Tom Schnabel: Alternative Facts


My 10 Alternative Facts

Since the notion of “alternative facts” is currently being adopted by the new administration, I figured WTF, I might as well conjure up some of my own.  As George Orwell predicted almost 70 years ago in 1984, if 2+2=5, I guess it’s okay for me to add to the dystopia we’ve seen over the last week.


  1. My lovemaking talent surpasses Casanova’s.
  2. My appendage is bigger than his too.
  3. My IQ surpasses Einstein’s
  4. I’m a better flute player than Hubert Laws
  5. My hi-fi system is better than Henry Rollins’
  6. I drive a Bugatti Chiron, and have Italian classics like a Ferrari 365 GT and a Maserati 3500 GT in my garage.
  7. My flute is a platinum handmade Muramatsu
  8. I am a better surfer than Laird Hamilton
  9. I am a better swimmer than Michael Phelps
  10. I am handsomer than Clark Gable or Brad Pitt


Now let’s check out some characteristic traits of a narcissist.  Which U.S. President do these remind you of? Hint:  it’s not Teddy Roosevelt…….


Chris Burden 1946-2015 & The Other Vietnam Memorial


I’m near Chris Burden’s age, so some of my life story aligns with his.  One of those intersections was the Vietnam War, or The American War, as it’s known in Vietnam and some other places.  I never wanted to serve in Vietnam, and moved to Paris to go to school and took my Army physical in Germany.  In Los Angeles you would be inducted no matter what. There was a big quota to fill.  I had high school chums who got killed there, and other friends who returned psychologically damaged.  As we know now, it was a trumped up war, as McNamara admitted later on;  we should have learned from the French debacle but didn’t.

Burden, who died yesterday at 69 of melanoma, lived in Los Angeles, had a studio in Topanga Canyon, and taught at UCLA, my alma mater.  Although he is best known for his extreme conceptual / performance piece, Shoot  (1971), a personal reaction to the Vietnam War and all the people being shot and killed there, and many of his shows in various LA galleries, the piece I most remember was at the Museum of Modern Art in 1992:  It was called The Other Vietnam Memorial, a counterpoint to Maya Lin’s huge Washington D.C. Vietnam Veterans Memorial.

It was an immense series of revolving copper plates, 13′ tall, and filled with etched names of the three million war dead, including the 57,939 American fatalities and the more than two and a half million Vietnamese dead, both military and civilian.  He gathered the names from Vietnames phone books.  You would move the huge heavy sheets around like you would in a poster shop with large posters.  It is one thing to think 3 million people;  it is another thing to behold and digest just how many human beings those names represent.

It was powerful and truth be told I just fell apart in the museum that day.  Seeing the enormity such loss was devastating.

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Hiroo Onoda: Last Japanese Soldier to Surrender After WWII (in 1974) RIP


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(In the photo gallery above, we see Onoda as a young soldier, a photo of him the day he was brought off Lubang island;  making up for lost time while dancing with a Playboy bunny, surrendering his sword to President Ferdinand Marcos, and his cattle ranch near Sao Paulo, Brazil).

I just read Hiroo Onada’s obit;  it was in both the LA and NY Times today.   He was a soldier of rare determination and devotion to duty and to the Emperor.   He lived on a Philippine island for 29 years, from 1945 to 1974, following his final orders to stay and fight as the Americans were launching their final surge onto Japan.  He was officially declared dead in1959.

I remember reading the newspaper article all the way back in March, 1974, when he was found on Lubang Island in the Philippines, about 90 miles from Manila.  I was amazed then, and amazed again now.

At first he wouldn’t leave because he thought, even after almost three decades living in the jungle, that the war was still going on and he had received no further orders than the one to stay and fight from 1945.   There were searches for him, leaflets dropped from American planes saying the war was over, but he didn’t believe it.  It took a visit from his commanding officer who had given him his marching orders to convince him that the war was over and Japan had surrendered.  The Imperial army followed a code that said death was always preferable to surrender.  Onoda was 52 when he was discovered.

Before returning to Japan, he went to Manila and surrendered his sword to then-President Ferdinand Marcos.   He wore his now 30 year old imperial army uniform and cap during the ceremony;  his uniform was in remarkably good condition.

For a soldier who believed in the Emperor’s divinity and who thought the war was a sacred cause for the Emperor, it was not easy to return to a new Japan unrecognizable from the one he left so long before.   He felt himself to be a stranger among all the new shiny buildings and cars and modern amenities unheard of in the 1940s.   Nevertheless, he got a hero’s welcome when he finally returned.

He hurried to establish a new life, married, and moved to Brazil where he became a cattle rancher.  He still made trips back to Japan.  He said he needed to hurry and catch up after so many years hiding in the jungle, living off coconuts, bananas and whatever rice he could steal.   He also killed villagers’ cows in order to make beef jerky.

On February 20, 1974, a young traveler named Norio Suzuki went to Lubang island with the express purpose of finding the missing soldier.   He set up a tent and stayed in the jungle until Onoda finally emerged from hiding.   It was after this that Onoda’s commanding office, Major Yoshimi Taniguchi, was called on to fly to Lubang to convince Onoda that the war was over and that he could return to Japan.

There was a book and a movie based on his life in hiding and his return to modern life.

Here is a part of the movie from youtube.  I think they’re speaking in Tagalog.  This is part one. There are 4 parts.



A Buddhist Monk Confronts Japan’s Suicide Culture


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A recent New Yorker Magazine featured an article called “Last Call:  A Buddhist Monk Confronts Japanese Suicide Culture“.   It’s a fascinating story of a young Monk’s struggle to prevent suicides there, not an easy task for anybody including a trained Zen monk.  I was reminded of several things, first my reading of Goethe’s epistolary novel The Sorrows of Young Werther, where (if I recall correctly, it’s been a while) the young lovers plan and carry out a double suicide.  This was in the early 19th century, and when the novel got to Japan there were many copy cat suicides by young people smitten by the romantic ending.

But I was also reminded of another incident that happened closer to home.  In the mid-1980s a young Japanese mother took public transportation to Santa Monica Beach north of the Santa Monica Pier, walked into the water and drowned her children, then attempted but failed to take her own life, mainly because a beach goer ran into the water and rescued her.  It was in early spring and not every lifeguard tower was open like in the Summer months.  I know this because I was an LA County Beach Lifeguard for many years, and worked that beach.

In the article we read that in traditional Japanese thinking the mother is bonded with her children and if she commits suicide it is immoral to leave her children motherless.  In the New Yorker piece, we read that “suicidal parents have killed their children, so as to not to abandon them to an orphan’s life;  by tradition, a mother who killed herself but not her children was thought to be truly wicked (p.58).  The case of Fumiko Kimura was tried in Santa Monica Municipal Court and I followed it in the LA Times articles that tracked it.  Ultimately the woman was not charged with infanticide but rather freed, the presiding judge taking in cultural context into the decision.  There was also the interesting fact that the woman’s husband was having an extramarital affair, and his lover came to the couple’s apartment offering to take her own life as a gesture of ultimate shame.

I also remember the little fact that after the spurned mother heard this confession, she made her husband dinner, drew a bath and washed his feet and served dinner.  It was the next day that she took her children on the MTA bus to Santa Monica Beach.

She returned to Japan to undergo therapy and I have no idea what happened to her after that.

Below is a link to the fascinating New Yorker article by Jarissa MacFarquhar: 

Here is a link to the 1985 Los Angeles Times article about the incident:

Those Crazy Russians: In the Circus, On the Roads



The other day my twin sister sent me a video of Russian drivers.  It was insane.  Are all the drivers, car & trucks, and pedestrians, looped on vodka?

Today I read about Russian circuses, and how parents pay $10-20 to have their children’s pictures taken next to Siberian tigers and snow leopards.  Even though one of those kids got his head bitten off.  The parents defended their actions by saying life is full of risks and without taking risks, you really wouldn’t be living. Hmmmm.  They even cited Mikhail Lermentov’s example—he wrote the first Russian novel, A Hero in Our Time  in 1841, before the more famous Dostoyevky and Tolstoy published their famous novels. Read More →

Obama in Africa: A Warm Welcome


putin and obamaimages-5 images-4 images-3 images-2 images-1 imagesAs you look at the crowds greeting President Obama in South Africa, you can’t but help that everybody is smiling.  That’s because they love and are inspired by our 44th president, the fact that he is an African American with a Kenyan father, and that he shares so many things with the other great figure, South Africa’s first Black President, Nelson Mandela.

Along with John Kennedy, Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, I admire Obama more than most U.S. presidents who’ve served during my lifetime.  You rarely see Obama in front of disapproving crowds;  the exceptions are  sourpusses like Vladimir Putin and leaders of  the Republican opposition Mitch McConnell and John Boehner.

It is inspiring to watch Obama in South Africa, watching him take his teenage daughters to Robbin’s Island, where Madiba (clan name for Nelson Mandela)was imprisoned for so many years.  It is something his daughters will surely never forget.   Obama and Nelson Mandela also shared the same position on marriage equality, which is now being celebrated in scores of marriages here:  it is a basic civil right that Mandela boldly put forth early during his tenure as President.  Unfortunately it is not treated the same way in many other parts of Africa, where it is considered a Western idea and an imperialist malaise.

Barack Obama’s vision and world view accords with mine.  After eight years of Bush 43, it’s such a relief.  I am moved by his words and actions during his recent visit to Africa.

Those Inscrutable Faces


A friend of mine, Pat Darrin, whose famous car-designer father, Howard “Dutch” Darrin designed the iconic and long-lived Citroën Traction Avant (1934-1957)–made famous by the film Diva-recently loaned me a cool book called “La Grande Histoire de l’Automobile–Les Jours de Gloire 1950-1959.   Some of my favorite cars came out during that period, including some beauties my dad owned–Ferraris, Maseratis, a Mercedes 300 SL Gullwing, which my mother hated because it was so hard getting in and out of it.   They say the fruit doesn’t fall far from the tree, and I’m a car nut too. I’ve also had some great cars–a 1963 Citroën DS 19 (DS 19-23 were produced 1955-1975)  immortalized in Roland Barthes’ brilliant little book Mythologies, a 1959 Jaguar XK-150S among others.  My older brother Larry is indifferent about cars, though he did manage to strafe the gears of my old man’s Ferrari 250 GT as a teenager. I had less fun:  I had to clean and wax all of them, including the Borrani wire wheels.   I do remember, however, the thrill of riding in those fast cars when my father put the pedal to the metal and I felt the torque plus the whine of those great engines.   My twin sister doesn’t even drive and like my brother has no interest in such things.

So–in this French book there is a picture of the young, androgynous Françoise Sagan, already famous for her precocious novel Bonjour Tristesse, published in 1954 when she was only 17.  Successful writers are crowned superstars in France, and Sagan was no exception.  She also loved driving fast, exotic cars, and almost died when she crashed her Aston Martin DB 2.     Read More →

Educating Malala


My close friend Jasmin  and I have been cogitating about Malala Yousufzai lately, praying for her safety and complete recovery from the Taliban’s dastardly murder attempt on the young teenager’s life.  We each wrote these two posts on the subject, something that people around the world have been following with their hopes and prayers as well.


Educating Malala

By Jasmin S. Kuehnert

In a blog  I wrote several weeks ago, I mentioned the new law passed by the government of the Islamic Republic of Iran that bans women from 70 plus majors at colleges and universities in the country. The new law has sent angry shock waves throughout the country as young women search for an alternative course of action in pursuit of higher education.

You see, the Islamic Republic of Iran never expected that its mandate of providing access to higher education to both men and women, it would be women who would be flocking to universities. As the number of women attending universities in Iran surpassed those of male students, the country was suddenly faced with a highly educated, career-minded, and politically aware female population, the likes of which were never imagined by the government.  Read More →

Lamborghini: Birth of a Supercar


I love cars.  I’ve owned a Jaguar XK 150S, the model predating the E-Type, a Citroën DS 19, an Alfa Romeo 2000 Spider, etc.  I loved them all, especially the Citroën.  One time David Byrne arrived late at the studio and had to park illegally.  I offered to park his car.  He told me nobody knew how to drive his car.  I asked what kind it was, he said a Citroën with Citromatic and the button brake, and I said “just give me the keys”. Read More →

Our Rich Access to Knowledge


The other night I read–well, actually just perused—Malinowski’s Kiriwina:  Fieldwork Photography 1915-1918–an amazing book about the Polish-born father of modern cultural anthropology’s stay in Papua and the Trobiand Islands.  He went to New Guinea and studied the inhabitants there with unprecedented rigor.  I also listened to an Argentine pianist named  Bruno Leonardo Gelber play Beethoven’s magnificent sonata #14, the Moonlight Sonata.  Then I turned to French photographer Robert Doisneau, looking at images he took of Les Halles, the famous French outdoor marketplace that dated back to the 14th century, only to be torn down in 1971 by President Pompidou to build the much-reviled Centre Pompidou / Beaubourg.  Some called it an oil refinery posing as a cultural center, and many Parisians lamented the loss of the famous market.   Read More →

President Carter, Voyager, and UFO’s


The other night we hosted a dinner party.  One of our guests worked at JPL.  I brought out my copy of the box set Murmurs of Earth, published by Time Warner about 20 years ago.  It’s one of the box sets I saved when moving and downsizing last summer, because it’s rare and amazing.

The Voyager Spacecraft has fascinated me, not because I have a scientific mind, but because there are so many interesting things about it.  Among them are the fact that President Jimmy Carter wrote a letter, put on the time capsule aboard the spacecraft, that implied an awareness that otherworldly civilizations might be out there.  Second, that there was a music soundtrack on the time capsule, put together by Carl Sagan and Alan Lomax, that included classical music, jazz, blues, and world music.  Third, that Voyager is still out there, 40 million+ miles away, still pinging earth from deep space after 35 years.

Jimmy Carter once saw what he thought was a UFO.   Read More →

Dumbing Down of the Electorate: Idiocracy in the Making



I once saw a bumper sticker that read “Stupidity Should be Painful”. This was years ago and I still remember it. And agree with it too.

I don’t want to sound like an overeducated snob. But I believe that an electorate that turns solely to Fox News and Rush Limbaugh instead of reading and listening to a variety of news sources and books will be a dumb and irresponsible public. The fact that we live in times where access to information is at its best, there is no excuse to resort to the basest and lowest common denominator, one geared to generating ratings and advertising dollars rather than educating and enlightening it’s viewing and listening audience.

I’m now reading an interesting book by Stephen Greenblatt called The Swerve: How the World Became Modern. The book is about an Italian’s discovery, in Germany in the early 15th century, of an ancient Roman philosophical and epic poem by Lucretius called On The Nature of Things. Read More →

I Saw Samuel Beckett


I was a literature major in college, also a French major, so I could read Samuel Beckett’s novels and plays in both French and English.  His plays used a literary device called “stichomythia”, which had characters speaking short lines back and forth, so it was easy to read in French.  Beckett, like Joseph Conrad or Vladimir Nabokov, wrote in another language than his mother tongue;  Beckett was Irish even though he’s more associated with French literature.  After all,  his 1953 play En Attendant Godot –Waiting for Godot–catapulted him to French fame. Read More →

My Time with George Whitman at Shakespeare & Company, Paris


George Whitman just died at the ripe old age of 98.   He took over the famous Left Bank bookstore, Shakespeare & Co.,  after the the original owner, Sylvia Beach, left it at the onset of World War II.  She ran it as a publishing company that famously published James Joyce’s revolutionary novel Ulysses in 1922.  The book was banned in the U.S., no American publisher would publish it.  It was considered obscene.  But what is considered obscene in America is often considered great literature or art in Paris.  George Whitman took over the book store part after she left and ran it pretty much until he was in his 90s and infirm;  his daughter then took over.

I got to know George Whitman while in Paris in 1970 and a student at the Sorbonne.   Read More →

Whatever Happened to Music Education?


In writing a recent blog, inspired by Gustavo Dudamel’s orchestral version of a popular Puerto Rican band’s hit song, I began to muse on the subject of music education:  in Venezuela and the U.S..

There are a million kids enrolled in Venezuela’s music system, called El Sistema.  Some of them, like Gustavo Dudamel, rise to the top.  Then there was the at-risk kid, Edicson Ruiz, who got off Caracas’ dangerous streets and joined El Sistema.  He learned the bass from scratch and won an audition for the Berlin Philharmonic. No small feat.   Watching Dudamel conduct the huge Simon Bolivar Youth Orchestra is truly inspiring.  Classical music isn’t boring when played with that kind of energy and passion.  And by kids no less, which makes it even better.  And many of these kids were rescued from a life of crime and gang warfare.  Sounds like a good idea for U.S. cities. Read More →

The Importance of Music Education


In writing a recent blog, inspired by Gustavo Dudamel’s orchestral version of a popular Puerto Rican band’s hit song, I began to muse on the subject of music education:  in Venezuela and the U.S.  What happened to it here in the U.S.?  Why are the arts always the first to be cut during financial squeezes? Read More →

David Byrne and Barry White: Their Rides


I love David Byrne and Barry White, and I love cars too.  I have all my favorites.  1953 Packard Caribbean convertible.  Henri Chapron Citroën DS 23 Pallas, 1956 Buick Roadmaster, Ferrari 365 GTB, Maserati 3500 GT…..all cars I can ill afford to own let alone properly maintain.  When David Byrne once visited me at KCRW during a nightly show I briefly did, he ran in all agitated, saying he parked his car outside in a no-parking area. School was in and parking was always scarce.   I told him I’d move his car.  He told me “no, you won’t know how to drive this car!”.   Read More →

Catalina Bar and Grill Celebrates its 25th Annniversary


Catalina Bar and Grill, one of the few jazz clubs left in LA, celebrates its 25th anniversary this year.  Longevity isn’t something associated with jazz clubs;  there were many of them in the 70s and 80s:  Donte’s, Carmelos, Concerts By The Sea, Hop Singh’s, Chadney’s, Marla’s Memory Lane, to name just a few.  They’re all gone now, which makes the continuing existence of Catalina’s even more valuable.

Catalina Bar and Grill is named after Catalina Popescu, who came here from Rumania 35 years ago.  Perhaps it’s because she survived the brutal Ceaucescu regime that she is persistant, stubborn, and steely, and it is these traits that have helped her establishment survive.

I have many wonderful memories of Catalina’s.   Read More →