C I V I L    M A R R I A G E    I S    A    C I V I L    R I G H T.

A N D N O W I T ' S T H E L A W O F T H E L A N D.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Century 21 Calling

Oh me, oh my, fellas.  Sometimes your Head Trucker gets totally tired of all the bad news coming over the intertubes, and all the wretched, nasty, bitchy people - famous or not - mouthing off about everything.  There's an ugly, vicious spirit in the world today that grates on my nerves big time.  Of course, I have my rant-and-rave moments too, but I'm not sure they contribute much to the world.  Some days, it's really hard to find something nice to blog about.

But here's a jolly short film from the 1962 Seattle World's Fair (the clip is mistitled) made for the Bell System, showing such wonders as pocket pagers, call forwarding, and call waiting - all of which didn't show up at your Head Trucker's house for another thirty years.  Still, it's a quaint little trip back to a moment when there was still a lot of optimism about the future.

Not to mention, a nice visit back to a day and time when people dressed a lot nicer, and talked and behaved nicer, too.  It wasn't sweetness and light back then all day, everywhere - your Head Trucker was there, and he remembers - but there was a different tone, a different vibration in the atmosphere that is lost now.  Anyway, here's a pleasant few minutes of 1962, see what you think:

PS - I remember reading about the Seattle fair and wanting to go see that awesome Space Needle and the futuristic monorail. But we never took long trips like that in my family - hell, we only ever went on one "family vacation" in the ordinary sense of the term, the summer I was 8: which was not much to speak of, a few days at a beach motel on the Gulf, and then a visit to the relatives in East Texas. But I remember reading about the Seattle fair, and then the New York fair in 1964-65, and about Disneyland and lots of other exciting places that I never got to see. Maybe of some of you readers were more fortunate than I was.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Tired Old Queen at the Movies: Meet Me in St. Louis

Steve Hayes reviews the Judy Garland classic; watch this to get a good glimpse of American life in 1904, with some memorable songs:
Judy Garland and director Vincente Minnelli make movie magic in MGM's loving and nostalgic tribute to by gone days: MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS (1944). Shot on authentic-looking sets in spectacular Technicolor, it includes a memorable score by Hugh Martin and Ralph Blane. Filled with such eventual Garland standards as "The Trolley Song," "The Boy Next Door," and the holiday classic, "Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas," it's a Thanksgiving feast for the whole family!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Classic Shacks: Palazzo Reale di Genova

I seem to be in an Italian mood today.  Surfing around, I just happened to come across this jewel of art and architecture, which you can read more about here if you have a mind to.

Sunday Drive: Bernini

With a Te Deum sung by the Trappist monks of Gethsemani Abbey, near Bardstown, Kentucky (Thomas Merton took up his monastic vocation there):

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Future Schlock

Useless concept of dirigible-with-airport-on-top from about 1930

I thought the bright boys of society were supposed to be all concerned now about global warming, energy reduction, green spaces, and other worthy things. But take a look at this Next Big Thing coming down the track, if somebody gets his way:

What I Say:  How.Fucking.Stupid.

Your Head Trucker is no engineer or scientist, but he can think of at least half a dozen extremely good reasons right off the bat why this concept needs to sink out of mind just like the Titanic:

1. There's already a major investment in city transportation (cars, buses, subways, trams, etc.) - why spend many billions of dollars to create another kind of transport that nobody really needs? Ordinary trams cannot move at 200 mph, so you'd need a whole new industry to produce them.  But is that a crying need for anyone at all?  Is it really sooo haaard to go catch a train at the train station?

2. You'd have to add a dedicated high-speed tram line to existing high-speed rail lines for the concept to work. That means many billions of dollars taking more land away from agriculture or other present uses, billions of dollars adding tracks, roadbed, power lines, signals, switches, etc., etc. Why? Who really needs this, to justify spending all that money and grabbing all that extra land?

3. That high-speed tram doesn't run through everybody's neighborhood. So people still have to use their conventional in-city means of transport to get to a - wait for it - platform where they can catch the special tram. Hello? What's wrong with this fucking picture?

4. You can bet your ass that the fares to ride the high-speed trolley would not cost anywhere near the same as the regular in-city transportation fares; for one thing, it would have to cost much more to cover the costs of building this new system; for another, you can also bet your ass that city officials would see it as a cash cow, so guess who would get stuck with paying five or ten times as much to get to where they can catch a train as they do now? You.

5. Trains of any kind, even high-speed ones, do not, like your Lionel set, run in a continuous loop from one side of the continent to the other and back again. They typically run on dedicated high-speed lines (different from regular railroad tracks) from one major population center to another, where they have to stop. There's nowhere else for them to go, except back to the other major population center. So it's a false idea that you would save time by not having to stop anywhere - and if you are worried about intermediate stops in BFE, see reasons 1-4 above. Trains have to stop periodically each day to be inspected, repaired, perhaps refueled, have their onboard supplies replenished, etc.; and train crews have to be replaced at certain times or distances, too.  The need to have support and administrative services in a centralized location - like a train station - will not, cannot disappear.  So the net effect for good of this multi-billion- , maybe multi-trillion-dollar idea would be . . . what, exactly?

6. Not everybody lives in the heart of a major city. Tons of folks use big-city terminals to transfer from a high-speed train to slower regional trains (or in some cases, buses, subways, etc.). Where else would you have them do that, other than in a major train station . . . with platforms for different trains running at different times and speeds to different destinations? This bright idea is still not going to deliver everybody to his own front door, and never will.

7. It's a gruesome disaster just waiting to happen, expecting hundreds of people to make a cross-train connection while whizzing down the tracks at 200 mph or more. Just think of everything that could go wrong . . . which, according to Murphy's law, would surely go wrong. No.Thank.You.

Jeezus. The things some people get paid big fucking bucks to dream up. How come I can't find a cushy job like that?

Atomic-powered dirigible from 1956, with detachable (!) exhibition hall.
Click to enlarge this goofiness.

Honk to Ptak Science Books for the illustrations.

Turkey Tips

This comes too late for Thanksgiving, but in case any of you kitchen queens are planning on doing a big bird for Christmas . . .

For at least the past 15 years, your Head Trucker has been hearing about the delights of deep-fried turkey; alas, I've never been in the right place at the right time to get any, so I can't tell you if the reports are true or not.

However, this cautionary video from Underwriters Laboratories gives me pause:

Yikes! Pretty scary stuff that I'd never thought about before. However, the following video gives some good tips and directions, if any of you macho men in the audience want to give it a try sometime.

Too much trouble, is what your Head Trucker thinks, when it's so much simpler to just throw a bird in the oven without worrying about calling the fire department.

And here's the queen of Southern cooking, Paula Deen, who shows you what to do with the latest triumph of American ingenuity: an indoor turkey frier:

If this tired old queen was into cooking, that would be the route to go, I think. God, all that turkey meat makes me so damn hungry!

The ex-roommate is doing a big Thanksgiving dinner with all the trimmings for his four adult kids and their spouses/partners today. He's going to do a smaller version with a roasting hen and have me over next week sometime. I'll post pictures if I can.

The only time I get home-cooked food anymore is when I eat with him. It's just too depressing and too wasteful to try cooking for one here . . . believe me, I've tried. Much easier and cheaper to buy the microwave dinners, or make a sandwich.

Family Values

Excerpt from a mother's account (by filmmaker Susanna Styron) of trying to find her daughter after she was arrested during the police round-up of Occupy Wall Street on November 15:
But I didn’t expect that she had thirty-two hours of jail time ahead of her, and I had thirty-two hours of trying, mostly in vain, to find out where she was and what was going to happen to her. . . .

[After her daughter was finally released:] On our way home, Lilah told me that when she was arrested, she had simply been standing in the street. She was asked to move, but she couldn’t, because it was packed with people and there was no room. She was shoved backward with a nightstick poke to the stomach. Then she was pepper-sprayed. Then she was forced to the ground, zipline cuffed, and pulled by her wrists so hard it felt as if her shoulder was about to dislocate. She was given no information about her charge or her status for the thirty-two hours she was in custody—not a thing, not until she walked into her arraignment.

After we got home, Lilah went to the doctor. She has nerve damage to her wrist. She’s wearing a wrist brace. She has bruises all over her arms. So she has her battle scars. Lilah’s great-grandmother marched as a suffragette, her grandmother marched against the Vietnam War, I got arrested protesting nuclear weapons, her sister has attended every OWS protest in New York. We’re a traditional family.

Friday, November 25, 2011

White Friday

Your Head Trucker utterly despises the whole Black Friday thing.

First of all, it's such a horrid name. If you were talking about a stock market crash, an atomic explosion, an invasion or other disaster, okay. But why associate a day of shopping for Christmas presents with such ghastly overtones? I have never participated, and never will, and even though I understand that the crowds are massive . . . um, if they bother you, why exactly are you doing it?

Second, everybody high and low loves to mouth about Big Corporations and how much money and power they have, and ain't it just awful . . . but say, bud, where do you think they get all that money from in the first place? If you weren't handing it over to them so gleefully for shit you don't really need and can't really afford - they'd be a lot less powerful, right?

Finally, the whole commercialization of Christmas has long since gotten totally out of hand. Christmas crap is now stocked on the shelves of stores way back in September. Neighbors here have, in some cases, had their Christmas decorations up for nearly a month already. It's all just too much.  (The folks in one little shack several blocks away just leave theirs up all year long.)

There's nothing wrong, and in fact it's a pretty good idea, to have a holiday at the end of the year, in an otherwise cold, depressing season, when all the family gathers for good cheer; and for Christians, the Feast of the Incarnation is properly a time for reflection on deep things and appropriate devotions. (Advent is, in fact, supposed to be a mini-Lent, a time of fasting and preparation; not that anybody pays the slightest attention to that concept nowadays, in or out of church.)

My family once owned a small business, and I do appreciate the importance of the Christmas surge and its effect on the bottom line. But folks, we could do without all the overdone stuff - that just exhausts everyone and their wallet - and still have a perfectly nice time.

While you're thinking about what I've said, go check out this graphic on what truly good things we could do instead with the $45 billion Americans are spending on Christmas stuff this year.

Then contrast that with this:

Woman Uses Pepper Spray on Rival Wal-Mart Shoppers as Crowds Riot for $2 Waffle Irons: VIDEO

It's Time

Okay, your Head Trucker just lost it over this fantastic marriage-equality ad from Australia's GetUp! movement:

Why don't we have ads like this in the United States, I wonder?  Pass it on to your still-questioning friends and relations.

Some marriage ads in Maine are now running, and they're well-intentioned but kind of dishwater dull - they don't touch the heart like this one does. 

Waitin' for the Weekend

Jean Franko

Thursday, November 24, 2011

The First Thanksgiving

Promised Land by Christoph Niemann
for the cover of this week's New Yorker

Oh Noz: The Stealth Muslim Turkey Terrorist Threat!

When you're gathered around the Thanksgiving table today, don't tell Aunt Martha . . . but that nice juicy Butterball turkey that she spent hours roasting to a golden brown is a secret Muslim.  Rightwing nutjob and asshole king Bryan Fischer shouts out the warning to all freedom-loving Americans about the weird top-secret Muslim recipe that has put a hoodoo on all our plump and tender American turkeys:

And I'm like, WTF? How is halal any different from kosher? And why should I care? It only makes a difference to people whose religion has dietary requirements, which mine doesn't. Of course, by dinnertime today, half of America will be torn between throwing up that succulent turkey meat, while the other half will be laughing their butts off at the total redneck assininity of this non-crisis.

Actually, go ahead and tell Aunt Martha and all the rest of your damn family, stir some shit up. It'll be fun.

Just watch what happens when cousin Billy Bob tries to throw Aunt Martha's labor of love into the garbage can. At least when the fight breaks out, you won't get stuck having to watch some stupid-ass football game all afternoon. Grin.

Photo: TPMMuckraker.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

All About the Boys in the Band

Young'uns today have no idea how shocking this poster was in 1970.

The other day I stumbled upon this short feature on the making of The Boys in the Band, the play and the movie, which is a fascinating piece.  I well recall hearing about the movie, somewhere around the summer of 1970, at the time when I had just realized a few months earlier, to my horror, that I was gay.  Lots of sensational movies had come out in the late sixties, but this one seemed like the most shocking of all - though in truth, as one of the participants in this documentary says, there is nothing pornographic to be seen in the film.    It was just the very idea of a whole movie about those - those - ugh, those nasty, ugly, filthy degenerates - those h o m o s e x u a l s ! - that was enough to fill everybody with disgust. 

Including me.  As a young, frightened, totally isolated gay teen living way to hell down in the provinces, I was nowhere near ready to embrace my gayness - or, God forbid, let anyone else think I was gay.  I used to pray every night for years that God would never, ever let me even meet a homosexual, lest I be tempted to, um, do something with that kind of wicked sinner.   It took a long time to get over that brainwashing, and in fact, it was another ten whole years before I came out, my senior year in college.  I don't recall whether the movie actually played at any of the theaters in my small city, but I would have just as soon signed a pact with the Devil as go see it, if it had.

Still, as Leslie Jordan says about some other things in his growing-up-gay autobiography, I was totally repulsed at the thought of this movie . . . but fascinated by it at the same time.   Many years later, somewhere around 1986, I happened to find a paperback edition of the script in a used-book store - and was captivated by it.  Not only is it very funny in places, and a well-crafted story, but I was also struck by its verisimilitude:  the dialogue, the sayings, the bitchy attitudes, the personalities, all are so true to life, and still very much with us.  Which helped me realize that gay people in earlier times probably talked and acted much as we do today - there is a gay personality that runs through us all, though we may emphasize one facet or another of it individually.

One amazing thing I learned from this feature is that four of the actors were straight men - can you believe?  If you haven't seen the film in a while, go watch it on YouTube, or get the disc from Netflix, and see if you can guess which ones aren't really gay.  You may be very surprised with some of them.  Sadly, most of the gay guys died later, in the AIDS epidemic.  But the film lives on, preserving a slice of pre-Stonewall gay life for the ages.  Thank God we now have happier endings to look forward to, especially the younger generation.

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Classic Shacks: Town Head House

Your Head Trucker's tastes in architecture tend heavily towards the classical and traditional; the Georgian period is my especial favorite, though as a Southerner I naturally have a weakness for Greek Revival; yet sometimes when I'm feeling my oats, throwing caution to the winds, I might even have a fling with Art Deco.  I guess we all have a little tryst now and then, eh?

When I have nothing better to do, I sometimes amuse myself in looking over advertisements for real estate I can never hope to possess, but which is delightful to daydream about.  In what may become a new regular feature here on the Blue Truck, here's a lovely old house in a stunningly beautiful location that perhaps my truckbuddies will appreciate as much as I do:  Town Head House, on Lake Windermere in the Lake District of England, which famously inspired much of William Wordsworth's youthful poetry, among others. 

The house has been in the family since George III was on the throne, but now they are selling out for a mere £5,250,000, or about $8.2 million at current exchange rates.

You can see more pictures and the full property description at the real estate listing site.  And the Telegraph has this article on the current family, their history, and their reasons for selling.

Tired Old Queen at the Movies: A Letter to Three Wives

Steve Hayes reviews the 1949 classic:
Linda Darnell, Jeanne Crain and Ann Sothern make a beautiful and sophisticated trio in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's Oscar-winning comedy A Letter to Three Wives (1949). Set in a small town on the Hudson, three friends receive a letter from the town flirt saying she's run off with one of their husbands. Trapped on a boat ride for the day and unable to contact their spouses, the girls review their respective marriages in three flashbacks. It won Mankiewicz Oscars for writing and directing and has superb performances by Kirk Douglas, Paul Douglas, Connie Gilchrist, and the irrepressible Thelma Ritter. It's also filled with the wittiest dialogue this side of All About Eve, which won him Oscars in the same two categories the following year. It's a not-to-be-missed laugh riot and the perfect antidote for a cold November.

Monday, November 21, 2011

What the Hell Goes on Here?

What kind of country has this become? What kind of country is it going to be? When, thanks to the Supreme Court, corporations can spend unlimited sums on campaigning and billionaires are already planning to spend a quarter of a billion dollars to defeat Obama next year and elect a far-right president? Check out what Rachel has dug up:

Meanwhile, bankers are already thinking about a million-dollar media campaign to smear the Occupy movement with "negative narratives" and thereby fend off any unfavorable legislation:

What does it say about this country that millions of people would vote for pigs - and I use the term advisedly, just look at them - like Karl Rove or Newt Gingrich?  Huh?

But meanwhile the police, who are paid out of the public purse, sworn to protect and serve the public, gaily pepper-spray non-resisting, peaceful protesters on both coasts, defending their casual brutality as being "fairly standard police procedure" necessary to protect themselves and the protesters.  WTF?

84-year-old woman pepper-sprayed at Occupy Seattle, November 15th

Is this the kind of country you want? Ruled by rich, self-satisfied fascists with the jackboot heels of their thugs on the necks of the people?

If not, you better pray the Republicans don't win the next election.

Your Head Trucker agrees with Andrew Tobias, financial advisor and author of a gay classic, The Best Little Boy in the World, among other things, who said this last month:
So the Tea Party folks demonstrate to keep people from having health care, to lay off teachers and police and firefighters, bust unions, keep poor people from voting, and – most important – protect tax breaks for millionaires and billionaires. Pretty neat trick how the billionaires more or less organized and financed their movement and, by harnessing their justifiable fears and concerns, gulled them into doing it. . . . Now come the “Occupiers,” or whatever they will be called, who share many of the same fears and concerns – and a few of the same bogeymen – but seem by and large to be taking the other side of these issues.

Maybe we should put construction workers back to work rebuilding our schools and bridges. Maybe we should pass the American Jobs Act “right away” to help the middle class. Maybe it should be paid for by Warren Buffett and other wealthy folks who are paying taxes at a lower rate than their secretaries. Maybe Paul Krugman knows more about economics – and has the average guy’s interest more sincerely at heart – than Sarah Palin.

Well, it’s about time.

Crowds make me nervous. Simple answers to complex problems make me nervous. But enough is enough.

Update, 6 p.m., 11/21:  Two campus cops and the chief of police at UC Davis have been suspended pending an investigation. The president of the UC system yesterday declared himself appalled by the incident, ordering an immediate review of police procedures on all campuses.

Philip Kennicott writes in the Washington Post on the pepper-spray video:
It looks as though he’s spraying weeds in the garden or coating the oven with caustic cleanser. It’s not just the casual, dispassionate manner in which the University of California at Davis police officer pepper-sprays a line of passive students sitting on the ground. It’s the way the can becomes merely a tool, an implement that diminishes the humanity of the students and widens a terrifying gulf between the police and the people whom they are entrusted to protect.

The video, which shows the officer using the spray against Occupy protesters Friday, went viral over the weekend. On Sunday, the university placed two police officers on administrative leave while a task force investigates. The clip probably will be the defining imagery of the Occupy movement, rivaling in symbolic power, if not in actual violence, images from the Kent State shootings more than 40 years ago.

Although another controversial image, showing an elderly woman hit with pepper spray near an Occupy protest in Seattle, made this nonlethal form of crowd control an iconic part of the new protest movement, the UC-Davis video goes even further in crystallizing an important question: What does the social contract say about nonviolent protest, and what is the role of police in a democratic society?
A prof at UC Davis says what happened after the spraying incident caught on video was even worse:
Without any provocation whatsoever, other than the bodies of these students sitting where they were on the ground, with their arms linked, police pepper-sprayed students. Students remained on the ground, now writhing in pain, with their arms linked.

What happened next?

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood.
More pictures and videos from that and other protests here.

And in case you ever need it, the Air Force has tips on what to do if you get pepper-sprayed.

Also worth reading:

Why I Feel Bad for the Pepper-Spraying Policeman, Lt. John Pike

What George Orwell Can Teach Us About OWS and Police Brutality

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Great Soul with Clay Feet

My favorite books tend to be histories and biographies.  Since childhood I have always been more interested in the past, which is to some degree certain and knowable, than in the future, which is anybody's guess, and probably best filed under "You Don't Want to Know."  I will admit to an adolescent fascination with science fiction - Heinlein was tops in my estimation, followed by Bradbury and Asimov, and of course, like every other 12-year-old, I had a passion for Star Trek - but somehow I grew out of all that. 

I suppose I became less enchanted with the possibilities of the future as it slowly dawned on me that I had little control over things to come, the wide, sunlit vistas of childhood anticipation shrinking inexorably into the narrow bounds of my small and somewhat weedy garden:  hard tilling much of the time with the limited tools available to me.  Of course other people, possessed of greater abilities and finer soil, may yet feel the unbounded possibilities of life well into middle age; but such was not vouchsafed to me.

Be that as it may, I find it endlessly intriguing to read of how other people - both the great and the good, as our British friends are wont to say, as well as the poor and the humble - have reacted to the storms and stresses of life, how they charted a course through gales and high seas to reach a safe port or deliver a rich cargo - or, contrariwise, how they lost their bearings and ended up aground or shipwrecked, as the case may be.  After reading a great many such stories, with a philosophic eye, one begins to notice certain recurring themes and patterns:  those who make a safe landing in the end, very generally speaking, tend to be well endowed with the qualities of persistence and self-discipline - they have a job to do, and they stick to it come hell or high water, always busy and always reaching a little further ahead or upwards; they do not give up and say, "Oh, what's the use." 

I think that very often, such folks attribute their success in life to the favoring motions of Providence, when in fact it is largely their own stubborn perseverance that sees them through - which success some of them, on some occasions, take too much pride in, and look down their noses at others less blessed than they with these inner qualities.  Your Head Trucker, most unfortunately, has more often than not fallen into the what's-the-use camp, to my great disadvantage, being more heavily freighted with passion than with discipline:  which, while the combination sometimes produces lovely things, has never been a recipe for great success in the material sense.

A couple of other adjuncts to success, which often lead straight to fame and fortune, may be noted. One is just the sheer dumb luck of being in the right place at the right time - the unknown understudy who steps in when the leading lady falls ill, the reporter who just happens to be on the spot when some disaster occurs, and so forth.  Another crucial adjunct is the invaluable faculty of - how to define it? - I'm not sure there's a single word in English which combines what I want to express here, the ineluctable combination of personal charm, a kind of social magnetism, with the ability to meet many people easily and make quick friendships - of the sort that, when somebody needs a thing done or a problem solved, they think, "Oh yes, X could do that . . . " and straightaway they pick up a phone or dash off a telegram, summoning you to the next big step in your career. 

Which never happens to your Head Trucker, and exactly why that is I really can't say.  No doubt the inadequacies of my own talents are only too obvious to others, so that when they think of me, they say to themselves, "Oh . . . him."  And think no more in that direction.  Just my personality, I suppose, probably more prickly than charming, and one that will never be the subject of a biography, rightly so.

Well, that's just the breaks; not everyone gets to live a fascinating life, and if they did, fascinating would quickly become banal, wouldn't it?  Still, as I said, it is rather interesting to read how various personalities in all sorts of positions and places have acted and reacted down through the years, some with more success - and honesty and effort - than others.  Likewise, it is instructive to read a well written and researched study that uncovers the face behind the mask, the man behind the curtain.  We all of us have a public persona, the mask we present to the world, delineated with confidence and certainty - but then there is the private reality, which may or may not accord very closely with our public face.  The difference between the two is magnified in the lives of the famous, sometimes amusingly so, sometimes shockingly.

For example, I recommend to my readers this very interesting review of a recent biography of Gandhi, which seems to reveal a rather different person behind the mask of sainthood we have come to revere:
Joseph Lelyveld has written a ­generally admiring book about ­Mohandas Gandhi, the man credited with leading India to independence from Britain in 1947. Yet Great Soul also obligingly gives readers more than enough information to discern that he was a sexual weirdo, a political incompetent and a fanatical faddist—one who was often downright cruel to those around him. Gandhi was therefore the archetypal 20th-century progressive ­intellectual, professing his love for ­mankind as a concept while actually ­despising people as individuals.
And was Gandhi gay? Another excerpt:
the love of his life was a German-Jewish architect and bodybuilder, Hermann Kallenbach, for whom Gandhi left his wife in 1908. "Your portrait (the only one) stands on my mantelpiece in my bedroom," he wrote to Kallenbach. "The mantelpiece is opposite to the bed." For some ­reason, cotton wool and Vaseline were "a constant reminder" of Kallenbach, which Mr. Lelyveld believes might ­relate to the enemas Gandhi gave ­himself, although there could be other, less generous, explanations.

Gandhi wrote to Kallenbach about "how completely you have taken ­possession of my body. This is slavery with a vengeance." Gandhi nicknamed himself "Upper House" and Kallenbach "Lower House," and he made Lower House promise not to "look lustfully upon any woman." The two then pledged "more love, and yet more love . . . such love as they hope the world has not yet seen."
And despite his influence as a preacher of non-violence, it seems that Gandhi took the concept to quite fanatical extremes, monstrously so, as another reviewer notes:
Gandhi cannot escape culpability for being the only major preacher of appeasement who never changed his mind. The overused word is here fully applicable, as Gandhi entreated the British to let the Nazis
take possession of your beautiful island, with your many beautiful buildings. You will give all these but neither your souls, nor your minds. If these gentlemen choose to occupy your homes, you will vacate them. If they do not give you free passage out, you will allow yourself man, woman and child, to be slaughtered . . .
This passage is revealing, not so much for its metaphysical amorality as for its demonstration of what was always latent in Gandhism: a highly dubious employment of the mind-body distinction. For him, the material and physical world was gross and polluting and selfish, while all that pertained to the “soul” was axiomatically ideal and altruistic. (Let Hitler have Britain’s “beautiful buildings,” while their expelled inhabitants, even as they submitted to extermination, meditated on the sublime.) This false antithesis is the basis for all religious fundamentalism, even as its deliberate indifference permits and even encourages sharp deterioration in the world of “real” conditions. Not entirely unlike his contemporary fighter for independence Eamon De Valera, who yearned for an impossible Ireland that spoke Gaelic, resisted modernity, and put its trust in a priestly caste, Gandhi had a vision of an “unpolluted” India that owed a great deal to the ancient Hindu fear and prohibition of anything that originated from “across the black water.”
I don't know enough to judge for certain; I never saw the movie (not that Hollywood is any kind of dependable source), though in earlier years I have read about Gandhi's life, as well as some of his own writings. And of course it is possible for a man or woman to have some good ideas, even very good, mixed in with others less than good.  But I offer these excerpts as a way of making the point that public and private are often rather different things; and sometimes the most unlikely characters end up being idolized for imagined qualities rather than real ones.

We could, of course, continue this line of examination by starting with political figures in our own country, like the current Republican line-up . . . oh, but what's the use?

Sunday Drive: Autumn Leaves

Use the full screen on this one, guys.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

The Reluctant Superpower

Street scene in Ingolstadt, Bavaria

I never studied economics (though I wish I had), so the current state of the world's finances flickers across the screen of my mental vision like some increasingly uncomfortable phantasmagoria in a Fellini film, incomprehensible and ever more bizarre.  Probably I could understand more if I buckled down to study the matter; but I just don't want to.  Even if I did truly comprehend all the causes and effects of this historical crisis, there is absolutely nothing I could do with that knowledge to help anyone; and the low, parlous state of my own finances away out here on the prairie is too uncomfortable already to bear the weight of much thought.

Like most ordinary folks, I realize that I am but a tiny cog in an enormous wheel, and just have to endure whatever the movers and shakers of the world decide to do, or not do.  Still, from an historical point of view, it seems rather ironic that Germany - a nation I have no particular affinity or antipathy for, though in truth I am not much attracted to sausage, sauerkraut, and gutteral vowels - that having been put to utter ruin within living memory, it has now miraculously, so it seems, rebounded so much as to hold the fate of the world within its hands. 

Why is that, exactly, when other European countries who also were laid waste by the war, and rebuilt with generous American help, are barely able to pay their light bill, so to speak?  This interesting article in the Telegraph points to an answer, though how true it is, I can't say; but here's an excerpt for you to mull over:
Ingolstadt gives an excellent impression, aside from all the kebab houses and cars, of still being trapped in some much-earlier historical period. It is also one of the reasons that southern Germany remains such a powerful motor for Europe’s economy – indeed, Europe’s last great hope. And it is the behaviour and attitude of people like those living in Ingolstadt which will have a profound impact on how the current crisis plays out. . . . The German people value their local towns, worry about their neighbours’ views, relish the rules and are rewarded accordingly by a social and economic system that really does work. . . .

The devastated, occupied and shamed West Germany of 1945 rebuilt itself from a smaller version of the same principles as before – hundreds of towns, each producing something exceptional. And it turned out that this new German prosperity was also intimately linked with the successful export of things which foreigners liked, the ensuing money allowing Germans themselves to buy things. This successful pattern, a sort of conveyor belt of investment, ideas, things and consumers, continues to the present day. But instead of just being a source of happiness to many of its fortunate inhabitants, it must suddenly bear the brunt of a global disaster.

Since the end of the Cold War, Germany has given two gifts to the world. The first was the decision to pour many billions of Deutschmarks into the somewhat patchy rebuilding of old East Germany. The second was to be the principal begetter of the euro – what was meant to be the final act to wind up the legacy of the Second World War. In a grand restatement of the principles that had cemented the original Treaty of Rome, Europeans who shared a currency would have so much in common that they could not dream of fighting each other. Some of the applicants to join the euro seemed a little odd or dodgy, but the Germans would ignore this because there was a higher, almost mystical issue at stake.

It is perhaps the fundamental question now facing Europe: what will the people wandering along Ingolstadt’s principal shopping streets think about what has happened? Germany’s attempts to dominate Europe militarily ended in utter moral and physical disaster. Germany’s more recent attempt to dominate Europe through the benign means of hard work, constructive engagement and backing the euro appeared to be a brilliant success. The unique form of provincialism that lies at the heart of Germany somehow resulted in the belief that the rest of the world shared its values – work all week at Audi, spend the weekend in riotous drinking and arguments about the relative merits of long-haul holiday destinations, and mix this with occasional marital infidelity and spiritual crisis. It simply could not encompass the idea that Greece or Italy would use access to the euro knowingly and contemptuously to pour that work ethic down the plughole. . . .
By chance, the President's weekly video address today from Indonesia, where he is making trade agreements, touches on a related idea:
These agreements will help us reach my goal of doubling American exports by 2014 – a goal we’re on pace to meet. And they’re powerful examples of how we can rebuild an economy that’s focused on what our country has always done best – making and selling products all over the world that are stamped with three proud words: “Made In America.”

This is important, because over the last decade, we became a country that relied too much on what we bought and consumed. We racked up a lot of debt, but we didn’t create many jobs at all.

If we want an economy that’s built to last and built to compete, we have to change that. We have to restore America’s manufacturing might, which is what helped us build the largest middle-class in history. That’s why we chose to pull the auto industry back from the brink, saving hundreds of thousands of jobs in the process. And that’s why we’re investing in the next generation of high-tech, American manufacturing.

Which sounds good. But what do I know. And as a matter of historical fact, we had the world's biggest and finest industrial plant already in place when the Great Depression happened, but that wasn't enough to prevent calamity.

Waitin' for the Weekend

Sorry for the delay, fellas. Unexpected power outtage at my place, so I had to go hole up a couple days with the ex-roommate. Which was fun because we had a good visit and I got some real home cooking for a change.

But now I'm back home and the lights/heat/phone/internet are on again, thanks be to God.  So here's your stud pic of the week. Enjoy.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Fracked Up in America

The Bush regime continues to screw over Americans, even when it's long out of office.  Have you tried lighting your tapwater lately?

I'm afraid to go try mine. Here in Texas, we're on top of the Barnett Shale, a huge reservoir of natural gas and oil . . . but I never heard of this fracking business till just recently, after the big Oklahoma quake a couple of weeks ago. I actually felt it down here, a couple hundred miles away; rattled the pipes and windows for a few seconds, but no damage, hardly felt it.

Scientific American has asked the experts whether fracking could have caused the enormous upswing of quake activity in Oklahoma - over 1,000 so far this year - but the scientific consensus seems to be, probably not. They think.

Still, it makes you wonder.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

View from Above

An awesome series of fly-by clips of earth and the aurora borealis, shot from the International Space Station a couple months ago.  Pretty amazing. Use the full screen view on this one.

Earth | Time Lapse View from Space, Fly Over | NASA, ISS from Michael König on Vimeo.

But I would have chosen some different music.

Honk to Talking Points Memo.

Tired Old Queen at the Movies: Now, Voyager

Steve Hayes reviews one of your Head Trucker's all-time faves, and one of Bette's most famous roles. When you see Bette at her most glamorous in this picture, that's what my mama looked like when she was young in the forties - only a bit prettier. Indeed, she was sometimes mistaken for Bette by strangers when traveling. So of course Bette was her favorite actress - and mine too, natch.
Bette Davis and Paul Henried plumb the depths of emotion in Irving Rapper's tender and romantic adaptation of Now, Voyager. Based on the novel by Olive Higgins Prouty, Davis plays Charlotte Vale, a lonely spinster driven to distraction by her domineering mother, brilliantly played by Gladys Cooper. Thanks to the kindly intervention of psychiatrist Claude Rains, she goes on a cruise to recuperate and falls in love with a handsome and unhappily married man, Paul Henried. The trials and tribulations of this affair, accompanied by a gorgeous Oscar-winning score by Max Steiner, lay the foundation for one of the greatest love stories ever filmed and give Bette Davis one of her most memorable roles.

Monday, November 14, 2011

"Got All This Stuff Twirlin' Around in My Head"

My God, what frauds and fools all these Republican poseurs are! This is as bad as Couric's interview with Sarah Palin:

Republicans, We Need to Talk

Hilarious must-read:  Hunter over at Daily Kos pulls an intervention on the mega-crackhead Republican Party, explaining why they need non-conservatives' help:
We are the only thing that stands between you and your slow, sad slide into the fantasy world you've created, a world full of communists, an upside-down land where tax hikes become tax cuts and vice versa, every damn time, a land where a healthcare reform effort that was modeled on previous Republican pipe dreams is now the most horrible scary leftist thing you've ever heard of. You need someone to slap your face, good and hard, and say a national goddamn sales tax is not what Republicans are supposed to stand for, you dumbass. You need someone to grab you by the shoulder and ask you, are you sure you want to go home with this guy who, according to a bunch of other people, you probably shouldn't even be left alone with?

You need someone who will look at you, and look at Rick Perry, and look back to you and say really? Really, this is what you've been reduced to?

This is a long, long walk of shame you are on, my Republican friends, and there is a comically regressive 9-9-9 tax plan stuck to the bottom of your shoe, and everyone is looking at you with the sort of looks that say they don't know whether to just feel sorry for you or finally call someone to have you carted off for your own good. And we're thinking that maybe even if you end up with Mitt Romney, maybe that's not so bad: He doesn't love you, he doesn't respect you, hell, he barely even knows you, but at least we know he probably won't blow up your house for the insurance money. Well, we're pretty sure, anyway. Probably.

This is an intervention. Seek help. Seek a new savior. Hell, do anything: Just don't make us watch this anymore.
Cartoon:  Self-deprecate.com

Sunday, November 13, 2011

The Presence of God

Which does not come often, nor can it be bidden - but is a great comfort when it does.

Sunday Drive: The Failure

Excerpt from today's meditation:
Matthew 25:14-30. Well done, thou good and faithful servant.

. . . But what about the servant who invested his master’s money and lost it? This parable is usually preached as urging us to take risks for Christ. That’s fine—but what if the risk turns sour? What would Jesus say to a servant who tried and failed?

. . . Maybe the person made a stupid, ill-advised investment, but Jesus never asked about that. The mere fact that someone was down and out seemed sufficient to attract his compassion. If this is how Jesus would have responded to the servant who invested his talent and lost it, I’d still like to hear it from Jesus’ own mouth. And I wonder why that servant is missing from this parable.
My thoughts:  But then, upon further reflection, was not Christ himself the greatest failure? A small-town guy from nowhere, a hick from the sticks, coming to tell people the good news of God's unbounded love, healing the sick, embracing the lost, speaking truth to power, confronting the self-righteous and exposing the hypocrites . . . and yet, in the end all was lost, all was for naught. Betrayed, mocked, beaten, condemned, tortured, executed in the most degrading way. And the last heartbreak: even God seemed to forget him.
My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me? why art thou so far from helping me, and from the words of my roaring?

O my God, I cry in the day time, but thou hearest not; and in the night season, and am not silent.

But thou art holy, O thou that inhabitest the praises of Israel.

Our fathers trusted in thee: they trusted, and thou didst deliver them.

They cried unto thee, and were delivered: they trusted in thee, and were not confounded.

But I am a worm, and no man; a reproach of men, and despised of the people.

All they that see me laugh me to scorn: they shoot out the lip, they shake the head, saying,

He trusted on the LORD that he would deliver him: let him deliver him, seeing he delighted in him.
And so it was finished, there in dust and dirt and blood, amid the gleeful laughter of fools and suck-ups and hypocrites, every hope crushed, all zeal extinguished.  And only his mother and his dearest friend were left to witness the final moments of agony and despair, there on the dark and windswept hill.  Only Love stayed to the very end - but love is such a small thing in the brutal machinations of the world.

And yet - and yet - despite all appearances, beyond all dreaming:  the story did not end there.  Rather, the ever-new and ever-living Story really began in that black hole of sorrow, that horrid mangling of all that was good.  This is our faith, we who believe:  that no matter how great our failure, nor how tiny and hollow our success, all that is good in us is known and honored and cherished in that great reality at the heart of all things - the Love that moves the stars.  Which, when all that we see and know has been swept away, remains the eternal Constant:  in which we shall abide forevermore.
All of us go down to the dust; yet even at the grave we make our song: Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia.
Which is why for me, Christianity is so deeply moving and beautiful:  the concept, which I'm not aware of in any other religion, of not merely a loving God, but of a God who loves the world so much that he empties Himself
to share our human nature, to live and die as one of us
who understands our weaknesses and failures because He Himself has felt them, lived them too. He does not merely look on benignly from some high, unapproachable perch above the blood and toil and tears and sweat - He knows.
Yes, child, I understand:  been there, done that, sucked at it.
Even God Himself, the great architect of Creation, is helpless in the face of the world's ignorant cruelty; even God was a great failure, by every human measure.  And yet that is not the whole story, but merely the prologue to unending triumph over all that is dark and withered and empty.  And unto Himself he will gather all those lost sheep who know his voice and follow him in their hearts, though the road lead only to the slaughterhouse, as we see it here.

A helpless failure of a man, a suffering God, bloody, defeated, finished - and yet victorious:  take it as theology or as poetry, the implications are breathtaking. So that in the end, that anguished cry from the Cross is not the trumpet of doom, but the opening peal of inextinguishable Joy - to them who believe.  This is the Christian faith:  that we glory in our human weakness and, no matter how mixed up or messed up our lives turn out to be, even in our deepest failure triumph, through Him who in dying vanquished every evil, even the last enemy, which is Death.  For even at the grave we make our song . . .

Friday, November 11, 2011

Waitin' for the Weekend

Veterans Day

War is a horrible, ugly, brutal, nasty thing:  a license to kill, maim, destroy.  There is nothing glamorous or glorious about it whatsoever.  Nevertheless, as long as there are wicked men in the world who will stop at nothing to get their way, without respect for innocence, peace, or justice, war is, at times, a necessary evil.

Your Head Trucker makes a distinction between the political decision to go to war, which may be culpably stupid, shortsighted, or actually evil, and the individuals who willingly decide to serve, and serve honorably to the best of their abilities for what they hope is the greater good of all - just as our police and firefighters do.  While military service is not the be-all and end-all of life, it can be a very worthwhile career, and a defining experience, for those who are suited to that particular task. 

It takes courage to go to war, just as it sometimes takes courage to stay home. I submit that it is also an act of devout patriotism to work for justice and peace, and to help ensure that no soldier is ever sent to die, nor any parent, widow, or orphan left to weep, for impure, unjust reasons that betray the very essence of what America is meant to be.

Hence my small tribute to those who, like my late father, have worn the nation's uniform and served with honor:

Blind Faith

A lone Penn State student confronts his peers in their mad fury to uphold their Leader against all reason and against all concept of justice:

Of course, as we in Texas know only too well, the Church of Football is the biggest religious outfit in the country, demanding total unquestioning allegiance from its tens of millions of followers, and is practically the state religion down here. Andrew Sullivan nails it:
Does anyone not see the extraordinary ironies and parallels here? Yes, this is a classic "father" figure, like a priest or bishop or Pope. The man is even called "Paterno". And what Paterno did is what the current Pontiff did when he was an archbishop in Munich, where he was told of a priest under his jurisdiction who had raped children. He didn't alert the police; he merely sent the rapist on to a psychiatrist and the man went on to rape many more children. And we might as well face it: college football is a kind of religion for many. Challenging the Pope of Penn State was unthinkable.

I regard the current actual Pope as an accessory to child-rape, as I do Paterno. But their paternal authority within religious institutions allowed them to carry on. And this is another thing one can say about this profoundly fucked-up culture of abuse: once condoned or treated lightly, the abuses often get worse and worse. I am not surprised that prescient Mark Madden is now hearing rumors that Sandusky was "pimping out young boys to rich donors." Pedophiles find each other.

All they need is for good people to look the other way. And a cult of authority that never challenges the father figure.
The actual grand jury report, with all its shocking details, is here. And there's this note in the Washington Blade today from a gay Penn State alum who is still involved with the campus LGBT center:
Surveying the faces of the Penn State scandal — Sandusky, Paterno, Spanier, coach Mike McQueary, athletic director Tim Curley, vice president Gary Schultz — all are straight men. This scandal isn’t about gay men; it’s about greed and a culture that prized money over doing the right thing. . . .

But the scandal raises deeper questions about our society. There’s been much indignation expressed about then-graduate assistant McQueary’s actions. He witnessed Sandusky raping a 10-year-old boy in the showers yet reportedly did nothing. Commentators and bloggers have insisted they would have intervened. Maybe. Or maybe not.

Last month, a two-year-old toddler was struck by two vans on a busy street in China. Eighteen pedestrians and cyclists passed by the child, who later died, before someone finally stopped to help.

That incident — and the Sandusky scandal — reminds me of a lecture I attended while at Penn State. My political science professor was talking about nationalism and the rise of the Nazi party in Germany. It was a frigid February morning and just before class started, she walked to the back of the room and opened a window. As she spoke, the classroom grew colder and colder and students began donning coats and hats. As the professor talked about the circumstances under which societies turn to nationalism and xenophobia, student after student expressed their doubt and indignation — “That could never happen in the United States.” Finally, when the cold became too much even for the professor, she said, “How can you be sure you would stand up to the government and its weapons and tanks, when none of you even had the nerve to ask me to close the window?”

It’s a lesson that rings tragically relevant today. Were senior officials afraid to call police because they wanted to protect the lucrative revenue stream provided by the football team? Were custodial staff who reportedly witnessed Sandusky’s crimes deterred from reporting him out of fear for their jobs? It’s comforting to think we’d all have helped that 10-year-old boy, but an entire network of adults failed him. And so many others.

What I Say:  Unless you've been traveling with your eyes shut, once you pass the 50 mark, long observation makes a lot of things plain. And the truth is, people are not by default naturally wise, or kind, or just. The default, my friends, is ignorance, cruelty, and selfishness. The virtues require long training, and much practice.

The unexamined life is not worth living.  --Socrates.

Notes from the Clown Car

For the sake of posterity, I have to post this unforgettable moment when our very own Clueless Leader of Texas, Butthead Perry, fucked himself in front of a live audience on nationwide television:

Even worse, he still had the audacity to show his face the next day and claim virginity:

Trust me when I tell you, boys:  it couldn't have happened to a more deserving candidate.  Also, my friends, I have to share with you Rachel's absolutely brilliant, wickedly funny deconstruction of Herman Cain's career as the biggest performance-art con man since Andy Warhol:

All of which would be roll-on-the-floor funny, if only there were a serious political party as the alternative, instead of the National Honor Society doing a Saturday-morning carwash. Andrew Sullivan on why the Democrats suck:

What happens to a country when there is no adult in the room? I guess we'll find out, won't we?

(Side note: shocking photo from the failed state of Mexico.)

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Beaten, Stabbed, Thrown in the Fire

I can't get it to embed, but I want you guys to go to the news story and watch the video. This is what happens to gay people in Texas:
Burnett was at the party with some female friends when he says three men, who were upset that he is gay, began beating him and calling him names.

"Faggot, cocksucker, gay bitch," Burnett said.

Twenty-six year old Burnett is from nearby Paris and says he has never experienced homophobia like this. He came out of the closet when he was 15, inspired by Matthew Shepherd -- a gay man from Wyoming man who was killed because he was gay.

"I was about 11 when that happened. It really, really hit home and it scared me as a little boy to think that's what happens to gay people," Burnett said.

Reno police are being tightlipped about the case, but three days after the attack, they had three suspects in custody all charged with aggravated assault. Daniel Martin, James Mitchell Laster and Micky Joe Smith are being held on $250,000 bond each.

Reno's mayor William Heuberger calls the attack appalling. He says his sympathy goes to the victim and no one deserves this kind of treatment.
Another interview with Burke:

BTW - Thanks mucho for all the cards and letters, guys.  I really have appreciated all your kind thoughts and good wishes.  Sometimes a fella just needs to get quiet and be in his own space, ya know?  Nothing anyone can help with.

But of course it doesn't help a damn bit to be stuck out here on the prairie surrounded by millions of homo haters, and no conceivable way out.  But I'll manage.

Update:  The Lamar County grand jury has indicted Burke's three attackers on hate crimes charges, making them liable for first-degree felony convictions, with up to life in prison.  Yes, Texas actually does have a hate crimes law, passed in 2001 after the dragging death of James Byrd, which covers crimes motivated by a victim's sexual orientation, among other things.
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