Hardly Halloween   (2015Oct31)


Saturday, October 31, 2015                                              12:09 PM

Oh, the dreaded day is upon me! While I comfortably hide in my house every day, crippled by social anxiety, poor social skills, a compulsive suspicion of others’ motives, and simple shyness—I am secure in the knowledge that there are boundaries to a person’s property—If someone knocks on my door, I don’t have to let them in—I can say, “Go away.” –and no matter how rude of me that is, they legally have to go away.

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But today, the normal rules don’t apply. Today I must put on a full set of clothes—I must accomplish my full ‘toilette’ and present myself, smiling wide, to whatever crowd of monstrous children inhabit my doorstep. I must have a bowl full of bribes for my own protection. And worst of all, I must engage with all their parents as if they were common sights upon my doorstep with a frightening attention to my health and mood—I must say I’m fine and ask them if they are also. It makes me shudder.

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I miss the old ways of childhood. When I was of school age, I knew every kid in a thirty mile radius—I wandered near and far, and so did they—we mingled in the way only those unfamiliar with their surroundings have a need to mingle. But now I don’t know my next door neighbor—with a handful of exceptions, I don’t know a soul in my neighborhood—and while I’m exceptionally anti-social, they too are anti-social by virtue of being grown adults with ‘things to do’. We are all more likely to form our social-circles based on old school ties and our present place of work. Indeed the modern mode is to accept ignorance of our neighbors as part of the ‘hominess’ of being at home, where no one will ‘bother’ you. I am acutely aware of this because I’ve been unemployed for so long—I have no workplace mingling, no new employees to meet, no old employees to say goodbye to.

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So when I have to look across the ‘connecting costumed kids’ at the complete strangers that are my neighboring parents, I feel both disappointed and extremely uncomfortable. People freak me out. They sometimes believe the strangest things. They sometimes staunchly oppose scientifically-accepted realities. Some of them even carry firearms—I guess—or so I’m led to believe. There are lots of people who are a little crazy, but not so crazy that they’re locked up for it—they just wander around, having lives just like the rest of us—but they scare the bejeezus out of me.

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Halloween is spooky alright.

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Improv – Two Etudes (2015Oct29)


Thursday, October 29, 2015                                             3:38 PM

When I listen to other music, I am open-minded and forgiving—if something doesn’t catch my ear at once, I’m willing to give it a chance. When I am feeling very hard-headed and down-to-earth, I can’t enjoy music as much as I otherwise do—engaging one’s critical faculties too completely puts one in the position of ‘finding fault’—and no creative impulse can survive such a negative onslaught.

It only now occurs to me that I always turn my criticism on ‘high’ whenever I judge my own efforts—and in doing so I’m being less fair to myself than I would be to a long-dead stranger—so today I’m having a moratorium on self-doubt and self-criticism. I enjoyed playing this improv on my piano and that’s all there is to that.

Pixels_2015

Speaking of being open-minded and forgiving—I just watched Chris Columbus’s “Pixels” on VOD. Liberals doses of ‘willing suspension of disbelief’ are required (and a little THC doesn’t hurt either) but if, like me, you are a fan of Adam Sandler, Kevin James, Josh Gad, Peter Dinklage, and video arcade games—then “Pixels” is funny, and a lot of fun.

First of all—I love movies where the characters start as children and then, through the magic of “30 Years Later…”, we begin the real story of the characters in the present day. It’s a great way to give a story depth, especially something as goofy as “Pixels”. Secondly, I love a movie where no one is inherently evil—childishly stupid, yes—misguided, greedy, not thinking things through, … whatever—yes—and I think this is closer to real life. Reality never seems to have a positive villain—for every issue there are just a lot of sides, a lot of needs, and a lot of pigheadedness—but rarely pure evil.

The good guys win and the guy gets the girl—other features I’m always in favor of. No lengthy wrong-turns into gloom and despair—another plus. Factoid hunters on IMDb point out that many game characters used were derived from post-1982 video games, which belies the film’s premise—but if that was the most unbelievable part of this movie, the world would be a very strange place.

What I enjoyed noticing was all the kid actors’ credits—many of the smaller roles were played by children with last names like Sandler, James, and Covert (one of the producers of the film) and I can only assume that the film’s set was very much a family affair. And if you look closely, you’ll catch a glimpse of the actual Professor Toru Iwatani, inventor of Pac-Man, doing a cameo as a game repairman in an early scene, at the Electric Dream Factory arcade. Good times.

In my walk earlier, I felt a strong regret that I hadn’t brought my camera, so I shot a few snaps out the window to use for today’s video:

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Up The Women (2015Oct29)


Thursday, October 29, 2015                                             10:17 AM

I began to read a story on Medium and got into it before I realized it was telling of the writer’s attempts to deal with a sister’s suicide—but I couldn’t stop reading. Not how I would have chosen to start my day. Then, in my email, there’s a NY Times story about China ending its one-child policy—imagine—the largest population on earth, largely undeveloped, largely hungry—and the government’s policy was not to grow more food, but to have less people. Bunch of fucking geniuses in charge over there—well, they’ve given it up now, so that’s something. Still no word on growing more food, though—fucking geniuses.

I couldn’t sleep last night thinking about abortion. What is life? When does it begin? The Pro-Lifers will insist that life begins at the moment of fertilization. That makes sense to a degree—otherwise we’d have to consider every ovum or spermatozoa a potential life as well. Imagine a killer being charged with however many counts of murder as there were ova in his victim’s ovaries—not to mention the thousands of potential lives wasted every time a man masturbates—that would be ridiculous.

Still—is fertilization the only decision-point? Before modern medicine, we considered the first breath taken as the dividing line between potential and human life. Further back, infants were not fully human until after their baptism—and even further back, one was not part of the tribe until one had passed the coming-of-age trial. One could make the case that the first fetal heartbeat was the start of life—or, if we could do an EEG test on fetuses, we could say that the beginning of consciousness was the true start. For legal purposes, we now use the term ‘viable’, which connotes the fetuses’ ability to survive outside their wombs, as a dividing line between potential and human life.

We cannot escape the fact that our modern arguments over terminology are a by-product of our understanding of medicine. In times past, unwanted newborns were abandoned, or even murdered outright—and this was usually done to female infants. Men, having been born and raised by their own mothers, saw no further use for additional women—talk about ego. And women were forced to produce as many babies as possible, even if it killed them. While this created a built-in workforce for the men, it only created bigger crowds which the women had to cook for, clean, and clothe every day. And with health being what it was, a woman who birthed ten or fifteen children could still end up with only a few survivors—just as her own life was nasty, brutish, and short.

The western patriarchal society of old was expert in dismissing everything of value about women while imposing on them unconscionable limits to their rights and freedoms. Even the shadow of those times today leaves many women doubting their equality with men. And who can blame them for this confusion? Taken all in all, women are not equal to men—they are superior. Women biologically have greater endurance, greater resistance to stress—and they can produce life. Men seem to surpass women only in their ability to bully—which perhaps explains why we’ve waited until the 21st century to address bullying as a bad thing.

The church’s insistence on women being available to men (their ‘wifely’ duty) provided a rational for men to copulate with women even against their wishes (which could easily be described as ‘rape’, even among married couples). And this fiat to ‘be fruitful and multiply’ was extended to forbid women from doing anything to interfere with any life engendered by this manhandling. Thus the taboo on birth control. Originally, birth control was considered ‘anything’—including the so-called rhythm method or the use of a simple condom. The crime was that of withholding the creation of new life in any way—not of killing an unborn baby. Had earlier societies known how to determine the sex of an infant before birth, they would have gleefully aborted plenty of babies as worthless females-in-waiting.

The present-day Pro Life movement is a tattered vestige of this ancient misogyny—having lost the religious upper-hand, they are left with this one specious category of birth control that still offers them a lifeline to the draconian morals of old. And how they scream about the ‘sanctity of life’—while ignoring every one of the many other ways in which life is brutalized by society from cradle to grave.

The debate over fertilization versus viability should be decided in favor of a woman’s right to choose if for no other reason than women deserve some recompense for the untold centuries of sexual slavery and gender persecution as the established order of things. If, in granting women the right to control their own bodies, we allow for the possibility of some rare abuse, it is nothing compared to the rank injustice that has been women’s lot for so very, very long.

Morning Walk   (2015Oct28)


Wednesday, October 28, 2015                                         12:49 PM

Walking outside in the drizzle this late in October (Halloween is Saturday) I feel a chill yet I don’t need a jacket—it’s a short walk—just long enough to see the thick golden blanket of leaves on the lawn, the swirl of leaves falling through the breeze in the trees, and hear the whispered rustle of so much paper-like shuffling it becomes its own white noise. All summer long the trees had been uniformly green—now they each display their true natures—dark crimson, golden yellow, or faded sunset orange—and the leaves leave the trees, filling the air and carpeting the ground, gathering in wind-blown piles.

All yesterday the neighborhood ached with the high groans of leaf-blowers—today’s light rain leaves me the joy of autumn’s delicate hiss, unsullied. I know I am old because I no longer sense the aroma of mimeograph ink in the smell of fall’s foliage and moldering breath—even a passing school bus makes me ponder the driver’s sobriety rather than its sweat-stanky back seats—that’s how old and parental I’ve become.

Neither do I obsess over my costume or dream of pillowcases filled with candy—instead I dread the monotonous getting up to answer the door and sitting back down only to hear the bell again. But Trick-or-Treating has fallen out of favor in our modern age—so now the wearying chore becomes instead a long wait between rare interruptions—almost a relief as well as an annoyance. Where are the crowds of kids that wandered the local streets of yesteryear? Why do I feel my own age so sharply as the year itself comes to a close?

Lyric (2015Oct27)


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Lyric

Void unimaginable, an ocean without a floor or shore

Floating there I wait and see only distance and space

No company to joke with—no more after or before

Floating where eternity dances yet hides its face

With feet that never find a place

And I am small amid the vastness

And I am lost among the stars

And I am never going to see again the green

And I am stuck forever in between

And if I died no one would know it

And if there’s hope no one will show it

I swim

In this vastness

The power of nothingness overwhelming my mind

No chink in the every of everywhere always

No feature or landmark remaining to find

Come speak to me love—(I don’t care what she says)—

Say what you will but please say Yes.

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Face and Bubbles – Collage

Tuesday, October 27, 2015                                               12:10 AM

Post (2015Oct27)

Well, I may have gone a little too dark on this poem—I tried to pull the nose up, at the end—but maybe too little too late. Anyway, the point is that too much solitude is as mentally unhealthy as too little sunlight is physically unhealthy. Love is necessary, or friendship—even simple companionship which, while not as profound, may be easier to come by—I’ll take anything to break that recursive loneliness loop that eventually drives one insane.

The new pictures are made with my new oil pastels—I haven’t quite got the hang of them yet. I’ve always had a problem with color—I tend to use them all. I like prisms and rainbows—I’m very democratic, even inclusive, when it comes to color.

The piano cover of “Autumn In New York” goes well with all the gold and orange leaves outside my window—my voice—maybe not so much. I threw in the other three covers just because. I’m struggling with my improvs lately—I have been trying to make them better for decades, but I feel like I can’t find anything new anymore—we’ll see—maybe I’ll have an epiphany or something. In the meantime, I’m just trying to sound entertaining.

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Bubbles

Tuesday, October 27, 2015                                               10:38 AM

Real Progress   (2015Oct27)

In just a few days, we will have reached the one-year mark on our presidential campaign—I can’t help wondering what the previous twelve months of back and forth were supposed to accomplish, other than to fill air time on cable-news shows and politics-based social media threads. It’s hard to stomach all the focus on ‘who it will be’ without any concern about ‘what will they do’. Yet, with the right-wing, those are the same question—a tea-party candidate will do nothing—except try to keep others from doing anything—that’s their whole agenda.

Likewise, a moderate Republican will do nothing—not for lack of trying, but because of their tea-party brethren. And even a Democrat will get done only as much as the executive office allows—because the House and Senate are still firmly in the hands of the GOP. The only real hope for governmental or legislative action is if the Democrats can find a way to win back those Congressional seats, as well as win the White House. So this presidential campaign obsession is just the usual media focus on the inconsequential. Ben Carson (not to mention Trump) is a scary possibility—but the odds of anyone but white males voting for either one is so low as to make their chances in a general election ‘slim to none’.

The same can be said of Bernie Sanders—he’s got the far-left tied up, but he could never get the majority of the nation’s voters either. That leaves Hillary, whom everyone has assumed will win all along—only she’ll be hobbled by the same GOP congress that bedeviled Obama. Again, the real story—the story that’s being ignored—is whether the Democrats can elect local support, outside of the presidency.

Of course, I could be wrong—we may get a Republican president, if voters are stupid enough—what a hell on earth that would be. Despite Obama’s heroic efforts, we still haven’t dug ourselves out of the hole the last GOP president buried us in. The only good that came out of Bush’s two terms was getting Democrats out to vote—Obama began his terms with a friendly Congress and I’m still confused as to how we managed to screw that up.

Well, not really—the answer is horribly simple. The Democrats, while they have an edge on common sense and American values, are just as dumb, lazy, spineless, and corrupt as the Republicans—both our candidates and we voters. Intellect and transparency can find a place in the Democratic party—which, as I say, gives them something of an edge—but we’re still people, just like the GOP folks. And people are human—with all the failings that implies.

When I look back on all the changes in society, I’m dumbstruck by the incredible progress we’ve made. While we still struggle with racism, at least it has lost its legitimacy in the laws of our land. While we still lack gender equality, we have seen women get access to birth-control, jobs, and inclusion far beyond the Suzy Homemaker mindset of my childhood. While we still have issues with LGBT equality, we have at least progressed beyond the point of considering homosexuality as a crime, or a mental disease. To me, this is the real progress of our country—I could care less about laptops, cellphones, smart-cars, and DNA sequencing, if it doesn’t have the open-minded humanity that an enlightened, modern culture deserves.

Ben Carson, The Simple Scientist (2015Oct25)


Sunday, October 25, 2015                                       9:23 AM

Ben Carson seems unusually ignorant for a respected brain surgeon—how can that be? It is a signal victory of fundamentalism that it has the flexibility to accept technical training and scientific rigor within the confines of the purely mechanical—and yet maintains its insistence on magical thinking within selected contexts. The Amish are the exception, as they eschew even geared wheels and electric current—a mystery, yet more sensible in its absolutism than the pick-and-choose fundamentalism of run-of-the-mill bible-thumpers like Ben.

Modern Christians usually accept that current science replaces the ‘factual’ tautology and cosmology of the Bible without doing any great harm to the spiritual content of that Good Book. Orthodox Christian Scientists are the exception, as they eschew the medical science and practices that Ben is so known for. Oddly, the Christian Scientists will drive a car—and the Amish will take medicine—yet it is accepted that both groups worship the same God as the less stringent, more casual believers of mainstream Protestantism.

Catholics have their specialty too, but it lies in the more ethereal realm of ‘morality’—their focus is often on birth-control and gender-bias (and gender ‘purity’, i.e. LGBT hatred). This is a hangover from the days when the Catholic Church made a business out of selling forgiveness—and business was good, while it lasted. But there is always a boomerang effect—young Amish are most tempted by muscle cars; young Christian Scientists are most tempted by medical relief—but Catholics, being focused on sex and gender, are most tempted by sexuality.

Religious ‘specialty features’ become a window into human nature—whatever is most feared becomes that which is most fascinating. Certain ‘tools’ are used to limit this gravitational attraction to the forbidden. The Amish use the wanderjahr, or Rumspringa, as a way of allowing their young adults to experience the wider world—knowing that some will choose to remain in that world, rather than return to the Amish culture. Of those who choose an Amish life, there is also the practice of ‘shunning’, which cuts all ties to any member of the community who breaks faith with their rules. Being such a backward culture, the Amish community requires these cut-offs to prevent their ranks from swelling with rebellious members willing to allow changes into their way of life. Ignoring two centuries of change across the rest of the globe is no easy task.

The Catholics have absolution, which makes it possible to break their rules and still have a place in the community—but they also have excommunication, which is a paradoxical process by which they exempt the worst offenders from absolution, and of acceptance in their community. Forgiveness is their watchword—unless one goes too far, for which is there is no forgiveness—like I said—paradoxical.

Protestants have only propriety—which in its way is even more insidious. A staunch protestant can invent more rules and strictures than other faiths could imagine—and these inventions can become part of the societal conventions of a community. It is almost an art form—deciding which aspects of our lives make us most uncomfortable and using religious vagaries to mark such aspects as evil—and this changes from place to place, based on the local preferences. In this way, one person’s eccentricities can acquire the solidity of scientific fact. It is, in many ways, the most imaginative way of seeing things—but it operates more upon our imagined fears than our imagined hopes.

The most strident criticisms I hear regarding my atheism are those that claim I have nothing—that only a fool would go through life without a God. That makes perfect sense to a believer—but from my point of view we all have nothing—and some of us simply pretend there is something there. I can’t pretend that they aren’t happier in their beliefs—that my life doesn’t have less glory and joy than theirs. Unfortunately, I require more than convenience as a reason to believe—and I require my beliefs to fit in with what I know to be true.

Knowledge, too, is problematical. What I know to be true is a very small fraction of what there is to know. Atheists, even atheist scientists, live in a world of ignorance—we don’t know how the universe was created, we don’t know why humans exist, we don’t know any sure answers to replace religious beliefs. Atheists don’t offer alternative beliefs, we just don’t accept older beliefs out of convention or convenience. We allow for the fact that such an unknowable universe is probably not revealed in ancient myths, even the most modern, monotheistic versions of those myths.

And here the dichotomy of scripture becomes an issue. The scientific ignorance of ancient times is debunked by the advances of science—the older the ‘facts’, the more likely their inaccuracy. Human nature, on the other hand, is well-served by millennia of observation and contemplation—the spiritual aspects of sacred writings have much to offer in terms of how we treat each other and how we view ourselves. Thus the teachings of Moses, of Christ, of Mohammed or Buddha—these words have value to society—but the conflation of this wisdom with the creation myths and other factual ignorance of ancient times makes these scriptures mixed bags of wisdom and nonsense.

This dichotomy is further confused by our preference for the path of least resistance. Jesus tells us to give freely, to be charitable, merciful, and forgiving—but that’s extremely inconvenient. It is so much more satisfying to use dogma to attack others, or use piety to aggrandize ourselves. Jefferson famously created his own personal cut-and-paste bible in which he selected those passages which he felt had the most meaning to his times, and left out that which harkened back to a more primitive age. Dogmatic insistence on the entirety of the Bible creates a false boundary, requiring that we take the good with the bad—and ignoring the fact that the Bible is an evolved text, which has already been changed many times throughout history.

There is much to doubt, and much to question, in the established religions of our times—and so we see many scientists are also atheists, whether that makes them unhappy or not. And a brain surgeon is very much like a scientist, so we expect someone like Ben Carson to question dogmas that are laughably unscientific. Sadly, we must accept that brain surgery, unlike medical research, is a trained skill—a very complex and intellectually demanding skill, but still ultimately a rote process that, while requiring a sharp mind and a steady hand, nonetheless requires no great curiosity or imagination.

Surprisingly, atheism is not a matter of mere intellect—the fundamentalists have many great thinkers amongst them. But as with idiot savants, intellectuals can accomplish great mental challenges without a commensurate breadth of perception or understanding. Ben Carson is a respected brain surgeon—he could just as easily be a rocket scientist—either way, he still would not be guaranteed wisdom—or leadership.

His recent obtuse comments about school-shootings and gay marriage reveal the superficial character of his thought processes—and prove that specialized skill in one area does not equip anyone to succeed at everything. When Donald Trump extolls his business acumen, we can question how that jibes with two bankruptcies, but when Ben Carson says he’s a good brain surgeon, there’s no reason to doubt him. Nevertheless, it is little indication that he is prepared to lead the free world—it is in fact proof that he knows nothing about it, since brain surgery requires no small amount of concentration.

Ben Carson does, however, fit in with the Tea Party’s attitudes about small government, disrupted government, even no government. How apropos that their candidate has no experience in governing. What it does not explain is why Ben Carson would want to be president. I think of such candidates, Trump or Carson, as ‘suicide bomber’ candidates—they just want to get into the White House so they can blow it all to smithereens.

Back in my youth, the hippies decided to drop out of established society because of all its faults and hypocrisy—but they eventually realized that productive change can only be accomplished from within the establishment. The right-wing partisans of the present are going through the same learning process—the only question is how much damage will their shut-downs and obstructionism do to our country before they realize the same thing.