Winners and Losers

Back in the dark ages of the mid 70’s when I was in grad. school and learning about something called structuralism, I kept coming across the words “diachronic,” and “synchronic” and for some reason I kept getting them confused.

But today driving home, I thought of a good example that might explain it a bit better.

Take the saying:

Winners lose, losers win.

This seems pretty clear.  No problem.  Actually, the meaning can change depending upon whether you read it synchronically or diachronically.

Synchronically (with in the context of a present), it means people who are winners in this society, at this moments, are losers (see the working class saying: s…t rises to the top), and people who are in fact losers win (see: Paris Hilton).

Diachronically, it reads: over time, history has shown, that winners become losers (see: The British Empire or the USA) and losers (let’s say Japan or Germany) become winners.

 When applied to Bobby Bonds, this may be read both ways at once.

Good Times Over!

Yesterday, the lead article in the LA Times read something like, “Market Slump:  Good Times Feared Over.”  Whenever I see something like this, first I get scared, and then I wonder: Good Times?  For whom?  Honestly, I don’t remember any Good Times.  I think I grew up—1945-1970—in Good Times.  But since then things have mostly sucked.  First there was the Oil Thing, and then the inflation scare, and then the Tax Revolt, and ever since Reagan it’s been the dog eat dog philosophy that has led to an ever increasing gap between the rich and the poor, and more people becoming poor every day.  Numbers lie of course, but some argue the real spending power of your mythical average American has not increased since the early 70’s.


So good times for Whom?  I ask again.  Good times for the Readers of the LA Times, I guess, most of whom are presumed to be “investors.”

So I guess I missed out on the Good Times.

I mentioned the headline to a guy at the club.  A former student in fact from around 1984.  Hell, that was more than 20 years ago.  He has a wife, a house, kids, and a business now that involves water, something or other to do with water.  Maybe he is a water consultant.  Anyway, I mentioned the article to him.

He said he thought he had made a mistake following his father’s strategy.  I didn’t know what he was talking about and ask what strategy that might be.  “Just to hold on forever,” he said, or something like that.

Oh, I said, invest and not touch it.

Yea, he said, but that didn’t seem to be working now.

I said I didn’t think my father had an investment strategy except maybe to take the money and bury it in a can in the back yard.

That he said was not a wise strategy since inflation would eat you alive.

So my former student’s father had an investment strategy and he actually knew about it and grew up with a father who had an investment strategy.  If you are a person who has a father with an investment strategy you are likely to have one yourself.  But since my father didn’t have any investments at all, I never had a strategy, and didn’t invest at all.

Good times for whom?  Not for me, in any case.  Or any of the other millions of Americans who didn’t have a damn investment strategy.

That’s Carol and me out on the picture taking spot on the bluffs above the ocean.  We were sitting out there about 15 year ago and a student in one of my classes walked by with her camera and took a picture, and at the end of the quarter she gave it to me.  It appears we are talking, though I have no idea what we might have been talking about.  Perhaps our investment strategy.

Barry “Oedipus” Bonds

So Bonds broke Hammering Hank’s record.  I am glad that’s over with and the guy can go on to fade into obscurity.  But I don’t watch baseball much any more.  Actually, I never did, except as a kid; the game is too damn slow.  Just a bunch of guys standing around on the grass chewing the cud with occasional flurries of action.  But it’s the great American Game, I guess; the Great American rural game, a sort of historic leftover. 

I grew up thinking the Babe was the greatest.  I memorized his numbers.  714 homers life time.  And there were other things too like his prodigious eating habits, and he had a candy bar named after him.  And before he had been a great hitter he had been a great pitcher, and all this with a blimp like upper body stuck atop toothpick legs.

So I watched TV the night Hammering Hank broke the record.  I hadn’t paid that much attention to baseball, except maybe those Miracle Mets, since the early 60’s so Hammering Hank sort of crept up on me.  And then he did it—broke the record, and that idiot announcer, Kurt Gowdy (a vastly over rated announcer) had to muck up the moment by saying something about what a great country America was.  This was 1974.  And Aaron had received death threats.

But Gowdy screwed it.  The moment should just have been a baseball moment.  He should just have kept his trap shut, and not made something political out of it.  I mean America is Great because it “allows” black people to break the record of white people.  I didn’t get it then and I don’t get it now.  How does that make America Great?  If anything Great was done, Aaron did it.  Not America.

I followed Bobby Bonds—Barry’s father—more than Barry.  Bobby was a thirty thirty guy.  30 bases stolen, 30 home runs.  Speed and power.  I figure something Oedipal is going on with Bobby.  His father was one hell of a player, that’s for sure.  And when he saw those steroids going around, he just couldn’t help himself.  He had to overcome his father and get to a point somehow where his superiority to his father could not be denied.  He would bury his father and he has. No one will remember Barry now, except as Bobby’s dad.

I don’ t know what the announcer said when Bobby hit that dinger.  I hope he said nothing.  But had I been the announcer last night, I might have produced a Kurt Gowdy moment and said something like, “Score one for Oedipus.”

A walk to the beach

Brother Dan came by some time last week with Puccini the Dog and the three of us walked and talked (I talked mostly and the dog didn’t talk at all) our way out to the beach.  The walk to the public access spot on what is called Elwood Beach takes 25 minutes maybe.  I used to go out that way quite a bit especially when I had my bike.  I rode out that way all the time and took a couple of interesting spills that involved going head over heels over the handle bars.

But I bet it had been more than a year, maybe even two since I last walked out there.  I had heard construction was going up on the bluffs and I didn’t want to see it.  It’s a place people go to walk their dogs or just to get out a bit.  On a Thanksgiving afternoon, you will find all sorts of people out there trying to walk off the Thanksgiving bloat.

So I decided to walk out there today again by myself.  I don’t know why exactly.  I guess because the day, with the Big Fire, had started out pretty gloomy, but then the wind started up a bit and blew that stuff away and it got pretty sunny.  So I decided to take a walk.  I need to appreciate my surroundings more.  Not everybody can walk to a beach 25 minutes from their place.

So here’s a picture from the bluff above the beach.  That’s looking sort of south, I think, back towards the University.  Pretty empty.




And this is one to give a sense of scale.  If you look really close you can see a bit of white near the middle of the picture.  That’s a person walking along.



 And then if you turn around where I was standing, you can see the mountains off there in the distance a bit.



And this is a Google map that shows where I stood while taking the pictures above.  I stood almost directly inland from the little camera there in the picture.  That camera indicates that where I was standing is a known picture taking place.


And if you have the time and energy, you can click here and go to a site that has other pictures taken from almost exactly the spot I stood.  But by another person.

The Big Fire Continued

Once again out my window the sky is a glum grey.  Partly it’s the coastal fog, partly it’s the fire.  We washed the car Carol’s mom gave us yesterday because of all the ash that had fallen on it.  I was going to wait till the ash stopped falling, but the chances of that happening soon appear remote.

The Big Fire, as I called it, actually started on July 4—what is it now, August 6—I guess.  So the fire has been burning off and on for a month.  First it would look contained and then it wasn’t.  When I washed that car about three weeks ago, I did so because of the ash buildup.  So I guess it has been going on for about four weeks.

And now reports are that the fire will continue to burn until September 7.  How they can be so exact about the end date, I don’t know.  But that’s what they say, September 7.  The fire is going to burn another month.  They say it has burned 88 square miles, though I have absolutely no idea how big that is.

But Santa Barbara and environs do not appear immediately threatened except by gloomy skies, falling ash, and very bad air quality.  People are warned not to exercise I whole lot outside.

This fire would make a good back drop to a gloomy angst ridden European movie.  The people in the movie could sit around talking aimlessly, and cough every now and again, and somebody would say let’s go see the fire, and they would hop in their Winnebago—not that angst ridden Europeans would be caught dead in a Winnebago—and they would drive and drive, and there would be road blocks and detours; and all the while they would talk aimlessly, or sit silently while consuming mass quantities of wine purchased at the wineries they had been driving (as featured in movie, Sideways) through in their attempts to locate the fire.  And after a while, the Winnebago would break down or they would drive over a cliff or into a thick cloud of smoke and that would be the end of the movie.

I once say a German movie like that.  These two guys—maybe they are on official business—do nothing but drive the whole movie along the old cold war border between West and East Germany.  I think the border was supposed to be symbolic and indicative of their deep alienation.  And I saw a French movie too that ended like that.  In one scene this young couple, having overcome their alienation and decided to cast their fate with love, go to see the new apartment that is being built for them in public housing.  And the next scene, the young woman of the couple is being interviewed at a police state because, it seems, the young man had been trying to take a picture of his girl friend in the apartment and while trying to get the right angle had backed his ass right off the side of the building and fallen to his death.

They don’t make them like that no more.  But today with this month old fire I feel as if I am living in some sort of angst ridden American movie.


Last week sometime I had to go over to the university to do some paper work, and I decided while I was there to check my mailbox and to walk over to my office to look for a book, I think it was.  So I get there—to the office—and I see the door to the office next to mine is open, and I go in to razz my colleague for being a trouble maker for complaining about “salary compression.”

So we talk for a bit and then somebody else comes in and we talk about salary compression, and somebody else comes in and we talk about that some more, and another guy walks by and says it’s good to see me (I haven’t been around that much).  But then my colleague has to go to class, so I go to my office.  And…hmmm…the door is closed.  I thought I had unlocked and opened it.  But I decide what the hell do I need to go in there for, because I can’t remember why I had wanted to go into it.  Maybe just to see if it was still there, because nobody knows what goes on behind closed doors.

But maybe I had some reason to go in, and so I decide to go in to see if the room will remind me about why I wanted to go into it.  So I start looking for my keys to get in the office since the door is locked. So I check this pocket and then that, and I think I have the keys but it turns out to be the damn cell phone, and then I think I have them but that turns out to be change.  So I check my back pocket because once in a blue moon I put them there.  But no dice, I am coming up empty.

So, I think, damn!  And go back to my colleague’s office and ask her if she has seen any keys around, and she says no and I look around and don’t see any and she has a pretty neat office.  Damn.  So maybe I went and locked my keys in my office because I do that once every 15 years.  And then I wonder where my coffee cup is and realize it must be in the office too.  I am pretty sure I had my coffee cup with me since I walk around like it is attached to my arm.  But I decide to check my colleague’s office again, and looking around I see my coffee cup!

So I get that and my colleague leaves to go to class and I figure damn! I am going to have to go to the main office to get somebody to let me into my office so I can get my keys.  This is embarrassing and I don’t know what time it is and wonder if it’s the lunch hour already.  That means nobody will be there and I will stuck standing in the corridor for an hour waiting to get somebody to let me in my office, and I am already irritated and aggravated even before I start over to the main office to get somebody to let me into my office so I can get my keys so I can go home.

So hanging my head and all grumpy I start down the corridor to go to the main office and I walk by an office with the door open and the keys hanging out of the lock.  And I think I will have to tell the person their keys are in the lock, and so I look in the office and realize:  It is my office!  For the past five or ten minutes I have been trying to get into the wrong office!  I feel sort of chagrined and look around to see if anybody has noticed me finding my own office.

I don’t know what happened.  I guess when I walked out of my colleague’s office I turned left when I should have turned right.  The story had a happy ending because I found my own office, but this sort of thing has been happening too much lately, making me wonder just how tired I am really deep down.

Big Fire

I have been hearing for a couple of weeks now about this fire—the Zaca Fire, they are calling it–burning somewhere on the backside of the mountains that I can see right out my window.   A day or so ago it was 80% contained, and one of Carol’s clients—who has a brother back there—was pretty sure the thing was in hand.  But something happened and now they are ordering an evacuation of that area.  And with a shift in the wind, soot and ash began to rain this afternoon on our cars and to push a shroud of ugly brown smoke over the sky.


Who knows if it will get to our side of the mountains or not.  But it brings back fire memories.  About 15 years ago I guess, a fire came tearing down the mountain pushed by dry winds up to 40 miles an hour.  That fire flew through crackling oil dry underbrush and got up enough momentum to jump six lanes of freeway and to head into an exclusive, really rich people part of this excessively affluent little berg.  We didn’t live that far away from where the fire jumped the freeway, and because it was so damn sweltering and we didn’t have air conditioning we left the windows open and went around for a week later hacking up stuff from our lungs. 

And the first fall we were in our little condo by the golf course, a big fire broke out down south and they used the Santa Barbara airport to refuel the planes and load them up with fire retardant.  I am not sure but these planes looked like left overs from WWII; they had propellers, one on each wing, and they took off at a low angle from the airport and for some reason, they flew—six, seven, eight, one right after the other–wobbling this way and that right over our little 9 hole golf course.  They were so low I could make out the heads of the guys flying those things.  For the whole week it seemed like we were living in the middle of the London Blitz.  But the fire itself was pretty far away.

I was surprised to learn at one point that the area we live in is not desert exactly, but something called savannah.  If you have ever watched the Discovery channel, you are sure to see the yearly migrations of the wildebeests as they seek out water and arre pursued wherever they go by lions.  These beasts are wandering through African savannah.  Low brush, weeds, an occasional small tree and very little water.  Indeed were it not for the little rain we get, this would be desert, and not too many miles inland, it is desert.  The part where condors used to fly gets about the same amount of rain per year as the Sahara desert.

The bushes, mesquite, and other plants that live on the mountains side have evolved, over the centuries an interesting survival pattern.  They deposit seeds that can remain in the ground for 20 years or more.  These seeds do not come to life when it rains; no, they are activated into development by fires.  When the fires come, they burn the brush and that means they have cleared the earth so there is room now for the plants to grow.


The sky this morning is a yucky, unwholesome grey, but I don’t see any signs that the fire has jumped the mountains.


Blow Up

It’s a bit spooky, but one day I read that Ingmar Bergman has died and the next I read Michelangelo Antonio had died.  I first saw Antonioni’s films about the same time I saw Bergman.  He, Bergman, Fellini and later Godard were my introduction, back in the last half of the 60’s, to European films.

I was not fond of his stuff.  It was really boring.  Over my head I guess.  I remember one scene going on forever and ever of a fan going back and forth and casting a shadow on the wall.  And in one movie some people are off on this rocky island looking for someone who has disappeared and they search and search and talk aimlessly and after a while it’s like they forget what they are doing.  As I recollect the missing person is never found.

Later on he did Blow-Up.  That was better maybe because it was in color and had a tiny element of suspense and as I recollect The Who were in that one, for some reason or other, breaking up their instruments.

Bergman, and Antonio, and Fellini—though he was more energetic—all seemed to be about something called “alienation.”  You used to hear a lot about “alienation"; clear up into the 70’s people talked about it.  But then for some reason people stopped talking about it and I have seen the word little used since the 80’s.

I guess things change.  Those Europeans were hit pretty hard by WWII if you stop to think about it.  A whole culture, and way of life, had proved in some horrible way completely rotten.  The Nazi’s turned the whole thing inside out.  And afterwards it was hard for some people to stomach.  They looked back and saw that they and their fellow country men had been conquered and after they had been conquered they had gone along, one way or the other, with the Nazi occupiers.  I mean what could they do?  Not much, maybe nothing.  But after, it must have been hard—at least for some thoughtful people—to remember, and hard too once it was all over to rebuild over and around a disaster.

Any way, I think that experience had a good deal to do with the bleak outlook of some of those strange European directors.  But those guys—mostly guys—are dying off; they had their “day in the sun” so to speak, though most of them would have been uncomfortable out in the sun.  I read somewhere lately that the generation who lived their formative years in the Great Depression is also dying off.

It’s a bit spooky.  Especially to think I first saw the films of these guys–what?–about 40 years ago.

The Seventh Seal (not the one at Seaworld)

Damn…Now Ingmar Bergman went and died.  That’s a flash from the past on the AM dial.

Until I went off to college in 1964 I didn’t know there were such things as “films” or “cinema,” though I did know about movies and motions pictures, as well as flicks.  I didn’t know people make a study of movies and called them films.  I guess I just didn’t see enough movies to be that impressed by them.  When we moved to 10194 Ramona Drive in Spring Valley, the nearest movie house was like 10 miles away by bike.  And if I wanted to get any place special, I did it by bike.






Sure we had a TV set, black and white with those rabbit ears and later an actual TV antenna sticking up the side of the house.  But I had to get parental approval to turn on the one TV set, and even turned on, it had only three channels (NBC, CBS, ABC).  There were some movies on it, but in the evening we watched what WB wanted to watch, stuff like Manix and the Beverly Hillbillies, rarely a movie since his attention span was somewhat limited. 

On the weekends, “Movie for a Saturday Afternoon” came on; and on the other channel there was “Million Dollar Movie,” which tells you something about how much movies cost back then.  But mostly these were real snoozers, having been carefully selected to suit the pabulum like tastes of John. Q. Public.  Still, I would watch a western every now and then and maybe a war movie.  But I don’t recollect a movie from back then having ever knocked me over, like books did.

When I got to college though, as I said, I discovered this stuff called “film” and the people who talked about film could be pretty “stuffy.”  At the college they held like a whole day long—8 hours of movies—that you never really wanted to see but had to if you wanted to be educated.  Like  D.W. Griffith’s Birth of a Nation with its weird klu klux klan stuff or Potemkin with its classic baby carriage rolling down the steps sequence (which is parodied in one of those Police Story movies made by the same guys that made Airplane!).  No wait, I saw these movies at different times.  The eight hour day was all experimental films.  Starting with Un Chien Andelou and working up to Warhol by way of the crazed Kenneth Anger.

Bergman, though, was one of the first non-classic, hip and up-to-date artiste filmmakers that I saw.  You knew a Bergman movie when you saw it.  It was full of depressing Swedish people all tormented by emotions I couldn’t quite grasp.  The movies had lots of death in it, not John Wayne death where the Indians just fall over without bleeding, but real death and one movie actually had Death in it.  I mean an actor dressed up to look like Death.  I think this was the Seventh Seal, and I recollect thinking it must be pretty profound what with Death walking around in it and I wasn’t sure what it meant.

While I was watching the Seventh Seal—I think it was—one of the actors was like kneeling on the ground, maybe in front of Death or performing a sexual act on somebody, and I happened to notice the guy’s shoes.  I had never seen shoes like that before.  They were like my high topped Converse sneakers, but they were shoes that went clear up over the ankle, but weren’t boots either.  They were made out of nice flexible leather too.  I decided right then and there that I wanted a pair of shoes like that someday.  That’s the only time I was influenced by a fashion statement in a movie.


Those are the kind of shoe I saw in the Bergman Movie–these are Beatle boots.  This pair belonged to John Lennon. 

Spam. The Meat

I wonder if the word “spammed,” as in I got “spammed” by strange advertisements from people I have never heard of or that have been generated by a computer not quite randomly as based on keyword searches (damn you Google!) has any relation intended or coincidental to the foodstuff known as “spam,” though of course a coincidental relation is probably not a relation at all.





I remember we used to eat spam when I was a kid back in SC.  It came in this sort of oblong can and as I recollect there was this little key fixed to the top of the can, and you would pull this off and then stick the end of the metal strip that ran around the top of the can into the little hole on the key, and then you would turn the key and pull off the metal stripped from around the top of the can.  Then you could take off lid and there would be the spam all stuffed there in an oblong shape in the can and covered, as I recollect, with some jelly like substance.  God forbid, the key or the piece of metal would break because then there would be no end of swearing and you had to use a pair of pliers to pull off the metal strip to get at the spam.  As I recollect sardines came in a can like that too with a little metal key on top.

We would fry up the spam (though I think it was pre-cooked) and have it for whatever else there was for dinner.  I have met people who had spam sandwiches, but I don’t think I ever had one of those.  Also people fry up spam for breakfast.  Spam is a funny sort of all purpose food that way.  You can have it for breakfast, lunch and dinner.  Spam isn’t particular. I mean, take your fried chicken.  Fried chicken is for dinner (though you could have it for lunch too); I doubt many people have fried chicken for breakfast.  In other words, some foods at least are meal specific, but spam is sort of universal.

That could be because what exactly is in spam is uncertain so given the uncertainty it could go with anything or any meal.  Spam was your original unspecified “meat product.”  I wonder what sort of wine would be most appropriate with spam.  Your white or your red?  Your Chablis or your cabernet?  Not I believe that many spam eaters have worried much about what wine might go best with spam.  In my research paper class on eating in America, I tried, largely unsuccessfully, to argue that foods were class specific. That middle class people ate certain foods and upper class people other foods, and lower or working class people ate spam.

So I would ask, since my students are mostly middle class, if any of them had eaten spam.  And mostly they had not.  But always a few kids screwed up my argument because they were middle class and had eaten spam.  I got wise to this and if they said they had eaten spam, I asked if they were from Hawaii because if they were, they didn’t count, since people in Hawaii eat spam since meat can be very expensive there.  And sure enough nine times out of ten the kid who ate spam was from Hawaii.

On my eating in America website, I had a link to the Spam website.  It’s devoted to a celebration of Spam.  Spam is 71 years old.  That tells you something about it.  I don’t know of any other meat that has a starting date.  Beef?  I mean when did that start?  There’s a Spam museum in Minnesota.  I think it houses the world’s largest piece of Spam.  The Spam website is pretty cool and thank god the Spam people have a sense of humor.

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