Last day of January–the Winter won’t last forever, after all….
Well, they finally launched the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory today.
In honor of which, I have two improvs and a song of Mendelssohn…
Last day of January–the Winter won’t last forever, after all….
Well, they finally launched the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory today.
In honor of which, I have two improvs and a song of Mendelssohn…
worth a second look…
Friday, January 30, 2015 11:39 AM
The Times says Mitt Romney’s decision today not to run for President in 2016 frees up contributors and volunteers for other center-right Republicans, such as Jeb Bush. MSNBC says those on the far-right are hoping that Senator Elizabeth Warren will challenge Hillary Clinton. I’m always struck by how the strategy and the spin become issues unto themselves—let’s not waste any time on the actual issues. Just another example of mass media digging for excitement rather than information.
But is it exciting? Not to me. The damned election is in November 2016. I’ll tell you what would be exciting—mass involvement. If politics became as popular as the Super Bowl, I’d sure sit up straight and pay attention. It is so paradoxical to live in a nation whose greatest fame is democracy, but less than a quarter of our citizens participate in the vote. It doesn’t even take money or effort, like a college degree or a long vacation—but voting is becoming less popular than going to prison.
Protests have seen a recent resurgence in America—that seems like a lot more effort than an annual trip to the voting booth. How do we explain the preference for protests for change over actual change? How can the media justify its focus on the infighting, the corruption, and the personalities of our legislators over their legislation (the only thing that affects the rest of us)? Only media reporting about the media goes as far into the land of self-absorption.
The government shut-downs of the recent past are another example—how do legislators get confused enough to consider refusing-to-do-their-jobs as part of their jobs? By running on a ‘government is bad’ ticket—and being elected by people who don’t like government, that’s how. The Republicans claim to be against ‘Big Government’—but that’s BS—how could our federal government be small?
Being against ‘Big Government’ can really only be interpreted as being against America—we can’t expect fifty separate states to function properly without some unification of purpose. These ‘anti-government’ GOP creeps still manage to pass laws—they even pass spending bills. So it would seem they aren’t entirely against Government, they’re just against ‘Government by the people, for the people’. They claim that Freedom is our only goal—that Social Justice is some interloper that drains our coffers and interferes with business.
But Social Justice is little different from legal justice. If someone punches you in the face, the Republicans are all for throwing the bastard in jail—legal justice—but if you don’t have enough health care to get your face stitched back together, the Republicans don’t see any reason for government to get involved. So where do they draw the line? Perhaps they see punishment of a criminal as important, but redress for a victim (especially a victim of circumstance) they see as too soft-hearted for real ’Muricans. When the GOP thinks of Justice, they imagine a hammer, not a cradle.
The conservatives operate by the Philosophy of the Strong. If you’re poor, toughen up and make more money. If you’re sick, toughen up and walk it off. If you’re unemployed, you must be lazy. If you are disadvantaged, just do whatever you have to do to keep up with the rest of us. It’s a wonderful philosophy, as long as you’re rich, well-educated, and healthy. It’s also serviceable if you’re a misanthropic red-neck with resentment oozing from every pore.
But the rest of us have feelings. We recognize the dangers of runaway government, but we’re still willing to risk a portion of our budget on helping the helpless and protecting the young and the disenfranchised. Anyway, lots of studies indicate that the economics-of-charity are more profitable than the economics-of-austerity—so the ‘waste of money’ argument is a false premise to begin with.
And then there’s always the issue of complexity—our modern lives involve air-traffic control, satellite weather-forecasting, financial derivatives, gene-splicing, tidal generators, and rush-hour traffic-flow, to name just a few strands of our very tangled web. Anyone who tells you it’s time for ‘small government’ is trying to sell you a bridge to Brooklyn. Besides, government is already ‘big’ in many troublesome ways—Corporate lobbying, PAC funds, the IRS, the DEA, Homeland Security, the CIA—it doesn’t make sense to avoid Big Government on positive issues, when it’s already a runaway train in terms of negative issues.
Once again, I find myself writing about things everyone already knows—but no one does anything about.
Thursday, January 29, 2015 3:09 PM
‘Snow-blind’ is probably the wrong term–today I’m more struck by the brilliance of our indoor sunlight, doubled by its reflection off of all the snow outside.
And that happens in Summer, as well–I’m reminded of this fragment from the first of T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets”, “Burnt Norton”:
“So we moved, and they, in a formal pattern,
Along the empty alley, into the box circle,
To look down into the drained pool.
Dry the pool, dry concrete, brown edged,
And the pool was filled with water out of sunlight,
And the lotos rose, quietly, quietly,
The surface glittered out of heart of light,
And they were behind us, reflected in the pool.
Then a cloud passed, and the pool was empty.”
Or, if we consider sunlight as reality, Eliot also wrote: “human kind / Cannot bear very much reality”….
Sunday, January 25, 2015 11:51 PM
I just played a few of Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words”, then I played ad lib, in D major, mostly. It all seemed quite impressive to me—I’ve spent a lot of time over the years on Mendelssohn—and he is a pianist’s composer, as far as I’m concerned—his pieces seem to fit the hand more elegantly than your average piano music. He manages to make me (or anybody) sound more accomplished than they are, without breaking your wrists to do it.
And my improvisation has matured something awful—the simple chords I once pounded incessantly are no longer sufficient to satisfy. And that has been the case for some time now, so my searching and scratching for new harmonies, figures, turns, and fillips—and, more importantly, my recent focus on the attempt to make melodic lines a part of my improvs—has, in these most recent years, transformed my freestyle playing into something I’m almost proud of.
Much of my improvement, and my enjoyment of it, is due to the seeming resurgence in my CNS. Ever since I took the HCV ‘cure’, the inflammations and other upsets to my insides–including my mind, my focus, my hand-to-eye, etc., have stopped, leaving me more clear-minded, more present, better coordinated, and better able to remember short-term, continuity-related memories.
I don’t have time to think in terms of being proud of my music, though—the only reason I’ve come this far is by working as hard as you would expect someone who doesn’t believe they’ll ever get anywhere would work. When I lost my strength and my intelligence—during the worst, most death-defying periods of my liver disease—the idea of ‘making progress’ became laughably out-of-place. Playing the piano was simply primal enough to be included in the list of things I could still do—as long as I accepted that my playing went from bad to worse.
So, I never stop to ask myself if I’m pleased with the result. I spent far too many years being quite sure of an answer in the negative, without even asking the question—it’s only now that the subject has even arisen. And still, it seems clear, I’ll never get anywhere near ‘flashy’ with a piano—I’m only excitable about the fact that I play almost all the correct notes when I play a Mendelssohn piece, nowadays— I’m still chained to sight-reading and I still can’t trust my left hand. Virtuosi are still safe from competition—even more so than before my long illness.
But I pity everyone who is not me, nonetheless. No one else will ever hear how I play when I’m alone—and judging from what I can tell, it’s not half bad. Of course, I don’t compare myself to others’ music—I compare myself with what I’ve done before. Hearing myself play better than I’ve ever played can trick me into thinking it sounds great, when I’m making a relative judgment, instead of an esthetic judgment.
It’s certainly better than what I get when the camera is capturing it—or when someone is in the room with me. I have a policy to always turn on the camera and take whatever comes, good or bad. That way, I thought, I’d get used to the camera. But I don’t. I just play like there’s a camera on. So, since my policy doesn’t work, I sometimes give myself a treat and play without a camera—it’s so freeing. Then afterwards, like now, all I can think of is “Was that good? Should I have had the camera on for this sitting?” It’s hopeless. All my acceptance of my limitations does nothing to quell my desire to be ‘good at’ the piano. And, yes, I know that great pianists have the same bottomless demands on their efforts—but they have better reason to push it; and they have far finer results to show for it.
In many ways, my journey to the brink of death and back has enhanced whatever musicality I started with—maybe it’s that old ‘suffering artist’ hogwash. But I think it’s more specific than that. I think my struggles with my fading mental powers, the trembling and fatigue, the almost total loss of short-term memory—followed by my long recovery from my liver transplant and my more-recent return to something approaching my old self—was a learning experience that took place at the very source-code of my esthetic perspective. I learned not to take anything for granted—not even something so basic as remembering what I’m trying to say long enough to finish a sentence.
At age fifty-nine, I’m also faced with the confusion between my recovery from illness and the losses due my natural aging. In a sense, I’m getting better and worse at the same time—my disability is lifting but I’m not getting any younger. Having been penalty-boxed for the last twenty years is just an emotional problem—starting over when I’m twenty years older is a baldly practical problem. In my case, ‘becoming healthy’ is a relative concept, with multiple perspectives to view it from.
I faced death due to illness and was saved at the eleventh hour by my transplant surgeon and her team—but now, close to sixty, and not expecting to survive far into my senior-citizenship, I’m facing a more leisurely death due to natural causes. Once you start losing, it’s hard to stop, mentally. And modern life makes old age very confusing. In our time, a sixty-year-old, for example, faces the possibility of living for another forty years—but someone with my health issues can still see sixty as a kind of ‘two-minute warning’. Someone who takes care of themselves can become a centenarian—but even with my illness, I never learned to take care of myself. Hey—life is for living—that’s how it always seemed to me. I still smoke tobacco, among other things—and a smoker in his sixties is dead meat. Inhaling a house-fire is a young man’s game.
I find myself ready to begin my life again—but I’m old, I have no degree, I’m just a step above bed-ridden, my driver license lapsed two years ago, I’m addicted to nicotine, I go to the bathroom more often than a normal person—it’s just demoralizing. And to complicate issues, the many years my failing health went undiagnosed, when my symptoms were mistaken for dissolution and irresponsibility, led to many stressful situations in the old office.
I worked for my parents and family businesses are always stressful to begin with. I was a systems manager, coder, and PC specialist in those early times of business computing, when there was resentment against the geeky, entitled, self-taught computer-maven. Plus, the fragility of those earlier hardware systems brought its own freight of stress—young people who now toss around their I-phones have no idea!
Just as my symptoms began to manifest—loss of focus, loss of memory, confusion, fatigue—my parents retired, sold the business to a VC-company that tried to bankrupt the business for personal gain (filing chapter eleven, or is it chapter thirteen?—whatever) which the family was in the process of buying back, out of receivership, when my father died suddenly, crashing his private Cessna. The business then became the responsibility of me and my siblings, which turned out to be a recipe for disaster—but I was slowly dying from liver disease without knowing it and trying to do my job—and failing.
At the same time, there were a few bad employees, embezzling money through some kind of sales-commission scam—and the one managing the accounting department pointed fingers at me and my systems when there was confusion about unbalanced bookkeeping. My family chose to trust her, rather than the careless reprobate I appeared to have become. In the end, I was fired by my own brother.
I spent the next ten years supporting my family in relative poverty, working jobs that were way below my usual skill-set, but just doable with the brain-power I had left—I did computer graphics for IBM for a year, then transferred outside-data to in-house field-formats at Telemarketing Concepts for a few years. Then I did Y2K-corrective coding as an independent contractor in NYC. After ten years, my brother called to re-hire me as Systems Manager. It turned out he had hired an entire systems department, four full-timers and an intern, to replace me and there was still some programs of mine that they couldn’t figure out how to de-bug. It also turned out that my brother lied—he hired someone else to run the systems department and made me a Special Projects Manager—which was his way of admitting he needed me, without actually being a decent human being about it. (His new ‘manager’ turned out to be a nut-case with control issues, fired within the year. Sadly, MDA went out of business after I left, as did Telemarketing Concepts, Inc.—and the old man I did the Y2K coding for died, ending his company, too—so time has brushed away virtually everything I’ve ever done in the business world. It makes for a sense of futility.)
But I was barely there for a year myself before my illness overwhelmed me and I could no longer make the commute to work every morning, much less do any complicated programming. I would spend the next four years doing Interferon treatments and degenerating in mind and body until the liver cancer showed up. That was when the doctor told me I only had a few weeks left. I was barely conscious by then, tenuously lucid, and barely able to walk to the bathroom by myself. Claire helped me walk from the parking lot into the hospital on the night of my transplant.
Transplant rehab takes at least a year—it was a few years before my abdomen fully healed (what was left of it—some control nerves were cut during the operation and a few muscles are now vestigial—which developed into a vertical hernia—I look pretty messed up without a shirt on). Post-op, though, was by-and-large, all positive progress—with my blood finally being cleaned by my liver once again, my body and my central nervous system began to rebound—though some nerve damage is permanent and my brain has atrophied. Then, a few years ago, my health started to tilt back into degeneration—the Hepatitis C virus had made a comeback and it was doing a number on my ten-year-old replacement liver. Recently, I took the new three-month treatment that eradicates HCV permanently.
This time, the upward swing of my health and mental function has been a wonderful experience—my piano-playing is better; my writing is better; I’m more active, walking every day; and I’m getting restless enough to give serious thought to reclaiming my place in the rat race, nine to five, living for the weekends—with the attendant paychecks and feelings of self-worth. But my petit-PTSD burn-out from that rollercoaster ride during the final ten years of my professional office-work career has left me emotionally damaged—I’m markedly anti-social in close quarters. Like Lucy Van Pelt, ‘I love humanity—it’s people I can’t stand’. And I’m neurotically averse to authority—especially the petty dictates of middle-management.
Thus, office work, my strong suit, is also the worst environment I can imagine. And I’m no good at anything else—as far as I know. Plus, I’m pretty old—the fire in my belly is a distant memory. I want to be useful. I want to be productive. I’m just not sure I want a job—or if I could handle a job. Jobs involve so much more than being useful and productive—and that’s my problem with them. It’s a tight spot—and I know tight spots. I also can’t help feeling a little resentment towards my peers—as I daydream about coming ‘back to life’, most of them are eyeing retirement, if they haven’t already retired. And they have adulthoods full of accomplishment to look back on.
But enough background autobiography—back to my original point—esthetics enhanced by the purifying fires of mental dysfunction. For one thing, the connection between me and my piano is so much deeper now—it was there through all of it, when people, as a group, had their own lives to live. Time I might have spent socializing was spent communing with my keyboard, contemplating the intricacies of acoustic artistry. A PBS documentary on Thomas Edison claims that his hearing loss encouraged him to use the power of his inner mind, to separate himself from the bustle of the everyday and retreat to his inner workplace of invention. Van Gogh’s mental illness seems to have a direct link with his painting style. Otherwise normal people have been known to become artists as a result of head trauma.
The brain is a mysterious thing. Creative expression is one of the few things that are even more mysterious. Sometimes I actually despair of having had no great tragedy or trauma, of not being raised in dire poverty or sociopathic dysfunction, of not being in a minority, not a woman, or a Jew. How can I compete as an artist when my whole life has been a core sample from the ‘average white guy’ milieu? Where’s the mighty engine of struggle supposed to come from? If a fairly happy, fairly comfortable life prevents one from any chance at greatness, it becomes hard to define what ‘happy’ really means.
And it raises some weird questions. Children who endure hardships grow up to be tougher, more resilient, more capable—does that mean being nice to my kids was a mistake? Greatness never comes without struggle—should I envy the struggling, when I know darn well that I wouldn’t wish to suffer as they do? Perhaps, as Jack Nicholson said in “A Few Good Men”, I should stop questioning the ways of ‘the Arts’ and just say ‘thank you’ to those whom fate has decided to make artists. God, I hate that idea.
Tuesday, January 27, 2015 3:37 PM
The weatherman predicted the worst Winter storm in history for last night and the majority of today. The mayor of NYC made emergency announcements at 7 PM last night. I expected to be snowed in, without power, and who knows what else might happen.
Being a coastal storm, and heading northward, it trashed Long Island, Boston, and Maine, as predicted—sorry about that, Down-Easters—but here in Somers, where the initial forecast was one-to-two feet of snow, then just one foot—I’d be surprised if the official measurement reached six inches. It looks more like four or so.
Which means I was allowed to shoot, edit, and post four videos today—I shot the whole room in hopes that the weather outside would appear frightful, but all the video shows is a white glow where the windows should be windows. Unluckily, that left me with very dark videos, which I have tried my best to brighten with my video-editing controls, but it’s still a pretty lackluster show—just a dark room with my head peaking up from behind the piano.
I took some stills for the Titles and Credits graphics, too—in the “Mendelssohn – Songs Without Words No. 25”, you see where Claire couldn’t catch the cardinal outside our window (you can just see a bit of red). In the “Mendelssohn – Songs Without Words No. 24”, you can see a wren at the same window (it’s a very popular sill). The improvs just show pics of our yard covered in snow.
The two Mendelssohn pieces, as usual, are posted more as proof that I can sight-read/stumble my way through with minimal mistakes than as any competition for the real pianists out there—but that’s where I’m at—what else can I do? I’ll let you judge for yourself what sort of voice I’m in with today’s two improvisations….
Finally, here are some of today’s stills, on their own…
Monday, January 26, 2015 10:07 AM
They’ve gone too far this time—and that’s a good thing. In their towering passion to oppose Obama, the Republican all-stars that made their bones sniping at him now find themselves objecting to and opposing everything, even each other. The same convoluted mind-set that found flaws in every action or aspect of our current President has gotten them into the habit of attacking anyone, even themselves, in the same way. After years of oblique responses, left-field criticisms, and denial, they can’t help but turn these awful weapons of unreason against each other.
Now that it is within their power to recreate the Dark Ages in the 21st-century, their well-sharpened debate reflexes have them arguing amongst themselves just how Dark the New Dark Ages should be. That’s good news. We have stood aghast as these new tricks learned by the powerful and the ignorant have stymied many of our government’s efforts to improve the lot of its citizens, and to promote peace and understanding throughout the world.
They oppose health care, particularly a women’s right to choose her own health-care options. They oppose homosexuality—statistically one in ten people, which seems to me enough people that ostracizing them becomes a threat against all our freedoms. They wish to establish the primacy of Christianity in a nation that prides itself on religious freedom. It seems pretty clear that they wish to retain their racism while debating racism’s existence. In a nation of immigrants they see new immigrants as our greatest threat. And in the wake of our nation’s greatest financial meltdown, their first priority is to undo the regulations that would prevent any future predatory banking and investment.
I’ll never understand how they got so many people to vote against their own interests in the last election. I knew that we, as a nation, pay more attention to TV commercials than we do to our teachers, but I never realized that such superficiality went ‘to the bone’, all the way to our decision-making process. The fact that many of their stratagems relied upon the success of bare-faced lying left me with a sense of overwhelming futility—not just that they would tell lies, but that we would be ignorant enough to be taken in by them. The changes wrought by the Citizens United ruling on our democratic process have brought me close to despair.
Our democracy, once a marketplace of ideas, has been downgraded to a mere marketplace. Money bought the offices won in the last election, not honest appraisal. It seems the voters have forgotten to look at their own lives as an indicator of whom they should vote for. Today, they are urged, and very convincingly, to vote based on the fictitious bugaboos of the GOP media machine. Dirt-poor voters were persuaded to vote for candidates that oppose financial regulation and government subsidies of the poor. Ignorant voters were persuaded to vote for candidates that prefer funding our military to funding our educational system. The unemployed were persuaded to vote for the super-wealthy’s candidates, who were unanimous in denying the income-inequality gap.
It was an election of madness. We chose our own self-destruction, and walked out of the polling booths proud of ourselves. And the only thing saving us now is the Republicans’ inability to switch gears from obstructionism to actual governing. Having opposed our government for so long, they seem at a loss as to how to become our new government—as if it were a crime to do the job they were elected for.
I know that people, as a group, are incapable of intelligent decision-making. I wasn’t born yesterday. But I’m so tired of Stupid. Aren’t we all pretty exhausted with Stupid? I’d like to kick those bastards out of congress, but Stupid is so damn popular. It must be all that money—even an ugly idiot is popular, when he’s filthy rich. Is it self-loathing? Why else would we millions with so little money be attracted to those few who have too much? Even that I find incomprehensible—what do we think, that the rich are going to share? Sorry, but Sharing is not in the Rich Guy’s Handbook. Wake up to yourself already.
I’m a fairly well-educated guy—but I don’t know everything there is to know about politics. Maybe, in the end, the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans. I know that Obama is special—even if the rank and file of the Democratic Party are no better than the their GOP counterparts, Obama is the best they have to offer—and his own party chose, at various times, to support him or not support him, based on the passing whims of the poll-takers. Perhaps Obama’s bare-faced progressivism has given me a false sense that the Democrats can save us from the Republicans. It’s entirely possible that they are just as bad, as a group.
But if we look at the two parties’ platforms, we see a decided left-leaning in the Democrats, and a definite right-wing flavor to Republican goals. And the characteristics of progressivism and conservatism, while they may have represented nothing more than a difference in opinion in days past, have real-world consequences in the present. Conservatives are somehow against literal conservation. Progressives are concerned that an individual can make too much progress, to the detriment of others. It’s a hall of mirrors. Just add arguments over syntax, stir, and Voila!—perpetual chaos. I’m too old for this shit.
When I was young, I was one of those lucky people who saw their own capabilities as homogenous powers—I could see; I could hear; I could think; I could run and jump. What’s more, I had better-than-average capabilities in many of those categories—this was what seemed most important to me—at least, the better-than-average thinking part of it. What escaped my then-inexperienced awareness was what we all learn as we age—that our abilities have a spectrum.
I used to think I was lucky that I had sight where a blind person did not, or had hearing where the deaf have none. What I should have been thinking was I was lucky to be young and have youthful powers of sight and hearing.
Eventually came the day I noticed that if I turned up the volume of my radio enough to hear the rhythm, I still couldn’t hear the bass; if I turned up the volume enough to hear the bass I still couldn’t hear all the individual notes; if I turned it up enough to hear all the individual notes I still couldn’t hear the timbres; and if I turned it up enough to hear the instruments’ timbres, I’d still need a touch more to hear the ambient sound of the recording. My hearing had levels. Who knew? Worse yet, once I’d reached that ‘complete’ volume, it was too loud for prolonged comfort, and I could only listen for so long before the violence of the volume outshone the beauty of the music. So at my age, hearing has become a choice of balance between audibility and endurance.
Vision, also, has revealed levels. I can clearly see the horizon at sundown, but if I look down I can’t see my hand in front of my face. (I was surprised to learn, long ago, that color drains with the light. As lighting becomes dimmer, our eyes perceive less of the information they use to process colors. This seemed unnatural to me on first hearing. But now it seems normal, with the understanding that ‘color’ is simply an overlay, of sorts, that our eyes and brains use to process color’s wavelengths. As the information supplied by dimmer lighting gives less data, the eyes revert to their most basic function—determining shapes and outlines.)
Normally I walk around without any glasses. I have a different magnification for the glasses I use to read a book, to read sheet music at the piano, and to read and write on the screen of my PC—that’s three different pairs and they are not interchangeable. I also require a fourth, very hi-magnification pair that I go and find whenever I have to look at the fine print on a pill bottle or the like. This took some getting used to–I used to do all that with just my eyeballs. My night vision is kaput for driving. I’ve become an aficionado of good lighting—it’s amazing how much a bright light can enhance vision. On the other hand, I’ve lost the trick of walking outside on a sunny day without some sunglasses, and a visor on my hat. (The hat is just to protect my balding dome from UV-rays.) Extremes of any sensory input are as bad, or worse, than paucity—I’m more easily disoriented, and I lose what sense of balance I still have at the drop of a hat (or, more likely, the picking of it back up).
No one tells kids this stuff. Maybe they do, and kids are simply incapable of hearing the truth in it—and they may need to be. Our brains don’t attain their mature form until well into young adulthood. The child-like brain-format, more open to risk-taking, less empathetic, and less sensitive to consequences, may be a requirement for the rigors of entering adulthood and for carving out a new niche for a self-sufficient member of society to live in. Once a toe-hold has been established, we old farts can settle for steadier brains that focus on stability, with half-an-eye out for potential growth.
But that’s Darwin’s bottom line talking—species continuity is best assured—oh yeah, that’s fine, species-wise. But that requires that a great scientist or artist do their best work before they turn twenty-four years of age. What, you thought it was just athletes? Sorry, pal. Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Gödel—you name the scientist—they all flared out with tremendous achievements in their youth. In their later years, at best, they brought mature consideration to the breadth of their initial breakthroughs—at worst, they flounder about with little or no results or, sadly, devolve into head cases.
Artists and musicians experience the same game clock—create a great work with what remains of your child-like brain-form, and its attendant more-prolix imagination, or turn into an old fuddy-duddy, incapable of re-attaining the Olympian heights (and the fresher, more energetic yearnings and frustrations) of your more youthful brain-power. But don’t misunderstand me—age does not bring stupidity—it brings change. The brain needed by a child is different than the one that ensures a successful adult.
That our younger brain-formats are better suited to making advancements in the arts and sciences—that, further, our adolescent brains, changing from the old format to the new, in a relatively chaotic brain-format, are at the optimum opportunity to think new thoughts and create new imaginings—is something we may well consider. Here we live in the chaos of exploding science and technological change, incessant media communication and information input, in a constant struggle over socialization, rules and boundaries (not to mention the rat-race for sheer survival). And our society, oddly enough, has begun to prize that same, golden age-demographic that enables such cursed-blessing chaos—where, once, it seemed obvious that our elders were the ones to whom we should turn for leadership.
Perhaps our least-mature adults are now best-suited to deal with the immaturity of the civilization we’ve built up. But, if we reject the present model due to its probably-suicidal short-sightedness, we see that maturity may be important to our long-term point-of-view. Imagine mature behavior in politicians. Imagine mature judgment being exercised in the running of multi-national corporations. Imagine if all the scientists in all the corporate research and development labs gave mature consideration to what they are doing, how they are doing it, and whether they should do what they’re thinking of doing. Imagine, if your head doesn’t explode, world leaders whose decisions were unfailingly, objectively humanitarian. Would they still make mistakes? Yes, they’d still be humans. The difference would be in the lag time between recognition of a problem and the implementation of a corrective policy.
As things stand now, we could (and when I say we, I mean the human race in general) destroy the entire planet—by accident. Well, without meaning to, at least—and in several different ways. And that’s just the planet. We also have in the works several ways in which we make ourselves miserable, unnecessarily—and many of the worst examples are currently experiencing tremendous growth. Our social institutions have never been about what common sense tells us they should be about—everyone’s peaceful pursuit of freedom and happiness. They began as draconian systems of repression and inhumanity—and our history is a story of how we have tried to improve upon tyranny. Tyranny is, however, a tough nut to crack. Our social institutions still battle on many levels against partisanship, influence, theocracy, capitalism, xenophobia, and bullying in all its forms—and forward motion is by no means a given.
Even a slight up-tick in manifest maturity amongst all the adults in the world would be a really good idea right about now. Yet I would be loath to start crowd-funding a World Maturity Drive just yet—the word ‘Maturity’ is as vulnerable to mangling as the words “Christianity’ or ‘Communism’ and there seems little point to adding another body to the mosh pit. O well. At least when the end finally comes, I won’t see or hear it nearly as clearly as those young bastards that brought it on….
Saturday, January 24, 2015 11:07 AM
My experience of learning has taught me the futility of goal-seeking. When we learn mathematics in school, we do not come to a conclusion—we simply learn it well enough to move on to algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Just as basic math teaches us how to ‘make change’, algebra and the rest teach us how to draw circles and measure for carpentry—but those subjects, like math, are not the end of the trail. They lead to calculus, set theory, analytical geometry, topology, etc. And these subjects, also, will yield immediate skills and insights (usually the reason for their creation—as when Newton invented The Calculus to work on the ‘per second per second’ aspect of Gravitational attraction) but they too are not the end of the trail.
In fact, as mathematical skill reaches higher and higher levels, it also bifurcates into multiple new trails to be blazed—the trail never ends, it only broadens into the infinite, beckoning us to discover new topics and techniques in Mathematics. Paradoxically, to penetrate further into this infinite mathematical unknown, one must choose a specific aspect of the mathematical unknown and work upon only those specific complexities to make any headway into the sum total of human mathematical knowledge.
Thus, we never ‘learn math’—we only learn a little more math. Math makes a clear example of this point, but it is true of all subjects. History can be learned in broad strokes, i.e. mankind had a prehistory, a stone age, an iron age, a bronze age, an industrial revolution, and a digital revolution—the end. Scholars can go into further detail, i.e. 15th century Europe had a feudal society, used gothic architecture, and played renaissance music, etc. Beyond that, we can study history by subject, i.e. the history of religion, the history of women, the history of science, etc.—we can even study it individually, through biographies and autobiographies—or more subtly, as in the daily life of people during the Reformation, or the history of minority religious groups and the extent of their persecution by the majority.
Still, in history as in math (or any other subject) we can never ‘learn history’; we can only learn a little more history. If we had a video history of every individual who ever lived, we still wouldn’t know it all—we might need two-camera coverage, or three or more camera angles to get the full story—and that’s ignoring the impossibility of any one person having the time to watch the billions of video biographies of everyone who ever lived.
That’s why I have trouble with quotes like the following: “Only when we love ourselves fully and forgive all the people and experiences that have caused us pain….can we truly heal and find inner peace.” – from “Walking Home” by Sonia Choquet. Such sentiments intimate that there is, in fact, an end to all our studies; that we do have the capacity to come to a full understanding of something, of anything. Forgiveness is a fine idea, but it is difficult, to say the least, when we remember that forgiveness rarely comes without understanding, and full understanding of other people is just as messy a proposition as full understanding of say, Mathematics—it ain’t happening.
Likewise, we cannot love ourselves fully without curtailing our curiosity about who we really are. To accept something as it is, even ourselves, requires us to put an end to our efforts to analyze ourselves—could we love ourselves fully without overlooking any potential failings or corruptions that we are not yet aware of? No. If we are to accept ourselves, we must cease to study ourselves—enforced ignorance in the name of inner peace.
Don’t get me wrong. This is not a bad thing. I have experienced brief moments of inner peace myself—it does come with acceptance of what is, without full understanding of what that is is. But that doesn’t make ‘inner peace’ an end-point—it makes it a respite from reality. I can experience inner peace for as long as I’m able to maintain a stillness of mind that accepts what is, without understanding. But no one walks through life with their brain turned off—eventually, we find ourselves with the brain turned back on, curious, unsatisfied, mystified—and the game resumes. Goodbye inner peace—you were just a time-out, after all.
Can inner peace be an end-point for some people? Yes—if that’s all they want from life, then by all means—but not for me. I prefer the peace-less-ness of constant inquiry. To me, a mind that ceases to explore the unknown is a mind that has ceased to function—and while mine will certainly do so, one day, it will never be because I have chosen to turn it off.
I’m not getting any writing done, but I’m enjoying the absence of the ‘push’ that makes me write.
In the meantime, I had a pretty good day at the old eighty-eight.
First, I made fewer-than-usual mistakes whiling playing these two pieces by our old pal, Felix:
Then, I have a real improv, in which I play like no one’s watching. (That’s why I always turn the camera on–so that I forget it’s there sometimes.):
And here’s a more ‘formal’ kind of thing that I get when I’m not playing alone:
Hope you like’em!
Wednesday, January 21, 2015 5:25 PM
Last night President Obama made his annual State of the Union address—I enjoyed it, especially when he talked about us still being the United States of America (i.e. capable of working towards good things for all citizens) and when he described our present-day politics, rife with obstructionist posturings, and pointed out that it doesn’t have to be that way. I also agreed with most of his other talking points—but that’s not what I want to talk about.
After the speech, every Republican supporter had the same thing to say. (When is that not the case?) They all said that ‘Obama’s initiatives’ were impossible pipe-dreams; that he was simply trying to antagonize the GOP by ignoring their agenda. They may be right—I’m not omniscient. But right or wrong, it certainly is convenient for the GOP that Obama made these proposals. It afforded them the ‘out’ of being anti-Obama, without all the fuss of having to explain why they oppose the specifics of Obama’s proposals.
With his accrued layers (visible only to Tea-Party eyes) of demonic filth, Obama makes a handy punching bag—it’s certainly easier to explain opposing Obama than it is to explain their opposition to closing tax loop-holes for the super-wealthy, making community college tuition-free, or guaranteeing women equal pay. The few Republicans with still-functioning consciences squirmed in their seats, knowing they should join the Democrats in applauding Obama’s most humane, populist proposals—but they were all wearing invisible shields made of anti-Obama and all pleas for desirable legislation just bounced right off.
But Obama isn’t the Second Coming, at least not entirely—he also lowered himself to threats of vetoes and bragging about what his administration has accomplished—O, feet of clay! But I forgave him the boasting because it was, by and large, factual—and we don’t elect our Presidents based on modesty. In fact, I thought it was a shameful display of sour grapes that the GOP couldn’t join in celebration of our resurrection from Recession and War, just because it would in some small way legitimize Obama’s presidency.
Now, about the vetoes. The Tea Party, for all their air-time and extremism, represent a tiny fraction of backward-thinking, fundamentalist-leaning business-leaders, and the hoi polloi who have need of the delusional matrix broadcast through Fox News and other media outlets (i.e., rednecks sober enough to make it to the polls once a year). The vast majority of adult Americans don’t want the XL pipeline, they want overall enhanced infrastructure and carbon-emissions reduction. The vast majority do not want to pay women less than men or ban gay marriage or ban abortion, they want to provide child-care to working families and defend the freedoms of every sex or sexual orientation. The vast majority of us do not care about protecting billionaires from paying their fair share of taxes, we want to narrow the income-inequality gap and protect the poor from living in fear and suffering, especially children being raised in poverty.
How does the GOP get away with championing big businesses to the detriment of working citizens? They call potentially helpful laws “Obama boondoggles” (which is far more personal and effective than the old scarecrow ‘socialism’). They characterize any effort to hold the super-wealthy, and corporations, to the same responsibilities (and taxes) as the middle class as ‘class-warfare’ or as an attack on ‘job creators’.
Then they describe Obama’s veto threats as antagonistic—as if their agenda, to undo the last fifty years of progressivism, isn’t a direct attack on genuine American values. They focus their ire on Obama’s newest victories, especially the Affordable Care Act—but they are also trying to undo Roe v. Wade (from 1973), the Voting Rights Act (from 1965), and Social Security for seniors (from FDR’s New Deal). At their farthest extreme, they even seek to undo the separation of church and state, as they have succeeded in undoing any financial limits placed on campaign contributions. Shouldn’t the Republicans now more aptly be called the Regressionists? Has what once was a mere political party become a force, like Westernized ISIS, for returning us to the Dark Ages?
One might even make a connection to these threads of ‘Business Uber Alles’, ‘America as Iron Fist’, misogyny, and racism—and the proliferation of global terrorism. Muslims, as a group, are as diverse in their beliefs and lifestyles as Christians, or any other group—it is clear that the truly common denominator of all global terrorism is poverty, ignorance, and bad government.
The main difference is one of enlightenment. The GOP sees global terrorism as a welcome enemy, something on which the world’s most powerful military might sharpen its claws and test its new tech—whereas Obama, and other thinking people, see terrorism as a problem that needs to be solved—even if the solution doesn’t involve a glorious, bloody field of battle. The GOP tell themselves that ISIS just appeared out of thin air—that our focus should be on their extermination. Obama, and others, accept that ISIS was created by the global situation, that it may be impossible to ‘exterminate’ the problem without changing our own behavior.
But why do I waste my time? Those who agree with me already know all this—and those who disagree have long since disappeared up their own asses.
-Thus endeth the lesson.
So, now I have my video of Joni-Mitchell-song piano-covers, my poem about my winter walk, and here I am, being greedy, trying for an essay to top it all off…
Well, the odds of my getting a good essay, when I haven’t actually been driven to the keyboard by frustration and a head full of roiling thoughts—when I’ve just ‘decided’ to try and squeeze one out of myself—are lower than dirt. So I might as well choose an equally off-the-grid subject, like Ancient Aliens. Nobody takes ancient aliens seriously, so they make a perfect subject for me—although, I should admit, being taken seriously is the last thing I need. I have a hard enough time being taken for a light-headed jester.
Nevertheless, there are many ancient ruins whose construction is ‘unexplainable’. It’s hard for me to accept that word, ‘unexplainable’. ‘Very difficult’ I could manage—even ‘mysterious’ I can handle—but for something to be entirely unexplainable (in my experience) is a poor use of words. In science, there were (and are) many unanswered questions—but we don’t just throw up that word, ‘unexplainable’, and move on—we find explanations. That’s what science is—the refusal to accept ‘unexplainable’ as an answer.
Now, ‘unexplainable’ does have a temporal meaning—even in science, there are many things which are not yet explainable. And if Ancient Alien proponents wish to replace ‘unexplainable’ with ‘not yet explained’, then I’m ready to listen to the rest of what they have to say. Until then, I have to place them in the set of all people who are willing to accept ignorance as an answer, rather than a challenge—and members of that set do not intersect with the set of all people who are rigorously scientific.
And scale, in and of itself, does not constitute any great mystery, to my mind. Huge blocks of stone may seem immovable, laser-guided precision of ancient carvings may seem impossible—lots of things appear at first glance to be outside of our capabilities—or the capacity of our ancestors. But give thousands of people hundreds of years to think and experiment and work things out, and there is very little that we can pronounce to be impossible. Large objects can be floated upon waterways, rolled on wheels or cylinders, or undermined in sand. These and other techniques can also be combined in various ways to enhance their power. In short, to pronounce something to be too big to move is actually just a way of saying that our imaginations have limits—a statement with which I could never agree.
Others questions, such as the visibility of the Nazca Lines diagrams only from the air, seem to me equally judgmental about the cleverness of people. There’s a tremendous gap, to my mind, between something that is very, very hard to do—and something that is impossible to do. Nor do I give credence to the issue of why ancient monuments were built. Without context, even our more modern structures, like cathedrals, have no obvious, practical use. In the particular case of the Ancient Alien question, we see many ruins of structures that have an astronomical connection—but the stars are as important to a farmer, or a sheepherder, as they are to an alien. The circuitous seasons have, for mankind, both a life-or-death meaning for agriculture and a more mystical attraction as a source of contemplation and dreaming—the addition of aliens is superfluous to their import.
Thus, while I’m open to the idea of Ancient Aliens, I’m less than satisfied with the current archive of ‘proof’ that we see on TV. Also, I’m not too crazy about the idea that humanity is nothing more than an experiment in some galactic laboratory run by alien overlords. I’d rather believe in God, if I could.
O–and two more videos:
Saturday, January 17, 2015 5:39 PM
Lately, I’ve been trying to slog my way through “Incompleteness: The Proof and Paradox of Kurt Gödel” by Rebecca Goldstein; I’ve watched “Predestination” on VOD (based on Robert Heinlein’s classic short story, “All You Zombies”—a delirious exploration of the inherent paradox of human time-travel; on Kindle, I’m deep into “Echopraxia” by Peter Watts; and I just this morning discovered online the delightful “Cartoon History of Humanism”’s first sixteen episodes—and I can’t wait for more. Wonderful historical insights, philosophical history datapoints, and a great reading list, making Dale DeBakcsy my new favorite author.
But then it started to happen again. I’m sure it happens to you, too. You’re reading Melville’s “Moby Dick”, absorbing a fire-hose’s output of historical data about whale biology, the terminology of seamanship, details of 19th –century whaling, aboriginal tattoos, and more. You feel very cozy about communing with this great but long-dead author about out-of-the-way factoids that are completely outside of your everyday thoughts—or anyone else’s. You feel as much a part of 19th century coastal New England culture and society as you do your own present day neighborhood—you feel a little bit special.
Suddenly, whales come up in every conversation; there’s a PBS special on TV about whales and whaling; a Facebook friend who’s taken a recent coastal tour posts photos of their boating party amidst a pod of spouting, tail-slapping cetaceans; a new biography of Hermann Melville is reviewed in the New York Times’ Book section—whales are everywhere!
That’s bad enough, but when it comes to something philosophical, like Gödel’s 2nd Incompleteness Theorem, its universal ‘karmic’ backwash can be a little overwhelming. In the course of reading cartoons (no less) I learn that the hidden humanist influences of early first-millennium Christianity not only disproved the existence of the soul, but laid the groundwork for future meditations on the conflict between the rational and the intuitive, the scientific and the ‘true’. Words I had to look up (like ‘apriority’ and ‘formalism’) when I began to read the Gödel book, start popping up in every context. Worse still, these ideas and concepts are applicable—meaning that as I take my daily walk down the block, I’m considering my own perceptions and my own sense of reality—it’s really all too unsettling.
But history is so broad—it can never cover one subject without touching upon its influences, far and near, past and future. In a sense, any history is a piece of all history, and can lead to further consideration in infinite directions.
While I’m floundering amidst the flood of reflections which the universe bounces back at me, due to my focus on the question of the incompleteness of consistent systems, and the suggested corollaries that make us question our ability to ‘know’ anything—I am struck by another fact that pops up with even more frequency—misunderstanding.
Central to Ms. Goldstein’s premise in her partial biography of Kurt Gödel is her insight into the lack of understanding Gödel received from his peers. Almost unanimously, Gödel peers (and scientists and thinkers up to and including the present) saw his proof of the incompleteness of consistent systems as proof that humans are the final arbiters of reality. In point of fact, Gödel had proved the opposite—that the universe is what it is, regardless of human perception (or misperception). Ms. Goldstein points to this as the great tragedy of Gödel’s life and career—that a famously demure genius found a way to say what he wanted to say in irrefutable and unambiguous language—and was, nevertheless, completely misunderstood, both then and now.
At first, upon reading the beginning of the book, I thought to myself, “Well, that’s the way of the world—when someone is smarter than everyone around him or her, no one will understand what that person tries to say.” And that is certainly true in most cases. But in the course of the last few days, it has occurred to me that human history, all of it, is a collection of the many times, the many ways, and the many reasons why people misunderstand each other. In this context, it is no great surprise that we also habitually misunderstand the universe, reality, perception, science, and reason.
In the course of the last forty-eight hours, I’ve read and seen multiple examples of great thinkers producing original, important thoughts—and not one of them added to human understanding—on the contrary, misunderstandings about them only increased the chaos. And many times in history, in many places, there have been created brief oases of rational, or at least more-rational, communities—all of which ended, not just in their own erasure from popular history, but in an increase of irrational views left in their wake.
To me, this is cause for no little amount of despair. Here I’ve spent a lifetime trying to understand my existence, and to understand the world and the people around me. But now I understand that, even if I miraculously became ‘enlightened’ as to ‘the meaning of life, the universe, and everything’—I still wouldn’t be able to share my thoughts with other people. I mean, I would—but they would most assuredly misunderstand me completely. They wouldn’t understand me, but they would disagree with me and argue with me. My absolute knowledge of perfect truth would be useless—and would most likely get me in a lot of trouble—think Jesus.
Facebook has a lot of ‘quotes’ on its walls—and many of them are spurious, or mis-sourced. Recently I saw a quote purportedly said by Einstein (Facebook’s accreditation of quotations always leans towards the more-household names) but then saw the same quote during my reading, but tagged ‘apocryphal’, ascribed to Gödel (a close friend of Einstein’s) by Ms. Goldstein: “The more I think about language, the more it amazes me that people ever understand each other.” I would reply, “Don’t be amazed, Kurt. Look at the history of civilization, of science, of philosophy—look at your own life story. People don’t ever understand each other.”
Friday, January 16, 2015 12:50 PM
Two days ago, Nathaniel Popper of the New York Times reported that JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, ‘lashed out at regulators and analysts’, quoting Dimon as saying, “Banks are under assault”. As I looked at Dimon’s photograph next to the Popper article I understood for the first time just how much drama there is in investment banking. Dimon’s bland, style-less garb somehow managed to say, “We are very expensive clothes” without saying anything else; his pouty poker-face seems to proclaim ‘I’m better than anyone else in the room’ while his wooden body-language chimes in that ‘he’s not really so sure’.
I had my belly-full of these hand-tailored he-divas since their 90’s quest-to-become-‘Masters-of-the-Universe’ profiteering utterly destroyed our manufacturing base. Bankers’ exertions towards making the financial industry seem masculine and powerful have only gotten more extreme with the subsequent decades. Their attempts to make purchasing power, or high credit ratings, seem equivalent to bulging pecs or abs, are absolutely operatic. I see now that Dimon, rather than an able administrator of brokers and investors, is just the front-diva for an industry giant whose welfare relies almost wholly upon his projection of his company’s image as something it truly isn’t.
Here’s a company that shares the blame, with all the other major investment banks, for the crash and Great Recession of 2008 (and the uncounted, unethical mortgage foreclosures they rushed through in its aftermath). Here’s a company that has recently been fined billions for unethical practices, a company that has just set aside another billion for further anticipated sanctions. Dimon even complains that new government insistence on greater capital holdings, which would make JPMorgan Chase a stronger element in our overall economy, would make the bank itself a weaker entity—as if that were a rational argument.
Even non-government, industry-savvy analysts say the company would operate more efficiently and more profitably if it were broken up into several smaller companies—but Dimon insists his company’s bloated structure makes it a more effective bully or, as Mr. Popper put it, “argued that the bank’s size gave it many advantages against competitors — “the model works from a business standpoint,” Mr. Dimon said.”
Finally, to put the fear of God in all of us, Dimon suggests that regulating the ethical practices of American banks will allow some other country, mostly China—the boogeyman under our beds—to become the new world leader in banking. It’s pretty neat phrasing—he’s implying that unregulated, unethical American banking is vital to national security—but what security can such economic buggery truly offer us?
So I see now that Dimon is not actually the Chief Executive Officer of his bank, but of its public image. He knows that, like money itself, JPMorgan Chase’s value is only what others believe it to be. He seeks to match the recent monetization of politics with a politicization of money. While sticking his head up his own ass, he bids us follow him—to safety. Don’t go—it stinks in there.
Thursday, January 15, 2015 8:49 PM
Same stuff, different day: An improv, a few Beatles covers, and a cantankerous essay comprise your XperDunn blog-post for today:
On Statesmen and Business Leaders
The prior essay (“Do Your Worst”) unsettles me—I always want to take my temperature and blood pressure whenever I catch myself advocating anarchy and destruction. And I’ll cop to that—I’m a little ‘unstable’—I think is the fashionable term these days. But it’s also partially the fault of whoever’s in charge of our businesses and our government—they make it so that advocating anarchy is nothing more than a difference of degree to what we already endure. I’m not saying they suck—I’m saying they suck the big, hairy, hard one.
Neither am I talking about a mob—nor even a crowd. There are only one hundred senators and fifty state governors—and I doubt there are more than another 150 chairpersons of the kinds of bloated multi-national corporations that squat upon humanity and bring shit to everyone’s lives. So, say maybe three hundred and change, tops—that’s the number of people that keep the tens of millions of Americans from having decent, secure, dignified lives. That tiny army of power-mad mongrels does a wonderful job of keeping the rest of us in misery. Just think—in the olden days, we’d need thousands upon thousands of these assholes to do the same job on so many people.
It’s impressive, too, when you consider that they all have to spend most of their time pretending to be the kind of person you’d invite into your home without worrying about the inviolability of your house-pets. These men, and a few women, too (let’s not be sexist about this) spend the whole day babbling vacuous PC-speak about values and concerns, initiatives and committees, convincing the gullible among us that they have some concern for the average citizen—yeah, right. It has become so accepted that their job-description precludes plain speaking that we have a special term for their lies—when someone is never comfortable with honesty, we call the noises they make with their mouths ‘spin’, which is a euphemism for BS, and plenty of it.
We have to call it ‘spin’. Can you imagine news-reports, otherwise? “This afternoon, the heads of the major investment banks told a bunch of lies. Five senators who head crucial senate sub-committees told even more lies. The CEO of America’s largest petroleum producer told a total of ten real whoppers that no one in their right mind would ever believe for a second. And now, the weather…”
And what do these people do when they are not busy ensuring our perpetual misery and lying through their asses about it? They spend a lot of money. They have to—there’s little else a soul-less, hollow shell of a human being can do to pass the time. They can’t have real relationships—that would involve emotional maturity—and while these people may be alpha dogs, strong and successful and loaded, the one thing they never have time or talent for is learning to know themselves, or to truly care for another. Outside of the rough and tumble schoolyard of corporate and political in-fighting, they remain the children that all business-leaders must be to devote so much energy and determination to something so trivial as being first amongst douchebags, the top of the shit heap.
So, while these idiots may enrage us, frustrate us, drive us to the very edge of sanity—we may nonetheless be thankful that, at least, we are not one of them. For while they may ultimately (and frightfully soon) bring the entire planet to death and ruin, and kill us all—they are already dead, insofar as the ability to truly live like a human being was never in their grasp.
But if you ask any of these psychos whether they, personally, are part of the group I’m addressing, they will, without pausing for breath, start explaining furiously how they could not possibly be one of the damnable damned—and you will then hear what we like to call ‘spin’.
Felix Mendelssohn wrote a collection of piano pieces entitled “Leider ohne Worte”, which is German for Songs without Words. The collection is one of my favorite playbooks. They are challenging for me, so these aren’t good examples–though I’m sure YouTube has many other performers playing it much better. Anyhow, here’s my latest playlist of my most recent recordings from the book:
(One short note: the photograph used in these videos shows the Superman® socks my daughter gave me for Christmas!)
And the obligatory piano improv:
Enjoy. and good night…
Wednesday, January 14, 2015 10:42 AM
In Politics, the news is full of stories about how the Dems did this, the GOPs did that, big business is lobbying and buying elections, legislation concerning health care, banking regulation, gay marriage, minimum wage, social security, ad infinitum—is being debated, blocked, criticized, snuck through, fought over, and stalemating the legislative process. Then elections happen, where all that stuff is ignored and the same old pols get re-elected. Occasionally (and this is new) the government shuts down in a fit of pique—politics as scorched-earth warfare—with the odd caveat that all that needs to happen to end the shut-down is for our elected officials to say so. This is what we call ‘representation’.
In Money, the news is full of stories about how unemployment is slowly improving, but wages are not—even while big business seems to think that it’s in the middle of a burgeoning recovery. Energy and mining industries continue to destroy the environment in the name of the almighty dollar—and its latest poster-boy is Fracking—a method that permits America to supply its own petroleum, as long as we accept living with earthquakes and flammable tap-water. The overall thrust is that corporations are attacking mankind on two fronts—they attempt to enslave us all in various forms of draconian ‘employment’ while simultaneously buying government influence to pass laws that enforce their kill-or-be-killed economic paradigm. Meanwhile, ‘austerity’ programs ensure that none of the damage caused by all the unethical, inhumane corporate gamesmanship is balanced out by any government support of the disenfranchised.
War and starvation are everywhere. The governments in such places are either unable or unwilling to end the suffering—and the larger, more powerful, neighboring countries pretend that their sovereign borders absolve them of any responsibility to help. That doesn’t stop them when it’s a matter of exerting their economic influence on trade partners—but when it concerns ‘just people’, the line is magically un-crossable.
Then there’s the arms industry. These folks are supplying the wherewithal for all war, terrorism, hand-gun deaths, and basically any violence more lethal than fisticuffs—yet they are never burdened with the responsibility, or the ethical onus, for any of this violence and suffering. Their profits are as ‘clean’ as a farmer’s, while their output continues to make a hell on earth. They are almost as repugnant as bankers.
I won’t even get into the details of global terrorism, race-hatred, and misogyny—that’s just the icing on the shit sandwich that our civilization has become. Our ever-more-complex technology seems to spur chaos, rather than purposeful growth, organization, or cooperation between people, groups, states, or countries. And this is not happening on its own—it is being nurtured by a media industry that is controlled by psychopathic owners and aimed at sensationalism rather than elucidation. The crazier and more horrible a situation gets, the better they like it, and the louder and longer they shout about it. The more mature and civil an issue, the more they ignore it.
And these politicians, corporations, media outlets, and arms manufacturers do not operate in a vacuum. They’ve grown out of our responses—we watch their TV shows, buy their guns, vote for the pols, and go to work every day for these fat-cats. I won’t waste my breath suggesting that we stop watching TV, owning guns, voting for Republicans, or quit our jobs—but I have an idea.
Corporate America, around the time of the great Japanese economic surge, got very frightened (or pretended to) and began adopting many Japanese business practices. Not the good ones, like guaranteed job security, but the ugly ones, like longer, unpaid hours, lower wages, and curtailed benefits. They sought not just to destroy the power of unions, but to deprive labor of any pride or self-worth—and they have succeeded.
Americans now consider themselves lucky to have a job, even a job with long hours, unlivable wages, and zero benefits—they just kill themselves holding two or three such jobs. So here’s my idea. We’ve all been treated like shit, so let’s all start doing a shitty job at work. Let’s do things wrong at work, like they do in life. Let’s lie about everything at work, like they do in life. Let’s make their profits evaporate, like they did ours. Let’s show them that, while they may at some future date replace us all with machines, that we are still human beings—and while we are, we are going to kick back when someone kicks us in the teeth. If they want to ignore our humanity, let’s rub it in their faces.
Do your worst at work. The people in charge have gotten used to taking advantage of their positions—let’s all start doing the same.
(Just out on VOD:)
“Jimi: All Is By My Side” (2013) [originally “All Is By My Side”] 118 mins.
(A drama based on Hendrix’s life as he left New York City for London, where his career took off.)
Director, Screenplay: John Ridley
Starring: André Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots
This bio-pic was fittingly obtuse in some ways, hard to follow—not unlike its subject. I’ve never been quick on the uptake—much of my favorite music is music I disliked on first hearing—and Hendrix certainly falls into that category. But the funny thing is that I appreciate and enjoy Hendrix more with age—and having seen this movie (and allowing for its being a cinematic work rather than a reference work, but nonetheless) I think Hendrix was too prolix and light-heartedly free in his music for the age of the super-serious, socially-conscious music stars such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan. That was certainly my youthful problem with him—so maybe I’m just projecting.
But being unlimited in what he could do with a guitar, his penchant for musical playfulness, flights of fancy, and unabashed abrogation of anyone and everyone else’s songs, styles, and techniques was to be expected. He was a virtuoso in a time after the recognition of virtuosity. His newer age had ‘discovered’ that emotional depth and spirit outdid pure expertise every time, but we (I was a way-too-serious ten-year-old on Long Island during Hendrix’s year in London) may have overlooked the fact that some virtuosi, such as Mozart or Chopin, were expert musicians as a side-effect of their unbounded talent and artistry—as was (is?) the case with Hendrix.
My confusion with tenses needs explaining—it’s just that musicians may die, but in our time, music lives forever; and it’s hard to separate the person and their music. If, when listening to Hendrix’s recording of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”, I lose myself inside Hendrix’s performance, is he not alive? But, that’s my issue—so I leave it here.
In my youth, there was a compulsion among some of my peers to analyze the lives of their musical heroes—as if the biographical data, no matter how trivial, always gave greater insight into the music they so revered. I was never reverential about anything—I was raised to ‘show respect’, which I quickly learned meant speaking and acting in such a way as to avoid getting beat up or killed, so I reserve my true respect for very few things, and even fewer people. I suppose those music-obsessive friends of mine bothered me because they were the exact opposite—too quick to give their respect, unthinkingly and completely.
But in this movie, which covers a pivotal, but single year in the life and career of Jimi Hendrix, I was shown that biography can indeed be a powerful way of granting insight into, if not the music, certainly the musician. How effective it is for those who only know the sixties second-hand, I can’t say—but that is neither the filmmakers’ nor my problem. I didn’t require the big-picture, historical back-fill—and I was tickled by all the little details, drenched with significance by their connection to his more broad-cast iconography.
André Benjamin does a great job, although I was given pause by one aspect of his performance. He depicts Jimi Hendrix as a thoughtful, gentle, infinitely peaceful dude—but then, in one scene (and I assume it’s historically accurate) his character, in a sudden rage, repeatedly smashes his girlfriend’s face with one of those old pay-phone phone-receivers—she ends up hospitalized. Now, either Mr. Benjamin, or Mr. Ridley, or someone—did a little image-buffing here, or there was a far more physical side to Jimi Hendrix than we see in the course of this film, outside of that one scene.
And it is remarkable that Hendrix’s past is well-indicated, that his childhood was not an easy one, nor his father quick to give approval (or able to) while also depicting his on-screen self, the product of that environment, as very self-contained, almost demurring. He is shown to be unusually sensitive, it’s true, and unstable in some ways, but extreme sensitivity, raised in a harsh environment, rarely produces the o-so-civil young adult portrayed through most of the film. But now I’m just spouting—is it the film, the history, or my own assumptions that raise the issue? Anyway, it just stuck out as a question, to me, plus I was shocked by the sudden savagery—which distracted me from the film. Is that too critical?
All in all, I was swept up by the experience (if you’ll pardon the pun). I won’t say I enjoyed it, because the story of Jimi Hendrix is not a happy story with a happy ending—and I do love happy endings. Based-on-fact films, however, are not famous for predictable, tied-in-a-bow endings—and I watch them for engagement and education, more than mere enjoyment. And “All Is By My Side” certainly succeeds in that sense.
Sunday, January 11, 2015 5:00 PM
I stumbled through a short-concert-for-no-one earlier today. It includes two of Felix Mendelssohn’s “Lieder Ohne Worte” (Songs Without Words), a song from Cole Porter’s classic musical “DuBarry Was A Lady”, entitled “Come On In”, and (as always) a brief piano improvisation of my own devising. I hope everyone, or anyone, enjoys listening to it as much as I enjoyed playing.
In other news, I’ve begun a song project. At the moment I have only a rough draft of the lyrics, given below—I invite comment and constructive criticism:
Chopped greens, yolks in a bowl,
The wooden spoon, the shakers, the mitt,
The stove-tops, all four, full,
As the oven glows and bakes.
Boy comes into a warm steamy kitchen,
Aroma says stew’s on the stove,
The sure cutting of mom, cooking…
“Get yer hand out of there!”
“You wanna lose a finger?”
“What the hell’s wrong with you?!”
A boy who wants, just wants,
Thinks of a cookie in a bear-shaped jar.
Having been chased off, he tip-toes
Toward the pantry, stubby fingers
Reach for the china head.
Eyes wide, mouth agape, boy
Approaches the granting of his sugary wish.
“Get yer hand out of there!”
“Can’t you see me cooking dinner?”
“You wanna RUIN your appetite?!”
Boy walks away, then skips a little,
Hums a tune—a nursery rhyme,
Spins around and starts to sing,
Dancing along, closing his eyes,
He pipes angelic notes,
Transported to a fairy-land
Of song and dance and freedom…
“Watch where yer going!”
“What is your problem?”
“Get out of my kitchen right now!”
Please note that the mother’s lines are meant to be contrastingly loud and screechy, very unmusical—while the verse is meant to be all soft and trilly and peaceful. I’m not sure what the song is about yet—I’m just amused by the idea of the really strong contrast between the narrator’s lyrics and the mother’s words.
Friday, January 09, 2015 1:42 PM
So ends the first work-week of 2015. Not that I’m employed, but I follow along. It’s cold—everywhere. Whatever happened to Florida or California (or Syria, for that matter) being warm in winter? It’s even colder, psychologically speaking, in Paris right now—attacks on freedom of speech and violent anti-Semitism makes it hard to feel the warmth of humanity.
An Islamic apologist makes the point that Muslims act differently in different countries, that, for instance, female genital mutilation is practiced in Christian countries, too, and that it is a characteristic of African countries, not Muslim ones. And it occurs to me that Islam predominates in the under-developed world, where ‘Christianity-lite’ or outright Agnosticism predominates in the developed world. A case could be made for poverty, ignorance, and lack of good government being the true source of most terrorism—but that only means the Muslims should be the most pro-active in distancing Islam from these bad actors.
However, the unhappy truth is that large numbers of Muslims applaud the attacks on modern civilization, i.e. the Great Satan, America, and its allies, and like-minded countries. And is America innocent?—of course not. Some of the activities of our government make me ashamed to call myself an American—but no country is perfect, and America has a great deal to be proud of. More importantly, America has the ability to recognize its own mistakes, and to change. Considering our place in the world, I think it’s obvious that working out our problems is preferable to burning the place down and beheading everybody.
But my personal problem is that I’m against religion of any kind. How tempting it is to hold up these terrorists as an example of how dangerous and ignorant religion is. The suppression of women, the persecution of gays, and other religion-based ignorance, is nearly as common in the developed world as it is in the rest of the planet. But violence is common to fundamentalists and atheists alike—and the raising of children to be adults capable of cold-blooded murder is the real problem. Religion is just the nail some of us hang it on.
Ending poverty and illiteracy would do more to eliminate violence than any other action we could take. Warring against religions because of their specific violence can only make more violence. I saw a hopeful slogan today on a Humanists Facebook post, “Humanity before Creed”. I like it, but in our present environment, I anticipate that theists will take exception.
Thursday, January 08, 2015 3:31 PM
Madness is a part of life. We are all mad, to some extent. But the only time we call someone ‘mad’ in earnest and lock them up is when a person manifests a danger to themselves or others—and even this is not entirely the case, if you consider the dangers represented by certain politicians and businesspeople, not to mention gang-members and organized criminals. Even the slip-shod mechanic who neglects to tighten the bolts on your new tires is, to some degree, a public danger.
So most of us are let loose upon the public, willy-nilly—hell, I could even run for elected office, if I wanted, and possibly become responsible for a whole town or county—talk about madness. But my unsuitability would stem from incompetence. The majority of elected officials are unsuitable for far darker reasons—reasons having to do with human nature, and with the connection between wanting to be ‘in charge’ and the type of person that wants that.
But a touch of Napoleon Complex isn’t the end of the world. Outside of elected offices, we deal with such people all the time—they are often behind a counter, or teaching a class, or patrolling the neighborhood. Martinets are a fact of life. Having a touch of the compulsive, myself, I’m tempted to give them a pass.
Then there are people who don’t care for children or animals—but even that is understandable. As both a parent and a pet-owner, I’ve experienced occasional annoyance at both kids and pets—so I can easily see where someone with a short fuse might well have difficulty appreciating the little darlings.
So let’s agree that people can have a multitude of perhaps disagreeable inclinations or personality quirks and still merit the label ‘sane’. However, I occasionally run across a person who sends a chill down my spine—a person in whom I fail to detect a minimum level of what I would call humanity. These are people who slip through the cracks, using the variable standards we must have for personalities as cover for attitudes that are beyond the pale. I’m sure you’ve met them, too—the surprise white supremacist, the callous misogynist, the over-the-top fundamentalist—people who shock us with the nightmarish implications of their casual comments—people who, given responsibility for any group or organization, will make of that group a hell on earth—or use that group to spread hatred and violence.
There are some warning signs. Today, a friend of mine shared the following quote on Facebook: “François Rabelais invented a number of neologisms that have since entered the French and other languages, but one of his words has been forgotten, and this is regrettable. It is the word agélaste; it comes from the Greek and it means a man who does not laugh, who has no sense of humour. Rabelais detested the agélastes. He feared them. He complained that the agélastes treated him so atrociously that he nearly stopped writing forever.” — Milan Kundera
Thus we have warning sign number one: no sense of humor. Don’t misunderstand—these people will laugh—everybody laughs—but they are only amused by the slapstick of human tragedy. Perhaps ‘wit’ is a fitter word for what they lack—one can imagine that ‘a sense of humor’ is an aspect of intelligence, the mechanism by which we recognize unpalatable truths, even about ourselves. People who lack a sense of humor will be generally constipated, emotionally—they won’t dance or play games, and they’ll be squeamish about intimacy. Somehow, they don’t stop at merely lacking this form of insight—they’ll usually react against it in others—which is what makes this a top warning sign for ‘inhuman humans’.
The second warning sign is expressed in one of my favorite quotes from the Bard:
“The man that hath no music in himself,
Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,
Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;
The motions of his spirit are dull as night,
And his affections dark as Erebus:
Let no such man be trusted.
—Mark the music.”
— Wllm. Shakespeare “The Merchant of Venice” Scene V, Act I
One sees this aspect in very few people—music appreciation is pretty basic, as human attributes go—which makes it all the more chilling in the few that truly feel no response to the temptations of music. Unlike those with no sense of humor, the unmusical don’t really manifest their failing in any practical way—it is simply an indication that some basic connection to the rest of humankind is missing from a person’s psyche.
Unfortunately, the third warning sign is one we see the most of—blood-thirsty fundamentalism. Most of us recognize that our spiritual lives are, at their core, personal journeys, interior workings-through of what our lives mean to each of us. The fundamentalist wants to put these spiritual workings-through on a worldly stage, making a life-and-death chess-match out of something they haven’t the subtlety to recognize as a personal struggle. They suffer no cognitive dissonance due to the joining of something as ethereal as faith with something as cold and concrete as murder.
Here’s an example from today’s discussion of the murder of cartoonists in Paris. In a USA Today article, this unbelievable cretin, Anjem Choudary, wrote, “So why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk? It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world’s population was protected.”
This scum is suggesting that the murder was bound to be committed by some devout Muslim, sooner or later—and that the real problem is that the cartoonists’ work should have been against the law. And he has the lady-balls to suggest that such legislation, now, is the correct response to this tragedy. Why do wackos like him get their idiocy printed up in a national newspaper? Has the sensationalizing of journalism made newspapers champions of the ignorant and amoral? Do I have to ask?
Now you know how to spot evil people. No music, no laughter, or a tendency to confuse sanctity with sociopathic behavior. These are their ‘tells’—run if you see them.
I was frustrated by the senseless violence in Paris today, as can be seen by the essay below. But, just to lighten things up a bit, here’s an improv, too….
Wednesday, January 07, 2015 11:05 AM
In France today an editor and many contributing cartoonists of a satirical magazine were the target of Muslim extremists with AK-47s. Their offices had been bombed by the same people in 2011. These French terrorists have also been increasingly violent towards Jewish communities in the area. One is tempted to wonder what it is about Islam that makes it such a tempting badge for psychopathic, cold-blooded murderers? But one must remember that such behavior is just under the surface of Christianity and Judaism, as well. All three major faiths are really just variations on Western Monotheism, i.e the Judeo-Christian-Muslim heritage of Western Civilization. Between the Crusades and other Holy Wars, the Inquisitions, the Wars of the Reformation, the Nazi’s ‘Final Solution’, and the burning of ‘witches’, there is an ugly history of religion-based bloodshed, war, and genocide. The modern ‘Muslim’ terrorist is just the latest in a long line.
These wretches are not terrorists who become Muslims—they are Muslims who are weaponized by the Imams who lead their sects. Like all religious killers, they are authorized (and, to varying degrees, directed) by their leaders. Their targets are likewise based on threats to Authority—which puts cartoonists at the top of their hit list. Being laughed at has always maddened the puffed-up egos that dare to claim they speak for God. ‘Sharia Law’ is another example—the opposite of ‘separation of church and state’, Sharia Law states that no earthly authority can supersede the words of the Imam—as if some jerk in a kaftan is more in tune with the wishes of the Universe than any cop or judge or legislator.
We are no better. Our ongoing struggle against gay rights, and against the self-determination of women, shows the same tendency to ignore common sense in the face of Authority. Anyone with any sense can see that being gay is not a choice—the only choice gay people have is whether or not to be honest about themselves in public. And any man who believes he has more insight into pregnancy than a woman is an idiot. Only blind adherence to comforting Authority allows such hateful stupidity to persist. Otherwise, these Christian conservatives would use their heads and their hearts to understand and embrace the rights and freedoms of others.
We wonder how the Republicans, who seem to have it in for the human race, could have won both houses in last year’s election, when they are so dysfunctional, so corrupt, and so ignorant. But that question answers itself—the more ignorant and capricious a leader is, the stronger their authority seems. The Democrats offer benign leadership, while the GOP has a tendency to tell us to shut up and do what we’re told—of course we vote for the assholes—they’re the strongest-seeming leaders. More importantly, they absolve us from the responsibility of thinking for ourselves. Freedom is frightening—a true American lives on the knife-edge of responsibility. Like Spiderman, he or she cannot have the enormous power of freedom without accepting the enormous burden of responsibility.
Unfortunately, such responsibility requires education, engagement, and civic awareness—and not everybody lucky enough to be born here is capable of upholding these standards. We now have a population wherein those who cry most loudly about “The American Way” are the same people who flee from any of the difficulties inherent in maintaining our standing as a bastion of freedom. Plus, there are a vast number of us who confuse American with Wealthy—people for whom money is the greatness on which we are founded. They forget (or never knew) that America’s emergence as a land of wealth was a consequence of our freedoms, not their source. But let’s stay on track for now.
For years I have avoided criticism of Christianity in deference to my friends who take solace and meaning from it, who raise their children by it, and who find in religion a way of life. After all, there is much good to be found in faith, particularly in the teachings of Jesus. But the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition of Faith is also an unflinching supporter of Authority. And because Faith eschews Facts, religious authorities can justify, rationalize, and perpetrate any crime, any violence. “In the name of God” becomes synonymous with “Because I said so”.
If we look back into history, we see that monarchs operated on the same basis. Monarchies were a working system—so they could say, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” When more-enlightened rulers sat on thrones, they could take credit for the good works they did—and when despots made things worse, they could kill any critics. Religion, likewise, is a very good thing when it is used for good by good people—and unassailable when it causes evil. Their similarities are due to the similarity in Authority. Whenever people in charge are left to their own justifications, we get pot-luck—good things from the rare, good leaders, and evil from the far more numerous, perverted ones. In that sense, religion is as obsolete and corrupt as monarchy.
So how do we take the good things from religion and eliminate the bad? Can we believe in a beneficent creator, an afterlife, and purposeful living, without believing in priests, imams, and preachers? That depends. If our intention is to look behind the veil of existence to find meaning, then it is possible. But I fear that for most people, religion is a security blanket to protect us from the cold, practical reality of the infinite universe—their search is for safety, not meaning. In that fear for their safety, they surrender themselves to any Authority that pretends the universe is on their side, no matter how messed up and violent the practices of that religion.
The temptation to invoke religious authority is so strong that it may be impossible to have religion without it—it is certainly impossible with the old religions we now have, ancient faiths with their roots deep in our authoritarian past. Our founding fathers’ concerns over religion were based on their perception of Religion being, like the English king, a source of empty, non-representative, and divisive Authority. Much as I would like to overlook the failings of religion for the sake of those for whom it is a positive, it’s threat to our modern civilization, as indicated by today’s attack, makes that an irresponsible weakness on my part.
However, my feelings for or against are beside the point. The world we live in is suffused with religion, and with religious authority. The fact that they’ll kill anyone who laughs at them means that we must take every opportunity to hold them up to ridicule. The fact that they are incapable of laughing at themselves makes them dangerously narcissistic—not to mention lacking a sense of humor, which makes them ugly, stupid people, in my opinion.
Eastern philosophies see Good and Evil as counterparts, as a balancing of opposites to form the whole of existence. Our Western-influenced insistence that we increase the Good and try to eliminate the Evil shows a total lack of understanding of human nature. Even more ignorant is our predilection to give Authority to one who is presumed to represent Good, one who is devoid of Evil—there is no such person. The fact that, as a society, we are unable to learn this basic truth renders this entire essay a waste of time. But I don’t mind—it gives me something to do while I try not to think about the savage, animal bloodshed that is the hallmark of all true believers.
Monday, January 05, 2015 11:58 AM
Here’s a comment I wrote for an atheist’s video-post:
“Well, guy, I’m with you—but, as the many comments indicate, being rational goes against human nature. I find it amusing that the type of comment-rebuttal depends on the user’s level of zealotry. The almost-rational always take you to task for word-definitions, chains of sequence, and attitude of approach. The less rational take you on for misinterpreting scripture or failing to credit the creator of our ‘perfectly designed’ universe. The full-on crazies try to talk down to you as if you were a child, or an insane person. It’s pretty funny—someone should write a play about it…”
Sometimes, when I want to say something multi-layered on Facebook, I write it in Notepad and then paste it into the comment box—it’s easier to correct and re-word when I’m not typing straight into the Facebook text-box. However, Notepad doesn’t ‘translate’ my double-dashes into big dashes, or flag my mis-spells and poor grammar, like Word would do.
Then, because I hate to write down any thought without saving it, I cut and paste it into my Word running-journal-document—where everything gets corrected—but after I’ve paste/posted the Facebook comment, typos included. Why don’t I just use Word in the first place? Because I don’t expect to save my Facebook comments—even though I sometimes do. Plus, Notepad is straight ASCII text—it doesn’t transfer font or format from one app to another, as can happen with Word vs. Website.
Monday, January 05, 2015 11:50 PM
Poem: In Which I Almost Die
I’ll be back—Oh, wait—no I won’t.
Why’d I say that? Damn twist the knife much?
Dying can be socially awkward—I say!
Hey, I AM back—I think I’ll live forever.
Why not? There’s so much that needs doing.
I better get busy—the world won’t save itself.
I saw a discussion of “The Secret History Of Wonder Woman” on some book-talk of CSPAN’s just the other day—and just now, before being interrupted, I was watching a PBS documentary about Comic Book Super Heroes. I love to see this celebration of my boyhood head-space, just as I enjoyed the explosion of Sci-Fi obsession that came with “Star Wars” and the invention of CGI-FX. Unlike the occasional, and temporary, popularization of classical music, or poetry, caused by a temporal confluence with a trending meme or personality, the popularization of Sci-Fi, and of Super-Heroes, is permanent, due to hyper-commercialization of these genres.
Everyone recognizes that commercializing classical music or poetry is just another way of saying ‘ruin’ classical music or poetry. The genesis of our iconic hero-images, and our dreams of space exploration and new sciences, was equally, delicately human—but their beginnings as ‘pulps’, unchallenging works aimed at an audience of children and the simple-minded, caused them to be born with an ingrained ‘wow’ factor. So we learn that Superman was the brain-child of Jewish sons of immigrants during Hitler’s rise to power—but we also learn that they were paid something like $5 a page for their work, with the copyright for one of the most popular and enduring (and profitable) trademarks in history going to the owners of the comic franchise.
While they dreamed of a Superman to arise and smite down Hitler’s Fascism and Anti-Semitism, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster were ensconced in the comfortable slavery we call ‘employment’. The idea that one person can pay another to do work is fairly simple and straightforward—and I have no beef with that concept. The idea that such a relationship entitles the employer to ownership of a worker’s ideas, or creativity—someone is going to have to explain that one to me. Some people get confused about employment—an employer is buying the work, not the person—but not everyone is comfortable with that distinction—especially people that leech off of the brilliant and creative.
Such abuse of ownership and employment has been popularized as a feature of the music and movie industries, but it is a standard feature of American Capitalism. First-time artists in publishing, games, theater, music, movies, and television are never allowed to retain the rights to their earliest (and sometimes greatest) creations—the owners claim it as a right due to a first-time investor in an unproven product. It is remarkable that only the truly successful artists get a say in the ownership and use of their productions—and in the movie business, where billions can rest on a single picture, even a mega-star will find himself or herself still subject to the whims of the ‘money people’.
But Capitalism resists even so basic a human right for their employees as collective bargaining—so it is not surprising that it tramples on the rights of the lone, creative employee. Capitalism has, as one of its givens, a rule—that an employer is not responsible for paying employees what they need, only for the value of their work. This and many other sensible-seeming axioms are the rationales that Capitalism uses to explain away the suffering it causes and the unfairness it perpetuates. But in the case of an employee not being paid what is needed to survive, who is responsible? FDR, who was loathe to criticize Capitalism, felt that the government should step in, should help the underpaid and unemployed keep from starving or freezing to death. Truman went further, and determined that the government should see that poor people don’t die from treatable illnesses.
All this time, as Capitalism grows stronger from paying people whatever pittance they deem them worthy of, Capitalism’s top players start to kick against the taxes they have to pay the government—apparently, they heard the government was keeping their employees from starving, like the little people are supposed to. Now, since 2008, things are back the way they should be, with austerity programs preventing even a little of the filthy rich’s money from going to the dirty wretches who work for them (or aren’t being hired by them).
But let’s change the subject. One of America’s biggest problems today is obesity, particularly childhood obesity. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, runs a special program to fight this scourge that attacks our nation’s children. Now turn on the TV and watch during primetime—you’ll see a parade of commercials that are practically pornographic in their depiction of fast foods, tasty beverages, and sweet snacks lacking any known nutritional value, but containing the latest mystery chemical additive from their laboratory. How much harder this must make the fight for all those of us trying to control our diets. But we can’t interfere with the rights of Capitalism, can we? Those companies have a right to sell their product—they even have the right to schedule seductive, high-production-value food commercials for when people are at their weakest and most easily-influenced.
This is no different than the petroleum industry’s penchant for destroying thousands of miles of beach habitat because they’re too cheap to build non-leaking tankers. These companies have a right to do business. But who are these people? Who makes the decision that it’s okay to dump poisonous industrial waste into the Hudson River, of all places? Who decides that employees, by virtue of being paid, lose their right to a safe and healthy work environment? What kind of person does that?
When did it become the government’s problem to pick up the slack where Capitalism turns a blind eye to humanity? People will tell you that Money and Survival are the same thing—that no one can survive without money. But this is only true in the immediate sense. In the long term, with proper planning, we can easily transform the world into a place where money is not the only means of survival. It is only true now because Capitalism says it’s so. Capitalism insists that Commerce is a blood sport. However, the true roots of Commerce lie in exchange and cooperation—Capitalism has deformed that into a competition. And since Capitalism makes the rules, it’s winning the game. Unfortunately, it is no longer just Communism, but all of Humanity, that is losing.
Do you remember being in high school, thinking about how you were just a few years from adulthood but were trapped in an environment that more closely resembled a Kindergarten? I always felt that, yes, we students were young, irresponsible, and unruly—but the faculty and administration were equally at fault for focusing on our failings and immaturity, instead of trying to bring out the burgeoning maturity of our years. And now, as my fifty-ninth birthday approaches, I find myself feeling a similar dissatisfaction with the global community. When will we stop running the world like a Kindergarten? Where can we find leadership that brings out our best and moves us forward? When will business leaders stop clowning around like children and adopt the responsible attitudes of adulthood?
Here’s a fair-to-middling improv through which I attempt to express my feelings as the very crowded, chaotic 2014 comes to a close, and a very daunting but hopeful 2015 begins.
In addition, here’s over thirty minutes of sight-reading from a book of songs from the 1930s. For my generation, the 1930s were a time when our grandparents were pushing our parents around in strollers, looking for work (or food), and worrying about Hitler–but they were also humming these tunes, and occasionally dancing to them…
Here’s hoping everyone has a happy and healthy new year in 2015!!!