A Taste For The Real (2015Mar30)


Monday, March 30, 2015                                                    6:49 PM

I watched TV all day. I got caught up in “Muhammed Ali’s Greatest Fight” (2013) about the Supreme Court justices, and their clerks, at work on the decision whether to uphold Ali’s conviction for draft evasion—a conviction they ultimately reversed in a dramatic series of events (if we take the movie at face value). I felt it to be a stirring illustration of a point in time when reasonable men were confronted by their own prejudices and confused by the tug-of-war between the ‘traditions’ of racism and its incompatibility with even-handed protection of constitutional rights.

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Then I saw a PBS documentary about the author/illustrator of “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” (1939), “Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place”. This tells the story of the life and art of a “Renaissance woman”, innovative children’s book author/illustrator, textile designer, painter, and sculptor in granite, marble and wood. The film goes to places on Cape Ann that inspired ‘Jinnee’, including her home and studio, Folly Cove, Gloucester Harbor and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Her designs of her children’s books reflected her efforts to compete with her sons’ fascination with comic books—one of the film’s commentators remarked that her books were the first examples of the graphic novel. She also founded Folly Cove Designs, a textile collective prominent during the Craft Art Revival era, employing many locals who went on to become accomplished craftspeople in their own right—the collective’s works were retailed in major stores and exhibited by several museums. When Virginia Lee Burton died in 1968, the remaining members of Folly Cove Designs decided to shut its doors.

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Then I watched “The Valiant Hours” (1960), an American docudrama about William F. Halsey, Jr., and his efforts in fighting against Admiral Yamamoto and his Japanese Navy in the Guadalcanal campaign of World War II. This film was the sole product of James Cagney’s production company, and Cagney gives a great performance as Halsey. The story is a nail-biting bit of head-to-head between the US and the Japanese in the Pacific, with Guadalcanal becoming the high-water mark for Japanese conquest and the beginning of the turning of the tide of that war. Told from the point of view of an admiral who spends most of the battles sitting at his desk drinking coffee, the film is careful to annotate the fates of those regular marines with whom Halsey meets during his personal visit to the island.

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That visit impacted the morale of the tired, struggling soldiers who felt on their last legs before Halsey even took over for poor Woolsey (whose only mistake, says Halsey in one scene, was in ‘getting there first’). Japanese intelligence even credited the strengthening of resistance among American forces to that visit. Moreover, it was in an attempt to bolster his own troops in the same way that Yamamoto was later shot down by American flyers in transit. The film is a wonderful tough-guy cameo of both the Admiral and of the War in the Pacific.

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It occurred to me during all of this that I had, in some sense, outgrown fiction. Earlier in life, I’d been puzzled by people who never read novels or watched movies or TV, preferring to read only non-fiction. It seemed a draconian approach to information-gathering, since much of fictional art has a lot to say, both about the people and times of the story, and about the story-teller.

And I don’t think that my recent change in taste is a concession to that point of view—but the information to be gathered from fiction has reached a point of diminishing returns for me—I’m familiar with the rough outlines of social, economic, and military history, with the cultural oddities to be found in Dicken’s London, Cervantes’ Spain, Michener’s America, and Clancy’s Cold-War, with the habits and jargon of Berkeley’s Broadway, Ford’s Old West, and an endless list of other times, places, and peoples.

Further, while this information source dries up for me, the settings, plotlines, conflicts, and dramatic devices become ever more familiar. I find that large swathes of popular culture are not only intended for the young, but are utterly predictable and unsurprising to an older audience. More importantly, the vicarious experience becomes problematical when the characters are concerned with something as jejune as first love or first career-step or becoming new parents. I can’t place myself in the action when the action concerns a teenager, or a twenty-something, or even a thirty-something.

The ultimate effect of most new movies that appear on my VOD menu is to make me depressed about how old I am, when I’m not in full critic mode, questioning the decisions made by the directors, the writers, or the actors. So I find myself, after the end of an interesting, fact-based program, desperate to find something of equal interest—something that treats with real life, rather than a diversion meant to make me laugh, feel desire, or dream of the future.

But there is a silver lining. The occasional excellent movie will be appreciated that much more—they do still make them, though they’re few and far between. Meanwhile, my health has improved to the point where I can read almost as much as I used to—and books have much better ‘pickings’ than cable TV when it comes to jaded, over-experienced audience-members like myself.

Atheism Is Dead (2015Mar27)


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SuperNova

Friday, March 27, 2015                                    8:52 PM

To speak against the local religion was a good way to get yourself dead, back in the day. That still holds true for some parts of the world—even some parts of America. But if we exclude the slimy backwaters of the world and of our country, one could reasonably state that atheism is a much safer subject for public expression. Sure, ISIS might behead you in some areas. Down in Texas, some good ol’ boys might decide to drag you behind their pickup. Even here in New York, there’s always the possibility that a rifle-toting extremist will come a-hunting for any outspoken advocate of atheism.

But by and large, it’s no big deal these days. There are so many ‘practicing atheists’ (people who don’t pray or keep the Sabbath) among the supposed Christians that the few who go to the trouble of being positively-professed atheists appear as more or less just extremely-lapsed Christians . And the rise of Humanism adds to that impression by collecting most atheists into a group that still searches for things like good, evil, meaning, and purpose.

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I have a Humanist tendency, myself—but I find it takes a little care to go searching for a replacement for religion without transforming that search into a new cult of its own. I see morality and community, the two greatest benefits of established religions, as important to society. But I would beware of trying to justify goodness, badness, etc. on any more ideal, less practical grounds than their providing a friction-reducing framework for society.

Charity, for instance, has in many cases been analyzed by economists and found to be more cost-effective than austerity. It’s just good business—counterintuitive, yes—but still the right way to go. The benefits of that modern rarity, Honesty, aren’t even counterintuitive, they’re just very unpopular—even considered by many to be a sign of immaturity. But those who have fallen to temptation are always eager for company—it justifies their choice. How many of us felt pressured to lose our virginity by being made to feel childish while it remained intact?

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My point is that God is completely unnecessary when choosing between good and bad. We are all familiar with con-artists, we are all warned that if someone offers us what seems too good to be true, it will surely be untrue. Ask anyone, they’ll tell you—there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Well, the universe works the same way. Humanity, as a species, as a civilization, requires socially healthy attitudes. Fat cats may not feel the universe’s kick-in-the-ass for being selfish and greedy—but we, as a group, are punished for allowing wealth to concentrate so greatly in individuals, merely for the remote chance we could become one of them.

And rich people, like lap dogs, are specially bred to their bizarre environment. Just look at lottery winners if you want to see the effect of great wealth on the average citizen—most of them have their lives destroyed, their families broken—some even go bankrupt. Some go mad and a few of them actually kill themselves. Sound like a dream come true? Only rich people, born and raised to take their wealth for granted in a world full of poverty, can handle sitting on a huge pile of cash—not that most of them are the picture of mental health, either.

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But that’s a special case—the separation of the wealthy from the rest of us obscures the cause-and-effect of their follies. In general, we can see that taking advantage of others, whether by crime, betrayal, lies, or violence, will come back to haunt us eventually. Karma may not be a spiritual force, but there is symmetry in nature, and it applies to society as much as to physics. In cases of a ‘perfect crime’, so to speak, where the payback is difficult to trace, we still find that society as a whole is damaged by anti-social behavior. And since we live in society, we are in some way affected as individuals, too.

As individuals, we can make the case that society is not our problem. My theory that morality is socially healthy could be described as idealistic, in that sense. But again, as members of society, we can abrogate our responsibility if we wish, but we can’t deny our inclusion in whatever future we help to bring about. If evil predominates, society will self-destruct—an end that seems all too likely, and in the not-very-far-off future, to boot. If so, the good will perish along with them. If however, we somehow manage to save ourselves, I think I’ll enjoy having been on the winning team.

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Okay, presentation over. I hope I got my point across. My ideals, if you want to call them that, are based on practical evaluations of the conditions of my reality—I don’t feel obliged to bring them all the way round to axioms of faith. They work well enough, and any further progress would involve greater knowledge than humanity has at present, or may ever have, or may be capable of having.

Someone recently made a point of humanity displaying an innate ‘sense of purpose’ and hung on that the premise that purpose must exist. He was arguing that atheists seem fixed on defining themselves by what they are not. He was arguing that today’s atheist is fixated on the big bang theory and other such mechanical aspects of existence, and ignoring the great mystery that still infuses all of observed reality. And he has a point.

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But my point is that today’s atheists are new-comers to the party. Many of them are refugees from extreme fundamentalist families, often within extreme fundamentalist communities, where the madness of unquestioned faith and spurious, oddball dogmas made their childhoods into living hells of unreason and the suppression of feelings and ideas. They have my sympathies, and I welcome them to their new-found freedom to think for themselves.

However, with popularity comes dilution. When Christianity was new, you had to be pretty serious about your convictions—being fed to the lions is not a healthy habit. Then, in the intervening centuries, Christianity became popular enough to foster power, carnage, and corruption. Atheism has enjoyed the same refinement for centuries—it was not for the faint of heart or the only-partially committed. Neither was it a likely end for the uneducated—you have to be pretty comfortable with your brain to have the confidence to question God.

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So we atheists were quite a cozy group up until this new century. The idea of activism was laughable—we represented such a small group that we were lucky not to be hunted down by the majority. This is no longer the case. The idea of atheism has become more commonplace and the number of those who self-identify as atheist has exploded. And we old-style atheists, due to the nature of atheism, are not hierarchical—we are not indoctrinating our ‘new converts’. For my part, I’m a little taken aback by the partisan populism such broadening of the field has incurred.

Part of the reason for my misgivings is that atheism doesn’t really lend itself to politics—it is a negative more than a positive position. It is an acceptance of the fact that, while the universe is an infinite mystery, humanity’s just wanting to understand it doesn’t mean we do—or even that we can. And the fellow trying to make the case for Purpose is doing something that it is all too easy for atheists to do—to try an end-run around the limits of human understanding by claiming that ‘human understanding’ has a priori value.

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Sure, we have an innate sense of purpose. But we also have an innate sense of self-preservation and an innate sense of continuing the species. These are evolutionary traits necessary to the survival of the species. And what more important evolutionary step can a species that has developed consciousness take than an innate sense of purpose? Once our brains began to analyze and to question, would we not require a sense of purpose to bolster our self-preservation instincts? I see no reason to assume that a sense of purpose is any less a product of evolution than our other instincts.

It is even possible that such an instinct, necessary in an animal with consciousness, may have been the spark for all religions, from the prehistoric to the present. And even if I’m wrong about it being instinctual, I have never been willing to attach absolute value to any natural-seeming notions of the human brain. Who would? So many concepts throughout history, that once seemed like bedrock reasoning, have proved in time to be convenient fictions—the divine right of kings, the flatness of the Earth, the inferiority of women, the evil of homosexuality. There are even ‘intellectuals’ who have rationalized the justness of slavery, the demonization of left-handedness, or the perpetuation of the death penalty. So-called scientists ‘prove’ things like racial inferiority, ‘cures’ for gayness, or creationism.

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People are stupid. Not just some people—all people. We have limited senses. We have only the vaguest understanding of physics and chemistry. We have a tendency to infuse reason with wishful thinking. We react emotionally to scientific facts and we use ‘faith’ to give the legitimacy of fact to our anthropomorphic dreams of cosmology and creation. So, when someone claims that a shared trait of humanity, like a sense of purpose, must have some meaning, I can only feel pity for their ingenuous loyalty to the idea of human reason—an oxymoron if ever there was one.

Former VP Al Gore wasted a good title on his climate-change documentary—if there was ever an ‘inconvenient truth’, it is atheism. And that is my concern over this influx of new, anti-religious converts—they have not so much accepted the ignorance of man as they have rejected the ‘revealed truth’ of religion. That is, unfortunately, only half the journey. The atheism that they will produce in years to come will bear striking resemblances to the religions these people have rejected—and the partisanship they bring to the party will facilitate the transformation of atheism into a religion-like structure, with its attendant assumption of the wisdom of humanity. Dogmas will arise that will make fundamentalism seem tame.

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In time, atheism will deform itself so greatly that it will rival the enormous gulf between the teachings of Christ and the workings of the Catholic Church. It will go from a backwater for those of us who absent ourselves from intellectual pride, to a fulcrum of power for its political leaders. And if humanity’s past is anything to go by, atheism will eventually create dogmas of its own, easily the equal of any snake-dancing, tongues-speaking cult. When the day comes that the atheist majority begins to persecute people of faith, they will call it Progress. Yeah, right.

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Another Fine Day (2015Mar25)


Wednesday, March 25, 2015                                              11:29 PM

Here are three more Cole Porter piano covers—true piano covers, this time. I tend to sound like a dog howling when you get these long-held notes. Besides, the playing is tricky enough on its own. I haven’t had a chance to listen to the improv(s) yet—they are two short quips, one from this morning, one from this evening. That’s true of the Porter, too—“Begin the Beguine” was played earlier, the other two this evening. Hope you like’em. And I hope you had a fine day, as well.

 

A Quiet Day (2015Mar24)


Tuesday, March 24, 2015                                          10:38 PM

My apologies to all you who didn’t share this experience today—but I had a nice, quiet day. Turner Classic Movies showed Cole Porter musicals all day—I caught most of “Silk Stockings” (Fred Astaire, Cyd Charisse) and the first half of “DuBarry Was A Lady” (Red Skelton, Lucille Ball). By that time, I felt an itch to do a little Porter of my own. I’d also felt a yen for this particular Jerome Kern song last night. Probably came into my head because it has ‘Spring’ in the lyric. Anyway, I had that all queued up, so you get one by Kern, two by Porter.

These scores are tough sledding—very thick chords, some of them. I’d give anything to just breeze them along in a nice tempo, but I work with the tools I have—my apologies. The improv is short today, but I thought it was kind of cute. You decide.

 

 

Again, source material credit for my graphics has to be given. Source graphics courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website. The Rijksmuseum Website, by the way, is a great site for at-home museum visiting—and if you’re digitally crafty, you can download anything you see, for free, and use it in a project of your own. It’s Gr-r-reat!  https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en

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Table cover, Christiaen Gillisz. van Couwenberg, c. 1650 – c. 1675

 

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Gezicht op Derwent Water, in de richting van Borrowdale (Cumberland), Thomas Hearne, 1754 – 1817

 

Happy Birthday, Emmy Noether! (2015Mar23)


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Monday, March 23, 2015                                          11:39 AM

Emmy Noether was a major mathematician and physicist of the era of Hilbert, Gödel, and Einstein. She spent most of her life being an un-matriculated, unwelcome university student—and then an unpaid, untitled university professor. Having broken past most of the boundaries met by female scholars, she found herself being ostracized anew by the Nazis, because of her being a Jew. She left for the USA before the Nazis progressed beyond merely firing Jews to murdering them. She spent two years at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania before dying, at age 53, due to complications after surgery to remove a cyst. Einstein wrote a valedictory letter in her honor which was subsequently published in the Times [click here for article].

Her astonishing achievements in math and physics would have stood on their own, but her struggles to get clear of the close-minded sexism of her day were just as heroic, just as epic. It’s hard to think of these two battles as unrelated. Noether’s innovative mind pushed back humanity’s ignorance of science just as her day-to-day life pushed back against humanity’s ignorance about women, and Jews.

Clear, incisive thought will often overrule conventions without being conscious of it—ignoring some unimportant, nonsensical convention to arrive at the correct solution, unaware of how much importance society-at-large puts upon those unimportant, nonsensical conventions. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for suggesting the existence of other solar systems among the countless stars in the sky—where a less intelligent person would have scrupled at going against convention, willing to live in continued ignorance rather than die for the sake of correctitude.

Scholars and scientists appear to regard Ignorance as the greater death, the real torture. Such heroism has always been admired in explorers, but less obvious explorers, explorers of the mind and of truth, are rarely given the adulation offered up to Columbus, Admiral Perry, or Charles Lindberg. However, pure science has a way of finding an outlet into reality: Bernoulli’s principle becomes the Wright brothers’ first Flyer, Einstein’s relativity becomes Oppenheimer’s atomic bomb, Turing’s number theory becomes the first computer, et. al.

Thus admiration for scientific exploration often lags behind, waiting for society as a whole to recognize its ‘practical’ value. The preponderance of such evolutions of ‘thought into things’, by the dawn of the twentieth century, had gained some grudging respect for pure scientific exploration—we had finally caught on that these people, these squirrelly, often unkempt oddballs, were a potential source of speed and convenience, money and power.

Long before the modern age, as far back as the Enlightenment, we began to see science overrule convention. Authority, whether of the religious or the noble persuasion, had, until then, been protected from dissent by the simple expedient of executing the dissenter(s). Might was, demonstrably, right. Afterwards, new discoveries and inventions began to impact our lives. Gunpowder, cannon, and muskets rendered old defenses, such as castle walls and armor, obsolete. Sextants, chronometers, and maps removed the boundary of the open sea, reliable navigation making possible the Age of Discovery.

Thus the right of might became a fluid thing—solid stone and steel become vulnerable, the limits of the known world fall away with the discovery of a New World. Worse yet, in conservative terms, science in the hands of Galileo and Copernicus presents us with a spherical Earth orbiting the Sun—which, while interesting in itself, is disastrous in that it seems to put the lie to scripture—how can the God of Joshua ‘stop the sun in the sky’ if the sun doesn’t actually move across the sky?

This creates a dichotomy in society—what we call conservatives and progressives. Those who are delighted by the new and different tend towards progressivism. Those who fear change tend towards conservatism. And those with wealth or power are rarely progressive—no one has more to fear from change than those who are already on the top of the heap. For them, change can only be a disaster.

And so it went, for centuries—it was as much a matter of personal choice as anything practical that people chose to be either conservative or progressive, with the exception of those in power, who were invariably conservative for the reasons mentioned above. Then came the Digital Age, with its profusion of new gadgets, new techniques, and, most importantly, new changes to society and commerce. We are flummoxed both by the amount of change and the speed with which that change occurs.

Today, it would appear that conservatism is a dangerous choice. Science has made of society a shifting, nebulous mystery, a complex patchwork that demands our adaptability, both mental and emotional. ‘Being conservative’ goes from being a choice to being a mistake. And those in power, those with the greatest investment in conservatism, find themselves laid bare to the winds of change.

Now, when scientists determine that burning petroleum damages our air and water, we are tempted to act on that important information. But those who are rich and powerful because they do business in petroleum are not happy. The only answer for them is to counter science with an alternative. But what is the alternative to science? So far, the answers have been denial, ignorance and extreme fundamentalism. Conservativism goes from being a choice to being a bunker. Shorn of its connection to science, or even common sense, conservatism becomes an artificial position, jiggered to defend the rich and powerful, regardless of how far it wanders from sanity.

We see the Republican party, once known as the party of conservatives, become known as the party of the rich. Some effete intellectual has pointed out that we now have the ability to house, feed, and cloth every person on earth—that Capitalism, the system by which we reached this pinnacle, is now the only thing preventing us from going over the top, into a world of peace and prosperity. Capitalism morphs from the mechanism by which we all progressed into a mechanism for conserving the paradigm of rich and poor, the entitled and the deprived.

Today’s conservative is either forced into conservatism by their fear of change, or they are deluded into conservatism by the propaganda of those in power. Progressives, when they are not railing against the entropy of modern conservatives, are hard-pressed to deal with a rate of progress and of change that exceeds the capacity of an individual mind to absorb, before it changes yet again. We have enough trouble dealing with that excess of fulfillment of our hopes, without having to defend ourselves against reactionary revisionists.

Science struggled in the middle ages—chemistry was witchcraft, astronomy was heresy, electricity was the devil. It slowly made a place for itself by producing irresistible tools of power, convenience and freedom. By the twentieth century, science had begun to advance by leaps and bounds, hence the deification of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and others. But here in the twenty-first century, our digital technology runs amok—no one person can comprehend it, no one person can keep up with it. Science has revealed itself to be innately progressive—an enemy of conservatism and, thus, an enemy to those in power.

Today, conservatism has become an enemy of science—just as it has always favored might over right. Recently, the famous conservative, Rick Santorum, was quoted as saying “The smart people will never be on our side”. It isn’t easy to maintain popular support while advocating ignorance, but they are feeling their way, through various memes, to cast suspicion on intellectualism, i.e. the scientific method. They play on the resentment of those with below-average scholarship. They attempt to conflate the complexity of science with the confusion of double-talk. And they point to heaven, calling on their invisible authority to smite the smarty-pantses, oblivious to the scientists that float above, in the Space where dogma insists Paradise must be.

This is not new. Hitler famously used science to great effect during the Second World War—rockets, jets, coding machines, missile guidance systems, radar—but he didn’t believe in it, he just used it. That wealth of German technology would never have been his, had his regime not followed hard on the heels of a very liberal, open-minded university culture—a culture he destroyed while he looted the wealth of power it produced.

Before the Internet, Science was the first global community. And German universities were hubs of this international mingling of the great minds of their time. It is ironic, and fitting, that the scientists and thinkers driven from Germany by Hitler’s hate were instrumental in the eventual defeat of the Axis powers. But even as Hitler stomped on the sand castles of early twentieth century science, he gladly used any of its powers and insights that adapted themselves to world conquest.

Likewise, we see today many conservatives, including Rick Santorum, who gladly make use of science’s bountiful gifts while still denying its basic premise—rational thought and open-minded consideration of observed reality. They are bizarro, negative-image copies of our Founding Fathers, who invented the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, but insisted on the right to own slaves. The difference is that our Founding Fathers continued an old ignorance while creating a new enlightenment. Modern conservatives seek to create a new ignorance while resting on the laurels of the old enlightenment.

Conservatives want to undo religious freedom by abrogating the separation of church and state. They want to undo Roosevelt’s New Deal, destroying our society’s stability in favor of classist profiteering, making an elite of the greedy. They want to undo voting rights, making a plutocracy out of our democracy. They want to undo feminism most of all, because they know in their hearts that women have a dangerous propensity towards humane ideals and common sense, not to mention the female urge to care for the young and helpless. The conservatives have become such blatant cheerleaders for prejudice, poverty, and prison that it always leaves me dumbstruck—not only that they do this, but that they find so many followers to buy into their evil agenda.

Money may not deserve to be considered free speech, but it has certainly become a political party—the Republicans. And please note that I feel it has become redundant to speak of money and power—they are so close nowadays as to be synonyms. Sadly, many Democrats and Independents are also Republicans in sheep’s clothing. The infiltration of money despoils all parties—it merely finds a champion in the Republicans. And that champion is fighting with all its might—against we the people, against scientific truth, against fairness and democracy. Such total evil, to my incessant surprise, retains a wide following among people who are some of its most pitiable victims. They’ve managed to indoctrinate African-Americans, even misguided women, into their fold. They may not have a taste for rigorous scientific thought, but no one can deny that they are extremely clever bastards. Just like old Adolf.

But today we celebrate the birthday of Emmy Noether, the Jewish lady he so foolishly discarded—and his birthday? No one knows or cares. Likewise, Santorum has felt the weight of Science’s power—his name is now used across the Internet to mean “a frothy mixture of lubricant and fecal matter as an occasional byproduct of anal sex”. Deny that science, Ricky. And happy birthday, Emmy!

Hence This Essay (2015Mar22)


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Sunday, March 22, 2015                                            12:13 PM

It’s funny how I type up my thoughts, read them back, and say to myself, “Yeesh—why am I so hard to understand?” My run-on sentences get lost in themselves. Thoughts that are clear in my mind become unalterably muddy on my page.

My mind gets a charge out of this meme or that concept—and is bored by this aspect or that concern. All our minds react differently to every word in a sentence—another person’s words take us on a roller-coaster of ups and downs, as their special interpretation of reality attempts to mesh with our own. Simplicity and directness can ease these attempts at mind-to-mind communication—but complex ideas don’t easily succumb to simplification.

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When it comes to writing or speaking, I see three phases. When we’re young, we learn the basics of communication. When we are adults, we learn competency in communication. And when we grow old, we learn the emptiness of communication. At my age, I’ve begun to see nothing but futility in these little essays, my attempts at sharing my thoughts with the rest of you. At the same time, the sense of purpose in doing so is also fading away. Who the hell am I—and why should you listen—and even if you listen, what difference does it make? Such ‘old guy’ thoughts are nearly paralyzing.

My natural inclination to share my thoughts with other people was a stumbling block in my youth. It turned out that I was rarely on par with my peers—my impulse to share became a tendency to teach. And teaching felt very natural when I became an adult—though I was never a schoolteacher, I did spend most of my time explaining, instructing and training employees and co-workers in the fresh, new art of coexisting with a desktop PC. I also tutored various subjects in my free time. Then there was parenting—lots of teaching required there—in fact as a parent, my greatest challenge was learning when to stop being a teacher.

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But now I’m older—as are my peers. They don’t need any words of wisdom from me—any wisdom they don’t have, they’ve learned to live without. I have gone from being sought after for information and explanation to being isolated, ejected from the rat-race by long illness—so long that my return to health coincides with my approach to senior-citizenry.

My blog of essays is just a vestigial impulse to teach, lingering on after I’ve lost the point of doing so. Life on the downhill side of middle-age is full of fatalism—existence ceases its pretense at eternity and shrinks down to a handful of unproductive years. Life begins to settle down into nothing more than the delaying of the inevitable. I look back on what was my ‘real’ life and realize that it was always a young person’s game. Careers and activism lose their substance in the knowledge that for oneself, competition and cooperation are moot—my accomplishments, or lack thereof, are already on the tally-board.

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Younger people long for retirement—it is only after we reach retirement age that we realize it is an ejection from the mainstream of life. If we have any remaining ambitions, they are out of step with the times we find ourselves in. If we make any long-term plans, it becomes blindingly obvious that the time-line exceeds any reasonable life-expectancy. Any inclination to invest in future schemes is vetoed by our responsibility to invest in our children’s futures. If we want to put a positive spin on it, we could say that we reduce our own self-importance—but the stark truth is that our self-importance is diluted by the passage of time and the responsibilities of parenthood.

One thing that increases with age is appreciation of busyness. We come to realize that our goal-oriented behavior is a thing unto itself—making us happy, passing the time, regardless of the value produced, if any, by our busy-making. Think of a toddler, puttering away, humming—enjoying being busy without yet being taught that our busyness should have a practical end to it. Or consider the word ‘pastime’—the word implies a game but, reduced to their basest components, all activities have as their chief point the distraction of our minds from the relentless passage of time. Hence these essays, dear reader.

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A Beautiful Melody (2015Mar19)


In the first recording, I do my best with ‘Melody in F’ arranged for piano, [from “Souvenir d’un lieu cher” (Memory of a Cherished Place) for violin and piano, Op. 42 (Meditation, Scherzo and Melody) (1878)] by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893). The original piece is just beautiful. I’ll provide the YouTube link here, if you’d like to hear Janine Jansen perform an Encore broadcast on April 19th, 2013, with Paavo Järvi conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Alte Oper Frankfurt. (You’d better listen to mine first–I can’t follow a real virtuoso, no matter what instrument they play!)
The second recording, the improvisation, is one where I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ve just played the Tchaikovsky piece, but maybe that’s just in my head. It’s hard to tell–you can steal a lot from another composer without it showing, unless you’re taking the actual melody….