Wednesday, May 30, 2018

"The Chinese Exclusion Act", PBS

Last night this program, as part of the American Experience series, had its initial showing on PBS.  As a history program about Chinese immigrants in the 19th century and beyond, it was informative and will no doubt be valuable in classrooms for years to come.  It was watched intently here.  Much of the time while watching, it was hard not to think about how much better this program could have been.  For those who were enamored, this may seem like nitpicking but here goes.

The program was incessantly repetitive, in stories and in the photos meant to bring life to the narrative.  The soundtrack was intensely grim and had little nuance while adding huge dose of melodrama that was not needed.  Yes, this was a "grim" subject and one that documented unfair, exploitive, and racist treatment of the Chinese as they arrived on the west coast in small numbers from the 1840's and onward.  The racism was institutionalized by Congress in the Exclusion Act in 1882 at around the same time that the attitude toward freed slaves began to deteriorate.

In telling this story, the Democratic and Republican parties were at odds on issues, but to me it would be difficult for a viewer who was not especially familiar with the era to have any idea what those parties represented at that time, yes a nitpick but a big one it seems.

The idea here is definitely not to relay the history.  Just for that the program is worth watching.  Moving to the 20th century the program reflected some strange biases and here's an example that was aggravating.  In talking about progress for the Chinese in the mid-20th century, the program highlighted some statement by President Kennedy.  There is no memory of or well known record of that at all.  The program was correct to point out the efforts made by President Roosevelt as the Chinese were necessary allies against the Japanese.  However it completely ignored Harry Truman, who actually did something more than talk.

In 1948 when Mao took over in China, there were 5000 Chinese students in the United States on visas for college attendance.  Permanent immigration for Chinese was only minimally allowed at that time.  Under Truman, these students were deemed to be at risk if they returned to the newly Communist country, so they were allowed to stay(Kathy's parents were two of them).

In 1973 Nixon went to China, of course, and some formal relationship began.  In 1979 China began to allow visitors(tourists) for carefully monitored small friendship tours(my parents were on one).  Beginning in 1980,  American citizens of Chinese descent were allowed to begin applying to bring over relatives who were considered to be at risk or had been treated harshly.  Reagan allowed that immigration(Kathy's mother brought over five of her siblings and their families in the following ten years).

The documentary mentioned none of this, just a still fashionable shout out to Kennedy who did nothing.  That was truly annoying.

So mixed reviews here for a well meaning documentary.

Sunday, May 20, 2018

Christie for AG?

The list of syncophats looking for jobs after Trump won the election was not short.  Leading the list were Rudy Guiliani, Chris Christie, and Carly Fiorina.  Rudy is now in, Trump nudged Carly off the back of a stage and she has never been heard from again, and Christie is still waiting.  The former New Jersey governor, once seemingly enlightened, will do anything to be back in the spotlight.

Trump knows a limited number of people who aspire to be "public servants".  Ben Carson is the token in, John Kasich is promoting himself relentlessly in a self righteously manner, Ted Cruz is as unlikeable as ever, and so Christie.

He is an attorney, Seton Hall law school, and he is nothing if not ambitious.  Could we be in for another dose of the big one?  Nothing is predictable...

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

"Warlight", a novel by Michael Ondaatje

The book jacket cover refers to "this magnificent novel".  It may be.

The story begins in 1945 in immediate post war London.  Two teenagers are left by their parents whose jobs are unclear, left with eccentric and enigmatic friends of their parents who stay with them in their family home.  This is firmly set in a historical time frame and the history is real and well told, interesting in fact.  Yet the fiction itself is from whole cloth, fascinating from the start.  This is a non-linear novel that moves between time periods, multiple characters, and ongoing events, with a fluidity that works.  Ondaatje assumes that the reader will catch on and not need hand holding at every turn, although occasional repetitions do provide guideposts.  Personally, this is what I want to find in a book and so few novels are like that these days, a type of book that is compelling.

It varies from first person to third person, and that is always completely clear without any effort from the reader.  Ondaatje writes well.  His language is appealing, sometimes a bit playful, in this subtle tale of mysteries that unfold continuously.  As is usual when writing about books read, a few quotes follow.  They reveal little, but for what it's worth...

--- "Our guardian had no interest in cooking... He preferred he said 'a hasty life'."

---"Only the recent memories, with no one now to share them with, had begun to evaporate."

---"I always sit at the back, especially any show where a relative or a magician is involved."

---"She has not lived such a life, of families and community, for a very long time.  She has accepted a world of secretiveness, where there is a different power, where there is not generosity."

---"They have lunched at La Coupole long into the afternoon, watching each other swallow oysters, drink champagne from slender flutes, until they finish with a crepe they share. When she reaches for a fork, he sees the scar above her wrist."

---"Who made me move from just an interest in characters to what they do to others?  But above all, most of all, how much damage did I do?"

---"The familiar false modesty of the English, which included absurd secrecy...  It had concealed in some ways the most remarkable theatrical performance of any European nation. Along with undercover agents, who included great-aunts, semi-competent novelists, a society couturier who'd been a spy..."

Confused.  Read this book.

Power down...

The following was written at around 6pm yesterday.

"A storm was in the forecast but it came and went in minutes, at 5:20pm it became dusk and stayed that way with just occasional brief rain flurries that continue now. Strangely the power went out in the first minute.  It is still off and a recorded phone call came informing us that the power will be restored by 5:30am May 16.  A transformer must have decided to blow in anticipation. Thank goodness for our generator.  After the 2012 Sandy experience, it was viewed as a necessity.  It is more than ever now.

So it's cranking away in the backyard like a VW Beetle, rumbling and having misses like it needs a turn-up, but that's normal.  The lights are on here, but from my seat in front of the computer, our windows show no lights in three directions.  Every pretty penny spent on that generator was worth it.  It runs on gas, underground, so the one thing that determines staying power is oil.  It burns oil as it runs, and after a never predictable time it needs a refill.  Generally two days can be counted on, a day more possibly. 

Settling in now, two chapters to go in a good book, both teams are playing baseball tonight, and The New Yorker, The Nation, and The Economist all showed up in the mail.  That's what I got, ge"

That's when internet and television access, Cablevision, shut down.  The choice of magazines was helpful, and fortunately there was a DVD on hand, no streaming required.  It was "Trash", a well done, touching, and all together preposterous Brazilian film that was a feel good story about four desperately poor, and seemingly parentless, children in a favela.  Don't worry be happy.  Both the power and the cable access came back around 1am.

Monday, May 14, 2018

Brief observations...

--- North Korea's sudden decisions to stop all testing and to pull back on and "eliminate" its main facility is being seen by some as a win by Trump.  It is clear that Kim is cooperating with China on this.  It is unsettling in its own way, as in too good to be true.  Nobel Prize for Trump?  One thought could be that China is playing the long game, while the U.S. culturally and Trump compulsively plays the short game.  North Korea will still have the technological and intellectual capability in place and likely much more that is tangible.  They will be under the umbrella of China.  China's goal is full control of North Asia, if not by direct rule certainly by default.  If they are betting that Trump gets eight total years in office of nativist navel gazing, their patience is explained.

---Unemployment statistics remain positive but, as has been mentioned by many, that is not the whole story.  Wage growth is modest and, of more concern, the decline in solid middle class jobs continues.  Still, most jobs do inspire confidence to spend, as optimism is a core American trait, and to Borrow.  More aggressive credit card offers are now out there and home equity retirement loan advertising is back again.  Some of the credit card offers are so generous that it is already built in that the issuer will not have a profit for two to three years.  The hook has been cast.  Yet today, that's now, subprime auto lending is at a default rate higher than 2008, so some fraying around the edges of credit is clear.  This is worth some thought.

--- Speaking of a return of certain advertisements, what about Online Trading Academy.  That's a memory, and it's back.  Free 30 day offer, learn to trade like a pro, "I made $12,000 in just the first month."  Mentioned here before, TD Ameritrade continues to have its commercials focus on low cost options trading, for everyone. Easy peasy.  Now there is National Securities of Eatontown seeking traders for great opportunities, that's in New Jersey, not First Jersey.  Stretching memories with that one.  More thought required.

---Remember the IPO game in which some small private companies in tech would spend heavily on advertising and on their products, build some recognition, and then cut back on spending for a year before the IPO to boost profitability.  While true professionals should have seen what was going on, transparency was a problem.  Could this happen in retail.  A company that has been liked here, American Giant(sweat shirts, t-shirts, casual athletic wear, shorts etc.) could be into this ruse.  Products bought from them about three years ago were exceptional.  The catalogues of this Bay area company were especially attractive.  The only issue in the past was that care with size had to be focused on.  The name of the company is indicative.  BUT, a recent small order arrived, just four "premium" t-shirts, two the usual short sleeve and two long sleeve, and the cotton is coarse and thinner than the past, the size decidedly not generous.  The size, large, is right but the short sleeve ones are marginal on length, an almost fatal flaw if you are not a plumber.  This is research only seen here!  IPO coming?

And as to politics in general, fatigue has set in, at least for today.  Comments not forthcoming.

Saturday, May 05, 2018

Kentucky Derby time...

No practical way to place a bet here, the Kentucky Derby is still watched.  The whole event as depicted on television seems a bit anachronistic, more than traditional, as in people pretending to be who they are supposed to be.

The race itself remains an exciting event.  There is simply a dedicated horse crowd, for whom this is the be all and end all of their year.  Is there any difference in other sports?

In 1973 I was there in an uncrowded infield to watch Secretariat win in breathtaking fashion, my friends from Chicago watching for just a few amazing seconds away on the rail.  In other Louisville days I attended a few times each year, thinking that I had learned a bit of system for betting.  I had not.  In New York days, Belmont was a 30 minute drive away, and interest continued.  Success with "my system" was occasional, but more often not.  Still, being at the track was almost always a pleasant day.

In 1984, Louisville friends invited us join them in their family's Derby box seats.  That was an honor of sorts to Kathy and me as well as a treat, but any system that was in my find turned out to be combustible.  Not a win, place, or show in the six races that we attended.  Still and not put off, regular attendance at Belmont one or two times a year continued into mid-aughts.

No favorite here now, though in the mud it is almost certain that one or two long odds horses will be in contention, and one may win.

Postscript:  don't know what others are saying or writing, but in hindsight Justify was an exceptional three to one pick, almost a gift to those in the know.  That does not remotely include me.  Next up, the Preakness.

Wednesday, May 02, 2018

"Anatomy of a Miracle", a novel* by Jonathan Miles

In recent months magazines and newspapers have been the primary reading here.  An effort has been made with a few books but none have truly diverted my attention.  Two sit next to my chair, bookmarks in each about halfway through.  "Anatomy of a Miracle" was a three day read, brisk in the first half or so, engaging after that until, near the end, it limped home to the finish line.  But it made it without question.

The book begins as an exceptionally comic novel, notwithstanding being about a paraplegic Afghan war veteran living in Biloxi, Mississippi.  The veteran makes an inexplicable recovery, and the mystery around that extraordinary event follows.  The humor reflects the characters and the place, and it is done with what could be called a loving eye.  The wry tone is always present but the story turns more and more into a reflection on death, dying, purpose, and just carrying on.

Some quotes from the book may be interesting.

From the Vietnamese convenience store owner --- "She's been selling beer across the Biz-E-Bee counter for sixteen years, and from what she can gather, being a teetotaler, it doesn't seem to make people happier or better, it just makes them come back the next day for more of it."

From the director of an attempted documentary about the event --- "But a villain, to my thinking, has to have evil intent or else a selfish disregard for consequences---and I had neither.  I did the best with the situation I was given.  No, there's a villain here, but that wasn't me.  You see, that's what makes this such a Southern story.  The villain was the past."

From the mother of another wounded veteran---"The best kind of people in this world D, but also the worst kind---they're riddles.  They do things that don't make sense, and no matter how hard you try you can't never figure them out.  But you can't help yourself from trying."

From the director---"God healed and revived people, right,but did he also, you know, just zap others---bury them neck-deep in a divine dump of shit just to see if and how they'd wriggle free?  As an adult he'd only ever been to church for weddings, so he didn't know;  most of what he knew about about God came from old Al Green albums."

"Her father was crazy, yes, a yowling sixty seven year old dervish, and his response to life had always been to flail at its mysteries and discordances with fabulist stories...Winton Lorimar isn't religious, but is fond, in his words, of  'the hoodoo in life': the cracks in our knowledge and perceptions, the existential equivalent of the unplayable tones lurking between the black and white keys of a piano."

Whether this gives anyone more insight into "Anatomy of a Miracle" is unknown.  The book was a welcome find here.