VOD Movie Reviews: “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” and “Kung Fu Panda 3”   (2016Jun29)

Whiskey Tango Foxtrot

Wednesday, June 29, 2016                                               1:01 AM

“Whiskey Tango Foxtrot” stars Tina Fey—I can’t think of any previous dramatic film role, unless you want to count “This Is Where I Leave You” (2014) which was a dramedy—a humorous take on a serious subject. And there is certainly humor in “Whiskey Tango Foxtrot”—though it has rare moments of comic relief rather than an overarching comedic tone. So it would be stretching things to claim that Ms. Fey has suddenly dived into dramatic roles. Still, it would be wrong to overlook her jumping decisively into this wholly dramatic role with both feet—and sticking the landing, IMHO.

Tina Fey’s performing career is just a late bloomer, I guess. She did a whole lot of writing before she became a well-known SNL cast member—I’m not an expert on her career arc, but to take on a serious movie role for the first time, a few years after winning the 2012 Mark Twain Prize for her life’s work in virtually every aspect of the comedic side of the entertainment industry—that’s taking one’s time in developing an acting career.

I don’t know much about Kim Barker, either—I haven’t even read her war-correspondent memoir “The Taliban Shuffle: Strange Days in Afghanistan and Pakistan”, on which the film is based. I’m both tempted to go and read it now, having seen the movie, and reluctant to go even deeper into the troubling truths being confronted in the film.

There’s the ‘big picture’ stuff, like how our military can fight and bleed in a faraway country while the citizens at home can’t even be bothered to hear about it on the news. And there’s the personal, like how a woman can find herself trapped between the opposing extremities of being an invisible desk drone—or doing stand-up reports amidst flying bullets and shrapnel. In the end I was left with the impression that the big, cold world is more pervasively evil than the discrete violence of a war zone. In spite of my penchant for happy, sappy, ever-after-type movies, I enjoyed being fed this more serious fare, with Tina Fey as the spoonful of sugar that made it go down.


Being sixty years old, I was, of course, embarrassed to watch “Kung Fu Panda 3” all by myself—this stuff was much easier to explain when the kids were small. But I loved it—sue me, I’m a sucker for a good animated film. And I was reminded that these films are serious business when the end credits listed the voice actors (most of whom spoke in all three films): Jack Black, Bryan Cranston, Dustin Hoffman, Angelina Jolie, J.K. Simmons, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu, David Cross, Kate Hudson, James Hong, Wayne Knight, and Jean-Claude Van Damme. Try making a live-action movie with a cast like that—it’d be a hundred-million-dollar budget before you even began shooting. Angelina Jolie must have enjoyed the recording sessions the most—all of her and Brad’s kids are also voice-credited in the film.

I know that the messages in these kid films are simplistic—but I still believe in teaching kids to care, even with a silly movie. When Po sacrifices himself to save the whole village, it cuts a little close to the edge—the authors of the New Testament may have a case for plagiarism there—but he returns from the ‘world of the spirit’ (falling on his butt upon landing) so we are left with the ‘out’ of interpreting the whole thing as ‘clever strategy’, rather than a re-telling of The Messiah, so no harm done.

I think I favor the Kung Fu Panda franchise because its fantasies always have two components—the traditional threat of a big, mean bad-guy, and the search for wisdom as a means of defending against the impending evil. Po spends equal amounts of screen time worrying over the enemy’s arrival and his struggles to please his teachers and learn the lessons he’s being taught. He doesn’t go looking for a great weapon or go on a quest to destroy the one ring—he always goes looking for wisdom. I like that.

Wakey-Wakey   (2016Jun28)

Tuesday, June 28, 2016                                            10:26 AM

I’m sick of it—every time one of my Facebook friends posts a new bit about the disgrace that is Trump, some jackhole responds with a comment like, “But Hillary is a big, fat liar.” First of all, genius—Hillary’s state of grace has zero to do with all that’s wrong about Trump, so that response is worthy of a three-year-old brat—and changes nothing in the area of Trump being an embarrassment—only slightly less of one than the absolutely mortifying numbers of supporters who can’t think straight enough to see through him. Secondly, it is Hillary’s accusers who are the liars.

What did yesterday’s Benghazi Report tell us? One—it told us that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton did nothing wrong—and she certainly never refused assistance to Americans in peril. Two—it told us that the months (and the millions of dollars) spent investigating and re-investigating the Benghazi incident failed to produce anything new—that, basically, no matter how badly her detractors wanted to find it, there was zero fault to be found with Clinton’s handling of a bad situation. I won’t even get into the fact that everyone is ignoring the true lessons that came of the investigation—that there is no big hullbaloo about revising State Department protocols in the wake of this tragedy.

And the email server—what have we learned there? We’ve learned that Hillary made a mistake, that she apologized for it, and that not a single bit of classified intelligence was ever leaked due to her mistake. But did Hillary go on to make mistake after mistake, like her idiot opponent—or did her witch-hunters latch onto the email server simply because Hillary’s mistakes are so rare? If she was as incompetent as they would have us believe, wouldn’t they have a wider menu to choose from?

I find it disheartening to see the parade of accusations and attacks on Hillary Clinton, all of which are either disproved entirely, or found to be minimal lapses unworthy of such outrage—and yet we never turn to her accusers and say, ‘Stop lying.’ No—years and years of their shameless misrepresentations go unindicted, while even somewhat-sensible people start to ask themselves if they can trust one of our most dedicated public servants. It’s madness. They’re like a bunch of monkeys hurling feces around and blaming her for the stink.

In 1977, the young lawyer Hillary co-founded the non-profit Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families. Two years later she became the First Lady of Arkansas. You know the rest of the story—a lifetime of public service. That’s an entire lifetime of looking out for children’s welfare, of advocating for women’s rights, and of fighting for social justice and national security. That people can nit-pick at her occasional imperfections, as if none of her achievements meant anything, insults our intelligence. And I defy you whiners and bullies—name a single act in Trump’s life when he did anything for anyone but himself—when he even considered the public welfare over his personal gain. The idea that this moron could have people willing to elect him president makes my head want to explode.

Lastly, our mealy-mouthed national disgrace, the presumptive GOP nominee, has suggested that Hillary is somehow complicit in her husband’s scandal. Try this—go to any of the millions of Americans whose spouses have cheated on them—tell them that it’s their fault—tell’em that they’re to blame—go ahead and try that—but don’t forget to duck.

I don’t know which sickens me more—their baseless attacks on a great American like Hillary, or their joyful embrace of the sickest, most vile and divisive piece of offal that has ever gotten national exposure. If you are a Trump supporter, I hate to be the one to tell you this—but you are gullible, confused, uninformed, and a cheerleader for your own destruction—wake the fuck up.

Diminishing Returns   (2016Jun27)

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Monday, June 27, 2016                                            11:20 AM

Diminishing returns—that’s what I’m dealing with here. My hands shake, my vision is blurry, my head is all kinds of discombobulated. I’m weak. I’m short of breath. I get kinda squirrely whenever I have to talk to people in person—I just get into a loop, second-guessing myself and them—basically, I’ve just lost the ability to deal. I used to be a shut-in because I didn’t have the strength to walk around—now, I think I hide indoors because I know that regularly interacting with people will expose my insanity and get me committed.

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Smoking is a problem—I shouldn’t smoke, of course. But I don’t have that much else to amuse myself with—being damn-near dead—so it’s hard for me to rationalize quitting to save my life. What life, without a smoke to pass the time?

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Loved ones—sure, I have those. But they have actual lives—they’re busy, they’re engrossed in their own stuff—and any leaning on them takes away from that. I think one person stuck in a frustrating place is sufficient—I can’t see dragging them into this. The paradox of age and infirmity—I’m supposed to be all that more grateful for my continued existence, even as it loses more and more of the features that constitute an actual life. When people congratulate someone on reaching their ninetieth birthday, all I can think is ‘That poor bastard—what must his day be like?’

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Not that I’m promoting euthanasia—I’m not paging Dr. Kevorkian. It’s just that younger, healthier people think of old age as ‘extra additional years’, as if their seniority will be as full and engaging as their thirties or forties. But it’s really a matter of diminishing returns—to a certain extent, we fade before we die. And fading isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, I’m still breathing and I’m still watching TV and eating my breakfast every morning—but I’m used to more than that, or I was—I want more than that.

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Pain? Yes, certainly. I mean, it’s not like someone amputated one of my limbs or anything—but there’s definitely pain. The headaches are the worst because it makes it hard to think of something else—which is my go-to remedy for other pains. But let’s face it, with the back spasms, the stiff neck, the random nerve pains and restless leg—thinking about something else only gets me so far for so long. The gas pains from my messed-up guts are usually the sharpest—sometimes the cry coming out of my mouth is the first notice I have, it’s so sudden. I usually try to morph it into a sentence, as in “AAH-ow ya doin’ this afternoon?”—just so I don’t scare people into worrying about me.

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My close acquaintance with my old friend, pain, makes me a big fan of OTC pain relief—my favorites are aspirin and ibuprofen. But those things only work for a short time—and the next day, I have nerve-endings that are even tenderer from the after-effects. I reach the point where it’s impossible to up the dosage any higher, and the pain is that much worse—it’s a dead-end solution with a high price-tag. Stronger drugs are out of the question—the same cycle, with far greater costs and risks.

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My life is so sedentary I spend most of my time watching TV—and it embarrasses me. TV is such a festival of stupid. So I turn it off and start reading. A few hours later, the pain behind my eyes reminds me why I don’t read like I used to—it’s amazing how much physical effort it takes to read. I used to think it was the most relaxing thing in the world—how healthy I must have been!

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Here are three poems I stole off a few poetry sites:

Cacoethes Scribendi

Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.


If all the trees in all the woods were men;

And each and every blade of grass a pen;

If every leaf on every shrub and tree

Turned to a sheet of foolscap; every sea

Were changed to ink, and all earth’s living tribes

Had nothing else to do but act as scribes,

And for ten thousand ages, day and night,

The human race should write, and write, and write,

Till all the pens and paper were used up,

And the huge inkstand was an empty cup,

Still would the scribblers clustered round its brink

Call for more pens, more paper, and more ink.

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The Birthnight

Walter de la Mare


Dearest, it was a night

That in its darkness rocked Orion’s stars;

A sighing wind ran faintly white

Along the willows, and the cedar boughs

Laid their wide hands in stealthy peace across

The starry silence of their antique moss:

No sound save rushing air

Cold, yet all sweet with Spring,

And in thy mother’s arms, couched weeping there,

Thou, lovely thing.

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Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844 – 1889


I awoke in the Midsummer not to call night, in the white and the walk of the morning:

The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe of a finger-nail held to the candle,

Or paring of paradisaïcal fruit, lovely in waning but lustreless,

Stepped from the stool, drew back from the barrow, of dark Maenefa the mountain;

A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him, entangled him, not quit utterly.

This was the prized, the desirable sight, unsought, presented so easily,

Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, eyelid and eyelid of slumber.

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Why poems? I don’t know—it just came up. Poems are nice—when they’re short enough. I used to read epic poetry—whole books of the stuff—I don’t have that kind of concentration anymore. I own many different English translations of the Iliad and the Oddysey—I prefer the ones that don’t go too ‘prose’ and don’t go too ‘lyric poetry’—it’s difficult to retain just enough of the poetry of it that you don’t lose the pace of the storytelling—a subtle balancing act, which is why there are so many versions. I wonder what it must be like in the original Ancient Greek?

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I always wish I’d learned more languages. Languages are the most liberal-arts thing there is—it’s hard to see how they can be of practical use, yet those who learn them have a great mental advantage over the monolinguist. I studied French in high school and college—I never became fluent because I never used it. But even in an English-speaking environment, I’ve run across some Latin roots and French phrases that are gobbledy-gook to other people—so it wasn’t a complete waste. It’s still the easiest way to be the smartest person in the room—knowing a language that no one else does, when that language pops up. And wouldn’t it be nice to watch a foreign film and not have to read the captions?

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I got a new TV recently—I switched to LCD because my old Plasma screen acted as both television and space heater—very convenient in winter, but a real pain in the ass come summertime. My old buddy, Flippy, came by today to take the old monster off my hands—I hope he’s going to use it in a well-ventilated area. It was a huge, expensive TV, so I’m happy that it didn’t end up in the junk pile.

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The new TV is disappointing—I bought a 32′ diagonal Sony LCD because I figured if I moved it closer to the bed (the big one was all the way across the room) it would have the same apparent size as the big one. But Sony tricked me—the screen is 32″, but the picture is much smaller, unless I go full zoom, which fills the screen but makes the picture grainier. Consumerism is such a bait-and-switch con game. Plus, the TV was surprisingly inexpensive, until I realized that I now need a sound system for it (the old, big one had it built-in) and the sound systems price out at about the same price as the new TV! So now, instead of being happy with my purchase, I’m watching a tinier screen with tinnier sound. Argggh!

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One good thing about the new TV is that it’s Wi-Fi enabled. That means I can switch to Netflix or Hulu—I can even watch myself on my YouTube channel videos—that’s pretty cool.

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Okay, here’s one of my favorite Bach pieces:

and since it’s a really nice composition, and I don’t play it that well, here’s the link for Glenn Gould, playing the same piece, but properly–and beautifully:


Think Fast—Too Slow! (2016Jun25)

Saturday, June 25, 2016                                           5:40 PM

Think Fast—Too Slow!   (2016Jun25)

Politics is so complicated! We’re seeing two kinds of Trump spokesperson making the news-talk rounds. The first type of Trump- spokesperson, as you’d expect, is the flaming yahoo, wielding a sword of misinformation and a shield of denial—a true-believer whose gonna win that argument because God told them so (or whatever voice is in their heads). The second type of Trump- spokesperson is the slick old PR veteran who debates with their wits, their ethics (if any) firmly under lock-down.

I’d like to see one of each get accidentally booked for the same panel—It’d be a hoot to see them get confused and start contradicting each other. Contradiction is a mainstay of any campaign—but when I look closely I seem to see a difference in those who defend their stance based on well-thought-out arguments discovered in the course of looking for real answers—and those who have ‘picked’ a side and are just trying to win the argument. Now, winning the argument is the bottom line—and there are many arguments won by the simple expedient of out-shouting the opposition—so we see both sides trying to win however they can.

The difference is in what you don’t hear. The side that’s thought through their position will grudgingly admit to things that can’t be denied. The side that’s all about winning will never admit to anything, no matter how obviously true it might be. That seems to be the easiest way to tell where someone is coming from. If you’ll admit to something damaging and then try to move on, you’ve got your eyes on some future prize—if you never give an inch, even when it’s ridiculous not to, you’re just trying to win—and, of course, you’re relying on the voters being too slow to see through you.

It Was Easy   (2016Jun23)

Thursday, June 23, 2016                                          4:33 PM

We had it easy—our biggest worry, back in the day, was the commies shooting off their ICBMs and making a crater of the globe (with the help of our retaliatory strikes, of course). But it was called MAD for two reasons—the obvious acronym, Mutually-Assured Destruction—but also because it was literally madness even to contemplate—and everyone knew it. We could worry about a madman getting hold of a bomb and starting something that would quickly get out of hand—but that was a long shot, mentioned mostly in novels of the ‘thriller’ variety. And no one seriously expected our governments to find any rational use for their nuclear arsenals—MAD, remember? Purely defensive, or so we would have it—don’t start none, won’t be none.

We didn’t worry about the environment—most of the pollution, and all of the data, would come later. Rachel Carson had made an iron-clad research project out of proving that the American Bald Eagle and other birds were endangered by the use of DDT as a pesticide, which caused egg-shell thinning and premature hatching. But we all took “Silent Spring” as a special case, a one-off complication. We were still fine with lead paint and asbestos insulation. Even the ecologically-minded were unaware of the build-up of consequences our civilization was beginning to have on our environment, and on ourselves.

We didn’t worry about energy—gas was pennies to the gallon—‘cruising’, the act of driving one’s car around just for fun, was a popular tradition among American teens—we wouldn’t have our first gas shortage until 1976. And even as we worried over OPECs surprising stranglehold on oil production, our concern was mainly over reliable supply-lines and the economic implications of foreign-oil dependence. Catalytic converters were invented only to reduce smog in crowded, car-choked cities—we were still decades away from any concerns over carbon-footprints and greenhouse gasses.

We didn’t worry about recycling—the first recycling drives were reliant on the need to do something with all the garbage—we were busy picking up trash along the highways or vacant lots and it all had to go somewhere. Lots of it was bottles and cans—and so a push began to make them all deposit-return containers—to compensate the collectors. Recycling as a concept, as a way to mitigate against runaway consumption, came later.

We were focused on trying to “Make America Beautiful”. At the time, it was considered more important to raise the fines and enforce the laws against littering—doing something with all that trash that used to line the highways came much later. I can still remember a time when, on family trips, the end of a fast-food meal was the act of jettisoning all the trash out the car window, at speed. Nor did we have to undo our seatbelts to do it—nobody wore those things. Of course, without them, or a speed limit, Americans on the highways were dropping like flies. Today’s highway fatalities, while still the number four killer, are nothing compared to our old stats—today’s roads are baby-proofed in comparison.

We had worries—sure. But we trusted our leaders. We thought the world too big to be vulnerable to our industry. We thought that faraway people who hated the USA only affected our travel plans, not our national security. Everyone watched the same TV shows—everyone listened to the same radio stations—we were connected as a culture. And we still felt that oppressing women and minorities and the disabled was just the way of the world—and being gay was still the ‘love that dare not speak its name’. It wasn’t right—but boy, was it simpler. The fine judgments of the politically correct were still decades away—on the other hand, we didn’t laugh at its complexity yet, either. We were still busy trying to laugh it off, deride it back into invisibility.

Part of our difficulty with the present is that our many problems, and our social progress, contribute equally to the growing complexity of life. Complexity is a big problem. You give everyone a computer network that they can carry in their pocket and what do they do with it? Well, some of us plan trips to Mars, sure—but most of us use it to meet for drinks or play games. You offer greater complexity to the human race and only a few will dive in—the rest will look for the ‘easy’ exit, like Twitter, Snapchat, or Angry Birds.

Complexity is a deceptive indicator—we don’t want our problems to become more complex, but we are okay with the needs of social justice making our interaction more complex. Well, perhaps we’re not ‘okay’ with it, not all of us, certainly—but we accept its inevitability. It stands to reason that making sure we override our assumptions, forcing the equality of persons who may have never enjoyed equal status—is a complex process. The political correctness of our speech is nothing compared to the complexities of legislating equal rights, not to mention enforcing that legislation. And all of this is working against the inertia of generations of handed-down bias and hate.

Certainly it would be easier to get rid of all that hate—then we wouldn’t need to legislate social justice. But some things need to be brought out in the open—people can be childishly secretive, especially when their hearts tell them there’s something not quite right about their behavior. Domestic abuse, child abuse, corporal punishment—these things are still problems that trouble us—but the numbers are way down. Not so long ago, beating your spouse or your children—that was a personal decision you made behind the privacy of your own front door. And if things got bad enough that the authorities became involved, they turned a blind eye to whatever madness the head-of-the-household was indulging in. Now it is recognized as the felony it always should have been—and for the most part is treated that way (though pockets of ignorance persist).

My point is that if such obvious evil has traditionally been hugged to the patriarchs’ bosoms throughout most of history—if denying them that outrageousness is so relatively new—then we can see how much more difficult it is to try to limit prejudice and bias (merely mental violence) in our daily lives. The fact that some people ridicule political correctness just demonstrates how small they see that evil as being. They target the most progressive view possible, which admittedly can often have paradoxes and growing pains from being so new a concept—and deride the least thought-out aspects of it, as if that negated the value of social justice itself. Niggling whiners—they cherry-pick the weakest faults of the new, yet have beams in their eyes when it comes to the monstrous faults of the familiar, old ways.

Evil has time on its side—and tradition. Human civilization grows like a goat-path, retaining every kink and twist of its caveman days—the push for social justice is an attempt to straighten some of those pathways. And not only because it is right—though it is justice we seek—but also because society is more efficient when it affords choice and opportunity to every individual, when the weak are not oppressed by the powerful.

Human nature is on the side of evil—we are naturally greedy, selfish, and demanding creatures. The history of legislation is the history of people trying to outmaneuver the rules—so of course it becomes very complicated. Everyone has got an excuse why they should be exempt from the sacrifices implicit in fairness. Even those who benefit from new legislation will sometimes seek ways to get more than their fair share of opportunity. We are none of us saints—even the downtrodden have urges. Make a rule, any rule—and you’ll find you need to make five more, to modify the first—then ten more, to modify the other five.

In truth, legislation only enables the bare bones of justice—it is only when our culture has absorbed the spirit of the law and begun to live in that spirit, that the rules work properly—and, ironically, that’s when the rules become extraneous, their job completed. Take seat belts—people began using them to avoid getting a ticket—now they do it for safety, and teach their children to use them, too.

Even seat belts have their complexity. At the advent of seat-belt legislation, many complained that wearing the original lap-belt was as likely to cause harm as prevent it. The head rest and the shoulder strap were added, which made seat belts effective safety measures under virtually any conditions. It wasn’t until after these improvements that seat belt legislation could be enforced (because the cops could see the shoulder strap)—but it also made wearing seat belts the sensible thing to do.

Yes, everything was easier in the old days—but not better. We often yearn for simpler times—but they were simpler because they were dumber—we were dumber. Nobody used to use a keyboard—except stenos, secretaries, bookkeepers, and keyboard players—we wrote things down with a pencil—and if we needed two copies, we wrote it down twice. Nobody knew how to connect up wires on appliances—if appliances needed wires, they came with—or an expert installed them. Now toddlers hook up their own video game consoles. People used to disappear from our lives forever—just by moving far away. If you really wanted to, you could write them a letter (with your pencil), glue a stamp on it—and a bunch of people would pass it back and forth until it ended up in a mailbox. Imagine. You can still do that, you know—I wonder if anyone does?

We didn’t worry about climate change—oh, it was happening—we just didn’t have a bunch of satellites collecting sensor readings on the atmosphere over years of time—or recording time-lapse proof of the shrinking of the polar ice and the glaciers. All of that information is very new—which is why backward-looking folks can pretend it isn’t real. Old folks call it new-fangled—but new-fangled information is still data—it won’t go away—we can never go back. Yet it’s hard to blame them for trying—I’d like to go cruising again, myself.

Be Leaders   (2016Jun22)

Wednesday, June 22, 2016                                               9:27 PM

I was criticizing a Brexit supporter online today, telling him that it made more sense to remain in the Union and work for change from within, rather than turning away and making the problems bigger through greater fragmentation. I suggested that they ‘be leaders’.

It wasn’t until after I made the comment and logged off that I began to think about what I meant. At first I figured I was just projecting—isn’t that how we Americans feel, that we need to lead by example? Sure, we’ve lost sight of that, or at least our government has—preferring to lead by intimidation, diplomacy, and military intervention—but our ideal is that we lead the world forward by exemplifying how much better things can be if we all get on the civilization bus.

But in considering that, I realized that there’s a more ‘boots on the ground’ aspect to leadership. We see it in the extraordinary stranglehold the NRA has on gun control legislation—and even on CDC studies of gun violence. This tiny group of followers show up for every meeting, every hearing, every vote—while the other 97% of us quietly bemoan the problem as we stare at our TV screens.

But the gun control problem is just the worst-case example of how small groups of activists can jam up our legislative machinery. The other lobbyists do equally people-unfriendly things—giving breaks to corporations, cutting off compensation for those wronged by corporations, strangling important agencies of safety regulation, turning a blind eye to Wall Street excesses, closing women’s health care centers—the list is long and daunting. Rust never sleeps.

And yet for most of us, the issue of politics boils down to ‘getting out the vote’. I think it’s clear now—voting is the first baby step. Voting only has real power when it is the end of our involvement, not the sole locus of our contact with it. When Bernie Sanders told his followers recently to run for office, he was saying something similar—just being a voter isn’t enough. There are dark forces out there—and they are doing much more than just voting every four years—they’re working all the time.

Leadership is involvement—involvement is leadership. The old analog process of town hall meetings may be passé. The NRA and other corporate lobbyists may have deep war chests. But if the Tunisians or the Egyptians, with nothing but the internet and some cell phones, can overthrow their governments, then we can certainly have some influence over our government, too. The only difference is the level of involvement. And if you think we are any less faced with demagoguery as an alternative, you haven’t been paying attention.

Bach and Dr. Seuss   (2016Jun20)

Monday, June 20, 2016                                            1:09 PM

Dr. Seuss on Gun Control

We are born and we live—we love and we give

We believe what we wish and we think sometimes too

Sometimes we are faithful and sometimes, untrue

When we are not peaceful we’re provocative

People are silly—just watch them and see

People get ugly—you know they can be

People like laughing—it’s such a relief

But then we like fighting—and that causes grief

People are silly—if I wasn’t one

I’d say let them all walk around with a gun

I wouldn’t even mind taking a bullet from one

If I didn’t have a wife, a daughter, and a son.


(please note: this poem is in the style of Dr. Seuss, not actually by him.)

It’s a lazy day. Happy summer. I recorded one of Bach’s French Suites. Ordinarily I wouldn’t bother posting it, but I want to forget about the troll that bugged me a few days ago, so I’m posting more classical music videos. This one is no better than that one, because I don’t play all that good—but I hereby declare that to be okay. Anyone that doesn’t like it—doesn’t have to watch it.

I also managed an improv. The set-to with the troll took my mind off my biggest problem, which has nothing to do with my playing bad classical music. I’ve always played classical music badly. I usually tell myself that it’s background research—I only play the classical for practice—to get ideas and improve my technique—for when I improvise. Because I’ve been pleased with my growth in that area—some of my improvs are quite listenable.

I know this because I burn CDs and listen to them while lying around or reading. I started doing that way back when I was still using a Sony cassette recorder and never posted anything. The idea was to hear myself in playback and see what I sounded like to another person. I learned a lot—enough so that, at some point, I actually began to enjoy listening to my own CDs. They still couldn’t stack up against store-bought music, but they were good enough that, when factoring in that I had made them myself, it was nice to listen to.

But lately I don’t know. I’ve always sounded kinda the same, but I was always trying new things. I think lately the problem is that I’ve accumulated a bunch of ‘tricks’ that I like, and I use them too much—it’s getting repetitive. So I’ve recorded some improvs lately that I didn’t think were good enough to share online because they’re just too much like stuff I’ve already posted. I don’t know, maybe it’s just getting old. I have been improvising for like thirty five years by now—maybe I’ve just reached my peak and I don’t have it in me to do any better.

Anyhow, for today’s recordings’ titles, I recycled my drawings from the last post—I’m not making many new drawings, so I have to make the most of what’s left in my old archives.



Journal Entry (2016Jun19)


Thursday, June 16, 2016                                          4:43 PM

This rush to the gun stores—I don’t get it—how often are these peoples’ homes being invaded? Just how primitive is life outside of Westchester? Westchester has people who feel the need for self-defense, too—where is this fear coming from?

There’s a dichotomy to civilization—we create communities that are stable, where you don’t have to have a gunfight to survive, where you can walk down the street with a high degree of certainty that you won’t be attacked. People like me take that at face value—and reason that introducing firearms into the environment only increases the danger. But then we start to imagine that people might sneak around and break in and rob us, rape us, or kill us. We start to think that our lives are at risk. But I find it hard to maintain that paranoia against the lack of anything like that ever happening in my neighborhood. That stuff doesn’t happen where I live—or if it happens, it’s less frequent than a bolt of lightning.

There are places where violence is common. That’s different—I can’t speak to that, because I have no idea what it’s like. But I am among the vast majority of people living in developed countries where violence is rare and quickly attended to. And for people like me, owning a gun is just asking for trouble—it’s unlikely to be needed, and far too likely to cause problems simply by being there.

It’s not a dichotomy so much as a distancing of ourselves—the world is still a place of terrible struggle, with war and poverty stalking the earth. Our protected pockets of civility exist by virtue of military defense preventing encroachment by the barbarous hordes—and civilian police who are (mostly) restrained against oppression of their charges. In other words, we understand that our peace is built on fighting happening elsewhere—and that, therefore, violence is still useful and necessary—just not where we live.


But having created these areas of ease and civility, shouldn’t we use them as such? We are in no danger of becoming the Eloi to the Morlocks of violence—when we have these mass shootings, we also often see formerly peaceful residents become, in an instant, people who risk their lives, and sometimes give their lives, to defend those around them. What we have not yet seen is anyone who is carrying and has the presence of mind to return fire. So what does that tell you about guns and self-defense?

I’m in no hurry for my chance to find out if I have a hero inside me—but I will face that when and if. What I won’t do is spend a lifetime preparing for my worst imaginings, pumping myself up for a battle that isn’t being fought.

It’s totally logical, you know. In a race, looking back, looking around for your rivals—that’s the worst thing you can do. You want to drive forward completely focused on the goal. Equally, in life you want to focus on the goals ahead—any time you spend being petty towards others is a waste of effort and it can even make you lose your stride. If you face the world openly, gladly, and without malice, you create less friction in your passage—you might even get others to wish you well and support you. That’s how I see it—and even if I have built this rationale on a personality that is naturally disposed that way, that doesn’t negate its efficacy.

I’m uncomfortable around people—but even I know that being generally positive about things is the easy way to get along with others. There are times when I’m forced to disagree or contradict—and I’m all too eager to do that—but I have learned that, even then, the minimum amount of conflict is to be sought. I have to restrain my killer instinct, or I run the risk of making a worse wrong of being ‘right’. Arguing can do that to people—and I am one of the worst offenders in that regard.


It’s fairly simple to turn that around—to make the point that wrong must be attacked with vigor and stomped into the ground, even when it’s hard on people—but I still maintain that it is the wrong that needs stomping, not the person. When Senators Tim Scott and Lindsay Graham spoke before the Senate today, they both cited the stunning character of last year’s church-shooting victims’ family survivors, when they forgave the man who killed their relatives in open court.

And when you examine our prison problem, you see its roots in our stubborn insistence that prison continue, as in darker, more ignorant times, to be punishment and not rehabilitation. I am not the only one who gets carried away with a sense of vindication—but there are people of such strength of character that they can rise above their passion. I’d rather those people had the so-many-millions of twitter-followers that lesser beings accumulate—but then, they probably have better things to do than tweet.


Friday, June 17, 2016                                               11:42 AM

So there I am, just doodling along, enjoying my peaceful life—and then this stranger posts a derisive comment on my YouTube post, laughing at how badly I play Mendelssohn on the piano. Now, I know I’m not going to win any prizes for my piano playing—but I don’t need to be laughed at by strangers-what the hell?

They say life is a competition—and I suppose that’s true. But in many ways and in many cases, life is a competition because we make it one. And we prefer to compete with people we know we can beat—come on now—is that really competition, or is that just bullying? I play the piano—I’m not naturally gifted—I play because I enjoy the challenge. Finding someone worse, and laughing at them is not a challenge—it’s easy—and it’s sad. Pitiful, really.

I felt bullied, so I reported his comment as bullying. I’m glad that YouTube has that function—though I’m a little concerned that the guy’s YouTube channel might get wiped. Then again, I didn’t ask for his ridicule—and if his life’s work gets erased just because he picked on me, well, maybe he’ll think twice next time. We live and we learn. Who’s laughing now?

I get so upset at random, unnecessary cruelty that it gets me crazy—I can’t stop obsessing over the question of why someone would just add random ugliness to the universe. I guess it makes him feel better about himself—better than if he gave compliments to the pianists that are better than him. I really don’t know—it mystifies me. And, of course, I’d like to kick him in the face—cowards from the other side of the Atlantic Ocean can insult strangers all too easily, safe in the knowledge that they can’t be found and confronted. I’d love to surprise him on his doorstep—I may not play piano well, but I bet I can kick his ass.

Still, that would be as unnecessary as his rudeness—because twisted trolls like that are punished by their own existence. He may have sent a tiny parcel of hate my way, but he’s soaking in it. Happiness, for him, is a long ways off—and not getting any nearer anytime soon.




Saturday, June 18, 2016                                           8:56 AM

I’m An Asshole   (2016Jun18)

I can be such an asshole. I’ve tried to train myself to be a nice guy, but it’s a very thin façade. As soon as someone is an asshole to me, I turn right back into one myself and give back as bad as I get. And I wanted so much to believe I am a nice guy. Sure, you think I’m a nice guy—but you’ve never been mean to me. Whenever someone is mean to me, I spend hours, days, obsessing over how I can be even meaner right back. That’s not nice—but it is me. I’m like a colony of fire ants—ordinarily, I’m just a lump in the dirt—but if you kick a hole in it, all these vicious little insects start crawling around looking for something to bite.

Poor impulse control? An overdeveloped sense of vengeance? Plain old spitefulness? Or perhaps all three. I’m frustrated by the enormous gulf between who I want to be and who I really am. Sure, if everyone just leaves me alone—or if everyone says only nice things to me—I can keep it together. But that doesn’t really count—it’s how you respond under pressure that’s the true test of character. The worst part of it is deciding that my tormentor is a miserable excuse for a human being, then realizing I’ve been goaded into being just as bad, or worse. I start by hating them and end up hating myself.

Let’s see if I can’t shift some of the blame—maybe that’ll make me feel better. What is the return on insulting strangers? Why should someone I don’t know decide, ‘hey, let’s ruin this guy’s day by crapping all over his posts’? Shouldn’t I show up on their doorstep, introduce myself, and kick their asses? How else are they ever going to learn? Sometimes I reason that the troll is surely bullying lots of people—and he’s picked the wrong guy this time. I tell myself that they need to be responded to, if only for the other victims who are too hurt to respond, too insecure to reject the facile judgments of some online brat. That makes sense, doesn’t it?


But then I start to question my motives—am I just latching onto an excuse to vent my own anger? Is this guy some broken, twisted nightmare who will only get worse from all the scorn I send his way? Still, when challenged, I feel obligated to fight back.

There’s a big paradox to this—and it extends beyond this particular scenario. Whenever someone is a miserable person, there’s a pretty good chance they’ve been made miserable by people or circumstances. Their personalities have been deformed by abuse of some kind—do I really want to add some more bad vibes? But then, having been molded into monsters, can I really just ignore the abuse they direct toward myself or others?

It’s like crime. To a certain extent, one could make the argument that all crime is insanity—a person who does anti-social stuff has been made to think it’s acceptable to commit crimes—by want, by abuse, by desperation. By the standards of a law-abiding citizen like myself, they’ve lost control of themselves—and that’s insanity. By the same token, all prisons should function primarily as mental hospitals—the inmates are only there because their minds have failed to register the need to meet society’s minimum standards of behavior.

But most people are as bad as I am—we think, ‘well, they did something bad—they should be punished—we’ll worry about their state of mind later’. That’s sloppy thinking—and even sloppier ethics. And where does it get us? Overcrowded prisons whose only rehabilitation programs are sodomy and gang initiation. Yeah, that’ll work.


Sunday, June 19, 2016                                             10:56 AM

Father’s Day   (2016Jun19)

What a great day. The sun is shining. I got presents from my wife and kids. I had a pretty good morning session at the piano (sorry, no recording). I’ve been playing from a songbook “Happiness is… Italian Songs”, a gift from my good friend Randy. Today I discovered it included ‘Cosi Cosa’, which you Marx Bros. fans might remember from the shipboard-feast scene in “A Night At The Opera”. A few of these songs also have grace notes and whatnot that make me feel like I’m channeling Chico at the piano—I’m really a sucker for Italian popular songs.

It may be simply a welcome contrast to a lifetime of Irish songs, my heritage on my father’s side—both he and his own father were prone to sing in a fine Irish tenor—‘Danny Boy’, ‘Irish Eyes Are Smiling’, etc. My dad would sometimes get an entire bar or restaurant full of people to sing along, after a nice meal and a few drinks. As a boy it embarrassed me, but as I got older I realized there was a certain magic to it. And his dad actually sang for loose change in bars sometimes, during the Depression when there was no other work to be found. My grandmother would describe how my infant father slept under one of the tables as his father entertained.

It is impossible to be a father without feeling the obligation to be the strong man, the defender, the provider—and those instincts struggle mightily under the onus of disability. My wife and kids have cared for me through many years of illness—and I’m very grateful—but it’s hard to maintain any self-respect as a complete dependent. I don’t recommend it. But what a great family I have!


A note on the artwork: The eight drawings used in this post are scans of old drawings from back in my still-healthy-enough-to-draw-a-straight-line days. I had lost too much fine motor control to do fine art, but I could still do cartoons, flyers, and illustrations. Some of these are from the bittersweet final years of still hanging on to my job–so I’m nostalgic about them for two reasons.

Confusion About Violence   (2016Jun16)

Thursday, June 16, 2016                                          10:00 AM

Some motherfucker has commented on my YouTube post of one of Mendelssohn’s ‘Songs Without Words’ saying, “What a laugh! lol.” So I went to his YouTube channel to see what he was about—he had a post of the same piece, which he played very well, liked a trained pianist. My recording was definitely inferior—I don’t play very well—but I still didn’t understand why he felt the need to deride me—who made him the Internet Music Police, anyway?

Maybe he didn’t mean to be mean—I jump to conclusions about that, because he wouldn’t be the first troll on my YouTube channel and I’m kinda sensitive about my piano-playing. Maybe he’s just trying to make friends and he’s even more socially inept than I am—but that would be giving him a truckload of benefit of the doubt. A friendly comment would have made a point of laughing with me rather than at me.

But that leaves the question of ‘why would anyone bother?’ Who surfs YouTube looking for videos to make fun of—and how would a person’s life become so vacuous that being unpleasant to strangers would become a pastime? He may very well have been trying to upset me—but all such comments only confuse me—don’t people have anything better to do?


I’ve made many comments on other people’s YouTube posts—but I never bother unless I want them to know how much I enjoyed their music, or thank them, or encourage them to keep playing and posting. Here on WordPress I find myself sometimes trading barbs with someone who offends my sensibilities—but on YouTube? If I don’t like a YouTube post, I just stop listening—I don’t go out of my way to tell someone I don’t like their music. That’s like telling someone you don’t like their religion—or their face. It’s just rude.



I don’t like violence—I don’t understand how it keeps being such a big part of our lives. It never produces anything but more violence. Maybe I’m just lucky enough to live a life where violence doesn’t come up—but even in situations where violence is commonplace, I still don’t see it doing anyone any good.

And trolling seems to me much more an advertisement of loneliness than any kind of criticism I would take seriously.

Truth, Eventually   (2016Jun15)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016                                            4:40 PM

What a beautiful day—but I wasted it staying indoors the whole day. I’m not feeling too well. Sometimes I feel just miserable—I always have trouble dealing with that. It doesn’t take much to put me off my game.

Wednesday, June 15, 2016                                     10:50 AM

Another beautiful day. I try to avoid the news—tragedy, massacre, terrorism, gun violence, anti-gay-hate-crimes, and demagoguery—the only good to come of it is the straight talk coming out of the White House. President Obama has some unpolitic things to say about gun lovers, the GOP, and their off-the-leash candidate—but all common-sense comments, long overdue for a public figure to say them publicly. It always does my heart good to see someone on TV who isn’t spouting absolute garbage.

I can’t help noticing that the talking heads have distorted ‘fairness’ to the point where insanity and ignorance have equal weight to mature reason. For example, I’ve heard Hillary Clinton’s statements described as ‘attacks’ on Trump. But if Trump is evil and idiotic, and someone says so, are they really attacking him, or are they simply describing him accurately? Is honesty an attack? I didn’t think so, but the media have taken ‘objectivity’ to the point where they don’t ‘judge’ a person’s words, even dishonest hate-speech and demagoguery, as being anything other than the ‘other side’ of an argument. In effect, they’ve institutionalized evil.

This mania for ratings and promotion of conflicts has made the news media a force for bad in the world. Journalism used to be thought of as an exposer of truth—but today’s TV journalism actual manages to confuse the truth by making it merely one ‘point of view’. That makes me angry—and every day I am less inclined to check in with the news, knowing that their distortions will only upset me. I increasingly find that my own take on what’s happening never sees air time nowadays until at least a month later, after the heat has left the story and all the yahoos have moved on to the next issue.

Only then will they say something like ‘but Obamacare is working’ or ‘but the Iran nuclear deal is holding’. They never say such things while there are still clicks to be had discussing the fear-mongering doubts and hollow arguments of the naysayers. They are literally milking the stupidity of every issue, avoiding any sensible remarks until the smoke clears—and while I used to think that conservatives were the main thing slowing us down and holding us back, I now see the media as a contender for first place in that competition.

Laughing At Logic   (2016Jun12)


Saturday, June 11, 2016                                           11:05 AM

Just because you may be ignorant and misinformed doesn’t mean that you don’t have the courage of your convictions—which is sad. It is unfortunate that the burning fervor we feel towards our beliefs has no connection to their veracity. Who knows how much of what I wholeheartedly support and staunchly defend is utter bullshit? Wouldn’t it be nice if we only felt right about something when it actually was right? I wish truth had the ring of truth to it.


By the same token, it would be nice if the people who were right about one thing were right about everything—or even if people who lie could be counted on to always lie. Any kind of standard would be good—but we are people, not machines—and proud of the fact that we have no standard—to each his or her own, as we like to say. Which means: “I have my truth, you have yours—and even if they are opposites, they are both still valid.”


The fact that such a statement is bullshit on its face doesn’t keep us from enshrining that belief as ‘freedom of speech’. In America, you have the right to be stupid, or pretend to be stupid (i.e. lie) in public statements—and even if you’re proven wrong, you don’t have to shut up. If you are right and I am wrong, I still get to spend a lifetime, if I wish, spreading my wrong to as many people as I can convince—that’s the American way.


This is particularly troubling when we remember that psychological experiment proving that those rooting for one side see every play in a game differently than observers rooting for the other side. Wrong ideas can spread but, worse, wrong thinking can color our interpretation of events—our every perception of what is happening. Here in ‘free-speech’ land, it has become a war of perceptions—and mass media becomes a powerful weapon in that struggle.


Logic is omitted from this equation—just as it is excluded from democracy itself—when the majority rules, the minority never get what they want. Satisfying the majority is referred to as the ‘greatest good for the greatest number’—but it also assumes that some people are not going to get their way—and that’s okay. It’s not a good system—but it’s the best we can do. The fact that American democracy isn’t entirely democratic—that our votes are only counted after the elite have picked the candidates we have to choose from—complicates the question even further—but even pure democracy, as an ideal, is a guarantee that people in the minority will not get what they want.


But don’t get me wrong—if there are faults inherent in free speech or democracy, that doesn’t mean we have it as bad as people who live in Libya, Syria, China, Mexico, Colombia, or Bangladesh. Those people live amid chaos and violence that make my squawks about American ideals pretty nit-picky. Sometimes, when I take a walk, I decide to sing and dance a little bit while I walk—and there are countries where that will get you jailed, shot, or stoned to death. So, yeah, democracy is okay by me. I think Churchill said something about democracy being a terrible form of government—but it’s better than all the others.


Free speech and democracy are wildly imperfect—but we defend them with our lives because they allow for a very important fact—nobody can be counted on to be right all the time. We need to be able to criticize our society and its leaders—to speak freely, even if that means we have to give the same privilege to an asshole. No law or law-maker is perfect, so we need to ask for everybody’s opinion and go with the one which (or whom) most people approve of—and that’s where democracy comes in. We allow for the minority being disappointed because we figure the odds are better that the solution most people desire is the correct one.


However, because of free speech, we allow for a misinformed electorate—which creates the possibility of the majority being misled. And that’s where this year’s election gets dicey. With significant portions of the electorate convinced that they are being lied to by their leaders, their media, and even their textbooks—one has to wonder what’s left to them as sources of information. And so now America has to deal with the phenomenon of people who ‘know’ what they want to know, and deny any knowledge that they don’t want to accept. That’s not the way I was raised, but freedom of speech says it’s all okay.

It’s all very complicated. It can make a person feel old, sometimes.




Book Review: “Soledad : Dark Republic Book I” by D. L. Young  (2016Jun11)


Saturday, June 11, 2016                                           2:22 PM

A near-future Texan dystopia is the setting for this tale of a young soothsaying-witch who travels the badlands in search of her lost family. Rich in detail, from the ways of the isolated bands and freelancers to the characters who accompany her in her search for the truth, this story posits a very believable, if highly unpleasant, future history for the lone star state.

D. L. Young grabs you right away and holds on pretty tight for the duration of this slim novel—but, if it seems too short, note that the title suggests more to come. I read it in one sitting and found the time flew by. And I commend the ending of this book—it leaves one thinking—and for me, that’s the best ending a book can have. It seems excellent fodder for Hollywood so I suggest you read it now, before they make the movie. Good story-telling, good writing—what’s to complain about?

No story can be grand without a grand evil—and Mr. Young has come up with a doozy or two—though I won’t spoil it for you. While modern technology makes any near-future story a case of speculating on where existing tech will be in twenty or so years—and that can be both awe-inspiring and terrifying—I miss the old days, when a Sci-Fi story had a big idea behind it. To be fair, Sci-Fi is well-traveled territory—and big ideas aren’t just lying around like they used to be. Plus, there’s a lot more of it being published (or e-published) these days. While that ensures that the number of so-so Sci-Fi books will expand, we may still hope that the ‘good reads’ will increase, as well. This book is certainly a good read, and its writer a good find.

I’ve read a lot of science fiction—I mean a lot. At sixty, I can fairly say that I’ve obsessed over Sci-Fi for fifty years, for most of that time averaging a book a day—and a good 90% of them being Sci-Fi anthologies or novels. I’m about as familiar with story-telling as a person can be, short of actually being a fiction writer. Inevitably, nowadays, most fiction I read resonates with the echoes of the many stories where a similar idea, plot-point, character-type, etc. was used.

I never read many Westerns—but I made a point of reading “The Virginian” by Owen Wister, because I had read that it was the first book to use Western tropes such as ‘dueling at high noon’, or the ‘pretty schoolmarm’, and other such clichés that we now find re-worked in an appalling genre whose readers (and movie goers) apparently favor iconic sensationalism over originality. But not all Western writers are completely beholden to Mr. Wister. The genre has accumulated many more tropes and clichés from more original contributors. And we must accept the fact that a genre so limited in space, time, and culture can only offer so many scenarios suitable for dramatic storytelling.

I’ve always considered Science Fiction to be quite different in that respect—there are no constraints of time, space, culture—or much anything else—and that is partly the point of Sci-Fi, to begin with. Yet, like Westerns, once the mass market gets involved, there arises an audience for re-workings of the most popular and sensational set pieces—war in space, robot uprisings, alien invasions, time travel, etc. The most insipid aspect of mass market Sci-Fi is its drooling cousin, the comic-book super-hero genre—the only redeeming feature of which is that it makes me less annoyed at the conflation of Sci-Fi and Fantasy—at least Fantasy shares some of the infinite, boundless vision of Sci-Fi, even if it pollutes it with fairy dust.

All of this is a roundabout way of reaching my point—that Sci-Fi, though all about ideas, is now amenable to some mining of the past. It is still nigh onto plagiarism to write an entire ‘collage’ consisting only of the popular ideas of others—but an original work can be excused for borrowing parts and pieces. The annals of Sci-Fi contain some of the most brilliant brain-work of the last century—many of our actual technologies were invented by Science Fiction writers—so if we’re going to start pointing fingers, we’ll have to confess that we all live in somewhat of a ‘plagiarism’. Further, there are aspects of outer space survival, orbital mechanics, etc., that have left the arena of speculation—so repetition in that respect is merely an eye for realistic detail.

‘Inventing worlds’ itself was originated by Frank Herbert, just as inventing societies, cultures and languages was pioneered by Ursula Le Guin (in Sci-Fi—Tolkien, of course, did it earlier with Fantasy). But such breakthroughs are in the nature of opening a door that no one else had hitherto seen—and it is only natural that writers should jump on the band-wagon of greater possibilities—subsequent writers don’t copy them so much as learn from them. And in this respect, Sci-Fi lit has a proud heritage of conceptual plagiarism—much like literature as a whole.

So, while “Soledad” has a few bells and whistles that will seem familiar—and a discernible patina of Paolo Bacigalupi’s “The Water Knife”—it is still an original story told in a unique voice. As an old salt in the sea of Sci-Fi, I’ve learned to excuse the familiar elements of the modern Sci-Fi-writer’s toolkit and embrace the newness it is used in service of. Especially when the writing is good.


Make The Medicine Go Down   (2016Jun10)

Friday, June 10, 2016                                               11:05 AM

This presidential election is something like a game of musical chairs—it’s been going on since early last year, and now it’s down to two players and one chair. It’s the endgame—in five months it will finally be over. And if, as should happen, Hillary is elected, we can even relax a little about the next election, because it will be about re-election—it won’t be the West-Side-Story-rumble that took up all of our attention for these last two years.

There are a lot of people who aren’t happy about the present end-game. Unhappy GOP folk are still scrambling for an alternative to their nominee, and disappointed Bernie supporters are grumbling about third party candidates. But people have been complaining about the Primary process itself, as well. And I suggest to all you good people that the time is past. Save your alternatives for after November, when they aren’t afterthoughts to an already hard-fought struggle.

Jon Oliver of HBO’s “Last Week Tonight” had a recent episode focusing on the not-so-democratic aspects of our State Primaries—and he makes the point that people always debate the objectionable aspects of Primaries during the primaries, when it’s too late to change the rules—and that we all forget about it when the election is over. We never worry about primary rules in an off-year, when changes could actually be made. That’s people for you.

And I feel the same way about third-party candidates—let’s put as much journalism, examination, and debate into these magical alternatives as we put into the two major parties’ candidates. Third-party is not a rip-cord we just pull when we’re dissatisfied with the two major players—whoever that person is, he or she is a cipher, a complete unknown—and voting for one is more a repudiation of our choices than an actual choice. Libertarians and Independents can have some pretty out-there stands on important issues—you don’t want to find out what they are, after you’ve elected the person.

My point is this—we’ve spent more time attending to this election than any previous presidential race—it’s been kind of ridiculous, really. So, to pull an ‘other’ option out of our asses at the eleventh hour makes about as much sense as voting for Trump, which is to say—none at all.

I get it—I do. With all the bad-mouthing of Hillary Clinton, it’s nearly impossible to continue to give her the benefit of the doubt—even if you believe, as I do, that it’s just the supreme example of ‘if you repeat a lie often enough’. But I say, “Grow up and take your medicine, America—Hillary is what you need to grow big and strong—I don’t care if you gag on the spoon.”

Did that sound condescending? Let me explain. I’m a sixty-year-old, educated man with a serious interest in our democratic government. On the one hand, for over a year, I’ve listened to people support a man who makes my skin crawl. On the other, for three decades, I’ve listened to those same people tell lie upon lie about the only credible candidate. I know that the one-percent are the only people who actually drive legislation—the desires of the 99% have meant nothing to legislators for a long time. We are being manipulated by the wealthy, by the media, and by tiny but vocal fringe groups (like the Tea Party). I can see through all the bullshit—and I’m tired of trying to reason others out of their delusions.

Other people seem to take it less seriously—or they are more serious, but in that ingenuous, starry-eyed way of the inexperienced teen. Other people seem to need some kind of emotional release from their politics—for them, partisan-ship is the whole point, and cold reason be damned. And I’ve had it. You all want to play games? Go ahead—but don’t complain if I act like the mother of all wet blankets. Hold your nose and say ‘Ah’—here comes the castor oil.

While They Still Know Everything   (2016Jun09)

Thursday, June 09, 2016                                          1:02 PM

Okay, here it comes. I’ve gotten so caught up in the last week or so of politics that I’m letting myself be baited by Facebook posts and comments, until I’ve turned into an angry, dismissive apologist for Hillary Clinton. But with so much stupidity flying around, when I get into combat mode I find myself in a target-rich environment.

Bernie made a great contribution to the national discourse—but in so doing, he also energized young people to switch from debating Klingon parts of speech to debating the many conspiracy theories and smear campaigns against Hillary. No matter what they’re told, they have an endless array of mud-slinging trivia to answer with—her supporters, like myself, are overwhelmed with the tidal wave of shit that’s been generated by the haters for longer than most of Bernie’s camp have been alive.

And of course, being young, they are all omniscient—it’s exhausting. They are too young to know or remember that the initial insults hurled at Hillary were largely anti-feminist-based, back when you could still go in that politically-incorrect direction.

Hillary originated in a time when the GOP still stood for anti-feminism, anti-integration, anti-social services—before they learned to gloss over that nonsense—and she was their boogey-woman-in-chief, the sole target of all their viciousness. That all these super-liberal kids are taking up the GOP banner and marching with it is intensely tragic to me.

Biography comes into it, now, as well—I wish people would ask themselves what that long career—First Lady in Arkansas, First Lady in the White House, NY Senator, Presidential hopeful, Secretary of State, and now again Presidential campaigner—would look like if they had lived through it. Would they do everything perfectly? Would they never change their position on a single issue? And that’s not even factoring in the insistent, burning hate being thrown her way every goddamned day. Secretary Clinton doesn’t claim to be perfect—she doesn’t claim to be superwoman—she’s a politician who has done a variety of incredibly tough jobs. As they say, any jackass can kick down a barn—it’s takes a carpenter to build one.

In closing, let me share an idea my son told me—as a response to the GOP’s refusal to hear Obama’s Supreme Court nominee—let them know that when Hillary takes office, she’s going to appoint Obama—that’ll learn’em. My son is a genius.




Clinton-To-Be   (2016June08)

Wednesday, June 08, 2016                                               11:07 AM

Hillary Clinton gave a speech last night—Oh, I enjoyed that—the joy on her face, the almost hysterical cheering of the crowd. It wasn’t just the end of the primary—it was the end of a long trip she’s taken—and an even longer trip that all the women in America have been on since Seneca Falls, 1848. It brought tears to my eyes—I said to Claire, “That old lady is making me cry!”

Stephen Colbert joked, later last night, that she was the first American woman to be a major party candidate—but then he put up a graphic of a whole bunch of women heads-of-state in other countries. I get the joke—but there’s a question to that joke, too: Why is America going to be the last—and by a lot of years—to elect a woman to lead? There is an undeniable, rock-hard misogyny to America—especially when it comes to leadership.

And to be fair, a woman leader might have kept us from wiping out the indigenous people in our pioneer days. A woman leader might have kept us from using slavery as our young nation’s economic leg-up. Who knows what kind of losers we would be if we’d let a woman’s sensitivity keep us from carving our destiny out of the flesh of anyone who stood in our way? God forbid, right?

But seriously, I’ve encountered some venomous, burnt-earth rejection of Hillary Clinton in social media. The number, and the extremity of the attacks on her could only have been engendered by a woman. No male candidate has ever inspired such passion. Many of them pooh-pooh the idea of electing a female president on the basis of Hillary’s supposed perfidy—but I suspect it works the other way—no one would be so ardently opposed to Hillary if she wasn’t a woman. Look at her opponent—the worst excuse for a man I have ever seen. And we debate whether he really means his racism. What the hell?

Three cheers for President Clinton-to-be. And how nice for my grand-daughter-to-be—she’s due in July, and by her fourth birthday, she’ll be watching a woman run for reelection to the Presidency of the United States. That’ll be good for her.




Hint: 1600   (2016Jun07)


Tuesday, June 07, 2016                                            6:48 PM

The New York Times ran an article about the endless, daunting, slogging journey that Hillary Clinton has traveled to become the nominee—not just years, but decades, of being the woman with a target on her back—for partisans, for media, for troglodyte he-men women-haters everywhere—for over a quarter-of-a-century now of public service. Yet the New York Times says, “even now, we’re not really sure what she believes in”. I call bullshit. We know—it’s just too simple and straightforward for the media to digest—Secretary Clinton believes in service—she wants to do good, with practical programs and political solutions that help people, especially people in need.

That such blanket sincerity doesn’t fit the narrative they’ve shaped for her—and the fact that ‘good intent’ as a political platform has no zippy label just yet—make it impossible for the media to suss out ‘what she believes’—because she doesn’t believe in a sound-bite or a slogan. The Times points to her difficulty settling on a slogan—without ever questioning whether that’s a bad thing or maybe a good thing. They call her a Democratic Party insider—but that really only means she’s been mixing it up on the political playing-field for a long time—all the dire partisanship is directed towards her. It’s not going both ways—Hillary’s focus has always been on doing the job, not defeating the ‘other side’.

And as far as political platforms go, I like the sound of ‘getting things done, being serious, and not playing to the gallery’. That’s my kind of party—particularly if we’re talking about a champion to face the hydra-headed monster that is the Oval Office.

Let’s turn to the other side now—Trump has claimed his racist ranting was ‘misunderstood’. Well, I’m sorry—but he’s disqualified either way—either he’s a monster—or he’s incapable of coherent speech. My money’s on a little of both, but it doesn’t matter. Ask yourself if you feel as qualified for the Presidency as Trump is—if you, a regular Joe or Joe-ette, would be no worse than he as leader of the free world. I certainly qualify—and that concerns me. Yes, you can grow up to be anything—but you can’t decide to play concert violin on a Friday and book Carnegie Hall by Monday—that’s a fantasy. And we all know how you really get there.

If Armageddon came, and all the politicians and officials were swept away, then, yes, I suppose Trump would be as good a choice as anyone. But we have a whole country full of hard-working states-persons and experienced leaders—one of the best is running against him. I suggest a test for Mr. Trump—someone ask him for the mailing address of the White House—see if he can come up with that poser.

But No Cigar   (2016Jun07)

Tuesday, June 07, 2016                                            12:10 PM

Poor Bernie! He’s done a great job of dragging the Democrats back to the socialist agenda that made FDR’s New Deal and LBJ’s War On Poverty. If the Democrats aren’t all about social justice and social services, then they don’t really stand for anything. The centrist agenda that helped Hillary’s husband get elected may have been politically expedient, but it also hollowed out the core of what we’ve come to expect from the Democratic Party.

But Bernie’s done it—he’s forced Hillary to publicly advocate for a war on income inequality—leaving her with baggage she will find difficult to misplace, once elected. Still, I think it’s a mistake to assume that she’s done so unwillingly—anyone familiar with her early work, co-founding Arkansas Advocates for Children and Families, and other initiatives, will recognize that she is happy for the opening that Sanders’ campaign afforded her. It wasn’t Hillary who spent the last two decades backing away from social programs and banking regulations—it was her entire party, going for the easy vote.

Had Hillary attempted to run on her present platform, without Sanders’ competition as a foil, she would have been branded a wild extremist. So, well done, Bernie. Though, to be fair, it is these last decades of centrist, business-friendly politics that have created a situation where people are ready for socialism’s resurgence, whether from Bernie or Hillary.

Now, the big problem is simply this: Bernie is a human being—and not just that, he’s an old man. He’s spent the last two years being cheered by throngs of adoring young people, championing justice for the little guy, fighting the good fight. It’s going to be very hard for him to just turn around and go home. He was so close. But be of good cheer, Bern-feelers—Hillary hasn’t promised as much, but I believe she will deliver on more of her promises than Bernie ever could. In the end, that will give you more of what you’re looking for, just not everything. The rest we can talk about in four years.

The Wizard   (2016Jun06)

Monday, June 06, 2016                                            6:13 PM

Walt Disney created the animated film “The Sword In The Stone”, based on part one of T. H. White’s classic, “The Once and Future King”—it is a well-known story of how young Arthur grew and learned from his tutor, Merlin. Aside from all the magic and wonder of the story, my young, book-worm self was jealous of the young king’s schooling. Not that I wished to study nature by being turned into a fish or a bird for an afternoon—though that was certainly cool—no, I wanted an old scholar to inundate me with arcane and disparate knowledge. I wanted to delve into gigantic, dusty tomes and perform burbling, sulfurous experiments with curlicued distillation-piping and whatnot. I wanted to learn the proverbial ‘everything’.


There’s a reason why pre-digital civilization impressed on youth the value of a ‘liberal arts’ education. Metaphors, analogues, and cross-references form a large part of our intellectual development—learning about one thing teaches us about much more than that one thing. The reasoning went that a greatest possible multiplicity of things learned allowed the greatest possible number of avenues for reasoning and problem-solving. In modern terms, it created the most complex network within the brain.

Science of old, starting from way back, when it was still alchemy and ‘sorcery’, had an image problem—outright scientific study was a good way to get burnt at the stake or run out of town. Secrecy led to obscurity—and early scientists went to great lengths to complicate their elucidations, making them seem more impressive—and excluding those without the drive to wade through all the double-talk. You can still observe this behavior today, in the insider-speak of tech-geeks.

In addition, science could only cut across the Old World’s many cultural boundaries by using a lingua franca—or two, really—Latin and Ancient Greek. That is why the nomenclature for many scientific terms is derived from these dead languages—they were only ‘dead’ in the technical sense. The pope could issue a papal bull in Latin and send copies to every church in Western Europe and beyond.

Both the church and the early philosophers used these languages to provide a standard that crossed boundaries of local language—and originally, a Classical education was a literal term—students learned the classics, which meant learning the classic languages they were written in. You’ll tend to see a lot more Latin in the arts, and a lot more Greek in mathematics and the sciences—there are reasons for that which I won’t get into here.


Digital enhancement of education techniques, job-market prep, and economic competition are all factors that tend to reduce the educational experience to a monaural playback, trimmed to its ‘essentials’. And that, of course, is when the educational system is functional to begin with. But education is the perfect example of something being more than the sum of its parts—and the more parts to an education, the greater the total sum.

Merlin wasn’t trying to teach Arthur to become a wizard—but he was trying his best to give the boy a wizard’s perspective—a knowledge of, if nothing else, the breadth of knowledge. He did this because he knew that a king could never be wise without some perspective. And if the history of technology has taught us anything, it is the importance of perspective—burning oil can be very useful, but burning too much oil is a problem; growing a lot of food can protect us from famine, but eating too much food can make us unhealthy.


And now, as global warming re-shapes our coastlines and submerges islands, as low-earth orbit becomes a navigational hazard due to decades of space launches, and as YouTube makes it possible for terrorists to indoctrinate teens a half a world away, we need breadth of perspective like never before. STEM is a great initiative, but as our science progresses, we are more than ever dependent on our ability to extrapolate and explore the consequences of each new and changing aspect. Engineering new gadgets is just the starter pistol—what happens when the whole world gets a new ability, a new insight? Sometimes you get Angry Birds, sometimes you get ISIL online—sometimes both.

Narrowing our field of view to the mere engineering and manufacture of new tech, without the humanities, without history, without the insight of creative expression—that’s a recipe for disaster. Yes, keep STEM—it’s a great idea—but don’t stop there. The more advanced we get, the less we can afford the luxury of shortsightedness. People always want more tech, or more money, or more guns—but the smart people always want the same thing—we want more ‘More’ in our vision—because we know that that’s where all that other good stuff came from in the first place—and much more.

Balance is an unappreciated virtue—as an example, consider: we have made so much progress in digital programming that we are possibly on the cusp of creating a machine that can out-think us. Cool, right? But those with a broader perspective have pointed out that a machine that’s smarter than us just might be a risky proposition. Well, I don’t expect humanity will be overwhelmed with common sense overnight—so I guess we’re about to find out. Are you ready to meet the Wizard?




Spoiler?   (2016Jun05)

Sunday, June 05, 2016                                             12:31 PM

Back when Trump first entered the Presidential contest, there was speculation that he was a Democrat-spoiler—a troublemaker who only got into the Republican primary to help guarantee Hillary’s lock on the coming election—and perhaps raise his Q-rating in anticipation of his next reality show.

Having out-stupided all his GOP rivals and made a shambles of the GOP platform (such as it is) he is now making racist pronouncements regarding the judge presiding over his rip-off-‘university’ lawsuit—on a daily basis. His campaign has never troubled itself with the ‘boots on the ground’ machinery that the ‘real’ politicians use to get out their constituency. And he seems to go out of his way to do and say things which make the GOP leadership either squirm mightily—or have to repudiate outright.

I think it’s time to revisit the spoiler theory. Trump is in this race alright—he’s campaigning for Hillary, as far as I can tell. For a while there, it looked like the most ignorant portion of the GOP base would make of his parody a serious campaign, whether he wanted to become president or not. But Trump has always been resourceful, and he has found a solution—be blatantly racist. No one in America can get away with being publicly, pointedly racist—and Trump thus guarantees that anyone extreme enough to maintain their support for him will only expose their own small-minded-ness.

It is possible that he’s still serious—that his current race-baiting is in response to the positive image briefly generated by violence from those anti-Trump protestors in California—maybe he’s trying to spur them on to greater excesses, allowing him to play the victim. But it’s not working out that way. His anti-Americanism isn’t making people angry—it’s leaving them breathless with amazement at the depths of his bigotry. We all look at each other and ask, ‘Is this really happening?’ Even his top aides are shrugging their shoulders at his insanity, speechless.

Trump is a showman. But his latest performances have been tight-rope walks along the edge of civility. I figure his next move is probably going to be a statement against Religion—which would both devastate ‘his’ party and drive the country as a whole to new fits of outrage and disbelief. And just imagine how mortifying it will be for all of us atheists to find ourselves on Trump’s side of an issue! It’s enough to send me back to church.

At this point, if Trump were to be elected, I wouldn’t move to Canada—I’d move to North Korea and help them design those nuclear missiles that can reach the US mainland. If the country I’ve grown up loving and respecting is that much of a lie, it’s time to wipe it from the face of the earth. One way or the other, Trump is definitely a spoiler.

People Physics   (2016Jun04)

Saturday, June 04, 2016                                           2:48 PM

People ape physics in many ways. They follow the Uncertainty Principle—if you observe them, you change them—as reality TV has amply proved. If you confine people too tightly, their excess friction will eventually cause an explosive reaction giving off heat as waste energy. And, of course, when people go up—they must come down—no individual unit can exceed its mortality. (I suppose death is the Gravity in that equation.) And people abhor a vacuum.

It’s true, we’re worse than Mother Nature. There is no room in any house that doesn’t fill up with stuff. There is no parcel of land in the middle of a city that accidentally went unused. People search the obituaries to find vacant apartments—and usually find the deceased’s relations have beaten them to it. There is no space on a long line where the person before it and the person behind have simply agreed to let there be a little gap there—it doesn’t happen.

Finances are the supreme example—every time I got a raise, my outlay matched it and then some. I didn’t do anything—I didn’t say to myself, ‘it’s time to add some expenses’. I simply found myself using all the money I had. I’d done the same with the smaller salaries—logic insists that I could have had money left over—but, no.

The rich people in San Francisco have packed themselves together so tightly that there’s no living space left for the help—their service workers have to commute from far off—and their already meager wages lose a big chunk to transportation costs. I wouldn’t stand for it. I’d organize the service workers in San Francisco and get them all jobs somewhere they can still find a place to live—let those rich bastards do their own chores until they get a clue, and agree to wages plus commuting costs.

I loved seeing the news yesterday about the Chicago Police releasing a bunch of videos of police behavior where a civilian was either killed or hospitalized. The lady who’d worked towards this ongoing program (there will be regular releases from now on), Sharon Fairley, chief administrator of the Independent Police Review Authority, called it an historic step forward for transparency in the city’s police force. What I loved was that there was this one prominent hold-out cracker who pooh-poohed the whole thing as ‘dangerous’ or some such BS—and the talking head asked the lady to respond—and she said, “Well, he’s wrong.” There should be a lot more of that in the news. Sometimes—a lot of times—some stupid politician is just wrong—end of sentence. An orange one comes to mind.

People as a group can be very geometrical—you tempt them this way, you shove them that way, you can pretty much call the shot—you know where they’re headed afterwards. And smart politicians look at it that way—not as a template for manipulation, as a demagogue would do, but as a blueprint for social progress. I always liked it when President Obama points out that doing something the same way for fifty years and getting no results was crazy. A lot of society’s ills come from just that tendency—to keep doing what we’re doing, even when someone is telling us it’s not working.

It’s hard to tell, especially in legislation, whether something is a healthy letting go of a wrong-headed assumption, or a half-baked imposition invented by lounge-liberals or beer jocks. There are so many laws that need to be undone (the patriot act is an example) and so many things not enshrined into law that we must nevertheless defend to the death (like separation of church and state). I have great respect for a good politician—leading people, in any capacity, is about as easy as herding cats. But designing legislation—making a piece of paper create a better life for his or her constituents—that’s an art form. I just got a chill—that exactly what Hitler said! Am I Hitler?! Oh, I hope not. Wouldn’t it suck to realize you’re really Hitler? Jeez.

Actually, it makes sense—Hitler was not a good painter, so he decided to go into politics as a modern ‘art form’—and he was even worse at that, despite some initial rave reviews. But he was right—politics is art. The trouble with that is there are so few great artists.

Book Review: “The Sound of Time: A Novel” by Julian Barnes (2016Jun03)

Friday, June 03, 2016                                               11:37 PM

Friday’s here—and just as I often don’t get fully awake before noon, I feel like I’m just getting warmed up whenever the end of the week rolls around. Old and in poor health is no way to suck the marrow from life. But I find I have company, or rather, competition.

That is to say that I’ve just finished reading Julian Barnes’ excellent historical novel, “The Noise of Time: A Novel”, touching on the life of Dmitri Shostakovich—a Russian composer of the Soviet era, and a favorite of mine since my early teens. I clearly remember mentioning the name to my mother one day, mispronouncing it, and being surprised that she corrected my pronunciation of his name—firstly because I realized he was famous enough for my mother to know his name, and secondly because I had been enamored of his music for months, while saying his name wrong (I had been thinking of him as Shos-TOCK-ovich!)

The Russians take pride in their deep sadness—as an American, I’ll never get that, but I get it, kind of. Masochism, irony, and melancholy are tools I have used myself in defense against a dysfunctional reality. But my life, and my troubles, are of an American smallness, in comparison to Barnes’ description of the living hell Shostakovich found himself in. He was a sensitive composer trapped in Stalin’s Russia, forced to publicly denounce his own works, and the works of his hero, Stravinsky—and other close friends and respected musicians; in danger for years from ideologues and politicians trying to ferret out disloyalty, even in thoughts and feelings, especially among artists—and even more especially in composers who had achieved global fame.

The book reminded me of the stories I heard about Soviet Russians living in terror of anonymous squads who came and took them in the night, often never to be seen again—and about the ideological tyranny that deposed aesthetics as the yardstick against which their art was ‘measured’—and sometimes condemned, along with the artist’s life.

Stalin’s rule, up to 1953, was so bloody that upon his death and the ascension of Khrushchev, it was said that ‘the Soviet had become vegetarian’. Although it may be more proper to say that the Soviet ceased to be cannibalistic, since Stalin’s machine had been devouring his own people. And Shostakovich was apparently a pretty nervous fellow—at the height of the pseudo-ideological criticisms of his music, he spent every night, for weeks, waiting at the elevator to be taken away by the KGB so that they wouldn’t have to burst into his apartment and drag him away in front of his wife and child. Barnes writes that Dmitri was just one of many people who observed this nighttime ritual during the terror known as Stalin’s Cult of Personality. Shostakovich’s life was one horror show after another—and it didn’t help that he was fairly well-off, compared to the average Soviet Russian—that just gave him more to lose.

As a boy, my favorite of his works was the last movement of his fifth symphony—but as I matured, I learned to prefer the rest of the symphony. According to Barnes’ story, Shostakovich was forced to add the final ‘triumphal’ movement to the symphony because the foregoing movements were so unremittingly ‘pessimistic’—and so he composed the final movement ironically. To my callow ears, and to the politburo, it sounded glorious (which saved Shostakovich’s life, and career)—but as my tastes matured I came to find the last movement somehow brash and ugly, and prefer the music that comes before—and now I know why, I suppose. Much is made in the book of the fact that when confronted with brainless tyranny, the only safe rebellion is in irony—but that irony over time gets lost in itself.

This book is no happy story, but it is something perhaps better—a fascinating story about strange and awful truths, and the horrendous lies that hide them, for a time at least. I have long since given up hope of finding in great artists’ lives any kind of reflection or explanation of the exaltation of their creations—but this book actually matches up the bleakness heard in most of his music with the day-to-day life of its composer. I read it in one sitting—something I’m only pushed into nowadays by irresistibly good writing and an enthralling story.

Barnes quotes Shakespeare at one point, mentioning that his Sonnet LXVI resonated with the artists of Soviet Russia, particularly the line, “And art made tongue-tied by authority”. I had to go look at the whole poem and I am struck, not for the first time, by how apropos Shakespeare always is, no matter how modern we think we have become:

  Tired with all these, for restful death I cry,

  As to behold desert a beggar born,

  And needy nothing trimm’d in jollity,

  And purest faith unhappily forsworn,

  And gilded honour shamefully misplac’d,

  And maiden virtue rudely strumpeted,

  And right perfection wrongfully disgrac’d,

  And strength by limping sway disabled

  And art made tongue-tied by authority,

  And folly—doctor-like—controlling skill,

  And simple truth miscall’d simplicity,

  And captive good attending captain ill:

     Tir’d with all these, from these would I be gone,

     Save that, to die, I leave my love alone.

(Shakespeare, William (2011-03-24). Shakespeare’s Sonnets (p. 132).  . Kindle Edition.)

I love that line about “And folly—doctor-like—controlling skill,”—geniuses so often appear to fools as people who need to be ‘cured’, or at the very least, ‘corrected’. The poem as a whole is fitting for a Shostakovich biographical novel—he too was often tempted by thoughts of suicide, harried by the ubiquitous surplus of malevolent injustice crowding every aspect of his life.

That’s my take on the book—-lacking a segue, here’s two improvs from earlier today–hope you like them:






It’s About Us   (2016Jun03)


Friday, June 03, 2016                                               11:41 AM

I love Hillary Clinton! She made a speech yesterday that clearly explained why Trump is not a candidate, but a threat. She said that even if she wasn’t running herself, she would be doing everything she could to make sure he was never President of the United States. Best of all, she condemned him with his own words—the wild public statements that he makes in passing, to jazz up his base, become evidence—when held up to the light—that he shouldn’t even have a driver’s license, never mind a public office. And as she described the nightmare of a President Trump, in the situation room, during a national crisis—a chill ran down my spine—what a friggin nightmare!

The media couldn’t even wait until she was done speaking before they started to leaven her statements with chyrons about Paul Ryan finally bowing to the inevitable, saying he would vote for Trump, because he would make GOP dreams into law. To me, that only confirms what Hillary was saying—it’d be a nightmare. It doesn’t seem to occur to the GOP that the reason they can’t satisfy their base is because their base wants to fundamentally change America into a nation of fear and anger and weakness.

There is no contest—when our choices are between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump. As far as I’m concerned, the GOP has failed to produce a viable candidate—they’re stuck with Trump, their booby-prize for courting ignorance for so many years, but no one sees his potential presidency as good, or safe, or helpful. Even his supporters don’t expect him to keep America going—they hope he’ll turn the whole thing upside-down. If I didn’t live here, I’d say let’em have their way—see how they like it. But, as Hillary said, America is still full of reasonable, well-meaning people who are proud to be Americans and want to see America continue to lead the world toward freedom.

A democracy tries to do the greatest good for the greatest number. An election is a chance to get what we want. But it is also a litmus test of the electorate. If Hillary Clinton doesn’t win this election in a landslide, I’ll be personally disappointed—but I’ll also know something about the majority of American voters. I’ll know that we have become too ignorant to look out for our own self-interest, suckers for any used-car-salesman who happens to talk a good game. This election isn’t about the candidates—it’s about us.

Word Dump (2016Jun02)

Wednesday, June 01, 2016                                                         2:20 PM

Fresh Rant   (2016Jun01)

I receive spam from charities and from political parties—asking for my financial help—I don’t even let them make me feel guilty anymore, I just resent being reminded how I could use a little financial help of my own. Since when did politics require millions of people to donate their hard-earned money to run TV ads? And don’t talk to me about crowd-funding—you know what we used to call crowd-funding? An extended family—that’s crowd-funding for people you know and love.

I’m not interested in helping other people—I’m interested in helping the people around me, the people close to me. Contrary to Tea-Party opinion, I prefer to pay taxes and let the government sort out people’s problems—it has its faults but it’s bound to do a better job than I can do on my own.

I understand that most charitable services are run by religious organizations—because the church used to be the gathering point for a community, where its larger issues were discussed and dealt with. The decline of religion as a binding force of the community has hurt efforts to deal with the homeless and underserved—being without a religion doesn’t keep me from mourning the coherency of that community-model—but it’s evaporated now and greater government involvement, supported by taxes, makes much more sense in today’s agnostic climate.

I also don’t like TV ads for fancy cars—of the millions of people watching TV, the vast majority of us can’t afford to go out and buy a Jaguar, BMW, Mercedes, Cadillac—not even a Lincoln. It pisses me off—especially knowing that, even if I could somehow buy one of those fancy cars, it would quickly be joy-ridden, tire-slashed, paint-keyed, and generally dinged until it looked just as crappy as the rest of the cars on my block. Plus, I could never afford the insurance rate, or the maintenance—which are as pricey as the car.

But I’d rather watch ads for fancy cars than listen to side-effects warnings for a drug for a disease I don’t have. My doctor will tell me when I need a drug, and which one, thank you—take your drug ads and shove’em. Still, when you consider buying a car, even a little, ‘cheap’ one, puts the normal person in hock for several years—what purpose is served by making that same hard-working, and now indebted, person feel bad about a major purchase? Ads for fifty and sixty thousand dollar cars washing over the TV screen every night—why not have ads for becoming a business owner, or president? Those are just as far out of my reach—and would annoy me only slightly less.

Income inequality has gotten completely out of hand—it makes me glad I’m old—if I were a younger man, I’d join the throng of protestors outraged that the same system that keeps them in groceries is the system that keeps them in their place—nowhere but working for the Man and getting paid less than a living wage for it. I’d run around organizing protests, campaigning for Bernie—and I’d be too young to realize how futile all of that is—the ones with the gold make the rules.

Then the futility of the whole thing would dawn on me and, being a young man, my mind would turn to ways of making mischief for the people I saw as oppressors. That would be so sixties-retro, like the second coming of the SLA or something. And like them I’d eventually end up in jail or on the run—though it isn’t nearly as easy, now, to disappear from the grid like those sixties fugitives who popped back up in the eighties and nineties, too old to live like that anymore.

But the truth is the ones with the gold only make the rules when the electorate is too numb to their own self-interest to let them—and we have done a lot of that over the last three decades. Political movements like Bernie’s would have to start on the backlog of injustice all those lobbyists have been shoving through both the Congress and all fifty state legislatures for decades. It would take us a while to get back to the income equality—in taxes—we enjoyed in the mid-twentieth century, before we could even start in on making things better—we have to roll back some of the ‘worse’ first.

The main trouble is that you can’t give to one person without somehow taking from another—and rich bastards sound just like normal people when they whine about having to make a sacrifice—usually, even whinier. They try to frighten us by pointing out that, when we get rich, we’ll have the same ‘oppression’ hanging over our heads—yeah, that’s my big concern.

And the media adds to the problem by representing ‘two sides’ of the issue—but it’s not really two sides, when one side is a handful of rich fucks and the other side is hundreds of millions of people. That is particularly true when the rich fucks own the media, as they do today.

But that is a condition as much as an issue—certainly nothing that can be solved with a clever blog-post. About the only thing optimistic about the media situation is that it leaves so much unexplored material that a ‘counter-media’ can start to get sponsorship (as opposed to ownership) for journalism that covers the many things being avoided and overlooked by the establishment media. We hear so much about meta-data and ‘drilling down’—but we still see news that is endlessly busying itself with minutiae and wow-factor and click-bait.

If Edward R. Murrow had our modern resources for research and analysis, he’d be giving us very different stuff. He liked to follow things to their future consequences—his attacks on McCarthy were driven by a deep concern for this country’s future and the future of its people’s rights and freedoms. If he were confronted with the kind of accelerated change we’re experiencing right now, I’m sure he would be reporting on certain days’ events only as they relate to what will happen in five, ten or twenty years’ time.

Modern people are flooded with information—and everyone with experience in that will tell you—when data comes at you like a fire-hose, you don’t get lost in the minutiae—you look for patterns and trends. You can’t understand our culture through a single person or a single period of time. When reporters ask a bystander how they feel about what just happened across the street—it gives me a pain. Reporters with access to global resources and instant data should be virtuosos of pattern-analysis, artisans of the long-term take-away on any given issue—and lots of reporting on how issues interlock with each other—just as the peoples of the world are now beginning to interlock their fates across the globe.

Maybe it was my age, at the time, but when I was younger a talking head was always bright, sharp, educated, and informed—the TV was the smartest ‘person’ in the room. Now we get Harvey Levin and TMZ. Jeez, what a tool. I mean journalist.

There’s one good thing about the media becoming a mindless monster—they’re finally starting to chow down on the Donald. Yes, Donald—the media is your friend—until it isn’t. Even innocent people are helpless in the face of their onslaught—did you really think a scumbag like yourself could just play it like a harp, and emerge unscathed? Keep dreaming, Mr. wanna-be-president.

Trump’s attempt to ‘fool all the people all the time’ is a perfect example of how democracy requires an informed electorate. The left wing of the presidential campaign is focused on income-inequality—and for good reason—but we should take this election season as a warning. We need to improve our educational system, and do it right quick. No one as ignorant as Donald Trump should have ever gotten this far—and he never would have, if he wasn’t reaching a deep reservoir of shamefully ignorant Americans.

Plus, our country’s failure to finance higher education for everyone is part and parcel of the march towards permanent income inequality—we’ll never level the playing field without offering equal access to information and knowledge.


Wednesday, June 01, 2016                                               6:08 PM


I’m proud.

I’m proud to be me.

I’m proud of my family.

I’m proud of my principles.

I’m proud of my understanding.

I’m proud of my neighborhood.

I’m proud of my country.

I’m not sure if I’m right to be proud

But that doesn’t stop me.

Give me my dignity or you’re looking for a fight.

Doesn’t matter if I’m dignified.

What—do I gotta put on a show for you?

Just take it for granted that I’m as good as you are.

Even if I’m wearing sweatpants—they don’t signify.

I am as good as you are.

Pretending I’m not just puts you down—not me.

I used to enjoy wearing a good suit

But I never made the mistake of thinking

It made me better than someone else.

I used to be a manager—telling people what to do—

But I never made the mistake of thinking

I was better than them.

I made mistakes alright, just not that one.

That’s a doozy.



Jeez—dat ain’t even a poem—I don’t know what you call that crap.

Sometimes I just write to hear myself type, I think.


Thursday, June 02, 2016                                          10:38 AM


I wasn’t going to post any of the above—it all seemed kinda whiney and introspective—but some of the points I tried to make were being echoed by President Obama during his PBS Town Hall with Gwen Ifill last night—so I am emboldened to the point of posting.

Seriously   (2016May31)

Tuesday, May 31, 2016                                                     11:34 PM

I take myself seriously—probably too much so. But it’s all of a piece—there are people that wouldn’t be able to take themselves seriously as a writer or musician, or artist, without some validation or recognition or encouragement. But I do it without any of that good stuff—the taking it seriously makes me take myself seriously, even when there’s no apparent evidence that I should.


See, I don’t worry about whether I’m good or not—I was lucky, as a kid, to be gifted with a pencil and paper—lots of people told me I was good at drawing. But some people weren’t impressed. I noticed that. I wondered ‘how can I please a lot of people, yet fail to please everybody?’ I would come to discuss other peoples’ drawing—and find that I liked some that other people didn’t like, and lots of popular artists didn’t appeal to me.


So I see the whole question of “Am I any good?” as a slippery one. Then I had the bad luck to fall in love with playing the piano—without any ability to play the piano. I was objectively bad. I played anyway, because I wanted to play—and I thought, ‘who knows, maybe I’ll get better.’ Well, I didn’t. I got better than I was, but I never got ‘good’. I felt safer with piano—I knew I could spend the rest of my life practicing and still have plenty of work to do. I enjoyed being challenged by something I was bad at more than being good at something I was talented at.

20141008XD-Sketches (53)_KingODFrostGiants_03(trimmed)

Then I got sick—and now my hands shake—so I can’t draw good anymore. I don’t really miss it. I miss people asking me to make custom-drawn birthday cards and flyers and stuff like that—I loved being useful—but I don’t miss trying to think up something to do on a blank piece of paper. After a while that became a lot of pressure. One of the things that made me a big draughtsman was I loved attracting an audience—people used to love to watch me draw—for a while, I’d be quite a showman about it—playing to the audience. That made sitting in a room, drawing pictures, to show people only after they were completed, seem unsatisfying.

20141008XD-Sketches (58)_

These days, I see some performance artists do a big painting for an audience, maybe dancing around while they throw paint at the canvas—and I think ‘good for you—you found a way to make it work for you.’ I should have realized, back then, that I enjoyed drawing for spectators—I wouldn’t have gotten so tired of drawing. I stopped doing the ‘performance-drawing’ because I noticed I let the quality of the artwork go, just to score points with the crowd—it’s too bad I couldn’t just have accepted that as a fair trade-off. (If I take myself too seriously now, it’s nothing to how too-serious I was as a kid.) But, spilt milk under the bridge, etc.


Anyhow, the point is, I’ve been doing stuff throughout my life without any serious concern about whether I was good or not. I’ve come to recognize that as a blessing. There are so many people who don’t draw, who don’t play an instrument—because they’re worried about being good at it. To me that’s not the point, at all. It’s the doing, not the judging. If you do something—and you get some good from doing it—you’re done. Whether other people approve or not. I always hear disapproval as encouragement to try harder.

20150531XD-Drawings (2)

I’m never worried about what other people will think—I’m only concerned with doing my best. And because I’m all about the trying, I take it very seriously. Which turns into taking myself seriously. It’s all of a piece. But I’m sure it makes me insufferable, most of the time. Sorry about that.

FamPh 572