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Photo of the Week
My friend and co-author, Robert Clark, and I long planned to give readers a look at the Southland and its abundant beauty, unusual charms, and fascinating stories. We came up with “Closed Wednesdays” but never got it off the ground. Too much traveling, too many book-related events, and life’s way of throwing detours in our path got in the way. We stepped back and thought things over and decided to offer readers something a bit shorter. Seems today’s hectic pace discourages many from reading long pieces. Robert’s idea, “The Photo of the Week”…
What kind of idiots shell out, or commit themselves to borrow, two hundred thousand dollars for a row house and then sign on to a “warranty” that warrants nothing other than their responsibilities as buyers and owners? Rubes from the hinterlands of Georgia, mostly, but also a bloke in New South Wales. Imagine!
I have written earlier about the mortgage notes that condition a loan on the buyers of property ceding their civil rights to the financier — e.g. on a standard Georgia form the borrower…
I arrived in Beijing on an old Boeing 707 China Air flight in November 1978 after a week in Japan. The entry formalities at Beijing Airport were slow but considerably quicker than the Shenzhen Railway Station where I had previously entered China from Hong Kong. I caught a taxi from the airport to the Beijing Hotel on Dongchangan Jie. Taxis were a new experience for me in China, previously it was the “foreigners bus”. The Beijing Hotel had a long and fascinating history. It was built as a five-story brick building in 1915 and two years later a seven-story French style building was added.
begins with halloween
It’s that time of year again. Ya’ll know what I’m talking about … the holidays. Some see it as the song claims “It’s the most wonderful time of the year” … But others among us are just left wondering. First it’s the sugary shock of Halloween. Then it’s surviving the Thanksgiving glutton-fest. Followed by a tsunami of high-octane shopping you can’t afford, partying, last minute gift buying, a morning of exchanging gifts you don’t need, a mad rush to return the gifts you don’t want, more shopping and finally a drunken evening, ending with new year’s resolutions and false resolve to quit your shameful and glutinous behavior as soon as the thunder in your head subsides…
children of the enlightenment
When he gasped to take a breath and to stop swearing in his fractured English, he told her he had a “fucking shit life” and that she was a filthy whore who would die a horrid death. Spitting out more vitriol with each breath, he finished his rant by saying, “You will lose this war.” Perhaps time will, if it hasn’t already, prove him right. Certitude rang out from this Algerian jihadist who had been captured by Afghanistan’s tribal Northern Alliance shortly after the American onslaught following 9/11 . At this point, however, the “interview” was concluded when she said, “That may be, but your own war is over.”
demand an end to excuses
“A good end cannot sanctify evil means; nor must we ever do evil that good may come of it.” — William Penn
The iconic images of recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri — after the police shooting death of Michael Brown, an unarmed black teen — have left Americans of all ilks wondering: Is this America? Military Humvees, still in camouflage and mounted with machine guns, in the hands of municipal police. SWAT teams of police in full riot gear, bristling with automatic weapons, pointed at a lone protestor with hands up. Have we become a police state?
sights & sounds
It’s the second week of January 1999 and the McCartneys are visiting Atlanta. But not for a concert. On this trip, Heather McCartney is unveiling her line of houseware items at the America’s Mart, and Paul is there to guarantee his daughter ample media play. After helping to promote Heather’s rugs, cushions and other items arrayed with designs inspired by the Huichol and Tarahumara tribes of Mexico, Paul and his son, James, make a smooth exit to explore the side streets of Atlanta. According to Paul, James, then 21, wanted to “visit the funky side of town.” So into the car they climbed; it would be a short ride.
rational, regulated, justifiable
Sure, it can be fun. Dede, for instance, is a terrific hater. Her favorite verb is “hate.” I hate winter. I hate the Falcons (not just this year). I hate this sink. I hate all the fiction in The New Yorker. But none of this hating amounts to anything. It’s just her vivacious way of expressing herself. My guess is that most of us take our hating a little more seriously, a little more warily. We’ve seen the power and the glory, you might say. I hated a guy I was in graduate school with. No reason. I just did.
the banks of the li river
We left Shanghai’s Hongqiao Airport for Guangzhou where we spent three days before flying on a small CAAC Ilyushin 14 aircraft to Guilin in the Guanxi Zhuang Autonomous Region. The airplane was noisy, basic transportation and typical of Russian-built commercial aircraft. We nicknamed it the Friendshipski because of its similarity to the Dutch-built Fokker Friendship commonly used by airlines for service to small airports. The view as we approached the Guilin area was spectacular. Perfectly shaped limestone mountains rose straight out of the countryside, providing an eerie landscape and seeming to almost touch the wheels of the airplane.
Have you noticed lately that menus aren’t just menus anymore? They are adjective-laden exercises in literary carnage. Pretentious descriptions of food so florid I’m not sure what I’m ordering. It seems the goal of a restaurant, aside from separating me from the contents of my wallet, is to make me feel good about what I’m eating, or self-conscious, I’m not quite sure which. Thus the word sustainable creeps into every menu I read. Sustainable, as in sustainable agriculture or sustainable fish … what I really want is whatever is being served to “sustain me,” not the other way around.
bias in our justice system
Over two decades ago I first wrote an Op Ed piece on the value of a human life. The focus was that in this society we continue to value a human life on a sliding scale with white males at the top and black males at the bottom. Yes, our societal norms have changed over the centuries since the first Africans were brought to the shores of the Americas, but have our values, especially in terms of valuing human life, changed. If you look at what is taking place today, the answer is probably NO.
living the dream
Early Sunday I walked outside to dump the compost and ran smack dab into one of those perfect December mornings—the world awash in new yellow light, deep blue sky through leafless branches. My anxious mind was reassured: It’s still here. I can still touch it.
I poured myself a cup of coffee and settled down with my e-paper, only to read that America’s nuttiest nutbar, Wayne LaPierre, is still on the loose. Talk about transcendencekill.
How do you enrich any community in its arts and culture and transform it into a vibrant and caring area?
Traditionally in this country, with its tax laws, it’s been some individual making a lot of money in private business, then recognizing that he owes something to give back to the community. Based on the tax laws, this has usually meant the creation of a foundation to oversee the accumulated wealth of this individual, and determine how best to give his assets to improve his interests in philanthropic activities.
cramping our style
Our hosts arranged for a visit to Suzhou and Wuxi in Jiangsu Province to see two cities relatively untouched by the Cultural Revolution and experience the countryside. We left Shanghai late on Friday to travel the one and a half hours by train to Suzhou where we stayed in the grand old Nanyuan Guest House. Suzhou was an older city than Shanghai, with a population of less than one million people (in 1978), near Tai Hu, the lake at the centre of vast waterways and canals running 1,600 kilometers from Tianjin to Hangzhou.
you are the enemy
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.” — John F. Kennedy, 1962
One might think that, by turning Martin Luther King, Jr., into a cultural icon and electing a black president, America has bid farewell to its racist past. Recent events in Ferguson, MO, New York, and Phoenix, however, blow holes in that fantasy. Only by neutering King could America iconify him. Virtually anyone can resonate with the “I Have a Dream” King of 1963. But the “Beyond Vietnam” King of 1967 makes us squirm in profound discomfort.
america goes pitch black
Over the last few months I’ve been in a lot of book signings. Most are fun and you meet interesting people but sometimes you sit for hours with little to do. Such was the case two weeks ago when Robert Clark and I were out of town at a signing. Things were slow when he said, “I heard that if the power grid goes down, 90 percent of the population will die in a year.”
“That sounds far-fetched,” I said. “No way that could happen.”
“Yeah,” he continued, “most people would not be prepared to deal with it.”
Jeremy Scahill begins his book, Dirty Wars, by confirming that Bush-Cheney-Rumsfield cherry-picked intelligence to justify their disastrous invasion of Iraq, an intention formed well before 9/11. The infamous attack served only as an excuse for their “imperial” ambitions. Interesting that these three chicken hawks, an almost compulsory resume item for the whole administration, took up an especially macho obsession with war and black ops, secret, usually violent and ethically challenged operations. Their projects involved lawless behavior completely at odds with the smug rhetoric these same actors routinely used for public relations purposes.
rising from the muck
I’m reasonably sure that I was sitting in front of a television set in Mrs. Reed’s fifth grade class on Friday May 5, 1961, watching Alan Shepard blast into outer space to defend America’s honor and innovative ability, and show the Ruskies who was boss. I can’t be 100% sure; we watched several of those early space flights in the classroom during the early Sixties but also missed a couple. One of the reasons I have a hard time distinguishing the flights is because the telecasts were remarkably similar. All three TV networks pre-empted regular programming for the events and flew the lead network newsman to Cape Canaveral.
One of my black friends confided in me this week that he was really demoralized by all of the events surrounding the deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner. He was so devastated that it affected his mood, work and outlook for the future. This is a man who had a successful career, is buoyant by nature, sociable, outgoing and a humorist. He continued: “Specifically, the events in Ferguson, Mo. and Staten Island, NY plus the widespread disrespect shown to my President has made me — a normally optimistic person–very pessimistic about the future of race relationships in the U.S.”
visit too short
We left Beijing on an old Boeing 707 aircraft operated by CAAC (the Civil Aviation Administration of China) Airline, which we soon renamed “CACK” for its reliability, cabin service, food and old aircraft. Unfortunately, I was traveling with a retired airline captain named Laurie and a China trader we called Toddy who had a fear of flying. Toddy had traveled from Guangzhou to Beijing by train, a trip of about two days, seated on a wooden bench rather than flying to meet up with the group. He flew with us to Shanghai under great duress, with the help of airsick pills and several shots of whisky at the airport.
hear the crowing
The word “frustraneous” grabbed me by the back of the neck a while ago and hasn’t let go since. In case you don’t know (which I didn’t), it means “useless” or “unprofitable.” Derived from the Latin “frustra” (in vain). I bring it up since I think it’s a description of something just the opposite of what I learned anew in an on-line class I recently completed on the importance of continuing to read and reread the classics, especially the Greeks from Homer to the tragedians Sophocles and Euripides to Plato.
When we arrived back in Shanghai and walked into the lobby of the Shanghai Mansions, I noticed it looked different to when we left two days before. The lobby seemed much bigger and where a wall opposite the reception desk had been before there was a large doorway. Before carrying my bags to my room I looked inside the doorway and saw a billiard table with an old man in a black uniform racking the balls. My friend, Toddy, also noticed the new room and we agreed to meet back there as soon as we dropped off our bags.
it can work magic
I come from a long line of accomplished nappers. My grandfather, after presiding over his generations at the family lunch on Saturday, would take to the couch at the far end of the one big room and, while the adults talked their loud talk and grandchildren one after the other let the screen door slam shut behind them on their way outside, would stretch himself out and immediately settle into a gentle snore.
My mother raised five children. For her the nap was an elusive dream…
Your dollar or your word? Which would you rather give or receive to satisfy an obligation? A dollar isn’t just tangible and guaranteed, it’s definite and final in the sense that there’s no reconsidering, waffling or fudging down the line. When you hand over a dollar, the deed is as good as done. The national currency introduces an element of certainty into relationships that might otherwise be fraught with ambiguity. Dollars let people, who don’t know each other very well, get along.
So, what happens when dollars are scarce?
According to art historian Sam Hunter, Pop Art is an “original and irreverent parody of the imagery and artifacts of commercial culture.” The germ of Pop Art lay in the work of one of Abstract Expressionism’s finest painters, Willem de Kooning. His use of women as points of departure for painting triggered work by other artists which brought back “subject matter” into painting. San Francisco artist Richard Diebenkorn produced paintings in the 50s which resembled Abstract Expressionism with a geometric division of the picture within a portrayal of interior scenes and landscapes.
climate change is real
I was to have been one of 400,000 protestors gathered for the People’s Climate March in New York on Sept. 21. Alas, a knee injury sidelined me. As a consolation prize, a friend bought me Naomi Klein’s This Changes Everything: Capitalism vs. the Climate. So wowed am I by Klein’s singular accomplishment that I dedicate this post to an unsolicited review. For those who may be unfamiliar with Naomi Klein, she’s a brilliant, 44-year-old Canadian journalist and activist. Two of her previous books — No Logo (1999), a critique of globalization, and Shock Doctrine (2007), an exposé of “disaster capitalism,” neoliberalism’s dark underbelly — were international bestsellers.
it was a paradise
A couple of weeks ago I cited some comments by Big Oil shill Anastasia Swearingen to the effect that, basically, there’s just no downside to drilling for oil. Whenever, wherever—it’s all good. She was excoriating the federal government for its stubborn unwillingness (so far) to grant drilling leases along the Atlantic Coast to the oil giants standing in line. What’s the hold-up, guys? I mean, what’s the worst that can happen? Just look at the Gulf, says Swearingen, where pessimists predicted an “uninhabitable wasteland.” But thanks to all the time and money BP has put into restoration, today the Gulf is…
Worthy of Comment
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This evening I popped out to the corner store for milk. A woman was there with an older man. He was walking up and down the aisles as she trailed behind him – sighing and huffing and saying things like “Dammit, Dad! You dragged me out to get something with you and now you can’t remember what you need?” Her words seemed to fall like blows on his shoulders. He began picking up items in a random fashion and knocked over several cans of soup. I bent to retrieve them up and when I straightened I looked into his face. There it was: Read on →