it's certainly true that McCarthy played dirty, BUT?

I think many Americans feel more comfy thinning the ranks of a mob. When the history hinge swings, some very minor players get jammed up wrongly. 1943 the Soviets were our brave allies, according to newsreels, while any but the most naive knew the Kremlin was a nest of murderous vipers. 1938, OK to be a Leftist. 1953, it's the kiss of death. Events mostly in that case, but the hinge swung. Inaccurate and simplistic to believe Senator Joe swung that hinge alone. He was agent of popular opinion.

It was wrong when the Cherokees were marched from their homeland, but Andrew Jackson isn't the lone suspect in the case. He mostly obeyed the American will.
It was wrong when Japanese-Americans were rounded up, sent to internment camps, but FDR didn't act against popular opinion in that order.
Much wrong happened in the so-called 'McCarthy era' but it wasn't Joe that swung the hinge alone.

And that's what really happened...

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Happy Birthday Daddy Bob

Oh, I suppose I could write sweepingly, rhapsodically, about the mastery of Bob Dylan's songwriting ability. Forty-five years is a long time in the spotlight, and there will be clunkers. But when that cat is in the zone, there's not much english language poetry post-WW2 that can match Daddy Bob.

But this here street corner is where I spills out, so stop the bus. Bob's enduring gift to American music, the one he doesn't get royalty checks for, is he sings lousy.

My parents' generation was dominated by crooners. In a very real way, my generation and all after it have been strongly influenced by a croaker. That Bob Dylan, raspy, nasal voice.

I really don't know what Daddy Bob meant to the Woodstock generation. I never burned my draft card. Heck, I never even got a draft card! I know what he meant to my generation of song murderers though. He meant, "Kids? Be sure to try this at home."

And so we did, by the tens of thousands. Personally, I think mostly we attempted it in the vain hope it might lead to girls paying attention to us. But there I go being snarky again (HEY! It's a gift, all right?) so I should say?

Daddy Bob meant to tens of thousands boys and girls who wanted to play music, we didn't have to be beautiful or sing with perfect pitch. If we had something to say, maybe we could snag some ears.

The legacy of that gift is all around. Springsteen, Neil Young, Counting Crows, John Prine, Guy Clark, Avett Brothers, Old Crow Medicine Show, Sheryl Crow, Paul Simon, on and on and on.

So Happy Birthday Daddy Bob. Thanks for your prime role in taking American music from spectator to participatory activity.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

And there ya Go

Kevin Costner and brainiac Scientist brother are poised to clean up Gulf Coast oil spill. Dang! I am SO gonna see that movie! He should have made that one in the first place, instead of that dumb ol' "Waterworld" mess!

Oh, wait? It's not a movie; it's reality. I always get those two mixed up!

Centrifuge approach, absolutely solid concept, might work. Lots of design devils in execution though. I wish Mr. Costner the best success.

Not the first time a movie star has had a hand in useful invention. Hedy Lamarr co-invented the tech now used in all cellphones. Ms. Lamarr was sexy like nobody's business. Random frequency reassignment. Personally, I believe she stole the idea from Nazi-cozy husband just before fleeing his clutches in 1937. Those Germans, so precise.

What else is going on in the news? Oh yeah, Greece is on fire and its tail feathers are catchin'.

Why it takes a bald hillbilly to scoop a half dozen Nobel laureate economists, I don't know exactly. But...told ya! Viability of the Euro is at stake here. Reason for precipitous US stock market volatility this week, is cause folks on Wall Street read my blog... no, wait? It was something else... oh yeah! European investors desperate to lock gains before currency exchange rate wiped them out. Also, DJ average will be lucky to close above 10,500 next Friday.

Getting a bit frustrating waiting for the Nobel laureates to pipe up before me, but here I go. Long term viability of the EU itself is at stake too. I don't even need to hit IPL and peruse current Greek journalism (Those people have a different word for EVERYTHING anyways!) to know a nativist current is starting to get traction.

Greece enjoys from EU membership lower tariffs, public works projects and some subsidies. Still, is in their short term interest to bail from the currency, re-establish the drachma, devalue it drastically, and repay creditors at the rate of Gyros for Euros.

As the saying goes, this ain't rocket surgery. I'm not the only human on Earth who knows this. Alexander Hamilton's ghost could tell you this stuff, because that's exactly how he made US a profit while paying off Revolutionary War debt. Somebody in Greece knows this too. Ms. Angela Merkel dang sure knows it. EU could very soon see nativists taking power in troubled member countries, and they secede.

Slowly, a verdict on globalism is being rendered. The baby will be thrown out with the bathwater, but that's how it goes sometimes. From little things, big things come. I didn't make that rule. A bloody Civil War culminating in decapitation of Charles I started with a woman in Scotland throwing a stool at a Preacher.

And in other news, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton threatens to send a stern
e-mail to what's about the weirdest nation on this planet, over sinking of a South Korean ship.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Good ol' Boys, Bad ol' Boys

Yeah no kidding. I was driving in South Mississippi and a bird swooped down in front of me, had to pull his carcass out of the bumper when I got home. And it was a mockingbird, so how 'bout that? I killed a mockingbird!!! Oh yeah I know technically it was Mustang assisted suicide, but I'm hanging on. It's not every day I get associated with a literary classic. And I deserve to be associated with 'To kill a Mockingbird' cause I feel like Atticus Finch and I look like Boo Radley.

Usually at this juncture I'd comment on status of author Harper Lee. But I recently learned the Reaper reads this blog, so nothing doing. I'm not giving the Reaper any more leads.

While in the deep South I drove past a souvenir place selling bedspread sized Confederate flags with Mr. Obama's picture on them. I wonder if they sell many. I thought about the Chinese workers who made those flags. Bet they were telling each other "Boy, those Americans sure do like their President, huh?"

I understand that some who drove past the store were outraged. Sure hope they don't express that indignation to those flying the Obama/Rebel flag, cause it would tickle them to no end, make 'em worse. They're just good ol' boys. 98 percent of them don't mean any harm at all, they're just trying to get a rise out of folks.

Now the bad ol' boys, that Times Square bomber guy for example. Probably just me, but he looks remarkably like John Stamos' ugly brother. He parked that SUV where it could've killed/injured dozens. He's in a lot of trouble. Along with fertilizer, propane etc. he packed the SUV with fireworks. Fireworks are illegal in NYC. Not like good ol' Mississippi where fireworks are completely legal, and one out of 58 adolescent boys is nicknamed 'lefty.'

Terrorists getting inspiration from Wile E. Coyote are to be preferred over the more lethal sort always. Frankly I don't know how anybody could be too dumb to blow up a car; it's got a tank full of gasoline. Still, it's not very funny. Neither is the talk about enhanced measures for dealing with next suspect.

See, Abdul Stamos there? He's a US citizen. Some from both parties are proposing next time a US citizen is arrested for terror act, no Miranda rights for them. From this we learn that stupid doesn't care what bumper it swoops into.

I avoid cliches like the plague. (That's a joke, get it?) So I won't say 'slippery slope.' Instead I'll say the Rosenbergs were executed for treason, but at no moment right up until 'Old Sparky' was engaged were they considered anything less than full US citizens.

The Founders said the Constitution was to define the powers of government; the rights of citizens are given by God.

Now we want to de-citizen certain suspects? Oh, I know it sounds like loads of fun, but who gets to say what a 'terror act' is? Our Supreme Court finds LOTS of things in the Constitution. They're less than a decade from finding a right to same sex marriage. I'm surprised our Supreme Court hasn't found Jimmy Hoffa's corpse somewhere in the Constitution by now.

Some day, could a Rebel flag with Mr. Obama on it be interpreted as hate speech, and therefore an act of terror?

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Rest well brave Lena

It's not accurate that actresses of elegant bearing are extinct. Each new decade produces a few such women. None of the moderns would compare well with Audrey Hepburn or Grace Kelly of course; some of the Golden era actresses just seem larger than life. Lena Horne was like that too.

No woman by instinct glides across a polished floor with the grace of a swan; someone has to teach them. Some pupils are better than others. That's Lena for you.

She was chosen by a Hollywood exec to be the crossover pioneer. Diamond in the rough, amazing physical beauty, dazzling smile, lots of raw talent. It was a business project, and success required an overhaul of Lena's public persona.

Don't laugh so loud, don't move your hips in that languid way when you walk. Chin tilted just so, no more dirty jokes. And a hundred other things. Process required to produce a non-threatening asexual negress acceptable in most white theaters.
It worked, and for the following seven decades Lena was almost entirely 'on.'

I wonder how she felt about her role as crossover pioneer. There must've been many of her race who congratulated her, but behind her back called her traitor. For some of her less chameleon-like contemporaries, Lena must've seen the opposite but twin of Stepin Fetchit. Well we all can't be Paul Robeson can we? And I'm not sure Robeson, outside his amazing talents, was very effective at anything except expressing his personal indignation.

Lena didn't learn how to move like a swan in order to change the world. She embarked on an early career of three minute bit parts that could be excised for Southern markets to make money and attain public recognition.

My favorite kind of oddball, among the many varities of kooks populating Earth, are those who don't set out to change the world, but do any way.

Lena was taught a persona and she wore it well. Some of it sunk in to her DNA to where it was Lena, but I don't think the persona ever replaced Lena. Her USO work was punctuated by angry expletive rage, after seeing German POW's given preference seating over black US soldiers. Wish I could talk to her about that, wonder what her exact feelings were. Was part of that rage against the fluke of genetics that made her look more 'white' than her blood kin? I'd like to ask Lena about that, but she was always too 'on' to deliver an uncrafted response. Can't get a straight answer from a swan.

And now Lena has passed, taking with her all those complex personas she seemed to balance so nonchalantly. I wonder if it was ever that nonchalant really. Jugglers make it look easy too. Rest well brave Lena. I'll always love you, whoever you were.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Expect the Unexpected

Oh yeah sure. Paul Harvey wasn't always the 'rest of the story' likeable coot. Back in the 1950's he had a Geraldo streak. Paul was planning an expose on lax security at military bases. Setting up the money shot, Paul tried one night to sneak onto a military base, and got caught quicker than a blind shoplifter. It turned out OK though; they didn't waterboard him or anything. So why do people attempt really dumb things? It's because they don't expect to fail.

Years after Paul made a monkey of himself, an actual monkey was busy inventing the concept of Trick For Treat. Was a nice day following a stretch of icky weather at the Omaha Zoo. The Orangutans got out of their enclosure. They went to the trees over by the Elephant area and were having a swell time. One of those apes was a young male named Fu Manchu. So the keepers finally lured the Orangutans back to cages using delicious monkey treats, and the humans got a big butt chewing about latching the gate correctly.

Now the very next pretty day, same thing happened again exactly the same way. Only difference was bigger butt chewing. Third time, Fu Manchu got busted. He was carefully looking first to see if no humans were around, then he jammed the gate up. Then Fu pulled from his mouth a bit of wire, which he used to trip the gate latch.

That was 1968. All the world's primatologists would've said an Orangutan is incapable of such behavior. Primates can't be sneaky, they can't hide things, they can't pick locks, they can't plan like that. Primates aren't sneaky; they've got the IQ of a three year old human. I must as an aside say that any primatologist who thinks a toddler isn't sneaky must be childless.

Know why Fu Manchu could do things nobody expected? Cause he didn't spend much time talking with primatologists.

In Engineering project planning, there's a thing called FMEA; failure mode effect analysis. What you do is sit around a conference room drinking institutional grade coffee. Oh yeah, coffee sold to institutional accounts has a higher level of Robusta beans than Arabica. Very interesting story, but I don't want to get sidetracked here.

So what you're doing is making up worst case scenarios for the proposed project. That's the only part requires imagination; afterwards math takes over. For each scenario, a likelihood number is applied. Then a 'how bad would it be if that happened' number. Lastly 'would people get hurt?' number. You run them together and FMEA tells you what you better have a backup plan for.
Yes kids, that's exactly how we science giant biz wiz types do it.

There's just one thing I can't figger out. How come nobody at BP knows what a FMEA is? I'm not one to judge, but looks like somebody missed something obvious, that would apply to all offshore drilling rigs.

"What happens if the well springs a leak?"
"We've got a shutoff valve."

How come nobody asked what would happen if the shutoff valve failed? Did they run out of coffee or something?

Memphis in May-be

A Southern writer once said that a lucrative career is available in explaining the South to outsiders. Well I'm not able to do that, cause I don't understand the South either. But a lot of interesting things happen around here, and I can write what I see.

Every year since medieval times probably, first weekend in May is the Memphis Music Fest, a massive three day outdoor venue for selling beer to the underaged. Oh yeah, and they have music too. One thing all Memphis area residents agree on about the first weekend in May; it's gonna rain.

Not just a misty, refreshing romantic 'April in Paris' kind of rain either. Southern river towns don't do anything tepidly. It's going to rain buckets, car wash on steroids kind of rain.

I keep forgetting to talk about the music! The lineup is comprised of a few currently hot bands, a lot of not quite there yet bands, and a healthy sprinkling from the 'Is he still alive?' category. Nobody cares much about the music though. They come because it's a big wet tee shirt contest where teens can get a beer or ten.

This year was no different, and it was. The rain started Friday evening, rolling across in hard waves, spaced out every thirty minutes or hour. Saturday was no different. Now Saturday night, it got serious. Yeah, right about here I fold in WW2...

Before radar, Southerners had to look at the sky and use their intuition about seeking shelter. Lots of times that didn't work, because killing storms can arrive without a warmup band, anytime they wish. Then came a terrible war in which untold millions lost their lives, and we got radar.

Radar said it was very likely tornados would be making an unscheduled appearance at the Memphis Music Fest. An unprecedented thing was done; the plug was pulled on the show and all the revellers were ordered to leave immediately.

Hmmm... I wonder where thousands of young folks go when they're too drunk to go home. I'll have to think about that later.

And in a 250 mile radius around the Memphis riverfront, as that drama was taking place, people were losing their homes, businesses and lives. Storms and flash floods killed people in their sleep and killed people trying to escape. Sometimes radar isn't much help at all. So that's a thing I know about the South. Death and destruction can come swiftly; it's always been like that. In some way, that fact informs Southern culture.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Mr. Economics Guy

Hmmm, I wonder what concessions Germany will demand of Greece before supplying cash infusion? Because they have to do it, even though it's widely unpopular among German voters. German populace thinks Greeks are lazy and backward, and resent their tax money being sent to a nation with cushier gov't benefits.

But it has to be done if EU viability is to be defended. This is a hinge of history. I've been watching the EU for a long time, for two reasons.

First, because successful EU would shift financial/political dominance from US to Europe. Only US choice would be to try to cobble a North/South America trading bloc.
Second, I never thought they could do it; didn't even think they could make it this far. After all, the nations of Europe fought one another for five centuries, finally achieving the subconscious goal of mutual irrelevance in 1945.

But the EU is somewhat of a viable political entity; we'll see if it passes the Greece test. I use the 'somewhat' qualifier cause EU is hilarious. Germany runs the whole shebang. Results of WW2 just in: Nazis lost and Germany won! There's a reason Margaret Thatcher was privately uneasy about the Berlin Wall coming down.

And I'm looking at the whole world economy, and I'm starting to wonder if our expectations aren't built on a statistical anomaly. Twentieth century started with Industrial Revolution puzzle pieces starting to mesh together. We also spent two major World Wars happily destroying factory made goods all over the planet. So that's the century from which we draw our expectations of a mainly manufacturing economic model; the strangest century in Western Civ, since the Black Death/Protestant Reformation century.

Hmmm. Guess I should fold in 'planned obsolescense' right about here... it's mostly a canard. It's attributed to Brooks Stevens; very smart guy. He was refering to his idea for kitchen appliances in colors besides white. His theory was that women would off-load still functioning stoves & refrigerators for more stylish ones. Only consistent ongoing PO approach I know of is Japanese heavy machine tooling. That's not really perfidious either. They design/build on the belief that tech advances define the product's lifespan.

But what if everything we bought lasted nearly forever, and cost only a little more than crap we're buying now? We wouldn't have money to buy immortal products, that's what. So a lot of our current manufacturing world model is based on replacement sales. The Chinese don't build crap because they want to; they build it because US consumers look at sticker price before anything else, in most 'durable' goods purchases.

I actually know some guys who delivered a product with 10 year life cycle, replacing a product with 3 year life, for only about twice the cost. They made millions, and then sold the company, quite wisely. Because once the market was saturated, sales went through the basement, and were last seen nearing the center of the Earth.

So we've got an expectation of an economy where forty percent of jobs are manufacturing, based on a very unusual century. And we've got a secret relationship with product obsolescence. Maybe our expectation is long term unsustainable. Maybe the real economic model is mostly service sector and perishables like food, medicine and clothing. There's always going to be tech advances that will surge new manufacturing, but the real model, the irrevocable reality is service/perishables.