Wednesday, November 16. 2016
A few more posts as I'm sifting through the old online notebook for a few stray record reviews, and finding a world that looks and sounds eerily familiar, marked by six years of corrupt Republican rule (following eight years of corrupt Clinton and twelve years of even more corrupt Reagan-Bush). This shows that ten years ago I was starting to doubt that some of the damage could ever be reversed. Clearly, eight years of Obama has had little effect -- one statistic is that 97% of the gains of the recovery have been captured by the top 1%, which implies that the overwhelming majority of Americans haven't seen anything vaguely resembling a recovery, no matter what the stock markets say -- and now we're poised for another plunge into disaster.
From February 1, 2006, when "the Liar in Chief gave his State of the Disunion speech":
That was written a couple years before the predicted economic disaster got out of hand.
From February 15, 2006, when Dick Cheney went hunting:
On March 3, 2006, I wrote a comment about a quote from Robert D. Kaplan, an American journalist who served in the IDF and went on to be a major neocon cheerleader in books about Afghanistan, the Balkans, and The Arabists. I read a lot of his work after 9/11, but had largely given up on him by the time I wrote this:
On May 12, 2006, I wrote a post around quotes about Berlusconi and Nixon that seemed to fit the election results so well I went ahead and posted them here.
On June 22, 2006, I wrote a post called "Clintonistas for Armageddon" -- it's one of those things you forget about because it led to nothing, but it was about an op-ed written by two Clinton war guys, William Perry (Clinton's Secretary of Defense) and Ashton Carter (a Clinton under-secretary, who later became Obama's Secretary of Defense). They were upset about North Korea testing one of its missiles, and urged Bush to pre-emptively fire cruise missiles at the site. While North Korea's missiles (and most likely a couple fission bombs) were works-in-progress, this overlooked that North Korea has thousands of pieces of heavy artillery capable of raining destruction on Seoul. That's not a very smart deterrent to test. I spent some time researching North Korea at that point. Today I'm more struck by the Clinton connection. I led off the post with this line:
On June 23, 2006, I wrote a post based on an Eagle article reporting that sociologists are finding that Americans have fewer and fewer close friends (the average dropped from 3 in 1985 to 2). I quoted the piece, then added:
On July 8 I wrote an untitled piece, a bit of autobiography trying to explain why I write this shit. Interesting to read it a decade later, because sometimes I forget.
I've written a lot on Israel ever since 2001 but haven't quoted much in this series. However, in July 2006 Israel opened a brutal assault on Lebanon, an event Condoleezza Rice memorably dubbed "the birthpangs of a new Middle East." On July 25, I wrote:
Finally (for now, anyway), on September 13, 2006 -- two years before "The Great Recession" became official -- I called this post "The Great Decline":
Friday, October 28. 2016
More tidbits from my online notebook, which starting in 2005 became an archive and expansion of my blog.
On February 15, 2005, I wrote about North Korea's newly developed nuclear weapons, and the American response:
On February 4, 2005, I wrote a letter in response to an editorial in the Eagle by a "Social Security reformer" named Jim Clark (you may recall that Bush tried to redeem his "mandate" by wrecking Social Security, a quest which didn't go over too well):
From a post on May 29, 2005, on a couple Kansas politicians:
In early May, 2005, I noted that I succumbed to my wife's entreaties and started watching television with her, specifically the Jack Bauer terrorism fantasy 24. Since then TV has become a nightly ritual. I reckon you can date my mental rot from that date.
On May 27, 2015, I noted:
On May 31, 2015, I published a piece in the Village Voice on jazz labels. The notebook adds a note on business models that I promised to return to some day:
On September 1, 2005, I wrote this in a letter about Katrina and New Orleans:
On September 30, 2005, in the wake of Katrina, I wrote about the Republican embrace of small and/or incompetent government:
On October 17, 2005, I wrote about Bush's ill-fated nomination of Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court:
From October 22, 2005, I reminded readers I had opposed going to war in Afghanistan in the first place (well, in 2001, although had I given it any thought I would have opposed it in 1979 as well), then noted:
On November 11, 2005 I wrote about Veterans Day:
Might as well end this with my Pazz & Jop ballot, from December 27, 2005:
Saturday, September 26. 2015
Elizabeth Fink was an attorney who spent her entire career defending and fighting politically-charged cases, especially against the abuse of power by state and federal authorities. She never suffered any delusions about the innocence and/or righteousness of her clients -- not that some weren't innocent and/or justified -- but she fully recognized how stacked the system is against them, and struggled relentlessly to tilt that system back toward justice. As she said, "justice is what everyone deserves and no one gets." And it should be noted that she was exceptionally effective in the courtroom: as Laura Stevens put it, "Liz had outstanding results in her work, winning case after case that was a loser for almost anyone else." Persistent too: "This applies to Attica not on the facts, which were compelling, but on the process, which would have defeated most people before the first 20 years expired."
Liz died on Tuesday, September 22, at age 70, in Brooklyn. She had increasingly dire kidney and heart problems, which forced her to give up her practice a couple years ago. In her last week she was approaching renal failure, and had a hemodialysis shunt installed. She took a short walk on Sunday and fell, possibly breaking her hip. In the hospital, her heart stopped. Laura Stevens, a dear friend ever since college, had spent the previous week with Liz (this is from a personal letter):
She is survived by her brother, photographer Larry Fink, and by numerous friends who miss her dearly.
The following pieces will give you a quick guide to her career (although each misses much):
Liz grew up in a left-wing family in Brooklyn, keeping a equally committed but less doctrinaire version of her family's politics. (I know little about her father, who died before I met her, but her mother -- I knew her as Sylvia Kleinman -- was always involved in something political, notably the Gray Panthers. She once walked off Charlie Rose's show because she didn't think he was taking her seriously.) Liz went to Reed College and graduated in 1967. That's where she met "the two Lauras" and they remained lifelong friends -- Laura Stevens, introduced above, and Laura Tillem, who later met and married me. In 1971, the Attica prison revolt was murderously put down on orders from NY Governor Nelson Rockefeller. The state's first instinct there was to prosecute prisoners, among other things charging them with the deaths of the nine prison guards who had been held hostage and were shot and killed by the invading troops. When Liz graduated from Brooklyn Law School, she joined the defense team, helped get the charges dropped, and filed suit against the state, resulting in several trials and the settlement in 2000. She stuck through the entire ordeal. Even in her last days she was working on organizing her archives and trying to force New York to release still-secret documents.
I first met Liz shortly after Laura Tillem and I got together. We were living in Boston, and Liz came up frequently -- the "Ohio 7" sedition case was tried in Springfield, so Liz stayed there for the duration of the trial. (Some info here: "the longest and most expensive trial in the history of Massachusetts, . . . When the trial ended with no convictions, it also turned out to be one of the most controversial -- and highly criticized -- trials . . ." -- I remember that we talked at great length about what a staggering waste of public resources the trial was. As I recall the amount of money the government wasted was about five times the capitalization of the start-up company I was working for at the time.) After the trial, she came to Boston less, but we went to New York more. We met up once at her mother's house in New Jersey. On a couple occasions Liz and her mother rented a house way out on Long Island and invited lots of their friends out. Once we flew to Portland for a Reed Reunion -- that was the first time I met Laura Stevens. When Sylvia died we dropped everything and drove to Brooklyn. (A few months earlier Sylvia closed up the NJ home and moved into an assisted living apartment in Brooklyn.) When we moved to NJ, Liz came out many times, including to one of my notorious birthday dinners. After we moved to Wichita, Liz and Laura Stevens stopped on a cross-country drive. We were staying at Liz's when 9/11 happened, and I wound up staying there a month. As Liz's health declined, Laura made several trips to New York to help out. I only made one, in May 2014, at a point when she was doing relatively well.
In listing all these encounters, I can't help but feel like I'm bragging, but really I count myself as incredibly lucky. I've heard that when Laura and I first got together, Liz's only question was whether I was "smart enough" for her. I'm pretty sure I passed muster, but really, the most imposing intellect I've ever encountered was Liz's. She read more than anyone I've ever known, comprehended it all, was always incisive in her critiques, and could speak eloquently and poignantly without ever losing your interest. She was, in short, dazzling. One regret I have is that I never saw her in a courtroom, one of the few places where such rigor may prove decisive. A greater regret is that she always resisted my pleas to write. I would have been satisfied had she found a scribe to follow her around and jot down stories (like Ralph Leighton did for Richard Feynman). Terrific stories, thousands of them. If we're lucky, her friends will recall many of them, but too many are already lost. She may have been right that she could never write as well as her favorite writers, but her voice deserves an oral legacy as rich as, well, the other bard who passed this week, Lawrence Peter Berra.
But that was just one of many facets to this remarkable person. I'd like to close by quoting several memories that people have written to her Facebook timeline. I hope at some point to collect these and more on the Friends of Liz Fink webpage.
Continue reading "Elizabeth Fink (1945-2015)"
Saturday, October 25. 2014
When I was sixteen I probably knew every lyric to every Beatles song extant, so it wasn't hard to recall at least the refrain of the jaunty little title tune on my 64th birthday. "Will you still need me? Will you still feed me?" Back then I wouldn't have had a clue who "you" might be, but I never worried about food: my mother's theme song should have been Cab Calloway's "Everybody Eats When They Come to My House" -- a house I also didn't have a clue how to escape. I celebrated my 16th birthday a couple months late by dropping out of high school. I stayed home a couple days after Christmas when a cousin was visiting. I went back the next day and was so sickened I never returned.
For the next five years I basically hid out in my attic room. I skewed my hours to minimize contact with my parents and siblings, going to sleep minutes before my father got up for work, waking mid-afternoon just in time to watch Dark Shadows and Star Trek reruns. I had a tiny black-and-white TV that ran out of stations shortly after midnight, a tinny stereo with not much more than a dozen LPs, a typewriter, and a growing collection of books and periodicals -- what I spent nearly all of my $10/week allowance on. Evenings I could take the family car out, mostly downtown to bookstores and the library. I was only at ease when surrounded by books, and while my own life was locked down reading made me aware of other worlds and other possibilities.
As I was traveling last week, it occurred to me that there are two types of people in America today: those who can mentally put themselves in other people's predicaments and empathize, and those who can't (or just don't). What triggered this thought was a depression-era story about Uncle Ted: he had heard vigilante threats against a destitute family that had been stealing, so he picked them up and drove them to another county where they had kinfolk; he explained later to his family that he could imagine being so hungry that he might resort to stealing too. Whenever I heard this story, I first think of my harsh experience with thieves, but having known Ted and something of his life and history I wind up recognizing that this story is more complex and nuanced than my own narrow experience knows.
Of course, the point was reinforced many times as I watched political commercials last week. The "two types" don't precisely split along party lines. Indeed, Democrats can appeal to a majority along self-interest lines -- and do so effectively when they point out how Republicans like Tom Cotton (their Senate hopeful in Arkansas) are out to undermine and even dismantle Social Security and Medicare -- but the Republican appeals almost invariably depend on drawing lines between the voters they court and everyone else (all those people outside their identity group, most obsessively president Obama).
Of course, I didn't get to the ability to empathize with others very early. As a child I was exceptionally selfish and greedy, and as an adolescent I withdrew from my social network even before I physically isolated myself. Therefore, much of my early reading focused on my own experiences: education, psychology, religion. One most influential book on the former was Charles Weingartner/Neil Postman's Teaching as a Subversive Activity. Their main argument was that the most valuable thing schooling could do was to encourage students to develop their own finely tuned "bullshit detectors." Needless to say, school as I had known it was strongly focused on rote learning -- including the stock moralism of the day. But there was no shortage of bullshit in the late 1960s, so detection soon became easy. I was soon reexamining every assumption I had been brought up to believe. I had an earlier interest in mainstream politics, so my move to the New Left had conventional framing (except that my ancestral reference system was rooted deeper in Populism and Republican Progressivism than in New Deal/Great Society Liberalism).
As I thought more critically, I came to realize that what gets called madness is often just social nonconformity -- something I had developed a literary and artistic taste for. As for my personal dysfunction, I was much taken with Gregory Bateson's "double-bind theory of schizophrenia": I could see how impossible it was to satisfy all the contradictory moral authorities of my youth. That insight turned my personality problem into a matter of logic, something that reason, and therefore I, could sort out.
Not that it was so simple. I had to force myself to socialize. In 1970 I got a GED and enrolled in Wichita State University. A year later I had 59 units of straight-A credit and a scholarship to transfer to Washington University (St. Louis). Two years later I got my first job, was finally able to support myself, and had had a couple of sexual relationships. A couple years later I moved to New York and soon moved in with my first wife. After she died several years later, I found another relationship, and we've been together for more than twenty-five years now.
And now I'm sixty-four -- a milestone monumental enough to inspire a pop song forty-eight years ago, but today it mostly means that I have one more year to suffer through Obamacare (and, sure, be thankful for that) before Medicare kicks in, eliminating one of the great worries of my de facto retirement. Fifteen years ago I used to joke on my "career assessment forms" that my "career goal" was retirement -- one of many times I've crossed some unstated but expected line of conformity -- but I'm more or less there now. My father retired from his factory job as soon as he could afford to, and thereby got a few good years before a stroke pinned him down. For him, as for most people fortunate enough to be able to afford it, retirement was freedom. I've enjoyed that same freedom since SCO let me go in 2000. But while my work ethic hasn't much flagged, I've become increasingly uncomfortable with my lack of accomplishment (what in engineering we call "deliverables").
My recent travels gave me some time to think about this. I spent, for instance, some time with the same cousin I played hooky to see when I was sixteen. We reminisced, but also she poked some holes in my inequality book outline, making me realize how difficult it's going to be to craft arguments that are almost too obvious to me. I believe that inequality is the core political issue of our time, but not so much to balance everyone's supply of stuff as because it profoundly corrupts our sense of justice, and losing the sense that the political order is ultimately just unravels the whole social fabric. Indeed, it may be that stuff is the wrong way to account for inequality. My working title, Share the Wealth (from Huey Long), could just as well be Share the Freedom -- assuming, as I've concluded, that it takes a certain level of wealth to be free, although it's not clear that more wealth makes one more free (although it has been shown that excess wealth doesn't make one happier).
Better developed is an outline for an essay on Israel, something I talked to several people about. The first two sections would explore the only issues of importance to understanding why Israel's leaders have acted for the better part of a century. The first concerns colonial settler demography: the only places where settlers have retained power are places where the population mix tilted decisely in favor of the settlers (the US, Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Argentina) while everywhere settlers remained in the minority power has reverted to the majority (most relevantly in South Africa and Algeria). Israel is in between -- secure enough within its 1967 borders but far less so with the Occupied Territories.
The second issue -- perhaps the first chronologically in that it concerns the initial founding of the Zionist movement, but I think it makes more sense to treat it second -- is the dependent dialectic between Zionism and anti-semitism, how it has played out over history, and how it has been twisted around in Israeli self-consciousness. As anti-semitism has waned in the West this link can be questioned, but it is deeply held within Israel, and that has many ramifications that have to be understood. (Israel's obsession with security, for instance, has as much to do with imagined enemies as with real ones.)
The third part would review all significant "peace" proposals since the Peel Commission (or maybe the Balfour Declaration) and pick apart why they have failed -- almost invariably because Israelis have been unable (or unwilling) to reconcile their colonial project with emerging standards of international law on human rights, and lately because Israelis have been able to exploit the archaic rightward turn in US foreign policy. In the past I've written up my pet ideas about how the conflict could be resolved, and some of those ideas may return in an epilogue but my experience is that few people care for my ideas as long as they can hope for something more advantageous.
The other book-like project that came up here and there is the idea of writing a memoir: basically a huge expansion of this post, although I also see it as an occasion to write a personalized history of the era from October 1950 -- a point just before the Chinese entered and turned the tide in the Korean War -- to the present: a long history of imperial decline, with most of the rot on the moral side. (It isn't exactly irony that the US empire expanded as long as we were plausibly anti-imperialist, then declined once we started believing in our destiny. It's just hubris.)
A memoir would also let me look back at where my family came from, how they represented America, and what has happened to more than just me. I could work in some of the stories we batted around on the Arkansas leg of my trip. One of the political ads I saw last week lamented that Arkansas was 48th of 50 states in job creation, but I know good and well that's an old story: seven of my mother's cohort of eight siblings left Arkansas in the 1930s looking for work elsewhere. (Three came to Kansas.) Their stories are interesting, and while I'll never know enough to do them justice, I'd like to know more, and use that as some sort of context. As odd as I grew up, I came from remarkably average roots, and maybe there's some hope in that.
Wednesday, April 30. 2014
I've been corresponding recently with Scott Woods, the proprietor of the excellent Rockcritics.com website, and one fruit of that was that he asked me to do an interview (link here). The site has been rather spotty on reviews recently, but back around 2000-02 they interviewed a lot of people, a veritable Who's Who of Rock Crit, and I'm pleased to add my name to that list. I'm reminded now of one bit that I didn't include in the interview. One of the most important books that I ever read, back before I went to college, was John A. Garraty's marvelous Interpreting American History: Conversations With Historians (1970, Macmillan; I have the two-volume paperback edition, but recall a single-volume hardcover). Garraty interviewed several dozen eminent historians, and nearly every single one managed to distill more insight into American history than they did in their many books. Or so I thought, as so much of what I know about American history came from those interviews. Likewise, you can learn a whole lot about popular music perusing through the many Rockcritics.com interviews.
Scott kicked this off by sending me a list of twenty-some rather open-ended questions. I tried to answer them as Einstein advised -- as simply as possible but no simpler than necessary -- and I wound up having to expand on a couple. Scott them formatted the text, added some links, and dug up some illustrations. (The Martin Esslin book cover and Roswell Rudd CD cover are more recent editions than the ones I started with. The S-100 board is the right idea, but note that it's just the CPU board (with a Z-80 processor, two support chips I can't quite make out, an EEPROM (probably 4K), and some TTL for interfacing to the bus (50 lines on the bottom, plus 50 on the other side). The RAM was on a second board -- I had 64K of SRAM that could run at 4MHz with no wait states, and the box (an Ithaca Intersystems DPS-1) housed two more S-100 cards (with a lot of expansion room), one for the floppy disc controller and the other for serial I/O. (A second box, which it sat on top of, housed two 8-inch floppy disc drives. I still have both, but none of the next three or four computers I owned. The second oldest I still have is a 1998-vintage Pentium III, still in use.)
Quite a bit about the Robert Christgau website here, including a framed quote from Christgau's own Rockcritics.com interview. Probably could have used more on music, but you can always explore my website for that. Or, after you've read the interview, you can ask me more questions and I'll try to answer the most interesting ones in a future post here. (Use the "contact" link on the left, or try the blog's awkward and mostly ignored comments feature.)
By the way, for reasons that can be drawn out of the interview, I still think of myself as a Rock Critic (and not as a music or jazz critic), even if I write mostly about jazz. Partly that's due to the way I hear the music, and partly that's my sense of how to write.
Saturday, March 1. 2014
Got back home last night from my long road trip to south Florida. Got as far out as Islamadora in the Keys, but having been to Key West before I didn't figure it was worth the extra effort. Drove 4,551 miles. Figured I would dally a bit on the way back, but ran into a rainy day that made St. Augustine unpleasant, so I turned inland rather than exploring the Atlantic coast further. Then the weather reports made it advisable to try to get back to Wichita yesterday, when it was 50F and sunny, rather than today -- 24F and threats of frozen whatever, leading to snow tonight and a forecast high of 11F tomorrow. Had the weather not threatened so, I would have spent an extra day or two with relatives in Arkansas and Oklahoma, and maybe more time with a friend in Mississippi. (We wound up having a nice chat as our paths intersected in Hattiesburg.)
Also, I had two more reasons to get back on Feb. 28: Josh Ruebner was in town promoting his book Shattered Hopes: The Failure of Obama's Middle East Process (sponsored by my wife's Palestinian Study Group) -- I missed the book reading but crashed the after-party -- and my wife's cousin, comic and sometime-sportscaster Mike Leiderman, was also in town to do a "shtick sermon" at a local synagogue, so we got a chance to see him. The latter was especially satisfying since one of the main points of the Florida trip was to see his parents -- my wife's aunt and uncle -- in Palm Beach.
Had several challenges when I got back. Both the CD players weren't working, probably the result of a power outage when I was gone. After some work, the main one skipped and stuttered a bit, then settled into what seems to be working order. Still have to fiddle with the upstairs system, so don't know yet whether it's cooked or merely contrary. Seems like we've gone through a lot of component CD changers in the last few years: they've become increasingly fragile whereas my amplifiers and speakers have an average of 30 years' reliable service.
A more annoying problem came when I booted my main computer. It's hooked on a KVM switch which was disconnected, so the software that probes for monitor type and size failed and selected a much coarser resolution (1024x768 as opposed to 1920x1280). I've run into this problem before, but rebooting didn't fix it, and the fixes that I had previously resorted to -- mostly hacking the "xorg.conf" file -- seem to have been closed off by an increasingly opaque configuration process. (The machine is running Ubuntu 12.04.4, which also has the disadvantage of not being the latest release.) I spent hours reading bulletin boards and poking values into something called xrandr to little avail last night, but somehow got it working today. There was a day when lesser resolutions were acceptable, but the 23-inch Samsung is wide enough I can keep a stack of browser windows on the left and my emacs editor on the right with no overlap. I typically keep 50 browser tabs and 50 text files open at once, and find it hard to imagine working otherwise. And that's just my main workspace: I've configured the window manager for six, so I can use another for mail, a third for gimp, yet another just for the Christgau website.
A second machine, which I run Rhapsody and Facebook on, came up fine. I copied the website files I had changed on the antique laptop to the main machine, then did a belated software update there (585 packages -- it's still on Ubuntu 10.04 LTS) and it seems OK, ready to be ignored until the next road trip.
Finally, I started to look at 452 emails, which is likely to take several days, mixed with catching up on old newspapers, unopened mail, and recorded TV -- also getting back into the stream of everyday life, and getting started on some long-considered, long-delayed projects.
Friday, September 20. 2013
We started working on remodeling the kitchen in late 2008. Finally got the last planned thing done, less than five years after we started. That was the backsplash between the solid surface (LG Hi-Macs) countertop and the large window, a small area about 74 inches wide by 8 inches high. It was previously painted light blue, but the plaster was deteriorating. We looked at lots of tile, but nothing quite fit the color scheme until we found this mosaic of 5/8-inch tiles covered with stainless steel. Added a pearl gray grout, and tried to bevel it around the edges. Looks like this, or did until we cluttered it up again:
Spice rack to the right. The countertop from it on back is stainless steel sheet, and there's a Capital 36-inch 6-burner range just out of the picture. Dishwasher is the old GE that we had before the remodel. We figured we'd replace it (and the refrigerator) with stainless steel front models when they broke, but they haven't obliged yet.
Tuesday, May 21. 2013
Woke up screaming, around noon today: leg cramp, high up my thigh. My wife ordered me to stand on it. Good advice, but I couldn't find my way out from under the covers until she pulled them off. Finally swung my legs over the side, tilted out of bed and steadied myself leaning against a dresser or something. My mouth was parched, so I asked for some water. A couple sips dissolved the residue that had gummed my jaws together. I stumbled to the bathroom. The sharp pain subsided, leaving a sore knot. Put on some socks and pants, and ventured downstairs. Good thing we put that new stair rail in.
Not a typical day, but most days have something unpleasant sooner or later. The dry mouth is an everyday occurrence. Back in the winter I tried going without antihistamines, but my sinuses only got worse. Now that the skies are thick with pollen (plus whatever else the recent onslaught of storms dredged up) I'm doubling up on the over-the-counter meds. For many years I took a prescription super-dose of Allegra, but the insurance company dropped that from their formulary so we tried the loratidine and I eventually started supplementing it with benadryl. Nothing works. I haven't had a completely clear breath through my nose since 1986, on a vacation to Cape Cod.
Among the unpleasant tasks scheduled for today is another formulary problem: Blue Cross/Blue Shield [MA] and/or Express Scripts have decided that the two anti-cholesterol meds I take now require physician override paperwork, so my prescription renewal has been held up. (And because Express Scripts canceled my "auto renewal" on those prescriptions unawares to me, I'm real close to running out of both.) What they want, aside from my death, is to force all their "customers" to switch to generic atorvastatin (Lipitor), and when you look at the price tags of Crestor and Zetia you can see why. Those drugs are "protected" by patents which allow their "owners" to charge whatever the market will bear, and the pharmaceutical companies do just that, ruthlessly. Changing their formulary rules is one way that bulk buyers like Express Scripts can fight back against getting gouged, but in doing so they inflict real costs as well as hassles onto physicians and patients. In my case, to get the same results I'm currently getting will require recalibrating my statin dosage upwards -- several visits and tests -- and expose me to further side effects, not that any of those things matter to the insurer.
If I could wave a magic wand and fix one thing, it would be to get rid of patents. There are lots of bad things about patents, like how they increase the cost of innovation (obviously by involving lawyers), and how they disincentivize others from improving patented inventions, but the worst aspect is the "reward" of monopoly rights. Free markets work precisely because they are free of monopoly. One could come up with some regulatory scheme to limit patent rents: for drugs, you could assign royalties for generic duplicators, which would allow for some measure of competition around a higher cost point while still rewarding the patent holder's development efforts. But that would mostly make the patent process more political, and perhaps even more litigious. Better to get rid of patents altogether, then put public funds into "open source" research and development, which manufacturing companies could then build products on -- less potential gain, but also less cost and liability.
Patents work in various ways in other industries, but the effects are much the same: they subvert capitalism by promoting monopolies; they push research into dark secrecy, often hiding flaws until it's too late; they reduce incentives for others to offer improvements; they add legal costs, both to file patents and to defend against them; they can be assigned or sold to parasitical trolls; they lead to an increasingly inequal world where a few "owners" extort rents from everyone else. What they don't do is stimulate innovation, or even do a very good job of rewarding it. Many innovations occur to multiple people independently, and many more would if research spaces weren't so compartmentalized by corporate interests. And most patents fail to pass the basic test of unobviousness. In drugs, for instance, all it takes to get a patent is a new molecule -- something that chemists create all the time. Take away the patents, the monopoly pricing, the ridiculous marketing budgets, and all of that and you'd wind up with a world where Express Scripts had no reason to make doctors jump through hoops to get away with prescribing the drugs they regard as most fit for their patients. And that would be one less hassle for me on a day that has way too many of them.
Much of my politics, by the way, is driven by a desire to reduce the amount of unnecessary hassle I -- and by extension other people, since I figure that we're all pretty much alike -- have to deal with. One facet of this is that I don't get all worked up over "personal responsibility" -- the great bugaboo of the right. They think that people prove their personal worth by overcoming adversity, so they back policies that create a lot of it (like our current health care system, or our "education" and "justice" systems), although most of them wind up being races rigged by the rich for the rich.
Much of the day I try to process some music, and today hasn't been very productive. I woke up not only in pain but bleary-eyed, something that happens a lot. Today I have a lot of trouble copying down info from the microscopic print on CDs -- looks like my eyes will end my music review career before my ears do (although my grandfather and father lost most of their hearing by close to my age). Also had trouble concentrating: took me four plays of Christian McBride to get a little squib written down, even though the album was pretty obvious. Will Calhoun got two plays. Played Black Host twice and held it back for tomorrow. Listening to Daft Punk on Rhapsody as I write this.
One thing that slowed me down was interruptions. The HVAC guy came over for a Spring system check, so I watched what he did, thinking I could do all but the pressure test myself, and picking his mind on how to install a new condensate pump -- a project I keep procrastinating on although I've had all the parts for about a year now. Didn't start that but did knock off one little project that's been sitting around for a couple weeks. I have a little space in the downstairs half-bath between the vanity and the back wall; hard to get to, but wide enough I thought I could slip in one of those roll-out baskets they make for under-sink cabinets. I bought the unit and built and painted a bracket to hold it a couple weeks ago, but the space is so hard to reach it would be hell to secure -- and indeed it was, as every possible approach involved painful contortions. I couldn't get one wall anchor in, or get close enough to see why. (Probably hit a stud, which otherwise would have been good news.) And I left the wall side sitting loose on a pair of corner braces -- I would normally have screwed them tight but couldn't negotiate the angle. Still, pretty sure it's solid enough, so I felt like I got something done today.
And wrote this little "day in the life" screed -- more therapy for me than info for you. Some of this may just be inevitable wear and tear, but much of the hassle seems unnecessary. And the more I struggle with nuissances, the less good I get done.
Tuesday, October 23. 2012
Music: Current count 20578  rated (+2), 647  unrated (+4).
Had a visitor from last Monday evening to Thursday morning, so spent most of my time with her. Thursday I shopped for groceries and prepped for a cookout. Friday drove to Arkansas with my sister to see our cousin, Elsie Lee. Saturday we did our cookout:
Surprise I don't have more recipes available, since most of these are dishes I've fixed many times, including on similar cookout trips.
Left Elsie Lee's on Monday. Stopped for dinner with one of her daughters in Springdale, then drove on to Bristow, OK, to see some more cousins. Got in late Monday, but stopped to see Duan and Harold (and his wife Louise) today, before driving home to Wichita. The three cousins are aged 79-87. Their children (my first cousins, once removed), of which I saw four, are closer to my age, but a bit younger. All on my mother's side. She was passionate about keeping track of her scattered family. I'm not nearly as adept, but do treasure those connections, and try to make some variation on this trip once or twice a year.
It is very wearing, though, as I more and more feel my age. Drove 900 miles, most on two-lane roads, some on gravel. Made one cemetery stop: the resting place of two uncles, one set of grandparents, and parts of two previous generations, as well as a few others I recall -- Dow Cotter (1881-1960) was probably the oldest person I ever met.
I added a few new favorites to an old travel case to listen to music in the car, so nothing ungraded. Took a notebook computer, but never went anywhere with an internet connection, and never turned it on. Read a little, watched too much TV (with way too many political ads, mostly from Missouri), ate too much, slept too little.
Friday, June 1. 2012
I've had several people older than myself tell me that they always read the obits because that's where people they know are most likely to show up. The unspoken corollary is that if you don't people you know are likely to slip on by unnoticed. Sometimes someone will tell you when someone you know dies, but often that's not the case. For instance, I only found out about my uncle Bob's death (July 20, 2004) a year or two later, when I dropped by his son's business and asked how his dad was doing. I knew Bob had some health problems (and that he was 79), but had no idea how grave they were, nor was I aware that he had moved back to Wichita from Las Vegas a few months before. He called me in January, 2004, and told me that his second wife, Nellie, had recently passed away. My wife had seen both of them in Las Vegas a few months before, and the year before that we had driven to Las Vegas to get married -- Bob and Nellie were our witnesses, as well as guides and hosts. That was my fourth trip to Las Vegas, and each time I sought them out. They, in turn, flew to Wichita for my father's funeral in 2000.
Actually, worse than not hearing when he died was not knowing he came back to Kansas. Having driven half way across the country to see him, I certainly would have trekked to his son's house in El Dorado, or to the Veterans Hospital in Wichita, where he spent his last days. He was two years younger than my father: in many ways his mirror image, in some his mirror opposite. I had known him every day of my life. When I had my worst problems as a teenager at home, I ran away and sought shelter at his house. He always meant a lot to me, and never more so than the last few times we talked. I should have paid more attention, but that's true of so many people -- even of my parents, who demanded (and got) vastly more attention.
I've generally avoided going to funerals, and doubt that I've been to more than a dozen, including my first wife in 1987 and my parents in 2000. The first I can remember was a great-uncle, Dal Cotter, in 1960 -- a miserably hot day in Arkansas, with what seemed like several hundred people unable to cram into the church. The second was my grandfather, another hot day in 1964. I managed to miss the next two important ones in my family: Lola Stiner (my mother's oldest sister) in 1968, and George Hull (my father's older brother) in 1969. A few years later I left Wichita, putting more distance between myself and my family. I barely noticed as my mother's siblings passed on: Clagge (1974), Ted (1981), Murph (1990), Ruby (1992). My grandmother died in 1987, but I hadn't seen her since about 1974, so that seemed more like a data point. I returned to Wichita in 1999, and my parents died in early 2000, as the passing of the older generation took on for me a greater poignancy, perhaps even nostalgia.
Since 2000 I've been to three family funerals: Bob Burns (2003) and Zula Mae Reed (2007) were cousins close enough I made a point of seeing when I could. And Yona Julian (2007) was the 36-year-old daughter of a very close cousin, and granddaughter of an aunt I visited often. I felt like I should have attended the funeral of Edith Hixon (my mother's last surviving sister), but the family played it down and the distance (San Jose) was impractical. Edith wasn't able to attend my mother's funeral, so we drove to see her in Arizona -- a better option than the funeral.
Still, the main reason for reading obits is information. One name I saw recently was Billie Appelhans. She lived two doors from us until I was about thirteen, then moved to the west edge of town. Her oldest son, Terry, was two months younger than me, my closest friend all that time. I only saw her a couple times after that -- most recently at my mother's funeral, where she came up and challenged me to identify her. (I couldn't.)
All this is a prelude to noting the obituary I recognized yesterday:
Last time I saw Glenn was when he came over for dinner, along with his wife Lucille, her son Don, and his wife Karen. (Don't have it in my notebook, but judging from mail seems to have been June or July 2005.) I made something Chinese, and dinner seemed to go nicely. I had only seen Glenn a couple times before, but I've known Lucille and Don all my life. She was married to Uncle Bob, and Don was their only child, a year older than me. Theirs was my second home for a few weeks in the mid-1960s, but I rarely saw them after they broke up (sometime late-1960s) and Bob married Nellie. Lucille had been a stay-at-home housewife, but on her own got a job at Beech Aircraft. There she met Glenn. She also befriended my mother's sister Ruby, who had worked there at least since the 1940s, and who was also divorced. For some time after that, most of what I heard about Lucille was from my mother griping that she was driving a wedge between her and Ruby. But at one point I asked my mother about Lucille, and we drove over to their old house, where she was living with Glenn. She recognized me immediately, and made a big fuss over how happy she was to see me.
The big surprise in the obit wasn't that Glenn had died. It was that Lucille had "preceded" him. I had missed that in the obits (December 20, 2010; she was 83), and no one told me. I had been thinking about her a lot recently. One time while driving around I tried to find the house, but didn't know the number and nothing looked familiar enough. Last week I took two DVDs of home movies that my father made, mostly 1956-67, with me to Arkansas and showed them three times. They jump around a lot, but there are 10-12 sequences with Lucille in them, half that many with Bob, a few with Don, and lots more with other Hulls -- even if you don't count my nuclear family -- that Lucille would recognize. I've never shown them to any of the Hull relatives. Would have been fun to show those and talk about those times.
There have been other people recently I've thought about and looked for, only to come up with an obituary or death notice (FamilySearch turns out to be useful for nailing down dates, but little else). Johnny and Hildegard Kreutzer were my parents' closest friends when they got married. We went to their house on the far west edge of town at least once a week into the early 1960s. There are several pictures of them in the DVDs, as well as pictures of the rabbits and the dog they gave us. I spoke to Johnny briefly at mother's funeral, but never followed up (other than driving around and not recognizing their house). Turns out that Johnny died in 2007, age 91, followed by Hildegard in 2008, also 91.
Another person I talked to at my father's funeral was Sister Rose Agnes Gehrer. I'm not sure exactly how we're related, but I recall going to visit some distant cousins named Gehrer in Wichita. My grandfather had a sister named Agnes Hull (1903-47), and she married Otho Wade (1891-1972), and I believe they lived on the same farm that great-great-grandfather Abraham Hull homesteaded in the late 1860s. We went there a few times when I was young: looked like somewhere the Dalton Gang would hide out in, with a broken-down house on one side of a gulch and a dozen small cubby holes on the other -- I think they were dug out to shelter sheep, but they always looked to me like they'd be perfect for rattlesnakes. Zula Mae took us to the homestead last time I saw her. We drove through a field carpeted with grasshoppers, and the roof had caved into the house, but other than that it was quite recognizable. Anyhow, I think the Gehrers are somehow related to Otho, but at any rate Rose Agnes was close to Zula Mae, so I figured it would be good to follow up and keep track of her. However, I lost the contact and never did. And when Zula Mae died, I found out Rose Agnes was already dead (turns out, a couple months earlier in 2007).
All this got me to wondering who else had passed away that I didn't know about. My cousins on my mother's side are all older than me, ranging from Ken Brown at 68 to Orbrey Burns at 87. I just saw three in Oklahoma and Arkansas, and heard of several more. There are some more I'm in more or less regular contact with, and others I'm not, so I tried searching out the latter. Some I couldn't verify one way or another -- not many significant computer profiles in that age group (I seem to be the only one with a blog, for instance). But I did verify that two of Edith's four had passed: Joe Ben Hixon (in 2009) and Verdell Hixon (in 2011; obituary here). I only remember meeting them once, circa 1960, when they brought Edith back from California for a visit. (I may have seen them in 1956, when we drove to California, and/or before 1952, when they still lived in Oklahoma, but I don't recall anything that far back.) I had heard that Joe Ben and Verdell were estranged from their mother, and at one point talked to their sister about it, but don't recall the details. The obit suggests that Verdell was gay, something I never had a clue to.
I didn't appreciate this for the longest time, but I come from a very interesting family.
Wednesday, May 9. 2012
The blog suffered some sort of mishap today: basically a configuration file vanished and had to be rehacked by hand. I haven't yet restored it to its former glory, but thought for now I should post a notice. I will return to it as I get time and inspiration.
Update: Disabled a couple of event plugins that were mucking with the stored HTML code, and reset the theme to my personal standard, so now it looks like we're pretty much back. Added an "HTML Nugget" block to the top left -- something I've been meaning to do for a long time, although I still expect I'll have to tweak the wording. Should be a general description for the website. The main thing driving this isn't clarity. It's that facebook likes to grab the first bunch of words it reads when you link to something on the site, and hitherto all it's come up with was a laundry list of links.
Thursday, February 23. 2012
Thought I should note that we made it back home to Wichita -- a couple days ago, in fact. Did what we needed to do in Detroit, and hopefully won't have to do anything more. Probably means I'll never go back there, which in some ways is a shame: lot of things about the area I wound up enjoying, although I can't say as I enjoyed any of them this time. (Didn't even manage to get to Book Beat or Streetside Records, now conveniently next door in the same strip mall as my late father-in-law's favorite deli -- The Bread Basket, which we did get to.)
Unwinding here has been very slow, but I figured I should at least post something. Listened to nothing but oldies on the trip. (I packed a case of new jazz then left it at home.) I've been playing the new Floratone since we got back, but can't make up my mind on it. Finally popped it up and wrote two jazz notes this afternoon -- records I needn't bother with ever again. Then turned to Rhapsody and became indecisive again, this time over Imperial Teen and Sleigh Bells. On the other hand, we did get out to see two Oscar-nominated movies we hadn't managed to find time for previously: The Artist and The Descendants. Missed the "last chance" for The Iron Lady tonight, a subject as distasteful as the also-missed J. Edgar (although I was more intrigued by what Eastwood might have done there).
Saturday, January 21. 2012
Should probably take more pictures. Definitely should figure out how to manage them better. But I have a few here that represent some everyday work around the house. This first one is a 12x8 shed I had built in the backyard. I've been moving more tools out to the garage, and in doing so the garage was getting cluttered, especially with lawn equipment that I wanted to move out. A shed seemed like the right solution. I've long fancied building something like that, so I spent several weeks researching shed designs. Bought three books on the subject, plus I have a lot of general construction books. Then when push came to shove, I found a company that could build something very much like what I wanted, and do it a little cheaper and a whole lot faster. So they put up the shed, but I figured the least I could do was to build the ramp up to the door -- the door was about 10 inches above ground level, since the whole thing was on skids. I wound up spending about half as much to get the lumber delivered as they would have charged. And it took weeks to build -- admittedly, mostly waiting for breaks in the cold weather. It's built out of decking planks on top of a frame built out of pressure-treated 2x4, 2x2, and 1x4 lumber, itself sitting on top of paving stones. Underneath that I spread out some "weed block" plastic, put some fiberglass edges on both sides, and dumped 100 lbs. of gravel on it (not really enough). The front edge rests on a slice of vinyl garage door trim, so none of the wood rests on the ground. Still need to do a little more work on the edge. (Still plan on painting the shed, too. At least I did get a coat of sealer down on the ramp.)
Second photo is another backyard project, which would have been visible in the first had it been done then. Here you see the detached garage off to the right of the top picture, and a bit of the driveway. When it rains, water drains to a low spot in the driveway about 4-5 feet out from the garage, and pools up unless it can flow off to the side. The previous owners dug a trench leading off to the left, then turning back a few feet away from the garage until it hit a low spot. I've redug that trench four times in the last decade -- often during heavy rains, which at least is nice in that you get instant gratification when it starts draining. However, the trenches always fill up, so I figured a better solution would be to install a catch basin and dig a French drain to route and absorb the water. The basin is a foot-cube plastic box positioned to pick up the runoff. We then dug a trench about 18-20 inches deep, lined it with gravel, and ran about 25 feet of 4-inch perforated plastic pipe from the basin. In the picture, you can see the basin and some of the pipe surrounded by gravel. Afterwards, I covered the gravel with "weed-block" permeable plastic sheet, and filled the dirt back in. (I say "I" but most of the work in digging and filling the ditch was done by Tom James, a friend who does landscape work for a living.) Haven't had any rain since we got it done, but this should work.
Third picture is a new CD case in our bedroom. This was actually the second stage of a less visible project. For years I had stacked four small CD cases on top of the dresser, which the weight was destroying. To salvage the dresser, I took it apart, glued and clamped the fraying top piece, and reinforced the top with metal brackets. But it didn't seem like a good idea to move the cases back, so I built something that could be attached to the wall. The CDs you see are the ones from the old units, so capacity is up (although it can easily be filled from current stocks). Messed up and made the left unit a bit too high -- the floor slopes down from the right wall, but I wound up misjudging it. I thought I'd try painting this unit instead of leaving the wood tone, and I've used this black paint on a number of projects, but white might have been a better choice. The decor is still pretty much what came with the house. That'll be another project some day.
Finally, fourth picture is a small dinner I made last night. I've had a duck in the freezer for quite some time. Saw a recipe in Paula Wolfert's The Slow Mediterranean Kitchen and figured it was worth a try. I slow-roasted the duck for 3.5 hours the night before, and made the base for the olive sauce. Last night all I had to do was to pop the duck under the broiler to crisp up the skin, and add the olives to the sauce. When I looked for some sort of veggie accompaniment, a "roasted root vegetables" recipe in Nancy Harmon Jenkins' The New Mediterranean Diet Cookbook seemed like just the ticket. The recipe itself it complicated by beets and winter squash, which I'd just as soon do without. So I wound up with sweet potatoes, carrots, turnips, a rutabaga, a couple parsnips, an onion, some leeks, garlic, herbs and olive oil, roasted in a hot oven for about an hour. A little parsley on top, and that was it.
Tuesday, November 8. 2011
Felt an earthquake last night. I suppose I've gone through similar events in the past but never noticed before. But there I was, looking squarely at the monitor screen while the house rumbled in the background. I looked around for confirmation: soon found a page that the USGS -- you know, the much loathed, ever wasteful federal government, although for anyone who's read as many John McPhee books as I have they may be your favorite corner of the behemoth -- listing every M1.0+ earthquake in the US (plus a few, it turns out, in Mexico, and probably Canada too) that's occurred in the last seven days. My event wasn't there at first, but a few minutes later it popped up: Magnitude 4.7, depth 5 km, distance 9 km from Prague, OK (44 miles due east of Oklahoma City), 08:46:57 PM local time. The map showed 28 earthquake events in that area over the last 7 days: the largest a M5.6 on Sunday which I hadn't noticed but other people had -- probably why I was conscious of the possibility. California hands will scoff, of course -- judging from the 7-day report Alaskans even more so. Wichita wasn't listed in the distances table, but we're about 180 miles away. At that distance the rumbling lasted about 10 seconds and didn't manage to relocate even one CD. Indeed, the house shook less than it did when the USAF -- a part of the aforementioned federal behemoth that I'm much less fond of than the USGS, in part for this very reason -- buzzed the neighborhood with a low-altitude B-2 flyover (accompanied with a tornado-like roar).
Rained all day yesterday -- officially 1.75 inches, leaving us still officially droughtstruck, 9.5 inches down for the year -- with high winds stripping yellow leaves from the trees and occasional raptures of thunder. Same system produced a tornado in Oklahoma -- something rare (but not unheard of) for this time of year. This at least felt familiar, like a Boston nor'easter except coming from the southwest. Rain has continued into today, turning to snow in western Kansas and eastern Colorado. I hoped to build a ramp for the new shed this week, and start painting it. Maybe toward the end of the week, assuming I can find some way to get the lumber home. (My usual help isn't; seems like everyone has troubles right now.) Did manage to caulk a bit before the storm -- felt good both to get that much done and to get away from everything else.
Got up this morning to face a pile of mail giving me more tasks to do on top of things I'm already way behind on -- some already irate over my non-responsiveness. (Probably not as irate as I am over cases where I'm waiting for some direction.) Also happens to be a day when I have unfinished library books due, another reminder of my inability to keep up. And, not atypicaly, I'm playing a record have no real interest in hearing much less writing about. I feel like I've descended into some weird reality where the earth moves faster than people. Maybe even more purposefully.
Thursday, October 20. 2011
I spent the last four days observing the notorious US health care system in action. My wife underwent surgery, and I mostly hung out, observing. I had been reading more than my share of nightmare stories, but it all went about as well as it could. The case was complicated, but the surgeon and her team seemed to understand it and appreciate the intricacies. The surgery itself went quicker and smoother than anticipated, and the projected three day hospital stay was cared for with patient confidence. There were a few problems that cropped up -- too-frequent oxygen saturation warnings, nausea coming out of the anesthesia -- but they were recognized and sorted out. The nursing staff was far more attentive than I recalled from ten years ago when my parents had extended hospital stays, or my wife's previous surgery when she was booted out of the hospital with unseemly (and as it turned out unfortunate) haste. The room was private, and I was invited to stay as long as I wanted -- 24 hours a day. I even found the nurses asking if there was anything they could do to help me. I managed to be present pretty much every time a doctor came by, and every step was intelligibly explained. It helped that my wife was fully cognizant of the whole process, and always knew what she needed to work on when to make progress. In short, it was pretty close to ideal: the way a hospital should work. No doubt the bill was damn expensive, but I didn't get the sense of wasted effort or overtreatment.
It no doubt helped that the surgery was a well understood procedure, and that the treatment was very closely aligned with it. My wife had no significant illness going into the surgery. That is, for instance, a very different situation from the one where my father entered the hospital with MDS, being treated by a staff of cardiologists who had no idea what they were up against, who made one mistake after another before they finally dumped him off on a doctor who had a clue. Or I could dredge up other cases from my own limited personal experience. (E.g., when my father spent four days in surgical ICU due to a lung infection that defied their treatment until it was fully cultured and identified. Or when my father-in-law was prescribed a drug for an eye problem but given a drug that crashed his blood sugar level, which then resulted in several days of unpleasant tests investigating his presumed hypoglycemia.)
Still, it isn't hard to imagine lots of things that could have gone wrong here that didn't. For one thing, the hospital had instituted a software system that tracked drug doses and interactions -- probably the samd system the VA hospitals are famous for: it slowed the nurses down repeatedly scanning patient and drug barcodes, but it eliminates errors that elsewhere are astonishingly frequent (I recently read as much as one per patient per day). The ratio of nurses to patients was higher than I had ever seen outside of an ICU. We never had to wait more than 1-2 minutes after calling a nurse, and they were never in an excessive rush to go elsewhere. Occasionally I would step out into the hall and see one at a computer . . . looking at what appeared to be continuing ed materials.
I suspect that this was a rare case where business competitiveness served to improve the care level: well-insured patients could choose to come to this hospital vs. the other competitor, and for the types of surgeries this particular ward handled there was enough profit to be made to reinvest some in quality service. So to some extent you can chalk this experience up as a victory for the American system (although as my wife is on Medicare I don't give any credit to the private profit-seeking insurance companies). Still, this doesn't argue that health care reform is not necessary. Rather, this reminds us that a reformed system has to maintain this sort of quality level, and to extend it more evenly and equitably. And it reminds me that it can be done, for even if this particular case represents a shrewd business decision on how to run a wing as a profit center, one key reason it succeeded is that the people working there were free to serve without having to constantly recalibrate their actions in favor of padding the business' bottom line.
Personal note: we're back home today. My wife still has a ways to go to get back to normal, but that seems certain to happen in due course. And I need some sleep, but that too will happen.