I remember reading Smedley Butler’s 1935 War is a Racket. It’s partly a speech the retired general was making around the US and part peace manifesto. I recall reporting my findings to my mentor and college professor William A. Dorman. He made some positive remarks about the little seventy-five-page book, then said something like, “Why is it after people do so much damage that they finally get religion.”
General Butler successfully led the Spanish-American War, the Philippine-American War, the Boxer Rebellion in Honduras, Central America, Veracruz, Haiti, and World War I. Throughout his military exploits, he earned two Medal of Honors and was up to his time in the military was the most decorated soldier in the American military. After that, he retired from the military and believed that the wars he had helped lead were all conflicts designed not to defend America but to profit US banks and corporations.
I picked up my Vespa from Scooter City the other day after some expensive work was done on it. Hopefully, the leaky back tire is fixed for good. I’ve been in to have this leaky tire fixed for the third time. This time I put my foot down and told Rick, my trusted mechanic, that I wanted a new back tire. I think Rick couldn’t do it, knowing the tread on the Dunlop Scootsmart was good. He overhauled the old rim this time, claiming there was corrosion in the old rim and that he believed that was the problem. Despite my initial frustration with him not charging me for a new tire, I realized, unlike some car mechanics I have had in the past, Rick can’t see replacing something in good shape and charging me for it.
He also replaced the belt and roller set, including the idle rollers. My GT 200 also got a much-needed lube job. After I okayed it over the phone, he installed the reflectors missing from the scooter when I first bought the Vespa used some years ago. The last two items (replacing oils and filters and getting reflectors) are the only things I really understand and, if I was desperate, could do them myself with the help of YouTube videos. My scooter rides like a top now, and the reflectors are an excellent and needed addition, though this old man doesn’t like riding in the dark anymore.
Reflectors on the skirts of the back fenders and tail.
The bill was steep but fair, and I got a brand new Scooter City t-shirt with it. But, hey, is that Evel Knievel on my new tee?
This is an innovative music video written and directed by Lance Bangs (director of many music videos as well as the Jackass television shows) and produced by Dhani Harrison (George’s son), David Zonshine (Dhani’s manager and a record executive).
The video features appearances by: Mark Hamill, Fred Armisen, Vanessa Bayer, Ringo Starr, Dhani Harrison, Olivia Harrison (George’s widow), Patton Oswalt, Rosanna Arquette, Al Yankovic, Joe Walsh, Jon Hamm, and many others.
I’m sharing a post from one of my favorite political magazines, Jacobin. Noam Chomsky was probably the first great dissident I discovered by myself. (I was already introduced to I. F. Stone, Howard Zinn, and others by my mentor in college William A. Dorman.) I later learned just how great the professor emeritus from MIT is. (Also, I don’t think Chomsky is a “leftie” or leftist; I believe he’s more of an anarchist, just to be clear.) Fast forward to 2018, and an unknown bartender from the Bronx defeats one of the biggest names in the Democratic Party. The ex-bartender’s name now can be found in several books about the small but growing progressive movement in America and the co-sponsor of the Green New Deal in 2019 and 2021 and was one of the subjects in the excellent documentary Knock Down the House. She’s also regularly derided on Fox News for just about everything she says and does, so she must be doing something right.
This is the interview hosted by progressive-minded Laura Flanders. Below is a link to an edited version of the interview. You can see the entire conversation at https://lauraflanders.org/.
Thanksgiving is coming; it’s time to destroy my diet. But, of course, that’s a lie; my self-control and I haven’t been talking for years. My diets over the years have never survived the holiday season anyway. It starts when my wife habitually buys Halloween candy way too soon. So we end up having to buy another bag of “fun size” candy after we wiped out a giant bag of those little bastards, including the miserable York Peppermint Patties, Milky Ways, and the Almond Joys. Hey, someone’s got to finish off those otherwise untouchables!
Thanksgiving isn’t the time for dieting, anyway. Not with my family, at least. The Thanksgiving dinner is too good to decide whether to cry light raspberry vinegarette tears into my salad or eat the good stuff in moderation. For me, Louis C.K. said it best, “The meal isn’t over when I’m full. The meal is over when I hate myself.”
Besides “hating myself,” there’s one other thing about Thanksgiving I don’t like. It’s the brief yet, for me, the seemingly endless moment before I ignore everyone in the room and get down to the business of ensuring I stay fat. It’s when all heads turn to me to lead us all in grace. A grace that everyone knows will be utterly devoid of—well—grace.
There was a time I enjoyed this preamble to stuffing my face, but that was when I was a kid and my grandfather was alive. When my grandfather said grace, it was all my brother, and I could do from breaking out in laughter. To our ears, my grandfather’s grace was utterly incomprehensible. To us, he mumbled through nearly the entire event, and it was funny as hell. We knew it was over when he finished with the flourish, “…for Christ’s sake!” The final three words—the only words I could make out of the whole prayer—were spoken not as a petition in the name of God’s only son but as if he found a bug walking over the mashed potatoes. Little did I know as I giggled through all those prayers that I would inherit, leading the family in grace around the time I could grow facial hair.
I didn’t sign up for this gig, nor did I draw the shortest straw between me, my older sister, and my younger brother. Perhaps my mother felt I should inherit the job from my grandfather partly because my dad didn’t want to do it and partly because I was her eldest son. But, in all fairness to my mother, I’m sure she thought it was an honor to be given this task. And I’m sure I felt honored to receive the mantle until I realized I didn’t have a talent for it, even after becoming a Christian.
Look up the definition of “pray” or “prayer,” and you will see such descriptives as “adoration,” “confession,” “supplication,” and “thanksgiving” (hey, whaddayaknow, thanksgiving!). The only times I ever prayed to God out loud was when I was a child/young teen. It was more of a crying bitch session than anything even remotely close to adoration, confession, supplication, and absolutely nothing like thanksgiving. I cried to him, wanting to know why he made me so horrible in sports. My brother and especially my best friend Jesse seemed like naturals at baseball, dodgeball, tetherball, anything that required hand-eye coordination. I sucked at all sports. I spent many an evening in my bed crying out loud, asking God why he made me this way. That was the only “conversation” I had with God, and it always felt one-sided, primarily when I remained the suckiest kid on the blacktop the following day.
I grew up and, after a while, stopped whining to God about my lot. However, as an adult, I remained horrible at sports on the rare times I picked up a ping-pong paddle, softball bat, or even tried to pass my driver’s test. (It may not be a sport, but I’m sure Guinness has me down as the world record holder for failing that test four times before finally passing. Even now, no one wants me to drive the car, so I ride a scooter alone.)
I recall complaining to my bride that I knew I was horrible at saying grace and didn’t know what to do about it. She recommended I write down a prayer beforehand. I had been flipping through Marianne Williamson’s beautiful Illuminata: A Return to Prayer and chose one of hers. That worked, but I got embarrassed when someone giggled, and from that point, I went back to my boring, simple prayer. I don’t think anyone at the table understood how difficult this was for me.
At church, I avoided the mid-week prayer meeting because it meant praying out loud and doing it more than once within each gathering. To the uninitiated, a prayer meeting consists of church members and guests talking about concerns and blessings with the congregation, community, and beyond (illnesses, deaths, pregnancies, births, war, travel, new jobs, and just about everything else). Then each attendee would pray over these concerns/blessings. It’s a round-robin prayerathon, and when it got to me, I stumbled through my prayer then surreptitiously glanced at the clock until it was time to go. As a result, I only attended one of these. If I had forced myself to participate in these meetings regularly, I might have become an eloquent prayer reciter, but I didn’t. So praying aloud became as awkward as fielding a hard-hit grounder or hitting a fastball: instead of sticking with it and slowly but surely getting better, I quit.
Even without the prayer-intensive mid-week meetings, some would have thought after many years attending church and Bible studies, I would have built self-confidence and developed a style of talking to God. But, nope. I even skipped praying and instead listened attentively during communion when the deacons and elders prayed over the elements so I could evaluate the prayers of my church’s uber players. “Wow, Victor, that sounds beautiful. You stuck that one, bro!”
I feel bad about dreading saying grace when I should be honored. So in the end, I say the same tired boilerplate: “Heavenly Father, thank you for these gifts we are about to receive. In Jesus’ name.” I occasionally hear a smart-aleck crack from a family member who recognizes the same old prayer. From time to time, my wife would do a follow-up, cleaning up my lousy prayer, but she never volunteered to be the designated grace giver. My brother’s children (now grown-ups) used to say their Vatican-approved grace after my crappy one. I thought that was great, hoping my niece and/or nephew would take over the tradition. But, alas, it kept falling back on me.
As far as my faith goes, I had become more of a Doubting Thomas than I was when I was first saved. However, this doesn’t make grace any more or less easier. If I was a devout Christian, I am sure my prayers would suck just as bad as they do now. Maybe if I go all Richard Dawkins on a prayer one time, no one would want to hear my devotion to the empty void again.
The funny thing is there are not that many church-going believers at these dinners: a few Roman Catholics, my very devout wife, and me, Doubting Jack, and that’s it, I think. (Of course, only God knows who is saved, as punching the clock at a church has nothing to do with salvation.) The first person I ever heard praying at the dinner table was my grandfather. I believe he attended seminary when he was a young man, and I recall seeing photos of him as a young man holding a Bible. Then the Great War came along, and after he stepped over one too many dead soldiers, he felt God did not exist, or something like that. This phenomenon was common in modern warfare. As humans figured out ways to kill their fellow humans en masse and the dead bodies stacked up quicker, many previously religious people felt a genuinely merciful God wouldn’t allow this kind of thing to happen to his children.
I honestly couldn’t hear a word my grandfather said during those prayers, which makes me wonder if he was no longer a believer; maybe he was mumbling about high property taxes or reminding himself to take the car in for a tune-up next week. But, on the other hand, if he was mumbling no actual words, maybe I should do what he did and belatedly carry on the tradition, “for Christ’s sake!” As for this Thanksgiving dinner, it just dawned on me. It’s an odd-numbered year, so that means my wife and I will most likely be spending Thanksgiving (and Christmas) at the in-laws’ house, where my wife’s father will be doing the praying, which he does very well. Now that’s what I call grace!
Steve Williams, one of my favorite bloggers, posted a video on his Scooter in the Sticks blog on July 13, 2020. His silver GTS 250 and the Pennsylvania countryside are his palette. Though I don’t ride as much as I used to, I still love the idea of riding. Perhaps, when I retire–which will be soon–I will return to my weekend rides along the Sacramento and American rivers. Until then I enjoy Mr. Williams’ posts.
My wife and I spent two weeks in Vietnam and China recently. Below are some images from the trip. The main part of the vacation was in Vietnam. The time in Beijing was a stop off on the way home to visit with our son, his beautiful wife and their adorable two daughters.
Ho Chi Minh City (Saigon)
There is almost no semblance of traffic control in Vietnam: no traffic lights (except for the very rare ones on large streets); there are no crosswalks nor indicators for pedestrian crossings. Scooters outnumber cars and trucks 10 to 1. It is controlled chaos. Pedestrians cross streets when it looks safe and the scooters ride around the pedestrians like water around river rocks. Even the sidewalks weren’t safe. Scooterists helped themselves to use what we take for granted as walkways part of the road as well as scooter parking spaces. As fun as the three cities we visited in Vietnam, it took a toll on us. We were exhausted each night when made it back to our hotel. The weather had us in shorts and all I could think of is getting clipped in the calf, chin, or Achilles’s heal by a scooter’s foot peg.
My first authentic banh mi. I was worried about eating pork due to African Swine Fever which hit Vietnam back in 2017. Still, I ate pork three times in first two days. I worried about drinking water. This was remedied by always drinking bottled water (assuming the local bottlers were properly filtering their product), and I worried about drinking any iced drinks since it was highly likely the ice came from non-filtered water. As it turned out I drank four drinks with ice in them. So much for being cautious.
We took a Mekong Delta tour where we visited the Tho Xa My Phong; Vinh Trang Pagoda, drank coconut juice right from a coconut with lunch–just like an obvious tourist. We also watched caramel candy being made, visited beehives, and a honey bottling operation.
The following day we visited the Saigon Zoo and Botanical Garden. We skipped the animals. Too depressing. We toured the Palace of Reunification where–before Saigon fell–the building used to house the South Vietnamese President.
Nha Trang is an international vacation spot where English takes a rumble seat to Russian. In fact, most of the non-Vietnamese we heard was Russian. This goes back to the Soviet Union days where Soviets vacationed above the 17th Parallel. After the reunification, Russians started vacationing further south. In some ways, this is their Mexico–a relatively close, cheap, and warm place to kick it. A lot of cigarettes are sold here, sometimes via “cigarette girls” walking the streets. Russians obviously didn’t get the memo on the health hazards of smoking. Russians can pick people like us out–holding hands while crossing the street, sometimes frozen in the middle of the street in fear. One Russian snapped at us mid-crossing, “Cross with confidence!”
These are common images. People sitting or lying on their scooters. The guy on the left is one of many Grab riders–Asia’s answer to Uber. There are supposed to be Grab taxis, but all we saw were scooters. The picture on the right was taken in Saigon.
I was enjoying vacation so much I forgot politics and political podcasts and just deleted my alerts. As of this posting, I’m still not listening to most of them. It feels nice. The whole time we were in Vietnam and Beijing Sacramento was experiencing some serious rainfall. I’m glad we got the rain and even happier that I dodged it.
A word about Vietnam (and as I would find out later) Beijing napkins. They don’t offer very big ones–very skimpy ones, to be honest. However, every meal comes with a wet nap. I would open them right away and place them on my lap which was awkward–especially when we were in Saigon and Nha Trang since I wore shorts and could feel my shorts getting damp as I ate.
The first 24 hours in Hanoi were fun. Our hotel was near St. Joseph’s Cathedral. I had hot and iced Vietnamese coffee quite often while I was Vietnam. The fourth and fifth images below are from a walking street food tour we took on the second night. The pho was good, but I didn’t feel well after eating the meat in it. For our last stop we had Vietnamese coffee with a whisked egg yolk in it. It was the best coffee I had the whole trip, but thinks didn’t feel so good in my gut by this time. A couple of hours later I was tossing everything up I had that day and then some. I spend our last day in Vietnam retching and praying this all would be over by the time I got to the airport. It was, but that was a horrible 24 hours.
Here are more of Alanis. (I guess the secret is out, I’m a proud grandfather.) The last one is of Alanis and Grandpa, Bin Man’s father.
Only a couple of things left to do before leaving Beijing for home:
Funny thing is, Peter had a concern about me walking around Tiananmen Square with a sheet of paper with words on it–as if it could be interpreted as a protest sign to someone of authority that doesn’t read English. Seconds after raising the harmless sign for the picture, I was confronted by someone from–I think–the People’s Liberation Army, but he just wanted me to move along and was quite polite about it. I shuddered later thinking it could have been someone pushing me into a paddy wagon!
The news from Mother Jones doesn’t surprise me. All “smart” devices have the ability for others–including the government–to accidentally or purposefully eavesdrop on your conversations. I’m especially creeped out by Amazon’s and Google’s smart speakers.
In case you needed another reminder that Amazon’s Echo, an internet-connected recording device designed to listen and respond to verbal commands, can pose security and privacy risks for you and your loved ones, here you go. “Unplug your Alexa devices right now…you’re being hacked.” A family in Portland, Oregon contacted the company recently to ask it…
I just got back from a vacation in Vancouver British Columbia. I got to see my son, his wife and their daughter. They live in Beijing so it is a rare treat when we can meet. There was some business the young family had to conduct and we were happy to offer any service possible to make their visit a pleasant one. Below are some images and words describing my part of the stay. (My wife is still there.) This post is a test: about half of it was done using WordPress’ mobile app. This post is also an example of just how far I had fallen from the days when I had an SLR, multiple lenses, and a portable darkroom. Sorry about that.
Packing the Night Before
Sacramento International Airport
SeaTac car rental
Okay, I see one-third of a breakfast sandwich here
Vacation house for a week
First Meal in Vancouver
Vancouver International Airport
Loonies, Toonies, and different chips
Getting Settled In
Site Seeing Over the Week
Throughout my week, we drove around town to various offices so Bin Man could get her paperwork done and also had lunches and dinners at different places. A couple of years back I took a passive interest in the winter sport of curling. I still don’t know the rules, but find it fascinating. On one car ride, I saw the Marpole Curling Club! I wonder if Rachel Homan plays there when she is not on Canada’s Olympic women’s team. (I kind of have a crush on the lady.)
The Medicated Traveler
Getting Ready to go out
Peter and his daughter Alanis.
The Crystal Mall
If the reader has never been to Vancouver, they might be surprised the city has hundreds of thousands of Chinese-Canadians. This market caters to many of them. Think of a farmer’s market, but inside a building and seemingly endless. I have yet to go to China, but I am told that this market (among others in the city) is just like the kind in Beijing. All you would need to do is quadruple the number of people. The top left image is of a woman creating my Chinese pancake!
Chinese New Year Dinner
Sorry, no pix of the family dinner, but that’s a good thing, right? I didn’t sit there taking pictures while we were having a nice family dinner. My daughter-in-law cooked an excellent meal. I sat across from Alanis and felt a little more like a grandpa. It’s hard to get into that kind of mode when I see her as rarely as I do. At this stage, she has not warmed up to me, but that’s okay.
Fun at the (excruciatingly cold) Kitsilano Park
We went out to the park near our digs in Kitsilano located (sort of) across English Bay from Downtown Vancouver. Alanis had a great time. Growing up in Beijing, she thinks 35 degrees is nothing. My teeth were clenched the whole time so I didn’t rattle the fillings out.
Idle Time with Alton
The flights home
The only other time I flew on a commercial prop plane (top right image) was when my family and I flew from Acapulco to Cabo San Lucas back in 1977. (I remember we landed on a dirt runway!) I don’t have a fear of flying, but the Airbus Air Q400 and the choppy Northern Pacific sky made the one-hour flight nerve-racking. The landing was so rough the entire cabin burst into applause when we finally came to a stop. The trip from Seattle to Sacramento was also on an Airbus, but this bus had jets on its wings. I sat back and enjoyed the ride.
The vacation is not over for my wife or me. She is still in Vancouver for another week and a half. I’m now at home with one more week off–a staycation albeit with a long honey-do list.