Archive for the ‘Music’ Category

Sexual Healing

April 20, 2021

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder—PTSD—comes in many forms.

Mental punishment for killing others has been with us for millennia, but has only been recognized in recent decades. If death is the ultimate retribution, there must be a price to pay by those who inflict it.

Movies usually make light of death—Netflix or Amazon are rife with glib murder, emotionless killing that we watch between burger bites without batting an eyelid—no nightmares, just another show. Our emotional distance from televised murder is so great that shows that wallow in death are rated safe for over thirteens, with death on a par with ‘foul language’. Telling someone to fuck off is equivalent to ending a life.

Many among us have thought of killing someone, or at the very least wishing someone dead—someone who has caused pain or destroyed a business, a family, or a lifestyle—but hardly anybody takes that to the next step, and if they do, they are usually destroyed by their action—vengeance exacts its own revenge.

In the US, practically every day in the last weeks registered some kind of mass shooting—forty-five in one month. Under cover of the second amendment, which was never written to provide cover to loony loners, assassins utterly devoid of sense regularly blast their way through schools, supermarkets, and shopping malls, and equally regularly get shot, shoot themselves, or end up in jail.

The American response to this carnage is thoughts and prayers, rather than arms control—the developed world watches in amazement, unable to comprehend the madness. China and other totalitarian states see clear evidence of the dangers of libertarian society.

Gun violence in the States splits mainly into white nutcases and black criminals. The guys (and they are always white guys) responsible for school shootings and all the other dreadful mass murders are invariably disgruntled employees, emotionally scarred men, or disturbed folks—the dystopian rants of morons in high places has made things much worse.

The spate of killings in the first months of the Biden presidency provides a handy narrative of Democrat-mediated lawlessness—hardly fair considering where the opposition to gun control comes from.

The criminal component is not of course color-coded—it’s linked (as everywhere) to the poorer segment of society—the disenfranchised are far readier to take up the law of the gun, be they white, Asian, Latino, or black.

It just so happens that in the US, that segment is predominantly black, but you only need to consider Mexico or Russia to understand crime-related gun violence is a technicolor nightmare coat.

The emotional pain of inflicting severe harm is huge—PTSD awaits those who make it out of the rabbit hole. If you don’t end up in prison, where the whole thing is made far worse, the mental scars show up in relationships, employment, family and friendships—anything that characterizes normal life.

Sex disorders are part of PTSD, leading to the appearance of therapies to teach men and women—though I suspect it is more prevalent for guys—to learn how to have sex again, trading anxiety for normality.

In Israel, where military service is compulsory, sex surrogates are a goverment-funded treatment choice. In a country that is permanently at war with a host of neighbors who would like it to disappear into the sea, PTSD is a heavy burden on young people and spills over into society.

Soldiers who have been seriously injured can choose sex therapy that includes er… sex. This had been criticized as government-sponsored prostitution, which technically it is, since women—and men, but much less so—are hired to provide a sexual service in exchange for cash.

The Israeli model has even been rabbi-approved, as long as the sex partners are unmarried. Among its successes? Sexually recuperating severely disabled men, for instance those confined to wheelchairs.

If you’re young, disabled, and horny, hope is out there—it’s not just COVID shots, Israel has also come up with sexual vaccination.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

East of Suez

April 4, 2021

In the days of The India Road, navigation was a way to avoid carrying out massive engineering works on land, with humans and animals as the beasts of burden.

Before the steam engine was invented by Savery in 1698, land transport also relied on animals—human or otherwise. Building roads was a huge endeavor, mountains and gorges were impassable—routes were dictated by terrain; it’s no surprise that as soon as man learned to float a boat—really just a practical application of Archimedes’ principle—the path of least resistance led to the development of shipping.

The age of sail lasted almost three millennia—winds and currents eased the burden of mankind, enabling connections between continents and promoting trade, leading to the development of major cities along waterways and on the coast. In the process, navigation also led to colonial empires, the slave trade, and maritime warfare on a grand scale.

It was only when explosives and machinery helped to dig, tunnel, and blow up the obstacles to development on land, and when engines for rail and road became commercially viable, that humans considered the possibility of shortening maritime trade routes—a quick look at the world map reveals two obvious choices—Suez and Panama.

Widening of the Suez Canal—shoring works.

In the second half of the XIXth century, French diplomat Ferdinand de Lesseps set about building the two canals, both of which would make intercontinental trade substantially quicker and cheaper.

Lesseps was not able to fulfill his dream of building the Panama Canal—US president Teddy Roosevelt completed the job some decades later—and left the world an enduring palindrome: A Man, A Plan, A Canal—Panama.

The connection between the Red Sea and the Mediterranean was an old dream of the pharaohs—or rather, the ancient canal would connect the Red Sea port of as-suways to the River Nile.

Napoleon ordered the old excavations investigated and considered building a canal himself, but his engineers miscalculated the difference in water height between the Red and the Med by a whopping twenty-eight feet, and the project was scuppered.

The canal took ten years to dig and was finally completed in 1869. Even before it opened, it was a source of controversy and geopolitical strife—the Brits saw it as a threat to the India trade—presumably it didn’t help that it was built by a Frenchman.

Since then, the one hundred and twenty mile canal has been the cause of international disputes and a small war— The ditch, as sailors refer to it, has been run by Egypt since the late 1950s, but the area continues to be fraught with tension.

Landsat image of the Nile delta, which stretches from Alexandria to Port Said.

Suez is a major source of income: the Egyptian government mandates that the ‘Suez crew’ are taken on board for the passage—ships have a dedicated Suez crew room to house these ‘specialists’. The Suez crew apparently have ‘special rope skills’, and include both a dedicated pilot and an electrician who tends to a searchlight mounted on the fo’c’sle —none of them do an awful lot apart from eating, drinking, and sleeping during the eighteen hours spent aboard.

A century ago, the role of shipping in trade was of general interest—as recently as the 1970s, radio sets had a shortwave channel called Marine Band. Today, nobody cares about shipping, or even knows it exists—the irony is that it accounts for ninety percent of world trade.

Much of that takes place through oil tankers, bulk carriers, and huge container ships—the spotlight shone briefly on the latter, and on shipping in general, when the Ever Given, a mere one thousand three hundred feet in length, wedged itself across the Suez Canal last month.

The story broke on Bloomberg because the channel knew this was a major disruption to business—there was an immediate reaction in the oil markets. Mainstream broadcasters picked up one or two days later, with both CNN and the BBC running pieces about the Ever Given and its charterer, Evergreen.

Suddenly, the role of maritime transportation became clear—you never miss your water ’till your canal runs dry. It also became obvious that the Suez crew were about as useful as a steer on a heifer.

Then, silly season set in. First, QAnon claimed the Ever Given was a child trafficking ship linked to Hillary Clinton, and then some wag discovered that the vessel had drawn the shape of a gigantic phallus in the water east of Suez before entering the canal.

Giant penis track drawn by the Ever Given prior to getting stuck in the sand.

A good deal of sophomoric humor followed about the penis entering the canal—boys will be boys.

I think the most important message was missed: two well-planned attacks—blowing up a couple of ships in Suez and simultaneously in Panama, thereby blocking both waterways—would have dramatic consequences for world trade.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Bed and Brexit

March 28, 2021

Towards the end of 2020, I bought a new bed.

The acquisition of a bed, as the manufacturers and salespeople love to tell you, is a transformative life decision—between bed and mattress, you’re entrusting a large part of your mental health to an inanimate object.

Bedtime makes up a third of your life, unless you’re Japanese—the land of the rising sun has a special word, Karoshi, for death from overwork.

Since this is the first bed I’ve bought in decades, and the first new bed I’ve ever owned, I did some hunting around—in a pandemic, that means surfing. I looked close to home, gravitated to a couple of the big London stores, saw a couple of things I liked, and then decided to go straight to the motherlode.

The guys I ended up doing business with have a factory in the British countryside—on land that belongs to the crown (no, not Netflix, silly). And very nice they were too—we talked prices and discounts, overseas shipping, the usual deal, and finally settled the matter just after the beginning of winter.

I was keen to wrap up the deal prior to Brexit, since with a 2020 invoice, the export of said bed to the European Union would attract no duty—how wrong I was.

Turns out that any goods shipped from the UK after December 31st 2020 are thoroughly in the dog house. The norm is to get hit with a triple whammy of VAT, customs handling charges, and ancillary costs—as the saying goes, you make your bed and lie in it.

The obvious consequences of these trade barriers were stated repeatedly and with vigor by remainers—now, the chickens are coming home to roost. Said chickens, should they be of UK provenance, are stuck in bonded warehouses prior to import payment and release.

Businesses that sell or import British food products (I know, a bit of an oxymoron there) are well and truly stuck. Not only have costs gone up significantly, but shelves are empty because of transport delays—in maritime jargon, British exports to Europe are going through a bit of a pen pal—that’s my very own Cockney rhyming slang—Suez Canal.

The UK Food and Drink Federation (FDF) released what can only be classed as dismal numbers comparing the top British food and drink exports to the EU in January 2020 and one year later. I worked them up into a chart, which shows how hard the food industry was hit.

Whisky and salmon are both from Scotland—the Scottish people, who voted to stay in the Union, must be appalled at this sorry mess. Beef also got hammered—the Scots produce Angus cattle, so a triple whammy there.

And when it comes to fish, which salmon apparently is not, this includes all the shellfish industry—the export of live oysters, mussels, and scallops, along with langostines and crabs, is very much a Scottish business, although Wales also has an important mussel production.

The pandemic also accounts for some of this reduction, given how hard the hospitality industry in Europe was hit—and still is, with multiple lockdowns in practically every EU nation.

But a lot of it is Brexit—the double punch of the end of frictionless trade with Europe and Covid has meant the swansong for many small businesses—family-run outfits, often in small places, that help anchor communities.

In total, Bojo’s social experiment has shrunk the trading landscape of foodstuffs from almost six hundred billion dollars to one hundred forty-one—a decrease of seventy-five percent.

And that big brass bed? I’ll let you know when it gets here.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Zagovor

March 20, 2021

I had a six-hour road trip yesterday—confined to my car, but it was a beautiful spring day. It was long past dark by the time I got home, and to keep myself busy while the white lines flew by, I binged out on Wind of Change, the podcast I told you about last week.

In the end, it reminded me of Churchill’s definition of the Soviet Union—’a riddle wrapped in a mystery inside an enigma.’

Although the whole Wind of Change trip sounds like a red herring, if you excuse the double Soviet pun, some bits of it have the true mark of zagovor—conspiracy.

The most fun part of the story, and  certainly the most verifiable and the most bizarre, is the tale of drug smuggling from South America to the United States in the second half of the 1980s.

Recall that this is the heyday of the War on Drugs—in the fall of 1986, Reagan signs the Anti-Drug Abuse Act, and in 1989, George H.W Bush, aka Bush 41, appoints William Bennett ‘drug czar’—love the Russian terminology.

The manager of a bunch of heavy metal bands, including Mötley Crüe, Bon Jovi, and The Scorpions, is a larger than life character called Doc McGhee. Indulge me in two quick linguistic excursions: first, the unorthodox use of umlauts means the band’s name is pronounced Moh-tlee Cree-e, and second, the good doc’s surname is spelled in the same way as the clarified butter (ghee) widely used in Indian cooking—but I digress.

McGhee, who was neither christened ‘doc’ nor possessed a doctorate, apparently changed his name by deed poll. Doc was allegedly involved in drug smuggling when he got into the music business, managing a moderately successful band called NiteFlyte.

Their greatest hit, called If You Want It, is a classic example of what my friends and I used to call disco shit—the sort of stuff that made Dr. Hook write If You’re in Love with a Beautiful Woman and Sexy Eyes—except they were clearly taking the piss. This was 1980’s Miami—coke, women, and disco.

By the mid’80’s, Doc is a very successful band manager, but he’s also notorious for massive splurging on Crystal champagne, limos, hotel suites—all the usual suspects.

He’s very generous with the bands, but no one asks where the money comes from. Enter Steven Michael Kalish, a Texas drug smuggler—known for his aversion to guns and violence. Kalish’s bag (sorry) is smuggling weed, and Doc’s deal (sorry) is fronting the money.

But the Colombian connections are not Kalish’s, they’re Doc’s. And in a further, conspiratorial twist, Manuel Noriega, Panama’s dictator who ended his days in an American federal penitentiary, comes into the mix—Kalish talks about a direct connection with Noriega for money laundering through the Bank of Commerce Credit International, of bringing the dictator a personal gift of three hundred thousand dollars, and doing lines of coke on the guy’s desk.

The Luxembourg-registered BCCI served as a conduit through the years for the cash earned from smuggling pot and coke into the US, and was liquidated in 1991.

Kalish, McGhee, and a host of others smuggled hundreds of thousands of pounds of weed into the States—the way Kalish, who now lives in Hawaii, tells it, they would sail a fishing boat from Colombia to one of the southern states and then offload to tractor-trailers. Louisiana and North Carolina were typical destinations.

Kalish recently wrote a book called The Last Gentleman Smuggler, ghosted with Nikki Palomino, but I can’t find it for sale it anywhere.

An operation with that many folks involved stateside, plus the South American angle, was bound to end in tears—his last joint—oops, jaunt—involved a hundred people offloading bales into six semi-trucks. Kalish’s 1989 trial is reported by the Associated Press, and provides firm evidence that McGhee got off with a $15,000 fine and a five-year probation, mandating him to spend a further 250k and 3000 hours on his Make a Difference Foundation.

At a separate case in Louisiana, McGhee faced ‘150 years in jail and a $400,000 fine’. Once again, he walked. Kalish was sentenced to fourteen years and served eight and a half. Noriega’s name appears repeatedly.

So the real Zagovor is how McGhee beat the rap—and there’s the rub—the only agency that could get him off the hook was the CIA.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Wind of Change

March 13, 2021

Corona confinement took us all into uncharted territory.

Like the Portuguese sailors of The India Road, we found ourselves in a place we knew nothing about—the trick now for us, just as it was for them, is to get back to where we were.

This is a return to Neverland—the famous Peter Pan dream world of eternal childhood. The things we had when we left have changed, and even if they haven’t, we’ve changed, so it won’t be the same—it’s turned into a string of cliches: the new normal, home is the new office, bla bla, yakety yak.

The wind of change is blowing this year as we learn what non-linear means—it’ll take us by surprise, just as last year did—humans don’t do steep, but nevertheless I’m optimistic.

Confinement changed the way I live, in much the same way as austerity did ten years ago. At that time, I stopped buying newspapers, along with a bunch of other changes: going out to eat became a special event—I watched restaurants close by the bucketload—and I altered my work habits to save gas.

This time around, music became far more important than ever before in my life, and I got into other weird stuff like podcasts. The Bugle has become one of my favorites—it’s not always good, but when it is, it’s great! And lots of internet radio.

Soon I will be traveling again—I was due to go to Mexico this week, which would have provided some nice material for these pages—but now is not quite the right time.

And yet, I can feel the wind of change in the air—there’s so much pent-up energy just waiting to be released, so many places to go—but it will be weird. Two years ago, if you wore a mask in a bank the cops would think you were a bank robber, now you’re just another customer.

One of these podcasts develops an unusual theory—or at least it would have been bizarre before QAnon(sense), which is now peddling crap such as ‘Doctors and Nurses Giving the coronavirus vaccine Will Be Tried as War Criminals‘.

The concept is not new—intelligence agencies using insidious methods to influence folks in another country—in this case by means of music. As a wide-eyed child, well before the iron curtain was drawn, I listened in the dead of night to the Voice of America, to Radio Free Europe, but also to the English service of what was then the DDR—which apparently now stands for ‘Dance Dance Revolution’, not quite what the Stasi had in mind—and to the most Marxist-Leninist station of all, Radio Tirana.

Cold War radio was a big deal—yesteryear’s Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter all wrapped into one—and I always thought Tirana was a perfect name for the capital city of Enver Hoxha’s communist dictatorship.

The musical plot—I have a hard time believing it, but it has all the trappings of an urban legend—is a simple, credible story: the year is 1990, the Berlin Wall is falling, and the Soviet Union is crumbling with it, as Mikhail Gorbachev promotes his dual policies of Glasnost and Perestroika.

To help the liberation effort, what could be juicier than a little rock ‘n roll?

Enter The Scorpions, a German metal band little-known in Anglo-Saxon circles but very popular in Europe and South America. The lead singer is Klaus Meine, a native of Hannover, already in his early forties when the wall came down.

The band—known for its heavy rock and power ballads—deals with the usual subjects popular with the head-banging fraternity, to wit (if you excuse the pun) bikes, girls, muscle cars, and guns.

But wait! Suddenly a totally out-of-character political song—and a good one—emerges from the pen of Herr Meine. Klaus has often written lyrics for the Scorpions, rarely the music.

Voila the conspiracy theory: Wind of Change, which the band released in 1990, was written by that famous tunesmith, the Central Intelligence Agency of the United States.

The signature whistling at the start of the song is timeless, the power ballad feel is great, and the way the drums come in on the chorus with a triple gunshot is perfect. The lyrics set the scene:

Follow the Moskva
Down to Gorky Park
Listening to the Wind of Change

August summer night
Soldiers passing by
Listening to the Wind of Change

The video is suggestive, with plenty of Soviet imagery and Gorby meeting the Polish pope, champion of the Solidarity movement in his native country, though the lyrics get a little cheesy as the song develops—I learned to play it today, so I studied them at length.

Klaus Meine denies any CIA involvement in the genesis of the song, although he underscores the power of rock ‘n roll—it packs more punch than the Bolshoi.

But there seems to be a twinkle in his eye when he ends the interview…

…it adds another chapter now with the CIA. At the end of the day, the song became bigger than life. It’s one of those songs [that] make their own way, and there’s nothing I can do.

One thing’s for sure, we’re in the wind of change and we must embrace it. Churchill understood change, and his words help us set the course.

‘We must take change by the hand, or rest assuredly, change will take us by the throat.’

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Let It Rain

February 20, 2021

I’m writing these words while the rain falls in buckets outside. For me, rain and music go hand in hand. Songs like Have You Ever Seen the Rain, or Dylan’s Buckets of Rain—one of the most poignant love songs ever written, come to mind… or even the more esoteric Box of Rain, by the Dead—someone told me many years ago the song is about heroin.

It’s been a rainy season and a half, so far—from Texas to Jakarta, climate change has been showing its colors. Last Thursday I was supposed to be on a call to West Texas, but they’d had no power since Monday—I was tempted to tell them last time I saw that was in Mozambique. You don’t think of the US as a vulnerable country, where a large part of a state as rich as Texas can be without electricity or water for days, but the evidence is there.

In this particular case, was it policy, climate change, or infrastructure? Apparently, you can blame all three—different actors have taken their pick. Undoubtedly, snowstorms in Texas are well outside the definition of normal weather patterns—they fall into the ‘extreme event’ category—such events are typical of climate change. Texas is so confident in its energy self-sufficiency that it doesn’t link to the US national electricity grid—this is an obvious policy failure—when the Texas system collapsed, there was no external supply.

The collapse was linked to a single and obvious fact—below 32oF, water freezes. This affected the cooling systems of energy plants, including nuclear—Texas has two of those. Although the bulk of the Texas outages were due to freezing of natural gas pipelines, the conservative media had a field day blaming renewable sources like wind and solar. If the double-peach orang-u-tan still had a license to tweet, there would have been a host of fake news typos on the topic. As it is, there’s enough crap going around, like this quote from a Colorado Republican congresswoman.

We have Joe Biden who is nice and warm in his fossil-fueled White House singing kumbaya with his environmental extremists while Americans are freezing to death.

A recent article in the New York Times analyzes the renewables question—turns out wind power only meets seven percent of the Texas energy requirement—hardly a critical factor, but the debate has grown to a new level of hysteria as climate change skeptics rage about wind turbine blades freezing—oblivious to the irony that they’re only freezing because of climate change.

Meanwhile, Jakarta holds the dubious record of being the world’s fastest sinking city, around four inches per year. In north Jakarta, the ground is estimated to have sunk about eight feet in the last ten years, making any building one story shorter.

The monsoon rains have visited upon Jakarta a flood of epic proportions.

The times seem a little biblical at present, featuring a succession of plagues—and there’s no indication these are one-off events. Climate change is here for the foreseeable future and may well bring with it a bunch of new surprises, known as indirect effects. One example is an increase in disease because particular temperatures favor certain pathogens.

As for the COVID plague, in most European countries, and in the States, there is a clear downward trend, and there’s hope that vaccination will shut the virus down for good. So at least there’s a few things to smile about.

And as usual, fact can be stranger than fiction. A thirty-year old man in the UK was this week offered a priority vaccine when his BMI was flagged at twenty-eight thousand. Turns out his height had been registered not as six feet two inches but as 6.2 cm.

A back-calculation puts his real weight at 238 lb, give or take, so he’s on the lower end of the ‘obese’ category, but you’d have thought the guys who write the algorithms might idiot-proof them.

The NIH BMI calculator is certainly deficient in this respect—it allowed me to determine the BMI for a human who is 6 cm tall, and one of average height weighing only one kilogram.

I propose that the code geeks add what I will now call the Wibaux Humpty Dumpty test. When you input a person’s height, the app calculates what that person would weigh if he or she were a perfect sphere.

Humans are roughly the same density as water, i.e. 1 g/cm3, although some are considerably denser in the brain area. In order to apply the WHD law, we need to determine the volume of our spherical human, and that will be the weight in grams—for an average balloon person, that is around 2.5 metric tons, rather more than an automobile.

The BMI for the rotund one will be slightly under one thousand, a pretty exceptional upper limit. It would certainly have saved the embarrassment of the doctor’s explanatory phone call.

Before the doctor’s call, the thirty-year-old man called his mom to tell her he was being vaxed due to obesity. Her reply is pure poetry.

‘Well, perhaps this is the wake-up call you need…’

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Strange Days

January 16, 2021

After I came up with the ‘Strange Days’ title, I began writing some paragraphs on COVID and the situation in the US, but found it all so depressing that I scrapped the lot.

Even the ludicrous factoid that a Peruvian court recently charged Bill Gates and George Soros with creating the Coronavirus failed to amuse me, and I realized I’ve been writing about little else for the past months—it’s bumming everyone out, including me, so I’m going to stop doing it.

Having said that, a few things about this mad circus still make me smile.

So, I got out my cordless razor, shaved my head, and settled down to write about music.

Strange Days, huh? The Doors released the album in 1967—on the 25th of September, missing the Summer of Love by five days. On the cover were a circus strong man, a midget, and a juggler.

It must have been an extraordinary time to live through. Where I lived, press censorship was at its zenith, six years after the start of the war in the Portuguese colonies in Africa and one year before the dictator Salazar fell off his beach chair—he never recovered from his injuries.

The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper, the Jefferson Airplane released Surrealistic Pillow, the Grateful Dead released their eponymous album, and the Stones released two original LPs—Between the Buttons and the more sinister Their Satanic Majesties Request. Clapton’s Cream released Disraeli Gears, and Hendrix released his amazing debut album, Are You Experienced.

If no other music had ever been made, this would be enough to keep me happy for a lifetime—I don’t know why 1967 was such a prolific year—psychedelic drugs most certainly helped, marijuana was more popular than lockdowns, but at the core it was just an incredible collection of talent, bands competing to come up with the best music.

Not only that, but these songs were often recorded on four tracks—bear in mind that any decent home studio these days has one hundred and twenty-eight tracks to play with—and the music is nowhere near as good.

The standard recording technique used back in 1967 is called bouncing, where tracks 1 and 2, or even 1, 2, and 3, are bounced, or recorded, to track 4. You might have drums on 1, bass on 2, and lead guitar on 3, so 4 would now have all those pre-mixed. That way, you free up more tracks on the recorder, but you’re unable to do an individual track mixdown at production stage, so you’re stuck with the volumes and effects you bounced—for instance, if you wanted a bit more delay or echo only on the lead in a particular segment of the song, you couldn’t do that after the bounce.

This excellent YouTube video (if you scroll to my previous post you’ll see the interview with the yellowstone capitol cretin has been removed—I left the link pour encourager les autres) shows how the multi-track was used in Sgt. Pepper. If you run out of patience, the blue track starts around 2:30 minutes in, and the red track (McCartney’s lead vocals) at around the 5 mark.

In 1967, Simon & Garfunkel released a live album recorded in New York, and Dylan released his Greatest Hits Vol. II. It was the first Dylan album I ever owned, though I only bought it some years later.

The cover shows Bob Dylan’s back, clad in a denim jacket—lord knows what happened to mine—sporting his trademark coat hanger harmonica. Uncle Bob’s hair is permed, and he’s clearly in the juices of youth—he turns eighty on May 24th. From the first bars of Watching The River Flow, I was hooked on the blues.

I found all sorts of fun things as I wrote this. One was the quote below from John Lennon about the Sgt. Pepper album.

Sgt Pepper is Paul, after a trip to America and the whole West Coast, long-named group thing was coming in. You know, when people were no longer The Beatles or The Crickets – they were suddenly Fred and His Incredible Shrinking Grateful Airplanes, right? So I think he got influenced by that and came up with this idea for The Beatles. As I read the other day, he said in one of his ‘fanzine’ interviews that he was trying to put some distance between The Beatles and the public – and so there was this identity of Sgt Pepper. Intellectually, that’s the same thing he did by writing ‘He loves you’ instead of ‘I love you.’ That’s just his way of working. Sgt Pepper is called the first concept album, but it doesn’t go anywhere. All my contributions to the album have absolutely nothing to do with the idea of Sgt Pepper and his band; but it works ’cause we said it worked, and that’s how the album appeared. But it was not as put together as it sounds, except for Sgt Pepper introducing Billy Shears and the so-called reprise. Every other song could have been on any other album.

Another gem was a concert Chuck Berry did in Belgium, of all places. Not in 1967, but two years earlier—if you think his band looks square, watch the audience—they look as if they belong in a Salon de Thé off the Grande Place.

Chuck Berry is a mandatory presence in this article because he influenced all the wonderful artists I’ve mentioned. He once caught Keith Richards in the dressing room picking up his guitar, and promptly punched him in the face—Richards called it one of his greatest hits.

All this procrastination because by now you’re asking, “Out of all this wonderful music, what’s your favorite tune?”

I just can’t go there, sorry. But this is one of the greats, and it is not so widely known.

The lyrics are as LSD as they get, the lead guitar is a classic Hendrix mix of major and minor scales, and this performance is at Regis College in Denver, Colorado—a quick look on the web reveals it to be part of Regis University, a Jesuit school.

Hmm… The Wind Cries Mary must have gone down a storm with the disciples of Ignatius de Loyola. Still, I guess Hendrix was the black pope of electric guitar.

I was going to sign off with an hasta la vista, but instead, quoting a comedian I heard earlier today, I leave you with a slight paraphrase.

Astra la Zeneca.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

We Know This

January 2, 2021

Christmas was hardly merry and New Year’s Eve was no humdinger.

Much was said about bidding adieu to a crap year, and location cameras regularly interviewed people fed up with 2020—as if what happened for most of it was the year’s fault—folks explained how 2021 will make everything better, they just forgot to say how.

Everybody knows nothing so we all know everything: the vaccines are here, but the delivery systems are so far pathetic, and no one can say how long you’ll be immune—just as no one knows how long a veteran of COVID-19 remains immune.

Societies are still divided on whether masks are useful or not, how to manage households and businesses to reduce or prevent transmission, and what limits to impose on travel.

And because there’s so much we don’t know, together with a moving reference frame—the virus is mutating all the time—2021 doesn’t look so hot from where I’m sitting.

Temporary immunity, whether vaccine-induced or from contracting the disease, is not much comfort either to those who get the shot or those who mingle with them. And governments seem unable to deal with the logistics—as things stand, the UK, whose cabinet waxed lyrical about being the first in the world to deliver the shot, is now well behind in its delivery plan, to the extent that ministers tried to cheat the system by delaying the second shot of the Pfizer vaccine, administering instead a first shot to more people—the pharma company states that there are no data to support the plan, but since when did that stop a populist government?

The six million dollar question is simple:

When can I get back to a normal life?

Put another way, When will the virus go away?

Only populist pols like the (do-close-the-door-on-your-way-out) orang-u-tan, Britain’s Brexit Bojo, or Brazil’s Bolsonaro (what a lot of Bs) can give you a simple answer to such a complex question—and it will be wrong.

I’ll try to help by steering clear of BS.

When will the virus go away? Never. Even if it did, another form would pop up—that’s what viruses do, they mutate fast, fine-tuning what works best.

But it will not be a significant danger after a certain point, and that’s when normality returns. We are the host, the virus is the guest—mostly uninvited, but if you’re doing the Brittany rave, you’re saying “be my guest.”

Some viruses spread through water, through plumbing or rivers, but ‘rona does not. You can swim, just as you can touch or kiss someone who has cancer or AIDS.

The guest needs a host—and it then needs proximity to other susceptible hosts. The ‘certain point’ above will be when there are insufficient hosts to take in the guest. There are three ways that will happen.

The first is separation. You’re in an empty room. You have COVID. No one else will get it. If you die, bye-bye virus. If you get better, bye-bye virus. The second is immunity. There are ten people in the room, but seven are immune. You pass the ‘rona on to two people, one dies, two recover, bye-bye virus. The last is death. Ten die. If there are no hosts, there’s no oxygen to fan the flames. Bye-bye virus.

We’re not sure how long immunity lasts. But if it lasts long enough for the virus load to decrease in the general population, your probability of catching it will be lower that seeing a smiling truck driver at Dover—game over.

Folks help that happen by not attending raves and throwing bottles at the police, by mass vaccination, and unfortunately, by dying.

The more anti-vax fools out there—and they walk among us—the more time it will take before we return to normal (they never will).

One guideline we have is history—it tries to teach us, but we’re fucking awful students.

Haskell County, Kansas. How bleak can you get?

The ‘Spanish’ flu was first detected in Haskell County, SW Kansas, in January 1918, exactly one hundred and three years ago.

By March, cases were observed in barracks in Kansas, and over the next few months the flu spread in the US and was taken overseas by American soldiers fighting in the First World War.

In September-November, the second wave went crazy—now, that’s got to sound familiar!

The Spanish flu killed a younger demographic than COVID-19, but remember that statistics are like a bikini—what they show is suggestive, what they hide is vital—in 1915-1920, Americans had a life expectancy of 50-55 years (men versus women).

In winter and spring 1919, the third wave arrived with a vengeance, and lasted until the summer. President Woodrow Wilson, who like Trump insisted the pandemic was of no concern, collapsed in Paris on April 3rd, 1919—in October he suffered a massive stroke, possibly related to side effects of the virus.

The Spanish flu lasted well into the summer of 1919.

What lessons have we learned? Precious few. We’re all masters of the world now, immortal instagram deities.

When will this end?

My two cents? We’ll be lucky if by next fall we can safely go about our business—by that time, no one will remember what normal means anymore.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Keep Your Comrades Warm

December 26, 2020

To most Westerners, Russia means vodka, snow, communism, and a vast wilderness, not necessarily in that order. The political system has changed, but although the country calls itself a democracy, its actions are clearly totalitarian—from the assassination of political enemies and uncooperative journalists, the message is clear: be with us or beware.

The vast nation has vast wealth, but the frozen wastelands under which natural resources lie make exploration a challenge—in particular, the huge potential for crop production is blocked by a layer of permafrost. Putin recognizes that the climate is warming, and views this as a good thing—a few years ago, he quipped that it meant more bread and less fur coats.

Russia and Canada are two of the nations that will reap major benefits from climate change—both have access to the Arctic Ocean, and a whole new polar navigation route has already opened up due to ice melt.

For Russia, this means a strategic position in the maritime routes between China and Europe—transit times will be reduced by up to forty percent, significantly lowering freight costs. In addition, very few major cities are on the coast, so large population centers are far less vulnerable to sea level rise that those in Western Europe or the United States. Think London, Amsterdam, Rome, Lisbon, Stockholm, Oslo, Copenhagen, Dublin, Bordeaux, Barcelona, Marseille…  and New York, Los Angeles, New Orleans, Boston, San Francisco, Seattle…

Other global competitors appear singularly unprepared—while Russia has twenty-four icebreakers, China has four and the US has… two.

Russia is warming up two and a half times faster than the global average, and huge areas in the east are opening up to farming. To exploit this opportunity, a climate migration is taking place, not just Russians going east to try their luck, but Chinese, heading north to grow wheat and other cereals.

Climate migrants will be the new refugees in the mid to late XXth century, as countries with a Goldilocks temperature range warm up. Most of these nations, the US among them, are singularly unprepared. The orang-u-tan nonsense on climate change asphyxiated any effective preparations for four years—to prepare would be to acknowledge, and that would be as shocking as admitting an electoral defeat.

But perhaps the most critical factor is the unwillingness of Western nations in the north to accept migrants, even in situations where the current population is both ageing and dwindling—to seize new opportunities in farming you need people, but the sons and daughters of those countries don’t want to till, they want to tweet.

Not that Putin accepts the human influence on climate change, or is a fan of renewables—he has expressed concerns that vibration from wind turbines causes worms to flee from the soil—in a country where the annual budget is indexed to oil prices, one can understand the deep anxiety about annelids.

But he does understand that food security is critical, and is on record that Russia now exports more agricultural products than arms—I suspect this is not due to a reduction in weapons sales.

One of the areas where the permafrost has given way to a thriving agricultural area is the Jewish Autonomous Oblast, or region, in the Russian far east. This particular Oblast is to the north of the River Amur, and was created by Stalin in 1928—I was unaware of such a place—I thought Israel was the only autonomous Jewish region.

On the other side of the Amur is the Chinese province of Heilongjiang, and the enterprising celestials have been crossing over to the JAO to make hay while the frost melts.

The US presently trades one third of the world’s soy and forty percent of the corn, but climate models suggest that by mid-century yields from Texas to Nebraska may fall by ninety percent—meanwhile the winter wheat crop in southern Siberia doubled when compared to the previous year.

Sooner or later ‘rona will go away.

Climate change won’t.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.

Whose Birthday?

December 19, 2020

After every few words I type on here, an ad comes up in Russian—ads annoy me at the best of times, but Rooshian ads I can’t understand,  while everyone but the tangerine dream freaks out about FireEye and SolarWinds, are unsettling to say the least.

Okay, I’ve banished Putin’s lot to the nether lands of my computer—let’s get on with the job.

I traditionally write something festive around this time of year—a period when Jews celebrate Hanukkah (love that random double k) and Christians celebrate Xmas—or rather, Western-influenced culture celebrates Christmas.

Hanukkah has bellicose roots, quite different from the birth of a child—it commemorates the recovery of Jerusalem from the Seleucid Empire—I lay claim to some historical knowledge, but I’d never heard of these Greek fellows.

But since a newborn is always a celebration, and Hanukkah is known as the festival of lights, we should rejoice. I, for one, am pretty happy—said goodbye to COVID and am at the top of my game, have some nice tinto squirreled away and can smell and taste it—I’m one of the lucky ones.

So what happy, festive stuff comes to mind? I’ll have to dig deep. As Larry Fortensky, Liz Taylor’s seventh husband, famously quipped in his wedding speech, “I know what to do, I know how to do it, the trick is to make it interesting for you.”

For sensible folks, it’s going to be a quiet Christmas, because the beast is on the loose—and as a holiday special, a new strain has been announced today in the UK.

Quiet is definitely my plan, and even if it wasn’t, travel bans would make it so—luckily, I have plenty of alcohol, and part of my plan is assiduous internal disinfection—although I draw the line at bleach.

One thing that’ll get us festive is a bit of music blended with comedy—here’s a clip from the very first Spitting Image show, a spoof Dylan protest about cheese.

Other highlights of this particular episode include the removal of Reagan’s brain and a hilarious piss-take of the Soviet politburo—definitely worth a look—I don’t think it’ll be up for long.

Yup, it’s going to be a quiet few days in Western Europe, although in the US anything can happen, and most probably will.

But the fact you’re reading this means you’re alive, and hopefully well—a very good start. It’s been a real tough period for the economy, and the next few months will be no different, but there is one thing to really celebrate.

Yes, it may be only one, but it’s huge. Throughout history, from the medieval plagues to the 1918 ‘Spanish’ flu pandemic, society has demonstrated very little solidarity—the same goes for Ebola or Zika—but this year was different.

We all know the risk of serious complications or death from Coronavirus increases sharply with age—this example, from a Covid calculator site, says it all:

A white man aged 45, BMI 36 with severe asthma, has a Covid-age of (45+13+11) = 69 years.

A healthy, fit thirty-five year-old has a probability of 0.03% of dying from the disease, whereas an eighty-five year old has a 6% chance, 200 times more.

I know that showing you a weird chart is hardly festive, but I couldn’t resist, perhaps because I made it myself. It shows that after the age of fifty, COVID is about 30% of the total chance of dying—at eighty-five that doubles to 60%, and below the age of thirty, it’s under 10%.

Percent ratio of probability of COVID-derived death to probability of death from any cause.

This explains why younger people are far less concerned than older folks, and why the economic, recreational, and other consequences of tiers and lockdowns are poorly accepted.

And yet, in Western Europe and elsewhere—but not in the United States, partly because its leadership was entrusted to a half-rotten citrus fruit—society has imposed those exact measures, at huge cost, primarily to save the elderly.

If nothing else offers hope this Christmas, Hanukkah, or just this year-end, this does—a society that is capable of such a selfless act, instead of just letting old folks die off in the traditional fashion, is worthy of great praise.

Moreover, this radical pattern of age-related death was not observed in either the bubonic plague or the Spanish flu—in the XIVth century, not many people lived past forty-five anyhow—if it had been, society would have been even more callous.

Older people—in particular those who have the means to do so—owe a debt of solidarity to the younger members of society, those who are often hardest hit by the economic tsunami.

And to artists, musicians, the people who provide all the pleasure we take for granted—if you can’t eat, you can’t play. That’s the gift I’ll be giving this Christmas!

So turn this favorite of mine right up, ’cause it ain’t Christmas without rock ‘n roll.

The India Road, Atmos Fear, Clear Eyes, and Folk Tales For Future Dreamers. QR links for smartphones and tablets.


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