Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Summer is over.

My arugula and basil went to seed.

My big sunflowers died, like friendships that didn't work out.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Thanks For The Memories

Thanks for reminding me, Des. Galveston girl. Born about 4 years after me. The first actress to expose her tits on television.

Encyclopedia Of Life

I doubt there is any way we can slip the Komogator into the Encyclopedia Of Life. Maybe we need an Encyclopedia Of Non-Life, devoted to the description and classification of things that don't exist but ought to. I'm sure there must be a place where people are cataloging imaginary or near-imaginary creatures, sort of an expanded Circus Of Dr. Lao. If we don't find a good one, maybe we can open a room in The Hive.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

What Happened To Single Payer?

Bill Moyers discovered part of the answer in this Bill Moyers' Journal interview. Moyers sat down recently with Trudy Lieberman, director of the health and medical reporting program at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, and Marcia Angell, senior lecturer in social medicine at Harvard Medical School and former editor in chief of the New England Journal of Medicine to discuss the chances of health insurance reform in America.

I found Angell's take on single payer versus the vague Obama plan to be particularly enlightening. Angell makes sense and her explanation of how to get to single payer over time by extending Medicare coverage is as sensible as anything I've heard. Angell proposes to extend Medicare coverage in phases, gradually lowering the age for coverage to give health insurers time to find other ways to make money, and, as I see it, to give the supply side of medical care time to adjust. First we lower the age to 50. A couple of years later, we lower it to 40. Then to 20, and so on. I'd probably cover the kids along with the 50-year-olds, but the proposal is so simple and makes so much sense it's hard to figure out how single payer never got on the table.

It turns out the insurance industry is just that powerful. When the dust clears, nobody is going to be better off than the insurance industry and the doctors and hospitals are. As Angell says, Obama and the Congress are about to turn over a huge, subsidized, captive market to them.

The companion piece on shock jock rage gave me some insight into where the thugs who are beating down health care reform in town hall meetings across the country come from.

Takeaway for The Hive? Figure out your maximum exposure for deductibles and co-pays under your plan and sock the money away. Things are going to get a lot worse before they get better.

I'll See You On The Other Side

The ceiling is cracked all over now and sagging. But it's not the way I thought it would be at all. The ceiling is floating away instead of falling. There's no sound. Just the sound of my breathing. I can see the stars.

It's Starting

I went to the surface about an hour ago. Things are starting to happen. I have so many things to move, but I can't get down the tunnels now. I have to sleep.

Easy Questions

How many kids can identify a Komogator before it chews their asses off the way Hive kids can? Do they know what you call that arch between a woman's legs when she stands with her legs apart and why all women don't have it? Have they seen houses that look like music and heard jazz sung in Washington, D.C., clubs in the small hours of the morning? Can they see the space between animation and the real world? Can they run a river, pick a metal tray out of a tub of scalding water, speak five languages at once? Do they know what a credit default swap is? Can they find Iraq and Afghanistan on a map, even if the countries aren't labeled? Do they know the difference between a Palouse and an archeologist? Where the best museums in the world are? How to ride big bikes in the rain? What the flu formerly known as swine virus looks like? What impulses are and why they matter? And can they freeze for one split second when they dance to let the world glide by?

Thursday, August 20, 2009

100 Clicks To Go

What's coming seems so familiar. Nowhere. I know I've been there before. It's all around us.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Counting Down

I've shut down links and passages to other sites so they don't get hit by the shockwaves when the ceilings and walls of the The Hive cave in.

In a week or so, I'll start closing rooms and tunnels and barring the doors. If there is anything you want out of The Hive, you better grab it fast.

I'm trying to decide whether to be the last to leave or stay behind like a captain going down with his ship or, even better, like a pharoah's architect.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

The Turnstile Is Clicking

I've been thinking about something Antepilani mentioned a while back. Chris Burden connected a turnstile to a heavy jack positioned between two posts supporting the ceiling of a gallery. Every time a visitor entered the gallery through the turnstile, the jack spread the posts a fraction of an inch farther apart. If enough visitors entered the exhibit, the ceiling would come crashing down.

I've picked the 10,000th visit as the event that will cave in the walls and ceilings of The Hive. We're at 9,655 and clicking. Some of the outer tunnels are caving in already. We have about a week to go. The Hive won't be here for the eon flux or the passage of health insurance reform. We're going to miss the troops coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan, and, sadly, we'll never know if Mansky finds a dwarf who will do nude scenes.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Ant Trails

There are dark passages in The Hive I hesitate to visit, corridors I'm almost afraid to go down without a flashlight in one hand and a .45 automatic in the other. I don't know where they lead or what's waiting for me down there.

My grandfather and my father were both cops. I barely remember my grandfather. He was a big Irishman who smoked cigars and threw his blackjack at me when I tried to lift it off his belt. I was six or seven. I gave him a wide berth after that, and he died of a heart attack the next year.

My father and mother were divorced right after I was born. I spent time with him on weekends and vacations in the Summer. He was cynical and suspicious, and I don't remember him ever accepting anything I said at face value. He assumed I was lying. Maybe it was the job made him like that, or maybe he was like that and found the perfect job. I'm sure he was the kind of Southern cop who hated black people, except for the little kids. He thought the kids were "cute."

When I was four or five, my mother and I were walking home one night, and we were attacked. My mother threw me at the attacker, ran to the house and let our dog out. He was a big dog and very protective. They had to put him outside if they were thinking of spanking me. When the attacker turned up at the emergency room later, my father and his friends were waiting for him there.

My wife was a mid-career artist when she got the idea it would be interesting to document how institutions imprint themselves on people. She started the project in Seattle and almost joined the Seattle police, but she got a fellowship in Houston and ended up completing the project down there. She went into the Houston Police Academy right before her 35th birthday. She recently gave me permission to talk about that year from my point of view. I didn't experience it myself, though I heard some of it on the police-band radio I kept by my bed, but I have some idea of what women run into in that world. I've heard what it's like to chase a car load of kids across Houston at high speeds -- I actually listened to this one -- and then have to race on foot to get to the kids before the cops in the other cars can beat them up. I know what happens when you turn a fellow officer in for putting his gun to a kid's head. And I have an idea how it feels to go into buildings without being sure your backup will be there if you need it. I know about the three kids and the kitten with diarrhea, cooped up all day, watching television in an apartment on the East side. And I know about the helicopters that circle poor neighborhoods all night, but never go near River Oaks.

I'm sure all that personal history plays into the way I see the Gates, Crowley, Obama flap. But for the life of me, I can't figure out how.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009


From a young designer/musician friend of Subject of Science's. It's pretty amazing that young people are listening to things like this and passing them on. We were at a pool party. I'd been doing my Julia Child imitation and passing on my roast chicken recipe. I mentioned my daughter's music teacher had told her a little exercise she was playing would be exciting when she started "connecting the notes," but he hadn't explained what that meant.

More than a fair trade for a roast chicken recipe.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Damn Right He Did

Apollo 11 command module pilot Michael Collins, who circled the moon alone while Armstrong and Aldrin walked on it, said the moon was not interesting, but Mars is. "Sometimes I think I flew to the wrong place. Mars was always my favorite as a kid and it still is today," Collins said.

The Apollo crew is pitching an expedition to Mars to Obama today.

In the meantime, we have to get past the solar eclipse on Wednesday, and get over the shock of finding out that our wiley old Obamaman isn't doing as well as we thought with the electorate. It's his economy now, his war in Afghanistan, his health insurance reform and his very existence that's being challenged by three old men today. If he can't get it up for Mars, what good is he?

Thursday, July 9, 2009

To Hell With The Internet

Be sure you listen to the audio of Ray Bradbury, telling us what he cares about. This is a man who understands Mars and obviously understands what is important in life.
Not to press the point, but no Internet, no Wiki, no google and no Hive. Haha!

Monday, July 6, 2009


The first time I used a GPS system was in an AVIS rental we picked up at the L.A. airport and drove up to Santa Barbara. Had a reasonable female voice. I called her "Honey." The joke wore thin with my wife in a couple of days, but my daughter never got tired of it.

Now, when I'm driving my daughter to swim meets or wherever and she's reading the google directions to me, she does a pretty good job of imitating Honey. Turn left on Shawnee Drive, she says in a slightly robotic voice.

Today she had an interesting idea. What if people gave you samples of their kids voices, and you programmed Honey to sound like the kids? You could have your daughter's or your son's voice giving you directions, keeping you company on your trip away from home. Sort of a personality module downloaded into any Honey. Turn left on Shawnee Drive, Daddy, the little Honey would say.

I like it. Hell, you could even give the personality modules personalities. Instead of just the wife, you could have the nagging wife. How many times do I have to tell you to turn left on Shawnee Drive, Bonehead? Or the husband who refuses to ask for directions. That turn is around here somewhere. Give me a goddam minute, will you? Old guys could ramble. Old ladies could talk about the grandkids between turns.

The possibilities are endless.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

The Horror

This happens to me all the time. I run into something that suggests an analogy, but I can't come up with it. So I file it away for another day.

There is a species of red ants whose grubs are devoured by a large blue butterfly. The butterfly lays its eggs on thyme flowers and the caterpillars fall to the ground after hatching. They secrete chemicals and even make noises that make the red ants believe they are wayward grubs. The ants mistakenly carry the caterpillars to their underground homes and keep looking after them even though the adopted monsters gobble ant grubs for 10 months before forming a chrysalis and flying away as adult butterflies.

Ant grubs? Those are baby ants!

The horror.

Thursday, June 4, 2009


Turner Classic Movies has Bergman on all night, beginning at 9:00 PM Eastern with The Seventh Seal, followed by Wild Strawberries and Persona.

The Criterion Collection is releasing The Seventh Seal on DVD in a couple of weeks.

The Seventh Seal is the first Bergman film I saw. I saw it at a foreign film theater just off-campus when I was a college freshman in Lubbock. They ran And God Created Woman a week later, and I was hooked on foreign films until the '80s when, for reasons I can't explain, except for the films of Tarkovsky and a couple of other directors, I lost interest in them. Maybe it was because my directors had died off or petered out.

I think of Persona and Cries and Whispers as Bergman's masterpieces, but The Seventh Seal was my first encounter with the collision of idealism and naturalism in film. To my romantic 18-year-old mind, the knight, Antonius Block, and Death were fascinating allegorical figures. They were in the natural world, but not of it. As I grew older, I was drawn more and more to the rich natural world of Bergman's films, but, in the beginning, like Block, I imagined a life of the intellect was superior to a life of the flesh.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009


I keep thinking, if we stay with it long enough, we can improvise our way to something important, some clear statement of what it is to be human. Some reader, years from now, might find that theme in these notes. People were here. They had jobs. They had lovers. Husbands and wives. Some of them had kids. Their world was changing fast. Sometimes, it seemed to be coming down around their ears. But they went to movies, danced, listened to music, watched TV, made it to the grocery store. They read books. They talked about the things they saw and heard. Like you, Reader. They tried to be direct, unmediated and genuinely human in what they thought and said. To keep things and people in perspective. They hung out. And they all had porn star names. But the women didn't like to give head.

First thing I thought when I heard Harry Reid said Sonia Sotomayor was "the whole package" was: "Yes. But does she swallow?"

Monday, June 1, 2009

We Almost Have A Word For It

The word is herpetophobia. Fear of reptiles. But there doesn't seem to be a word for plain old hatred of reptiles.

That's the one I need. Without that word, I can't express the rage I feel when I contemplate vile beasts like Komodo Dragons. It's like trying to talk about Nixon without using the word motherfucker.

Turns out we owe the bastards our big brains and sharp eyes. 

Go figure.

Hive Interrupted

The Science Hive needs our help. They want us to help the Smithsonian Museum monitor life on earth.

As if we don't have enough to do. We're already monitoring the flu formerly known as swine, the weather around the globe, fasts, and a couple of radio programs. Now they want us to keep track of everything else, too.

The Smithsonian used to keep track of ephemeral events, but I can't find any record of that program. Guess it was ephemeral and nobody noticed it passing.

Thursday, May 28, 2009


When I heard about the girl, the first thing I thought of was Schwarzkogler. I don’t know why. The infection probably.

The girl turned up at the doctor's office with a bladder infection. Her mother told the doctor the girl had been having them since the surgeries, botched jobs that led to peritonitis, and then to the recurring infections. I imagine the doctor, searching through the girl’s medical history for the surgeries and not finding them, because the operations were performed somewhere else and there was no record of them at his office.

The child had stabbed herself in the stomach with a kitchen knife, an unusual act for a girl I hear. Boys use knives and guns. Girls who try to kill themselves usually use drugs.

When the doctor examined the girl, he found what had started as a small puncture of her belly had, through one failed surgery after another, become a disfiguring jumble of deep, crisscrossing scars. Then he saw the scars on her arms. Some of them were recent, and they were infected.

I saw scars like that on a woman’s arms in Austin a long time ago. I thought she’d tried to kill herself and failed. Now I think she may have been cutting herself. I don’t know why.

What are kids who cut themselves up to? What are they after? And what can the doctors who deal with the children’s bodies while other doctors try to understand the children’s minds do about the infections and the scars?

I imagine the doctor, explaining sterile technique to the girl. Before you cut yourself, you have to wipe the place you are going to cut with alcohol and clean the blade of your knife.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Music And Architecture

Subject of Science on first languages, music and architecture.

The architect who designed it, Robert Harvey Oshatz, calls this house "a physical manifestation of the fluidity and complexity of music.”

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Flu Formerly Known As Swine Flu Virus

Dr. Erskine Palmer and R.E. Bates / Centers for Disease Control / Reuters

This guy looks like a tough little bastard.

I've been through flu pandemics in 1957 and 1968. If I got sick, I don't remember it. But in Germany, in 1964 I caught a flu I remember. For a couple of days I was dreaming or delirious. I seemed to be working in a Chinese laundry, boiling sheets in big tubs. The steam in the air made it so hard to breathe, I felt like I was drowning. I kept coughing up horrible gobs of dark green mucous and spitting them into the wash tubs.

In the 70's in Austin, Texas, I spent a couple of weeks in a poorly vented darkroom, making images for an art project, and ended up with a chemical pneumonia. Or maybe it was the legionnaires disease, or just the flu that put me in the hospital for a week. I was seriously ill, but inhalation therapy pulled me through. I remember hearing that when they cultured whatever the organism was that was trying to kill me, it was a cross between a plant and an animal. I'm sure it had a name, but I don't remember what it was.

Friday, April 24, 2009

For Levi

Another piccolo player.

Boris Artzybasheff
The Circus Of Dr. Lao
Charles G. Finney

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The Middle Way

Mainly, we're all McLuhans now. We take it for granted that the contents of each new medium, the world wide web for example, is the media that preceded it. In the case of the web, television, film, photography, books and magazines of all kinds make up a substantial part of its contents.

It seems to me the web has, up to now, functioned mainly as a mass distribution medium. The content of the web, a photograph for instance, may be transformed by being published in the context of the web, where it is available to so many people so fast and collides with so much other information, but it is not altered on purpose to make it "webic" in the way books and plays are altered to make them "filmic." On the way to becoming a film, a book is broken down, then put together again as a screenplay and a film.

There are several ways to use a book to produce a screenplay. The easiest way, probably, is to ignore the book's characters and plot and recreate the "essence" of the book in film. Warhol's Vinyl, for example, captures the essence of A Clockwork Orange, without burdening the film with Burgess's characters and plot. That's probably not the most commercially successful way to turn a book into a film.

The commercially successful way, the Hollywood way, is to respect the narrative and characters of the novel and to recreate those elements with acting, cinematography, sound and editing in a way that "brings the novel to life." The quality of the novel, of its characters and plot, matter. If necessary, the film may deviate from the novel, but changes to the original are made in the spirit of improvement. Kubrick was faithful to Burgess's plot in his film version of A Clockwork Orange. Ridley Scott, on the other hand, probably intended Blade Runner to be an improved version of Dick's Do Androids Dream Of Electric Sheep. His departures from Dick's narrative and characters were intended to produce a better, more successful story.

The third way, the auteur way, is to use the novel's characters and plot simply as a place to start. French New Wave directors bought the rights to dime store novels for their plots. Almost any plot would do, because the films they made weren't about the narrative. The story was beside the point. Just something to hang the film on. Art is synthesized experience. For film makers like Goddard, the story was just an occasion for that synthesis.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Why Mars Matters

America is not America without a frontier. We're the kind of people who need to be constantly pushing the outside of the envelope, creating a frontier, settling it, getting restless and moving on.

It's in our nature to move West. And the only West left is out in space. That-a-way. Out yonder.

Back East is a museum. Getting bad as Europe. But out West, you can stretch out and breathe. Tim Leary knew.

He toured America, playing electronic music he claimed would prepare the human mind for a voyage into deep space. The Department of Justice brought him. Put him on tour to recant, to take it all back. And he did. He told us the government was firmly in the hands of men and women who only a few years before had been stealing hub caps at Atlanta rock concerts. He said he was about to play some tapes to rearrange the molecules of our brains, to prepare us for deep space, for the long voyage ahead. Anybody didn't want to go had better leave. I trusted Tim, and I wasn't ready for space, so I left. I never heard the Leary tapes. I doubt I'm fit to travel into space. But some folks are.

They're the kind of men and women who were willing to take their chances on a new America, willing to give the kid his shot and help him win the title. And he owes them more than the same old men, running America the same old way. He owes them a shot at something big.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

What I Like

Some things I like in art.

Melancholy moods, dark streets, the rain.


Seeing the old order brought down. Seeing chaos reign.

Reluctant heroes.

Magic and the supernatural.

Women who work retail.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Spring Break

Spring break and my daughter is home today, complaining about having to get out of bed because the maid is coming. The maid's a woman from Brazil. Her husband's a divinity student at the Adventist college in a little town down the road. He helps her clean the house now and then, making her a maid service or cleaning service I guess, which is what we called our maid in Brooklyn, even though she was just a woman from Guatemala who brought her daughter with her sometimes and showed her maid tricks like storing the garbage bags in the bottom of the garbage can. The word maid was a problem in Brooklyn because my wife was ashamed that a sister was cleaning our house. There were programs on NPR about that in those days. Ways to get by without a maid. We lived with the guilt. Now I don't feel guilty about having a maid, just uneasy about being able to afford a maid when so many people are out of work sometimes, but never when I'm picking up the house before she comes, because I know that without the Friday pick up and the maid we'd slowly sink beneath a rising sea of kipple. When the house is picked up enough for her to start cleaning it, I get out of her way. This morning I took the kid to Big Boy for breakfast, and we ended up in a booth next to some kind of old timers' breakfast club, four guys from the local VFW, talking about draft dodgers in the Seventies and a local doctor who did a tour on a medevac plane, flying critically hurt GIs from Iraq to Germany, the kind of old men and the kind of conversation makes you want to say if I get that way please put a bullet in my brain pan. But just to show you how confusing free association can get, I sat there thinking all at once about four or five things, all jumbled up, that I have to put down in some linear way here, because the narrative won't let me tell it all at once. The VFW has to let you use their big, portable barbeque pits if you're a veteran. You just reserve the pit. Tow it home with your truck. Leon told me that at Leon's World Famous Barbeque in Galveston while I waited for my take-out ribs, reading the menu on the wall, reading cold yard bird, a phrase my wife picked off the menu and put in a poem, you cold yard birds, I know the names of poets in high places, while CLM, whose craziness landed me in the Army, waited for her order, standing alongside me at the counter, wondering who I was. I made the mistake of going to see her at Unit D, you don't even have to explain to anybody what a place called Unit D is about, after she slashed her wrists, and the cops, doing me a favor, figuring me, an officer of a local bank, for a respectable guy who happened, unwittingly, to be mixed up with the criminally insane, took me down to the station and showed me her rap sheet. How were they to know that inside that thick file was where I longed to be?

Copyright 2009 Billy Glad

Wednesday, April 1, 2009


I was driving her to school, and my daughter told me if she had been born in the old days we would still be in New York where her name was written in the book. People couldn't move around back then she said, couldn't leave New York the way we did right after 9/11, a move we'd planned to make to the Midwest, made easier by the dust in the air and the smell like a burned out motor or lamp and the scorched pieces of paper that floated into the courtyard of our co-op the day after the towers fell down. That was the day I got back to Brooklyn, drove all night in a rented car, came in across Staten Island with the heavy trucks, ambulances, and military vehicles of all kinds, everything but tanks. The tanks were in my mind. But I heard the helicopters when the rental threw a rod a couple of blocks from my apartment and I parked it in front of a corner grocery and walked the rest of the way home. If it had been the old days, we'd have stayed in New York instead of laying in a supply of Cipro and Amoxicillin and flying out to the Midwest, and I never would have put that guy's eye out at the dump. It was about the time Saddam's sons, Uday and the other one, were killed, gunned down or blown up, and right after I took the wood from the kitchen cabinets we tore out to make room for the new refrigerator down to the dump. Right before that, the night before or maybe the night before that I dreamed I was trapped in the basement and the house was on fire, and I was yelling at my wife to throw the .357 magnum through the narrow basement window so I could blow my fucking brains out to keep from burning alive, the kind of dream that stays with you all day. And right after that dream I took the wood to the dump. Long pieces of wood with nails sticking out that I tried to hammer down, but they kept bending and sliding under the hammer and I couldn't get them all out or bent down flat, and I had to be careful not to jam one into my hand when I was loading the wood into the back of my truck. When I got to the dump, the attendant helped me pull the wood out of the back of the truck and throw it over the side of the walk-in dumpster. And when we were almost finished a guy came out of the dumpster, holding his head and saying what the fuck were we doing, and the attendant told him he wasn't supposed to be going inside the dumpster like that. You're lucky you didn't get killed the attendant told him. I could see the guy had a cut next to his eye, and he was sticking his finger through a hole in his baseball cap and saying you ruined my fucking cap. Then he went over and got in his car and his wife was looking at his eye, and I backed out and drove off, thinking they were probably writing down my license plate number, or maybe they would come back to the dump every Saturday and try to find me. But I was thinking maybe he wouldn't have much of a case, even if he lost that eye, because he probably shouldn't have been in the dumpster. But just to make sure, I called a lawyer so he could set my mind at ease. They say when you leave a place you get a unique perspective on it, see things the people who stay behind don't see. All I get is homesick now and then.

Copyright 2009 Billy Glad

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why Hasn't Mars Caught On?

You'd think it would. Compared to putting men and women on Mars, putting men on the moon was a baby step. The trip to Mars will take months, and the astronauts will have to wait 3 years for the planets to align again so they can return. But NASA's unveiling of the Mars spacecraft yesterday went almost unnoticed.

I think the problem is Bush had the idea, and he had it at a time when he easily could be accused of trying to divert attention from Iraq.

Now, I suppose, people will say we have to get the economy and healthcare fixed before we think about going to Mars. Reviving the space program seems extravagant. But what about those people living in Detroit? Are they supposed to pack up and move when the automotive industry shuts down? Maybe so. It's happened before. Happened with steel.

But the thought of those auto-workers turning out spaceships, of Detroit at the red hot center of the Mars Mission, seems to me to be a hopeful thought at a time when hopeful thoughts are hard to find. Godspeed, NASA. Go for it, Detroit.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

A Woman Under The Infuence

I started Cassavetes' A Woman Under The Influence last night, continuing my look at Cassavetes to test the theory that, more than any other American director, he's about people up against the limits of their existence and unable to break out. I had to turn it off. I only got as far as Gena Rowlands, coming back to her house with a man she picked up in a bar.

There is something almost unbearably edgy about the young Rowlands for me. Like somebody jammed a 220v wire into her brain. It takes her about two minutes to convince me she's the most fragile woman I'll ever meet. Right now, I don't want to know what happens to her. I don't want to know what Cassavetes is about to do.

I knew a woman who lived on the edge, in and out of wards. Overdoses. Slashed wrists. The last time I talked to her was the night she called and said: "I did it again."

I hung up the phone, took a long shower, got dressed, fixed a sandwich and watched a little TV. Then I called 911.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

It Was Hemingway, I Think

I've always been fascinated by what writers have to say about writing, actors about acting, directors about directing. But I can think of only one good piece of advice I ever gleaned from all those interviews. It was Hemingway, I think, who said something like: The trick is to stop writing while you know what's going to happen next.

Friday, March 13, 2009

Culture And Politics

Yesterday, I was listening to some kind of NPR afternoon concert on the car radio while I waited for my daughter to get out of school, and I had the satisfying experience of realizing I knew the opera I had tuned in on was by Wagner. The long, melodic baritone solo in German, joined by a chorus at the end, had to be Wagner. Did he ever compose voices singing in harmony? Maybe he did, but all I remember are conversations. When the piece ended, I found out I had been listening to Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, and it struck me that there are people who would have immediately recognized the opera, the baritone and the conductor as well, maybe even remembered the exact date of the performance. But I don't need to know that much to enjoy, at some level anyway, a few minutes of Wagner on a bright Thursday afternoon while I wait for my daughter to come out of school. I just have to have a radio of some kind and tune it to my public radio station, or some other station that broadcasts classical music. As long as those stations exist. As long as nobody comes along and decides classical music is a waste of time. A waste of money. The same goes for Public Television, doesn't it? Anyway, I think it does.

I've been trying to remember the programs I saw in Austin the night PBS programming came on the air in 1969. No luck so far. There was something about Joplin and Hendrix about that time, but I don't know if I saw it that first night.

I saw some good things on PBS. Sometimes, I wonder why they don't pull out all that tape and put together a week-long best of PBS. I remember Orson Bean in Star Wagon, singing Jerusalem, telling his side-kick as long as I've got a dollar, you've got fifty cents. Krishnamurti. Alan Watts in the afternoon. Documentaries like High School.

I was at Arden House in New York at a Corporation For Public Broadcasting bash for documentary film makers the night Richard Nixon cracked down on PBS and the CPB. Rumor had it the disaster had something to do with Frederick Wiseman's Basic Training. I never found out. But, after that week, it seems to me the story of PBS has been the saga of a long, slow climb back into the light.

Let's keep it there.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

The Summer Of '67

The Summer of 1967, an army buddy and I took over the 2nd floor of an old duplex in Galveston and spent a lot of time arguing politics versus culture. He was a Marcusian and argued that politics shaped culture. I argued culture shaped politics.

It was the summer of the Six-Day War, and our favorite cartoon showed the aftermath of a collision between an Arab and an Israeli tank, the Arabs holding their hands in the air, the Jews holding their necks.

I read the Koran that summer, and I was impressed by the idea of houris.

I read The Autobiography of Malcolm X.

Sitting by the pool one afternoon, I suddenly understood what a function was and lost my fear of mathematics forever.

My friend hung out at the beach all day while I programmed computers at an insurance company. After work every day, I'd drop a deck of punch cards off at the computer room, and the operators would run my latest Keynesian model for me on the IBM 7080. The models always blew up. I never got the accelerator and the multiplier right.

My friend relieved me of the burden of paying the note on my '65 Baracuda by totaling it on the boulevard one afternoon. He had just come back from the Monterey Jazz festival. The richest man in town sent him out there with some banker's wife, probably as a joke.

My friend ended up inheriting a department store in Basel and slowly disappearing, like that big cat. I wonder what he's doing sometimes.

The banker's wife ended up finding Jesus under the sink in the bathroom of a cheap motel in Laredo one night. She was crouched in the corner, desperate for help, and it was Jesus or the big cockroach that had just crawled out from under the sink.

I still think it's about culture. About education in all its forms. If I don't know what a credit default swap is, never saw a play or an opera, never read a real book, don't know what a function is, never read any history, how can I believe I know enough to pick the people who are going to run my country?

And I'm not arguing for government by the elite.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

An Imperfect AI Or Is It?

When we comment back and forth, I get an email with the comment. If you use gmail, you know they throw up ads on the right side of the window, based on the content of the mail. Picked up Hive Talk or whatever it was there last night, for instance.

I've been thinking it would be fun to keep a list of some of the better ones.

Here's what came up for Des' latest comment about Neil Young.

Don't Pay for a Face Lift

I Cured My Wrinkles Miraculously!

Is that scary or what?

Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I'm On My Own

John Updike is dead. Who'll keep me company over the next 20 years or so?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

The Great Depression

I was born in a Texas Gulf Coast town during the Depression, right before the war. My grandmother was Italian and my grandfather was an Irish cop. My father was a bohunk from Pennsylvania who was in the Army when he met my mother. He got out of the Army, cut grass and delivered ice until my grandfather got him a job on the force. He went back into the Army after Pearl Harbor and ended up occupying Japan. My mother had a half-brother, my uncle Bill, who was in the Army Air Corps when the war started. He was the toughest man I ever knew.

My mother and I lived with my grandparents in their house down by the docks. During the Depression, my mother says, my grandfather used to bring home groceries and meat he got from the grocers and butchers on his beat. We'd share the food with my grandmother's sisters and brothers and their families sometimes. My mother emptied bed pans at the hospital down the street until she got a job with the Corps of Engineers.

I don't remember any of that. I remember card games in the dining room, listening to people talking and laughing while I fell asleep, a paper jack-o-lantern that caught fire, and falling off the back porch. Later, I remember the lights were off at night along the beach because of the German submarines in the Gulf. When my dad came home from Japan, he brought me a sword.

Tuesday, January 6, 2009


What's fascinating about an academic like Stanley Fish deigning to share his views on the best American films with us is not so much his arrogance as it is his ignorance. But there are clues here about Fish and about the Obama world to come, so it's worth taking a minute to explore how far out of touch with reality selective perception can put us.

Here's Fish on The Best Years Of Our Lives, a William Wyler film that Fish considers the best American film ever made.
The three intertwined stories are resolved with a measure of optimism, but with more than a residue of disappointment and bitterness. Al Stephenson is still a drunk. Fred Derry is still poor and without skills. Homer Parrish still has no hands.
Still. As in stasis. As in nothing has changed.

I think not.

Al may be a drunk, but he's a drunk making loans to GIs, based on their character and his own judgment. Fred may be poor and without skills, but he's not a soda jerk anymore. He's just landed a job beating swords into plowshares and building post-war America. And Homer Parrish may still have no hands, but, by the end of the film, it's Homer's girlfriend helping him into his PJs instead of his dad.

That's narrative. That's character development. And if it's not great film, it is solid literature.

Flip it on its head. If a guy like Fish can't see that the characters in a film he thinks is the best American movie ever made are changing in front of his eyes, can we expect him to see that Bill Ayers and Bernadine Dohrn, people he thinks are a couple of the solidist citizens around, haven't changed at all? They're still the over-privileged white kids who couldn't make it in the Civil Rights and anti-war movements and set out on their own, starting a two-bit, terrorist organization that ended up making zero difference, except to the people who got hurt and killed by the Weathermen. Just a couple of saps with a dumb idea who've never owned up to their sappiness or the dumbness of their idea.

Cut to Europe, where Government officials and Jewish leaders are concerned that the conflict in Gaza may spill over into violence in Europe as attacks are reported against Jews and synagogues in France, Sweden and Britain.

But, what the hell? Those people, according to Mr. Ayers' and Ms. Dohrn's sappy code, are honor bound to attack those Jews, aren't they?

Years from now, they might even wish they had done more.

But don't get me wrong. I could care less about the Weathermen. I thought they were entertaining. I wasn't political in the '60s. By 1967, I had tuned in, turned on and dropped out. I wasn't looking for a street fight, I was looking for sex, drugs and rock and roll. I was looking for long hair, long legs and conical breasts that year. It was much later that I realized, stoned and watching Nixon on TV, that even the President Of The United States could go insane. Then panic set in until Tim Leary told me a few years later not to worry about the government, the people who were stealing hub caps at the Atlanta film festival a couple of years ago were now running it. I decided to join them.

So you tell me. Should I worry about the Obama administration or not?

This Must Be Ennui

I'm not looking forward to the new year. Mostly, I think it's going to be boring.

On a personal level, the year will be about navigating the narrow path between insecurity and opportunity during a recession. On a more general or political level, a national and international level, it will be about the first year of the Obama administration, the first year of a government mostly controlled by the Democratic Party.

After the primaries and the election, the prospect of an Obama Presidency seems so anti-climactic. This must be ennui.

I haven't been able to bring myself to read any of the lists of the most important, good and bad, events of 2008 the mainstream media has floated. I haven't been able to bring myself to read any of the predictions for 2009. And, in the middle of the most serious economic recession of my adult life, with the world's financial system in crisis and Israeli troops deep inside Gaza -- that seems so sexual -- I read, but don't have the inclination to talk about important articles like Lewis and Einhorn's The End Of The Financial World As We Know It.

Instead, I find myself drawn to an academic piece of fluff by Stanley Fish, bombastically styled: The 10 Best American Movies.

I don't know Professor Fish, but, after looking at his list of American movies and reading his biography, I don't think his take on American cinema is very interesting. What is interesting is that I knew right off that if I googled Stanley Fish and Bill Ayers, I was going to find something. As a matter of fact, my google search didn't let me get any further than Stanley Fish and Bill, before it suggested Stanley Fish and Bill Ayers.

It turns out that Professor Fish is one of those Chicago academics and intellectuals who have been instrumental in rehabilitating Bill Ayers' reputation.

I missed Fish's Much Ado, Mush Ado?, piece about Ayers last year, and I'm glad I did. With the election settled and Obama's so-called "guilt by association" no longer an issue, I can see that Obama's lack of interest in American history and the social and political issues of the '60s is less important than the kind of men and women he has embraced and been embraced by in return. These are the people who will make up the "Obama administration." They will be the architects and re-builders of American government during the Obama years.

Academic, irrelevant and boring one and all.