Vigor (2016Feb12)


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Thursday, February 11, 2016                                           5:23 PM

We rely on the Brownian motion of personal relationships—we don’t acknowledge it outright, though—instead, we tend, when things are going well, to say ‘uh-oh, I just know something bad’s gonna happen’—or when things are going badly, to say ‘oh well, things will get better’. We don’t assume our lives will always get better—but we like to assume they’ll always change. And I suppose one of my biggest fears is that I would someday find myself in a situation that never changed—I can take the bad with the good, but I can’t take the nothing. That wouldn’t work for me.

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I think that’s the horror of poverty—looking at the situation and seeing no possibility that it will ever change. Even the American Dream has something of that—the pursuit of happiness doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it implies change of some kind—the possibility of it, at least—and that is why President Obama’s call for hope and change resonated so deeply for Americans—change is the American Dream. The financial inequality and the shrinking of the middle class frighten us—because they signal an end to mobility. America is becoming set in its ways—and that’s exactly what people yearn to escape when they dream of coming here. It’s the curse of ancient roots—to lose even the dream of change—and America, at a mere two centuries, is already getting as stagnant as the rest of the world.

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Americans used to travel more—we used to relocate more—we were restless—‘cruisin’ was the national pastime. Growing job markets used to attract relocated workers looking for new opportunities—now growing industries hide inside our computers—we don’t even go outside anymore—except to go to the gym. When did fresh air and new sights become the enemy? The person who figures out how to reinvigorate the millennials is going to make a revolution—and a butt-load of money. But what kind of app gets people outdoors?

I recorded a lot today—a whole bunch of Chopin mazurkas (only three made it onto YouTube) and a bunch of scraps of improvising that I threw together into one video—it isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be—it’s really kind of a nice change for me.

 

 

 

 

If I don’t post before then–have a good Valentines Day!

Join The Debate (2016Feb11)


Wednesday, February 10, 2016                                       6:25 PM

I’m working on backups—I’ve had it in the back of my mind ever since the new year turned—and when the PC crashed yesterday, I was worried about how much writing, music, scans, and who-knows-what-else I might have lost—so—backups, right away—before I forget. And I have it in mind to try and think of a way to do intermediate, frequent backups of work-in-progress—just to keep this sort of thing from covering too broad a time period.

Thursday, February 11, 2016                                           11:05 AM

The pain is obscene—I’m having a bad day. God, I could scream. I’m not usually Mr. Comfortable—but I’m used to that. It’s when the pain is just so severe and so constant that I can’t think straight—that’s when I get a little bitchy about it.

I resisted the strong urge to respond to all the political posts on my Facebook wall—thankfully—there’s nothing to be gained by venting my ‘old crabby guy’ sentiments all over Facebook, just so some trollish meathead can engage me with what he or she is sure is ‘cogent reasoning’, but which in the end only proves how superficial, emotional, and peer-pressured their thinking is. The trouble with Facebook is that an educated, intelligent person can find himself or herself put on the same level as the dumbest ass in the country—and I recoil at the waste of time represented by arguing with someone who can’t even use the English language (or, at least, spell-check).

Also, there’s a mountain of difference between someone with fifty years of engagement in history, politics, and current events—and someone whose political involvement began when they decided to jump on Bernie’s bandwagon two months ago. I won’t even go into the depths of stupidity, and lack of self-preservation, represented by favoring the GOP. I could face standing in front of a classroom, trying to teach people what they don’t know—but I’ll be damned if I’m going to face them as equals, trading quips, while I try to educate them—and while they pretend to an equal understanding. That’s too hard for me—and much too easy on them.

And it is too easy to be a troll—they can just keep spewing bullshit until someone calls them on it—I, on the other hand, feel a responsibility to know what I’m talking about before I argue a point. I could twist the truth eight ways from Sunday—but I call myself on that stuff before it even leaves my lips—I don’t just throw it out there and dare someone else to refute it, just because it wins my argument for me. That’s debate-team bullshit—and everyone knows it—even the people who habitually use it in place of verisimilitude. Debate and argument are like government—none of it works properly without good will on both sides.

Not that I intend to leave the battlefield to the morons—I’ll post political comments on Facebook again someday—but using the cold logic of reason—not out of this pit of bitterness and pain.

Here’s some piano music from before the recent computer crash:

 

lll

Gone Fishing   (2016Feb09)


Tuesday, February 09, 2016                                             11:22 AM

Out of ammo—that’s how I feel on days like this—I rummage around inside my brain and find—nothing—no ideas, no inspirations, no recollections, no nuthin. I posted a blog yesterday—I posted one the day before—but today, I’m out of ammo.

I noticed I have 60 subscribers on YouTube—now, I’m pleased that my WordPress blog has over 100 followers, but I have no idea where I found 60 people who actually volunteer to listen to me play the piano—that’s just charity, I think. Not that I don’t work very hard at it—but let’s face it, I ain’t Julliard material and never will be. Nor do I have the angst or energy of a rock-n-roller. Still, I’m not above a pity subscription.

I mostly post my YouTube videos so the kids could log onto YouTube, wherever they are, and it will sound like they’re back in our living room. I got the idea when I heard this one recording I used to have of my dad, practicing some speech he was going to give the DMA—he’d been dead for some years, and it was so nice to hear his voice.

The blog posts—I don’t really know why I do the blog posts—I guess it’s as close to talking to people as a shut-in can get. I’d be happier if I got more threads of comments and replies—I’m usually trying to start a discussion and while ‘likes’ are better than nothing I’d prefer comments. Otherwise blogging feels similar to talking to someone who ignores me. It’s a good thing I have a pretty high opinion of my opinions. Still, everyone likes to be noticed.

It’s days like this that make my ‘productive’ days seem so exciting—so I shouldn’t complain if I can’t come up with a decent post every single day. Hell, some people don’t even have a blog, or a YouTube channel—so it could be worse.

New Piano Music (2016Feb08)


Monday, February 08, 2016                                             10:47 AM

Well, let’s see, lately I’ve watched “Bridge Of Spies”, which was fantastic, “Suffragette”, which was beautifully made, and some other movie that escapes me at the moment—no reflection on the movie—I just have a swiss-cheese brain. I did a nice post the other day, “Lachrymosa Regina”, which is about as good as my writing gets—and a new improv, “Suffragette” (which I named in honor of the film) which is about as good as my piano-playing gets—so I’ve had a banner post-birthday few days. Claire and I watched the last hour of the Super Bowl last night, waiting for Stephen Colbert—but the game ran long and Claire had to give up and go to sleep—I only saw Tina Fey, his first guest—I fell asleep before Will Ferrell came on.

That’s my autobiography of the last few days—pretty insular stuff—I did take at least one walk up and down the street outside my house during that time—not much, but I did see the sun. And I just recorded another decent improv (I think—I still have to listen to the playback).  Okay—I just listened to the playback—I’d forgotten that, about one minute in, I’m trying to figure out Tom Wait’s “Jersey Girl” (I just heard it during the credits of the eponymous Kevin Smith film)—I only get a few chords from the chorus before I give up and start improvising, but it does kinda drag down the whole recording—which is, otherwise, as good as I’d hoped it was while I played it.

I also recorded a cover of the old Association hit, “Cherish” (by Terry Kirkman)—which I bang on quite wildly—like the piano owed me money or something—but that’s how I play when I think I’m being expressive—maybe I should take anger-management—but I think the problem goes too deep for group therapy to fix.

 

hope you like’em

 

Hillary—Accept No Substitutes (2016Feb07)


Sunday, February 07, 2016                                      9:58 AM

Bernie Sanders is a nice guy—capable, well-meaning, firm in his convictions, and smart. If I had to choose between Bernie and any of the candidates from the GOP field, I’d pick Bernie. Bernie has been making speeches all over America telling people about our serious problems with income inequality and the influence of money on government—and I’d have to agree with him that solutions to these problems are vital to our continued well-being. Fixing these problems—and doing it well—would make our country even greater than it ever has been—which is pretty damn great. Bernie has a dream—and he’s running on his dream.

Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton is running for a job. She’s having trouble matching Bernie’s progressive rhetoric—because she knows too well that the president is not a plumber—Prez don’t fix no pipes. Hard working legislators and supreme court justices do that. Bernie is running to succeed at the work he’s been trying to do in the Senate—Hillary is running for the job of President of the United States. Her vision for America’s future is more complicated than ‘attack Wall Street’.

No one in government—excepting John Kerry or Joe Biden—has experience in dealing with heads of state to equal Hillary Clinton’s CV—two terms as First Lady and four years as Secretary of State. And in case you forgot, she was elected to the Senate, too—just like Bernie. Her superior experience would stick out like a sore thumb if it wasn’t for one wrinkle.

The GOP has attacked Hillary Clinton since she became the first lady in 1992—that’s just shy of a quarter-century of libelous aspersions being cast on her character and morals. To many people, this is proof that there’s something untrustworthy about Hillary—but when I consider the end result of all these attacks, I see it as proof of the reverse—that the GOP has been dishonest about Hillary for all that time. Name another public figure who could be sniped at, and snared, and ambushed, and bushwacked for twenty-four years—and come out the other end spotless—you can’t do it. If you or I were under the same poisonous scrutiny and suspicion for so long a time, what would our reputations look like?

The GOP believes that if they just keep slinging mud at Hillary some of it will stick—and the Bernie-lemmings are proving them correct. But I ask you—of the countless accusations leveled against her, which of them has been proved? They called them ‘scandals’—not just the GOP, but the media (always up for a brawl)—and they trumpet her potential disgrace from the mountaintops—but they never give out a peep when each successive house of cards collapses in her vindication. Most of the country, when asked, will claim that they ‘don’t trust’ Hillary Clinton—why? Because they trust Ted Cruz and his slime-ball friends more? That’s just crazy.

So let’s re-cap: Hillary Clinton is no more dishonest than any other politician, including Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton has far more experience in public service and international affairs than any other candidate from either party, including Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton recognizes that income inequality is a major issue—but she is also prepared to deal with the million other things that a president will be called upon to deal with, unlike Bernie Sanders. Finally, Hillary is a woman—what John Lennon called the ‘n-words of the world’—so we can count on her being sensitive to minorities—I’d say that much is a given, considering she’s spent the last ten years trying to become the first woman president.

Secretary Clinton didn’t become a battle-scarred veteran because she is insignificant—she got those scars because the GOP is scared to death of her. Years of effective efforts to make progressive change have made her their favorite boogey-man—if they can just discredit Hillary, the GOP believes, then the fight is half-won. But where the right is overly belligerent, the left tends to be indecisive—that’s why we’re turning to Bernie’s pie-in-the-sky, rather than deal with the complexities of Hillary’s long struggle. It is said that young people are flocking to Bernie Sanders—does anyone remember the story of the Pied Piper? Kids—what are you gonna do, right? Be a grown-up—stand for Hillary.

Lachrymosa Regina   (2016Feb06)


Saturday, February 06, 2016                          9:43 AM

Struggle, Weep, And sacrifice

Snuggle, Sleep, And love a wife

Burgle, Beat, And stab a knife

Gurgle, Bleat, And laugh at strife

Wiggle, Crawl, Behind the lies

Giggle, Beam, As sun will rise

In the olden times, a man could spend all day chopping wood—and he’d have been a hard-working, responsible adult with profitable employment; a woman could spend a week sewing a single fancy dress—and she’d have been considered quite clever and industrious. Today, either person would be considered to be wasting their time. The Bayeux Tapestry took an army of ladies-in-waiting, through three separate reigns, over many years, to complete—today it could be scanned into a digital loom’s memory and printed out in a few days’ time—possibly a few hours.

Travel was simpler in olden times—it simply wasn’t done. Those few times when anyone left their home for somewhere more than a mile off was called a Pilgrimage—and it was the event of a lifetime. Even in the beginning of the nineteenth century a trip up the Rhine from say, Bonn to Vienna, was a week-long excursion that took the form of a traveling celebration—I learned this today from reading a biography of Beethoven which describes just such a journey. Before trains (and then cars) travel was, and had always been, at a walking pace—nobody ran, and a team of trotting horses was considered positively speedy.

Communications were only possible within shouting distance—anything further off, and you had to write a note and have someone carry it to the person you wished to speak to. Medicine was as famous for its frauds and failures as for its rare successes. In short, life was simpler. The question that harries me is this: is life required to be simple? Are people who evolved to chop wood and sew their clothes capable of being happy in a world of traffic-jams, I-phones, and 3D-printers?

The popularity of Zumba classes speaks to our need to go out of our way to find some semblance of the exertion that our bodies have evolved to expect—exertion that our bodies, to some extent, need to remain healthy. The popularity of Zen, Yoga, and meditation speaks to our need for quietude—and to how difficult it is to find in our modern lives. Our interest in gourmet cuisine shows that even when food can be prepared in seconds, we are happier when we can make a production of its preparation, and a ritual out of its serving and its consumption.

The entire human race is, to some extent, being hauled forward through time, like a child being marched down the sidewalk by an impatient parent. We are given no time to appreciate our surroundings, no time to contemplate our simple existence, and no escape from the arcane complexities that our lives have come to contain. When we began to rebel against the childish despotism and the simple-minded morality of past centuries, we also began to distance ourselves from our childish nature. Today’s pre-pubescent middle-schooler has more sophistry than the most jaded courtesan of a few hundred years ago—and while that includes the blessing of women’s liberation, it also requires a maturity that may exceed our natural limits.

Complexity and self-control are assumed by the heralds of Progress—it’s taken for granted that, if man can create automobiles, for instance, then man is capable of using automobiles correctly. Highway safety statistics put the lie to that assumption—even after we’ve created protocols for testing, licensing, and registering drivers—and created highway patrols to enforce safety regulations. Weapons offer another example of technology being embraced without any thought for its dangers—as do drugs, banks, and computers. All of these ‘wonders’ present us with as many risks as benefits. Hence the growing complexity.

Only a student of history can envision how completely modern civilization has severed itself from its roots. Humans used to be fairly fancy animals—we had risen above bestiality, but we still bustled about with simple tools—we were animals that had found a few handy shortcuts. Today’s human can go for years without leaving a paved surface, a home, or an office—they never have to plant anything, dig anything, or exert themselves in any way—yet their food will be cooked, their clothes washed, and their homes kept warm (or cool, if needed). Money is involved of course—which means a job is probably involved—but in these times, a job doesn’t mean real work—it means something quite different from chopping wood or making clothes by hand.

This is a philosophical discussion, of course—we are well past the global population size that could have been supported in olden times, using man-power-based agriculture and transportation—so it goes without saying that we can’t go back. There’s no need to point out that I would be uncomfortable without the luxury of running water or flush toilets—I’m not unconscious of the blessings of modern life—nor is there any need to point out that democracy and free speech are an improvement over absolute monarchies or theocracies—I’m actually a big fan of human rights. But it would be jejune to imply that Progress comes without cost—many an immigrant to America has testified to the subtle panic at suddenly realizing total personal freedom—the right to make our own decisions is also a heavy obligation.

The strangest part of modern life is that things that once seemed acceptable—natural human impulses—become either impossible or criminal. Whittling was once a popular pastime—someone would pick up a piece of wood and starting carving it with a knife. Nowadays, carrying a knife is considered somewhat belligerent—and finding wood on the ground is a rare thing—and the pile of shavings might even get you a ticket for littering. Spitting used to be a common affectation—spittoons were once profligate, attempting to keep the mess of indoor spitting to a dull roar. People used to be more careless—and far less mature. It was 1920 before anyone even recognized that excessive drinking was a problem—and then, of course, we overreacted—childishly.

Are people still childish at times? Of course they are. My question is should we expect humanity to be as adult as a modern civilization requires them to be? I suspect we have over-reached ourselves. If we consider the sophistication of global issues in modern times—and contrast them with the regressive attitudes of the Republican party—we see a picture of hosts of immature, thoughtless people railing against the constraints of modernity—they want a return to conformity, bigotry, and dogma—and while we may all agree that they are wrong, we must still ask the question: are we asking too much of the human race as a whole?

When Einstein first published his Relativity work, it was famously incomprehensible. When Turing first published his work on automated computing, it too was beyond the understanding of people. Both Einstein and Turing had insights so profound that even the best and brightest of their peers had trouble comprehending them—and the public at large was left with buzz-words and jokes about relativity being gobbledy-gook. And Turing wasn’t helped by having his work kept secret for fifty years—Einstein was fortunate to have achieved his fame before the atom bomb made his work a state secret. And even before the bomb, public opinion was encapsulated in “As Time Goes By”, written by Herman Hupfeld in 1931, which includes the lyric “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 let’s face it—while far simpler, Edison’s electric dynamo, the combustion engine, and even Watt’s primitive steam engine, while familiar to us in concept—are also beyond the ability of most people, myself included, to explain in any detail. We are surrounded by mystery—reassured only by the assumption that if we studied engineering, we could probably understand these things. But that doesn’t change the fact that only one in a million people truly understands how most of our technology really works. It works—is the most we know about most things.

Our Constitution, while not technological, is also a complex invention that most people do not fully understand. And I’m not talking about internecine debates in the Supreme Court over fine legal points—I’m saying that too many of the people who live by, or at least under, our Constitution don’t have a firm grasp of its basic points. The fact that the world’s greatest democracy also enjoys the lowest voter turnout per capita for its elections is just one of the failings I could place in evidence. The evangelicals’ lobbying for theocratic legislation is another. These people obviously have no understanding of the system. Conservatives used to do their best to suppress free speech—reaching a high-water-mark during the red scare of the McCarthy Era—now, neo-cons have flipped the script, embracing ‘free speech’ as a license to ignore the rules—the so-called ‘teaching of the controversy’. But dumb is still dumb.

People are dumb. We are children—I’m sixty years old and I still have to remind myself to act like an adult. While I would never advocate giving in to the regressives, I think we need to ask ourselves—how far can we push ourselves in certain avenues while merely maintaining the status quo with others—or more to the point, pretending that there are no other avenues? We can push ahead with technology and social change—but if we don’t match that with some progress in pluralism and income equality—if we don’t delve as deeply into the quality of human nature as we do into changing the ways we live—we court chaos—and disaster. The hell with courting it—we live in chaos, on the edge of global disaster. And it seems to me we don’t have the sense to even ask ourselves why.

It’s the proverbial modern dilemma—how do you fix a car while you’re driving it down the freeway? Stopping, much less going backwards, is not an option. I believe we need to broaden our understanding—to go beyond economic absolutism, beyond political demagoguery—to seek working compromises between personal liberty and social support programs—between ownership and responsibility for others. We need to envision a world without starvation and war and slavery—and ask ourselves: how do we get there from here without dropping a stitch? And most importantly—how much do we need to ask of ourselves to get there—and do we have that much to give?

Nobody For Hire (2016Feb04)


Thursday, February 04, 2016                                           4:11 PM

When I was a young firebrand, I felt that a job was a fallback position—that exceptional people (like me, of course) should strike out on their own and do great things, free from the bonds of nine-to-five servitude. Two things escaped my notice at the time—one, that exceptional people worked just as hard, even harder, for themselves than other people worked for their boss—and two, that working people had something that even exceptional people don’t have—they were needed to get a job done. It’s nice to be needed. At one point, when I was working in the early days of office computing, I was very much needed—it was a great feeling.

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My working life back then was exciting—my father was starting a small business and I was helping with the computers—new and exotic at the time. The energy of growing a business combined with the innovation of computers—whose software, hardware, and operating systems changed with alarming frequency—kept me hopping. Computers were unusual and they brought with them new ways of thinking—I spent a lot of time explaining things to people—things I had had explained to me only a short time beforehand. There was a lot of learning, and teaching, involved. And the computers made us so competitive that the business grew swiftly—bringing its own challenges. If I were young again, that’s what I’d do—start a small business—there’s nothing like it for adventure.

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Lately I’ve been trying to accept that my infirmity went on for too long, that restoration of my health (such as it is) came too late, and my senior years arrived too early—and that these three combined present a good case for me to accept that any professional life I might have had has gone by the boards—that mere existence, mere dependency, is the best I’m going to do with my near future. I recognize that living off my disability, without any struggle to regain my place in the commerce of the day, is a surrender—but I’ve spent some time fighting to stay alive, to stay sane—and it looks like that is the only challenge I’m prepared to face. Excusing myself from the greater struggle, that of wresting a paycheck from the wide world, is just another lesson I’ve picked up from my teacher, my cancer, my mortality.

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My illness has taught me that there is a realm beyond that of ‘try harder’—I’m a little annoyed whenever someone suggests that I could do more. When a nerve is severed, no amount of ‘try harder’ will ever reconnect it; when a muscle no longer contracts, when the skin is numb to the touch, ‘trying harder’ doesn’t enter into the problem. When a mind that once served me so well that I look back on it now with awe, decides to atrophy—I cannot regain my genius by earnest effort any more than by wishing on a star. While I’m pleased and excited that my health is so much improved from what it was (what Billy Crystal, in “The Princess Bride”, describes as ‘mostly dead’) it is just as important for me to accept that my old self is gone—all my assumptions about my abilities, my knowledge, my stamina, my capacity to learn new things—they’re all misleading taunts, memories of a healthy me that hasn’t existed for decades.

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So I’m giving up on finding a job—if I’m dissatisfied with myself, how could I expect anyone else to find a use for me? If anybody wants to call me on this—or explain how I should just ‘try harder’—well, you know what you can do with that sentiment. There are seven billion people running around—I think we can do without one pair of shaky hands, and things will still roll along pretty much unchanged.

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The biggest problem is that I remain a neo-Calvinist by nature—and I’m unhappy without any hard work to do—I feel most needed when I’m being pushed to meet a deadline. Drawing pictures was always my go-to busy-work—but shaky hands and draughtsmanship don’t go together. It’s a conundrum. I’m trying to teach myself to enjoy being unneeded—but context is everything, and I’d love to have one—a context, that is. That’s what a job really boils down to—I’ve had different jobs at different salaries, but behind it all, whatever job it was was always a context to my life—a framework for my self-worth. Only exceptional people can stand alone, assured that they are of value, even without a paycheck to show for it—but even exceptional people need a target for their efforts, a challenge to strive for. Perhaps it’s just ego on my part—I’m disappointed with the lightweight challenges I’m prepared to meet—and I miss the days when people sometimes expected the impossible of me and I was able to deliver. Applause, applause—yeah, those were the days.