Archive for the ‘Unrelated Shit’ Category

It’s been a few days since the horrific shootings in Connecticut and, since no one asked me, I thought I’d offer my own take on the tragedy.

Reactions from both the Left and Right have been predictable. The Left wants to ban guns, perhaps even repealing the Second Amendment. The Right wants to arm everyone, and bring the Bible back into the public schools.

Why is it, in this country, that we always look for a quick fix? We have become a nation of pill-poppers, that is, we think we can solve everything instantly. Don’t feel well? Take a pill. Losing your hair? Take a pill. Can’t get it up? Take a pill. So, why not apply that mentality to solving the issue of mass civilian killings? Why not? Because, it won’t work. The problem lies much deeper.

First, let me take issue with the Right, in particular over the moral decline and Bible issue. I was in elementary school in the early ’70s, and to the best of my knowledge, we never had Bible instruction, nor was God a part of the curriculum. We went to religious school for spiritual guidance (well, at least in theory…I spent my time in Hebrew School rebelling against it, but that’s a story for another time.) Funny thing, though, we never had to worry about some psycho waltzing into the school and shooting people randomly. Such a thought never entered our heads.

So, how did we come to this?

I think we have descended into the abyss because our society has become increasingly suburbanized and isolated. I grew up in the suburbs, but we knew our neighbors, had keys to their houses. We walked to school every day. I even remember walking home from school for lunch on occasion. No one feared that an evil predator might snatch us…because no one ever did.

After school, we played outside, unsupervised by our parents until dinner. We played in the street, on someone’s lawn, or rode our bikes down to the school fields. We played sports without adult supervision, and I can’t remember a single fight breaking out when we couldn’t agree on a call. If we reached an impasse, we just did a “do over.” We worked shit out on our own, without crazy parents fighting in the stands, or coaches screaming at us.

We have lost that connection with each other. Kids now spend their time either heavily managed with organized activities, or playing video games on their televisions or phones. I’ve seen it so many times…a bunch of teenagers sitting next to each other with their eyes glued to their phones as they furiously text each other. I want to say to them, “Hey, why don’t you fucking talk to each other?”

A few years back, I attended a history conference in Oxford, England. After the daily seminar, a bunch of us would go into town to check out the pubs. I remember feeling really good there, and it wasn’t because of the alcohol (although that helped.) We talked. We talked for hours. And I listened…listened to stories from people who have really lived. I loved it. No one stared at the giant flat screen TV, since there was none. No one texted the entire time. We talked. We interacted.

Gun violence reflects the nature of our suburbanized, impersonal society. Killing someone with a gun is an impersonal act. You can take someone out from great distances, as a sniper can…whereas to do it with another weapon, knife, bat, bare hands, requires close contact.

Think about when you drive a car, and somebody cuts you off. We yell (and I admit I’ve done this, since I’m not applying for sainthood), “Fuck you, asshole!” and the other driver flips us off. We have no idea who the other driver is…it could be a drug addict, it could be a family man with three nice children…but we’re isolated in our own vehicles. Such a confrontation will likely not occur on a train. Why? Are you really going to say, “Fuck you, asshole!” to the person standing right next to you? Probably not, because the two of you will figure out how to accommodate each other as you board the train.

So, what is the answer? No quick fix, folks. Instead, we need to get to know each other. Talk to your neighbors. Find out about what they like. Talk to them about dogs, cars, sports (but not the Eagles, please, I can’t handle that anymore), whatever. You needn’t be in everyone’s business, but take an interest in your neighbor. Once we get to know each other as human beings, the fear of the unknown will evaporate. Then, as we look out for each other, we might be able to detect warning signs when something in the neighborhood appears amiss.

Let me give you a quick example from an experience I had in my old neighborhood. I was good friends with my neighbors, and we always watched out for each other.

I used to take my dogs to the nearby park, and so it was on one rainy day. I let the two of them off the leash to explore, and the Cokes (my black lab) decided to mix it up with another unleashed dog. So, I ran over to pull her off of the other animal (she usually won her fights.) When I turned around, my other pup, the Bear (my yellow lab/goldie mix), had disappeared. I leashed up the Cokes and looked all over the park for him to no avail.

So, I decided to head home, figuring I’d let the Cokes in and drive around to find the boy. As I exited the park, I saw my neighbors Joe and Barb pull up in their car.

“Hey,” Joe said. “Are you ok?”

“Yeah,” I responded, “but the Bear ran off. I have to go home so I can drive around and find him.”

“Don’t worry about him,” Joe said. “He’s safely at home.”

Joe and Barb explained to me that they were looking out their front porch and saw the Bear walking down the street by himself. He tried to get into my fenced back yard to no avail, so they went over and let him in my house (I gave them a key), and then went looking for me, figuring something might be wrong.

That’s what we need. We need to look out for each other. Let’s start with that, and go from there.


New Blog Coming

Posted: March 26, 2012 in Unrelated Shit

While I love Seattle music (I did write a book about it, you know), I will soon be starting a general rock n roll history blog.  I’m thinking of discussing different decades from varied perspectives.  Sound nebulous enough?  Let me know if there’s anything you’d like me to address (anything, that is, except for the Disney Channel.)

I’m thinking of beginning in a week or so.  Stay tuned.

UK Experience (Part 3)

Posted: February 1, 2012 in Unrelated Shit

As the conference moved along, I found the presentations increasingly fascinating.  A number of the scholars touched on the notion of American hegemony in historical context…comparing our moment to the ancient Greeks, for example.  One professor drew an excellent comparison between Bush’s venture into Iraq with Woodrow Wilson’s Mexican invasion.

As part of the Conference’s requirements, we had to sort of critique and ask questions about two of our collegues’ papers.  I had the privilege of reading essays written by South African and Japanese scholars.  The South African work struck me the most.  Her paper dealt with the early post-Apartheid era and–in particular–how the new black majority would address former white leaders’ atrocities.  Her country decided against severe punishment.  Instead, if the accused showed sincere contrition to a representative political committee, he or she would be allowed to go free.  The point was to foster national unity…the fear being that severe punishment could provoke a white backlash and plunge South Africa into a civil war.  Like I said, this paper resonated deeply with me as an American.  I cannot imagine our citizenry acting so “adult” under similar circumstances.

I enjoyed the daily academic enrichment, but I loved the evenings even more.  Each night, a bunch of us would gather outside the dorms and venture out to the pubs.  I found myself becoming the chief pub protaganist.  Of the participants, approximately 40% were American (the rest drew from Japan, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand, and a few other countries).  The United States disproportinately represented the conference at Oxford’s drinking establishments.  (Shocker, I know.)

But here’s the thing.  This wasn’t like college…where it seemed (for guys anyway) that the exclusive purpose for going out was to get laid (or at least obtain a phone number), and if that failed…drinking to excess.  These Oxford excursions were nothing like that.  We went out for companionship.  I remember sitting around and listening to wonderful stories from all of these folks–these people have lived.  We of course imbibed in English bitters, but not for the purpose of getting wasted–rather as a social bond among people who geniunely liked each other.

One professor shared an experience visiting Moscow with a friend in 1972, back when it was the “Big Bad USSR.”  He recalled wandering off down a city street accompanied by just a friend.  (Uh, for you younger folks, that was something you just did not do in Soviet Russia.)  They noticed two people following them–probably KGB agents.  As the pair walked back toward Red Square, a limo pulled up in front of them.  The two agents behind them grabbed a Russian citizen, threw him into the vehicle and sped off.  Crazy stuff.

We began calling this particular professor “Clouseau” after he talked about a Paris trip with his wife where he spoke English in a bad French accent for three days.  I thought it was the funniest thing I had ever heard.  It may not seem humorous to you now, but after some ales and bitters, it sounded pretty damn hysterical.

As we migrated from pub to pub, a professor from New Zealand would sort of appear out of nowhere.  Then, suddenly, he would vanish, only to reappear later at another establishment.  We named him “Stealth.”

Finally, a third collegue earned a nickname when one particular venue would not admit him because of his beige pants.  We never found out why that was a big deal, but he became “Mr. Beige.”

I think the beauty of the whole thing was how low key it was.  The pubs closed at 11, so we were home and in bed well before midnight.  Nobody got “drunk,” so we awoke hangover-free the next morning, ready to actively participate in the next day’s conference.

Oh, I have to mention one embarrassing, but funny story, and it happened at the Kings Arms Pub.  Mr. Beige turned me on to cider, and I had three pints of it before I realized the higher alcohol content was beginning to kick my ass.  I remember sort of stumbling to the bathroom.  I walked in, not cogent enough to notice the lack of urinals, and headed for a stall.  As I did my business, I began hearing the sound of women laughing as they entered what turned out to be the ladies room.  Mortified, I yelled out, “I’m sorry, ladies.  I wandered in here by mistake…I had too many ciders and…I’m leaving now.  I promise not to look.”  I sped out of there with my eyes closed, hearing hysterical laughter coming from those same women.

The next day during break, I chatted with a professor from Hawaii.  He was a retired naval intelligence officer.  Talk about fascinating stories.  He testified in front of Congress back in the ’90s when the US intervened in the Bosnian conflict.  He had been asked to provide a realistic timetable for an American withdrawal.  He did his analysis and told his superior officer, “five years.”  He was told, “make it shorter.”  He then came back and said, “two years.”  Again, he was told, “make it shorter.”  So, when it came time to actually testify, it became, “90 days.”

I think my favorite conversation with him related to the French.  We Americans love to hate them, forgetting that they saved our ass during our revolution.  I went to France back in the late ’90s and enjoyed it immmensely.  The French seemed to appreciate my geniune (albeit weak) attempts to communicate with them in their language.  The Hawaiian professor had a similar take.  He enjoyed spending time with his French intelligence counterparts.  He said he had planned a reunion of sorts with them after the conference’s completion.

To be continued… (but hopefully not in a lame Back to the Future way.)

UK Experience (Part 2)

Posted: January 31, 2012 in Unrelated Shit

After the Beatles tour, I wandered around Liverpool with the express purpose of staying awake.  The key to beating jet lag is forcing onesself to stay up that first night.  I had visions of hanging at the Cavern in the evening, but at 7 pm on the dot my head hit the pillow…and my eyes did not open until 12 hours later.

Woke up, fell out of bed, dragged a comb across my head (sorry for the dorky Beatles reference.)  Then, took a walk down to the waterfront before catching a train to Oxford.  I love European trains.  They’re so comfortable and efficient…just like in the States.  (Blame Eisenhower.)  In any event, I arrived at the Oxford station in the early afternoon.  Oxford is about an hour west of London.

I caught a cab ride to Manchester College, one of the 29 colleges comprising Oxford University.  The Oxford Round Table conference staff greeted me, showing me to my room.  They said I had a couple of hours before our initial champagne reception.

So I wandered around, taking photos…absorbing the history that is Oxford…a place where they began assigning homework in the 1180s.  (Yeah, that’s not a misprint.)  Unfortunately, I have most of the pics in an album somewhere (that was the last trip I shot on film), but I managed to catch a cricket match in action, which was pretty cool.

I enjoyed the champagne reception, even though I’m somewhat shy around new people.  Everyone seemed geniunely interested in making new friends.  (The pic below shows the main courtyard at Manchester College.)

Unlike in the States, Oxford colleges don’t have campuses per se.  Rather, they have some buildings, and courtyards.  They’re all organized under a loose Oxford University umbrella, but they operate independently.  So, if you attend, say Manchester or Christ Church or whatever college of Oxford, you go to that college and that’s pretty much it, other than some facilities that the University shares.  When you get your degree, it says Oxford University, with no mention of the particular college.  Make sense?  No?  Well, it’s England…the same place that created a tennis scoring system of love, 15, 30, and 40.

The next morning, we headed over to the Oxford Union for the first day of the conference.  The top photo below shows the Union hall, and the bottom shows where we ate.

About an hour into the conference I realized I was totally outclassed.  These folks were scholars.  I was merely an amateur.  Fortunately, I kept my cool and decided to enjoy myself regardless.  I presented a paper that first morning on how the West can challenge China’s economic dominance…wasn’t one of my best efforts, but the other attendees received it favorably, and asked some good, probing questions.

At 7 pm, we all met in the library (I have to get that pic…stained glass windows…wonderful) and chatted it up over champagne.  I’m not a big champagne guy, but this stuff was top notch.  I had two of those every night before dinner.  Dinner, as I would come to expect, was amazing.  Chef David (from Scotland) prepared the most wonderful gourmet food during our stay.

That night, some of us got together to head to the pubs.  At my request, we took a walk to an establishment called “The Bear.”  I had a lab/goldie mix named Bear whom I had lost the previous spring, so I wanted to go to that particular pub.  About ten of us sat outside, chatted over English bitters, and did a toast to my Bear.  The Bear was pretty cool…it boasts of having no right angles in the entire structure.  It also claims to have first opened in 1284.

As the conference wore on, I found the entire experience incredibly enriching–between the academic exchanges during the sessions and companionship at the pubs afterwards.  I’ll pick up the next installment with the joy that is the English pub, when I’ll be introducing our starring characters: “Stealth,” “Clouseau,” and “Mr. Beige.”

You may have noticed a lack of posts over the last week or so.  That’s ’cause I’ve kind of hit a bit of a wall.  So, any suggestions about topics or anything you’d like addressed, please let me know and I’ll do my best to accomodate.  I am still working on a piece about the Blackouts.

In the meantime, I thought I’d write about an experience I had five years ago traveling to the UK.  Back in the summer of ’06, I attended a week-long history conference at the University of Oxford.  It was one of the best weeks of my life.

We had to check in on a Sunday afternoon, but being a Beatles fan, I decided to come in a day early and go to Liverpool.  So I flew into Manchester airport on Saturday morning, completely exhausted from a lack of sleep on the flight (the older gentleman sitting next to me had this wonderful habit of jabbing me with his elbow just as I was falling asleep…happened like three times.)  I then caught the hour-long train ride to Liverpool, which faces the Irish Sea in Northwest England.

If you’ve ever been overseas, you’ll relate to what I’m about to talk about.  I had travelers’ disorientation going big time…a combination of the physical exhaustion and lack of familiarity with my surroundings in a foreign city.  I also found Liverpudlians difficult to understand.  Every sentence seemed to trail off into mumble-land.  I finally got tired of asking people to repeat themselves after four of five times, resorting to the standard “foreigner nod.”  Hopefully, I didn’t incite any international incidents.

I had scheduled a Beatles tour at 3 pm that afternoon.  Our guide must have been in his sixties and he freely talked about the Liverpool music scene of the late ’50s/early ’60s.  He met John Lennon when he was ten, and was in a band like everyone else at the time.  We stopped at Paul’s boyhood home…

Then, we visited two sites that inspired Beatles songs….

And of course, we had to check out the Cavern, the jazz club where the Beatles gigged prior to their superstardom…

Despite my excitement, I nearly nodded off several times during the tour–I was that wiped.  (I also think the “Peterman Reality Tour” flavor of the cassette tape our guide played…that didn’t help.)

This one is difficult to write, but I felt compelled to do so.

I teach twentieth-century American history at Delaware Valley College in Doylestown, PA.  At the beginning of each semester, I begin with the Western European perspective…

In the late nineteenth century, England, France, and Germany led the world in wealth, technology, and culture.  Western Europeans thought of themselves as the world’s most advanced and civilized people.  Reason, philosophy, commerce, and art had triumphed, the Enlightenment Project fulfilled.  The need for war seemed to vanish as civilized Europeans could work things out in a logical, non-violent manner.

Then World War I happened.  For four years, Western Europe kicked the shit out of each other on an unprecedented scale.  Nine million people–an entire generation–vanished, for no apparent reason.  (We can see now why that happened, with the benefit of hindsight.)  Everything Europeans believed, everything they thought was stable and safe and right…it was all bullshit, all shattered overnight.  That’s how this Penn State scandal appears to me.

I have never been a Penn State rah-rah guy, but I used to believe Joe Paterno represented what was right with college sports.  Penn State was always better than the scumbag programs, better than the sleazy criminal actions engulfing Miami, Florida State, Oklahoma, Ohio State, etc.  We were always better.  Paterno cared about education.  He cared that his kids graduated.  He would sacrifice some success on the field if it meant he could graduate more of his players.

In January of 1987, Penn State played Miami in the Fiesta Bowl for the national championship.  The Lions had no business being on the same field as their counterparts as that Miami team was the best of their many great squads.  The Hurricanes were so good that their three receivers became top notch pros…and they could only start two of them at a time!

But Miami was easy to hate…all dressed in fatigues coming off the plane, all gangsta, trash talking their opponents.  In contrast, Penn State wore suitcoats and ties and conducted themselves with the utmost professionalism.  Penn State won the game, and the championship, 14-10, with a victory that ranks among the all-time great upsets in college sports.  To me, the Lions’ victory represented good triumphing over evil, of right defeated sleaze.

Then the sex scandal happened.  It’s so beyond sickening that none of us can believe it.  It is so much worse than anything Miami, Oklahoma, or any of the other schools have done throughout the years.  And Paterno had to go.  Everything he’s done to this point, all the teaching, giving millions to the library, helping kids out, all of that has been overshadowed by the coddling he and his staff did to the monster that is Jerry Sandusky.  Penn State feels like Western Europe in 1918. 

I hope the school gets its shit together.  If anything good can come of this, given the enormity of the crimes involved, maybe, just maybe, big schools will begin to reassess what they’re about.  I love football, but maybe it’s time we realized that education, and the well-being of children comes way before a sport or an institution.  I’m sick inside.  I don’t know what else to say.