Socotra House Publishing: Purveyor of Glib Words to the World
Socotra House Publishing is a small press dedicated to publishing and distributing the historical works of Vic Socotra, a non-mortal fellow who captures American and military history with aplomb.
Whether the living is easy is a matter up for debate. I have to say, in my half century in looking at how our country is doing, I have never been so unsettled. I am one of those who grew up with the certainty of Ike Eisenhower and never thought we could go so far astray. Apparently by choice. Go figure.
To avoid thinking of that, I was sitting in my brown chair this morning, preparing for the first (and longest) swim of the day, and glancing at the mottled flesh of my arms and followed the track down to my wrist. I have not taken the silver bracelet off my right hand since I got it in New Delhi fifteen years ago. The Sanskrit reads “I am a devotee of Shiva,” which was why I bought it, since we were only there to try to forestall a nuclear confrontation between the former components of what had been British India.
What I didn’t realize was that the swimming motions of this year kept it scrunched down on the joint, and there actually was a difference in the color of my skin.
For anyone else who has competed in the Prime Ray Time (PRT) tanning contest of their operational unit on the equator, you will recognize the results.
It might be melanoma in the future, but damn, summer is great. And I would not trade it for anything on this earth…or the next one.
Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
Life & Island Times: Stop Us Before We Innovate Again
Editor’s Note: Isaac Asimov’s Foundation novel was created from a series of eight short stories published in Astounding Magazine between May 1942 and January 1950.
It was heady stuff. I found them in a box of science fiction magazines at rummage sale at the Unitarian Church on Woodward Avenue in suburban Detroit where pastor Bob Marshall, a bookstore owner, held court. They were original pulp, and did not survive more than a couple readings before disintigrating.
According to author Isaac Asimov, the premise to the series was based on ideas set forth in Edward Gibbon’s History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire, and was invented spontaneously on his way to meet with editor John W. Campbell, with whom he developed the concepts of the collapse of the Galactic Empire. Asimov wrote these early stories in his West Philadelphia apartment when he worked at the Philadelphia Naval Yard. With Robert A. Heinlein’s ‘future history’ novels, also influenced by Campbell, this was the beginning of my political understanding. For good or for ill.
July 21 2017
Stop Us Before We Innovate Again
This weekend’s online Wall Street Journal contained an article about the dangers of our aborning age of Artificial Intelligence (AI). The piece centered around the musings of the tech world’s current number one darling, SpaceX’s and TESLA’s founder, Elon Musk. It was as if Elon was blowing on a dog whistle. We mutts are supposed to start barking.
Well, here goes. Woof. Woof.
Musk is not alone in voicing AI-cautionary sentiments. “Neo-Luddites” Stephen Hawking and Bill Gates have done much the same in past years.
So what’s the deal? Technological innovation is now central to economic growth and prosperity. How does one innovate responsibly is essentially what he is asking. According to the article, Musk wants government policy and regulatory agency to come to the rescue. Excuse me as I barf while recalling Smoot Hawley, NAFTA, the Department of Education, and other great American government policy and agency triumphs.
More seriously, Musk’s approach and goal here could be seen as a subtle pushing of a camel’s nose under the tent. For example, as the marriage of AI and robotics disrupts future labor markets with hundreds of millions being out of work or underworked world wide, then the government in charge of such must help the techies by establishing new wealth transfer programs to lessen the side effects of this brave new world. Innovation means living longer thanks to biotech, having less to do thanks to the convergence of AI and robotics, and having less of a chance to be successfully creative and meaningful thanks to AI and big data algos
To some, it’s almost is if Elon is photoshopping a group picture of himself and his fellow privileged Silicon Valley innovators from being pictured as the hunters into the hunted.
Stop us from suiciding a better living world through innovation, he seems to be saying.
One might counter Musk with In for a disruptive dime, in for destroyed world dollar. Today’s hyper-innovation means perforce that its returns to capital will exponentially dwarf its returns to labor.
To his credit, Musk put his money where his mouth is regarding his AI fears by launching several years ago an open AI initiative – in effect accelerating the development of AI in the hopes that the more people are involved, the more responsible it’ll be. To some this smacks of getting more free research and stuff for the smart and well capitalized Valley guys.
Open AI is certainly a novel approach. However, it adheres to the belief that the answer to technology innovation is . . . (wait for it) . . . more and faster technology innovation.
This type of innovation explosion is different than previous ones like the industrial and information revolutions. It is human evolution altering.
For the first time in human history, man can design and engineer the stuff around him at the level of the very atoms it’s made of. He is redesigning and reprogramming the DNA at the core of every living organism. Our creation of artificial systems that match if not surpass human intelligence exceeds our ability to foresee its consequences. But the innovators counter by saying they can connect ideas, people and devices together faster and with more complexity than ever before.
Musk and his fellow innovators would do well to start by hewing to some, if not all, of the below revised and extended versions of Isaac Asimov’s Laws of Robotics:
AI entities may not injure a human being or, through inaction, allow a human being to come to harm.
AI entities must obey the orders given it by human beings except where such orders would conflict with the First Law.
AI entities must protect their own existence as long as such protection does not conflict with the First or Second Laws.
AI entities may not harm humanity, or, by inaction, allow humanity to come to harm.
AI entities shall partner and cooperate with human beings as long as such cooperation and partnership does not conflict with the previous laws.
Robots like Roomba and artificial intelligence enabled weapon systems like those in use at DoD do not currently contain or obey these laws. Their human creators must choose to program them in, and devise a means to do so.
The development of AI is a business, and businesses are notoriously uninterested in fundamental safeguards, especially philosophic ones. History is instructive here. Neither the tobacco industry, the automotive industry, or the nuclear power industry employed any meaningful safeguards initially. They resisted externally imposed safeguards. None of them has yet accepted an absolute edict against ever causing harm to humans. Safeguards are expensive, increase product complexity and do not contribute to profitability or getting a company to its IPO. Bottom line: the AI companies won’t develop AI-law compliant products on their own.
So, let’s assume the government tries to control this situation via policy and regulation. AI technology leaders might just move offshore and forsake the US market for the time being. More importantly, the world’s current economy is a constantly evolving ecosystem in which participants seek to change and adapt to their environment, which itself is evolving due to new technology and innovation, as well as shifts in investor and consumer behaviors. How can any government hope to write rules for such a competitive maw, let alone police it? Bottom line: government control won’t work very well.
Furthermore, even if we humans were to perfectly control the integration of AI Laws into humanity’s convergence with its AI machine partners, the worst long-term harm might come from obeying these AI laws perfectly, thereby depriving humanity of inventive or risk-taking behavior.
I guess we gotta leave some room to let the dogs out now and then.
Meanwhile, chew on this graphic, my fellow meat-loving dogs.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
Postcard From The Swamp #7
Yep- it is Wednesday again, and time to update the postcard from The Swamp, where the Deep State appears to have successfully prevented anyone from doing anything to lower the water level.
If anything, it seems to be getting deeper…and I don’t mean that as a metaphor. If anyone had set out to make this representative Republic dysfunctional, I would award them an A+ just for style points.
So It Goes
I have been a little slow off the mark the last couple weeks- I know many have noted it and I feel bad. I have been doing this morning blogging thing now for nearly twenty years, and the fodder of of chaos, national and international, in the government and out of it, has been entertaining to say the least.
The good news is that I think my Doc and I figured out what was going on with my body, we changed meds and things appear to be going better.
That is the up-side. The downside is that I got summoned to an “annual review” of my performance with the great little company for whom I have toiled the last year- it might even be the anniversary this morning.
It was around this day last year that I left the rapacious and soul-less enterprise that ate us all up and spit us out and I feel really good about that. I was proud of the work I did for them, and the people I did it with. A billion dollrs in total contract value, and over 800 people put on the job. Then they shit-canned all of us to save some overhead.
That was kind of weird. I always thought you were supposed to take care of the people for whom you were responsible. My bad. It left me perched on the brink of a great chasm- you know the one. You may have considered it before yourself.
I sometimes thought that if I spread my arms in the great bat-wing motion I use in the pool to get the low-impact exercise I crave, I might be able to soar over the abyss. And then I realized that this is all finite, and there is no real flight save the last one. Time to enjoy things while we can, right?
I was reading that story from Olongapo I posted yesterday. I hadn’t actually read it in a while, and when I did, a great fat tear ran down my cheek for the memories of all the people I served with, and the ones who I cared about who made life so memorable in so many strange places and who are no longer here.
I take this all seriously. I am a professional, after all, and do pride myself on that.
I appeared at the office in Falls Church at the appointed minute, went into the office and sat down at the little table. I said to my Boss: “You hired me to work to win a contract that has now slid rather far to the right. I don’t think you are getting the value added for what you are paying me. Considering I am eligible for full Social Security payments without offset, I see no reason for you to be paying it. I am not retiring, per se, and I will continue to work until they get around to releasing the bid and will seek no other employment until we win it.”
That seemed to disconcert my Boss, since I think he thought it would take an uncomfortable minute to get to that.
We are all good.
All of us.
Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
Arrias on Politics: Healthcare, the Nobel Peace Prize and National Security
Healthcare, the Nobel Peace Prize and National Security
My primary care doctor just told me he’s leaving his current practice, as did my last doctor a bit over a year ago. The reason both walked away is the administrative burden of our current healthcare system.
Yet, I read an article the other day that claimed that if the nation had a single-payer system we would save $500 billion per year on… administrative costs. Well, the doctors I know (and the doctors they know) are quitting because of the intrusive, administratively burdensome mess generated by the “Affordable Care Act.” Further, my own (30 year) experience working for the Department of Defense suggests the one thing you could guarantee was that, short of some draconian actions, rising administrative costs and complexities were the only certain things under the sun. In short, anyone who thinks we’re going to save administrative costs by expanding government’s role in healthcare (or anything else), has no experience with government at any level, ever.
The point is important because that $500 billion per year is the key projected savings that would supposedly make a single-payer system cost effective. It’s also worth noting the single-payer system would provide healthcare to an additional 40 million people, but there’s no substantive discussion about producing more graduates of nursing schools, or medical schools, or of expanding current residency programs. So, consumption will increase (more people receive healthcare) but the number of people providing healthcare will remain basically unchanged. And costs will go down? Sure.
So, it’s important that we – the nation – address the current problem now, before it becomes a crisis. But the concern extends far beyond healthcare.
In China, (where they have nationalized health care (and de facto government control of everything else)), they “managed” to let a Nobel Laureate die. Liu Xiaobo, an outspoken critic of the Xi regime, died last week of cancer, having been moved from prison to a hospital only last month, and then apparently having been selectively denied proper care.
The point is that China, despite its repeated claims to being a great, peaceful and modern country, remains an oligarchy that brooks no opposition, and is intent on expanding its hegemony, first in the immediate seas around East Asia, then to all the Western Pacific, and eventually, well…
Put it this way, China just established a military base in East Africa and their naval units conducted live-fire training in the Mediterranean Sea.
China is also threatening India over disputed borders, and while busily insisting on its good intentions is, in fact, assisting North Korea’s evil leader. Nor has China forgotten the Middle East, announcing just this past week its intention to extend overland trade routes through Pakistan and Iran and on through Syria to the Mediterranean.
The long and short of it is that the world, after nearly three decades with few great powers confrontations, is now facing two aggressive great powers – Russia and especially China, and several rising powers (Iran and North Korea) that have ill intentions to the US, the West and our allies.
So, this is what retirement looks like? I looked at myself in the mirror this morning and came away a bit mad at the tousled gray hair. Not mad at myself, or not completely, but at what has become a new reality. Then retreated to the comfort of the comforter and read the morning incoming traffic on the iPad and found myself captivated by a madman that almost no one really knows, though they should.
I still get up at the same habitual time- though sleeping in to six or six thirty has become more common. I picked up the tablet and was looking at Sarasota real estate again. Looks like a pleasant place. Then I started to get those Traverse City dreams again. I mean, yes, there is certainly a Michigan winter component to that, and they can be savage. I remember when Mom and Dad would retreat to their master bedroom for five months a year- worried us sick, and we had to cll the cops at times if they forgot to hang up the wireless phone.
I wish we had kept the house, but there were some poisonous familial gases about the division of the estate, and on the whole, it seemed best to just liquidate everything and be done with it.
But I was thinking about how completely cool it is up there in Michigan during the High Summer, and how we even made the winters fun.
So, things to think about, and trust me, I am.
A pal wrote me this morning. He had just completed a read of a book I had not heard of- ‘Autumn of the Black Snake’ by William Hogeland. It is billed as an account of the founding of the Regular Army of the United States of America, which was caused, predictably, by a monumental disaster suffered by unprofessional militia forces who had attempted to enforce the new sovereignty of the fledgling nation on some very tough and determined locals who had not been consulted.
The Indians were not welcoming to the new landlords, and the horrific slaughter of the undisciplined Yankees was such that the bodies of the Americans were left unburied through the change of eight seasons, and the bleached bones of them formed an ivory carpet on the forest floor.
It reminded me of the stories of the British bones left from the retreat of the 44th Regiment of Foot from Kabul in 1842, which could still be seen a century later. It made me shiver, knowing what we know now about the ways of Empire, nd their rise and fall. And it made me a bit contemplative about my own experience growing up in what used to be called The West, which it isn’t any more, but certainly was. In fact, that phrase has always stirred me in my college fight song. But it was the story behind it all that my pal brought forth.
Anthony Wayne was instrumental in establishing the Regular Army- something I have always carried a certain ambivalence about since serving as part of the Eighth Army in Korea years ago. The Green Machine is a thing of wonder, truly. And it’s culture and composition could rightly be attrivuted to its founding father, Mad Anthony. He insisted on discipline, he insisted on order. If artillery would be useful in fighting the indigenous people of the heartland, then by God he would drag them hundreds of miles cross the trackless wilderness and then use it to scourge the locals. He is one of those people that are not talked about much any more, but whose legacy is left in place-names and traditions all across our little part of the nation.
We used to go to our Fort Wayne- the one in Detroit. It is an actual massive brick fort on the narrow straits that drain Lake St. Clair and the lands of the Upper Lakes I so love.
Mad Anthony was part of everything we did in what we thought was the Mid-West. You know Fort Wayne, Indiana, of course. Dad graduated from Wayne State University in Detroit in a hurried effort to make his corporate resume comport with actual fact when I was a young teen.
I m not going to attempt to recount the General’s fiery temper, nor his considerable military accomplishments. I just bought the book to listen to while paddling in the pool on my waterproof iPod (I always hold my breath to see if it still is). Consider a read yourself- as a retiree I should have gone to the library to get it for free, but what the hell. I have to get used to all this.
They talk a lot about legacy these days, but creating the United States Army is not a bad resume bullet.I will simply steal from Wiki about some of the others:
“There are many political jurisdictions and institutions named after Wayne, especially in Ohio, Michigan, and Indiana, the region where he fought his battles with resolution and a commitment to victory,” a commodity in short supply off late.
The Borough of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania
The Borough of Waynesburg, Pennsylvania
The City of Fort Wayne, Indiana
The City of Wayne, Michigan
The City of Wayne, Nebraska
The City of Waynesboro, Georgia
The City of Waynesboro, Mississippi
The City of Waynesboro, Pennsylvania
The City of Waynesboro, Tennessee
The City of Waynesboro, Virginia
The Village of Wayne, Illinois
The Village of Waynesburg, Ohio
The Village of Waynesville, Ohio
The Town of Waynesville, North Carolina
The Town of Waynesville, Missouri
The Township of Wayne, New Jersey
The community of Wayne, Pennsylvania
The community of Waynedale, Fort Wayne, Indiana
The community of Waynewood, Alexandria, Virginia
Wayne County, Georgia
Wayne County, Illinois
Wayne County, Indiana
Wayne County, Iowa
Wayne County, Kentucky
Wayne County, Michigan
Wayne County, Mississippi
Wayne County, Missouri
Wayne County, Nebraska
Wayne County, New York
Wayne County, North Carolina
Wayne County, Ohio
Wayne County, Pennsylvania
Wayne County, Tennessee
Wayne County, West Virginia
Forests and parks
Wayne National Forest in Ohio
Anthony Wayne Recreation Area, part of Harriman State Park, in New York State
Anthony’s Nose, the mountain on the east end of the Bear Mountain Bridge near Peekskill, New York
Wayne Square, in Tallahassee, Florida – present location of City Hall and one of 5 public squares established in the city’s original plan
Wayne Park in Beaver, Pennsylvania
Towns and Villages
The town of Wayne, Maine
The town of Waynesville, Missouri
The town of Wayne, New Jersey
The town of Wayne, New York
The town of Waynesville, North Carolina
The village of Wayne, Ohio
The village of Waynesville, Ohio
The town of Wayne, Oklahoma
The town of Wayne, Pennsylvania
The town of Wayne, West Virginia
The town of South Wayne, Wisconsin
The town of Waynesville, Georgia
Wayne Township, Ohio
Wayne Township, Illinois
Wayne Township, Allen County, Indiana
Wayne Township, Marion County (Indianapolis), Indiana
The former Wayne Township, Montgomery County, Ohio (now the City of Huber Heights)
Wayne Township, New Jersey
Wayne Township, Lawrence County, Pennsylvania
the former Mad River Township and Mad River Township Local School District (now Riverside, Ohio)
The Village of Wayne, Illinois
The Village of Waynesfield, Ohio
The Village of Waynesville, Illinois
The Village of Waynesville, Ohio
The Village of Wayne City, Illinois
The Village of Waynesburg, Ohio
Schools and Colleges
Anthony Wayne School in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Anthony Wayne Elementary School in Defiance, Ohio
Anthony Wayne –Elementary School in Franklin, Ohio
Wayne Trace High School in Paulding, Ohio
Anthony Wayne Middle School in Wayne, New Jersey
Anthony Wayne High School Whitehouse, Ohio
Anthony Wayne Local Schools, Ohio, whose sports teams are known as the “Fighting Generals”
General Wayne Elementary School, in Malvern, Pennsylvania
Wayne County High School, in Monticello, Kentucky
Wayne Community Schools in Corydon, Iowa
Wayne County Community College in Detroit, Michigan
Wayne Elementary School Erie, Pennsylvania
Wayne High School, Huber Heights, Ohio
Wayne High School (Oklahoma), Wayne, Oklahoma
Wayne High School, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Wayne State College, Wayne, Nebraska
Wayne State University, Detroit
Waynesboro Area Senior High School, Waynesboro, Pennsylvania
Waynesboro High School in Waynesboro, Virginia
Waynesburg University in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania
Waynesfield-Goshen Schools, Waynesfield, Ohio
Anthony Wayne Elementary School in Detroit, Michigan
Wayne Trail Elementary School in Maumee, Ohio
Anthony Wayne High School Whitehouse, OH
Anthony Wayne Elementary School in Ambridge, Pennsylvania
Wayne County High School (Waynesboro, Mississippi)
Wayne Memorial High School, Wayne, Michigan
Streets and highways
Anthony Street, Celina, Ohio
Anthony Boulevard, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Anthony Wayne Avenue, Cincinnati, Ohio
Anthony Wayne Drive, in Detroit, Michigan
Anthony Wayne Drive, in Baden, Pennsylvania
Anthony Wayne Drive, in Chesterbrook, Pennsylvania
Anthony Wayne Drive, Warminster, Pennsylvania
Anthony Wayne Trail, in Toledo, Ohio
Anthwyn Road, Merion, Pennsylvania (across from the inn)
Mad Anthony Street, Cincinnati, Ohio
Mad Anthony Street, Millersburg, Ohio
Mad River Road, in Hillsboro, Ohio
North Wayne Avenue, Lockland, Ohio
North Wayne Street, West Chester, Pennsylvania
South Wayne Avenue, Fort Wayne, Indiana
South Wayne Avenue, Lockland, Ohio
South Wayne Street, West Chester, Pennsylvania
Southwest Anthony Wayne Drive, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Wayne Avenue, Ticonderoga, New York
Wayne Avenue, Bronx, New York
Wayne Avenue, Chambersburg, Pennsylvania
Wayne Avenue, Collingdale, Pennsylvania
Wayne Avenue, Chicago, Illinois
Wayne Avenue, Dayton, Ohio
Wayne Avenue (Rte 112), Stony Point, New York
Wayne Avenue, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Wayne Avenue, Greenville, Ohio
Wayne Road, running through (from North to South) the municipalities of; Livonia, Westland, Wayne, and Romulus, Michigan
Wayne Street, Celina, Ohio
Wayne Street, Fort Recovery, Ohio
Wayne Street, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Wayne Street, Toledo, Ohio
Wayne Street, Erie, Pennsylvania
Wayne Trace, Fort Wayne, Indiana
Wayne Trace Road, running from Eaton in Preble County, Ohio, to just outside of Seven Mile in Butler County, Ohio
Structures and businesses
The former Anthony Wayne Bank in Fort Wayne
Former Anthony Wayne Drive-In Movie, Wayne Township, New Jersey
Anthony Wayne Barber Shop in Maumee, Ohio
Anthony Wayne, a campsite at Woodland Trails Scout Reservation in Camden, Ohio
The Anthony Wayne Movie Theater in Wayne, Pennsylvania
Anthony Wayne Recreation Area in Harriman State Park, New York
AWS, formerly Anthony Wayne Rehabilitation Center for the Handicapped and Blind, Inc. in Fort Wayne, Indiana
Anthony Wayne Suspension Bridge near downtown Toledo, Ohio
Anthony Wayne Terrace Housing Association Baden, Pennsylvania
Mad Anthony Brewing Company, in Fort Wayne, Indiana
Fort Wayne in Fort Wayne, Indiana
Fort Wayne in Detroit, Michigan
The Fort Wayne Mad Ants basketball team of the NBA Development League
General Wayne Inn in Merion, Pennsylvania
“Mad Anthony’s”, a local pub in Waterville, Ohio
Wayne Corporation defunct school bus manufacturer, originally Wayne Agricultural Works, then Wayne Works
Wayne Hospital in Greenville, Ohio
Anthony Wayne Hotel in Akron, Ohio, demolished in 1996
Anthony Wayne Motel in Yellow Springs, Ohio on US Route 68
General Wayne Inn, Honey Brook, Pennsylvania on US Route 322
Anthony Wayne Hotel in downtown Hamilton, Ohio renovated into the Anthony Wayne Apartments
Hotel Wayne & restaurant, 1202 North Main Street, Honesdale, Pennsylvania 18431
Mad Anthony’s Bottle Shop & Beer Garden in Waynesville, NC
Wayne Oil Inc. in Fort Recovery, OH
Wayne IGA in Fort Recovery, OH
Wayne Hose Company No. 1 of the Stony Point, NY Fire Department
I kind of like the last of these. But I do have to mention that I was born in Wayne County, and cannot think of a better legacy than being a Champion of the West by virtue of my college affiliation, and a son of a truly amazing Mad Man. Let’s read the book together, shall we?
And another tid-bit from the days when the fate of the West hung in the balance, and ended long before the banks of Mississippi River: Wayne County is located south of Oakland County, whose County Seat is named for another one of those people you may have heard about but never considered. His name was Pontiac.
(Grave of Major General Anthony Wayne, Commanding General of the American Legion).
Copyright 2017 Vic Socotra
Life & Island Times: Too Much Time On My Hands
Author’s note: Given the multiple “modern day presidential” tweetapaloozas we have been recently gifted with, today’s piece wrote itself. With deepest apologies to Styx.
Sittin’ on a White House potty stool
Tweetin’ like a damn fool
Got the three AM Twitter blues
I’ve given up hope for these Republican dopes
Senate votes’re only fifty-two!
Some folks wonder if I’m crazy
Pelosi says she sure I’m not sane at all!
So tired of things Russian
I’ve got too much to do and no time to do it
So tired my bills are losing
At night there’s nothing to do and all night to do it
Well I’d go out cruising, but DC’s got no place
To go at night, Secret Service got cameras everywhere
Fake news has already labeled me a criminal
The Dems wonder why I’m not in jail
Does anyone wonder why I twitter away all the time on my hands
Some say I’m tweeting away America’s sanity
I’ve got too much time on my hands
Why is it so hard to believe Obamacare’s a calamity
Country’s got no coverage left on its insurance plans
Healthcare clock’s ticking away, ticking away for the country
It’s hard to believe I won electorally
Now I’m a reality TV genius
I can solve America’s problems
Just by saying you’re fired – yeah!
I got millions of fans and the fun never ends-
That’s cause I’m never apologizin’!
Ain’t it great I’m the president
Just wish the Dems were null and void
I’ve got too much time on my hands
and I’m tweetin’ it away, tweetin’ away for you and me
(Too much time on my hands)
I’m tweet tweet tweet tweet tweetin’ away
(Too much time on my hands)
And I don’t know what to do with myself.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
A ROUND FOR MY FRIENDS
Editor’s note: this is a re-post of a 1979 article based on a special request from a distinguished colleague who remembers when this stuff was actually true. If you can’t see the intrinsic respect in this for the people of the Republic of the Philippines, I failed to convey exactly how close and intimate our relationship was. Any failure in that regard is mine alone.
01 February 1979
A ROUND FOR MY FRIENDS
YOU COULD SMELL THE LAND THIRTY OR FORTY MILES OUT, if you had gotten up early enough for it. I couldn’t have; stupefied still from over-liberty in HONG KONG, I suppose, but here is how it would have been: the orange ball of the sun would have made you screw up your eyes after the nighttime of florescent glow below decks. Brisk breeze as the Midway left off her night of circling off the coast. The green and black of the mountains would have been the first thing to strike you above the blue of the water. And the pungent earthy smell of the Philippines.
Channel Fever, writ large.
Musky, like the scent of the private places of the thousands of little brown-skinned girls even now boarding the battered Victory Liners out in the tiny villages of Luzon. Ready to greet the happy Midway crew.
Ready? Shit, we were- the first capital ship to call at Subic Bay since the Constellation pulled out for that crazy run to the Straight of Malacca before New Years. Guarding the rights of the Americans in Iran from five thousand miles away; defending Liberty by having the capability to bomb Singapore. Real gunboat diplomacy. They must be calling him whirling Teddy Roosevelt now, wherever that ace Imperialist finally fetched up.
It was a working In-Port. You know how that goes: you feel guilty as you bolt down a couple Cubi Dogs and a Special at the BOQ bar in the course of your official duties up the hill at the Cubi Point Naval Air Station complex above the field.
Having to hang around the ship all day, either nursing a hangover or plotting how to ravage and pillage Olongapo City again that night. We were docked by the industrious little tugs at 0900 sharp.
“All heads forward of Frame 47 are secured until further notice.” It is like using the lavatory on a train in the station, since plumbing simply exits to the great outdoors. It is important not to dump on the tugboat crew. Bad taste for all concerned.
The squadron was going to be flying this time, so there was no bullshit about the work part for us. The golf clubs started going ashore not long after the brow went across. After all, it was the P.I. The temperature was a balmy 87 degrees, the sky cloudless, the Bay a sparkling blue.
Two or three brushfires were raging out of control in the hills across the water. It was great to be back. Naturally, I had the duty first day in. Not a snivel, mind you, as I would prefer to miss the ritual drunk-ex on the first night anyway. But I will confess to that distinctive feeling of loneliness on board as everyone you know throws on civilian clothes and races for the nearest fondly remembered club, bar girl, or rattan shop. Takes all kinds, I suppose.
I was able to work a deal with my boss about the duty. After he had a nice dinner and a couple cocktails, he came back and relieved me.
I was able to grab a cab and head for the Cubi O club for a couple non-Midway emergency burgers and an obligatory six pack. San Miguel: what a refreshing beer! Really a wonder-beverage. It has the capability to work as a thirst quencher, a mild intoxicant, and a purgative all at the same time. Back home it would run you a couple bucks a crack down at the bistro. Here, 45 cents at the Club and as little as 2 pesos out in the Ville.
Splendid! I believe I’ll have another! Back aboard the ship, I rose early the next morning to discover that the Boss had an exercise associated with the Duty, commencing at 0500. Maybe there is a God, after all.
I hung around the ship until after lunchtime shuffling papers and plotting my escape. Finally discovered some vital Squadron business over on the Subic Side and logged myself ashore. Had a delightful burger over at the Chuck Wagon. And a couple beers. Paid off an overdue account at the Subic Club for some frolicking last time down. Duty done, I repaired to the ship to get ready to Alpha Strike the town.
Let’s see: watch and ring off the hand. Wallet purged of unnecessary cash assets. Placed in the front pocket, so it can be guarded with the left hand. All small valuables transferred to the security safe down in the Intelligence spaces. As the sun declined my spirits soared.
I walked down to the quarter-deck and reported that I did indeed have permission to go ashore to the bored Officer of the Deck. Free at last, I cruised to the waiting line for a taxi and prepared myself mentally for the rigors ahead. The mind-set is of necessity quite different than that called for in any other country in Westpac. Most anywhere else you can cruise around pretty much as you want.
In Japan, the chances of getting rolled are so slight as to be negligible, unless it is by another American.
The Philippines Islands, or ‘Pee-Eye’ in colonial-speak for the Republic of the Philippines- is another case altogether. Before Marshall Law, there were signs in the most fashionable nightspots requesting the patrons to deposit their firearms at the door. Not uncommon to see great bodily harm come to someone on the street; in fact. The Boss reports that his first time out in town a security guard got wasted in the very first club he was sitting in.
It is not quite that bad these days, but still among the weirdest places on earth.
A shared cab ride with one of the squadron Skippers brings us through the Naval Air Station grounds and out past the F-8 on the pedestal that marks the perimeter.
One of the Connie A-7 squadrons painted the hapless old fighter up like one of their birds. A shocking insult to both the memory and the mission of the entire Fighter community. Everyone knows the A-7 really looks like an F-8 that has been run hard into the hangar bay armored door.
Round the Bay we rocket: past the Air Force fuel receiving dock, past the JP-5 settling tanks and the huge fuel farm. A hard left by the new Exchange Complex and we scoot along the flanks of the supply depot warehouses, seemingly secure behind wire and lock. Amazing what the Filipinos can steal when they set their mind to it. I heard from some permanent party folks that it wasn’t unusual to have forty “intruders” every night roaming around looking for things to borrow.
Out in front of one of the warehouse go-downs are the guns of the Battleship New Jersey. Three to a rack, the huge steel telephone poles are mute testimony to the days when we still used the islands as our own soil, which Subic still is. One of the funny little trappings of a former empire, like the old peso coins you still see with the legend “United States of America” on the reverse.
God, I wish I could have seen it: three aircraft carriers in off Yankee Station and the New Jersey taking on more ammunition for Naval Gunfire off the coast of Vietnam. Lobbing 2500 Ib. shells for a quarter of a hundred miles. Like throwing Volkswagens of high explosives at the strange brown people with their own funny dreams of imperium.
Into the Naval Station at Subic proper we cruise past the go-cart track and the skeet shooting facility. Past the baseball fields and the fleet supply ships. The flat black antennas of the escorts poke up into the night sky.
The aircraft in the pattern for Cubi roar overhead in a non-stop racetrack of flashing red lights, and suddenly there we are. Main Gate City. I can smell Shit River already.
We queue up for the ritual inspection at the gate. The Marines stand like ramrods and the.45s on their belts are loaded. We flash our ID cards and receive a crisp salute. “Good Evening, Sir!”
“Good evening,” we reply, “and good luck tonight.”
No response. The Marine is already hunched over inspecting another party on the way out. We stand in disorientation for a moment and allow the crowd to carry us along. Already I have been asked to sell my watch and purchase some cheap shell necklaces.
Twenty feet beyond the gate is the real boundary: the famous vile smelling river the separates the shacks and gaudy neon from the prim American order of the Base. Shit River. No name could be more appropriate. A four-lane bridge connects the Base to the City, and the angels of the river beckon from the shoulder-to-shoulder outrigger canoes.
“Hey Joe! Look at me Joe!”
They stand precariously over the fetid water on stools set in the middle of the canoes. They wear long gay-colored dresses that cover the stools, so they appear to be immensely tall. “For a quarter I show you my tits! Hey Joe!”
They carry wire nets scooped to catch flying change. Occasionally a sailor will toss whatever is in his pockets. Usually it is money. Above all, the scene is bizarre. The stench, the exhortations, and the pickpockets who stride through the crowd looking for the drunk, the naive, or the distracted.
Sixty yards takes you to the city. It is a riot of neon, a carnival of jeepneys, and a confusion of people. Beggars, chewing gum sellers and hookers.
Never mess with a hooker off the street; she works there because she cannot pass her medical examination to work in one of the clubs. Cute, still, and the eye cannot cover all that shouts out for attention. Money changing booths across Magsaysay Boulevard where the pretty girls bang the glass with pesos for your attention and patronage. Each club has a security guard outside exhorting you to come on in and start spending that paycheck.
Tee-shirt palaces to delight even the most jaded traveler: “I Love You No Shit,” says one, concluding with “Buy your Own Fucking Drinks'”
And more bars and women than you could count. Taxis cruise the street and hiss at you from the curb. Hat sellers exhort their merchandise. And the women…. they call the P.I. the land of beautiful women and they are correct.
The centuries of Spanish rule were not wasted by the hardy conquistadors.
Short as a rule, with long glossy black hair and piercing black eyes under lovely lashes. It seems they are either ladies of Virtue here or of the lowest morals. After dark you will seem to encounter only the latter. It is a marvelous place.
The question at hand is where to enjoy that first ice-cold San Miguel. The Skipper wants noise and action and women. He heads for a place called the Cavern. It is dark and loud and the women know him. He buys her six drinks immediately (at 24 pesos per drink you could have twenty beers) and that serves to set her free.
I dance with the lady who sits by me, and buy her one drink before I slide on. I know a place where it is 2-and-a-half for a beer, and the same price should you care to provide liquid refreshment for a lady. I bid every one a fond farewell and head for the door. It is like hitting the Steelers line, but I win through and pass once more down the swarming street.
The Club Rufadora lies past the American Legion (with the deck gun from a Japanese Death Ship out front) and before the New Florida Club and the sordid pleasures of the New Jolo. I order several beers and relax. Part of the attraction of the Rufadora is the fact that there is no hustling allowed. The ladies are available, of course, but they don’t knock you down in the stampede to get at your wallet. I look around for Sally, a real beauty with a slim body and gold in her teeth. She is occupied, and I am momentarily at a loss for a goal. I see a helicopter pilot I know and we slosh down another beer in search of a game plan.
“How about a trip out to the Barrio and the Samurai Health Club? We could take some cocktails and still be back before curfew.” The hated curfew is a relic of Martial Law since lifted nearly everywhere else. Marcos, in his wisdom, has decided to retain the law in Olongapo to help contain the sailors.
Anyone still on the streets after midnight is subject to arrest, and the gates to the Base slam shut exactly at midnight. There are some great stories of survival in the darkened streets by shipmates who dallied for a rendezvous only to find (to their great fear & loathing) that their lady love got a better quotation later and abandoned them to their own devices ’till the gates to safety opened up again at 0400.
“Does the Samurai give specials with the massage?”
“You betcha. And for only 35 Pesos. ” At those prices it was impossible to pass up. We lurched out of the club, flagged down a jeepney, and were on our way.
A word about jeepneys: they are open long-bed jeeps with a surrey-style roof.
The colors are gaudy and the hoods are decorated with chrome bars, horses, religious medallions, reflector lights, and any other bauble that strikes the fancy of the owner. They serve as the public transportation system, and for 30 centavos you may ride wherever they choose to take you.
This particular one deposited us at the Olongapo Jeepney Station, where you may book passage on a jammed Victory Liner for the exotic spas of Baguio, Angeles, or Manila itself. We negotiated with a waiting cabby and secured transit over the hill to the Barrio for IOP. We ground gears and commenced the journey in a cloud of unburned emissions and Tagalog profanity.
You gotta see the roads to believe them. No one has seen such things in America in two generations. Crushed rook and potholes are the main constituents of the paving, with an assortment of Wash-Outs, Craters, and Land Slides for diversion. We rattled and rolled for twenty minutes and came to the abandoned guard shacks of the check-point.
The Barrio is thinly populated in comparison with the ‘Po and very rural in appearance. No paved roads. The clubs tend towards open air. Sailors stand along the road in various states of repair looking for rides back to civilization.
We forge on into the middle of the place and come to a halt in front of a dark lane that runs generally uphill. We pay off our chauffeur and he wheels around to pick up a fare on the other side of the road. We amble on up the deserted lane and come eventually to a two story building that bears the legend “Samurai Health Club” on the front. Next door is a large private home with several cars in the drive.
A gaggle of children rush out to greet us, and they seem to recognize my companion: “Hello Joe! Rock n’ Roll Hoochie-Coo!”
My buddy digs out a peso piece and flips it to the first one to shout the slogan.
“You cultural imperialist” I observe.
“It passes the time. Ah! And here we are.” Behind the desk in the pink foyer is a cute little girl of about sixteen. We exchange amenities, haggle about the price, and order a cold beer while we settle the tab. “I’ll pick up the beers” says my associate.
”Yeah,” said I, “and a round of blowjobs for my friends.”
It was 35 pesos, as advertised, and our hostess assigned us rooms and leaned back to speak Tagalog into an intercom. We walked through the portal to the large vacant bar and through the back to the numbered rooms. There was no one around that I could see, so we found our room assignments and prepared for the inevitable. “See ya out front” said my mentor.
“Later” I agreed.
I walked into my room, kicked off my shoes and stripped to my trousers. In a few minutes I laid down on the bed and watched the little gecko lizards dart around on the cracked ceiling. The guys eat them over in the attack squadrons, but it has always been my position that anything that walks around eating mosquito eggs is a definite ally. The Filipinos consider them to be good housemates and I defer to their judgment and experience.
I watched two circular evolutions and a near collision and a lady entered the room in a short white dress, severely tailored, like a nurses uniform. I got up, removed my trousers and dumped them on the floor. She went ahead and spread a sheet over the bedspread.
“Please lie face down” she said. Her tones were bored, but the massage was anything but. “Powder or Oil?” she inquired.
“Oil, I think. The sea air dries me out so.”
It is possible she could have cared less, though I am not sure how. I reclined and slid off into the zone. It was magnificent. She kneaded me, pummeled the muscles, and wrenched the joints. Finally she rolled me over and worked down to the main joint with careful deliberation.
When she reached the center of attraction she went to work with an experienced and enthusiastic palate. The Geckos ran circles on the ceiling.
“My God” I said.
“You’re welcome,” she replied.
Copyright 1979 Vic Socotra
Life & Island Times: To Serve Man
I have been reading several millennial-written alt-newspaper articles that literally gush over the benefits of the impending tsunamis of driver less short term rental and taxi vehicles that will crash over us during the next ten years.
They cite things like less pollution, global chilling, a 5% increase ($1 trillion) in freed up annual disposable income in America, safety, bla bla, bla bla bla. They foresee a world without limits where smart software is fully deployed in the service of mankind.
Amid these hosannas is a lack of any counterpoint discussion like hacking dangers and resultant safety of app-driven vehicles; the impact on service of the eventual capitalist race to the bottom on costs and profit maximization; the impact on pricing, availability and quality in view of the eventual likelihood of only one or two dominant players in this field – an example would be the cleanliness of vehicles (I recognize that millennials do not remember how unsavory public big city bus/taxi/subway/light rail transportation was back in the 70s and 80s); and the inability to empty large urban areas in this postulated future world where 90% of the cars are driverless and company not individually owned under the impending threat of a weather catastrophe like a hurricane.
Nonetheless, let us suppose all these issues can be dealt with an acceptable level of risk management. Note to my millennial readers: this means there will be collateral damage. Just an acceptable amount likely to be decided by our artificial intelligence (AI) software overlords. As we used to say in the software business: build a little, test a little, field a little, crash a little, patch a little, repeat. Zero defect software is not an option here given what it does to the cost curve of these businesses.
The record of the empowering technology here – AI – is somewhat checkered. Let’s see . . . stock market AI algorithm driven trading has lead to the flash crash, the 2008 derivative market collapse and the world’s near miss with the Great Depression 2.0; AI-made recommendations as to which guilty felons are incarcerated (stats here aren’t so hot); AI-made loan decisions are widespread, so I would ask how millennials are faring on the mortgage loan front. Not good here either, eh?
As artificial intelligence grows in complexity and prevalence, it also grows more powerfully self-directed and at the same time more sensitive. What happens when AI empowered cars are forced to determine which passenger gets the best chance to survive an unavoidable crash? Heaven forfend that such a self aware AI entity might chose itself; but, a self-driving car might feel guilt and remorse over its decision, hence, grief counseling will be required. Ah, The Nine Step-Patches of Grief and Tear Soup and Battery Change Healing Recipes for Loss will flood the Amazon eBook download stores. I wonder if 2001 Space Odyssey`s HAL would have benefited from such help.
Dave and HAL from 2001 Space Odyssey
Such a need, scratch that, actually the right to mechanical repair, cosmetic upgrade and psychiatric services for AI-enabled Uber and Lyft cars is likely next up in this utopian best of all possible worlds future. How’s everyone feel about ACA for AI? Single payer, no problemo. Apple Pay, Google Wallet, Venmo and the internet 1.0 payment services PayPal and Braintree will auto-deduct (pun intended) monthly health care premium payments for our self-driving servants. There will be no opting out due to your or the Uber/Lyft fleet’s ages.
A side benefit to all this is that none of us human meatbags will be working for the man just for his/our machines.
Anyone up for watching the Twilght Zone episode To Serve Man tonight?
Psst . . . the friendly appearing aliens in this Twilight Zone episode, much like our future AI servants might in the future, had a book entitled To Serve Man. It was a cook book containing recipes using man as food.
Copyright © 2017 From My Isle Seat
No Night to Get Cute
Editor’s Note: Yeah, I know this is basically recycled, but I am only now coming to grips with the idea that the decade of Willow is well and truly past. There was a sense of family there, and I will always miss it. I had an interesting chat on Monday with one of the major ringleaders at the Amen Corner in why that place was so special. From our seasoned analysis, it appears that, inevitably, entropy eventually overcomes joy.
But I still feel honored to have been part of this amazing experience. I hear we are going to be at Lyon Hall this Friday for a reunion of (some) of the survivors. I am going, with joy, though I know entropy wins in the end.
No Night to Get Cute
(L-R: Lovely Jamie, and John-with with Jon-without; Senior Executive Jeff and Vic on the right.)
I am a little slow out of the gate this morning for a variety of reasons. Some of them are perfectly reasonable. Others not so much. I am free to say that no one crashed any cars and to the best of my knowledge no one was arrested.
Once I pried my eyes pen, I carefully reconstructed what happened last night, since it was the busiest I have ever seen it at Willow. Last Buffalo Night notwithstanding, the crush was four or five deep at the bar.
I was lucky I had my reserved sign at the apex of the Amen Corner or I never would have been able to stay and socialize as much as I did.
Brett the Bartender had the signature line of the evening, when a customer who had elbowed his way in next to me tried to get his attention: he asked a wandering question about which was the ‘hoppiest of the craft brews on tap’ and Brett just looked at him with a frown on his smoldering dark good looks and said; ‘This is no night to get cute, Buddy.”
(K2 and the Master Chief)
And it wasn’t. There was some speculation about whether Old Jim was going to come down, since he was only one of the regulars anyone really cares about- the rest of us are kind of interchangeable. I thought that he had said his farewell the night before. “If there is one thing he hates, it is being crowded. And this qualifies.”
The Fish & Wildlife Service across Utah Street was out in force, packing the cocktail nook, and they are sincere enough that they apparently made Tracy an offer on the furniture to take to their new Headquarters down in Skyline.
It was that kind of night. In addition to the regulars* there were many ruin tourists seeking to get a last shot at the great food. The ladies next to me at the bar had the calamari and Brussels sprouts, rich with bacon bits, and the Smokey Saint Award Winning Burger. That is enough food for most families over a whole weekend, but what the hell. The world is ending.
(Heather and Frankie)
Former bartenders showed up to work the crowd, testifying to the familial nature of the place. Briannasaurus Rex kept pressing her astonishing bosom into my arm, which was quite a treat for an old guy. Wonderful lady.
According to Brett, in a breathless moment as he pulled a couple deep brown draft beers from the taps (which have been sold already), he explained that Tracy had cooked five 25-pound roasts of beef, but it was going to be dicey about actually getting one due to the size of the crowd and the demand.
(One of the fabulous locally raised, hormone-free, slow cooked and thinly sliced beef on kemmelweck rolls sprinkled with sea salt and fennel placed in front of a lovely admirer as Liz-with -an-S looks on).
Accordingly, I ordered immediately and got two Beef-on-Weck sandwiches to go, only one of which actually contained beef due to an unfortunate spill on the way back to the car. Damn. I hate it when that happens. Normally, a BoW will last a weekend.
I am just happy that things worked out that night with no injuries. I know the general misgivings about social media in this group, but the pictures I snapped before oblivion loomed are up on Facebook.
Wild night. So, swim this morning, last one in this pool (major demolition starts in a week or two to replace pipes under the deck) and who knows how the hell that will turn out. Then watch some football with the LT before running him out to Dulles for a late afternoon flight to the Left Coast, return to Willow on the way back to say goodbye, and a last dip to seal the end of the season.
Tomorrow would have been equally busy, and equally drunk, since Margaret had planned the annual party to commemorate the end of the season, but it looks like it is going to be bleak and sober with some work to get ready for a football by-week that will have a curious gap in the hours between five and seven in the evening.
Oh well. As Jim observed with his trademark growl on Thursday night as he slid off his stool, “It is just another bar.”
I don’t often disagree with him, though I knew he was just insulating himself from the emotion.
No! This was a restaurant for the ages. It was family.
* The Regulars: Jon-without, John-with, Senior Executive Jeff, The Lovely Jamie, Jason, Joy, Barrister Jerry, the LT, K2, The Master Chief and his Lady, Liz-with-an-S, Chanteuse Mary, Biannasaurus Rex, Vic and a cast of thousands.
Behind the Bar: Big Jim, Frankie, Jasper, Brett, Heather and Marvin.
If I left anyone off, I apologize. It got awfully fuzzy after a while on the second-to-last night at the fabulous Willow. Jon-without just called to ask if I was going to wear black for mourning the final closing tonight.
Of course I said “Yes.”
Copyright 2015 Vic Socotra