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Unpopular Ideas

Ramblings and Digressions from out of left field, and beyond....

Location: Piedmont of Virginia, United States

All human history, and just about everything else as well, consists of a never-ending struggle against ignorance.

Sunday, April 29, 2012

G. Zimmerman, and other Half-Wits of the Right Wing

George Zimmerman, a predator of humans and clearly the stalker and by his own admission the subsequent slayer of a rainbow teenager named Trayvon Martin, was finally arrested a few weeks ago, and after having been securely sequestered somewhere in the Florida justice system for a while, he was granted bail of $150,000, which seems light when compared to the magnitude of his crime and its widespread notoriety, and now his whereabouts are again unknown. Using a tactic calculated to help build up the sympathy that is sure to come in handy for him during his upcoming trial at some time or another, on a charge of second degree murder, his handlers, defenders, and apologists claim that he is again in hiding, out of fear for his safety. But the truth is that he's not hiding at all. Instead there can be no doubt that he's being carefully kept out of sight, because he's a big embarrassment to all those on the conservative, hateful side of things.

After the incident in Sanford, Florida, there were numerous searches into the background of the murdered Trayvon Martin, in attempts to find anything at all of a criminal nature that could even remotely be used to justify Zimmerman shooting him, though at the time Martin was not committing any crime at all but was merely noodling along, strolling back to where he was staying in that gated community while packing nothing more than the inevitable cellphone and some tea and "skittles" that he had just bought. But the righties came up with nothing with a usefulness to them that didn't evaporate in about 10 seconds.

Less effort was spent on Zimmerman's background, when it became obvious that his prior existence hadn't been anything that anyone, certainly not his Jewish father or his Peruvian mother, could've been proud of. He had no noticeable vocation or avocation, though I saw somewhere that some years ago he worked for a company that took care of yards and gardens, and he was fired for being too aggressive with the customers. What was that all about?

Otherwise, one looks in vain for any indication that Zimmerman has ever had anything resembling a program, that is, a set of worthwhile goals or interests that serve as consistent themes for a person's existence. Moreover, it should be noticed that very few statements from either his mouth or his keyboard have seen the light of day.

Some who studied the videos that were made of him during his first appearance in court on this matter described him as being "shifty-eyed," which suggests that he has marbles rolling around loose in his head. That was verified when it came time to post that bail and, on the plea of indigence made by the latest of the several lawyers who have taken turns coming to his aid -- the others having meanwhile seen fit to take their wares elsewhere, on the grounds that he couldn't be bothered with staying in touch with them -- his family had to put up the 10 percent of the 150 K that was required before he could leave the jailhouse and go back into unofficial hiding, and Zimmerman neglected to tell his new lawyer that via the weird website he had set up for donations, he had raked in a cool $204,000 (which makes one wonder anew why hatred and bigotry is invariably so lucrative in this land that on one day of each year makes such a big thing of celebrating peace on earth and good will to man.)

Aside from these indications of how mentally challenged this man gives clear signs of being, Zimmerman's numerous defenders and justifiers also cannot be happy with the way that he brought off his murder of Trayvon Martin even if, in their eyes, that was an achievement of real merit. ("One more of those subhumans off the street!" they would have happily mouthed to each other, over their martinis and beers.) But the bad side for them was that he did it in ways that attracted far too many doubts and questions that prevented the killing from being swept under the rug in the usual expeditious manner. The fact that Zimmerman continued to follow the youth after being told by the police not to is damaging, big time, and it will be interesting to see how his lawyers will get around that, in the event of a trial that, in Florida, is sure to result in a sentence, if any, as light as his bail.

This will not be before his attorneys will have to sandbag their way over a host of other high hurdles as well, because their contentions will be based on self-defense and Zimmerman's statement that he was on the ground under Martin and being pummeled by him, though that might actually have been the case, because Zimmerman had a gun. If you have a gun, you feel that you're above having to use your fists, especially if you're weak on wits. And Zimmerman had a gun while Martin had only some tea and the bag of skittles. That bears no end of repeating.

Ironically, however, this will be a defense with which Zimmerman, if he had a full set of wits, could not conceivably be otherwise happy, because it would say that by being on the ground and getting the worst of it, as he claims, he was not nearly as much a man as the considerably less bulky Trayvon Martin.

All indications are that G. Zimmerman's thought processes were too limited to permit him to expect that someone he was stalking would have the effrontery to turn and ask him what he thought he was doing -- a question that Zimmerman would not have been equipped to readily answer, because he wasn't thinking. That is, if Martin did indeed turn or circle around and challenge him. The numerous media accounts of what happened say that while following Martin, Zimmerman lost sight of the youth, and then the next thing he knew Martin was jumping him. That proposition, like most things about this case, doesn't sound right. What? Are Zimmerman's eyes and ears also severely impaired? Well, his eyes do appear to be set a trifle too close together, for what that's worth.

In any case it also appears that he didn't know that the gun he was carrying didn't automatically give him the power over others and the authority that he had expected. Was this because he didn't quickly produce it? But if he had, is it at all likely that Martin would have approached him in any manner? No. Instead we have the dead Martin already testifying himself at the trial, via the cellphone call to his girl friend complete with a photo, in which he is essentially pleading to her or somebody, "Get me outta here!" Though, being a kid, and seeing Zimmerman's eyes, he could also have taken the whole thing as some kind of gag, and thus the self-portrait.

It could very well have been, then, that Zimmerman was trying to answer Martin's question by struggling to get out the gun that he had no business having, there or anywhere else, only to find himself forced to exchange some blows, in the course of which he could easily have discharged the weapon at random, so automatic is it to put one's finger on the trigger when one is handling a gun, especially during altercations.

All in all, carrying a gun into any situation that has a potential for being a whirlwind of happenstance and the unexpected is a recipe for disaster and a sign of a lack of intelligence.

I wonder how many of the above points will be brought up and out in the trial?

All these meanwhile are signs that G. Zimmerman is a dim bulb indeed, and therefore he even drops somewhat below the usually poor credibility for being cast as a hero of the conservatives. Thus you have the embarrassment that he furnishes for the Right Wing.

This is not to say that Zimmerman doesn't have a lot of company on his side of things. In fact it might tax even the capacity of the Internet supercomputers to hold the names along with full reviews of all the misdeeds of all the others who are afflicted with the half-wittedness that is so essential for causing them to be ever on the lookout to desecrate and obliterate everything that is good, charitable, and decent. The two Tulsa killers, the three Texas draggers, Limbaugh, Gingrich, Palin, Bachmann, Cain, Scalia, Thomas, and all the other conservatives on the Supreme Court, Santorum, Walker, Boehner, West, and all the other conservatives in the House of Representatives, Koch, Murdoch, Brewer, Arpaio, Bolton, Ailes and everybody else at the Fox Cable News Network, the Tea Partiers, Joe the Plumber, David Duke, GWBush, Cheney, Rove, Rice, Rubio, Hannity, O'Reilly, Beck,Cantor, Coulter, O'Keefe, Kristol, Lieberman, Imhofe, and all the other conservatives in the U.S. Senate,and countless others -- the list of knowing or unwitting accomplices of Osama Bin Laden goes on and on and on, and now it includes G. Zimmerman, whose exoneration is devoutly desired by the Right Wing even while, because of the obvious condition of his gray matter, they would also prefer to keep him out of sight and out of audible range for as long as it can be managed.

She Did It Again! Who? Lohan. Who Else?

The top item in the news today is that they held a dinner that they have already been holding for many years in the snotty Federal haunts of D.C., called the White House Correspondents Dinner.

I have always found this event to be stupendously uninteresting on several counts that I won't bother to enumerate. But one is that everything I have seen of several crops of the White House correspondents through the years has marked them as being an arrogant, pushy bunch that is best left unremarked and uncelebrated. Also the main thing they do at this dinner is to "roast" biggies in the Establishment, and I've never understood why "roasts" are so funny. To me they're as inexplicable and stomach-turning as the fun the natives around here in this rural Virginia county get at fund-raising dinners where good ol' boys appear and prance in female clothes and makeup.

For instance this year all that seems to have happened at the White House Correspondents dinner is that President B. Obama roasted the upcoming Republican candidate for President, M. Romney. How does that rate as being "news?" They've been doing a lot of that for the last seven or eight months, and they will be doing much more in the next six months, until the elections, though that choice is so clear, as it always is in such elections, that only fools don't already know exactly who will get their vote.

But this year the dinner was graced by a big difference.

For some reason somebody invited the most entertaining -- much more off-screen than on -- movie actress of our times, Lindsay Lohan. And true to form, she marked the occasion by partying so late the night before that she missed her first flight, and then she added the extra "scandalous" and "shocking" touch of apparently stumbling in one of the airports, before she showed up at the Hilton in a suitably subdued all-black outfit that looked great, not least because she was in it.

Now that's real news -- that this most renowned and unapologetic female rules- and law-breaker of them all attended the White House correspondents dinner, and she did it by remaining true to form and to herself by stumbling through in her own inimitable style. I still think that that is extremely rare and exceptional.

If I had been there she would have stolen the show and drawn all the attention and questions, but I like to think that she did anyway, sneaky-wise. And I won't even wonder whom she has in mind to vote for. In fact I wouldn't be at all surprised if she has never voted in her life. She's been too busy stirring up the tsk-tskers, while hardly seeming to know it.

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

World's Most Amazing Painting

Though I started painting pictures back in 1963, the period when I was most active at it lasted about 20 years, from around 1980 through catastrophe-filled 2001. I still look on myself as being a painter even now, because I see stained glass -- at least the way I do it -- as being a form of painting, using a medium consisting of glass and light. But even then, I feel as if, if I was so moved, I could pick up a brush and paint a complete work with oils or acrylics just as easily. But so far I haven't done that in the last 11 years.

Painting entered my mind a few days ago because I seem to have awakened thinking about freedom in creative stuff, whether it's in painting, writing, or in any other of the creative bags, and my mind started reviewing what I know about the famous masters of the past, and what they did about it.

The pictures that gave me the most trouble by far were portraits. That's because, first, they're technically the most difficult to paint, and secondly they offer the least latitude for artistic freedom, because of how they are greeted by others after the work is done, which isn't likely to be as generous as it is in the case of any other genre. And when those who wanted the picture disapprove, they don't hold back from expressing their displeasure. As a result I would bet that the great majority of paintings that end up being turned face to the wall through at least the first hundred years of their existence are portraits. Probably it's easiest for them to look good if you don't know how the person or persons really looked. Maybe, then, they are best viewed only after a cooling-off period of that length.

One reason for this big snag is that there's nothing harder to paint than the human face. It is incredibly subtle, and even the smallest single stroke can easily result in a totally different face every time. You would think that this would make people correspondingly hard to recognize in ordinary day to day life, yet the human mind is miraculously structured so as to be able to pick up these minute distinctions with just a glance. This could be why the planet can hold all seven billion of us, with a few more billion to come. So, when you finally dare to consider a portrait finished, it's not at all guaranteed that you've arrived at the best likeness, and I wonder if, even in the case of the greatest masters, whether it was just as likely that they reached the point where they finally gave up trying and delivered the thing, while holding their breath and hoping for the best.

For these reasons maybe portrait painters should be lauded over all others. At least they display the most heart.

Of all the paintings of any genre that I've ever seen anywhere -- the overwhelmingly great majority of them reproduced in books, naturally -- my vote as the most amazing painting ever completed and presented to the world goes without hesitation to the huge group portrait that Goya did around 1800. Titled "Charles IV of Spain and His Family," this painting is amazing because it shows a fair proportion of the dozen or so life-size figures in guises that are in no way flattering but instead-- Well, what can I say? Borrowing from Red Skelton's comic character of yesteryear, Klem Kadiddlehopper, "They just don't look right to me." Something tragic happened to the genetics there, and no one in the picture except the artist seems to have noticed that.

I know that Goya was as highly regarded in his time as he is now, and well he should've been. Still, this painting shows Spain's royalty of that time in such an unfavorable light that I don't understand why he wasn't immediately snatched and hauled off for questioning as soon as he had finished even just a quarter of it. And I don't understand either how he managed to unveil the whole thing without the royal family, given the thoroughgoing Spanish capacity for cruelty in those and earlier and also some later times, having him put away in a dank dungeon for the rest of his life.

But we are told that they liked it!

I don't understand. Still, I am glad that Charles the 4th and his folks left this painting to the ages. The searing aspects of its subject matter performs a little dance with its continued existence that shows there is hope yet for humanity.

If I wasn't so cursed by an intense dislike of travel, and if my presence didn't have a bad effect on the colors, which we are told is the case with all the crowds that see the other painting that I am about to mention, I would dream of visiting Spain just to see Charles IV and his loved ones in all their dumbfounding splendor -- though only after first checking out Velasquez's 1656 "Las Meninas," another huge painting in every way and also showing a Spanish royal family, of 150 years earlier. Both paintings can be seen in the Prado, which I think is in Madrid, and both probably occupy their very own little -- or big-- rooms.

"Las Meninas" is also amazing, not so much in its having had the potential to invite mayhem upon the artist, as it is in being a singularly haunting conception, when it comes to how Velasquez arranged the figures and so forth. His composition here recedes from front to back in a really cool kind of third dimension. Goya kept his composition mostly up front, extended from one side to the other.

In both the paintings the artists stuck themselves into the compositions peering out from their easels -- as clear a sign as any that Goya had his predecessor very much in mind when he decided to make a very different statement on Spain's monarchs -- and incredibly, at least to me, got away clean with it.

I wanted to show the paintings in this post, but Blogger wouldn't let me. All of a sudden they jumped stingy with their free megabytes. But Google will show you both in seconds flat.

"States Rights" is Surpassingly Stupid

The demand for states rights, which reached an especially toxic crest when something was thought necessary to put down the insistent cries for racial equality and fairness during the Civil Rights era, is once again being heard, as always in the last 50 years, from the mouths of Republican politicians. Yet what could be more stupid and evil than states rights?

If each of the various states of the Union had their own control of each and every governmental policy, then the question is, why do we have a federal government at all? Why are we united, in politics or in any other way? Why don't we satisfy ourselves instead with being a collection of 50 independent jurisdications that only come together when there is a threat from some external force that is so massive that it can't be dealt with by one or even five or ten or 45 states together?

It seems to me that the whole point of having a country called "the United States" is so that the citizens of the 50 states can have a choice. Some states, formerly confined to the South but now perniciously spreading all over the country, such as in the cases of Arizona, Wisconsin, New Jersey, and Maine, can elect officials that put into place policies based on sheer small-mindedness that adversely affect in painful ways certain helpless segments of those states' populations, namely those without enough votes. (Bad policies are almost invariably carried out against apparently helpless people.) If there weren't a second level of authority to appeal to, such as a federal government, then the mistreated segments of those states would have no recourse but to suffer, and meanwhile we'd have all these little totalitarian states all over North America, each of them happily inflicting their own "Final Solutions" on any demographic that enough of the jaundiced majority doesn't like.

The big advantage of national unity and big government is to spread the wisdom (and sometimes the pain) around, especially so as to ameliorate those times when bigotry and ignorance get too strong a foothold in individual states, almost aways, these days, at the hands of Republican officials.

In fact, it's getting so that no one state ever appears to have enough people with brains to hold everything together, and they need help from others in the Union. That can be seen happening all the time, in all sorts of matters.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Weapon of Choice

Guns -- the coward's universal weapon of choice.

Monday, April 16, 2012

Country Music

This time of the year around here, when you walk around outside at night, you can always count on hearing the very distinctive riffs of whippoorwills. They may be miles away, or they might be as close as somewhere not far up on the hillside, across the creek. The distance doesn't matter. It's all equally beautiful.

I have never seen a whippoorwill close up, but once, years ago, one chanced to light on the roof of our house's first floor, which, due to the way the house is built, begins its slope halfway up the rear, north wall of the bedroom on the second floor. And from there, through the small back windows set into that wall, the song of that bird was really, really loud. Sadly, that performance was brief and has never been repeated.

Among the local birdsongs I usually put the calls of hoot owls at the top of my list, but maybe that ranking is based on the season when I make it, and now that I think more about it, I would place hoot owls in a tie with whippoorwills.

But that may not be the whole truth either, because also at this time of the year I hear quite a few other trills and riffs as our small, feathered, hidden neighbors welcome the sunrise, and generally their music is also out of this world. It's just that I don't know the names of the artists. I've thought of buying an audio tape to help me with that but have never gotten around to it. Maybe it strikes me as being a little too ...organized, and you know, we can't have that.

The Cosby Trayvon Martin Remarks

Bill Cosby, the highly celebrated comic and actor, is being widely quoted for having said that the Trayvon Martin case should not be looked at from the viewpoint of race but should instead be seen as an issue of the use of guns and their ownership.

This is not true. That case has every bit as much to do with Martin's color as it does with his murderer having brought along a gun. Would Trayvon Martin have been stalked and then killed if his melanin count had been the same as that of Zimmerman's father? Almost the same question could be asked of another case two decades ago. Would O.J. Simpson have been so roundly vilified, or at all, if it had been his rainbow, i.e. "black" first wife who was murdered instead of his decidedly non-rainbow, i.e. "white" second marriage partner? The answer to both questions is a loud and resounding "No!".

Cosby should know better. By this time he should know that race has to do with nearly everything you can name, at least those issues that cause numerous jaws to tighten, including the health care stuff. Especially including the health care stuff.

But I guess that having enjoyed as much adulation as he has for nearly all his life, and from having become wealthy as a result, at age 76 Cosby no longer has the ability to see such niceties, and so now he is instead probably enjoying being widely toasted (Google News will probably run that item for as long as a week) for having repeated the things that people want to hear instead of the cold, hard facts that they never want to acknowledge or to face.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Uninvited Motoring Guests

Just as I was settling myself in bed the other night, at about 1:20 A.M., preparatory to that strange process of falling asleep for four or five hours, all that I am ever allowed at any one time in these latter years, I heard a car hurtling down the gravel road. Our house is oriented so that the room in which I sleep is on the side that is closest to the road, which runs north of and higher than the house while sloping sharply downward in two directions, from the left eastward to the right, and also from its south side straight down toward the house, and I heard that car suddenly stop and then nothing else.

The silence was too sudden and sharp, not at all like the fading sound of the car reaching the bottom of the grade and continuing on into the distance. Then I heard some wheels spinning hard, very close by. Too close. And some of our windows on that side had been turned suddenly aglow with more than moonlight.

I got out of bed and looked out a window -- and as it happened, that was nearly all that I did for the next four hours, instead of getting some much-needed sleep. I saw the lights of the side of a stopped car, whose driver was trying hard to get the car to move, preferably back onto the road. I couldn't tell for sure but it seemed to me that he or she had driven off the road and had been rudely stopped short by a tree or trees, no more, as a laser beam shoots, than 100 feet from the head of my bed.

This wasn't unusual. The same thing had happened four times that we knew of, at various places along our several hundred feet of road frontage, in the 35 or so years that we've been living here. One of them was by a teenaged neighbor who, in plain daylight about 20 years ago, had left the road at almost the same spot, driving up a short but steep bank, before he was stopped by gravity, saplings, and good luck, with his rear end still in the road.

I thought that there was a similar bank there and that the car had somehow surmounted it before being stopped, because it looked to be sitting higher up than I recalled the road being at that spot.

Minutes went by, eventually quite a few of them, while I wondered what I should do, if anything, and while the driver obviously kept hoping that he could do something easy to get out of there pronto, on that lonely and most likely strange-to-him road, and to keep going to wherever he had been headed. He kept gunning his engine and his wheels kept spinning, but his car refused to move an inch.

After the first half-hour of that, I started making some deductions, as much to justify my doing nothing as for any other reason, because for many reasons I didn't want to put all my clothes back on and go out into the cold darkness and find out who it was and whether they needed help. I knew it was only one person. Any more and I would have long since heard a lot of squabbling out there, as always happens when one person has done something dumb and doesn't want to hear about it but has to hear about it anyway.

First of all, what was this bird doing being out on our road at that time of night anyway? At that hour all sensible people are supposed to be home in bed, asleep. And if he had some kind of job that required him to be out and about, then he would be going about extricating himself from this mess smarter than this person appeared to be doing. If a car in the country is stuck fast by something, you can rarely if ever get it unstuck by merely pressing on the accelerator as hard as you can. Instead you have to get out, take a good look at things, decide on some external course of action, and go about it, and usually that doesn't involve just sitting in the car, constantly switching your lights from one state to the other, though mainly keeping them fully on, as if hoping to spot a bear farther up in the woods, and stomping the gas every few minutes in a process much like beating a dead horse, and meanwhile not doing your battery or your axle or your transmission any good.

Going by his behavior, I became convinced that the person out there in the hung-up car was in one of four conditions. He was either stupid, or he was drunk, or he was crazy, or he had Alzheimers. And I wasn't up for dealing with anybody who was in any of those states. All four would obviously account for what was happening with his wheels. By relentlessly spinning them, over and over and over again, every two minutes or so, he should've known after the first five minutes that all he was doing was digging his wheels in deeper and deeper and more and more hopelessly.

Finally I decided that the driver couldn't be a man. By then a man would have set afoot some kind of action, more than just the one brief foray outside the car that I was ever able to see and then only because of his small flashlight, before he quickly got back inside the car and tried hitting the gas again, for about the hundred and fiftieth time.

Instead I decided that it could only be a woman, a crazy and probably drunken white woman. Such a person would have been used to having a car doing her will at all times, and she would be boiling and anxious at the pure frustration of it all, while being unwilling to force herself into deciding to get out and walking to wherever she had been headed. The night was cold, and she was alone, and obviously her beloved cellphone wasn't working, or the reception was bad there, as it very easily could have been. Or she could've just chucked it out the window in anger before she realized what she was doing and now the best she could do was just to do all that she knew how to do and that was to put her pretty little foot to the gas and try yet again, in the hope that the wheels would finally come to their senses and would decide to do their job after all.

Meanwhile she was just waiting for someone to happen by and get her out of that pickle, and to help that occasion along she kept blinking her headlights on and off and thereby only lighting a long, narrow stretch of some singularly uncaring woods, and once or twice she even honked her horn a few times, as if expecting someone in the nearby uniformly dark houses, actually just mine, the only one she could've seen and by far the closest, to come running out to her rescue. But I was determined to keep the house dark, for fear that the person would come to my door and talk me into going out there.

Just recently I had already endured one nighttime visit, by a totally drunken friend, and that had been more than enough for this year, or even this decade. In fact I even thought that that might be him out there, juiced out of his mind yet again. But even at his most helpless, N. would've been a lot more enterprising about attacking this problem than this unknown person had been. N. had probably had this same kind of thing to happen to him a dozen times already.

Another time, during an even colder New Year's season many years ago, with ice and snow on the ground and in the air, a small group of young white people of obviously very humble means had done just that, knocking on my door, getting me to leave my then small son and wife to go out there and try to help them pull their car out of a big snowbank with my big come-along, which in those days worked much better than it does now, but that didn't help, and I ended up inviting them inside my house because among them was a woman with a baby, and they came in with one man toting a shotgun, and later I had to drive them in my car through the darkness over snow and ice on the roads ten miles into town, and my memory is that they weren't all that grateful about me doing that either.

Meanwhile don't get me wrong. At the risk of having all my teeth jerked out of my gums with a pair of rusty pliers, which works for me because they are now the demountable kind, I have to confess that I like white women, not least because they bear a quite startling physical resemblance to the person who is most responsible for my having arrived on the planet and also for my having survived babyhood and childhood,which, as you may or may not know (most likely the latter) can be trying times in the rainbow world, especially if you have a Great Depression in full swing to boot. In fact my mother could've easily passed for "white," as her brother did for years, but she chose to go in the opposite direction as much as she could, most likely because of painful and maybe even unbearable memories from having been the last child of an interracial marriage in race riot-racked New Orleans just as the especially violent 20th Century was getting underway.

In addition, during my adult stage, which has now stretched to more than 60 years all told, for a rainbow ("black") guy of no particular distinction in any direction and without trying in any way, I've still somehow become acquainted with a surprisingly large number of white women, to widely varying degrees and in a huge variety of situations, and their record with me is uniformly good. Except for one isolated instance, they have always been exceptionally nice to me, and even that one had acted the same way toward me for quite a while before, given her character, the volcano had inevitably erupted. In fact because of that record I may like them more as a group than is good for me, if that ever became known.

But the fact remains that, of all the settings in which I have ever been, I have seen more truly wacko, crazy white women here in rural Virginia than anywhere else. I can think of no reason why that should be, unless it's something about me, or maybe it's something about language or culture. But there it is. It's true. I'm not kidding. And it doesn't take anything away from the many sane ones. As for rainbow ("black") women, I haven't seen that many crazy ones, actually almost none, because of the simple fact that there aren't nearly as many rainbow women around here, period. And the ones that are here seem to find it necessary to be sane at all times, whereas their European-derived sisters, being part of the majority, or because of their men, might find insanity to be a useful tool of sorts.

Eventually, after about two hours of that incessant spinning of wheels and the shining of car lights deep into the woods and even into my house, another driver came along and he stopped and got out and looked at the situation, and he briefly talked to whoever the stalled driver had been, and soon he got back into his car and left, after having obviously promised to get help, while that hapless driver got back in his or her vehicle and again tried stepping on the gas for another interminable period, during which I may have actually fallen asleep for a few minutes.

It wasn't till around 5:30, more than four hours after this ordeal had started, when on my umpteenth time of looking out the window, I saw more car lights outside (praise the Lord!), and with two and possibly more people standing there talking. And eventually one of the persons with the new vehicles attached a chain to the back of the beached car and pulled it out, though just a few feet, all that was necessary. More palaver followed, before, to my surprise, because I thought that by that time the person's front tires couldn't have much rubber left, the afflicted car finally set off down the road, very slowly, like a badly wounded creature, in the direction it had been going, though the tow truck, or whatever it had been -- it had a yellow light on top -- waited, until what looked like the same set of lights came back up the road and past, still moving at little more than a snail's pace, at which time both vehicles disappeared in that direction, and a few minutes later, what looked like the lights of the same formerly stranded car drifted past yet again, in the direction it had originally taken before paying us an unscheduled and, by him or her, deeply resented visit, and at last, finally, it was all over.

With daylight I went out to see what had happened, though it was just what, after the fact, I had figured.

At that spot the highway department had dumped or pushed off a lot of gravel to one side, our side, the slightly lower side, with my memory of that offset being only two or three feet wide. Actually it was 8 or 10 feet wide, and in effect they had widened the road just at that one spot enough for someone to mistake it for being part of the road -- if they had been drinking and had been looking to see where they were going no farther ahead than about three feet past their headlights, and this person had ended up with his or her vehicle sitting right on top of the now partially flattened gravel pile, which had been white but had been turned a dark umber by the person's nightlong love affair with his or her gas pedal. If the person had been carrying a shovel he could've dug himself out of there in just a few minutes, or I could've brought him one, if only I--

But too many people are carrying guns these days, and, going by current events, "white" or "black" or any hue between, they seem to have permission to shoot any so-called "black" people they see outside in the night, especially if these people are wearing "hoodies." I don't wear a hoodie, but I am still and will forever be the color that it has always been the preference to shoot if you see them coming up on you from out of the night, even it's only to help. And I have too many things left that I still want to do before I go.

Meanwhile another tactic that that mysterious driver with the inexplicable behavior could've tried right away would've been to get out the old tire jack, provided that cars still come with them, and provided that the driver knows where it is, and provided that he has bothered to learn how to use one. As cumbersome as it would have been, on rough ground in the dark just a few degrees above freezing, it would've still been relatively quick and easy to jack up maybe just the left front wheel, which from the tracks left behind seems to have been the main offender, until he could shove under the tire a large rock, a piece of a log, or even just some of the gravel that was already there in abundance, so that after he let the tire back down, the car would've been high enough off the loose gravel to be backed right out of there, to the intense relief of two people -- that driver and another person watching closely from inside the weirdo dark house with the shed roof nearby.

Maybe these little unexpected roadside visits are a big reason why many of my neighbors, probably the more far-seeing ones, preferred to set their houses as far back off the road as they possibly could. I would've considered that, but the lie of my land, mostly steep and north-facing, didn't allow it. And so it seems that, unless the highway department can come up with enough funds to reconfigure the road -- some of the neighbors have fought hard to keep our quaint gravel thoroughfare just the way it is -- our property is doomed to experience these kinds of short vehicular incursions on an average of about one every eight years.

I guess that's actually not much, when I remember that so far, as far as I know, no one has ever been even so much as just a little hurt during these mishaps, though one guy turned his car completely over during a bad snowstorm somewhere along our stretch of the road. But he was able to get out and walk away from it, unharmed. I think he said that at the time he had been thoroughly tanked up, too.

I wasn't here for that one and knew nothing of it till years later, when at a party he spoke of that incident as if it had been only a moment of high comedy. I have trouble thinking that it was.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

To the Mountain Gods

In his hit book about a disastrous 1996 climb of Mt. Everest, "Into Thin Air," from which a very vivid and highly realistic film of the same title was made, Ron Krakauer, surely a patriot, speaks of how mountain-climbing, specifically of the world's highest peak, has even entered what he calls "the swamp of American jurisprudence."

That characterization really zooms up to hit the bell at the carnival top, with those of us who have bones to pick with the American legal system, which I would estimate to be about 97 percent of the population. Even wealthy people who otherwise would vote the straight Mean-Spirited and Nasty ticket, i.e. Republican, not to mention lawyers who get their bread and butter from that system, occasionally find fault with it, and maybe even more than occasionally. I think this is mainly because in this country there is way too much law and not nearly enough order.

Krakauer is talking about how climbing to the top of Mt. Everest has gotten so commercialized that a number of companies have been formed to assist those climbers who can get their hands on enough cash to go to Nepal or Tibet and get into it, so that they come back home with bragging rights that easily surpass those of ordinary world travelers. But the problem is that some of these clients seem to think that climbing that mountain is akin to riding a trolley to the top, or at most is just a brief, leisurely trek over a few short stretches of rock and ice. They don't look into all the effort and time and tragedy it took people who knew exactly what they were doing, mainly British-type guys, before the first two men finally made it to the top, and that was years after -- from calculations somehow made a hundred miles away -- it was determined that Everest was the peak that, among a vast acreage of similarly gigantic spires, had managed to poke its head a few feet higher than all its competitors.

So, when those companies couldn't get them to the top, some of those unsuccessful climbers quite naturally went back home to the U.S. and sued the companies for breach of contract.

Is it too easy to say that this is the contentious American Way? Because it should be easy as pie to recognize that nothing can guarantee that anybody can or even should be able to reach the top of a mountain that close to the hideaways of the mountain gods and still survive. And if it could be guaranteed, then something really valuable would have been lost, and that is the sanctity of mountain tops and other high places -- any high places but especially mountain tops.

In all my reading I have never read that anybody ever found a box of assorted Youghiogheny stained glass sheets or anything that valuable waiting at the top of a tall mountain. I have trouble believing that Moses or Abraham or whoever it was accomplished that. The only thing they found on the summits of Everest or any of its rivals was a spectacular view that only lasted a few minutes before the climbers had to get back down off there pronto, before severe inconveniences set in, such as their oxygen running out or a storm reaching up from below, and they would find themselves looking at an immeasurably uncomfortable night that would also be their last night, ever.

Being a big believer in the virtues of leaving as many things as possible strictly alone, my feeling is that any mountain that can't be walked and then struggled up to the top without the use of ropes, pitons, or any of that stuff, especially oxygen tanks, except a light lunch, and then struggled back down before it gets dark, is best left strictly as is.

The main use of mountains is to be looked at and to be admired. They are not there to become the graveyards of adventurers or the trash dumps of egoists. Respect for the natural world's many wonders trumps bragging rights every day of the year, and I fail to see how climbing Mt. Everest is even worth losing more than one of a person's valuable God-given toes, as Krakauer, a seasoned veteran of climbing high mountains all over the world for no more reason than the empty one of "because they are there," experienced during that 1996 climb.

There are plenty of figurative mountains to be climbed at sea level to more worthwhile ends and that test wills to the utmost and that are easily explainable and that, distasteful and unheroic as it may be, don't involve getting deathly cold, gasping for a few molecules of air, losing all ability to move, and being reduced to the mental level of a six-year-old (or a 150-year-old), all at the same time, and all on purpose. That's the worst part of it. That supposed sacrifice of one's own self to the mountain gods is all on purpose! Mountains and the deities thereof, if any, don't ask for sacrifices of any kind. They just sit there, watching over things, and that's it.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

Bizarre in Sanford -- the Trayvon Martin Case

A weird pathological growth has recently been spotted clumping in and around a place called Sanford, Florida. A case there that ordinarily would be tried in a courtroom is instead being tried everywhere else. And I would like to emphasize "everywhere," to the point where to read about it on the Internet is getting to be on the sickening side, not least because of the widespread recurrence of the same two photos of the two principals in this case. A thousand times around is enough.

One of these principals is a youth named Trayvon Martin, a Rainbow (''black") person, or at least he used to be but now, besides being a gigantic cause celebre, he is also mainly a corpse. Trayvon Martin is shown peering out at the little that remains of his world from inside a garb that his death is on its way to making nearly universal -- a singularly unappealing garment called a "hoodie." Formerly hoodies were worn mainly by monks going around in a trance mumbling incoherent prayers, and also witches cooking up all kinds of noxious and odious potions in boiling cauldrons full of unspeakable substances. Nowadays, besides skulking in dark alleys, those hooded things are suitable mainly for protection against the blizzards that so often howl across the prairies of Florida.

The other person whose image appears so often and ad nauseum on the internet is that of a still living adult named George Zimmerman. Heretofore that sir-name was notable chiefly because it was given at birth to a highly famous and meritorious poet and harmonica and guitar player, but a long time ago he saw fit to call himself "Bob Dylan" instead, and I wouldn't be surprised if today he is really, really glad.

This newer Zimmerman appears to be and has been called a Hispanic, though his name in no way sounds Hispanic and instead is usually used by members of a different group whose older contingents like to congregate, it is true, in Florida, though many of the others have righteously sequestered themselves in the Middle East, where unfortunately and unaccountably they have become notorious for their willingness to rob, shoot, bomb, irritate, and otherwise make life unpleasant in any way they can for their neighbors, and for any reason, even the flimsiest, or for none at all. So it could be fitting that, instead of coming from a cellphone like Martin's likeness, Zimmerman's photo appears to be a mug shot, probably taken when he was hauled in after the incident that brought on this trial by outrage.

Maybe you already see where I'm going with this post -- an examination of how nearly every aspect of this case defies reality, logic, common sense, and the way that things ordinarily happen, in many ways.

George Zimmerman's weight is usually given as being 250 pounds. Trayvon Martin's weight is less certain, and the two figures I have seen are 140 and 160 pounds. These statistics and the disparity between them are crucial.

So here is this hulking guy (if you weigh 250 pounds and if a photo is circulated everywhere that shows the distance between your jaws to be so much farther than that between your temples that it can't possibly be helpful, you are hulking) is strolling along at night with a gun in his pocket. You would think that weighing 250 pounds would make a man supremely confident of the outcome of a violent difference of opinion with anybody who is more than 25 pounds lighter without having to use a gun. And this man is minding everybody's business except his own because he has appointed himself to being a member of the local neighborhood night watch, though if they had known that he was out there and on the job, unbidden, the officially appointed members of that watch might have told him that bringing a gun along is strictly verboten. In addition one wonders, in light of what he did with that weapon on one particular night, why the Sanford police didn't haul him in for that infraction alone.

Anyway, with the gun in his pocket and the fact that he was roaming about in no official capacity but instead was only a predator of sorts, he was trying to spot anything that appeared to be the least bit suspicious. And that isn't hard to do in any urban neighborhood, unless its streets are completely devoid of humankind, a situation that is not usually the case in a city at any hour.

Right on cue Zimmerman sees this kid with his face partly hidden in a "hoodie," an inglorious item of apparel that would make even a 3-month old baby look ominous, and what does he do? He ascertains that the person wearing the hoodie is male and of the dread hue, and that is all he needs to see.

To keep everything above board, and to crank in what he regards as being his collaborators, he calls the police and reports seeing somebody suspicious, and they tell him that they're coming to take over but meanwhile he should stop stalking the prey, because that is their fun and games. But so as not to let this chance to show his stuff slip by, Zimmerman follows Trayvon Martin anyway, and one minute after that call (according to the police), the youth in the "hoodie" is lying dead, from being shot in the chest at close range.

That single minute between Zimmerman's call and the young Martin's departure from this life is central to this case, as is the puzzling way that this case is being resolutely kept out of the regular courtrooms by the Sanford police, in their refusal, now five weeks old, to arrest the shooter, who was plainly Mr. Zimmerman, or even to appear to be exerting any pressure on him to determine what happened. Instead they seem to have decided that it was merely a case of a "nigger" kid (the kind of language habitually used by the kind of guys who gravitate to hard-nosed and violent, gun-toting occupations like police work) getting what he was due just by merely existing, in a clear case of self-defense, and -- privately, with a snicker, "more credit to Mr. What's-His-Name? Zimmerman."


Except for two calls on those ubiquitous and curious little objects whose use has been denied to me by certain circumstances, thus throwing me far behind today's technological curve, though I'm sitting here facing a row of five functioning desktop computers put together by me and loaded with SATA hard drives and controlled by KVM switches and what-not. I'm referring to those tiny objects of a type formerly made for the ear and the mouth but now made for the hand, and assembled by foot-tall midgets who live in the Swiss Alps and that are causing Americans everywhere to evolve into a race characterized by heads permanently bent over at 45-degree angles and with over-developed thumbs but keen eyesight, and that in the U.S. at least is rapidly becoming the main mode of communication, rivaling even the human voice.

As mentioned, one cellphone call had already been made to the police by Zimmerman. The other call was placed moments later by the now sadly deceased young Mr. Martin, but it was not to the police at this moment of his most urgent need, which had suddenly developed because, as a result of having been born and having donned that "hoodie" 17 years later for his little saunter that night to a convenience store for snacks, he had stumbled into a fracas with what must have finally seemed to him to be a crazed 250-pound monster, and furthermore a monster with a gun. But Martin had phoned his girl friend instead, for help or what? Because what was suddenly happening didn't seem to be real and instead was some kind of joke? And so that's what you do, especially with cell phones. You hit the button for your girl friend first thing.

What happened there? On top of all the dumb thinking that had already taken place, which I suppose happens all the time in a clime like Florida, did he think she would immediately come running to his aid? And so, after pleading for his life, the Martin child was shot dead a moment later by an older and much larger man physically, who had equipped himself to do just such a thing and had come out into the night for no other reason (he couldn't have been watching over the sleeping populace, because there are people instead who are intentionally hired, supposedly trained, equipped, and paid to do that job; they"re called "police"), and at that instant Trayvon Martin was transformed from being an ordinary youth of no particular distinction, for all the awards that are usually heaped on the chests of the newly dead, into being a national symbol touching on all the worst conflicts that are now affecting the national psyche, especially with regard to condoning not one but a series of obvious crimes, including murder, because they are seen to have been committed in the interest of a majority that once rode high but now sees its former unchallenged power and privileges over all others shrinking every year, to the point where they are now threatened with soon not being the majority anymore, unless it turns out that they have never been a people anyway but just a way of thinking.

In the witnesses that have taken it upon themselves to be called to testify in the trial that is being held in the national consciousness, it's been amazing to see the efforts to cast Martin as the villain in the piece, though he carried only some iced tea, a bag of something apparently edible called "skittles (a term formerly confined to impromptu chess games played for fun)," and of course his cellphone. No one is allowed to go anywhere these days, even just to the next room, without a cellphone in hand.

Meanwhile these defenders of the shooter try to give the impression that the armed G. Zimmerman was just a well-meaning, alarmed, and conscientious citizen, armed with a gun and doing his duty and protecting the neighborhood, and they claim that Martin, armed with his skittles (whatever they are), his tea, and his cellphone, attacked Zimmerman instead. Having obviously first carefully set on the ground his tea, his bag of skittles, and the cellphone -- mandatory in preparation for any duel of this kind -- while Zimmerman pulled out his . . .what?, the youth then knocked the older, larger, and armed Zimmerman to the ground. One Florida newspaper even went so far as to declare that Martin managed to do this with a single punch.

Say what? A 150-pound (I am going with the middle figure, just to be on the safe side) lightweight (or is that welterweight or what?) knocked a burly 250-pounder to the ground, and with just one blow, instead of employing the wisdom that even a creature thought to be as lowly as a cat would have used and so instantly saying, "'Bye, sucker!" instead, and hitting the road with all deliberate speed. Who are we talking about here? Superman as a boy?

Until about 20 years ago, I was nearly 30 pounds lighter and only weighed about 135, and I was just a fraction short of Martin's 6 feet in height (though his height has been increased to 6-2 in at least one report), and I think I can speculate with some confidence that at a gated community such as the place where this encounter took place, the streets are never quite that dark, and a weight disadvantage of 100 pounds or more is easy enough to notice and to be taken very very seriously, as no one in his right mind wants a broken jaw or most likely worse.

Zimmerman's excusers also go on to say that as a result of Martin's mighty knockdown punch, Zimmerman suffered bleeding and abrasions that called for medical attention. But that assertion was easily shot down by today's omnipresent Internet videos that show Zimmerman minutes later in the custody of the police with no discernible wounds on his face except his too often seen features themselves.

Then as if to further justify Martin's being shot to death, the "Kill a Darkie" crowd has been working feverishly to dig up anything "suspicious" they can find in Martin's life to justify stalking and killing him but can only come up with various items of no significance.

An early episode of "House" that I just now saw bears on this matter. In the usual difficult and formulaic search for finding what's poisoning a patient, the lead character strongly asserts that teenage boys definitely should not be regarded as being toxins, though this is a statement that I believe would be instantly and strongly disputed by a large number of people, especially the parents of teenage girls, and there is never any telling what you might find at the bottoms of any of their school knapsacks, though certainly not the plans of the U.S. and Israel to bomb Iran or even the CIA's lists of drone targets in Pakistan, Afghanistan, or Brooklyn. Let's be serious here.

But still day after day goes by, and rallies asking that Zimmerman be arrested are held in many places, yet he remains a free man unmolested by the attentions of the U.S. legal system, despite his having shot to death somebody's child, when it is common knowledge what would have happened if Martin had been the shooter instead, of a child of European descent. Judging by many past events, in Florida and its sibling states, it is not much of an exaggeration to say that by this time the trial in a courtroom would probably have been already held and the date of his execution set.

Having once been a potential Trayvon Martin myself, in equally trying times for those born into that fraternity, it is chilling to realize that, as in the many days gone by, there are still a lot of Americans who think that the fact that, if he is of a certain ancestry, the killing of a boy or young man is not worthy of notice of any kind, much less the opprobrium that is rightfully going on in the Sanford case now, though it is still being unheeded by any authorities that might still exist there. It is also no surprise to see how low a profile authorities in many places are able to assume in cases of this kind.

In a 1955 short story penned by a Swedish writer named Stig Dagerman, titled "To Kill a Child," can be found this ringing statement:

. . .So pitiless is life to him who has killed a child that afterwards everything is too late.

That may be so in Sweden, but not necessarily in the U.S., where children of all ages are killed all the time, in the name of many things, especially unnecessary wars that are conducted under the covers about as much or more than they are above.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Slugging House

This year my wife and I have been looking, via Netflix, at the years that the medical drama "House" was on TV. We have not yet reached the end of the second year, yet House has already been roundly socked three times by my count, by one or another of those characters that in a sensible world would never be allowed within three blocks of that hospital, namely the so-called "loved ones" of the patients within, but in this show are allowed not only to peer right over the doctor's shoulders and offer their endless dumb comments and questions, but also to do other stuff that only stops short of their climbing atop the patients' chests and imperiously squatting there during open heart surgery.

I ask you, how many doctors are socked three times in their entire careers? How many are socked even once? The number is extremely low, if not absolutely zilch, I would think. Yet "House" ran for seven seasons and is only being taken off the air this year. That means that I can look forward to seeing him taking a roundhouse punch to his jaw or to his stomach by an enraged loved one with no toleration for whimsy at least seven more times, and that's while I'm being generous with my arithmetic.

I would say that, in spite of its success, "House" has desperately needed new writers, directors, and producers right from the start. What would you say?