Random Observation

Have you noticed that almost every man who drives a convertible is over fifty and bald?

A couple of weeks ago, I watched a documentary about Dale Chihuly on late night public television. When my sleeping pills don’t work CSPAN and PBS are my favorite soporifics. Dale Chihuly is the most famous stained glass artist in the world today. He has mastered the all the many techniques of working with this extremely difficult material. He has only one problem; almost everything he does would not seem out of place in a bin at a dollar store.

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Pat Kranish

Lazy Road Introduction

Hello Lazy Road readers. My name is Pat Kranish and I’ll be contributing to this blog from time to time—more often I suspect than the creator of Lazy Road, the brilliant loafer, Mike Kranish. I wrote a book called Wind, A Novel of the Ice Age, and I write book reviews and interview local authors in Las Vegas. I also write short stories and a few political tirades when the spirit moves me. (You can read Ironic America online in Copperfield Review until the next issue comes out in January 2013.)

When we moved here over four years ago I looked for places where I could meet people who love to read and write and spend a lot of time talking about it. I tried creative writing and anthropology classes at UNLV—until they raised the tuition through the roof—so I joined the Henderson Writers Group and the Las Vegas Writers Group which took up some of the intellectual slack. In this past year, seven of my pieces were published, including three stand-alone chapters from Wind. And I’ll be adding new links to other work as they come online.

I hope you enjoy my efforts, and I would love to hear from you, so please read the review of Katherine Boo’s book, Behind the Beautiful Forevers and let me know what you think.


Pat Kranish

Title:               Behind the Beautiful Forevers—Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity
Author:           Katherine Boo
Publisher:      Random House/New York 2012
A ghost wrote “Behind the Beautiful Forevers”. There is no other explanation for journalism that reads like a tragic fairy tale. Where is the writer Katherine Boo in the Mumbai ultra-slum? Annawadi teems with disease and vermin, and is bordered by the corrosive run-off from a glittering luxury hotel and international airport construction. In the midst of this “sumpy plug”, she somehow hovered almost unseen for four years. Ms. Boo is a small, rheumatic American blonde in a place that makes the setting of “Slum Dog Millionaire” seem like a paradise of upward mobility. She tells the story from the inside out, with characters who always speak with their own voices, never hers. The reader becomes a fly on the wall watching Abdul, the extraordinarily adept teen-aged dealer of trash, and his parents—who go to panicky extremes to keep him out of prison. The gossip loving neighbors, only slightly less well-off, watch the family’s downfall with the same rapt disinterest they give to a Mumbai soap opera. All the participants are roundly drawn and become as familiar to the reader as beloved fictional heroes, a Tom Joad running for his life, or a Sydney Carton making the ultimate sacrifice. The villain here is monumental too—a corrupt system that tramples the Annawadians like a blind giant squashing insects. The only character that eludes us is the author, and it jars the reader to acknowledge her presence in the midst of epic misery and injustice.
Katherine Boo won the Pulitzer Prize for public service in 2000 for a series of articles for the Washington Post. Forest Haven, a DC area institution was closed in the 1990s because of its criminal neglect of the severely mentally and physically handicapped people in its care. When Forest Haven was replaced by scattered group homes and nominally therapeutic programs, Ms. Boo found a cruelly inept system that ignored incidents of abuse, sexual predation and theft. Nonetheless, the operators of these facilities were allowed to function without interference by the government agencies whose job it was to protect those who could not care for themselves. The subheading of that article, “Gone, But the Agony Remains,” could also describe the undercity of Annawadi. In both places, programs created to ameliorate the effects of a very uneven society end up making the problems worse. Greed floats like a grease stain on the waters of the putrid lake that supplies the Annawadi dwellers. The few sources of fresh water that are poured into the lake from time to time are siphoned off by the strongest and greediest of them.
In the Author’s Note at the end of the book Ms. Boo asks, “What is the infrastructure of opportunity in this society?” She hopes that she at least partially provides an answer. “Behind the Beautiful Forevers,” along with her articles, reminds us that it’s a question we should frequently ask ourselves.
For further reading, please see n + 1 magazine, Issue 15: Amnesty for the article On Katherine Boo by Anand Vaidya


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Critical thinking and the Skeptic

Are you a skeptic?

How much does your answer reveal about your character and temperament?  Does  your answer reveal much about your upbringing,  about the spirit of time you live in or if your older, the zeitgeist of your youth? For example, when I was young, I remember reading, “Catch 22.” For young people of my generation, it was a comic cry of the heart. We knew the Viet Nam War was completely crazy. Yossarian, the WWII pilot and hero of the book, just wanted to survive his war. We were like him too. The thought of dying in a rice paddy, because our leaders were caught in a quagmire of their own making seemed absurd and pointless. For many of us our core beliefs are crystallized before we are twenty one. I, for one, have never been able to take the idealistic pronouncements of our leaders, including Hilary and Barack, seriously.

Many people claim they value critical thinking. I wonder if that’s true. Perhaps the Texas School Board refusal to approve adding critical thinking skills to their curriculum wasn’t completely off-base. The term critical thinker suggests a certain set of received ideas. For example, if a person calls himself a critical thinker, you can probably predict they will vote for Obama, support gay marriage, and disapprove of climate change deniers.  Don’t worry, I plan to vote for Obama, am okay with gay marriage, and think global warming is a problem. But suppose I was a Republican, a social conservative, and a climate change scoffer, could I be a critical thinker at the same time? Does that mean the term critical thinking is synonymous with a certain viewpoint?

Recently, there have been theorists who state there is something called the conservative mind; that there is some core neurological difference between liberals and conservatives. I think where you live and your profession are more important. I lived in New York all my life and worked mostly for government social agencies. Guess what? I’m a liberal and vote Democratic. If I lived in Texas and worked in finance, I would probably be a Republican. Many  of our political beliefs are of course inherited from our parents. But this inheritance is not genetic; it’s more the force of circumstance. Most of the people I know are liberal democrats. Are they all wonderful open people? They like to think so.  I’m not so sure. I don’t think there is really that much of a correlation between personality and ideology.

We’re all agreed that Romney and Ryan have a deeply flawed world outlook. But what about Obama and his administration? On March 5, 2012, in a speech defending targeted assassination, the Attorney General quoted John Kennedy, “In the long history of the world only a few generations have been granted the role of defending freedom in its hour of maximum danger.” When I first heard these word when I was fifteen, I thought it was hyperbole. Now reading Eric Holder I think it’s total bullshit. Hopefully Eric Holder realizes this too.

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Was Marie Antoinette a lesbian?

I saw “Farewell My Queen,” a movie about the Court of Versailles during the first days of the Revolution. The movie strongly suggests that Marie Antoinette had an affair with the beautiful Duchess of Polignac. Before the Revolution there was an underground network in France that distributed anti-royalist literature. Much of this literature was border line pornography. A large public delighted in reading about court scandals. Whether Marie Antoinette actually slept with the Duchess of Polignac we will never know.

Robert Darnton has written much about these 18th Century. Some of the most notorious of this literature was written by disenchanted aristocrats. Many better educated Frenchmen believed that the ideas of the enlightenment were incompatible with an absolute monarchy. Of course these pre-revolutionary Frenchmen were influenced by the famous intellectuals of the day: Voltaire, Rousseau, Montesquieu. Still, the influence of the anonymous pamphleteers must also have affected the revolutionaries. Picturing Marie Antoinette in bed with her girlfriend, while her impotent husband tries to rule the country, must have inspired some of the rage and contempt which fueled the revolution.

Thomas Callender was a Scottish émigré who wrote  about the scandalous life of late 18th century rich and famous Americans.   Did you know that Alexander Hamilton had an affair with Maria Reynolds, a lovely, young married women? Well, Thomas Callender published a pamphlet about this romance.  Callender also happened to be a Federalist and an opponent to Jefferson.

For his loyal service to Jefferson’s faction, Thomas Callender believed he was entitled to a post office job. Jefferson said no. If he valued his historical reputation, Jefferson would never have refused Callender’s request. Callender was a gifted polemicist. In 1803 he published a pamphlet in that he alleged that Thomas Jefferson had a slave mistress and children with Sally Hemmings.

For two centuries almost all reputable historians refused to admit there was any validity to these allegations. In 1974, Fawn Brodie wrote  a biography of  Thomas Jefferson. She was the first academic historian to find the Sally Hemings story  credible. She believed that Thomas Jefferson was a revolutionary, an heir to the same enlightenment that ruined the life of Marie Antoinette. At the same time, he could never acknowledge that his wealth and power was based on slave labor. In the late 1990s, DNA analysis of Sally Hemmings’ descendents  proved conclusively that Thomas Jefferson did have children by Sally Hemmings.

There is a thin line between gossip and politics. Probably Marie Antoinette was not quite as decadent as her enemies believed. It didn’t matter.  The old regime was so parasitic, the French revolutionaries believed, that only the most extreme remedy, the guillotine,  could cure the ills of their society.  Maybe they were right.

Thomas Jefferson was a contemporary of Marie Antoinette. After his death, Thomas Jefferson became like all the founding fathers, an American demigod. In the 1960s, I used to shop at the  Jefferson bookstore on Union Square. The bookshop was owned by the American Communist Party. Naming a communist bookstore after Jefferson seems an odd choice. But don’t forget both Lenin and Jefferson were both members of the landed aristocracy and the radical intelligentsia. While he was organizing the Russian Revolution, Lenin collected a quarterly check from his family estates.

In 2014, the Belgium National film company is planning the release of a new film, “Thomas and Marie.” It’s an R rated historical romance. Can’t wait to see it.

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I Would Prefer Not To

Why are some people defiant and passive at the same time? Why do they refuse to cooperate with their family and their co-workers?  Do they suffer from mental illness? Are they victims of their of own false pride? Maybe they’re just lazy. There is always a mysterious quality to this kind of rebellion.  This quiet, stubborn revolt can be tragic and almost heroic, sad and comic at the same time. Think of Bartleby, the hero of Melville’s  1853 tale, “Bartleby, the Scrivener.” To any request made by his employer, he answers “I would prefer not to.”

Before I retired, I worked as a supervisor at a government office. One of our staff was an elderly, alcoholic woman. Like Bartleby’s employer I was not much of a disciplinarian. Like him, “I am a man whom from earliest youth believed that the easiest way is the best.” Whenever possible, I avoid confrontation. One morning, Florence showed up, as usual, late for work, drunk, and belligerent. If she just filed 15 folders before 11 o’clock, I told her, I wouldn’t write her up.  I went to her office at 11 and as I expected she had filed no folders. I decided to schedule a disciplinary hearing that might result in her dismissal.

Florence tried to put me on a guilt trip. She cried that she was the sole support of her family. Her family was herself and her husband, Bob. Bob had once worked for the organization. He was a notorious drunk. His father was a high administrator.  New York is a tribal place; his father was a tribal chief. Bob was under his protection. When his father died, Bob’s world fell apart. He received three demotions and  was then fired for gross incompetence.

Florence never pulled her weight at work. Still the thought of her dismissal made me anxious.  For a few nights, I even had trouble sleeping. After I told her I was charging her with insubordination, Florence didn’t come to work for eleven days. She didn’t call. I couldn’t reach her; her phone was disconnected. Office morale improved. The District director complemented me on my firmness.  Even the Union Rep felt I had done the right thing.  Still the whole business made me nervous. I didn’t look forward to the Hearing. Florence might make me look bad. She might counter my charges with an expose of some of my procedural errors.

Florence’s daughter called me on the twelfth day of her absence. Her mother, she told me, had died in her sleep. She added quickly that there wasn’t going to be a funeral.

Bartleby’s decline was slower. The lawyer didn’t have the resolve to evict his former employee from his office. Bartleby slept and ate there. Rather than evict Bartleby, the lawyer moved to new quarters. But Bartleby refused to leave the building. He would not submit to any form of pressure. He said, “I would prefer not to.” Finally he was declared a vagrant and was sent to the old New York prison, The Tombs.  In that era, if a prisoner wanted to eat, he had to pay the grubman to deliver him food. The lawyer hired a grubman to provide Bartleby with food. Bartleby said, “I would prefer not to dine”. He laid down in the prison yard and died.

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The Dictator On Vacation

I was in San Diego last week. I was off the grid and didn’t bother to update my blog.

While I was in San Diego I visited the Zoo. The Zoo, like all Zoos, Natural History Museums, and Aquariums, want us to be more ecologically conscious. Because these institutions cater to families, there is a great emphasis in educating the younger generation to live a life more in balance with nature and to be better stewards of the planets.  Why than, all the junk food?

If I were the dictator, I would make all supposed eco-friendly institutions ban junk food. That’s right no more soda, $5 dollar pretzels, or mystery meat hot dogs. Zoo Keepers, put-up or shut-up. No more eco preaching allowed until you stop selling us crap food.

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Irony Never Ends

Did your know Mitt Romney’s son Craig is a music lover? He has two sons Miles and Parker.  I assume he  named  the boys after Charlie Parker and Miles Davis.   For my younger readers Miles and Charlie Parker invented “cool”. Miles recorded a classic record at Birdland in 1948 titled “Birth of the Cool”.  Miles and Bird Parker were the greatest of the mid-century jazzmen. They were the polar opposite of white bread Mormonism.

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