Saturday, March 22, 2014

"Canyon Prayer"

I no longer buy many popular or country albums -- my CD collection already occupies a disproportionate space in Palazzo Darby, and with other expenses clamoring for my attention, my rare acquisitions these days are mostly of music that promises more mileage (e.g., classical, jazz, world). Still, I'm lucky enough to have access to several separate library systems, which is a major benefit of living in northern Virginia. And I do keep an eye out for interesting-looking CDs in all genres to check out (in two senses). 

Recently I borrowed Honeysuckle Sweet, by Jessi Alexander. It's not particularly new, released in 2005, but new to me. I promise you the attractive woman shown in her publicity photo on the cover had nothing to do with my selection. Well, maybe a little.

Jessi has what sounds like a well-trained voice; unfortunately, it is much like that of hundreds of other country singers. Not distinctive like Lucinda Williams (rapidly sinking after Car Wheels on a Gravel Road), Martina McBride, or k.d. lang.

Jessi wrote or co-wrote all the songs. Some are decent enough but not special. The arrangements are smoothly professional, right out of the Nashville playbook. As I listened to one track after another, my reaction was "okay, she's promising but needs to develop a sensibility and musical style of her own."

So I can hardly recommend Honeysuckle Sweet unreservedly. Why am I writing about it at all? Because when I got to the very last track, "Canyon Prayer," I was knocked sideways. It is of a different order than any of the other songs. Not only is it a beautiful tune, but the lyrics (co-credited to her producer, Gary Nicholson) are poetic and far more spiritually mature than often heard from someone of her young age, or any age. (She says she originally wrote it years before the album, when she was sitting at the rim of the Grand Canyon.)

I will take the liberty of quoting a slightly abridged version:

Time after time, I've turned away from you,
When all I had to do was surrender to your love.
You've seen me stumble, you've watched me fall,
And though I heard you call, I just wasn't strong enough.
But there's an emptiness inside without you in my life:
Lord, I hope you hear my prayer tonight.

Won't you blind my eyes when all I see is temptation.
Break my stride when I'm runnin' from the truth.
An' tie my hands when I reach out with desire.
Go on an' do what you must do,
Whatever you must take me through till I turn to you. ...

I know that others fall down on their knees for mercy,
But you may have to hurt me before I see the light.
'Cause I've grown as far as I can go by myself:
I need your help if I'm gonna get it right.
Tired of strugglin' every day,
I wanna know the way,
So now the only prayer I wanna pray:

Is just blind my eyes when all I see is temptation.
Break my stride when I'm runnin' from the truth.
An' tie my hands when I reach out with desire.
Go on an' do what you must do,
Whatever you must put me through till I turn to you. ...

Blind my eyes;
Break my stride;
Whatever you want to be denied;
Whatever you must do.
An' tie my hands;
Ignore my demands;
Build a wall that stands so high, I can't get through Until I turn to you.

Sometimes I think inspiration still delivers its rays, that there is a minute hope for popular culture and for the world.

Monday, March 17, 2014

Why not invite clairvoyants to visualize what has happened to Malaysia 370?

The "experts" and well-trained search and rescue teams from 26 countries are confounded. For examples of the astonishing range of theories and speculations among the public, see here and here from Richard Fernandez's Belmont Club site. (Be sure to scroll down after the main posts past the advertising junk to the comment sections.)

So why not give anyone who claims clairvoyant extrasensory perception (also known as remote viewing) a chance to test their ability? ESP, it has been widely noted, seems to work best when there is an emotional connection with the target. A missing airliner with 239 occupants meets that criterion far better than a pack of Zener cards with uninteresting symbols.

When (if) the mystery is solved, the clairvoyant perceptions could be graded on an accuracy scale from "completely wrong" to "correct in every detail." With a large enough sample, a statistically significant data analysis could be calculated.

Almost surely most responses from clairvoyants would fall somewhere outside the two extremes. But it would be fascinating to see exactly where on the scale. Responses could also be broken down by the alleged percipients' demographics, if such information were sought at the time of the experiment -- according, for instance, to sex, location, age, nationality, &c.

If all responses were solicited via email, the time and date stamp would add another variable.

This is not meant to treat lightly what will very likely turn out to be a tragic event. Nor am I suggesting that the results of the experiment (which would take a while to analyze) determine anything about the search strategy, which presumably is being carried out according to standard operating procedures based on experience. But it couldn't hurt to try, if a group of scientists would open their minds enough to conduct the procedure.

Wednesday, March 12, 2014

Disappearing act

Tip o'the lid: American Digest

If an airliner falls in the middle of the ocean, and nobody hears (or sees it), does it make any noise, sight, or sense?

Having spent some 17 years working in the aviation safety field, I ought to have something to say about the mysterious disappearance (as of this writing) of Malaysia Flight Three Seven Zero.

I won't keep you in suspense: I don't know what to think.

A working hypothesis requires evidence. There is no evidence. The investigative authorities always say in the immediate aftermath of an accident that speculation should be avoided until the facts are known. Perfectly right. Good luck with that.

We all have terrorism on the brain these days. It is strange that voice communication and the transponder that prints the flight number, altitude, and location on radar flight following suddenly stopped. No pilot, unless insane or under duress, would have commanded that. And unless the airplane experienced a catastrophic failure like a stuck rudder hard-over, an especially devastating uncontained engine failure, or a mid-air break-up, there would have been time for the pilots to send a radio message. None was received.

Could terrorists have forced their way into the cockpit? Not impossible. Could explosives have destroyed the aircraft in flight? Conceivably.

But terrorism seems unlikely. The fact that two (or more) passengers were traveling with stolen passports is almost certainly a red herring. Why take a chance of being stopped because of a fake passport when you have a valid one? In that part of the world -- and maybe elsewhere -- any given flight probably includes passengers with phony IDs. What message was supposed to be sent? If it was down to Muslim fanatics, why blow up a plane on the national airline of Malaysia, a Muslim country?

A radio frequency is reserved for pilots to transmit an automated message of a hijacking, although I don't know if its use is universal among airlines.

It was reported that military radar showed that the flight did a U-turn. It was only an hour from its airport of origin, and if some mechanical difficulty had been detected, the best plan might have been to return whence it had taken off. But why no radio communication? The normal course would have been to contact the airline's maintenance technical staff for advice, or declare an urgency or emergency. 

Pilot suicide? It is a serious breach of good manners if as a pilot you take all your passengers with should you decide to say goodbye to this cruel word, but it happens, albeit rarely. There was EgyptAir Nine Nine Zero. SilkAir One Eight Five.

And it was reported that a woman claimed that one of the pilots on Malaysia Three Seven Zero once invited her to share his quarters on the flight deck during an entire flight. If that is true, it was a disgraceful violation of cockpit discipline. But it's hard to see any relevance to this situation.

Probably a debris field will be discovered -- tomorrow, next week, next month. Depending on its location and, if in the sea, the depth of the wreckage, the flight data recorder and cockpit voice recorder will be recovered. It could take a while; I believe it was two years before they found the recorders from Air France Four Four Seven.

Meanwhile my heart goes out to the relatives of the passengers, still nursing whatever hope they can that some are alive in the air, on land, or at sea.

Friday, March 07, 2014

Western civilization died 70 years ago

Or maybe it would be truer to say exactly a century ago, in 1914, at the beginning of the two world wars that in many ways were phases of the same conflict.

While the allies emerged militarily and politically victorious at the end of World War II, the artistic and spiritual traditions that had sustained Europe and its derivatives through all its previous trials and disasters were buried in the ruins. They were buried with the bodies in the cemeteries and unmarked graves, and under the shattered cities.

The churches left God. The arts rejected beauty. After such horror, who could believe in their eternal value? A few humanists like Aldous Huxley, Gilbert Highet, and Jacques Barzun fought a rear-guard action to preserve what had been the lifeblood of Western culture. The devastation ultimately overcame their efforts.

All that is left today is economics, "fun," and technology. Economics is the contemporary religion, entertainment venues our places of congregation, new gadgets our icons.

Such melancholy thoughts are my take-away from watching, over the course of half a year (with breaks between discs -- it would be unbearable otherwise) The World at War. By almost universal agreement, this series made by Thames TV and first broadcast in the U.K. in 1973-74 is the best documentary on World War II ever. Because it includes commentary from many who participated in the war, nothing like it can be produced again.

Interviewees, some still looking surprisingly young three decades after the war, include British, Americans, Germans, and Japanese. Some were simply survivors, others high-ranking officials. No one expresses much regret for their personal decisions and actions, although many deplore the events and carnage.

The very first scene in the first of the 26 episodes (as well as the final scene in the last) sets the tone. We see a ruined village, Oradour-sur-Glane in France, in which almost all the occupants were murdered by the SS. It has not been rebuilt, although signage and a memorial indicate the atrocity. No one lives there.

The long series has time to show the war in depth, including Europe, the Pacific and Far East (and such nearly forgotten campaigns as Burma, where British soldiers fought under the most harrowing conditions imaginable or unimaginable, recalled onscreen by veterans). Needless to say, much of the film is immensely painful viewing. The editing is relatively kind: unsparing in picturing the gore, but only quickly enough to make its impact before cutting away.

Some of the most moving and disturbing scenes are not overtly violent. We see the Germans separating the men and women in an occupied Russian town. The men are sent away, presumably for slave labor. There are pitiful last embraces. Husbands and wives must have known they would not see each other again in this world.

Sound effects have obviously been added to much of the footage. Few battlefield cameramen were accompanied by sound recordists. Some purists might object to this ex post facto application, but it adds to the realism and immediacy.

The voice-over is contributed by Laurence Oliver, with understated drama and an air of sadness held in check. Olivier was a superb voice actor, as in every other aspect of his art.

While the war fades in our time to a few trite images (Pearl Harbor, Normandy Invasion, Iwo Jima, Hiroshima, etc.), it is urgent to be reminded of how savage and encompassing it actually was. The World at War accomplishes that.

To have the grand scale of the war's madness and suffering brought home to us helps to explain, if not justify, why most of Europe has given up the defense of its heritage. It is natural to say, "Never again." But trying to abolish national borders, even inviting colonization by militant Islam, is the wrong way to insure peace.  Pretending there are no longer differences among countries and cultures, while ignoring the massive population replacement by Muslims and Africans, may well culminate in yet another terrible chapter of history.


Tuesday, March 04, 2014

U.S. to put $1 billion in Ukraine tip jar

Here, guys, buy yourself an energy drink.

If the Chihuahua's bark doesn't convince the Tyrannosaurus Rex to back off, well, money talks. So the Chihuahua Administration believes.
U.S. officials say the White House is announcing an aid package to Ukraine of $1 billion in lost energy subsidies as it seeks to extract itself from Russia's influence. The announcement came as U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry landed in the Ukrainian capital Tuesday to show American support for Kiev's military and political struggle against Moscow.
It's been a cliché for generations that the thoughts of our governoids, faced with trouble they can't avoid, turn quickly to "throwing money at the problem." Speak loudly and carry a big bankroll. Generally, the dollars used to be thrown where Americans -- especially those whose votes were craved -- could catch them. Then the concept was expanded to Foreign Aid. We were the rich uncle, why not buy the world a Coke?
The economic package also includes training assistance to Ukraine's national bank, Finance Ministry and election observers ahead of a May 25 national vote.
For Ukraine's sake, let's hope the training assistance doesn't come from our own national bank, the Federal Reserve. Once the election observers have observed their vote on May 25, perhaps we could borrow them to oversee our New Black Panther intimidation, fake-IDs, and paperless electronic vote counting.

Let's review this latest comedy routine. The Failed Messiah and his soiled apostle Kerry draw lines in the air to convince Russia's strongman Putin to put aside any designs on Ukraine. ("Lear. I will do such things -- What they are yet I know not; but they shall be the terror of the earth.") As if our bedraggled nation needs to antagonize the Bear with threats we won't and can't carry out.

"Uh, Valerie, do we have a plan B?"

"Sure, send a billion to Ukraine, sealed with a kiss."

"Great, there must be lots of Ukrainians in Brooklyn or somewhere. Votes in the bank."

Of course, the United States is a little short of the ready at the moment, overdrawn by $17 trillion. Never mind. It's just play dough. Congress will raise the spending limit on our national credit card if needed.

To anyone except George Soros, Warren Buffett, or Bill Gates, a billion is still worth a little. No offense to Ukrainians, but if we're being charitable, how about starting at home? After all, millions of Americans are out of work, many having given up even trying to find any; dining on food stamps; unable to afford the premiums under the "Affordable Care Act" to get their insides tuned up; in some cases, living in trailers and tents in Obamavilles. 

Nah, they don't matter -- a bunch of bitter clingers, speed bumps on the road to world government. Why can't they just fundamentally transform into nothing?

But we'll show Putin a thing. His armies and air force can't stand up to a disabled country with an aid package.

And the beat goes on.

Sunday, March 02, 2014

Crimea and punishment

The Ukraine/Crimea fiasco will not blow up into a big-time regional war. It will simply continue, in a somewhat different vein, the ethnic divisions and antipathies that have been standard for hundreds of years.

Russia will occupy the Crimea; I doubt they'll push it beyond that. Vladimir Putin will probably release a few peace doves to the Ukrainian hotheads, make enough concessions to get them to simmer down for the time being. The enmities will continue until further notice, which won't come anytime soon, but the world will move on to gape at the next crisis.

Not that there won't be bad consequences from this confrontation, and not only for the unfortunate souls in Ukraine. It will cement Putin's reputation, not least in his own mind, of being a master political gamesman. The reputation is probably exaggerated, but Obammy's pathetic warnings and mental vacancy make the Russian strongman look like Machiavelli in comparison.

Yet it isn't only our pen-and-phone King of Kings who has been shown up as a dunce. Or even the various manipulators whispering in his ear. It is the whole empty, doomed U.S. foreign policy since President Reagan -- a policy based on concession, elocution, and ignorance of the madness prevailing in many patches of the world -- and the response of sending in the U.S. military to kill jihadists and try to build nations where there have never been nations, only tribes.

The world is getting a good laugh at the expense of the business-as-usual EU and the United States in full paper tiger mode.