Mommy, Where Do Republicans Come From? (2016Apr29)


Friday, April 29, 2016                                              9:50 AM

Republicans are stupid. Republicans politicians are just smart enough to get paid by the rich and by corporations for advocating stupid legislature, but the Republican voter is unabashedly stupid, voting against his or her best interests, voting against science, voting against common sense. Republicans politicians cultivated stupidity in the party’s ranks for many years—‘teaching the controversy’ on many issues that sensible people considered settled, using ‘dog-whistles’ to attract certain ‘patriotic’-seeming hates, and persistently reassuring white Christian males that they were the apex of humanity (all that ‘equality’ nonsense aside).

So when twelve or so Republican presidential candidates took the field, way back when, they were all different flavors of stupid—you had conventional stupid (a la Bush Dubya, or rather, brother Jeb), religion-crazed stupid (a la Cruz), overtly corrupt stupid (a la Chris Christie), and just plain bat-shit crazy stupid, which appears to be the shoe-in for nomination. The Republicans wanted their voters good and stupid—but then were shocked to find that they supported the stupidest candidate that ever ran for the office. That’s pretty stupid.

 

Then they all got behind Ted Cruz, whom Boehner recently described as ‘the most miserable son-of-a-bitch I’ve ever worked with’—a man reviled by virtually all of his colleagues—merely because he was the only viable alternative to their front-runner, who they hate even more for his being an outsider, with his own brand of stupid. Any reasonable, intelligent group of people would have thrown up their hands at this point—but not the Republicans. Now that Trump has forced himself upon them, you can be sure that they will back his candidacy with the same wooden-headed stubbornness that they use to deny racism, climate change, or the nature of homosexuality.

 

The front page of the Times today has a story about how Trump is attacking Clinton with veiled sexism—and that the Democrats are ‘scrambling’ to find a way to counter this attack. I find that obtuse. And I’m upset that Republican stupidity has found legitimacy in the media, purely on the basis of its having become their political platform. I’m sorry, Republicans (and the NY Times) but stupid is stupid—it doesn’t need to be defended against, except when talking to Republicans. Trump’s appeal is confined to people angry enough to want conflict instead of compromise—even with the evidence of how conflict within the legislature paralyzes our government staring them in the face. These voters don’t want things done right, they want things done fast—thinking about whether it’s right or not is just more of that ‘political correctness’ that they blame for all their problems.

In fact, a vote for Trump is a way of quoting that old John Candy flic, “Canadian Bacon”, where a guy at the bar says, “There’s a time for thinking and a time for action—and this is no time for thinking.”  In the movie, it’s meant as a joke, a witty one-liner—but for Trump, it’s a campaign slogan that his adherents would unthinkingly agree with.

We have a two-party system, so naturally we think of them as equals—but there is no equivalence between Trump and Clinton. Clinton is a lifelong public servant with knowledge and experience far beyond the average citizen—Trump is an average citizen with a lot of money and a big mouth. And I think I’m being kind with the use of ‘average’—‘below average’ might be more correct.

Americans, by and large, are not fans of big thoughts or deep thinking—that’s nothing new. But we used to elect people to office who were smarter than us, just so they could do the thinking for us. This idea of electing someone just as stupid as the least of us, because he ‘represents’ us, is a new low. Apparently, even once every four years is too often to ask American voters to think.

Most people could have told you a year ago that Trump would be the Republican, and Clinton the Democratic nominee, and that Clinton would crush him in the general. We’ve all known this for some time. But the media persist in scaring us, creating dramatic tension (and ratings) by constantly asking the question, “Will America be stupid enough to vote in Trump?” Everyone knows the answer is a resounding ‘no’. But the media can’t accept that—there’s no excitement in a foregone conclusion—so they take a page from the Republicans, and ‘teach the controversy’.

Movies With Madness (Three Reviews) (2016Apr28)


20160428XD-Nina

Thursday, April 28, 2016                                        4:11 PM

Movie Review: “Nina”

I watched “Nina” on VOD yesterday—a film about Nina Simone, the legendary blues singer (incredibly played (and sung!) by Zoe Saldana) at the end of her career, facing instability, alcoholism, and illness, with the help of a male nurse, Clifton Henderson (as played by David Oyelowo) and marking a triumphant return to the United States with a live free concert in Central Park. Oddly, historical records indicate that she performed at the New Jersey Performing Arts Centre in Newark upon her return to the US—and that it wasn’t ‘free’—but Nina Simone did perform in Central Park several times in her earlier career.

Other reviewers and critics take issue with lighter-skinned Ms. Saldana playing the very much darker High Priestess of Soul—but while I can understand a rejection of ‘blackface’ white performers playing black people—I think it’s going a bit far to complain of one African-American woman playing another. It makes more sense to complain that Zoe Saldana is too young and too thin—but this is a biopic, not a documentary, and her performance is often riveting, even if the historical accuracy of both her depiction and the story-line goes a bit by the boards. As with Jamie Foxx’s “Ray” (2004), “Nina” is as remarkable for the star’s vocal efforts as it is for the purported subject—though I wouldn’t have minded hearing the actual, recorded voice of the late Nina Simone sing a few bars at some point in the movie.

But you can just do what I did—go to YouTube afterwards and check out the real Nina Simone singing all the songs from the movie and more—that’s as much of a treat as the movie—and since the movie got me there, hooray for the movie. But see the movie first or you’ll never get over the very real difference in both appearance and vocals.

20160428XD-TheLadyInTheVan

Movie Review: “The Lady In The Van”   (2016Apr28)

I was eager to see “The Lady In The Van” because Maggie Smith gives good ‘crabby old lady’—and she certainly doesn’t disappoint in this movie that could have been written for her, if it wasn’t based on an actual woman. Still the film is based on the 1999 play—and takes place even earlier, in the seventies—so perhaps the film was only made to showcase Ms. Smith.

She plays a poor and confused woman who lives out of a van, which she parks in various places in the neighborhood until stricter parking regulations (and perhaps complaining residents) make it necessary for her to park in a driveway—that of the playwright, Allen Bennett, who forms a limited friendship with this loner who has reached the age when being a loner becomes problematic. The film is as much about the man as the lady—and both are seen by the Gloucester Crescent inhabitants as odd ducks. As with many stories about fragile, vulnerable people, the common run of humanity is portrayed as coarse and unsympathetic—from the whispering neighbors to the van-rocking toughs.

One striking element is the conflict between the personal care of Alan Bennett and the more ‘public’ care offered by the periodic appearance of a social worker—to be nice by nature is far different from being nice by the rulebook. It is especially telling when dealing with the mentally unstable, where a little patience and understanding can do so much more than the brusque attentions of a civil servant.

A few movies, like “The Lady In The Van”, are remarkable also in showing us Yankees how very different the British can be—it is so easy to assume that they are just ‘differently-American’, when they are really quite another thing altogether. This film, in showing both the similarities of such situations and their differences, informs us just how foreign England can be.

While Alex Jennings’ and Maggie Smith’s performances contain a lot of humorous touches, the overall plot is insurmountably bleak, so I wouldn’t watch it unless you’re in the mood for something good and serious.

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Movie Review: Infinitely Polar Bear (2015)

I just watched “Infinitely Polar Bear” (it just showed up on cable this weekend) written and directed by Maya Forbes, starring Mark Ruffalo, Zoe Saldana, Imogene Wolodarsky, and Ashley Aufderheide. I’m a long-time fan of both principles—I could go on all day about Mark Ruffalo and Zoe Saldana—neither one has been in a movie I didn’t like. Imogene Wolodarsky and Ashley Aufderheide did a great job being directed by Imogene’s mom, Maya.

It was my favorite kind of movie—it was so engrossing that I immediately stopped being aware of watching a movie, got sucked completely into the story, and got that heartbroken/furious-combo feeling when it ended because I wanted it to keep going so badly. Mark Ruffalo plays a bi-polar father who makes you worry for his kids—in spite of his generally appearing to be a better father than most. But the best part of the movie is when it shows the madness of sanity against the relief of his specific bi-polar symptoms—his grandmother is crazy, his neighbors are crazy, the waiter in the restaurant is crazy—but all in ‘sane’ ways that society finds acceptable. At the same time, his madness makes him a better person in many ways—even while it cripples his ability to relate to the sanely-crazy.

It also shows that sometimes the only one hurt by insanity is the person himself—or herself—that being different is its own punishment in a world full of people busily trying to fit in. We tend to have more sympathy for a hero that resists peer-pressure than for a hero who isn’t aware of it—but in both cases, the reactions of others are the others’ problems, not the hero’s. The film shows the girls being educated by their father’s disability—rather uncomfortably, but in the end, to good purpose. I found it all very uplifting—maybe I relate a little too strongly to a crazy father.

Manufacture This   (2016Apr27)


Wednesday, April 27, 2016                                              9:28 AM

A recent NY Times article points out that Manufacturing, the former giant of economic growth, is shrinking in the manpower it requires to meet demand. This means that manufacturing jobs aren’t disappearing to other countries—they are simply disappearing. And the increase in service industry jobs, with their meager pay, is only contributing to the income-inequality gap. The article suggests “health care, education and clean energy” as an alternative growth strategy—but I see this as an avoidance of the central issue.

The algorithm of capitalism is unraveling. It was once a given that creating a manufacturing base in a developing country would lift its citizens into a first-world economy—but a chart in the article shows how the return on manufacturing development, over time, has lost its ability to raise a given nation’s populace in either income or education. Eduardo Porter, the author of the article, uses this data to prove that the presidential campaigners’ promises to return manufacturing to the USA, even if fulfilled, would not create the wished-for boom in either employment or income, any more than it currently does in India or China.

It makes me impatient to see the issue parsed so precisely—to my mind, the overall concepts of capitalism—ownership, employment, demand—are as outdated as the specific case of manufacturing jobs. But I realize that changing an accepted paradigm is like turning a cruise ship—slow and full of inertia. And it doesn’t help that capitalism has become America’s political brand-identity, as well as a way to organize society—which adds a ‘loyalty’ factor to conservative thinking on the matter. But it is past time for America to return to its original brand-identity—that of Yankee ingenuity—because a post-capitalist global economy will certainly require a great deal of innovative thinking.

This is a link to the NY Times article mention above: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/27/business/economy/the-mirage-of-a-return-to-manufacturing-greatness.html

To invent something that makes a person’s life easier is called convenience. To invent something to make manufacturing and farming easier is called automation. We see them as two different things—this is what makes the decline of jobs a problem, to the point where legislation is passed in California trying to prevent further development of automation tech in agriculture—because it’s taking jobs away from the state. Not that it will do them any good—the Luddites never win—it’s like King Canute commanding the tide to back off.

More importantly, it misses the point—automation should be a good thing. The idea that civilization could produce enough to meet demand without a single employee should be a good thing. The only reason it isn’t is because capitalism is based on presuming that to be an impossibility. Capitalism says, ‘go out, get a job, and earn a salary—that’s how modern people make a living’. But if the living is being made without human participation, we need to find a new way to disburse our production to a globe of unemployed. The answer will sound a lot like socialism—although it will go even further, if faced squarely.

The real trouble is power—the answer to ‘the end of jobs’ will have to involve a lot of reasoning based on fairness, not on demand or need. Business owners, corporate board members, bosses of every kind will lose not just their petty tyranny over employees, but lose their power entirely—that power is based on capitalism and it will disappear along with it. It would be impossible to convince the one percent that they should surrender their power willingly—but ultimately they face a choice just as much as the rest of us. Workers are also customers—unemployed or underpaid workers can’t produce the revenue the one percent’s system is based on. So, while the worker faces the more immediate threat, the end-game involves us all.

We see the one-percenters tentatively embracing Ludditism—in the pushback against renewable energy and in the aforementioned union efforts to stop or slow automation in the workplace. We also see it in their transformation of our once wide-open avenues to higher education into overpriced preserves for the training of young one-percenters—and a source of mortgages paid on knowledge and accreditation by the rest of our children. But holding back technology and education will have no long-term effect on the coming changes—competition is also built into capitalism, so one way or the other, the whole paradigm is going to fail—has to fail, eventually. The only question is will we be enlightened about it, or we will make it into a fist-fight? Three guesses. And here’s a hint: Star Trek was fiction.

Music Monday (2016Apr25)


Monday, April 25, 2016                                          12:34 PM

Earlier in Western history, composers did not become famous as pop stars do today. Music in general did not get broadcast by any media. You knew the nursery rhymes of your neighborhood, the work songs, the dances, lullabies, love songs—folk music—but it wasn’t ‘folk’ to you, it was all of music, as far as you knew. Musicians had to spread their works on foot, like Johnny Appleseed, and many of them were popularizers of music, as much for their careers as for their love of music.

That is why there is a national flavor to each Old World country’s music—there really wasn’t a great deal of interaction between musicians who lived hundreds of miles away. We see composers, and later on, virtuoso performers, travel farther and reach more people, causing more concert halls and opera houses to be built, as transportation improves—until the invention of the phonograph and the radio begin to act as distributors of music, separate from the musicians themselves.

 

We think of classical music striving towards a greater freedom of expression, from the confining rigors of Gregorian chant to the wild liberty of the expressionists and the modernists—but that freedom was as much forced on them as fought for. Religious, political, and technological revolutions all caused upheavals in the norm, creating spaces where composers worked without the confinements of a generation earlier. That’s why we call the great composers geniuses instead of revolutionaries—they didn’t battle their way into new music, they discovered it within their imaginations. The tawdry battle between conservative and progressive music critics always lagged behind, creating a sense of resistance to change—but the musicians always simply filled a vacuum and left it to others to sort it out.

 

I’m always aghast at the contrast between old and current music—all those centuries of seeking the magic formula, the series of sounds that would thrill the audience—finally adding syncopation, blues notes, and latin rhythms to drive the excitement-level ever upwards—until the electric guitar came along, with that electronic buzz that satisfies people in a way that an entire symphony orchestra or big band never could, regardless of the composition of notes. Amplification added something unnatural as well—and suddenly four boys from Liverpool could fill Shea Stadium with adoring listeners.

It’s not that I hold it against rock and roll—I love the Beatles as much as the next member of my generation—it’s just so easy, it seems like cheating. The greenest beginner on an electric guitar can enthrall a roomful of music lovers—meanwhile a hundred musicians have to study for a lifetime to play a Stravinsky ballet suite—and it doesn’t have the drawing power of a Jimi Hendrix solo. People just love the alien sound of electronics—they can’t get enough of it. I think the “Switched-On Bach” album is probably Bach’s biggest sales hit of all time—and it’s because it was all performed on a Moog synthesizer.

 

It’s not as if electrification was the first music tech—keyboards were invented—bellows-driven organs, steam-driven calliopes, cranked hurdy-gurdies, paper-roll pianos, and spring-driven music boxes. And there’s the subtle plumbing that turned a pan pipe into a modern flute, a bugle into a trumpet—and all the mysterious varnishes and the carpentry of resonance that goes into making a fine string instrument—those Stradivariuses aren’t worth a king’s ransom for nothing. The modern piano-forte—what we call a concert Steinway these days—was such a masterwork of technology that many people link its emergence with the greatness of Beethoven’s piano sonatas—he was the first composer to have access to the modern version of a keyboard. He certainly makes use of its dynamic possibilities—no one could’ve written all those triple fortes and triple pianos for a harpsichord—or, at least, no one could play any dynamics without a hammer-action to control the volume.

Even today, music drives tech innovation—no musician is satisfied with what has come before—they’re always searching for something new—both in the music and in how it is played.

 

Have a good week.

Sharer of Hawaii Make Super Corals — Ultraphyte


In A Door into Ocean, the Sharers tend their entire planet, lifeshaping each apparently wild form of life to restore balance. The corals on the floating trees get helpful microbes, while the seaswallowers get lifeshaped (engineered) to resist the invaders’ poisons. Is that where we’re headed? Already our wilderness managers radio-tag every vertebrate in sight, monitoring […]

via Sharer of Hawaii Make Super Corals — Ultraphyte

Journal Entry (2016Apr23)


Friday, April 22, 2016                                              3:13 PM

I’m in a lot of pain today—Claire thinks it’s my sciatic nerve—all I know is it hurts like a mutha. I got a decent improv recording out of it this morning—maybe there’s something to this ‘artists must suffer’ business. I don’t know how much longer I can hold it together. I need stimulation. I need satisfaction. I need engagement. And, failing all of that, I definitely need some strong drugs. In that respect, I feel that I have plenty of company—the 99% have decided to get hooked on junk. The NY Times headline this morning said the suicide rate had hit a new high, across every demographic. Heroin addiction and suicide, at the top of the pops—that’s not a good sign.

First Bowie, now Prince—and a raft of other musical greats have past just recently—it’s as if the rapture had come, and it’s only for musicians. I don’t want to keep writing about current events—it’s so depressing.

I’d rather dwell on the past. There’s a new comedy out called “Bill”—it’s a farce about Shakespeare’s early days—and another film called “Tale of Tales” which seems to be based on the original, gorier Brothers Grimm fairy tales. Usually I go for that sort of stuff—I must be low on vitamins or something. “The Lady In The Van” is out on VOD now, too—but, again, I hesitate to watch it—Maggie Smith plays an old homeless lady—hard to imagine a ‘happy ever after’ to that story. And there’s a docudrama, “Nina”, about Nina Simone’s comeback, after her midlife descent into substance abuse and madness—at least that one gets the bad stuff up front—and there should be some great music in it.

I’ll watch them all, eventually, I guess—if I get stoned enough, one day. I can watch anything when I’m good and stoned—everything is so much better that way. Hell, I should be stoned right now—it’s not like it would make this post any worse.

Saturday, April 23, 2016                                          10:14 AM

Music hath charms, thank god—my savage breast is ready to grab a rifle and climb the clocktower. When sleep becomes elusive in the wee smalls, and pinched nerves tingle numbness into my hands, it can be a waking nightmare in which I fear darkness—and jealously hate all the sleepy people. In my extremity I turn the lights back on—all the lights—and sit up and light a smoke and turn the radio on. I’m tempted to make a lot of noise, to futz and bang—it seems so unfair that I should suffer insomnia and yet have to keep quiet so that others can sleep! But worst is the creeping dread, the primal fear of being imprisoned in wakeful reality that becomes more a madness the more sleep-deprived I become—until the terror triggers my adrenaline—now how am I supposed to get to sleep?

But, somewhere between three and four, I got lucky—and stayed asleep nearly six hours. I’ll take that, and call it a night’s sleep—some nights I get nothing but a sunrise. Who’d’ve thought a sunrise could be so horrible? But it’s true—a sunrise is only glorious when it’s woken up to. After a sleepless night, the sunrise is just a visual kick in the teeth.

And my teeth hurt—I need a dentist. And my sciatic nerve makes my hip and back hurt. I’m just miserable—someone needs to take me to Disneyworld—or give me a dose of OxyContin.

10:52 AM

The Rhode Islanders have become a problem for pollsters—their responses are invariably along the lines of being sick and tired of the election and having not the slightest interest in talking about it any further. This is the price pollsters pay for having their ‘product’ considered reportable news—we’ve been notified of every lift and dip in the polling numbers of all the candidates since early last year. It’s gotten to the point where it seems silly to talk about this being an election year—it’s been an election eternity. And I’ll tell you something—as of the day after election day, the first person that talks to me about the 2020 race is going to find themselves flat on their back with blood coming out their nose. I’m serious—this shit has got to stop.

When I think of all the hours and days of substantive discussion we could have had about our government, about legislation, about international affairs—instead of spending two whole years talking about that stupid billionaire—well, it’s a national disgrace. It’s an historic waste of time, of money, and of distraction from things that really matter. I’d say someone should go to prison over it—but the scum that bankrupted the nation in 2008 got off scot free, so why would I think the media would have to face any consequences for the damage they are causing. The news used to offer information—now they just peddle brain-death. I have a beautiful 56” Hi-Def Plasma TV—and lately I’ve been giving serious thought to chucking the damn thing into the front yard—as a statement and a warning to others—“This devil-box has no place in a person’s home”.

Back to the Drawing Board (2016Apr21)


Thursday, April 21, 2016                                        12:14 PM

Most everyone is pretty excited about Harriet Tubman being put on the face of the twenty-dollar bill as of 2020. The news did manage to find this one yahoo, who gave the standard line about how he ‘respected’ Harriet Tubman and all, but there’s such a thing as tradition. Where do they find these people? Yes, racism is an old and venerated tradition in this country—the Confederate flag is tradition—murdering black people in the name of law and order is a fine old tradition. What would we do without tradition? Assholes.

And, speaking of—ain’t it great that Putin is re-starting the Cold War? This jamoke is increasing submarine activity throughout the world’s oceans as (get this) a response to the increasing rivalry. Rivalry? You want to rival the U.S., Vlad? Try stocking your supermarkets. Try putting a car in every garage. Russia has the greatest natural resources on Earth—and it ought to, it’s the biggest chunk of dirt there is—but they persist in starving and blaming the outside world for it. All that money they spend on their military—who the fuck wants to invade Russia? I sure as hell wouldn’t even go there on vacation.

I mean, I love Tchaikovsky, Tolstoy, Rachmaninoff, Chagall—lots of great Russian artists—a fabulous culture. But it is a culture borne of sadness and suffering. I guess we shouldn’t blame them—how many millions did Stalin kill, after Hitler failed to kill them all, after the Revolution failed to starve them all to death? They’ve had a rough century. Yet, instead of bettering themselves at home, they continue to look for some sort of world domination. Let me tell ya something, Russia—the USA has ‘world domination’, and you can have it. While you’re blowing all your cash on submarines, we’re sending most of ours off to try to feed and vaccinate every ungrateful hell-hole the world has to offer. We barely have enough left over to pay for the fighter jets we don’t really need.

This rise in nationalism is a real throw-back—a sign that most of the world is being run by octogenarians who still think like we live in pre-industrial times. Troops don’t take a field of battle anymore. Drones rain down death from a game console in Dubuque. Zika-bearing mosquitos pose a greater existential threat to the Americas than any army could possibly mount. A teenager with an I-Pad could wipe the databases of every bank in the world. Fuck nationalism. And submarines? Nuclear-missile submarines? What the actual fuck, Russia?

Actually, wait a minute—let’s talk about submarines. They are enclosed ecosystems with complex technology—kind of like the world is becoming—and on a submarine, everyone works together—or they all die on the bottom of the ocean. Working together is a very smart thing to do. Maybe that’s why we don’t do it—people don’t like to do the smart thing. Maybe we should declare the Earth a space-submarine and draft everyone into a world navy—a little discipline and cooperation goes a long way. But the worst people always end up in charge of things—its nature’s way of keeping humans animals—oh well, back to the drawing board.