Comments on life, the universe and everything from an aging Sixties survivor.

Location: Massachusetts, United States

Ummm, isn't "about me" part of the point of the blog?

Tuesday, May 29, 2012


At last, something comes up to raise me from my torpor. Well, not torpor exactly, but a combination of playing my health care worker card and an overdose of the domestic arts.

Chris Hayes was right to question the obscene overuse of the word "hero" to describe our troops and was far too hasty in apologising. Trouble was, he was right for the wrong reason.

In the unlikely event that anyone unfamiliar with these pages reads this, the disclaimer is that I am a veteran, had some interesting times, and know what a hero is because I've seen several in action...most of them not combat troops. I would love to know what proportion of Hayes' critics were veterans. Considering that something under two percent of Americans have ever served in the armed forces, the math is suggestive.

To be uncomfortable with this because it seems "rhetorically proximate to justifications for more war," either misses the point of this outpouring or is awash in denial. There is an elephant in the room, people. Its name is the collective guilt of millions of Americans over the way we (yes, fools, we) of the Vietnam era were treated in uniform and after we served. It is easier to get the keycard combination to Fort Knox than to get anyone wallowing in this guilt to admit it. It is much easier for them to exercise some transference and go overboard over today's servicefolk. That is why these people call everyone from Lieutenant Generals to the company cook "heroes."

Props to President Obama for speaking the words that none of the salivating chickenhawks and few if any pundits will say aloud: that the treatment of Vietnam veterans is a national shame, It is past time to put that right.

I give today's veterans their due. Like many of my generation I carry the memory of being sneered at by veterans of previous wars, and I'm determined not to do the same to those in uniform today. But overreaction to these veterans doesn't do a goddam thing to square things with veterans of that previous and troubled time.

How about it, America? Grow a spine, or a pair, or whatever it takes to create some balance between past and present. Forty-one years on, and I'm used to this shit, but it would be nice to have something besides pro forma thanks twice a year.

A final note for the 99 percent, non-veterans. Kindly spare us the "thank you for your service" platitudes on Memorial Day. Veteran's Day, yes, but Memorial Day isn't for those of us still living. It's for those who didn't live.

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Tuesday, May 08, 2012

A bit buggy

PBS news is busy hyping a story about the latest in upscale culinary fashion trends: eating grubs and insects. The News Hour is the chief source of broadcast news in this house. I hope they appreciate the fact that they have an audience in which the critical faculty is turned on.

There's an angle here that PBS hasn't explored. What we hear is "isn't it about time we joined the rest of the world?" However, the rest of the world eats grubs and bugs because people have to. Here, this addition to the food pyramid is chiefly a novelty cuisine for the one percent. At least, it's presented as such. Beyond whatever taste the little critters may have (not much, apparently), there is an odour of hypocrisy here. We don't have any coverage or reflection on the possibility that there are also Americans who eat insects out of necessity. Also, this is all about eating bugs on purpose, and doesn't consider the wee beasties that may be a part of our daily diet by accident.

Let's also consider that certain seafood--crab, lobster and shrimp--are pretty closely related to certain insects. I don't like them, either.

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Friday, May 04, 2012

Warhol was wrong

Ted Nugent, to be honest, has never been on my radar screen. Never, as in hits released 35 years ago didn't do much for me at the time. By Warholian standards, his 15 minutes of fame peaked about 1977.

But this is now, and if one has once achieved celebrity, then one can get headlines by, say, farting in public. That's about all Nugent has achieved in the last few weeks, and it's enough. Obviously it works well if the fingers have gone and the voice is gone. Generations of opera singers would have loved to have today's celebrity culture to extend their careers.

Nugent does prove the point that celebrities, however meagre or vast their skills, rarely have anything to say on politics that is worth saying. Part of his oral diarrhea asserted that only under Obama would he have been investigated by the CIA for veiled threats against a sitting president. Well, I beg to differ, mooooron.

Soon after John F. Kennedy was elected, a good many people up my way were severely agitated by having a Popish Democrat as President. One, in the next town over, was very loud in his dissatisfaction. He had never been in a band. He was not a celebrity. He got a visit from the Secret Service: according to local news, it was not at all a benign visit. Our local loudmouth very narrowly missed a term in Leavenworth, and looked especially bad after Kennedy's actual assassination.

Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes wrote the fundamental expression of free speech when he said, In Schenck v. United States, "The most stringent protection of free speech would not protect a man in falsely shouting fire in a theatre...." Assuming Nugent or any Teabagger has even heard of Justice Holmes, his principle is probably the first bit of judicial activism they want thrown over the side.

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Wednesday, May 02, 2012

No, not your average suburb

One of my fellow beer aficionados said it best: the town I live in may be in the suburbs of Boston, but it is not a suburb. Sometimes, that truth sneaks up and dope slaps you.

When we first moved here, fortyish years back, it was to a neighbourhood called The Shipyard. It had once been what the name suggested: a place of shipyards, sail lofts and ropewalks. It was a predominantly Catholic, mainly Irish, working class neighbourhood, strange though that may seem to people who only see the town's upscale reputation.

Like many such neighbourhoods all around the country in the days that were just then ending, the girls grew up wanting to be housewives, or perhaps teachers, or perhaps nuns. Many of the boys grew up wanting to be cops or firefighters, and many did.

But a good number of them grew up wanting only to go to sea. A number did, as fishermen, offshore or coastwise mariners. Some were catching and selling lobsters before they reached their teens.

One of them was someone I knew only as the grandson of someone I sailed with, and as one wild and playful child in a neighbourhood of wild and playful children.
With the tale of years, this little boy grew into adulthood, then middle age.
And this morning, getting my hair cut, I learned the little boy is lost at sea.
The link will tell the tale, as much as is known. There's a picture there that tears at my heart, because the smile of the middle-aged tugboat captain was still the smile I remember of the little boy.

It's happened here before, in the years we've lived here, though it has not struck so close before.  Sebastian Junger set forth the grim statistics early in The Perfect Storm, of the world's most dangerous occupation. Lloyd's of London still tolls a bell every time a ship is lost anywhere in the world, and that bell is rarely silent for long.

This  doesn't happen in the suburbs; false communities created from arable land. Even here, this sort of thing doesn't really touch the people who move here for the prestige address, whose only connection with the water is the water hazards at the country club on the edge of town. But we lived in the Shipyard, and were drawn into the moment of living by these alert, mischievous children (the Wharf Rats, we called them). Far back of every moment was the thought that those who did follow the sea for their living might be living short but crowded lives.

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