Ethnic Intolerance

Today I was obliged to respond to a disturbing Facebook thread. I put it in my Facebook status, in preference to escalating heated emotional posts, to bring the topic to a wider audience. I share my remarks below.

I recently read a Facebook post embedding a YouTube video of inflammatory pro-sharia-law comments. The video was shot in a London district protest demonstration. The Facebook comment thread that followed contained pointed ethnic slurs. One of those slurs was against our own President. That kind of talk can’t be dismissed idly.

1) An ethnic slur against the President of the United States is an attack on ALL Americans and what this country stands for.
2) The YouTube video was uploaded anonymously by someone who wanted to be called “BurnIslamBurnAllah.” This should have been a clue. It focused on irritatingly offensive pro-sharia extremist statements apparently made around the time of the 2011 UK riots.
3) That’s no more representative of one billion Muslims than “End of the World 2011” Harold Camping typifies 300 million Americans.
4) We need to “get a grip …” Drop Mars-Invades-Earth hysteria.
5) Since last year’s London riots, the UK has faced up to the fact it still needed to address ethnic situations similar to what we in the US (for the most part) got through decades ago.
6) Even friends and very nice people are getting too much news from YouTube videos instead of real journalism.
7) Don’t expect to counter sharia law extremism with homegrown extremism and intolerance. Islamic or Christian hate talk, it’s still extremism.

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Collective Guilt and the Third Reich

Someone recently sent me a short essay on the rise of the Third Reich, the History of World War II, and the Nazi mind-set that started it. Below I’ve excerpted from my rejection letter.

I’ll have to pass on this. It is one of the most written-about topics in the history of the Western World.

I don’t think we can reduce Shirer’s “The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich” or Hannah Arendt’s signature work “Totalitarianism” down to half a page.

The rise of Nazism was the result of several phenomena in deadly combination: group-think as you write, and also militarism, racial and ethnic hatred, a dysfunctional German economy thanks in no small part to the vengefully and poorly engineered Treaty of Versailles, the German turn to mysticism and determinism as the source of authority of the state, and a poisonous political apparatus gone viral … a certifiable national psychosis.

Any idea of a disease of shared history, a kind of collective racial guilt, will never fly at If there is any validity to some aspect of that notion at all, it is to be found in the trend to simplified effortless no-work answers, but the guilt of acceptance lies with individuals, not a race, nation or its leaders. Only individuals can empower tyrants and monsters. You and I are not responsible for Dachau, the Civil War, or Rick Santorum.

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Improving Toaster Waffles

I’ve been buying toaster waffles for years. They’re quick and convenient. But by the time we butter and pour syrup on them, they aren’t very hot, and they don’t have a lot of flavor beyond the syrup.

I’d never make waffles from scratch just for myself, even if I did have a waffle iron. So try this:

Toast your frozen waffles on a hot griddle or large frying pan. No need to defrost. Use plenty of butter, re-buttering when you flip them over. A minute or so on each side is plenty. They brown nicely and quickly. As they’re now already buttered, just serve with syrup as you fancy. Enjoy. You’ll notice a tremendous improvement!

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Glock Automatic Pistols

A non-shooter friend posted a link on the Glock handgun, which was interesting comment on the industrial design of a modern handgun, and its popularity with law enforcement and civilian enthusiasts.

For those who don’t follow such stuff, the Glock is a cleverly logical step up from the “G-man .45” (Eliot Ness, Fearless Fosdick, GI Joe) – the service sidearm of two world wars. The government M1911 .45 Auto is now over a century old.

For me, reading a posted article about the Glock was also a reminder why I, a paper target shooter (high power rifle and large-bore revolver) never liked automatic handguns.

Most city people distrust guns and people who use them, often rightfully so. Not a lot of them want to hear why someone who maybe fired a Glock once, dislikes auto handguns. But here you go.

In the military I qualified on the M1911. Unpleasant to shoot.

Now, a heavy-caliber revolver also produces a lot of recoil, which is why you often see on the screen that a shooter’s forearm is raised up, to one degree or another, after each shot. A .44 Magnum can propel a two-arm hold vertically from 45 to almost 90 degrees vertical. I’ve seen men twice my size put down a .44 after one shot. It all depends how you hold it.

But all of the revolver’s recoil is along the single vertical axis, so you can brace against it along that single axis.

Not so with automatic handguns. The heavy blow-back or piston slide mechanisms are cammed to unlock the bolt and eject the spent casing. This produces a pronounced twisting motion. This is a two-axis recoil. Most annoying, it throws you off for the next shot. Target shooters would mind. Combat shooters would suck it up and get really, really proficient with this design. Plinkers and yahoos probably wouldn’t know any better.

Recently I met with someone in South Carolina who owned a Glock. We didn’t fire it, but he taught me a modified way to hold an auto handgun which could also improve the two-hand-hold for a large bore revolver. Even so, I’ll stick to six-shooters.

So there you go.

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“Art can soothe, it can inspire, but it also stirs heated passions and outright protest. Why does that happen, and why in some cases but not others? That’s the subject of the new book, ‘Not Here, Not Now, Not That! Protest Over Art and Culture in America.'”

For a PBS transcript of that topic, or even a video clip, you can read Conversation: Why Do Americans Protest Art?

I was immediately struck by a parallel question of my own. In Pakistan, why do they stone the rape victim?

It seemed obvious to me that overzealous righteousness has everything to do with it: the god-given notion that we have the right to define what offends us personally as an offense to the very universe, and that we somehow then acquire the divine right to mete out retribution of our own choosing without benefit of judge, jury, trial or verdict.

They are in this country illegally; they deserve whatever we can do to them. If an official suspects a person of wrongdoing, it should be OK to detain them indefinitely without charges or a hearing. My neighbor is voting Republican; he must be a very bad person. The Jones are voting Democratic; see how they have renounced the American Way.

When we think about The Crusades, the Holocaust, Little Rock, Matthew Shepard, the Jihads or the Salem witch trials, there looms a very real sense in which the greatest evils of mankind come not from unguarded sin, but from unbridled righteousness.

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Classical Music and The Human Voice

a musical travelogue

All musical compositions mentioned in my article are linked to corresponding YouTube video clips. Clicking a musical link should open new browser tabs or windows for you. Musical quality is very good. You can alternately search for and audit most or all of these selections on Amazon, iTunes or similar sources.

Here is a mercifully brief history of my evolving discovery of the human voice in classical music. If you have an audio pipe to “hi-fi PC speakers” or a home entertainment system, now is the time to switch to it.

I’ve been a classical music buff all my life. I still could just never bring myself to understand opera! 99% of it always sounded like glorified yodeling to me. You see, I understood completely that exposure to the genre is the key to understanding it. It was just the exposure to opera that I studiously avoided.

These days, even old dogs learn new tricks. With the help of the amazingly complete YouTube libraries, here are some musical “stops” on my discovery of the human voice in classical music.

non-operatic classical vocals

I somehow did learn that the human voice is potentially the grandest musical instrument of them all. As early as high school I fell in love with two non-operatic classical vocals:

Much, much later I was introduced to the Renaissance church music of Lassus and Thomas Tallis. As you’re no doubt already aware on some level, those abbey monks contributed a lot more to the future of our culture than the fundamentals of wine-making. I’m not even religious in any accepted conventional sense, but I don’t know how one can listen to Lassus and NOT feel a profound reverence for the human spirit. I give you:

Thomas Tallis: A more muted composer who wrote in English for the courts of Henry the Eighth and Queen Elizabeth. Tallis speaks of devotion, solace, and perhaps of loss and regret, but all with incredible clarity and precision of expression.

This led to my introduction to the astounding modern twentieth century Estonian composer Arvo Pärt. Listeners who know nothing else of Arvo Pärt’s music would generally recognize this piece. It is longish (9:50), but listen how hauntingly Pärt blends human voice and human instrumentation into a single unquenchable voice in these pieces from Berliner Messe.

Igor Stravinsky: Best known perhaps for his “Firebird” symphony and “Rite of Spring” ballet, many listeners find the music too dissonant and cacophonous. I happen to like Le Sacre du Printemps, “Rite of Spring.” Incredibly, he also wrote some of the most soothing music in the western world, and I give you two quite different short clips of his work Pastorale:

    • Pastorale: piano by Stravinsky himself (2004)
    • Pastorale: with Dame Joan Sutherland, soprano

Compare Stravinsky’s Pastorale with Arvo Pärt’s instrumental piece Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in Mirror).

Classical opera arias I like:

This first one (by Verdi) is something I gloried in as early as junior high school. I heard it on our local FM station – but never found out what it was. I forgot all about it until I heard it again a few years ago. “Aida” is an opera, all right, but this is an orchestral part. It is one of those pieces most people “know” but (sadly) can’t identify:

The second piece is known to tens of millions of TV viewers. British Airways used a muted orchestral version of Delibes’ “Lakmé” (Flower Duet) in a 1980’s TV commercial.  It doesn’t do justice to the original. Fast-forward to around 2009-2010, for a TV ad for Kohler, a high-end manufacturer of faucets and shower-heads [clip here]. A plumber finishes installing a “smart” shower-head and tests it by getting into the running shower, turning its awesome music system to “Lakmé,” and singing along with the operatic passage. He then dries himself off and leaves the bewildered homeowners.

You will recognize it instantly:

The thing is, Lakmé is bona fide opera, and I like it. At least, I like that part of it.

Finally, we return to today with a clip in that great body of classical music that is non-operatic but uses the human voice integrally as part of the story. Of “Powaqqatsi” by modern composer Philip Glass as part of a film score, Wikipedia writes: “Here, human voices (especially children’s and mainly from South America and Africa) appear more than in Koyaanisqatsi, in harmony with the film’s message and images.”

The film and the music may have different meanings for different listeners. For myself, the songs in the score draws me back to my backpacking days in the high Sierras. The mighty mountains surround me with their booming presence. The delicate verdant meadows and wildflowers sing to me. I am transported through time. It is my own time, but for the moment, it is eternal …

The following short clip appears to be the actual trailer for the 1988 movie. Segments of many different tracks in the score are spliced together but they are effective in conveying the power of the idea. The video is spectacular too. Turn up the sound!

One small step for man …

Other References

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The Little Old Lady and the Dog – a Modern Parable

I have one or two friends who are fond of forwarding “loaded” jokes of the variety that, on one level, seem to be straightforward humor or truism, but with a second layer of gratuitous and purely political invective grafted on. Somehow, these unfailingly parrot the far end of the “right-wing” political party line, with which I find myself currently and profoundly disaffected. After receiving one more of those from a friend with just such a penchant for politically-hijacked “jokes,” I wrote this up and almost did a “reply-all” to chain letter and all its recipients with my own composition below attached. But, proving a point, by embarrassing my friend in front of all his other friends, is just not worth ending a 55-year friendship — even though it’s true enough that I am always in the right, whereas he is always 100% in the wrong and never has a leg to stand on. So I will just share this with you as food for thought, Dear Readers, and let it go at that.

The Little Old Lady and the Dog

There was this little old lady Gladys who went for a walk with her Yorkshire terrier. Along the way, she met her old friend Mrs. Gunderson, who said, “Why hello Gladys, how good to see you again, how are you?”

Gladys said, “I am fine, I am very glad to see you, and I do so want to tell you about my new little dog Herriot! But I must say how very upset I am about how all these Liberals are trying to wreck the country with equal this and equal that and tax the rich and spend spend spend. Land sakes, there they go again, trying force all these illegals down our throats and expecting us to like it, can you imagine? Next thing you know they’ll be wanting to marry. They’re just awful! Now just look at how they’ve ruined our school system: why, kids can’t even count change properly like we could when we were their age, not of course that I would stoop to count change out to some … some commoner! Everything we did in the day was superior to anything they’re doing today. You didn’t catch US spending all day texting and surfing the internet! And, when we wanted to make money, we’d go out out and earn it the tried-and-proven hard way, honest money every penny of it, devoting lifetimes of sheer hard work and loyal drudgery to a single at-will employer … if, of course, we didn’t marry into the right circles soon enough – my dear, how is that husband of yours doing in what, that clerical position of his? You do look a little harried today! No no, you didn’t catch any of us growing so-called “startups,” they call them now, peddling IPO’s while still in their teen years, and retiring as billionaires in their mid-twenties! And they’re all these damn Nancy Pelosi Liberals, you know, every single last one of them, who will try to twist the conversation around into the Environment when all we’re discussing is how to make a $20 profit on a truckload of old-growth redwood. They’ll take a simple innocent declarative sentence like this one and embroider and embellish it until it sounds like Al Gore’s Sermon on the Mount! Who the blazes do they think they are? They act like they’re so high-falutin’ SUPERIOR when in fact you or I have more superiority in our little fingers than they have in their amply fat Burger King rear ends, my dear! And, let me tell you another thing, they complain like crazy when we try to tell our side, the real truth of the story, and they LAUGH at us like we’re demented old coots when we try to warn them of the many evils of their godless ways. If there’s one thing I just don’t like, it’s their little smug, defamatory, self-righteously hostile attitudes. If the misbegotten little shits can’t be forced to listen to reason, why don’t they all go back where they came from?”

Mrs. Gunderson said, “Why my dear Gladys, this is all well and fine, I’m sure! But what about your darling little Yorkie?”

Gladys said, “Oh, Mrs. Gunderson, my goodness, he’s not important; he’s just along for the walk — don’t you see, dear? The important thing is for us to be ready to take any conversation, situation or scenario and turn it into a venue for righteous political agenda.

©Alexander Forbes and December 7, 2011
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Windshield Wiper Blades

“I’m a man, and I can change, if I have to … I guess.” — Man’s Prayer, from The Red Green Show

I already knew it was high time for me to replace those wiper blades. Desert heat and road dust are murderous on the soft rubber parts, as you know. When it rained, which has not been often, my wiper blades would squeal and chatter. They’d just smear the rain and dirt in a wide arc across my line of sight, which is probably more dangerous than no wipers at all. I have a road trip to the North Bay coming up on Thanksgiving Day, and they’re predicting heavy rain.

The first thing I did is bundle up in a jacket and hat because it’s cold outside. I grabbed my keys and wallet just in case.

I had some Toyota wiper blade inserts, brand new, though they’d been in the car trunk for years. I never threw them out, even though I’d had previous problems trying to get them to attach to the wiper arms, some years back. This time I was determined there should be a way to make them work!

Now, there are some problems nowadays I didn’t have a long time ago. My close-up eyesight isn’t what it used to be, so I’ve learned I need strong light for detail work. Second, they’ve changed everything!

For the life of me I just could not see how the old wiper rubber blade inserts could be removed. I was able to figure out how to remove the whole wiper arm assembly and take it out of the carport into strong sunlight. I’d been using Rainex brand wiper system. Nope, either there’s no way to remove the insert, or there is but it’s incompatible with my old inserts. It looked like the old inserts are machine-crimped permanently into place. The only good news was that I was able to figure out how to put the wiper arm assembly back on the car.

That’s how my wallet and car keys play a part in my story. I drove to our local auto parts house on the Boulevard. I saw some Rainex blade assembles on display behind the counter, so I waited my turn for some help. The gentleman who helped me looked up the size for a 1999 Solara. They are actually different sizes for left and right wipers: 22″ and 21″, respectively.

My clerk took me over to the aisle with their main shelf stock of wiper blades. Thank goodness! They had about ten lineal feet of shelving devoted to just this one product line, tiered three rows high. They manufacture more different brands and models of wiper blades than Campbell sells in soups.

“Do you want Rainex, Anco, Bosch or one of these other brands?”

I shrugged and gave him that same look you’d give your waiter if he asked if you’d like to try the pate foi gras. “I don’t know … what do you recommend?”

Though pleasant enough, he was having none of my slipperiness. The customer has the inalienable obligation to choose! “Any of them are good: Rainex, Anco, Bosch or one of these other brands …”

I picked Bosch because it’s an old brand I recognize. Rainex is a good product but I was a little peeved with Rainex at the moment.

Surely you’re beginning to realize we can’t buy just the $1.29 rubber blade inserts any more, aren’t you? The system is rigged so we end up buying the whole assembly. Left and right Bosch blade assemblies cost me $30 (about the same as the other brands). And we’re supposed to replace them about every six months. This means you and I are in the wrong business.

Back in the dark shade of the apartment carport it’d taken me 15 minutes to figure out how to get the Rainex assemblies on and off. Here, in the sunshine in the shopping center parking lot, it became apparent the Bosch system was somewhat different. A stamped metal keeper cage swivels in and out to supposedly grip the wiper assembly firmly. I thought I had gotten the left-hand assembly installed OK, though I didn’t hear any clicking to suggest it had locked into place.

But after ten minutes of me diddling and futzing with the right-hand assembly, the Bosch retainer keeper popped out of the assemble completely, leaving me with two parts in my hand where there was only supposed to be one.

Figuring I’d just ruined one-half of my $30 investment, I swallowed my pride and went back into the store clutching my failure like a Bronze Medal. My sales clerk looked at the parts and saw what I’d done. He popped the keeper piece back into place, and volunteered that maybe he better come out to the parking lot and give me a hand. I gratefully led him to my car.

He had the Bosch on in thirty seconds, explaining the sequence of attachment as he went. But his hand was in the way, and my eyes are not so quick as they used to be.

He said “There! You’re all set!”

I said “Should we maybe – could we just check my work on the left side?”

Sure enough, it would have popped off the first time I turned on the wipers. He fixed that side too. I thanked him and shook his hand. Now safely back in my car, I turned on the windshield washer to test my new blades. They squeegeed a clean clear path of vision on the first pass over the glass.

So what I learned for sure is that next time I want to leave all this to an expert. Times have changed, and we must change with them … I guess.

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Michelin Tires Saved My Bacon

I’d just bought a brand-new set of four Michelin Energy 205/60/16 tires for my ’99 Camry Solara on October 4.  This isn’t a review of the tires – see a typical review here – but if you wanted to know what brand tires I’d recommend, more than ever, my answer would be “Michelin.”

On October 19 I set off on the return leg of my monthly road trip from Phoenix to the Bay Area. There was a freeway-speed road incident on Interstate 5 — yes, yes, I and the car are fine. As far as I’m concerned, Michelin saved my bacon. As I wrote a friend,

“Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride”

A pickup swerved violently into my lane. I swerved to avoid collision. Hit the sand and gravel highway shoulder, started to spin out, careened across the other lane and into the median strip trying to recover, did a slow horizontal 180 without rolling (like a high-speed dodgem car), tires screaming and howling, and ended up stopped on the right shoulder – facing backwards. Not a scratch, dent, not hurt, glad to be alive. Brand new Michelins just paid for themselves.

Michelin Energy (after)

Inspecting For Damage

A big-rig pulled over to see if he could help, as did several passenger cars. Cal-Trans joined us. Witnesses said the black pick-up pulled over but then left the scene. I saw nothing else outside my own immediate situation; I was busy at the time. 🙂

On closer inspection of the tires, the left-front had trapped roadside shoulder “straw” between the tire bead and the rim, but the bead didn’t break loose and I was able to drive the rest of the way home. The tread near the sidewall is well-scrubbed. See below for a detail photo. I have an appointment for a tire check.

Straw still stuck between bead and rim after 200 freeway miles

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Letter to a Cousin

I’ve lately been corresponding with a long-lost cousin, and we’ve been doing the catch-up thing on families, family trees and personal notes. She’s a happily married mathematician and educator in the northwest. As many readers know, I’m a sixty-something retired gay man who lost a life partner to cancer in 2005, and a Vietnam vet. So, my cousin wrote me today commenting, among other things, on the recent end of Don’t Ask Don’t Tell. She also remarked “I am very discouraged about politics.”

“Nickie” is my late brother who came out as gay in the military in 1964. He was a blazing meteor who extinguished his own life soon thereafter as he slammed face-first into the world of that era.

I’m not much for sharing private correspondence. It still occurred to me I had written some encouraging words for my cousin which might serve as a heartening reminder to all of us: while the pace of change often seems maddeningly slow, it’s happening all around us faster than we can usually appreciate. Following is an excerpt from my letter:

It’s not whether we’re as good with words as we might wish, it’s whether we take the chance to express them. As far as I’m concerned your thoughts were well stated and heartfelt – and isn’t that more substantive than the clever TelePrompTer turns of phrase we hear on TV? Thanks for everything you said … it’s one thing to read supporting viewpoints in the media from strangers you don’t even know, but another to hear it from friends and relatives who may not necessarily be personally invested in the issues, but choose to be anyway!

Oddly, my reaction to the end of Don’t ask Don’t Tell seemed almost anticlimactic, but I’m sure that’s only because I waited so long for it, and was never sure I’d actually see it. What the President and Joint Chiefs did was courageous. It was a remarkable “right thing” in an age of expediency.

Nickie had a flair for reducing complex social issues to a single insight, and I often wonder how he would have handled issues of today. Remembering that when WE were young Rock ‘n Roll music was just being born, Nickie’s comment on Elvis and the whole youth music phenomenon was: “Rock ‘n Roll: bubble gum cartoons for the ears.” Nickie liked classical music, particularly the harpsichord music of Bach, Couperin, Vivaldi and others. Although he showed no discernable interest in math, he never seemed to struggle with it as I did, and his music indicates he had the mind of a mathematician or scientist at any rate!

Your comment “I am very discouraged about politics” was touching to me although it seems much of our country is united if only in that one sentiment, which I share. But I must admit that I stop and look back at all that has happened in the world since I was a little kid, back in the days I’d sit on our yard swing wondering how the world would turn out. We have to admit there must be room for cautious optimism if not outright enthusiasm:

Men on the moon, the collapse of the Soviet Regime and rebirth of modern Russia, the end of the Cold War and nuclear holocaust threat we all grew up under, the Civil Rights Act and movements, women’s lib and equality in the workplace, the communications and information explosion, secrets of the cosmos …

… Arab Spring, for showing that social media nullifies government propaganda once and for all, for showing that people worldwide want the same things, and for dramatizing the great gulf between governments and the governed …

And now gays in the military, which Nickie should have been alive to see. We are very fortunate to have witnessed these things in our time. I have this odd feeling Nickie would have been very proud of us, even though nations, like older brothers, sometimes seem to take so very long …



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