Behind The Façade (2015Apr17)


Friday, April 17, 2015                                              1:05 PM

Yesterday I wrote a long tirade about lies. I didn’t mean for it to be a tirade—I intended to lay out my thoughts plainly, like a diagram. But when lies are the source of wars or murders or false imprisonments, it’s hard to keep cool while discussing the subject. The thing is—yeah, all that stuff is bad—very, very bad, but—I wanted to get at something behind the outrage. I wanted to discuss the effects.

You see, when I was ten years old, it suddenly occurred to me that my CCD classes were illogical. I didn’t think of it that way—Star Trek was still five years from its pilot episode. What I really thought was, “God, if you’re out there—talk to me. If you don’t talk to me, what good are you?” But no lightning struck me. Then I thought, “God, you’re a jerk.” Still no lightning. Over time it became clear that no response was coming, no matter how I felt about God. I’m a very literal sort of person, so discovering (after all the sermons and classes and nuns’ talk) that real life gave no actual indication of God made a real impact on me.

At the time, I became an agnostic. I was still possessed of enough faith in my elders to figure I might be missing something. But my world was full of bullies, mean brothers, angry parents, and strict teachers. There were plenty of real threats in my environment—so a threat that never manifested itself, like ‘God’s wrath’, was unconvincing, to say the least. It wasn’t until later, when I realized that ‘institutional lies’ were a feature of society, that I became a full-on atheist.

Ever since, I’ve been alert to any aspect of society that ‘runs on bullshit’. Religion is the big winner in that category, but Wealth, Fame, Cool, and many other illusions also make up a large part of our worldview. I’ve never achieved any of these things, but I have experienced little mini-demonstrations of them—and I’ve been horrified by the resulting changes in how others saw me and in how I saw myself.

I had slight upticks in my income, or had brief periods of localized notoriety, and was annoyed by the change in other peoples’ treatment of me—and how it made me feel funny about myself. Yet I made no connection—I still assumed that Wealth or Fame were desirable. It wasn’t until I’d seen how those ‘dreams’ could destroy so many people who achieved them that I realized that my own experiences had been warnings from reality. I think, deep down, we all know that Wealth, Fame, etc. are bad things, but we don’t let that stop us from wanting them. Maybe it’s the suggestion of power inherent in these ideas of ‘success’ that make them so tantalizing—I don’t know.

Alternatively, it could be the suggestion of comfort that attracts us to Wealth, Fame, or Status—comfort is first-cousin to happiness—and everyone wants happiness. But then we find that these illusions of success don’t really offer comfort, they offer options—and there’s nothing so uncomfortable as too many options. Rich people can loll on a hammock all day if they wish—but they have to choose to lie on a hammock out of the countless other options that rich people have before them—and guess how often they actually choose the hammock.

In the case of Fame, we tend to assume that loneliness is a sad thing and, therefore, popularity is preferable. Yet again, we find that Fame attracts attention, not companionship—famous people regularly find themselves feeling lonelier than ever, even while standing amid a mob of admirers.

The lesson here, to my mind, is that we should be wary of approximations when dealing with our hopes and dreams. Wealth, Fame, Power—these things are close to some very desirable ends, but in the end they manifest as something completely different—something bad. Real satisfaction and contentment come from things that are far less exciting to describe—a loving family, a close friend, a steady income, friendly neighbors, etc.

These things seem pretty achievable, don’t they? Oddly enough, the hard part to finding real happiness is in losing our obsession with these ‘mirages’ of success, the Wealth and Fame and whatnot. It isn’t until we abandon the struggle to be ‘King of the World’ that we find ourselves kings of our own little worlds. But there is no pleasanter surprise in life than to find that, while you can’t have it all, you already have enough.

My personal growth has involved recognizing many such ‘mirages’ (or lies, if you wish) and figuring out how to avoid falling for them without forgetting that other people still give them credence—that other people, in fact, make these ‘mirages’ the mainstay of their goals in life. But the point of atheism is not to make fun of people who take their religion seriously. And the point of having good friends is not to ridicule the rich and famous. If my values contain an inherent condemnation of someone else’s values, that doesn’t obligate me to attack those people. It’s called pluralism. And pluralism is invaluable in a world that is not only complex in actual fact, but made infinitely more so by layers of pretense.

Lately I’ve started to wonder about the circuitous mental paths produced by society’s mélange of truths, half-truths and lies. Social critics have recently observed that we always add to legislation, but we spend no effort on revising the existing laws, or repealing obsolete ones—this results in a justice system that chokes on its own accretion of ever more laws on top of laws.

It occurs to me that education is also overburdened with an accretion of details. I saw an article the other day that described a new technique of schooling where the Subject category was dropped—all classes were just classes. Every class could include more than one ‘subject’ and could more easily teach the connections between one ‘subject’ and another. By removing the artificial category of Subject, the educators streamline the students’ thought-processes, making them more organic thinkers.

This seems like a promising experiment. But it would be far more difficult to remove ‘categories’ from our social perceptions. Figuring out how to live our lives will probably always include navigating the various illusions of many cultures and beliefs. It’s rather breathtaking to realize that what can be nonsense to me is, to someone else, the very point of existence—or vice versa. Pluralism is some heavy lifting, at times.

And it means that we can kiss the idea of ‘simple solutions’ goodbye. Simplicity is definitely not humanity’s strong suit—so beware of impatience and frustration. Some of humanity’s most horrific crimes have been committed by frustrated people who have decided to ‘cut the Gordian knot’—to simplify the solution to a problem—that’s how we get to genocide, war, slavery—all kinds of bad stuff results from the impulse to ‘just fix it’.

Life, by and large, is much more about the doing than what gets done. It’s more about the journey than the destination. This is easily illustrated—the final result of everyone’s life is death—a rather useless achievement, unless there was some joy and beauty and love along the way. Corporations are famously focused on their ‘bottom line’, their profits. How transparently worthless this is. The experiences of the employees, their relationships, how their work impacts society—all the things that really matter are ignored. Corporations thus become paragons of imbecility. Now most people are forced to choose how they make a living without regard for personal fulfillment—we might as well as stayed with ‘hunting and gathering’ if all we wanted was to survive. I won’t even go into the idiotic emptiness of ‘corporate culture’. There, I think the word ‘culture’ refers not to the sense of a social-paradigm so much as the sense of a fungus, a mindless culture formed in a petri dish. The Dilbert comic strip is funny because modern corporate, cubicle culture is synonymous with insanity. Ha friggin’ ha.

I’ve even begun to question The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. I’ve watched that show religiously, every night, even back when Craig Kilbourn was the host. But now I’m starting to wonder—is it really a good thing to have that relief, to laugh off the overwhelming insanity of modern life? Would it not be better to let ourselves become well and truly outraged? The globe is in crisis—and the people in charge should more properly be in an asylum. What’s so funny about that?

Cheez-it—The Cops!   (2015Apr16)


Thursday, April 16, 2015            2:19 PM

I saw “Kill The Messenger” last night—Jeremy Renner plays Gary Webb, a reporter who uncovers the link between CIA support of the Contras and the epidemic of crack cocaine that flooded America’s cities in the 1980s. It was no surprise to learn that the CIA denied the truth and destroyed Gregg’s credibility (and career, and home life, and peace of mind) through a campaign of misdirection and personal attacks. Hell, they’re the CIA—that’s what they do—well, that, and kill people. Seven years after Webb resigned from his paper, he was found shot twice in the head and his death ruled a suicide—which sounds like some pretty fancy shooting to me.

Some high-minded CIA chief admitted the truth of the accusations a few years later (and then was fired). It would seem that Gary Webb wasn’t so much guilty of reporting dangerous secrets as he was guilty of rushing the CIA to admit guilt. It’s more likely, though, that they never would have admitted guilt had it not been for Webb’s reportage. Either way, Webb was destroyed and the CIA was left untouched—even by shame.

Attracting the wrong kind of attention from the CIA will get a person killed. But then, so would attracting the wrong kind of attention from corporate execs, police, military, mobsters, gang leaders, or drug dealers. There’s even the odd nut-job out there that will kill people that attract their attention just ‘because’. Yet murder in developed countries has become relatively rare, if we use history for comparison. Murder doesn’t happen that often, really, because it’s such a big deal. It gets in your head, so I’m told—and I can well imagine. Most people will do anything else to avoid becoming a murderer.

Yet our society, our educational system, our family units somehow produce the occasional killer—usually through military training, if not forced into it sooner by dire domestic or community circumstances. But military training, or even service, can’t be blamed—many veterans return home and never kill again. They may suffer a lifetime of PTSD, but they keep it together enough not to go back to killing people. Still, violence is part of human nature. Murder is nothing new. What gets me is the lying and the secrecy.

Both the British Secret Service and America’s CIA were sometimes found to have Soviet agents in the highest positions, not only passing information to the enemy but able to misdirect the activities of those services as leaders. This was a historic case of the snake of secrets eating its own tail—a system completely self-contained, and completely useless—unless we count the damage done by these self-important members of the Bull-Moose Lodge.

Alan Turing’s heroism was occluded for a half-century in the name of secrecy, while Jerry Sandusky enjoyed decades of fame and admiration until he was revealed as a secret monster. He was only following the ancient, secret, traditions of the Catholic priesthood, maybe. Bush, Jr. used lies and secrets to start a war. Wall Street used lies and secrets to bankrupt the country and steal half our homes. The Koch boys went to court to make it legal to use money to spread lies and attack ads. The big shots aren’t satisfied to have it all, to run it all—they have to lie to us, too.

Maybe that’s because you can’t really do anything you want without doing some wrong. Or maybe they find controlling our perception of the world even more satisfying than controlling our lives—who knows what weird brain-farts they get after money has rotted their minds away.

I wanted to include a list of major lies we’ve been told over time. The bankers and industrialists who made hay from both sides during World War II come to mind. Then there was the Blacklist—the complexity of that scare campaign was confusing enough to make everyone in America look over their shoulder before they spoke—afraid that their unedited thoughts might get them jailed for treason. Eisenhower warned us that there existed a military-industrial complex that fed on war and conflict—and taxpayer funding—but that didn’t even slow down the growth of this still healthy and enthusiastic fear-factory of death-cheerleaders. The tobacco companies fought for decades to keep us from the truth about cigarettes—and now they still fight health legislation in any of the third-world countries that try to follow our example in protecting their citizens from toxic smoke-a-treats.

I’m a smoker myself. I love cigarettes—and I don’t blame the tobacco industry for my personal life-style choice. I’ve decided my pleasure in smoking is sufficient to outweigh the certain risk to my health. I understand that most people would disagree—but I’m not an entirely sensible person, especially when it comes to risk assessment. I’d only mention that I use coal and automobiles and electricity and plastic, too—even though they all present a risk to my health and to everyone else’s. I don’t want to include health and medicine in an essay about lies—but let’s just all agree that our chances of eternal life are pretty slim, okay? Let’s leave health and medicine in the white-lie category, next to religion.

I depend on the police and the military, as well, to keep the peace and to defend our borders and interests. Okay, I depend on the idea of the police and the military to do those things. The actual institutions are all hopelessly staffed with human beings—which makes them ineffective, practically worthless—even counter-productive at times. But you can’t have the protection of the idea unless you deal with the nightmare of having the actual thing.

Among their lies, the most remarkable is the casual race-persecution found in police forces across the country. I would start by pointing out that this is just the tip of the iceberg. That black men are regularly gunned down in the streets without any subsequent justice for them, or punishment for their murderers, is only the most visual, violent instance of the racial persecution that lurks in our communities, our schools, our businesses and, most especially, our justice system. Much as slavery was replaced with Emancipation, followed by Jim Crow, followed by the Civil Rights Act, every effort to make Race a matter of difference in humanity rather than a degree of humanity is seen by some to be a mere loosening of the leash which they believe they’re still entitled to hold.

Black people learn of the threat of police violence through family lore or hard experience. White people have trouble believing in the truth of police violence because they can’t imagine such disgusting behavior could possibly go unchecked. That is what is so remarkable about cop-on-black violence—the police lie about it so habitually, and cooperate so well in covering up evidence, that there is zero official documentation of this ‘hallowed tradition’ among our keepers of the peace.

The attempted stonewalling of officials and line officers during the recent spate of videotaped police crimes has been an orgy of cognitive dissonance—the cops expect their lies to work like they always have and the victims and families can’t believe that no one takes the videos for what they are—hard evidence. And the whole stereotype of black criminality can be seen through a new lens—African-Americans are not more likely to be criminals—they’re more likely to be scapegoats. When you add in the CIA’s fund-raising, making billions for foreign wars by flooding cities with crack, then throwing their drug-dealing workforce into prison as reward for addicting and robbing their neighbors—it’s a wonder there isn’t a New Black Panther party busily burning this country to the ground.

That’s social inertia for you—lucky for white people. The same inertia that let a whole country watch Rodney King get beat up by a crowd of cops in the middle of the street, and for way too long—right there on film—and still not convict those cops of any wrongdoing. I think we just couldn’t believe our fucking eyes. Now that we’ve had a chance to see a parade of these videos, our response is not as disbelieving as during that not-so-long-ago Rodney King scandal—but the babble of double-talk persists with every new documentation of police criminality.

Authoritative liars are strangely insensate to overwhelming discredit—they’ll pop right back onto CNN and just start lying twice as loud, as if they’d never been proved liars at all. Right-wing pols have made an art-form of it in recent years. I shouldn’t cherry-pick my liars, though—the liar’s club is never exclusive—most of the men in the world will tell you that women are inferior. We can all see what a fine job they’re doing, running the world while judging people based on upper-body strength and aggression. Meanwhile, their mothers and wives keep them from being even bigger asses than they are when under female supervision.

Well, there’s plenty more big lies in the world—history has been made many-layered by the effects of lies and secrecy—there’s the original, false history, then the partially-more-true version that slips out over the next ten years, then the more-baldly-stated truth of fifty-years of hindsight—all the way up to the fullness of ‘history’ (which is still fifty percent fiction and fifty percent misunderstanding).  Then there are the everyday lies we tell ourselves out of animal ignorance, such as ‘ugly people are not nice people’ or ‘making money is a good thing’. Our instincts make liars and fools of us all. I just don’t like to see people embrace dishonesty like some fucking virtue, is all.

Piano Covers from the Movies (2015Apr15)


Wednesday, April 15, 2015                                    4:18 PM

Herman Hupfeld , in his beautiful lyric to “As Time Goes By”, wrote:

“This day and age we’re living in / Gives cause for apprehension

With speed and new invention / And things like fourth dimension.

Yet we get a trifle weary / With Mr. Einstein’s theory.

So we must get down to earth at times / Relax relieve the tension

And no matter what the progress / Or what may yet be proved

The simple facts of life are such / They cannot be removed.

You must remember this….”

We’re pretty familiar with the rest—there are few people who have neither heard this song nor watched the movie, “Casablanca”. But like the vast majority of standards, the ‘intro’ is usually overlooked—if not left out altogether. In the case of many songs, the ‘intro’ is no great loss. Some are outright drivel, or the worst sort of doggerel, and the fame of such songs indicates that some smart performer realized he or she had better get right to the ‘burthen’, without any preamble, or they’d lose their audience. And, surely, this also accounts for the fact that most classic songs are considered as having been properly performed whether they include the official ‘intro’ verses or not.

However, in some cases lyricists positively shine so much in their wit and wordplay that it’s a shame to leave the ‘intro’ unrecognized—particularly with the great lyricists. Nothing upsets me more than a songbook that decides not to print the ‘intro’—taking the choice out of my hands for the sake of volume, I suppose.

“As Time Goes By” has a fascinating introductive verse, as seen above. Hupfeld bewails the hectic pace of modern life, it’s constant changes and new information. He gets “a trifle weary of Mr. Einstein’s theory” and wants to get away from all that. He seeks out bedrock principles on which to rest, safe from the shifting sands of cultural distraction. And, of course, he finds them in Love, that favorite of all bedrock principles.

How surprised Mr. Hupfeld would be to learn that his theory of days-gone-by would see eternal popularity in spite of such enormous changes in women’s roles and in relationships generally. A kiss is still a kiss—except when it’s a workplace harassment lawsuit or a charge of improper touching of a minor or the gift of herpes. And in a way, a kiss is now more than a kiss, assuming that Hupfeld wasn’t imagining two men or two women kissing.

Worse yet, we are no longer allowed to ‘weary of Einstein’s theory’—we have to remember our PIN numbers, our passwords, the usual computer Control-codes, game-controller button-sequences, et. al. We have to worry about our AC’s BTUs, our car’s MPG, separating our recyclables, our FICA, our prescriptions deductible, and whether we have time to find out what ‘streaming’ is, or should we just keep trying to program our VCRs. Neither Hepfeld nor Bogie could have envisioned a culture where everyone had to learn to type—and only with their thumbs.

Still, the most luxuriously nostalgic aspect of these lyrics is that they still hung on to the dismissive subtext of that word ‘theory’. Today, when we mention Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, whether Special or General, we hear the word ‘theory’ in its historical sense, not in the sense that no one yet accepts the truth of it—much like the ‘theory of evolution’. Only the fringe-dwellers in today’s society place any emphasis on the word ‘theory’ in these phrases. Back in the early nineteen-forties, though, Einstein’s theories could still be confined to cocktail-party gabbing—Hiroshima and Nagasaki were yet to come, as were nuclear power plants, nuclear subs, nuclear aircraft carriers, or nuclear-powered space probes.

Today we take Relativity for granted, just as we accept quantum physics, or the big-bang theory. Now string theory, dark matter, black holes, and the Higgs-Boson particle have come to be commonplace concepts among physicists and cosmologists—even discussed on popular science programs for the layperson. On top of that, we are in the midst a digital-technology revolution, an upheaval so great that it threatens the stability of global civilization with its sheer speed, while we try to adapt from the ‘generational’ pace-of-change enjoyed for all prior history, to change that now happens on a monthly basis.

What wouldn’t we give to ‘sit under the apple tree’ of the 1940’s whenever we got weary of all that? Oh, for the days when the ‘facts of life’ were not only simple, but they couldn’t be removed! Here’s me taking a stab at the old classic, followed by two more piano covers from my piano songbook, “AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Songs”. (I also recorded “Evergreen” but left it out in the end—I’m sure I can do it better some day soon.) I left out all the video effects today—sometimes less is more….

Three New Recordings (2015Apr14)


Overreaction   (2015Apr13)


Monday, April 13, 2015                                 12:03 PM

Yesterday CNN had a parade of talking heads using Hillary Clinton’s eminent YouTube announcement as an excuse to dish about her, her husband, her detractors, her unauthorized biographers, and how she is simultaneously the same as Obama and worse than Obama. I heard very little factual material and a landslide of attack, dismissal, insinuation, and extrapolation—but CNN isn’t famous for reeling off mountains of data these days, so no big surprise there. The only thing that struck me was how their tone leaned so far towards FOX, and had so little MSNBC to it.

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They expressed their editorial opinion, so here’s mine. Hillary Clinton is no saint, but neither is she the devil. She’s a world-class politician and a pretty good one. Any comment that fails to give her at least that much credit is serving someone else’s agenda, whether it’s the Tea Party, the Libertarians, or the media’s need for ‘sensations’. Anyone who tries to tie her character to her husband’s sexual misbehavior is reaching. And those who make a media feast out of her emails should really have some ‘dirt’ to point to, rather than trying to make her email system itself sound nebulously nefarious. But having prefaced the Email flap with the Benghazi snipe-hunt, we now know that actual wrong-doing is unnecessary to the Hillary-hunters.

Few media voices want to endanger their ratings by pointing out that the profusion of manufactured scandals is evidence of a total lack of any real wrong-doing—God forbid they inject any fairness into their rabble-rousing. One could make the case that this is good for Ms. Clinton—if she had done any actual wrong, the media will be too busy with their BS to find out about it. But while the media dances on the surface of things, there are truly dedicated right-wingers that will dig and dig—so I don’t think we need to worry about any of her actions being overlooked by her critics–except, of course, anything praiseworthy.

Neither am I prepared to give the same carte blanche to Hillary Clinton that I’ve allowed President Obama over his two terms—his mistakes display a surfeit of idealism, while her career has been more obviously a political battle. Plus, his symbolism as the first African-American president required some engagement with this country’s difficulties with race relations, whereas Hillary’s election as the first female president would be a self-contained achievement, without requiring that she ‘cure sexism’ in America.

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Hillary Clinton, like most good politicians, is a mediator, a compromiser. She is far more interested in reaching across the aisle than any of her right-wing challengers. She is not trying to take us backwards in time, to repeal science, or to institute a theocracy. She doesn’t show the same bitter antipathy to her competitors that they show towards her. She’s the sensible choice for this country—and that’s her biggest problem.

How can the sensible candidate win in a country whose eyes and ears, the media, refuse to consider anything less exciting than a schoolyard brawl? They adore the divisive ignorance of Ted Cruz or Rand Paul—how exciting it is to see these jokers challenge observed reality! The media can’t be expected to waste time on the dusty business of governing, as discussed by Hillary Clinton, when they have mind-bending yahoos to cut to—people that not only say the craziest things, but never bore us with the sleep-inducing details of realpolitik.

Reince Priebus, the head of the GOP, claims that people don’t trust Hillary Clinton—and it is true that anyone listening to the GOP, as far back as the Whitewater pseudo-scandal, would have plenty of reason to question her honesty. But since the GOP has an entire news-network devoted to spreading right-wing falsehoods and misrepresentations, and Hillary has only a private email server, we must hear echoes of the pot calling out the kettle’ in that idiot, Priebus’s, observation that “the country deserves better than Clinton”. If we listen to the GOP, this country deserves bigotry, violence and plutocracy—and they don’t believe Hillary will give us nearly as much of those things as they can. That, somehow, I believe.

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Media-mouths like to say that Hillary avoids talking about foreign policy because the administration of which she was Secretary of State saw the rise of terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko-Haram. To me, this is patently short-sighted. Dubya was the one who brought hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to a country that we had no business invading. When Obama tried to draw down our military presence, the damage had already been done. We had begun a civil war among Middle Eastern Muslim sects, Sunni and Shia, before we were fully aware that Muslims had sects—hell, our training manuals for Iraqi soldiers were originally printed in Arabic, even though Iraqis speak Persian—that’s how little we understood the people we attacked so precipitately.

Like Bush’s financial crash, these things take time to repair. Obama took a lot of criticism for not fixing our economy the day after he was sworn in, with very little being said about the causes of the problem he tried so urgently (and ultimately, successfully) to fix. Bush’s invasion of the Middle East created a far bigger mess, and will take more time to fix. Until that time, the GOP will continue to criticize the Democrats for failing to fix what the GOP has broken. That is their strategy—blame, accusation, and the assumption that nothing they do is wrong.

That strategy’s success depends on our willingness to think like Ellen DeGeneres’s fish character in “Finding Nemo”—we forget anything that happened more than thirty seconds ago. I am burdened with memories of how the actions of fifty years ago, of twenty years ago, or of ten years ago led to the circumstances of the present—I could never be a member of the GOP because I believe in cause and effect.

But the dysfunction of the GOP has its counterpart in the Democrats’ lack of spine—it’s as if the Democrats, who don’t lie as professionally as the GOP, are nonetheless afraid to tell the truth. They may not act like the GOP, but they appear to believe that their constituents are as immune to facts as the Tea Party’s supporters. And I believe this accounts for the lack of Democrats showing up to vote—in and among, of course, our national disregard for that most essential of democratic activities.

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Many supporters want a ‘firebrand’ to challenge Hillary Clinton for the nomination—usually either Bernie Sands or Liz Warren—but they don’t want to run for President. Their messages are too polarizing, and their overall experience in matters of state falls far below the level of Ms. Clinton’s CV. Their presidencies would just be Obama-all-over-again, without the overt racism. It would be thrilling—the media would love it—but our federal government’s dysfunction would only deepen.

The GOP has taken control of both houses of Congress—but they are stuck for a presidential candidate who isn’t outright laughable—even to themselves. So the question becomes: what Democratic president will best be able to do business with them? Hillary Clinton, for all their venomous attitudes towards her, is much more a member of their species than any of the more idealist Democrats capturing media attention today. Even the GOP’s rank sexism, so overbearing towards women in general, would work against them when dealing with a lady president. She’s perfect—and that’s the media’s problem with her. She’s a bit too ‘on the nose’ for their agenda, which is “Controversy, twenty-four, seven”.

In summary, I’ll be voting for Hillary in 2016—and I won’t change my mind because of GOP smear tactics or media scandal-mongering. She may not be perfect, but she’s perfect for the job at hand. And no one with better experience or better credentials is going to rise up out of obscurity because, if there was such a person, they’ve had ample opportunity to show their face already. And anyone who appears so will simply be someone so new to the national stage that we don’t really know anything about them.

Hillary has been out there, giving as good as she got, since Bill was elected—any newcomer’s advantage will be only that—that they’re new. And in a job with a built-in minimum age limit, meant to exclude the inexperienced, the last thing we need is New. Besides, it’s time for the “Land of Opportunity” to legitimize its nickname by electing its first female head of state. And all you non-atheists out there can get down on your knees and thank God that it wasn’t Sarah Palin.

I Don’t Know (2015Apr12)


Sunday, April 12, 2015                                            2:10 AM

I made the mistake of watching too much History Channel—they had a run of episodes today of their series “The Men Who Built America”. I won’t go into that title—it speaks for itself—but the story makes a case for the main thrust of American growth in the late 19th—early 20th centuries being attributable to a handful of men—Vanderbilt with his railroads, Rockefeller with his petroleum, Carnegie with his steel mills and skyscrapers, and J.P. Morgan using Edison’s innovations to create the power-and-light industry. I think Ford and his assembly-lines came next—I fell out after one-hour-too-much of this stuff, so I can’t say for sure.

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However, I had seen enough. The History Channel makes it plain that these were all predatory, unscrupulous men whose attainment of ‘greatness’ in history involved business methods so rapacious that they are all illegal today. Cartels, monopolies, price-fixing—these guys were lucky to be first—not just because of the advantage being first gave them, but because they got to be grossly unfair before any rules were made. We see a similar frontier-like approach to the digital business world—entrepreneurs doing whatever they like in a field where no rules yet exist.

But it is the story of the factory workers, mill workers, and miners that gives us our most depressing history lesson. The bitterness we feel at the treatment of these miserable victims of economic bullying (with plenty of physical bullying thrown in by strike-breaking troops and Pinkerton agents) is only sharpened by the knowledge that the minimum wage is still a bone of contention a full century later. The hands that make American industry run are still considered expendable, or at the least replaceable. And the Owners of this country still feel that their employees are among their possessions.

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Where does this curious entitlement come from? Is it the average person’s inclination to do what they’re told that gives these people the mistaken impression that it’s okay to go beyond merely taking the lion’s share, and going all the way to the point of squeezing the employees down to the lowest possible wage, regardless of the company’s profitability? What makes this okay? Who the hell are these greedy bastards?

It’s just plain stupid. Well-paid employees drive the economy. Subsistence-wage workers only profit today’s bottom-line, and that for just one company—that they guarantee an at-best stagnant economy in the larger picture seems like something that should be addressed. That, and another point brought up by the History Channel’s little series—that these ‘magnates’, and entrepreneurs generally, will push limits and squeeze wages not for sound business reasons or the sake of efficiency, but to be the alpha dog, the top of the heap, whatever the hell that means. In effect, we had an Industrial Revolution mostly because of a few men with serious emotional issues and zero self-awareness of their motives.

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That such people today often speak out against social or charitable programs is part of this mind-set. It is clear that it costs less to deal with needy people’s lacks up-front than to clean up the mess after they fail to provide for themselves—the fact that it is also more humane is beside the point, economically. This is plain to see, just as it is cheaper to keep people healthy than it is to pay for health-care after they get sick. The economy of a city would get as big a jolt, perhaps bigger, if it helped underserved communities heal themselves than it gets from gentrification of an area, driving out the existing community by driving up the rents. But that’s just not flashy or pushy or fast enough—that’s not the way rich people like to do things.

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But it’s the way we think of ourselves that bothers me the most. These jerks make up this paradigm where 99% of us are treated like the mud on their boots—and we just go along with it. Running a business is like running for office—you find mostly jerks doing it, because only jerks would want the job. This is the problem—most people don’t want to be in charge. It’s like cops—you get a lot of cops who are just bullies—but how many people want to do that job? Not many, except for those few who get off on being bullies. My apologies to you decent cops out there—I know you’re out there, but I also know you’re not unanimous—just saying.

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Unfortunately, a business owner, manager, or politician can do a lot more damage than a trigger-happy cop—they just do their dirty work in less obvious ways. There’s a succinct phrase to describe this phenomenon: ‘shit floats’. The paths to power and the skill-sets required to gain power are entirely separate from the requirements of good leadership or good governance. We don’t find our leaders among those most qualified to fill the posts, we get our leaders from those most qualified to get the posts. And anyone with a lick of sense avoids these leadership positions like the plague. A person can have greatness thrust upon him or her, but that is rare—most of us are pretty good at dodging ‘greatness’ when it’s thrust our way. And for good reason—among those ‘giants’ whom the History Channel claims ‘built’ America, there wasn’t a single happy soul. I look forward to the day when we stop confusing ‘greatness’ with the neurotic compulsions of men who lacked supportive father-figures.

Keep Rolling, Stone (2015Apr06)


Monday, April 06, 2015                                            1:18 PM

Rolling Stone magazine has just retracted its infamous story on a college gang-rape that apparently didn’t happen. This is bad news for girls, because on-campus sexual predation is a time-honored epidemic in the hallowed halls of higher education, unaffected by the women’s liberation movement, the no-bullying movement, or any other uplift of American social consciousness. College and university administrators habitually try to cover-up or silence any reports of rape, and police traditionally avoid any criminal case that has a low conviction rate, rape being the all-time loss-leader in that category.

Women are treated differently, and always have been. They get paid less for the same work. They get judged more harshly on their appearance than men are—even more so in our modern times, when women (we claim) are no longer being valued solely on their appearance. Their ability to create and foster new human beings is considered a drawback—in a world where men are lionized just for making a profit. But most important of all in this context, women are considered less credible than men—cognitive dissonance alert, everyone.

Do our mothers lie to us more than our fathers? Do our sisters lie to us more than our brothers? Not in my experience—not by a long shot. It must be a case of transference—we accuse women of lying because we lie to women more than we lie to each other—more than we lie to ourselves, which is saying a lot. Women lie, of course—everybody lies. Yet we still accept sworn testimony as evidence in court—unless it’s a woman claiming rape.

It’s tradition. Only recently have we ceased to assume children are lying when they accuse priests of molestation. Only recently have we ceased to assume soldiers are lying when they say that their service left them damaged by toxins or stress. It is very difficult to end the tradition of accepting ‘lies about liars’ being told by figures of authority. It is time we stopped giving men the ‘authority’ to gainsay women’s accusations of rape.

Rape is ugly. But it is also incredibly common. Men are pigs, most of them—they’ll rape their daughters, their sisters, their girlfriends, their co-workers, and in a pinch, they’ll even rape a stranger. But nowhere is rape more prevalent than on college campuses. It’s ridiculous. One in five college women experience sexual violence—and that’s the official number. The actual number is probably worse. And one in five is too damned many, anyhow.

Which begs the question: how the hell did Rolling Stone find the one college rape story that wasn’t true? And how did this rare falsehood make headlines, when hundreds of true stories went unreported? Was this story made a cause célèbre  just to help bolster the myth of lying women reporting rapes that never happen? Or are we simply not interested in something as common as rape—our interest piqued only by the rare story where a woman was actually proved to lie about it?

What happens to the next girl brave enough to report her assailant? Do we just point to the Rolling Stone article and say, “Oh, you’re lying”? That’s just great. Rapists rejoice!