31 January 2006

All too true...

Martin Cruz Smith's quote turned out to be prophetic for this trip to Florida. Too cold (60s during the day) for ladies in bikinis to be strolling the beaches, and the one dinner with a beautiful woman (a colleague of my father's) ended with her strolling off into the darkness after kissing him goodnight...

Quote for the day

La fiesta no es para los feos. No puedes pasar aquí, amigo.
From a Cuban song: “The party is not for ugly people. Sorry, my friend, you can’t come.”
from Havana Bay by Martin Cruz Smith

30 January 2006

Going, going, gone

Driving with my father up the "Nature Coast" to the "Forgotten Coast" of Florida in search of 'Old Florida', I can report that, for the most part, it's gone.
The long arc of coastline from north of Tampa to below Tallahassee is, it's true, largely undeveloped. That's because there's not a foot of sandy beach on the whole section. (With the exception of Cedar Key, where the smallest houses start at a quarter million.) With short rivers that bring down little sand, the coastline is marsh grass and cedar swamp. Great for fishermen, bad for condos.
Apalachicola, a great little town, is being gentrified as fast as they can, but they're hampered by a lack of tourism. West of there, and on into Pensacola, it's one condo complex or McMansion after another. The planned community of Seaside, where they filmed The Truman Show, is in that strip, and it still looks like Truman lives there. Down the road apiece, however, was an interesting 100+ acre development called Rosemary Beach; it is very high density (on the order of downtown Amsterdam) with one-lane roadways, done in the style of a European town. Shops below, or garages, with three story condos (tall and narrow, many with Dutch-style roofs) above. Some 200 units will be available to rent, as well. The place was still under construction when we passed through, but it looked like an ecologically viable solution to jamming another hundred million retiring baby boomers into coastal Florida...

Quote for the day

"We sleep safely in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would harm us."
George Orwell

29 January 2006

Quote for the day

"In the Criminal Code of 1926 there was a most stupid Article 139- on the limits of self-defense- according to which you had the right to unsheath your knife only after the criminal's knife was hovering over you. And you could stab him only after he stabbed you. And otherwise you would be the one put on trial... The state, in its Criminal Code, forbids citizens to have firearms or other weapons, but does not itself undertake to defend them!"
from The Gulag Archipelago Two by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn

28 January 2006

Quote for the day

"…what qualities I considered absolutely essential and basic in a lovable woman… A good mind, of course; high cheekbones, clear eyes, a long neck, slender wrists, beautiful hands, impeccable ankles, and, deep down somewhere, only known to me, an unmistakeable streak of whorishness. May heaven preserve me from ever going to bed with a righteous female. Take my word for it, when a doll thinks she’s got the holy grail under her skirts, she’ll finish you off faster than heart failure in a typhoon."
from May This House Be Safe From Tigers by Alexander King

27 January 2006

Quote for the day

“I am now in Palma amidst palm trees, cedars, aloes, orange trees, lemon trees, fig trees, and pomegranates. The sky is turquoise, the sea is blue, and the mountains are emerald. The air, well, the air is just as blue as the sky and the sun shines all day and the people wear summer clothes because it is hot… In a word, life here is delicious.”
Chopin, 1838

(In case you missed it, I went to Florida this week.)

26 January 2006

Quote for the day

"The difference between your house and a jail cell is the lock. If you can lock it, you’re home. If someone else can lock it, you’re in jail."
Old man in the house by the sea from Zatoichi

25 January 2006

Quote for the day

“Discovery consists of seeing what everyone has seen and thinking what nobody else has thought.”
Chemist Albert Szent-Györgyi

24 January 2006

Quote for the day

“I don’t have a problem with authority. I just have a problem with people telling me what to do.”
From a promo for the television show Rollergirls

23 January 2006

Ain't technology wonderful?

To save time, I can now print out my boarding pass from my home computer.
I can then proceed directly to the security gate, where I can wait for hours while everyone's person (and shoes and way too many carry-on bags and jackets and computers and whatnot) are checked by low-paid, bored government employees to see if "those people" (to reuse Robt. E. Lee's famous phrase) are trying to get on my plane with explosives or guns or knives. (That was last time, people; they'll do it differently next time.)
So much for time-saving technology.
But if another 73-year-old nun is pulled out of line for 'special treatment' (hey, it happened to a nun I know, and what do you mean you're surprised I know a nun?), I will be forced to scream (quietly, so they won't think I am a security risk)...

Plug for the day

My landlord & roommate is a singer/songwriter of considerable talent.
For the chance to say Hey, I knew him before he got famous, dude
bookmark his site:

Damon Hamilton

Eventually there'll be downloads and performance schedules, and all that good stuff.
In the meantime, admire his style...

Voyage of discovery

Even prior to my family roadtrip in Florida, I'm finding out things about myself.
My landlord has decided to have hardwood flooring put down throughout the house, starting just as I return. To facilitate this, I've been packing up all my loose items, of which there are many.
I confess: I am a packrat. Especially of ephemera. That, for those without a classical education, is something, usually printed on paper, that is not of a timeless quality, and would normally be thrown away; books are not ephemera, movie tickets are. I have a lot of ephemera. Not movie tickets, so much (though I always find one or two stubs that never made it into the trash whenever I clean up), but clippings and articles that I will surely need at some point to research a topic for an article or novel or (from here on in) my blog.
There is enough other detritus (miscellaneous computer cables to long-departed accessories, unmarked decanters half-full of now-unknown whiskies, loose screws and bolts without corresponding nuts, empty CD holders) to fill several plastic tubs (what, you thought I was going to throw that away?), but mostly it's loose, sliding piles of unsorted and uncataloged paper. (Whatever happened to the paperless office? Even if there is one, I don't live there. Given my love of printing, I'm not sure I really want to. I just want enough space, and time, to sort it all out. Sort of like that scene in the Matrix: "We're going to need paper. Lots of paper."
If there is a God of Trees (and, if Tolkien is to be believed, surely a vengeful one), I'm definitely in trouble when I die...

Quote for the day

"You may not be worth a damn, but you're better than what we've got now."
A supporter of Kinky Friedman, candidate for governor of Texas

Vote Kinky. Vote early. Vote often.

22 January 2006

Rico's Book Club

Having heard Sam Harris speak about his book The End of Faith: Religion, Terror, and the Future of Reason on CSPAN recently, I highly recommend it for all but the most religiously addled. If we are ever going to break the pattern of religion-driven hatred and violence that has distorted history and repeatedly destroyed civilization since well before Zoroaster and the Pillar of Fire (what, you thought Harry Potter invented it?), it is clear and rational thinking like his that will do it.
(Hell, the book's just the winner of the 2005 PEN Award for nonfiction, but what the fuck do they know?)

The entire issue of faith (which is driven, primarily, by our individual and communal fear of the unknown, including the mysteries of birth and death) will be revisited in these rants from time to time.

Until then, hey, it's my Book Club, so fuck Oprah. Even picking Night by Elie Wiesel (which, by total coincidence, I happened to read recently, before she thought of it) can't scour out the bad taste of A Million Little Lies, the title of which, apparently, was more truthful than the contents. As Ambrose Bierce would have reviewed A Million Little Lies, "the covers of this book are too far apart"...
But I cannot wait until Oprah's millions of faithful (there's that word again) minions try and gag down Night, a personal description of the horrors of the Holocaust by Wiesel's brilliantly acid pen. It's a tough book to swallow but, like all purgatives, good for you. If you haven't read Night, try. Unless you're one of those benighted Holocaust-denial fools, in which case I send you to Andy Rooney's 60 Minutes riposte to their story on a Holocaust denial author, in which Rooney read excerpts from his Stars & Stripes reportage the day he first went into Dachau in 1945.
Once you've digested Night, watch the famed movie Night and Fog or, for the real thing, the interminably horrifying but compelling Shoah.
If, after all that, you still want to deny the Holocaust ever happened, I'll pay for a ten-digit tattoo on your forearm and a one-way ticket to a little town in Poland called Oswiecim...

What is this thing, being an American?

I purchased today, out of a perverse sense of something I'm still not sure what, one of those reproduction tin signs. Many such are of old advertising logos, or folksy slogans. This one was definitely 'retro', in the sense of being of an earlier era, but freshly recreated because of renewed interest in its content.
The sign said, in proud red-white-&-blue lettering, America for Americans.
Now, I didn't buy it from a white-supremacist website, nor a strident activist at some gun show. I bought it, pulled from a pile of otherwise innocent signs, from an upscale 'home supplies' store in a local mall.
Given our old friend Usama bin Laden's recently renewed threats against 'America', and the marchers in Pakistan and elsewhere shouting their support of "Death to America", this is a curious time to be an American.
We all, especially the current administration, fully expected the 1945-era "hurray, the Americans are here!" celebrations we saw in the first few days after we took Baghdad (which we should have done back in the administration of Bush the Elder, when we had everybody already there and, by all reports, Saddam was already packed and at the airport getting out of Dodge). However, what we failed to realize is that those were really Nineteen Forty Four celebrations, by the Kurds and the Shi'ites in the south, just like those we saw in Paris and Amsterdam in that year. What happened in the center section of Iraq, however, is much more like what we fully expected to find in Nineteen Forty Five, when Patton's army went into Germany: sullen, armed 'werewolves' ready to fight to the death to rid their soil of the hated invader.
Thus we should not be surprised when the religion-poisoned multitudes do not much like us being 'over paid, over sexed, and over there', as even our British allies thought in 1945. For those fully expecting to be met in Paradise by seventy-odd virgins, strapping on some explosives and driving into the midst of an armored column on the road to Baghdad Airport will seem like a hell of a good idea.
In the face of that virulent anti-Americanism, defining what being an American is, I believe, is an important task.
More on this as we go along.
In the meantime, remember this: America, and thus being American, is mostly an idea, conjured up by less than a hundred of those Dead White Men we are currently supposed to abjure as politically incorrect. They wrote (mostly, Thomas Jefferson wrote) a few thousand words in a handful of documents which defined the notion of what it meant to be an American. Few Americans these days can quote even a dozen of those words, other than the many politicians and criminals (or am I being redundant?) familiar with every detail of the Fifth Amendment. But it all started with these: We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
It doesn't get any clearer than that...

This is a system?

The criminal justice system is very good at producing criminals and not always so good at producing justice.
But rarely are you given such an obvious juxtaposition of bungled jurisprudence as was depicted in two facing-page articles in the 2006.1.21 issue of the Philadelphia Daily News.
Since one of the cases was heard in federal and the other in city court, it's hardly just a Philadelphia phenomenon, but it's certainly got that big-city smell to it.
In the more outrageous of the two cases, a local professor and anesthesiologist was convicted (after pleading no contest, which is pretty much the same as pleading guilty without actually having to admit your obvious guilt) in March of 2005 for sexual assault and possession of a controlled substance (the sodium pentobarbital he allegedly used on his female victim, the niece of the doctor's best friend since college). The judge ignored the prosecutor's suggested sentence of 5.5 to 11 years (about right, in my book, if not a touch low), and sentenced the good doctor to a year of house arrest and subsequent probation. Why? Because of his "important work" with victims of stroke and brain injury. Compounding that disaster (and slap in the face to the victim), the judge has now allowed the doctor to work in Italy (in a hospital in Milan; I wonder if they'll allow him access to controlled substances, or young women?) for six months during his probation. The doctor also has yet to pay his victim (who'd planned to go to veterinary school) her court-ordered restitution (amount unspecified).
The flip side of 'justice' in Philadelphia is represented by the case of a local restauranteur (famous for reviving the Philly restaurant scene, including opening the nationally known Striped Bass) who, because of his drug and alcohol addiction, filed false income tax returns for several years, stiffing the IRS the taxes owed on some $500,000. He pled guilty, dried out, and went back to running his remaining restaurant and helping the homeless (of which there are many) in Philadelphia. In his case, the local probation department recommended a sentence of five years' probation (with the first six months served as house arrest), while the prosecutors asked for eighteen months to two years. The judge in this case, in his infinite wisdom, gave this dangerous felon a year and a day in federal custody and another year of supervised release after that. The restaurant maven also still owes the Feds nearly $400,000 and Pennsylvania almost $300,000. (Those 'penalties and interest' sure mount up on back taxes...)
So, let's see. Give yourself drugs and fuck the IRS out of some money, get a year in the slammer. Give an unsuspecting twenty-something woman some drugs and fuck her without her consent, get a year of house arrest and a job in Italy.
Now that is a System.

Quotes for the day

"If you cheat on your taxes, you will go to prison and it doesn't matter how famous you are or how many friends you have."
Assistant United States Attorney Jennifer Williams

"Paying taxes is the price of civilization."
United States District Court Judge Louis H. Pollak

"The victim doesn't have any stake in it."
Thomas Bergstrom, Esquire

"The first thing we do, let's kill all the lawyers."
Dick the butcher in Henry VI, Part II; Act IV, Scene II, by William Shakespeare

21 January 2006

Quote for the day

"Leave death to the professionals."
Trevor Howard as Colonel Calloway in The Third Man

20 January 2006

Family, of origin and otherwise

I am off to Florida next week for a roadtrip with my father (now an incredibly fit and only semi-retired 76) and my first cousin (a successful lawyer a year older than me). As I get older myself, deciding how my 'real' family (those related to you by blood) fits in with my real family (those related to you by choice) becomes more interesting. (Actually, my mother once said that it took my turning forty for me to become 'interesting'. But, then, that's my mother...)
In addition, some of my friends (or their spouses) are facing the inevitable life crises that, eventually, affect us all. The loss or disablement of someone you love is a real wake up call.
If you haven't seen Fight Club (and if you haven't why are you reading me?), you won't understand that we're all sitting in the back seat of the car watching the on-coming headlights. I may have painted a portrait and I may have built a house, but I damn sure haven't published my novel yet...
I'll be reporting here on the roadtrip later.
Suffice it to say that some things are important, and so we do them regardless.

Quote for the day

"It is the way you learn to play the cards you're dealt, rather than the hand itself, that determines the worth of your participation in the game."
A paraphrase of some of William James' philosophy by David Milch, writer of Hill Street Blues, NYPD Blue, and Deadwood

First word

Blogging virgin that I am (though hardly that in almost any other respect), this one will be short. I've had monthly columns before, and they're hard because you have to write enough words to fill the space. We shall see how this experiment turns out. As Bette put it, fasten your seatbelt; it's going to be a bumpy night.

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