September 29, 2011

The Search for the World’s Greatest Bridge

Sydney Bridge
The Golden Gate Bridge

Would anybody in their right mind, put all their stuff in storage, give notice to the landlord in the Mar Vista section of Los Angeles thereby becoming homeless, and then go running off to Australia in search of material for their blog?

Obviously using a left-handed shirttail grab to save a fellow’s life in Sydney will make for a great page or two for the memoirs, but would people want to read a column online detailing how such a maneuver stopped a fellow who was in the falling down stage of inebriation from attempting to stand on a precipice that was four floor above the street and urinate into the void? When he decided to redirect his efforts to a nearby potted plant and fell face first into the bush, didn’t that constitute saving his life? Some of the more immature travelers thought it might have been hilarious to let him try his face-plant efforts from on top of the fence that would have provided a more majestic visual than the crass spectacle of the “watering” of the shrubbery did

A large number of books and several magazines find eager audiences willing to spend money to read about far away places with strange sounding names so why is it that the Internets hasn’t spawned a digital Kerouac? Can crossposting columns on Digihitch lead to a book deal? Would “No good blog goes unread” be the corollary for “No good deed goes unpunished!”?

What if a fellow traveled extensively and then boldly asserted that the Golden Gate Bridge in the San Francisco area was more photogenic than the Sydney Bridge? That might stir up one or two posts in the comments section challenging the contention, but (hypothetically) do any potential readers in Concordia Kansas really care about determining which of the two is a better photo op? Wouldn’t they be more interested in getting the final score of the Friday night high school football game?

Would it be worth all the time the time, effort, and expense required to get photos of the two contenders, just to push a troll in the King’s Cross Section of one of the bridges’ home towns into going to all the trouble of posting an “au contraire” message in the comments section?

Isn’t that like the moment in “Rebel without a cause” when James Stark (James Dean) asks the other guy: “Why do we do this Buzz?” The answer was “We gotta do something.”

Since that first step of walking out of the apartment building in Los Angeles happened on October 1 of 2008, we’ve been thinking about the way things have changed since then.

Many Americans pay for a tour to a foreign country and come back with enthusiastic accounts of forming friendships on the trip . . . with their fellow American travelers. Business men who get paid to go to Australia usually get to stay at a chain franchise hotel and get to mingle with other businessmen from around the world.

When they come back to the USA folks will ask: “What are the Australians like?” and those folks will reel off a list of Kodak moments (such as shots of Bon Scott’s statue in Fremantle) and spout travel platitudes.

Staying in Hostels we did not encounter very many fellow Americans nor did we get a chance to chat with many Australians. We mostly got to talk to fellow vagabonders from throughout the British Empire plus a goodly number of European youths. We made an effort to talk to Aussies so that we could blog our reply in more detail to the “What are Australians like?” question.

If you love New York City (and who doesn’t?), you will feel quite at home in Sydney, but are New Yorkers just like the folks in Concordia Kansas? The Sydney vs. Perth debate is very similar to the rivalry between New York City and the City of our Lady Queen of the Angeles (AKA L. A.).

At a hostel in Kalgoorlie, (the Word spell check challenges the name of that city in the W. A. [AKA Western Australia]) you are more likely to encounter a Kiwi seeking work than a person from Sydney.

Regional loyalty is an interesting phenomenon. Somebody in Australia thought it would be better to reshoot episodes of “The Office” with local geographical references rather than showing reruns of the American series (which was inspired by a series in England).

If the Aussies make a joke about Skimpie’s being the most famous saloon in Australia would that be better than a reference to the Amereica’s best corner bar? When Johnny Carson was hosting the Tonight Show from a studio in New York, he helped Hurley’s achieve that distinction, but now that he’s gone and Hurley’s is too; what is the most famous gin mill in the USA?

Australians make as much of a fuss about the Melbourne Cup as Americans do for the Kentucky Derby. Can your American neighbor who has taken a tour of Oz tell you when that race is held?

One of the most popular tourist attractions in Australia is the National War Museum in Canberra. Americans who visit it can learn during World War II, just as the Australians were preparing for an invasion by Japan, the Americas won the Battle of the Coral Sea and the Battle of Midway in rapid succession and thereby crippled the Japanese military’s plan to plant their flag on Australian soil.

Australians we met made efforts to explain that they loved America and Americans for preventing the Japanese invasion, but they disagreed with what George W. Bush was doing with torture, invasions, and attacks on personal liberty.

We went to an (American) Election Results (Why does America insist on holding their elections on Melbourne Cup Day?) viewing party at the University of Sydney and the tumultuous reaction to Obama’s victory seemed genuine. When the polls closed at 9 p. m. on Election day, on America’s West Coast, it was 3 p.m. Wednesday in Sydney.

Lately as we notice that while some beautiful Indian Summer days in Berkeley indicate that Winter is drawing neigh, the jacaranda bushes will soon be blooming in Sydney and their country will prepare to celebrate Christmas in the traditional Australia way, i.e. in a bathing suit on the beaches from Bondi to Cottesloe

In late October of 2008, Australians were very enthusiastic about the election of President Obama and we can’t help but wonder if “change” has occurred in their assessments of America’s leader. Hmmm. Would it be better to go back to the University of Sydney to watch the 2012 Election results get posted or should we try going to Harry’s New York Bar in Paris to see the reaction there?

Being a cynical self-subsidized American political columnist means that ultimately that decision will be up to the World’s Laziest Jounralist and no one else will get to participate in the final results. Which brings us back to Buzz’s question in “Rebel Without a Cause.”

At Christmas time in 2008 we recall one evening sitting in the smoking and drinking area of a hostel in Fremantle Western Australia chatting with some young ladies from Stockton England (Home of the Northern Blues) and they asked this columnist why he had gone to all the effort to travel there.

Seeing the Fords, Ferraris, and Chaparrals compete at Sebring had been fun. Going to the Oscars™, Emmys, and Grammies had been a real hoot (should we double back on our tracks and see if they have changed much since Nixon was in the White House?). We had asked John Wayne for his autograph and gotten a business card with a reproduction of his signature. We gave our autograph to Paul Newman. We flew in the Goodyear blimp.

Would a blogger have to be crazy to try to attempt to do something with a blog that Robert Louis Stevenson, Joseph Conrad, and Jack London didn’t achieve with their books? We explained that we were searching for a colorful character who had been everywhere and done everything. The Brits enthusiastic response was to say that was precisely why they had come there and that was why they were glad they had met the World’s Laziest Journalist.

In all the intervening days we’ve lost track of the “on the road” aspect of our quest for material for the columns we write. It seems that we have settled into a routine of bashing the Bush-Obama political agenda. Now we have to ask ourself another question. “Why (allegedly) do more sailors jump ship in New Zealand than any other country in the world?”

In “A Personal Record,” Joseph Conrad wrote: “I had given myself up to the idleness of a haunted man who looks for nothing but words wherein to capture his visions.”

Since some music will now always remind us of our trip to Australia, the disk jockey will now play Bobby Bare’s “Five hundred miles away from home,” Johnny Cash’s “Live at Fulsome Prison” album, and the 1812 Overture (what will the Western Australia Symphony Orchestra play at this year’s Christmas Concert under the stars?). We have to go check the expiration date on our passport. Have an “I remember it well” type week.

March 1, 2011

Prisoners for fun and profit

Is there a problem if a business, which intended as a detention facility for young criminals, pays a judge a “finder’s fee” for sending them new “customers”? Judge Mark Ciavarella was found guilty of charges relating to $997,600 that was paid to him by Robert Powell (according to information found online via a Google News Search), who built the PA Child Care center. The judge asserted that he never accepted money for sending juveniles to detention centers. The enraged mother of a kid who committed suicide after a term in a detention center, held the judge responsible for the death.

Americans have accepted the facts of life and the necessity of prison facilities, but what the teabag generation does not like is the Prisons existing as a government function without turning a profit. Putting private firms in charge of prisons will reduce government, but figuring out how adding a profit making middle man can be portrayed as an efficient step toward economic efficiency was more of a challenge.

Isn’t one way to do that, to bust the prison guards union and pay the private security employees less, make some profit, and do some cost reduction?

That brings up a disturbing aspect of the new philosophy of prisons. If you were a cut-rate guard, which group would you rather supervise: a bunch of inept grass-smoking slackers or juvenile delinquents who don’t hesitate to commit burglaries or steal cars?

So, if you prefer low maintenance stoners, how are you going to get enough to fill your facility?

Can you think of a better source for new “customers” than a tough as nails judge?

There were stories about the furor over illegal aliens in Arizona that asserted that the underlying motivation for the fuss was to get more illegal aliens and use them as inmates in a prison-for-pay facility because a poor day laborer would be a much more preferred detainee than a bank robber, or someone who was found guilty of aggravated assault.

We found out about the trial, which took place in our old home town of Scranton Pa., while listening to one of the few Mike Malloy radio shows that had not been preempted by Lady Bear or Dons Basketball. In L. A. the Kings Hockey matches are the culprits who preempt the prolific progressive pundit. Malloy ran the intriguing prison for profit item in the profusion of information designed to fuel outrage. Is it any wonder that the conservative capitalists prefer to preempt the guy who provides a tsunami of information that might undercut the conservative trend towards a thousand year Republican Reich?

Do some Google News searches for Judge Ciavarella, Robert Powell, Robert Mericle, and Judge Michael Conahan. Maybe you will find enough to do a book on the scandal from the anthracite area. Maybe there’s enough on the down side of the perplexing prisons for pay problem for a book length project?

When an online columnist finds enough information for just one short column that means he has done a good job. After this column is posted, we gotta find some new underreported topic and gather enough for an interesting installment. We can’t put all the relevant material in a column that gets scanned at top speed so why try. Perhaps we can find out where all the homeless hippies in Venice CA have gone? We have already posted a column that looks at the trend of sports programs replacing partisan progressive political punditry, so scratch that idea.

Will there be a Kings game on tonight or will we be able to hear the Mike Malloy Program?

Albert Einstein has been quoted as saying: “A human being is part of a whole, called by us the Universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feelings, as something separated from the rest a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circles of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.” Isn’t compassion one of the Capitalists’ Seven Deadly Sins?

Now the disk jockey will play Johnny Cash’s “Live at Folsom Prison” album, his “At Osteraker Prison” album, and his “Live at San Quentin” album. We gotta go for a walk on the Venice Beach. Have a “ramblin’ man” type week.

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