Monday, March 31, 2014

Dinos, and Spacehips, and Whales, Oh My

The very first adult novel I ever read recreationally (3rd grade, I think) qualifies as science fiction: Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. I’d already read the Classic Comics adaptation, and wanted to tackle the original. The book, though a bit tattered, is still on my shelf. Not far behind Doyle was HG Wells, a hardcover that included the novel War of the Worlds and several short stories. That particular book escaped my possession sometime during the ensuing decades, but more than a foot of my current shelf space contains more recent printings of Wells’ works. I didn’t catch Wells’ social commentary at age 8, of course, but that provided a new level of enjoyment on later re-reads.

As an aside, film versions of Wells usually miss his points, too, though I’m not sure if the oversights are deliberate. Of all the adaptations of The Island of Dr. Moreau, for example, only the first (Island of Lost Souls [1932], released when Wells was still alive) clearly makes his point that people, as well as the other creatures on the island, maintain a veneer of civilization only through violence to their animal natures and the imposition of arbitrary codes of ethics. Not one of the several adaptations of The Food of the Gods hints that Wells’ sympathies were with the giants – an unsubtle metaphor regarding masses of petty little people trying to cut down those few who have outgrown them. Neither film version of The Time Machine (though I like the first one) has anything to do with social class, as does the book. Perhaps the screenwriters felt the themes to be non-cinematic.

In any event, sci-fi has been a staple of my reading material ever since I picked up Doyle so long ago. Not exclusively by any means: on my bed table at this moment is Henry Kissinger’s On China, but right next to it is The Accidental Time Machine by Joe Haldeman. In my DVD player is disc 2 of The Ray Bradbury Theater collection. In every genre, trash outweighs treasure by many tons, but the best scifi is very good literature by any measure, often tackling themes about human nature (JG Ballard comes to mind) from which mainstream authors shy. Scifi still accounts only for 6% of all fiction sold, but lately has earned more cachet thanks to the success of books (and, perhaps more importantly, movies) such as Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games and Orson Scott Card’s Ender’s Game.

While the classic authors of scifi (most of whom were alive and at the top of their game) were very much among the companions of my youth through their books, there was one glaring omission: Alfred Bester. Not entirely. It’s hard to avoid Bester entirely: when working for DC comics, he authored the original Green Lantern Oath. But I hadn’t read his flagship novel from 1956 The Stars My Destination until this past weekend.

It was a surprise. The novel demands to be called trippy, even though it was published a decade before that adjective was in common use. More unexpected than just the stylistic oddities, however, is the very un-1950s anti-hero Gulliver (Gully) Foyle. One can’t help wondering if Bester created Foyle as a rebellion against the restrictions he faced in comics from the relentlessly moralistic Comic Book Code of the day, which forbad portraying villains as sympathetic characters.  Not that Foyle is sympathetic. He is reprehensible: a crude violent worthless murdering rapist nobody. He is motivated solely by his instinct for self-preservation and his quest for revenge against the crew of the spaceship that deliberately failed to stop and rescue him when he was the last survivor on a ship adrift in space. Even though by extraordinary luck he lives, he can’t get past his rage at having been left to die. As utterly horrible as the man is, the sheer fanaticism of his pursuit of a common man’s vengeance in a future world dominated by a commercial aristocracy becomes somehow fascinating. Nowadays we are less surprised by center stage villains – even Disney’s new version of Sleeping Beauty is titled Maleficent after the villain – but in 1956 this was a novelty.

Bester tacitly raises the point that the upside to obsession is the meaning it provides to a life that otherwise might be devoid of one. In Moby Dick, another novel I read well before I could understand it as more than an adventure/monster story, Ahab’s quest for vengeance on the white whale, however destructive, illumines his life. Without it he would be just another forgettable captain of a whaling ship. With it, he becomes a mythic figure. Khan, on the other hand, would have been better off forgetting it.


Trailer for The Lost World (1925)



Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Untimely Notions

I’m writing this paragraph while waiting to have a very unwelcome discussion this afternoon with a friend who I hope still will be a friend at the end of it. (It’s a business matter on which I won’t elaborate, but it has significant personal consequences in both directions.) It is something I want to get out of the way as soon as possible. Accordingly, time is passing very very slowly. The day already seems to have passed twice over.

We’ve all experienced the various ways time seems to vary. It slows to a crawl while sitting in a theater audience during a boring play, during moments of fear such as free fall, and when anticipating a single event such as the boiling of the proverbial watched pot. Other events rush up upon us: the next quarter’s property taxes always come due with unseemly rapidity, and rides at Six Flags are over in a flash. Yet, scientists have a hard time pinning down the subjective nature of time. When skydivers in free fall are asked to click the passing seconds (by their own perception) on a counter, for example, they do so just as accurately as when they are standing safely on the ground, even though they afterward claim the fall felt longer than the total number of seconds they themselves clicked. This experiment may miss the point, though; we recognize on some level that a second is still a second, but each second itself is what seems distended. So, our count is right (more or less) while we’re counting, but our recollection of time passages (even just a few moments later) can differ enormously depending on the circumstance.

As long ago as 1868 Karl von Vierordt managed to get a common time misperception named after him. Vierordt’s Law states that people tend to overestimate the duration of short periods of time while underestimating long periods. Related to this law is the telescoping effect, whereby people tend to remember recent events as further back in time than their actual occurrence while remembering distant events as more recent. Then there is the way years fly by more quickly as we age. This may be a proportional sense: 5% of a 20 year-old’s life is 1 year, while 5% of a 50 year-old’s life is 2.5 years; it is not surprising if the two spans seem roughly equivalent to the person old enough to have experienced both.

This is the fourth paragraph and only 6 minutes have passed since I began (including the time to look up von Vierordt). That’s something of a record for one of my blogs. The meeting is still forever and a day away.



Saturday, March 22, 2014

Paleos with Benefits



Spring has sprung. As the weather warms and our clothes cover steadily less, many of us are trying to shed the winter poundage before it becomes too visible. With a similar thought in mind, US News and World Report recently released ratings of 32 diet plans for 2014. The ones at the top of their list all said pretty much what we are accustomed to hearing about what to eat: DASH – fruits, veggies, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy”; Mayo – emphasis on fruits, veggies, lean meat, and low-fat dairy”; Flexitarian – “the ‘new meat’ (tofu, beans, lentils, peas, nuts and seeds, and eggs)” plus fruits and veggies, whole grains, dairy, sugar and spice. You get idea. All of the top ten frowned on red meat and animal fat. USN&WR placed the Paleo Diet (eating like a caveman) at the very bottom of the list, yet with a curious qualifier: “‘A true Paleo diet might be a great option: very lean, pure meats, lots of wild plants,’ said one expert—quickly adding, however, that duplicating such a regimen in modern times would be difficult.”

The Paleo folk responded as you might expect. Said Dr. Loren Cordain at thepaleodiet.com, “The USN&WR ratings represent a purely subjective appraisal of 32 popular diets and accordingly has little or no objective value from a scientific perspective…” He then linked to his earlier Rebuttal of the previous year’s list (on which Paleo also finished last) including a bibliography of 25 scientific studies supporting his position. Paleo has no problem with red meat or (despite the USN&WR quote) animal fat per se, noting that hunter-gatherers generally eat more of both than modern Westerners without apparent ill effects – though most h-g’s still get the majority of their calories from plants, as do we.

Food is oddly – often fiercely – political. (See an old short story of mine Deep Fried set in a future in which donuts are illegal.) Never mind a deadlocked Congress always recycling the same incompatible arguments, try putting a vegan and an Atkins proponent in the same room. Most wellness diets since the middle of the 19th century up until today have deep roots in vegetarianism. Meats are allowed into them grudgingly and with a bad conscience. Vegetarian diets certainly can be healthy, though how healthy is surprisingly difficult to determine. Vegetarians on average have healthier lifestyles all around than the rest of the population – they smoke less, drink less, weigh less, exercise more – so it is hard to tease out the effects of diet from the effects of other choices. Nonetheless, the diet clearly does no harm, if it is properly balanced, and seems to have real benefits. Health is not the only (often not the primary) reason for choosing the diet. Vegetarians frequently (often primarily) promote their diet for ethical and ecological reasons. Whatever the merits of those arguments, however, they don’t address whether or not a high animal protein diet is beneficial to any one person. As the Atkins folk are quick to tell you, people also do well on high protein low carb diets – the remarkably healthy Inuit often are cited as an extreme case of a nearly 100% carnivorous diet. Moreover, as a practical matter, most people find an all-vegetarian (never mind vegan) diet virtually impossible; according to a recent CNN poll of 10,000 people, 60% of the self-described vegetarians admitted to having eaten meat within the previous 24 hours, so they really were self-describing an aspiration. Only a few percent of the general population truly can pull it off.

What do the Paleo folk contend? I picked up The Paleo Manifesto by John Durant in order to find out. Durant and others argue that farming, however essential for the rise of civilization, was a culinary disaster. Based on skeletal evidence, between 14,000 BC and 3000 BC, as farmers superseded hunter-gatherers, average height fell by 6 inches (15cm) and life expectancy dropped by 7 years. Humans did not evolve eating grasses (wheat, rice, maize), which are what fatten up herbivores; humans’ health suffered when they switched to cultivated forms of grasses. So they recommend backtracking. The Paleo diet eliminates not only processed industrial foods (the poor Twinkie is the perennial example) but grains – including the whole grains beloved by many mainstream nutritionists. Is a Paleo diet really difficult to duplicate? Well, mammoth meat is a little hard to come by these days, of course, but in truth any herbivore or fish is close enough, as are many fruits and vegetables.

Does it work? As an experiment, I’ve tried it for a week and dropped 5 pounds despite eating like a pig – oops, make that “like a caveman.” I made no effort whatsoever to count calories, which is an activity at which the Paleo folk snort. So, though one personal experience counts only as anecdotal evidence, I suspect as there is something to it.

Is it the “best” regimen? I doubt it. People are omnivores which means we’ll eat whatever doesn’t eat us first, whether animal, plant, or fungus. We can adapt to almost anything, though of course keeping an eye to fundamental nutrients is always basic good advice. There is likely to be a “best” out there somewhere (I wouldn’t venture to guess what), but it won’t do much good if we can’t bring ourselves to follow it. Sometimes good enough is…well, good enough. We need something we can live with. I can do this one, at least for a week.


Sunday, March 16, 2014

Freewheeling Fourwheeling

The ides of March have passed and earth’s do-si-do with the sun brings the end of NJ’s snowiest winter in two decades within spitting distance. I rarely celebrate the equinox, but this year I might just get all Druid and make an exception. The Chevy Cruze I bought last October (see The Road Worrier ) finally has seen the light of day after two months in my garage. It has all of 1700 miles on it. The Cruze is a fine little fair-weather car, but an alarming drive home from work during a sizable snowfall last December convinced me to shut it away for a while – in fairness, it is no worse in the snow than most other vehicles in its class, but no better. My 1998 GMC 2500 Sierra guzzles like a sailor on leave, but its 4WD proved indispensable. Without the GMC my home furnaces would have shut down: during one of the worst weeks, I daily drove 5 gallon cans of fuel oil to my house because my supplier’s home heating oil delivery truck couldn’t get up the driveway even after it had been plowed. I’ll keep the Sierra for as long as it runs.

Behind the wheel of my Sierra


The penchant of suburbanites for 4-wheelers draws snickers from some circles (“Why? To drive to the supermarket?”), but I learned their value as long ago as 1974 – and not just for weather reasons. In 1974 I still lived with my folks in Brookside. One of our vehicles was a 1970 Jeep Jeepster; I had learned to drive on it, and continued commonly to drive it throughout the 70s. Another vehicle was my dad’s 1965 GMC pickup; a 2WD straight-6 with non-synchromesh standard transmission, it was just a basic workaday simple truck.

1970 Jeepster 


Thanksgiving weekend in ‘74 my sister Sharon flew east from CA with her newlywed husband Frank; they were living in Hollywood at the time. On Thanksgiving morning, my mom asked Frank and me to bring in some firewood for the fireplace; there was a pile back by the barn. The geography of the property needs a description: there were two driveways, one to the house and one to the barn; a stream separated the lawn by the house from the lawn by the barn, and a small footbridge crossed the stream. I suggested to Frank that we take the GMC from the house driveway around to the barn; we then could load up the bed and drive back to the house rather than lug logs a few at a time by hand over the bridge. I drove to the barn and, as I had done on previous occasions, backed off the barn driveway onto the lawn next to the woodpile. I failed to take into account, however, that a rain had fallen early in the morning and had soaked the grass which now formed a slick surface. We soon had reason to regret the oversight.

We both loaded up the truck bed and I got behind the wheel. The ground from the woodpile to the driveway inclined upward slightly, and with the extra weight in the bed the wheels simply spun on the wet grass. The only direction the truck would go in forward gear was sideways. So, I backed deeper onto the lawn to a leveler place with the idea of getting a running start. Once again, my plan failed to take into account the rain. The truck backed downslope easily enough, but the soil beneath the grass in the level area was muddy, so when I tried to drive forward, the wheels spun in place and then sunk in. Frank and I collected rocks from the stream and stuffed them under the rear wheels in hopes of getting some traction. The wheels simply spun and threw the rocks around the yard. A roll of chicken-wire fence was in the barn, and I suggested we lay it down as a track on which to travel. We stuck one end under a rear wheel and unrolled the fence. The wheel gripped the chicken wire well enough, and wrapped it around the axle.

At this point, dad came home. Visualize the scene: there was a truck half-buried in the lawn, tracks running through it, rocks strewn about, chicken wire fence unrolled atop the grass … it looked as if the 1rst Marine Division just had slogged through. As my father thundered his opinions of our performance up until this point, I had my first idea of the day that smacked remotely of intelligence. I got into the Jeepster, put it into 1st gear 4WD, and drove onto the lawn despite the real risk of ending up with two vehicles stuck there. By putting the GMC into reverse while Frank tugged on the chicken-wire, we got the fencing off the axle. I hooked the Jeep by chain to the GMC frame, climbed back in the Jeep and tightened up the chain. Even with the GMC in neutral (I was worried it might tail-end the Jeep if Frank put it in gear), the Jeepster pulled both vehicles back off the lawn and onto the driveway with scarcely a slip on the grass.

We had our fire – after I was done on the lawn with a shovel and rake. My labor-saving plan for retrieving firewood hadn’t worked out, but it probably did save me time, labor, and trouble in the long run. The events of the day convinced me always to have a 4WD, if only as a back-up vehicle. Sometime in the subsequent 4 decades I surely would have gotten stuck somewhere without it, if only in my own driveway.

Jeepster by T Rex: I suppose he means he would 4-wheel it to get to her, but he calls her a Jaguar so she might be hard to catch on a paved road

Monday, March 10, 2014

Peacocks and Spaceships

Evolutionary psychologists often argue that male extravagance is a peacock’s tail. That is to say, it serves no useful function other than to signal to females that one is fit enough (financially or biologically) to afford it. Take cars. Expensive sports cars outperform cheaper ones, to be sure, and they really are intrinsically fun to drive, but is a new Ferrari Spider truly a quarter-million dollars more fun to drive than a new Chevrolet Camaro? No, but knowing you are driving a Ferrari (and, more importantly according to ev-psy, other people knowing it) instead of a Chevy clearly is, or the manufacturer wouldn’t stay in business. A discretionary $295,000 purchase says much more about a fellow than that he likes firm handling on curves. Still more does a $1.5 million Bugatti.

If there is any hint of disdain in the last paragraph, I don’t mean it. If anyone can afford such toys and enjoy them, the underlying reasons for enjoying them are unimportant, and, in any case, perfectly legitimate. Besides, what more effective way to address income inequality, so much in the news lately, than for the well-to-do to spend what they have recklessly, thereby reducing their liquid assets and putting the cash into the hands of those of us who supply them?

(I’m not entirely clear about explanations for female extravagance by ev-psy reasoning, or about whether any are needed, but we’ll leave those questions for another day.)

An even better way to demonstrate one’s surplus fitness is to buy experiences, since they are not a swap of cash for a valuable physical asset. When they are done they are done, leaving nothing of cash value. A relatively modest example, also much in the news lately, is a horse-drawn carriage ride in Central Park. (The new NYC mayor’s bid to shut down the business so annoyed actor Liam Neeson that on recent TV talk shows he has spent far more time defending the horse taxis than promoting his current projects.) These rides are pleasant enough (yes, I’ve been on them with dates), but part of the charm apparently is the $100-$200 cost. Well, at long last a ride to suit the Bugatti set is on the horizon. Not only does it look to be incredibly fun, but it costs enough to charm anyone.

Back in 1968 Apollo 8 traveled to the moon (without landing) and back. We all were sure that commercial space flight was no more than a few decades away, and that by 2001 there would be orbiting hotels and permanent lunar bases. Inspired by Apollo and perhaps also by 2001: A Space Odyssey in which a Pan Am spaceliner docks with a space station, Pam Am began taking reservations in 1968 for its future lunar flights. The waiting list grew to 93,000 before the airline itself went out of business in 1991. We are more than a little behind schedule, but Virgin Galactic is in the final test flight phase for its 6-passenger commercial spaceliner SpaceShipTwo. SpaceShipTwo is semiballistic: it boosts into space (conventionally defined as over 100k altitude), travels a ballistic arc, and then glides back to the New Mexico spaceport where the flight started. 600 people already have booked. Though SpaceShipTwo is not intended for travel between cities, in principle a similar craft could fly somewhere else with reliable weather and a 10,000 ft (3048m) runway.

The concept of semiballistic HSTs (hypersonic transports) has been around for many decades, and became especially fashionable among futurists when the Concorde SST began test flights in 1969. In an HST, one could fly LA to Tokyo in an hour, albeit at a stiff price. In his 1982 SF novel Friday, Robert Heinlein has a character describe the experience:

“I like to ride the semiballistics – the high gee blastoff that always feels as if the cradle would rupture and spurt fluid all over the cabin, the breathless minutes in freefall that feel as if your guts were falling out, and then reentry and that long, long glide that beats any sky ride ever built. Where can you have more fun in forty minutes with your clothes on?”

That beats a carriage ride anytime. You, too, soon can share the fun at the price of $250,000 per seat, or a mere $500,000 per couple. If you’re a guy and that doesn’t charm the date you just treated to a ride, maybe you’d better start thinking you’re not her type.



Tuesday, March 4, 2014

The World of Henry’s Orient

Recently having finished a history by Mark Kurlansky (see January 13 blog) written from the perspective of a ‘60s New Left activist, I plumped for one by Henry Kissinger written from (needless to say) a very different perspective.

Henry Kissinger, who in 2014 remains influential at age 90, stirs a visceral reaction among many. Google his name along with the word “evil” and pages of rants will turn up. He is widely reviled as an unprincipled practitioner of Realpolitik. This isn’t an entirely fair portrayal. He is not and never was without principles, but it’s true he didn’t always let them get in the way: “While we should never give up our principles, we must also realize that we cannot maintain our principles unless we survive.” He never really objected to the charge of Realpolitik, but then why would he? (What exactly is the alternative: Fantasiepolitik?) His basic position always has been that diplomacy can succeed only if it reflects the actual balance of forces.

Americans always have been uncomfortable with unabashed power politics. They prefer to couch policy in seemingly selfless terms (defending freedom, promoting democracy, or what-have-you) even though this makes foreign policy incoherent – for selfless terms inevitably clash frequently with practical national interest. Kissinger admits that what he “tried to do was unnatural,” and therefore encountered domestic political difficulty.

Whatever one thinks of his analyses, policies, and legacies, Kissinger’s books are always fascinating reads; whether he is writing about diplomacy in general, the 1815 Congress of Vienna, or recent history of which he was a part, they are intelligent, insightful, and full of dry humor. As National Security Advisor to Richard Nixon and Secretary of State to Gerald Ford, he was an engineer of rapprochement with China, d├ętente with The USSR, the Strategic Arms Limitation Treaty (SALT) and numerous other successes. (Discussing his memoirs, he quipped, “I am being frank about myself in this book. I tell of my first mistake on page 850.”) There was, however, a colossal failure – the source of most vitriol aimed him from (for very different reasons) both political directions. He dedicates a full book to it: Ending the Vietnam War. It is worth a read not just for historical value but for the relevance it has to a war-weary US polity today – and to our allies overseas.

The Nixon Administration took office at a time when 540,000 U.S. troops were fighting in Vietnam with no clear objective and no exit strategy. The only terms for ending the war on offer from the North Vietnamese were immediate US withdrawal and the overthrow of the Saigon regimen on the way out – a position to which they stuck until October 1972 after a ground offensive involving 12 of their 13 combat divisions had failed and bombing of the North had resumed. (They did propose on several occasions a coalition government in the South to negotiate a final settlement, but since they always insisted on a veto on who would be in it, this was just an offer to negotiate with themselves.) There basically were three options in 1969 for ending the conflict. One was to do precisely what the North Vietnamese demanded. There were then (and are now) many people who thought this the right and moral thing to do: the end result would have been no different and additional years of war averted. It’s hard to prove them wrong. The second was to escalate the war. There were then (and are now) many people who thought this the right and moral thing to do: they argue the terms obtained in (ultimately) January 1973 thereby could have been had in 1969 and an ally would not have been abandoned. It’s hard to prove them wrong. The Administration opted for a third strategy which they believed matched not just the strategic but political realities: a staged withdrawal of US troops over several years coupled with a build-up of ARVN (South Vietnamese) forces – the inelegantly named “Vietnamization” – so that the US could disengage independently of any diplomatic settlement while giving Saigon a reasonable chance to survive on its own.

In the event, Vietnamization strained the patience of an increasingly war-weary US public. Still, after the Paris Accords of 1973, it might have worked; it depended, however, on open-ended and open-handed resupply of the South Vietnamese (and Cambodians) for the indefinite future. (I’m not addressing whether this would have been a proper or moral course, only stating that its aims were plausible.) This, however, was something Congress by mid-’73 was no longer willing to provide; patience had run out. Mired in Watergate, the Administration had lost all ability to influence Congress or the public on the matter. Congress cut aid to the South to a small fraction of what was needed for the strategy to have any chance at all, and soon forbade any re-intervention with air power. When the final offensive from the North came in 1975, Saigon was rationing ammunition; the outcome was no longer in doubt. The frantic evacuations from South Vietnam, and, to a much lesser degree, Cambodia are images most Americans like to forget. Not everyone at risk chose to leave. Sirik Matak, former Prime Minister and member of the Cambodian government, sent this reply to US Ambassador Dean during the evacuation of Phnom Penh:

Dear Excellency and Friend,

I thank you very sincerely for your letter and your offer to transport me towards freedom. I cannot, alas, leave in such a cowardly fashion. As for you, and in particular your great country, I never believed for a moment that you would have this sentiment of abandoning a people which has chosen liberty. You have refused us your protection and there is nothing we can do about it.

You leave, and my wish is that you and your country will find happiness under this sky. But, mark it well, that if I die here on the spot and in my country that I love, it is no matter because we all are born and must die. I have only committed this mistake of believing in you.

Please accept, Excellency and dear friend, my faithful and friendly sentiments.

S/Sirik Matak

When the Khmer Rouge took Phnom Penh, Matak was shot in the stomach and died three days later. 2,000,000 more people died in the next few years as the new regime implemented its utopian vision.

I don’t wish to rehash arguments over who was right and who was wrong about what in the whole debacle, or about who was a war criminal and who was a patriot. Fierce opinions abound. They were unreconciled at the time and are no more reconcilable now – the mainstream ideological divide that impedes everything in the US today retains deep roots in them. (Since none of us, try as one might, is inhuman enough entirely to escape “spin,” to help the reader judge mine, I’ll mention only that I belong to a minor third party that opposed the Vietnam and, from the outset, both Iraq wars.) I don’t know whether or not things fundamentally would have been different in Southeast Asia sans Watergate, and Kissinger himself admits to doubt, but it is clear he underestimated just how much the domestic public wanted to be completely done with the whole business once US troops were gone from the scene.

Though published in 2003 when the national mood was much more belligerent than today, Ending the Vietnam War perhaps is more relevant now. There is a war-weariness in the land after a dozen years of war that is very reminiscent of that period in the mid-70s. It has not escaped the attention of our partners and those who are… well… not our partners overseas, as recent events make clear. In the current mood there is a risk of making promises (or threats) that the public no longer is prepared to keep. Another letter like the one from Phnom Penh is not something anyone wants.

As mentioned in an earlier post, there is value in going outside our comfort zones in our reading material. Including authors with whom we know we’ll disagree among the mix is as rewarding as it is (sometimes) upsetting. Love Henry or hate him, there’s no better expositor of Henry’s point of view than Henry.


Hugo Keesing taught psychology classes to troops near Saigon and compiled a 13 disc set of Vietnam War songs: “By the early '70s, as troops were arriving in Vietnam, they were singing I-Feel-Like-I'm-Fixin'-to-Die Rag. It was an indication, not only of how divided the nation was, but there was almost a gallows humor in singing, ‘Whoopee, I'm going to die.’”