Different Perspective

With the plethora of spy (okay, “surveillance”) cameras in Britishland city streets, this pic has often been described as ironic:

Me, I just see another typical IngSoc cock-up: the camera stand is too short to see into the window, so they turned it around to face the street instead.

That’s how Orwell got to write Animal Farm and 1984, unnoticed by the authorities.

5 Worst Children’s Books

Ranked as always in ascending order of awfulness:

  • Games To Play With Daddy’s Hunting Knife
  • What’s That Noise? Explaining Those Scary Sounds That Come From Mommy and Daddy’s Bedroom
  • Daddy Divorced Mommy Because Of You
  • Mommy’s New Boyfriend REALLY Loves You
  • It Takes A Village: Hillary Rodham Clinton

Proportions

The recent flooding of Houston made me think of numbers (because that’s the kind of guy I am).

One of my friends lives inside the City of Houston, and his house was not flooded (because the city is built on a hill, relatively speaking, of about 400 ft. above sea level. But it’s an island, so to speak, because most of the surrounding area is less than 100 ft. above the Gulf of Mexico — hence the massive floods caused by Harvey).

For my British Readers, let me give some perspective. The Greater London area (population 8.8 million) comprises about 605 square miles; greater Houston (pop. 6.5 million) comprises just over 8,900 square miles (in the U.S., “greater” is labeled as “metropolitan statistical area”, or MSA).

In so large an area, you’ll get a situation like this:

Texans don’t trust government, so they rescued each other when things got desperate

Across Southeast Texas, police, firefighters, the National Guard, the Coast Guard and other agencies responded with immense force. But in a storm of Harvey’s sheer monstrousness — hundreds of miles across, lingering for days with bucketing rain that swallowed roads and initially kept rescue aircraft grounded — no government response could ever have been enough.

So ordinary people took up the challenge.

When Andrew Brenneise saw his West Houston neighborhood flooding at a ferocious pace last Saturday, his first thought was Facebook Live. He pulled out his smartphone in the punishing rain and pleaded for volunteers with boats.

Forty-five minutes later, the first truck arrived with a boat on a trailer. Then ten more. Then twenty. Then Brenneise had a flotilla of fishing boats, kayaks, canoes and flat-bottomed skiffs which, over the next six days, rescued hundreds of people and animals.

“This is who we are,” said Brenneise, 31, a business development manager at a chemical company. “The police and firefighters can’t be everywhere, so the community has to step in and take control.”

It’s true that by and large, Texans don’t trust the government (any government, even our own) — our state constitution is the most restrictive covenant in the world — but coupled to that is the realization that government can’t be everywhere, all the time (especially as in the absence of a state income tax, we can’t and don’t want to fund it). That’s true even in the best of times, as it happens, which means that in a massive crisis like Harvey, we have to take care of ourselves — and it looks like we did.

I also note that comparatively speaking, there doesn’t seem to have been too much thievery, no doubt because of the many “You loot, we’ll shoot” signs that popped up all over the place. Yeah, we include “defense of our property” in the list of things we don’t entirely delegate to government either. And any suggestion that government agencies should disarm Texans in times of disaster would be met with mocking laughter, not just from ordinary people but also from our elected politicians and police forces.

Now for the rebuilding. Texas has an aptly-named “rainy day fund” of just under $10 billion, which we’re going to have to dip into, I guess. The federal government will probably kick in as well — and before anyone jumps in with a “so you hate government but you’ll take their money” snark, let me remind y’all that we Texans do pay federal income taxes — and in any event, if the rest of the U.S.A. wants gasoline for their cars, we’ll need to fix the drowned oil refineries around Houston too; so yeah, the feds should come to the party.

I haven’t really kept on top of this — I’ve been eating Full English Breakfasts, getting plastered on warm ale, and swanning around stately palaces, sue me — but that seems to be a reasonable overview of the situation.

Feel free to add corrections and comments in the usual place.


Afterthought:  the Dallas-Ft. Worth MSA (pop. 7.1 million) extends for 9,268 square miles, fifteen times the size of Greater London.

The Dan

I was truly saddened by the death of Steely Dan’s Walter Becker earlier this week, and I was going to write something about him and Donald Fagen when I remembered that I’d already done so back in October 2007. I found the piece, re-read it and cannot add a single thing to it. Here it is.

No Pumpkins Here

After revealing my love for the music of ABBA and the BeeGees last week, I got an email from a Reader:

Okay, I can’t believe you like that commercial crap, with your taste in classical music and all. What is your favorite kind of music then?

Leaving aside the classical music for a moment, to concentrate on errrr “modern” music, I have to say that I prefer complex music when it comes to pure listening pleasure.

“Favorites” is a loaded term, because in making that decision, it almost depends what I last listened to.

You all know about my “art rock” preferences (eg. Genesis, King Crimson, Yes, Happy The Man, and Jethro Tull), so I’m not going to talk about that stuff here.

Those who know my dislike for jazz, however, may be surprised by a band whom I absolutely love, and whose albums I have in their entirety: Steely Dan.

There is a need and a time for straight-ahead rock, and then there’s a time to enjoy the dense, complex music patterns of Messrs. Fagen and Becker.

I started off with Steely Dan’s Royal Scam album—I’d heard their earlier hits like Reeling In The Years, but for some reason I never got round to listening to their albums. Then, on a whim one day, I bought Royal Scam along with a couple of other tapes, to listen to on a long car trip I was taking.

For the next four days, the Steely Dan album was the only music I listened to—none of the others could hold up. To this day, if I hear a single song off the album, I have to get the CD out and listen to the rest.

Lots of words have been written about Steely Dan’s music, so I’m not really going to add many of my own to the chorus. Suffice it to say that whenever someone asks me to list my favorite songs of all time, it’s really difficult for me—because I can’t even list my favorite Steely Dan songs, so much do I enjoy them. The arrangements are tight and dense. I use the word “dense” a lot with their music, because there’s really no other way to describe the busyness—there’s always a lot going on with the instruments, but even within each instrument, all sorts of stuff is happening. (The next time Donald Fagen plays a straight major chord will probably be his first.)

And all the musicians who’ve ever played with Fagen and Becker have been artists and craftsmen of the highest order. To see exactly how good these guys were, you have to try and play a few Steely Dan songs—and I don’t mean an approximation of the song, I mean an exact copy of the song, to see how good these guys really were. I think I only ever managed a few: The Fez, Don’t Take Me Alive, With a Gun [duh], and Boston Rag. Players like Skunk Baxter, Lee Ritenour and Larry Carlton were the norm, not the stars—and current bassist Freddie Washington is beyond astonishing in his virtuosity.

But above all, one has to allow that Donald Fagen and Walter Becker themselves are brilliant musicians, and beyond-brilliant composers and arrangers. The cerebral, cultured Fagen and explosively-funny, irreverent Becker combine to make music that is… cerebral, cultured, funny and irreverent. And just to make things more confusing, they look like a pair of Ivy League college professors:

I’m also love with, in addition to the music itself, the wry, ironic feel to the lyrics and melodies. This is really unusual for me, because when it comes to that kind of thing, I’m an unashamed sucker and romantic. Hell, I’ve shed many a tear on maudlin ballads of the Streets Of London genre, but of course, tears are not what comes from listening to the hip, sly and obscure Steely Dan lyrics—that would not be cool, after all; and “cool” is a word which describes Steely Dan’s music better than any other. “Cool”, in lesser hands, could easily lead to “cold”, but it’s impossible to feel that way when listening to, say, Any Major Dude or Pretzel Logic.

And if you can’t see the comic genius and intellect of the people who wrote this letter and this article, you’re beyond redemption.

For the musicians among my Readers, I tend to prefer Skunk Baxter’s guitar work over Larry Carlton’s, not for any technical reasons—Carlton is a genius—but simply because I like Baxter’s sound for this kind of music. But that doesn’t stop me from preferring Royal Scam (a “Carlton” album) to any other of their offerings.

Did I imply from the above that I have a “favorite” Steely Dan album? Well, maybe. Royal Scam is certainly the first among equals, but then again, that’s just because I haven’t heard Countdown To Ecstasy or Pretzel Logic recently.

So I’m going to go and remedy that situation, right now. You could do worse than follow my example.

If you’ve never heard Steely Dan before (and there may be one or two sad souls who haven’t), and you like your music to have a complex, slightly jazzy feel, then here’s Amazon’s main Steely Dan page. Help yourself, to any one. You will not be disappointed, regardless of your choice; and how many bands can you say that about?

(I’d recommend the Citizen Steely Dan set for a starter choice, myself.)

And of course, not all Steely Dan’s lyrics were cynical and ironic.

Charlie Freak had but one thing to call his own
Three weight ounce pure golden ring no precious stone
Five nights without a bite
No place to lay his head
And if nobody takes him in
He’ll soon be dead

On the street he spied my face I heard him hail
In our plot of frozen space he told his tale
Poor man, he showed his hand
So righteous was his need
And me so wise I bought his prize
For chicken feed

Newfound cash soon begs to smash a state of mind
Close inspection fast revealed his favorite kind
Poor kid, he overdid
Embraced the spreading haze
And while he sighed his body died
In fifteen ways

When I heard I grabbed a cab to where he lay
‘Round his arm the plastic tag read D.O.A.
Yes Jack, I gave it back
The ring I could not own
Now come my friend I’ll take your hand
And lead you home.

R.I.P. Walter

 

Grabbing Guns

Not sure how this little idea would have played out in Texas:

U.S. Virgin Islands Gov. Kenneth Mapp signed an emergency order allowing the seizure of private guns, ammunition, explosives and property the National Guard may need to respond to Hurricane Irma.

Couple-three questions here:
1) Why would the Guard need any privately-owned weapons in an emergency? Don’t they have enough, and if not, why not?
2) What happens if people are unable to protect their houses and such from looters and other associated filth? (“Bend over and spread ’em” is the likely government response.)
3) How would the government know where to get said weapons?

Oh, lookee here. From Wikipedia:

The U.S. Virgin Islands have a stringent and restrictive licensing process to purchase or carry a firearm. A person must be 21 to get a non-carry weapons license, along with several other requirements. Applicants must pay $75 licensing fee, submit a signed application, be fingerprinted and photographed, and be of good moral character. That process is just for a permit to purchase firearms to store in a residence or business, and not for a concealed carry permit. There are six types of licenses:

  • Blue, Business Protection
  • Yellow, Home protection and handguns only
  • Gray, farming and long guns only
  • White, all active law enforcement
  • Pink, current and retired law enforcement, personal protection, and special circumstances
  • Green, target shooting, sports use and home protection

To qualify [for any of the above] you must belong to a gun club. To acquire a concealed carry permit, or “Pink” permit, a person must meet a specific set of criteria. To apply, you must either be a government employee, valuable goods carrier, firearms manufacturer, or be a bona fide resident or business person of the islands. You must prove you have good reason to fear death or great injury to your person or property and present at least two affidavits from credible persons who attest to that need. Due to this process, in most cases concealed carry permit applications are denied for normal resident applicants unless in grave circumstances.

The next time somebody of your acquaintance suggests that guns be licensed, or that only cops should carry guns… well, you know the rest. Wear Army boots.


Afterthought: here is yet another reason, as if any were needed, that everyone should own at least one gun about which government knows nothing.

Weeping Willows

Oh FFS:

“Fordham University has launched an investigation after students were reduced to tears by the screening of a PragerU video during a Resident Assistant (RA) training on sexual assault.”

I’d excerpt more, but I’m pretty sure some of you will be wanting to eat breakfast, and I’d hate to spoil your appetite.

Bloody snowflakes. I wonder how they’d have responded to newsreel footage of Jews being slaughtered at Babi-Yar. Probably with cheers, come to think of it.

And here I thought Fordham was a Jesuit school, whose emphasis is that “Jesuit education prepares men and women to go out into the world.” If grown women can be reduced to tears by a factual exposition of a contrary opinion, I would suggest that Fordham is failing in its mission. Feel free to read this little piece as a companion to the first link, and judge for yourself by how much.