R.I.P. – G.O.P.   (2018Jan12)

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Friday, January 12, 2018                                          3:55 PM

R.I.P. – G.O.P.   (2018Jan12)

Our head of state represents our country to the rest of the world. Every word out of that person’s mouth matters. And Trump does not represent America only—he also represents the Republican Party.

His mouth emits a stream of subtle dog-whistles, barely veiled bigotry, and outright racist ignorance—and far from curbing him, you have supported and defended him. You side with Trump—which makes you just as big a s__hole as he is.

The Grand Old Party…hmm, weren’t you the guys that bankrupted the country with ginned-up wars in the Middle East, and then blew up the Economy in 2008? Yeah, you remember—you guys all bitched and moaned about how long it took Obama to fix your disaster? Then you told everyone that Trump would make a better president than Hillary—because Hillary is a bad, bad lady—surely you haven’t forgotten?

Goodbye, Republicans—you will never get another vote from anyone with the sense of a peanut. Go back to the hell you came from.

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Presidency As Hate Crime   (2018Jan11)

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Thursday, January 11, 2018                                              9:53 PM

Presidency As Hate Crime   (2018Jan11)

Bigots are resurging today only because they try so hard to forget that their hatreds were shamed into silence by the courts, the legislators, and the media of a few decades ago. Not so long ago, morons such as Joe Arpaio, Roy Moore, Roger Ailes, Bill O’Reilly, Steve Bannon, or Trump would have been derided offstage (never mind being ejected from the political arena).

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While the bigots celebrate their big comeback, they carefully avoid discussion of what sent them scurrying away, years ago—an outbreak of awareness and decency that pushed back against ingrained racism, sexism, homophobia, et. al. That enlightened Americanism embraced inclusion and fairness.

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Yes, that ‘fairness’ is the real enemy of the one-percent. The one-percent want us to dogfight over ‘inclusion’ while we overlook the inescapable unfairness of income-inequality and modern capitalism. The inclusion battle was hard-fought, its victories dearly earned—the Civil Rights Movement, the Women’s Liberation Movement, the LGBT Rights Movement, etc. took decades to bring enlightenment to the citizenry and to the law of the land.

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Now the hate-and-fear-mongers are trying to tell us that none of that happened, that white nationalism has regained a place in America. Not true—a small collection of backwaters have clutched their bitterness to their chests, through thick and thin, beyond sense or reason—they are now attempting to nurse their kindling back into the bonfires of old. They are champions of ignorance and autocracy—enemies of the America most of us believe in.

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How long will the Republicans keep pretending? Is there anyone left who truly doubts Trump’s unfitness, bigotry, criminality, ignorance of his elected position, complete blindness to ethics or compassion, and his inability to speak truthfully—or even coherently?

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His ‘presidency’ is a sham, a hate crime, an act of treason, and a con job.

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The Republicans have lost any semblance of credibility or idealism–becoming a team of poker players, rather than statespersons. I’m beyond sick-and-tired of dead-eyed stonewalling in place of honest admission of the truth. There comes a time when bluffing is over and cards must be shown. It’s alright, Republicans, we know you have a Trump card. Fess up, or destroy yourselves—along with your country.

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No man can serve two masters, Republicans. You either serve the lobbyists or the voters—doing one while pretending to do the other is no longer an option. You’ve all just been too brazen about your corruption—it’s staring us all in the face. I know some of your morons-on-mailing-lists are still being taken in—but the other 85% of people in the USA can see perfectly well what you idiots are trying to do.

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Trump should have been impeached months ago—the longer you put it off, the worse it will be.

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The Lights Ahead   (2018Jan01)

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Monday, January 01, 2018                                                9:24 PM

The Lights Ahead   (2018Jan01)

The original pilgrims ventured to this land in search of a place where they could worship differently—they left behind a continent that spent centuries attacking the infidels, and more centuries attacking each other over the Inquisition and the Reformation. All wars and all crimes had a basis in belief—and differences in belief could be crimes in themselves.

Once the pilgrims got here, they soon found themselves well on the road to duplicating the very religion-based strife and violence which had driven them to their new world. Religious intolerance threatened to shatter the colonies just when they most needed to band together to survive.

The Wordy Shipmates” by Sarah Vowell gives an excellent account of how the idea of religious tolerance was adopted by the earliest colonists. ‘Separation of church and state’ remained important to the character of what would become the United States of America. Long before our nation was born, this land had been a sanctuary of tolerance—until modern times, the only nation that separated law from faith.

Thus freedom of religion became the first great light of America. We can distract ourselves with exceptions—such as the witch-burnings of Puritans and the unspoken anti-Semitism that persecuted Jewish-Americans for much of our history—but freedom to worship as we please is a part of America, exceptions notwithstanding.

The second great light of America was replacing Monarchy with Democracy. Again, we may take exception—and with good reason—to the historical record. At first, ‘all men are created equal’ used the word ‘all’ very loosely—and the word ‘men’ very narrowly—Rich, white, male colonists didn’t want to pay their taxes—and they wanted to keep their slaves.

Still, the spirit was in the words—and that spirit brought us to a great and tragic contest, the Civil War, and to the Suffragists movement, and to the Civil Rights Act, to social activism of many kinds. And all have the same aim—to broaden inclusion and to remove exceptions to the ideal. Democracy and equal rights go hand in hand—or one of them is a sham.

The third great light of America was literacy. We were the first to implement a public school system—and thus the first country to have more literate than illiterate citizens. Since this coincided with the industrial revolution, America found itself exploding with entrepreneurship—all the new ideas and new inventions kept coming—and virtually every citizen was reading about it in newspapers and magazines—and thinking to themselves, “How can I make my fortune in this chaos?”

Early on, lots of Americans chose to learn to read for one simple reason—so they could read Mark Twain’s books. Clemens was more than a great writer—he was the impetus for a young nation to go literate-default. He was as responsible for ‘Yankee know-how’ as Bell or Edison. So perhaps I should change the third great light of America from ‘literacy’ to ‘love of knowledge’. It was both ‘common’ and somewhat scandalous, in the Old World, to be interested in learning for its own sake—America demonstrated its value.

The great American Empire was founded primarily on the strength our nation found within its first three Great Lights: Freedom of Religion, Democracy, and Love of Knowledge. America made a gift of these ideas to the world—and much of the world has adopted one or all of these ideas.

Now, if Trump does his worst, and achieves the decline of the American Empire he so obviously seeks—just remember: the Greeks, the Roman Empire, the British Empire—all have faded, but the ideas they gave the world remain—and America’s ideals, being based on a love of humanity, will also outlive the land from which it sprang. Indeed, America is not the land it was—it has become something else—but those ideas still, having been brought to light, will wend their way into the thoughts of future folk, whomever they may be.

Let’s face it. Euclid gave the Greeks the gift of Geometry—a highly useful insight—yet even today not everyone bothers to learn Geometry. The Romans gave us plumbing, but not everyone in Flint, MI thinks the science of plumbing is very important—and many other towns have similar leadership. America gave the world Freedom of Religion, Democracy, and Love of Knowledge—but the number of citizens, today, with a true understanding of those principles and their importance—is, at most, two-thirds of the total.

We know this because one-third of the voters voted for Trump—who made a great show of either disrespecting those principles or showing his ignorance of them. By the time he was done campaigning, only someone with an imperfect understanding of America could possibly have approved of him.

Having said all that, it is important to recognize the other possibility—that Trump’s oafish trampling of what real Americans treasure will result in a backlash that cynics, hypocrites, Putin, and business-leaders will long regret. There are more lights, further ahead—if only we can stop this retreat into the darkness of the past… We are not done making a more perfect union. Reach for the stars, I always say.

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The Blowing of the Wind   (2017Dec13)

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017                                               3:16 PM

The Blowing of the Wind   (2017Dec13)

The cable news shows are about to air a presidential comment regarding the Republican Tax Bill. So I turned off the TV and went to find something useful, or at least enjoyable, to do. I know what he’ll say—he’ll tout the bill as a great Xmas present to the ‘middle class’ (he’ll lie, in other words) and I don’t need to hear it.

Graceless—that’s what Trump is—Trump and his kind. Moore is still insisting, for all I know, on a recount—and Trump (who doesn’t really care who won) said, after Jones won for Alabama Senate, that the deck was stacked against his protégé, Moore. These are the same guys that tell you to ‘sit down and shut up’, when they win—they’re not so cocky when they lose. It rather tarnishes their omnipotence act.

I find the whole situation shockingly distracting—this country argues about racial discrimination, while both blacks and whites—and everyone—are being pressed into the new, 21st-century slavery of unregulated capitalism. You may think me a liberal, but I am only one who has trouble ignoring math. Since the 1970’s American workers’ wages have stagnated. Without changing a thing, we all become a little poorer every decade—because the price of everything else goes up.

I have always been disgusted by the way we give ourselves to an employer—they decide the terms, the hours, the wages—even whether you get the job or not—and, as the owners, they get to keep all the profits from everyone’s work. That’s nothing new—early socialism was all about the rights of the workers—why do you think it became a federal crime to be Red? But, even with pressure, how can everyone bring themselves to just accept too little for their time and effort—while the owners get richer and fatter? Is the lesson of Capitalism that only Owners can afford to pretend to human dignity?

Unions became corrupted from within and without—there are still all kinds of laws limiting the power of workers to unionize. And I think this is how the rot gets in. First, socialist ideas were exciting—they started to catch on. The government reacted harshly and promoted Capitalism as the only Godly form of society. The Cold War enshrined Capitalism as a known Good in the minds of Americans.

We emerge from the nightmare of the Blacklist, but now Socialism is a quaint old notion, meant for Europeans and other odd people. Most Americans couldn’t even explain the difference between Socialism and Communism (except perhaps to say that Great Britain is Socialist and China is Communist). Capitalism is a trusted old friend to America—no one can deny its enormous success under past conditions—this is not an attack on commercial growth, per se.

However, as with the ending of the frontier—and the governmental response to the loss of that ‘escape valve’—we Americans today have to face facts: many nuances of ‘frontier’ have been lost in the advent of Cyber. Add to that the inevitable merging into a complex whole of all existing businesses—and the steadily declining number of people who own them—and what results is an ossified plutocracy, mouthing about freedom and equality.

Cyber has nearly wiped out paper, historically ‘overnight’. And for every surviving paper-use you can name, I can name a hundred extinct ones—I can even remember when an army of messengers carried envelopes from one office to another—Manhattan workdays saw sidewalks filled with them—all making a living wage, too.

Amazon has nearly wiped out malls—and all the many products and services that once enjoyed uniqueness—and all the travel and dining and movie-going that went with our late mall culture. It died so young—it seems only yesterday that my daughter was joining her school-friends in the latest thing—hanging out at the mall—and I felt bad because we didn’t have malls when I was growing up.

The list of professions and activities falling prey to the Cyber age, and disappearing from culture and commerce, grows every day. You can talk about the infinite possibilities of Cyber—but meanwhile, for the average joe, it looks like a lot of dwindling—you know? As the population grows, the delights of rural America become harder to come by—we closed the frontier over a century ago and even without immigration, we’ve had a pretty healthy population growth.

That’s another thing we have to face facts about. Throughout history, healthy population growth was a positive good—more manpower more than made up for more mouths to feed. But the world is full of people—in many ways, too many people (though I wouldn’t put it quite like that)—and civilization is quickly ending the concept of human labor. This changes the value of family size, regardless of your religious thoughts or feelings.

So large families become excessive, rather than practical. By the same token, the whole problem of low wages, of zero oversight on wages, is a sub-problem of the looming disaster—what will the Capitalists do with their labor pool when they don’t need the ‘middle class’ anymore?

It troubles me greatly that this subject seems glaringly untrodden—corporate America has been supplied with healthy, well-educated, capable employees since before the Revolution. Owners employ as many workers as they need and leave the rest to their own devices—if some employees are no longer needed, they, too, are then left their own devices. All over the country, almost every American is a vital part of some corporate business or industry.

Corporate America has always relied on the quality of American workers to compete and win against any other country’s businesses. Yet when an American worker is not employed, he or she is left to take care of themselves as best they can. This is a great convenience to business owners—all the benefits of America’s citizenry, without a single responsibility for their care and feeding, as a whole. Three guesses who decided it should work this way. What I can’t understand is why no one questions it?

Is it any different from the recent debates over whether business owners made their fortunes without anyone else, or if the modern infrastructure and civilized environment of American communities (and the capable labor pool) might not have been involved? See, I think ‘Owners’ get a little overzealous in their self-image—they’re much quicker to assume decision-making is their right, when many decisions are as much a matter of law or decency, as of business concerns.

I’m equally tired of the ‘budget trumps every other consideration’ argument—for things like, say, the enormous expense of ripping out and replacing all the plumbing in the town of Flint, MI with pipes that don’t poison the children. That argument is what created the Climate Crisis—money-grubbing owners pushing back on clear-cut science out of sheer greed—they should all have boils for a year—and now it’s fifty years later, these toads are still croaking while Cali burns and Florida sinks.

So, long story short—I think corporate America has strung along the American people as an on-call labor pool for long enough. Now that we can see the beginnings of automated commerce, it’s time for all us to agree that Americans will have to be subsidized in a laborless future—and that if we wait for that evolution to complete itself before securing peoples’ welfare, it will be a nightmare that any sci-fi writer would be proud of. Just think about.

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My Sincerest Condolences   (2017Oct23)

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Monday, October 23, 2017                                               2:13 PM

Condolences   (2017Oct23)

I want to express my heartfelt condolences to the United States of America. Losing so many of your treasured offspring, all at once, must cause unimaginable heartbreak.

Your Separation of Church and State—your eldest—the engine of your supremacy–finally succumbing to the vermin gnawing at her roots.

Your Democracy—between being sold out and being taken for granted—has unbarred the door to ignorance and division, becoming a front for autocracy.

Your Republican Party has devolved into a virtual cesspit—quite openly and publicly–and the fact that they still beat the Democrats proves that the Voters (though less than half of them have earned the right to describe themselves so—except as, perhaps, ‘abstentions’) have forgotten that ‘We the People’ implies some minimal amount of involvement.

Your Freedom of the Press has been imprisoned by media conglomerates—seeking only our attention, not our health—and the news has become a siren song, distracting us from the deadly rocks before us—to focus on an old man’s Twitter-feed.

And that same dirty old man has obliterated your most august Office of the Presidency—coating it with the slime of incompetence, disrespect, oafishness, and treason. His treason is multi-pronged—he attacks the Constitution because it won’t let him be a dictator—he attacks our ideals because he is a misogynist, racist, classist prig—he attacks our education because he doesn’t value knowledge as much as money—and he attacks our self-respect by telling blatant lies, right to our faces, daring us to do anything about it.

O America! You’ve heard bullshit before—it shouldn’t surprise you that the pig who claimed it wasn’t great, by saying he would make it great ‘again’, has leached out every drop of greatness garnered in your two-hundred-plus years of glory. I can’t tell you how sorry I am.

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A Lover of History   (2017Aug26)

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Saturday, August 26, 2017                                                3:30 PM

A Lover of History   (2017Aug26)

I’m not a believer, but I sing “God Bless America” just as loud as anyone else—I love this country. And I admire its greatness—its ideals, its inventions, its victories, and its opportunities. When Trump says MAGA, he simply reveals his ignorance of America’s true and enduring greatness—something he has continued to do for over 200 days now.

America is a dream dreamt by most of the rest of the world—not the land, but the culture of freedom and inclusion and opportunity—that’s America’s greatness—and ironically, it is threatened by the very con-man who ran on MAGA. Big surprise, right?

But I don’t want to discuss that blimp today. I want to talk about seeing America with open eyes—seeing that, in spite of its many achievements, there is plenty to regret in its bloody and divisive history. We are currently at war with a country that surrendered to us sixteen years ago—and at war with another group borne of the fighting—that’s some sad, stupid shit.

But America’s history is not a pretty picture. Those of us with the luxury to sit around and post online all day, with a fridge full of food and an electrified house and good roads—we tend to forget that it took over four hundred bloody, horrifying years to get here—and if we’re not mindful, it will all go down the drain.

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First, we killed off all the innocent native people, who lived here before we ‘discovered’ it. Then we set to shipping as much of the natural spoils (fur pelts, lumber, new products) as possible back to Europe. Britain and Europe sent criminals and refugees off to our country—just to remove such people from the civilized world.

Okay, that was glib—but let me just say that I still respect Americans who take pride in their pioneer and settler forebears—that process was a grueling one, demanding incredible courage and sacrifice. But it was also a bloody one—and the pioneers were, from the aboriginal viewpoint, merciless invaders.

Even when native Americans surrendered to the ‘civilized’ white people, it was always a lie—the colonists and later, the United States, would always make a binding pledge to their captives—and then turn around and break it—always. If one is proud of one’s heritage, it’s always dangerous to examine that history too closely.

Further, let me point out, the Europeans prized furs and lumber because they had denuded the European landscape of same—even without the benefit of industrial technology, human beings, like goats, can destroy an ecosystem simply by living there.

Also, the vast majority of immigrants (colonists) being criminals and refugees made for a rather anti-establishmentarian culture in the North American part of the ‘New World’. Eventually, we rebelled against the Church, the King, and wrote Founding Documents that specifically direct the citizens to keep firearms and rise up against the government again—whenever we weren’t happy with the people in charge. And people wonder why the United States has ten or twenty times the annual gunshot deaths of the rest of the world combined.

So, that’s just for starters—then we started kidnapping Africans, shipping them to America and making slaves of them. It seemed like a great idea at the time, I’m sure—but, in hindsight, it had a few problems. And slavery was the worst of it—but it was far from all of it.

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The white, English-speaking Protestants (along with the Dutch in New York) have always exuded a pompous, entitled discrimination against anyone from out of town—like Peyton Place people. They persecuted the Asian immigrants, the Irish immigrants, the Scandinavian immigrants, the Italian immigrants, the Polish immigrants, the Jewish immigrants, the Indian immigrants—I know I’m leaving a few out—Americans love their pet peeves.

Nor is this ancient history—as a child, I remember people discussing whether an Irish Catholic (John F. Kennedy—and me) could ever be elected president of the United States. But African-Americans still win—white America has, somehow, made a fetishistic art-form out of hating African-Americans.

We’re the only country with an entire region characterized by a nostalgia for the ‘good old days’ of African-Americans in chains. We’ve had a hundred years of ‘the first Black this’ or ‘the first Black female that’—and you’d think Barack Obama’s two terms would put a period to all that, but no—there’s still some slots open for discriminating white people to take note of.

We even have a white nationalist movement—right now—that sees a leveled playing field as ‘reverse racism’—these are many of the same yahoos that complain that our religious-freedom-laws are an imposition on the freedom of their religion—no one has the heart to explain to these morons that that’s what it’s for.

But all the above is just human nature—we haven’t even started on how greed (aka Capitalism) has transformed our environment, our lives, and our laws—even our elections. But pollution, corruption, neglect, and community apathy are all much too complex, ingrown, and depressing for me to go into here and now.

All I’m saying is that America is neither simple nor easy, neither perfect nor perfectly evil—it is a struggle, a moral experiment, a system that bets on good against bad. It is complicated enough that sloppy-thinking, ignorant people like our president just get in the way of people of good will—the entitlement that makes them ignorant of our true character is the same entitlement that makes them a danger to the character of our nation.

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greatshakes

New Thoughts (2017Jul13)

Friday, July 14, 2017                                                2:10 AM

marinerd

New Thoughts (2017Jul13)

“no Person holding any Office of Profit or Trust under them, shall, without the Consent of the Congress, accept of any present, Emolument, Office, or Title, of any kind whatever, from any King, Prince, or foreign State.”  —The U. S. Constitution, Art. 1, Sec. 9

Technically, the excerpt above would not apply to the Trump campaign, since he was not in office until the inauguration. But it seems likely that, if the founding authors felt this strongly about an elected official’s behavior in office (with respect to foreign influence) they may have simply assumed that no one flouting these important ethics, during the campaign, would have a prayer of being elected—by the people, or the Electoral College (whose sole purpose was to act as a stopgap against charlatans of such sort).

That Trump—and his administration—continue to dismiss the perfidy of attempting collusion with a foreign power to influence a national election—claiming that ‘most people would have taken that meeting’ goes beyond political inexperience, into amorality. This, in the face of precedent— in September of 2000, close adviser to Vice President Al Gore, Rep. Tom Downey of Long Island, N.Y., received an anonymous package of purported info on the Bush Campaign, and turned it over to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

That only a single precedent exists is no doubt due to the hare-brained nature of such over-the-top aggression—few presidential candidates, never mind an entire coterie of such a culture, so single-mindedly pursue the destruction of their opponent, without bothering to offer anything positive about their own character. That Trump and his goons miss that they miss that—is deeply troubling. I heard someone say the other day that Trump’s administration couldn’t be more generically ‘bad-guy’ if they had been written into a superhero comic-book as the villains.

If, as with the rest of us, any old guy could walk into court and file a criminal complaint against Trump, most judges would probably find probable cause for a grand jury—his son’s emails are more than enough to get the ball rolling. But that is not the case—we have to wait until the Republicans in Congress have decided that Trump has gotten too hot even for their ice-cold, cynical hands. Meanwhile, they can point to ‘congressional hearings on the matter’—but somehow it has neither the urgency of HRC’s Benghazi hearings nor the presumption of guilt we saw at HRC’s ‘server’ hearings. Why is that, we wonder?

But anyway, I wanted to say something about healthcare that everyone seems to have forgotten—we didn’t use to have any. We used to have insurance companies that could do whatever they wanted—in the name of free enterprise—and business was great—for them. For the millions of people who only dreamed of taking their kids to a doctor—or spending another few years with their sick grandparent—or trying to raise a disabled child on a low-middle income—it wasn’t working so good—it wasn’t working at all.

You may remember those days—it was only eight years ago they changed it—and forever, before that, there had been no responsibility taken by our government to care for every citizen’s health. We saw people being admitted to emergency rooms and we told ourselves that anyone, in an emergency, could be treated by a doctor. We didn’t think of all the ways that health issues can impact people and families and businesses, aside from being allowed in the ER when you’re almost dead.

We saw other countries switch to socialized healthcare—and heard the domestic industry pooh-pooh those other countries’ fairness as not being as dynamic as our competitive business-model. Plus, it would wipe out the present health-insurance industry—and—lots of Americans just hate the idea of giving free stuff to poor people. They hate it as much as I hate the idea of making poor peoples’ lives more difficult than they are already.

Michael Moore made a wonderful movie once—I forget which one—where he showed a ‘Canadian slum’, which was a lovely-looking, crime-free neighborhood—with free childcare for working mothers and, of course, free healthcare. See, now, I could live right next door to people like that and not feel bad about having more money than them—because they wouldn’t be suffering from their lack, they would simply have less money. Plus, if I went broke, and became poor, my life would change very little—as a sick old man, my entertainment expenses are minimal.

Anyway, the point is—the Democrats had to scratch and claw their way to passage of Obamacare—because it was a game-changer. Now that Americans have had affordable health care for some years, Republicans will look like total dicks if they just repeal it—not a single voter will be without a relative that suffers from a repeal—and even Machiavellian gerrymandering can’t undo that.

Now they struggle to pass a ‘repeal and replace’ bill—but they can’t do it. They can’t repeal it outright. And they can’t replace it with something that is effectively a repeal-in-other-words—the CBO has called them on that dodge three times in a row already.

They can’t work together with Democrats to make real improvements on Obamacare—because they don’t have the political stones to sink their careers for the sake of the citizenry—like Obama did when he signed it. There are real problems with Obamacare—and it hurts the country to leave them unaddressed—but the Republicans persist in trying to put this egg back in its shell, when they should be cooking.

marinern

Thursday, July 13, 2017                                           5:35 PM

I think it is important to recognize that there is always more to things than the simple explanation. Now that the Trump/Russia Collusion scandal has expanded to include election-tampering in general, we will inevitably reach a point where the insidious disinformation-campaign by the Russians, working with the Alt-Right or not, will be compared to mass media.

In my rants I have frequently ranted the same thing. But the mass media disinformation problem is more like the healthcare problem than the Trump/Russia debacle—because, as with the medical profession, the aim is a pure one: doctors try to help, and do no harm—and media is meant to inform and entertain.

In both cases, the transition to profit-based paradigms has created massive amounts of business: Medicine spawned Big Pharma, the Health Insurance industry, Corporate research, surgical and care devices from stents to remote-control surgical bots. Media has spawned the Networks, Cable, E-books, Computer Graphics, Streaming services, Online researching and metadata massage, movie franchising, social media—and, of course, cable news.

In both cases, profit has proven to be a dehumanizing influence in industries that are based, nominally, on humane goals. Our country’s medical care is the best in the world—for about ten percent of citizens, perhaps less. For the other 90%, care is more expensive and less professional than in socialized-medical-care countries—so when someone tells you that socialized medicine will be a big step backward, they are referring only to the fabulously wealthy.

Likewise, introducing the profit motive into a free press makes a lot of money and endless access to data for that ten percent or less—and distorts the so-called ‘news’. This could be fought against if it weren’t for the further distortion of people’s perceptions wrought by our click-bait culture. By narrowing our focus down to one issue, one headline at a time, cable news does two harms: first, the blindered presentation of individual issues makes them seem even more unsolvable and more numerous than they really are, and by removing the context, they prevent us from seeing the whole, where many of the answers we look for may be found.

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Wednesday, July 05, 2017                                                1:51 PM

It’s sad the way I’ve lost interest in people. Whenever I talk to people now, I find myself waiting for them to get bored and go away—while I hypocritically try to sound interesting so they won’t think I’m boring. I’m not really as selfish as that sounds—I’ve lost interest in myself, too, in a way—that is, I don’t push myself or dream of big goals anymore. I’ve soured, is probably the most concise expression.

For most of my life I was on a manic search for the new—I thought I was in love with learning, but it’s nothing so noble—I just feel stifled when things become overly familiar—I ‘need’ to find something new, all the time. Do you have books you keep telling yourself you’ll read? I don’t—I’ve read them all already. Do you keep telling yourself you’ll try this or that, someday? I don’t—I have already done everything I know of (and, yes, lots of things are fun the first time). But none of that stuff is fun anymore—it’s old.

Then, so am I.

rodinevilspirits

Trump and Putin need to stop misusing their elected offices to market their brands. Corruption has gone beyond ubiquitous, to in-your-face. Around the globe, we see it—starting with our own GOP, and a president who neither fully divests nor refuses emoluments–who puts his family members on staff as if running a mom and pop store instead of the USA.

But corruption is even more malignant in Mexico, and in both Central and South America. Corruption is more sophisticated in Europe and the UK—as one might expect. But we see the worst of it in Eastern Europe, the Middle East, Southeast Asia, China, and Russia. Russia is the supreme example—their ‘democracy’ was hijacked by the head mob-boss in post-Soviet Russia—and he has been getting reelected for 17 years. And this thug still has veto-power on the UN Security Council. Same as the other two thugs—Trump and Xi Peng.

But I’m not pointing fingers—my point is the opposite—that corruption is an ingredient of society—the only variables are: how deeply ingrained, how inhumane its profit-motive, and whether the ‘townspeople’ can stand up to bad government without being gunned down. It’s certainly more nuanced than that, but you get my concept, I hope.

Health Care Legislation was a very different thing before the Affordable Care Act (what there was of it). The ACA (or ‘Obamacare’, as I like to call it, for short) was the first law to require the health insurance industry to provide coverage that was less profitable, but fairer. Coverage that protected sick people, Obamacare virtually stated, could not be purely for profit—it had to have standards of an ethical nature, since Health Care was a business of life and death.

The health insurance industry felt obliged to resist lowered profits and increased regulation—they thought in terms of profit and loss. Like most industries, insurers can see no middle ground between maximum profit and a threat to their rights to do business. They can talk that way—corporations have many of the rights of a person—but they aren’t ‘person’ enough to have to face their own family after saying some of the cold-blooded, hypocritical press-releases they do—neither must a corporation tell individuals, to their faces, what they intend to do to them—or take away from them—or cheat them out of.

The law may say that a corporation is a person in the eyes of the court—but, outside the court, I think we can all agree that a corporation is the shittiest person anyone has ever met—not that anyone can meet those flat-faced, lobby-laminated excuses for human flesh. If a corporation sues someone, it’s never about the corporation’s integrity, as a person—it always because someone threatened their profits, their cash-flow, their public image. I could loiter around and spit on a corporation all day long—it’s not a person—it won’t even get its feelings hurt.

I’m stumped about what gives these actuarial fictions any Constitutional rights—it’s as if there’s a carney-ride gateway for piles of money, with a sign that says, “You must be this high to have all the rights of a person—without any of the consequences.”  Someone will have to explain it all to me someday. Then explain why such a stupid idea endures, like it was the friggin Emancipation Amendment or something.

statue-liberty-evacuation

Tuesday, July 11, 2017                                             2:25 PM

When will we face our embarrassment that we let Russian disinformation and hacking—and the media hoopla—trick us into letting crooks into the Administration? Trump’s gang have shown themselves without honor, without competence, without honesty, and without any regard for the Constitution—and, in spite of that, the Republicans scruple to impeach him (perhaps because he’s only slightly more cynically unethical than they are). But someday we’re going to have to face it—we’ve been had.

And the Russians go right ahead with their global program of disruption of democracy, attacking unity wherever they find it—especially in the United States. We take for granted that word in our country’s name—but it has been our shield and buckler, without us even really appreciating the power of unity. Our government had the wits to appreciate the strength of unity when FDR said, ‘let there be labor unions’. Business owners fought against it, but not having any moral ground to stand on, they were overruled.

Inclusion is just our modern way of saying ‘Unity’, when unity has become an old-fashioned expression. But old things are best—and there’s nothing like unity—teamwork, looking out for the guy next to you, etc.

And the media go right ahead, making a circus of the most serious aspect of our lives—money, taxes, legislation, infrastructure, consumer protection, et. al.—they talk about it in throbbing tones, dramatizing and stirring the pot of what is really a bunch of vote counting and legalese. I’m not saying journalists shouldn’t cover the news—but stop making it into some Shakespearian comic tragedy full of personalities and gossip. Stop making money broadcasting our political fate as if it were a football game, goddammit.

They usually reply that they’re just giving the public what they want—but that’s bullshit—if that were true, they could just broadcast porn and ESPN, and skip the news altogether—but if they’re going to do it, they should do it as a public service, not as a competitor in the ratings wars. They way they’re doing it now, it’s more like they’re cheerleaders for the devil—at their most thrilled when our country is on the brink of disaster. Cronkite did not announce Kennedy’s assassination breathlessly, like some Shopping Channel shill—he did it with tears in his eyes. Why? Because he was a human being—with a slight taint of decency.

inferno25

Friday, July 07, 2017                                                6:10 PM

I lost my memory and I can’t remember where I left it. I lost a liver and received a stranger’s to replace it. I’ve lost my health and all I have is writing to distract me. I lost my cigarettes when they diagnosed my emphysema—and I lost what little self-respect remained when I found I didn’t have the will to quit smoking, while slowly dying of emphysema. How stupid is that?

Very stupid—but I’m allowed to be. I used to be semi-intelligent—I know what intelligence means—and I no longer have it. If HepC made my brain stupid and I have to live with that, then I’m not going to blame myself for being stupid. I’m not really blaming myself for anything—that’s the beauty of learning to stop blaming other people—you get to stop blaming yourself, because the same excuses apply, no matter whose fault something is.

What excuses do I allow other people, in trying to stop blaming them? Well, there’s the thing about everybody being a product of how they were raised—genetics makes us all unique, but a common upbringing tells in most people. I use this one for parents and teachers—I tell myself that they were raised in an earlier, rougher period of time—by parents that were raised in an earlier, rougher period of time, etc., etc. If kids didn’t swear to raise their kids better than they were raised, we would all still be living in caveman times.

Conversely, a variant of this excuse, for contemporaries, is: I tell myself they were raised by weird, strict parents with weird, narrow-minded ideas. Basically parents are an excuse and a reason to be excused—as a parent myself, this comforts me. This rule is not reflexive however—good outcomes do not imply good parenting—goodness, in fact, often occurs in spite of bad parenting—and some terrible people have very nice parents (or, at least, one of them is, sometimes).

But it doesn’t really matter what excuses we use—the goal is to stop blaming other people. This is our goal, not because these people we blame deserve forgiveness, not because time has passed—not even because it allows us to take the moral high ground—none of these really require forgiveness. We want to stop blaming other people because it simplifies and improves our own head-space.

I am not, however, a forgive-and-forget person. If someone lies to me, I won’t rely on their word any longer. If someone takes from me, I won’t do business with them ever again. I don’t do these things because I hold a grudge—I do them because it would be crazy to ignore someone’s character. I don’t forget information, even if it is negative information. I stop blaming because it is a useless activity, but I don’t forget. Memory is a useful survival skill.

But I am no machine—I’m sure I contradict all these words half the time—when I write, I sometimes talk about me as I wish I was, not as I really am. Some of my thoughts make perfect sense in the moment, and then sound like idiocy deluxe a moment later. Life is a shifting target.

pn010

Independence Day—Depending…  (2017Jul03)

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Monday, July 03, 2017                                             5:00 PM

Independence Day—Depending…  (2017Jul03)

I have terribly mixed feelings about the Fourth of July, here in the first year that I’ve been embarrassed to be represented by a dirty pig—and angry that, even though they are in the minority, people who wanted a dirty pig in the Oval Office managed to pull it off.

There used to be enough decency and dignity in the Capitol that ignorance and duplicity could be excused as unsavory ingredients of politics—part of the mix. However, now that they’ve become the be-all and end-all of it, we have begun the not-so-slow slide into what the rest of the globe deals with: a government that you can’t depend on like a rock—a government that once felt obligated to respond (sooner or later) to the will of the people, the rich and powerful be damned. Our mighty fortress has become just another sovereign beehive of influence, intimidation, and privilege.

I wouldn’t care if this had happened before I was born—or if it was still a decade in the future—but to happen now, as the shittiest-possible current-event to end my sixty-plus years of life! To think that all the ups and downs, all the earnest hopes and wishes—have led to this bad joke, smearing the White House walls with the indelible ink of his shameless pawing—like a child’s crayon-scrawl on fresh-painted walls. A moment’s distraction—and this proud nation’s heritage turns to ashes in the mouth.

20160702XD-RevWar_04

Good and Bad   (2017Jun26)

20170628XD-StarBase

Monday, June 26, 2017                                            9:30 PM

Good and Bad   (2017Jun26)

We had a lot of good stuff before the world became industrialized, polluted, and overpopulated. But we had to give that good stuff up in the name of progress. There’s a lot of good stuff in idealistic youth, fresh from school. But we have to teach them to be cynical, distrusting, and acquisitive before we consider them grown men and women fit for the business world.

For humanity, something isn’t really useful until it’s been broken in—our sweetest gift is a handful of flowers, cut down in their prime, with only days to droop before they are thrown away. Not that I disapprove of flower bouquets—but they are, objectively, murdered plants—and that’s the way people like them.

I’ve always been fascinated by the muddy mess of the old Main Streets. See, before paved roads, every street in town became a muddy, impassable obstruction. Back in those days, there was never a big patch of mud, unless people were there. What strikes me about this is that even before exhaust pipes, factory chimneys, diesel engines, or chemical plants that dumped toxic waste in the rivers—even before all that, people were messing up every place they gathered in groups larger than a tribe.

Which is why the muddy obstacles were found in settlements’ and boom-towns’ streets—and not in the Native American villages. Even the slightest deviation from the hunter-gatherer tribal traditions (like a higher population density) would have changed things—and whether change is good or bad, I tend to admire the fact that there was a terrible balance in their lifestyle.

Think of it—coast-to-coast, groups of people living solely off the land—in comparatively miniscule numbers, sure, but with zero infrastructure that wasn’t already being supplied by Mother Nature. And before their feistier, paler brethren came sailing up, they hadn’t even needed to spend a dime on national defense.

I’m telling you, Europeans didn’t so much discover the New World as find the corner of the world that they hadn’t already ruined, deforested, overhunted, or incubated plagues in—and then proceeded to ruin that New Corner as fast as they could (experience tells, right?) And their specialty—weapons and war—made it easy to wipe out any previous residents, wherever they went.

Ironically, the reason the New World was so full of un-ruined goodness was because Native Americans kept it that way—and the Europeans judged them too inferior to hold claim on their land (or their lives), partly because they weren’t sophisticated enough to have ruined it all, already, themselves. That’s what you call a ‘bitter irony’.

Thus I always feel that when we discuss people, humanity, whatever—that we have to talk about two kinds of people—the kind of people we were evolved to be, by nature, and the kinds of people we learn to become, as part of civilization. These two very different aspects of humanity are nevertheless melded into each personality.

Virtually no one is so civilized that they don’t breathe air—nor so natural as to never use money. Some of us dream of going forward—colonizing the solar system, where there is no air. Some of us dream of going backward—to a naturalism so idyllic that money becomes obsolete. Trekkies dream of both—but there are very optimistic types, don’t you think? Still—beats pessimism.

20170628XD-HunterGatherers_(G_Caselli_73)

Denial   (2017Jun09)

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Friday, June 09, 2017                                               10:35 PM

During the Depression, it became obvious that business owners were a threat to the equality of the workers—but with the Red Scare, we managed to deny that—and denying that business owners are a threat is a founding pillar of the Republican platform to this day. When Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, a new awareness came to the public—an awareness that what we do, and the waste we produce doing it, and the poisons we use doing it—has an effect on the places where we live.

Even as we busied ourselves, learning to throw our trash into receptacles (instead of on the ground)—chemical and petroleum companies began to push back on the idea of ecology—denying that our use of natural resources could have any ill-effect on the Earth—or that resources would ever run out. And climate-change-denial is still a part of the Republican platform, as well.

It was different in the past, when big money and big business had an understanding ear in the GOP—now, it seems more as if the fat cats outright own the GOP—lock, stock, and ethics. The masses of people who overlooked the favoritism of the entitled for the promise of conservative, unchanging security—they have become dupes of those who would make great change—and most of it retrogression or partisanship. And now they have a crazy man in charge—it may take time, but they will come to see him as a dangerous man.

So many of our political footballs carry within them some sort of denial on at least one side of the argument—right-to-lifers deny that legal abortion is better than illegal abortion—climate-change-deniers ignore the preponderance of both scientific authority and evidence—marijuana-haters deny the probability that pot has many medicinal uses—gun-nuts deny that the ubiquity of guns has any connection to our sky-high murder rate—it goes on and on.

And these people have their arguments, their points-of-view—but seem, in the end, to simply deny something which they are uncomfortable accepting as part of their reality. I can sympathize—but I still think they’re wasting their own—and everyone else’s—time.

Improv – Woods Trails

Improv – High Notes

Bach – Prelude in C (with Improv)

Satie – Gnossienne (with Improv)

Improv – Maelstrom

 

ttfn.

Another Break With Ethical Tradition   (2017Mar15)

ShirtwaistFire_01

Wednesday, March 15, 2017                                            3:32 PM

The Ides of March are upon us. And how fitting, when here in the present our would-be empress was character-assassinated, leaving the throne to a pack of criminals. And how paper-thin their pretense at public service—a quick bill to allow coal-waste dumping in local waterways, as an appetizer for removing 24 million from health insurance—and gutting the EPA (something even that old crook, Nixon, saw the point of enacting).

In what way are these shameless epicureans serving the public good? In what world are we not being sold out to the moneyed interests? And does wanting a ‘change’ in Washington mean wanting more protection for the big corporations and less concern for the average citizen—along with a heaping helping of incompetence and malfeasance? How is it that legitimate leadership has never before required so many PR people to be expert liars?

I saw a few minutes of FOX News today—they were clawing at Rachel Maddow’s reputation for revealing some information about Trump’s tax returns—claiming that making a big deal about them was liberal hysteria. No discussion (that I heard) addressed the fact that he is the only modern president to hide that information during the campaign—and continue to hide it, even after taking office. Neither did I hear anyone question why that is. But, boy, did they have fun ragging on Rachel.

Not that we should expect much different from a guy who won’t even put his assets in a blind trust for the duration of his term—another break with ethical tradition. Listen, my dad used to put me in charge when he was on vacation, too—it didn’t mean it wasn’t his business anymore. Ironically, while Trump has become the world’s most famous liar, he gets very emotional about how we should trust him to always do the right thing—I’d like to see him do one right thing.

An objective observer might remark on how ‘bigly’ the Trump camp jumps on any error, real or imagined, from anyone outside their circle—yet they minimize any errors of their own as if the rules don’t really apply when talking about such important poohbahs as Trump. But hypocrisy is a big word—and remember—‘nobody knew how complicated’ it would be to be president. How much more complicated would it become if he were to attempt to be a good president? Please. Let’s be realistic.

Ending the EPA is such a disastrous wish that many people are reassuring themselves by thinking, ‘oh, Trump’s too incompetent to make it happen’. My concern is merely the fact that he wants to. There was a famous fire in NYC’s Triangle Building a century ago—many women were killed due to the fact that the owner chained the exit-doors shut. The outrage over that mass immolation caused a few labor reforms. But here we are, one hundred years later, and Trump wants to chain the safety-doors to the entire country.

In what universe is this pig making a successful pretense of leadership?

ShirtwaistFire_02

Abortion   (2017Mar11)

work

Saturday, March 11, 2017                                                 12:06 PM

Abortion has existed since ancient times. Earlier civilizations used certain herbs to terminate pregnancy, even before surgical methods were known. And abortion is still practiced today, even in countries where it is illegal. Like so many things, abortion happens whether the law allows it or not.

To imagine that making abortion illegal or unavailable will end abortion is the kind of simplistic thinking that causes more trouble than the issue itself. Shuttering Planned Parenthood, or even legally banning abortion, won’t stop abortions—it will only make them more dangerous and increase criminality.

Please note that I’m not advocating abortion—as a man, it’s really not something I’m prepared to have an opinion about. I’m advocating that we recognize human nature. Outlawing abortion won’t stop abortion. Defunding Planned Parenthood won’t stop abortion. Such things will only make it more dangerous and less controlled.

Don’t get me wrong—defunding Planned Parenthood will do something—it will take important health care away from women. If that’s what you want to do, then close it down—but it won’t stop abortion.

The history of our Prohibition era could teach us a lot, if we were willing to learn from history. Things like drugs, sex, and rock n’ roll happen, with or without legality—the only difference is that illegality creates an underworld, a criminal subculture that undermines local and federal government and increases violence.

Look at our DEA—initially an army against drug-abuse, now nothing more than a central focus of corruption and payoffs. Meanwhile drug abuse grows by leaps and bounds.

The thing these outlaw-crazy people miss is the fact that regulation is far more effective than a ban—it provides quality control, commercial control, age limits—hell, you can even collect taxes off it. And people don’t fight as hard against regulation as they do against deprivation. We have accepted this truth regarding alcohol, but for some reason we try to pretend that it doesn’t scale-up to everything else.

So you think abortion is a crime, an offense against God—whatever—I’m not going to try to change your opinion. I’m simply pointing out that abortion isn’t going anywhere—driving it underground actually ingrains it more deeply into our society, making it a cause instead of a mere service.

The stronger your sense of personal morality, the less sense it makes, to me, that you would want to take that personal choice away from someone else. If you think you have the right to decide what’s right and what’s wrong, how can you possibly believe that other people don’t have the same right?

If you want to disapprove of people who choose to get an abortion—that’s fine—you have your own morality—now you only have to learn to let them have theirs. Take that away from them and it’s only a matter of time before someone decides to take yours. This stuff works both ways, Einstein.

thought

Xenophobic Nonsense   (2017Feb07)

Tuesday, February 07, 2017                                             6:47 PM

Okay, time to slow things down. Trump’s blitzkrieg of incompetence has the overall effect of forcing us to play his game, on his timetable. He does and says so many inflammatory, imprudent, borderline-illegal things that we simple folk are spurred into instant response—there’s never time for sober discussion—his stupidity is faster than light.

And while it may seem impossible to justify ignoring Trump and his minions for even one second—I sense that pulling back from his shit-storm of non-ideas, and taking the time to laugh at him and them—and to remind ourselves that life goes on, madness in the White House be damned—is the correct course. When caught in an inane conversation with a drunk, we don’t try to win the argument—we try to move away from the drunk—and this seems the sensible course in the case of Trump’s fascist Justice League of Losers and their obsession with media-storms.

Granted, Trump’s Electoral College win is a huge blow—in spite of the majority voting against him, he holds the presidency for the next four years—and that’s a lot of power for a crazy egotist. But the sub-set of Americans identifying as Trump supporters is still, in many ways, a far more ominous threat in the long term. These people are trapped within the echo-chamber of ‘alternative’, resentful, paranoid fantasies about how the world works, outside of their town.

Where their existence was once threatened by the ubiquity of information, the rise of biased information sources has now strengthened their grip on such self-excusing delusions. Bigotry is back in fashion. As long as Trump (and their portion of the Internet) reinforces their balky refusal to open their minds, they’ll feel infinitely justified in maintaining even the craziest notions.

These people have even been convinced to vote against Health Care, for themselves and their families. Think about that. It’s not far different from offering someone a juicy steak dinner—and them punching you in the mouth, like you’d insulted their mother.

You tell them the globe is warming, sea levels are rising, untold disaster awaits—and when their boss at the oil company, or the coal mine, sez, ‘No, it isn’t’, they dutifully jeer at the scientists. Scientists! People who make a career out of sweating the details—and who, more to the point, have no dog in this race—unlike their deniers.

I’ve seen regular people—not rich business owners or anything, just regular folks—who actually oppose the Minimum Wage. The sole purpose of a minimum wage is to make it hard for employers to pay you less than you deserve. Do these people think that the rule will only apply to immigrants—and even if it did, do they hate immigrants that much? How will they feel when their own kids can’t find work that pays their rent? Minimum Wage might start to look a little more attractive then.

So, in my humble opinion, there are some tragically, self-defeatingly, self-destructively stupid people out there—and a lot of them vote. For the most part, they don’t really oppose the changes that the Left promotes—they simply fear change—and that is their only real point of agreement with their leaders, especially Trump. Imagine a 21st-century American putting billions of taxpayer dollars into a wall—a big, stupid wall. Hasn’t he read Clausewitz?

A wall can be swum around, tunneled under, and flown over—if Trump’s idea was to stop immigrants, he’s a failure—if he merely wants to inconvenience them—good work, Donald, spend away. Although it should be noted that immigrants are no strangers to inconvenience. The act of building a big wall can be seen as less of a practical exercise and more of a desire for the world to be so simple. It is a statement more than an achievement—and those familiar with Trump’s pre-presidency resume will recognize this theme.

The sad truth is that rich people raise lazy kids—and rich countries raise lazy citizens—America maintains its preeminence by constantly blending in fresh blood. And if the newcomers are not creamy white, that is beside the point—they are eager—even desperate, for a chance to make something of their lives, and their families’ lives. They work like dogs. They take everything seriously. They listen to what’s going on around them. Basically, all the stuff that you and I are too ‘over’ being Americans to bother with.

These people prevent the rest of us from drowning in our own toxins of apathy and entitlement, selfishness and irresponsibility. They recharge the battery of America and they always have—our own ancestors were part of the process. Deciding to stop now, to shut it all down, to ban travel and build a big honking wall—suicide—sheer suicide for our country and ourselves.

Don’t take my word for it—look at Europe. A lot of those countries are accepting refugees, not simply out of the goodness of their hearts, but also because their populations are becoming too small and too aged to maintain their economies. They need immigrants—and the only reason we don’t is because we’ve always had them. We’ve never known what lack of change, lack of growth is really like—stagnation is foreign to us—but not for long, if we keep up this xenophobic nonsense.

ttfn

The Dust We Stand On   (2017Feb04)

newyork1777maprestoredsmall

Saturday, February 04, 2017                                             5:31 PM

So, I was reading about my hero, Joseph Henry, who grew up in Albany, New York at the turn of the nineteenth century. That got me interested in the history of New York State. Today I started reading one such history and it described the Native Americans of the area prior to First Contact with the West—the Iroquois and the Oneidas, Mohawks and what-all—what was the Five Nations and would become Six. It described their early agriculture—the Three Sisters, which were beans, corn, and squash—the beans climbed the cornstalks like a trellis and the squash leaves kept the moisture in the ground, plus their root systems descended to three different levels, so the three crops weren’t competing for nutrients.

The East Coast Native Americans were different from the Plains Tribes and others further West and South—and certainly different from the Natives closer to the Arctic Circle, up North. They lived harsh lives, from our perspective—but looked at differently, they lived in the ultimate health spa—living and dying exactly as nature had evolved them to live. They hadn’t even gotten around to metallurgy before the Europeans came along.

Yet there was a civilization—with a spiritual framework, a wide-spread confederation of oversight (one couldn’t call it governance—since their lifestyles precluded the need for taxes or prisons) and, more to the point, a society just as complex—and more humane—than any we have created or seen since.

It is melancholy to imagine what the Americans would have done with their land, left to themselves. A land without livestock, mining or metalwork—an incentive to live less bellicose lives. Who knows how that would have panned out, given some space? But now we’ll never know—and given the reality, we are fortunate that any record of their cultures survives (not that all of them have).

So, I’m going to slog through this pre-invasion history—and then try not to think about it, as I move forward to the more modern history of colonization and ultimate statehood. What else can be done—rewind the past? There’s no helping the fact that the birth of the United States was the death of something else, something that had a right to exist, something beautiful—but no one can undo the past.

The genocide, like Henry’s discovery of Electromagnetic Inductance, is both a foundation of the present—and entirely irrelevant to the present. It is now nothing more than dust—but it is the dust we stand on. A fascination with history can turn sour if we don’t keep our heads above water—there’s a limit to empathy and we are only human.

The early chapters of my history also describe the geography—the many lakes and rivers—particularly the Hudson River and the Great Lakes—and what a convenient harbor New York had at the mouth of the Hudson. It is strange to think that waterways, today, tend to be obstacles to transport rather than a means. The vast majority of international shipping still travels the oceans—but today’s technology makes inland travel almost entirely a dry-footed affair.

The Native Americans hadn’t much technology above the bow and arrow—but they had invented canoes (and moccasins—a technology the Europeans first ridiculed—then instantly adopted). And water was kind of handy to have around in those days, even if you didn’t travel. They had a great trail that went from Manhattan all the way up to Canada—today we call it Rt. 22, mostly—and 90% of New Yorkers still live along that trail. But when they weren’t walking, they were using the profusion of rivers and lakes that New York offered.

I read somewhere that New York State has the greatest diversity of trees of any state. I read somewhere else that an early European colonist once described flights of migrating birds so vast that they would darken the sky from horizon to horizon. Can you imagine what it was like back then? Virgin forests, pre Iron-Age culture—golly.

 

I feel a little jinxed, peering into the details of the improbable history of the Empire State—the stuff of legend, half of it, and the rest merely incredible—here at a juncture in time when the whole thing may be balanced on a knife edge—and only because the entire world as I’ve known it seems bound and determined to hurl itself into the abyss as quickly as possible. From what I can tell so far, what we call New York was a great land before anyone ‘discovered’ it—it became a colony and a state that was an empire unto itself, regardless of the federal government—and the tip of it became a city so busy with power and life that it, too, became an entity unto itself, outside of its state.

New York State is one of those things so large and diverse that we are taken unawares by the sudden realization of its existence—this massive determiner of so many destinies—so much a part of our lives that we hardly realize it’s there. And it is even easier to overlook, given that each of its nooks and crannies—particularly within the five boroughs—is a province unto itself.

New Englanders are known to be flinty, anti-social types—but they are a step down from Manhattanites, who are actively antagonistic towards their neighbors. Yet New York City remains such a gravitational force on the globe that we can excuse the inhabitants their need to be actively repellent—they need to make sure you really want to be there—it’s crowded enough already. And the pressure at the center of human civilization is not for the faint of heart.

It makes me superstitious—as a computer guy, I’ve spent a great deal of my life learning about things that disappear—old hardware, old software, old businesses that have faded away—all my precious knowledge becomes so much sewage clogging up my brain—and it’s not as if that stuff was easy to learn, dammit. And now, as I study American history—and my home state, no less—I feel a cold draft on the back of my neck—it could be melting ice caps, it could be Trump’s inability to resist the big red button—I can’t help worrying that I’m learning about something else that may disappear someday soon.

America Foisted   (2017Jan27)

inferno34

Friday, January 27, 2017                                          10:07 AM

What Trump doesn’t understand is that “America First” sounds fresh and exciting to him—because no one else has used that phrase since the American Bund, whose motto it was, were exposed as Nazi fifth-columnists in the 1940s. “America First” has been—and to all appearances remains, as Trump uses it—the rallying cry of Fascists, Racists and Anti-Semites. Just because Trump is ignorant of History doesn’t mean it didn’t happen.

He compounded his ignorance by using this motto, mere seconds after taking the oath of office—which he apparently wasn’t listening to himself doing—because the oath clearly states that he is not to preserve and protect our boundaries with big walls—his job is to defend the Constitution.

And this is why it is dangerous to put a dummy in that office—America is not a patch of dirt that we love—it is a collection of principles written down by our founders. America is an idea—if you throw out the ideas, we’re just a patch of dirt, no different from anyplace else. Animals fight over territory—Americans fight to defend their ideas.

That is why ignorance in America always fancies itself as an ‘alternative point of view’—those who hear ‘freedom of speech’ as a simple rule, rather than a complex idea, will naturally use that rule to counter ideas against which they are incapable of arguing cogently. In the same way, the ignorant tell us, “He won. Get over it.” They do not see that having the Electoral College legitimize their mistake, making it official for four years, does not make their choice any less incorrect—or dangerous, sad to say.

I have even heard it said that a man who lies so profusely as BLOTUS may not be lying, so much as deluded enough to believe his own lies—which, to me, only begs the question: which is worse—a congenital liar or a raving lunatic? Well, fear not, America—by all evidence, it would seem that we have elected a man who is very much both.

What is so very striking about BLOTUS is how proud he is—I have always wanted to feel pride in my accomplishments, as any normal person does, but I never realized that it is possible to be proud as a personality tic, devoid of any cause or achievement. His dismissal of the real accomplishments of others, and of the nuances of allegiance to a Constitution, rather than a piece of property, are just the flip side of that empty-souled, dim-witted persona.

No More Mr. No Comment-Reply  (2017Jan05)  

colethomvoygolife4-d2

Thursday, January 05, 2017                                              4:32 PM

I’ve witnessed the entire cycle. Back in the hippie days, no one ever shut up about ‘issues’ and ‘injustices’. Then there came a time when people got tired of the constant ferment of social friction—they started thinking that they were too busy getting through their lives to ‘blue-sky’ about civil rights and social justice all day. After the Yuppies, there came the Moderates—basically our last three presidents’ terms.

But now the Foolishness, of which Bush-43’s worst faults were merely a foreshadowing, is upon us with a vengeance—and the funny thing about foolishness is that it’s all fun and games until people’s lives are at stake—and then, it’s just plain evil. Hitler was ridiculous, too—a laughably foolish prat—right up until Kristalnachte.

I’ve been civilized (for me) on social media—and I plan to continue being as civil as conditions allow. But I used to tell myself that the less attention I gave to the foolish people, the better for everybody. I would see stupid comments—transparently bigoted, sexist, xenophobic—whatever—or all at once, even—and I would scroll on by. I didn’t want to start nothing—and I knew from experience that the only thing greater than their ignorance is their close-minded-ness—which makes arguing with them a waste of time. Why should I start futile arguments with the brain-dead, especially on some friend’s Facebook post?

But that’s all over now. I still know that arguing with these redneck-nazi assholes is a waste of time—I still don’t want to cause trouble on a friend’s post. But I will not let a single one of these damn hate-bubbles get past again. If I see Stupid online, I’m calling it out—whenever and wherever. Unfriend me if you must—I won’t blame you—I plan to be as abusive as possible towards any and all stupidity and hatred I find online from now on.

If you have Kellyanne Conway’s School of Alternate Reality running inside your brain—then come get some. If you don’t like religion unless it’s your religion, come get some. If you voted for the city-slicker whites-only real estate mogul—come and fucking get some, you insult to the very idea of America.

History Repeats –or- Et Tu, Cooper? (2016Dec14)

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Wednesday, December 14, 2016                                               9:57 AM

History Repeats –or- Et Tu, Cooper?

During my reading of Joseph Henry’s biography, I’ve acquired a sudden interest in the history of New York State. As I researched the reference material, I ran across someone’s comment that there were scant histories of the state, which they found odd, considering its size and importance—and that would appear to remain the case. Amazon is strangely ungenerous when searched for the ‘history of New York State’ specifically.

The first book I came across was “New York” by James Fenimore Cooper. One passage stopped me in my tracks, right off:

“We are not disposed, however, to look for arguments to the debates and discussions of the Convention, in our view often a deceptive and dangerous method of construing a law, since the vote is very frequently given on even conflicting reasons. Different minds arrive at the same results by different processes; and it is no unusual thing for men to deny each other’s premises while they accept their conclusions. We shall look, therefore, solely to the compact itself, as the most certain mode of ascertaining what was done.”

[Cooper, James Fenimore. New York (Kindle Locations 190-193).  . Kindle Edition.]

I couln’t help thinking that nothing has changed in this regard—and that we are careless to overlook it. No matter what excuses or rationales are offered for a given legislation, all that truly matters is its effect. If poor people and prisoners can become ‘profit centers’ using the existing laws, then no amount of blather can forgive the fact that our laws promote a form of Capitalist slavery. If pro-business legislation gives power and security to businesses at the cost of fairness to the people, then such laws are unjust—and all the BS in the world isn’t going to change that.

Then I came to this part:

“A great deal that has been done among us of late, doubtless remains to be undone; but we are accustomed to changes of this nature, and they do not seem to be accompanied by the same danger here as elsewhere. The people have yet to discover that the seeming throes of liberty are nothing but the breath of their masters, the demagogues; and that at the very moment when they are made to appear to have the greatest influence on public affairs, they really exercise the least. Here, in our view, is the great danger to the country—which is governed, in fact, not by its people, as is pretended, but by factions that are themselves controlled most absolutely by the machinations of the designing. A hundred thousand electors, under the present system of caucuses and conventions, are just as much wielded by command as a hundred thousand soldiers in the field; and the wire-pullers behind the scenes can as securely anticipate the obedience of their agents, as the members of the bureaux in any cabinet in Europe can look with confidence to the compliance of their subordinates. Party is the most potent despot of the times. Its very irresponsibility gives it an energy and weight that overshadows the regular action of government. And thus it is, that we hear men, in their places in the national legislature, boasting of their allegiance to its interests and mandates, instead of referring their duties to the country.”

[Cooper, James Fenimore. New York (Kindle Locations 287-296).  . Kindle Edition.]

Déjà vu all over again, huh? Could our King Clown have won the late election if he had not, however contrivedly, attached himself to the Republican party? And how many Republicans, while eschewing Trump’s lack of ethics or character, were nonetheless still staunchly behind his candidacy, because he ‘stood’ for their party? The more things change, the more they stay the same, James old man.

Moreover, one of Trump’s endless empty promises was to abolish this partiality to party over public good, to ‘drain the swamp’—a problem he thoughtlessly claimed to be able to solve, in spite of the fact that Cooper saw its operation way back in the years leading to our Civil War, and attributed it, rightly, to human nature—which is something even Trump cannot ‘solve’.

I purchased two other references from Amazon: “Colonial New York: A History” by Michael Kammen, and “New York State: Peoples, Places, and Priorities: A Concise History with Sources” by Joanne Reitano. I’m looking forward to reading them, especially since I expect their prose to scan somewhat more lightly than that of James Fenimore’s.

There is nothing more exciting to a hopeful writer than to catch the scent of a hitherto-unexploited scenario, full of unfamiliar stories and strange new characters—and the history of the State of New York seems to offer just such a niche. With some notable exceptions, up to and including “Winter’s Tale” by Mark Helprin, I believe it was Cooper himself who last took advantage of the wealth of material inherent in our State’s story.

 

psalms83

Fan Mail?   (2016Dec14)

As an unabashed and vocal atheist on social media and elsewhere, I sometimes garner the special attention of evangelicals—I consider it a point of pride that I can sometimes bother them more than the average atheist does.

Ms. Sue B. of White River Junction, VT, out of an abundance of solicitude for my immortal soul, has sent me a letter—well, an envelope, at least. Inside was a typical Jehovah’s Witness flyer, with exhortations about how much God cares for me and how He can make me a better family man. I examined it closely, wondering why a stranger would send me anything by snail-mail (with a Christmas stamp, no less) and have nothing personal to say—and there was a handwritten note added to the inside of the flyer. It said ‘see Psalms 83:18’.

 

Psalms 83 (A Song or Psalm of Asaph.)

 

Keep not thou silence, O God: hold not thy peace, and be not still, O God.

For, lo, thine enemies make a tumult: and they that hate thee have lifted up the head.

They have taken crafty counsel against thy people, and consulted against thy hidden ones.

They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation; that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance.

For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against thee:

The tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites; of Moab, and the Hagarites;

Gebal, and Ammon, and Amalek; the Philistines with the inhabitants of Tyre;

Assur also is joined with them: they have holpen the children of Lot. Selah.

Do unto them as unto the Midianites; as to Sisera, as to Jabin, at the brook of Kishon:

Which perished at Endor: they became as dung for the earth.

Make their nobles like Oreb, and like Zeeb: yea, all their princes as Zebah, and as Zalmunna:

Who said, Let us take to ourselves the houses of God in possession.

O my God, make them like a wheel; as the stubble before the wind.

As the fire burneth a wood, and as the flame setteth the mountains on fire;

So persecute them with thy tempest, and make them afraid with thy storm.

Fill their faces with shame; that they may seek thy name, O Lord.

Let them be confounded and troubled for ever; yea, let them be put to shame, and perish:

That men may know that thou, whose name alone is Jehovah, art the most high over all the earth.

 

The eighteenth ‘verse’ is that last line: ‘That men may know…’ The entire Psalm appears to be an exhortation to God to punish the unbelievers, to make us ‘as the dung of the earth’, or as wood burning in a fire—to make us afraid with His storms and fill our faces with shame and let us perish, etc.

Now, I don’t mind so much—that’s an old Book from a rough-and-ready era of history—from religious freedom these folks did not know. But it does strike me as rather snotty—here’s Jehovah, who is supposed omniscient and omnipotent, and then here’s his people, all in his face, telling him what he should do and which of his ‘children’ He should be smiting left and right.

I suspect this Psalm was authored by ‘management’—it has the flavor of an inter-office memo advising the staff not to decorate their desktops with personal items, family photos or potted plants. You know the type—always enhancing their own authority by reminding everyone he or she speaks for the big boss.

I consider it one of the obvious pitfalls of religiosity—if one serves the all-powerful, then one must have power, n’est-ce pas? If religious zealotry makes a person a ‘cop for God’, that person can spend a lifetime regulating the behavior of others, without having to waste an uncomfortable moment examining themselves. It’s literally a cop-out, if you’ll pardon the pun.

But all evangelicals have that velvet-glove thing going on: God loves his itty-bitty childwen—but if you don’t love him back, well, don’t forget to duck, brother. Some parts of the Bible are patently childish, making it clear that it was written long before people had the self-awareness to hear the ‘whine’ in their supplications, or the ‘mine!’ in their fervor.

So, Sue B., whoever you may be, I appreciate your concern for my waywardness—and I don’t much mind the slap on the ass that lies behind it. But you and I aren’t going to get very far, condescending to each other’s apprehension of reality. I chuckle (fondly) at your blindness and you chuckle at mine—we’ll both be fine if we don’t confront each other with ultimatums—that’s where the trouble always starts.

It’s ironic, really—my atheism was born partly from an overabundance of enthusiasm for my childhood faith, Catholicism. I was willing to be a soldier of Christ—hell, I wanted to be a Kamikaze for Christ—and I soaked up every word, every idea that was taught me. But I was a logical little kid, and certain things began to sully my perfect reality. Nuns, for instance, would never miss a trick when delimiting our behavior in CCD classes—but their own behavior seemed to cut a few corners in the service of classroom law-and-order, even going so far as to contradict their own previous reasonings to suit a new scenario of rebuke.

My parents, also, were happy to have me indoctrinated into faith—but if I should criticize anything based on my CCD teachings, it was waved away like a pesky fly—apparently, only those in authority could cite the rules of Christian behavior. My life became the reverse of the Parable of the Talents—I was to ‘render unto the Church what was the Church’s’ and otherwise just shut up and do what I was told.

As the years passed, I learned all kinds of things about history, society and people—I accumulated a mountain of contradictions that disprove the seriousness of people of faith. But all that came later. My original fall from grace was the result of simple observation—grown-ups wanted me to take religion seriously, but they weren’t taking it very seriously, themselves.

It was a more-serious, year-round version of Santa Claus—aimed at kids, but scoffed at between grown-ups. And that condition remains—if you look at the way we live, it’s difficult to claim that most of us are ‘Christians’ in anything more than lip-service. We use Christianity when it suits us—and discard it just as quickly when the going gets tough.

I would gladly live my atheist existence away without once raising my voice against the faithful, but for one thing—I’m a little too OCD about the truth. Faith may be many things—hope, conscience, a dream, an anchor in the storm—but it is most definitely not the truth. Sane people don’t fight and die over the truth—they seek and find it, or they do not—but they don’t fight over it—that’s for opinions.

There is often conflation of argument and fighting (see my previous post on the art of argument) but argument is, in purest form, an investigation after truth—it only becomes a fight when it goes off the rails and becomes a debate, AKA ‘fighting with words’. The religious have the advantage in debate because language grew out of a religious society and inherits a bias towards it, down to the very vocabulary we use—much like misogyny, the assumption of faith is built-in to the fabric of our speech.

Thus, I am always willing to argue the question of God, but I stop short of debating it—uncovering universal truth is impossible enough with a friendly devil’s-advocate—to verbally spar over someone’s adherence to an ancient, easy solution is a complete waste of time.

Trump and Putin, Sittin’ In A Tree   (2016Dec11)

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Sunday, December 11, 2016                                             5:52 PM

The CIA finds evidence that Putin’s machine deliberately meddled in the election—and Trump says they’re wrong. Now, my first reaction is, as always, to laugh at how predictable and transparent Trump’s reactions are—and how asinine. Then I remember that I’m no great fan of the CIA. But then I remember that if I have to choose my sources, I’ll take CIA accusations over Russian denials anytime.

Besides, there’s no question that snot-nose, Assange, got his dope from somebody—and Russians are the only group that think geopolitics is a game of chess. For me, the primary question is why. Why would an unfriendly power try to trick us into electing Trump? And here we get to the reason for Trump’s knee-jerk assessment of an agency’s findings, without having the patience to even attend their briefings—or the experience to know anything about the CIA, come to that.

The Russians expect that the election of Trump to the presidency will be a severe blow to the United States—and while Putin is a cold-blooded scumbag, I am forced to agree with him. But Trump was just the side-benefit—stopping Hillary was his real objective—Putin was scared to death that he’d end up being double-teamed by Merkel and Clinton, and getting de-balled like a steer. The American voter has saved Putin from meeting any coherent resistance from the United States in the near future—and with little trouble, he’ll probably find some patch-of-dirt that he can tempt Trump to get bogged down in—it’s not like Trump understands how his job works.

Oh, and Putin—if you’re having any trouble reaching Trump, you can call this friggin a-hole at the NBC production offices of his hit reality TV show—I shit you not—while he’s presiding over the nation.

This Country Will Self-Destruct In Five, Four….   (2016Dec09)

pogo

Friday, December 09, 2016                                               10:08 AM

But what really bothers me is the end of the-world-as-I-know-it. Between the loss of habitats, shrinking species diversity, toxins and pesticides, we may well be able to kill ourselves off, even before we reach overpopulation, extreme global warming, or killing the oceans. Also, Capitalism has become a Frankenstein’s Monster—created by us, but too strong now to be defeated, even by the whole village carrying pitchforks. And then we go lobotomize ourselves, and elect a scoop of shit to the Oval Office—that was the wrong move. I know, I know—it’s too late now. But, ma-a-a-a-n, was that the wrong move.

The real question is—does having even the slightest hope for the future depend on a bad president? And the answer is definitely no. Trump, by himself, is a harmless, doddering idiot. But with the entire globe on the precipice—make that innumerable precipices—a Trump presidency is kind of gilding the lily. What, you couldn’t wait a few decades for things to go blooey—you want to see it right now? Well, if that’s what you were thinking—you got your wish.

It reminds me of a story that got a lot of attention when I was younger—in the midst of the civil rights movement, when a legal fight gave African-American kids the right to use the public pool in one southern town, the response was to fill the town pool with cement. That was the racists, blatantly cutting off their own noses to spite their faces. And we are living through something similar now—President Obama has ‘besmirched’ the presidency, so the idiot-half of the country has elected to fill the White House with cement.

Not that Drumpf was running against a non-white candidate—but he was running against a woman—and racism and misogyny are just two sides of the same bigotry sandwich. And Trump is just a tiny speck of betrayal and stupidity, compared to the decades of it that led up to the present.

Our problems go so much deeper than a Trump presidency—our problems are rooted in the historical chain of events that led to his candidacy—the rot of riches, the fiduciary mugging of college students, the neglect of our most precious resource—the very world we live and breathe in, and the voluntary insertion of millions of heads up millions of asses, begun by reality TV and brought to fruition by Twitter. The list of bad-turns American society has made goes on and on.

The smart youngsters of this world are looking for the next big thing—they look at America and they see an empire drowning in its own decay. It shouldn’t surprise anyone that being the greatest superpower for seven decades has brought on the ‘absolute corruption’ of the old adage. And we must admit that America was never the land of hearts and flowers that its cheerleaders would have us see it as. America, the idea, was great—is great—but America, the place, is full of people: rich, thoughtless people, poor, bitter people, ignorant, hateful people, and a few good eggs.

You don’t, as a nation, ‘come back’ from a President Trump—he is more than a problem that ‘popped up’—he is a symptom of a deep, deep sickness that has matured over decades. You cut your losses and go looking for a new beginning, somewhere else or somehow else. The ‘light of the world’, if it is to be re-ignited, is not going to flare back to life in this country—it’ll happen somewhere else. We are too busy hugging our past, and hugging what we have left, and hunkering down against an increasingly threatening government and corporate system. This is what the inevitable decline of an empire looks like.

Misdirection is the key—just as Trump gets the media to talk about flag-burning, when that is the last thing we need think about, we mislead ourselves by focusing on Trump himself as the problem. He is not the problem, he’s a symptom—his ascendancy is due to millions upon millions of Americans who are too lost to see him for what he is. Forget Trump—you want a mission? Go after whatever it is that makes us so self-destructive.

This nation is polka-dotted with high-ticket research and development laboratories—working night and day to find the secrets of science and technology. Where are the equivalent number of researchers working on social justice or humanitarian aims? This nation is blanketed by media—corporate powers that have taken hostage the journalism that protected democracy. Where are the new journalists who will report facts, without a leash? And how come the terrorists never go after the lobbyists? Do they respect them as allies in the war on freedom? And how the hell do lobbyists sleep at night, or look themselves in the mirror?

In the words of an old comic strip, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

History With A Grain Of Salt   (2016Dec03)

fdr_in_1933

Saturday, December 03, 2016                                           1:41 PM

I’ve just watched the first five episodes of Oliver Stone’s “The Untold History of the United States” on Netflix. The thrust of his re-telling of our modern history begins with an analysis of Russia’s virtually lone struggle against Germany, transforming what we think of as the main events of World War II into relatively minor clashes—in terms of land-area fought over, scale of destruction, length of time, and number of lives lost and persons wounded—and the stats certainly make that much plain. The Western Front was smaller, shorter, and less bloody in many respects—even with the Pacific War thrown in, ‘our’ War involved about a tenth of the size and horror of the struggle between Hitler and Stalin.

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As he continues to explore the question of Truman’s decision to use the bomb, he frames it as more a demonstration for the Soviets than a body-blow to Japan. Stone suggests that the end of the Nazis enabled Russia to turn and join the US, as agreed, in fighting Japan, months afterward—and that their announcement of their intent to do so—came at about the same time as the two nuclear blasts—and was a great shock to an already-battered Japan. Thus, he presents the possibility that Russia, and not our new A-bomb, was responsible for Japan’s surrender, as well as Germany’s.

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His revisionism also puts America squarely in the docket, to blame for nuclear proliferation, the military-industrial complex, and the entire Cold War that followed—and we must admit that the USA, being suddenly omnipotent (and not having their country reduced to rubble by the fighting, as was the case almost everywhere else) became the prime superpower—and had all the problems and corruptions that absolute power is known to herald.

Oliver Stone does have a habit of mentioning Stalin’s atrocities in asides, often, as if afraid someone will accuse him of glossing over them (which the asides almost accomplish, ironically). But while Stone presents a new perspective and a clarification of several old false assumptions—and highlights some overlooked or hidden aspects that radically change the context of certain events—he is still dealing with the problem of ‘history as general summary’.

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His review, for example, leaves out the details of China’s suffering and transformation, its revolution and great famine. The British role in the man-made starvation in India during World War II, resulting in a genocide greater than the Nazis’, was overlooked as well (see Howard Fast’s “The Pledge”). An historical review, by its nature, leaves out more than it puts in.

His view of the last seventy years may be clearer-eyed, less American-centric—but it is still an impossible task to pick and choose the stand-out events of world history over so large a span of time, without putting one’s own ‘centrism’ into the picking. Still, Stone’s gruesome view of modern American history is, unfortunately, solidly-grounded in facts and records, shorn of the ‘spin’ which events are often given in their own time, and which tend to continue to stand as fact, absent an Oliver Stone.

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The show, ultimately, is a flat statement to Americans that being ‘the world’s greatest superpower’ and being ‘the good guys’ are, almost by definition, mutually exclusive concepts. He almost makes us embarrassed that we don’t see something so obvious. Our laser focus on the high-points of American History, and our brushing aside of all the many sins: the original genocide of the natives, the kidnapping and slavery of the Africans, the dehumanization of ethnic and racial minorities, the industrialism that spawned sweat shops, child labor, tenements, and all the rapacity of Capitalism—we wave these things aside and point to the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the Emancipation Proclamation. Don’t look over there—look here—o, pretty!

20151121XD-Edward_R_Murrow

Most of history is a horror—and American history no exception. If you think about our greatest moments—the Bill of Rights, Women’s Suffrage, the Civil Rights Act, etc.—they are all merely points at which those in power finally conceded, for this specific case, for that specific group, that people should not be used and abused like farm animals. Points on the Timeline when those in authority declare, “Oh, did that hurt? I’ll stop now.” It’s almost funny that we have these tremendous struggles, usually over the question, “Why should I treat you like a human being?” It’s as if, when someone gets a little power, the rest of us have to turn as one and shout at them, “Hey, right and wrong still apply, douchebag!”

I suppose the great lesson of history is that victory is a sort of lobotomy—it convinces the victor that force is effective. And with force must come control. And with too much control comes the need for struggles anew, and a new victor, and on it goes.

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In sum, I was reluctant to watch another rehash of the last seventy years of world conflict—but I was not disappointed in my hope that Oliver Stone wouldn’t have bothered to make this series without some surprising and new information—and observations that really change the context for lay-historians like myself. I love this sort of thing, because you can’t really change the accepted view of history without adding in some new data—and this series exposes many overlooked, obscured, and newly-discovered bits of information, and makes connections that seem obvious once made—making one wonder why Oliver Stone had to do it, all this time later. But I’m glad he did.

20160702XD-RevWar_01

The subject guarantees that viewing will be somewhat daunting, and hardly inspiring—but looking ourselves straight in the mirror is ultimately a very healthy thing, if uncomfortable. I can’t help reflecting, however, that if Oliver Stone can take the old story and re-tell it as something almost unrecognizable—then I suppose someone else could do the same to his. When studying history, one must never neglect the grain of salt.

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Pete has Left the Building   (2016Dec07)

Wednesday, December 07, 2016                           3:00 PM

Pete has Left the Building. Ladies and gentlemen, the legendary, the incomparable—Pete Cianflone!! The Buds-Up Symphony Hall-Space welcomes you to return to us soon and—have a safe drive home now.

What a day—Pete came by (as you may have surmised) and brought with him an old drawing of mine—Joanna Binkley wanting to return it for safekeeping—for which I thank her. It’s great to see an artifact from the steady-hand-and-sharp-eye days of yore. I was pretty good, while it lasted.

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And I had something to show Pete—Bea Kruchkow forwarded an archival copy of Newsweek—from 1989—a ‘look back’ at 1969 (then, a ‘whole’ twenty years ago). Time sure is funny. Funny—ha-ha, not funny like fire.

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So anyway, after girding our hairy-purple loins, we set forth to do battle upon the field of sound. First we did a selection of Spirituals that are traditionally connected with Christmastime—and for good measure, threw in two popular songs of Xmas as well.

We did two rounds, or maybe three, of improvisation—I can’t remember. One of them is very loosely based on the Swanky Modes tune, “Any Ordinary Man” (from “Tapeheads” (1988)). Movie-credits soundtracks often have something catchy about them that makes me go straight from the end of the movie to the piano, to try and find the melody of what I just heard. That was the case, yesterday, with Tapeheads—but I soon realized, after finding the notes, that this was one of those energetic songs that I’d have a hard time keeping up with. But Pete had never heard the song—and I’m not exactly a natural-born blues-player—so it’s a toss-up whether you want to call it a bad cover, or just a different piece of music.

Pete and I were happy with all of it, so that’s all that matters. Poor Bear has had an uncomfortable head-cold for three days now—why is it impossible for the holidays to pass without colds? Spence has been renovating the attic room and the cellar, preparing for our royal visitation later this month—all must be just so, ya know. It’s quite something to have an infant come into a house that hasn’t seen one in years—I’ve started noticing dust where I was hitherto dust-blind.

It’s a sign of just how busy life can be—the Buds-Up ensemble has nothing to show for last November. We try to gather once a month, but even that tiny schedule can be impossible to keep to, in this hurrying, rattling time-stream. Still, I’m pleased enough that we had such a good time, today—I think it makes up for the gap—and I hope people enjoy these as much as we enjoyed playing them.

It’s been a busy day—rarely on any December 7th do I fail to stop and think about the ‘day of infamy’. A Japanese Prime Minister visited Pearl Harbor last week—the first-ever Japanese State Visit to the site—and this is the 75th anniversary of the start of the War. There are many Pearl-Harbor-themed movies on TV today—I guess I’ll go watch some of my favorites.

My Dad was a war-movie fan—we used to watch John Wayne movies on TV in the living room—my Dad was a Marine in Korea. Watching war movies is the closest I’ve ever been to actual murder among men—I don’t mind, I tell you. I respect the hell out of veterans like my Dad—but I don’t feel bad about living an un-blooded life. I suspect I would have made a lousy soldier anyway.

December 7th is special though—there’s something awesome about an entire globe in conflict—it may have been evil and stupid and lots of other things—but it was ‘awesome’, in the literal sense of the word, without the implication of admiration young people give the word today. It fills one with awe.

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Beaux Artes, in Passing   (2016Nov19)

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Saturday, November 19, 2016                                          12:44 PM

“Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore—send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me. I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”

—Emma Lazarus (from “The New Colossus”)

I can’t vouch for perfect accuracy of the above quotation—I typed it from memory. Sometimes it feels good to type something out, instead of just remembering to myself.

I suppose if I lived in a city, I’d spend part of my day on a soapbox. Once this journal-writing/blog-posting/daily-commentary thing gets under your skin, you become a wild-eyed prophet of sorts—whether you’re smart, stupid, or just plain crazy (or all three, as in my case). And it is odd that an activity so clearly aimed at others’ ears (or eyes) should reveal itself to be pure self-involvement. I start out expressing what I think others should know—and, without fail, I end up telling them what I want to say.

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I was just playing some Haydn on the piano. Haydn is the guy—he always puts me in a good mood. Whether you favor Beethoven or Brahms or Stravinsky or Tchaikovsky, you’ve got to give it up for Haydn—he has the best sense of humor of any composer in history. I always loved the drama and the towering emotions of the other great composers—but as I get older, it occurs to me that Haydn was the only composer who regularly laughed at himself. And it takes a certain genius to write music that makes people laugh—I have a hard time telling a joke, with words—it’s kind of awesome that Haydn can do it with sheet music.

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I have always loved art and music and poetry. When I experience the great peoples’ masterpieces, I am always a little bit tempted to envy them their seemingly superhuman talents. But I always yank my focus away from that, so that I can just enjoy the wonder of their works. Envy is always just under the surface with me—but I try to rise above it. When you spend your life trying to do something worthwhile, envying the greats is hard to avoid—especially if, like me, you’re a little defensive. But because it pollutes my enjoyment of their stuff, I always try to turn away from envy.

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In fact, it kind of bugs me, as an atheist, that I respect the Seven Deadly Sins—but, like the Ten Commandments, there’s a lot of good advice under all the mumbo-jumbo. Religions have that going for them—between the mythological parts, there’s a whole lot of experience-based, how-to ‘life-hacks’ included. It is the codified version of advice from old people—and now that I’m old, and know something about human nature, I find myself in agreement with many religious principles, in spite of my rejection of religion as an institution.

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Once you’ve gotten five or six decades under your belt, you witness how people can self-destruct through Envy or Lust or Pride, et. al.—religions label them sins, but even un-washed savages, once they reach a certain age, come to recognize these things as dangers—and that younger people don’t usually see that clearly. Religion includes a lot of old-people-advice. Perhaps that’s why a lot of people get ‘Saved’ or ‘embrace Islam’ in prison—it may be the first time in their lives when they’ve received advice from an experienced source.

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Another reason even we atheists have to give it up to religion is the inspiration it has provided to artists and musicians over the years. Bach seemed to feel that his compositions were prayers of a sort—when his fugues invoke a sense of grandeur, they are his way of glorifying God in music. Now that’s religion I can get behind.

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And it’s funny that a section of Germany that became so progressive about musical religious strictures (and music was bound by many limitations, back then) would produce, in rapid succession, Bach, Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven. One might speculate that any portion of Europe that enjoyed a sudden freedom in the creative arts would have produced similar giants—talent equal to our historic composers may have resided in many people, living in many places where such expression was illegal or sacrilegious. We’ll never know—this is the way it worked out. So, that’s a point against religion, as well.

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You can tell I’m a lapsed Catholic—we are the only atheists who obsess over religion more, as unbelievers, than we ever did as members of the church. But I’ll tell you why that is. Catholicism is very strict, very powerful—Catholics would make good Jihadists (just kidding—although, in the past, that was actually true in a way). My point is that they make this world seem like a temporary inconvenience—as if the important stuff is outside of reality. That was my home. And now I live in reality—dusty, achy, pointless, bothersome reality. I miss my home—recognizing that Catholicism is a delusion doesn’t change the fact that I was happier under that delusion.

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Recent archeological studies have raised doubts about the biblical account of the Jews who left Egypt for Canaan—scripture would have us believe that Joshua led the Israelites in the conquest of Canaan, and renamed it Israel, or ‘the promised land’. But it appears that the writers of Exodus may have indulged in a bit of revision of history, for appearance’s sake. Digs in the area now indicate that the Canaanites held sway long after the appearance of the tribes of Abraham, and that rather than conquer the land, the Hebrew culture insinuated itself into the area over generations. It seems the children of Abraham were not conquerors, but simply a more productive and stable society than the one it lived among.

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That struck me, when I heard of it, as an odd sort of propaganda—after all, conquest isn’t very godly—and the fact that the Hebrews changed the lands, and the people, of the area they settled in, non-violently and almost purely out of living in a better, more civilized way than the natives, says something better, to modern ears, than that they ‘kicked ass’. But it also proves that the Old Testament is as much an exercise in creative writing as it is a historical document, or the ‘revealed word of the Lord’.

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But there are other, more recent, records that serve as a source of controversy as much as they serve as a source of information. The Bayeux Tapestry, for example, is as much a collection of mysteries as it is a treasure trove of historical information. To begin with—it is not a tapestry—technically it is an embroidery. It is over two-hundred feet long and twenty inches high. And although it commemorates William the Conqueror’s Norman invasion of Anglo-Saxon Britain, the tapestry was worked in the Anglo-Saxon style over several generations. And it is worth noting that French historians are only recently admitting that it was not done in the Norman style.

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Damage to the Bayeux Tapestry is to be expected—Sylvette Lemagnen, conservator of the tapestry, has said “Its survival almost intact over nine centuries is little short of miraculous…” And while that is true, the beginning panels and ending panels are either missing or beyond repair. Historians speculate that the tapestry was always stored rolled up—and, depending on how it was rolled, either the end panel or the beginning panel was exposed to air and moisture far more than the rest of it. Thus the story told on those missing or damaged panels remains a mystery—over the centuries, many enthusiasts have attempted to recreate possible replacements. The missing panel at the end, in particular, has inspired several artists to re-imagine the tapestry’s continuation, telling the history of England far beyond its original story of the Battle of Hastings.

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The story the tapestry was intended to tell is obscured by the damage and by the various interpretations of certain scenes and Latin phrases (the exact truth of which has been lost or forgotten over the centuries). But the tapestry still illustrates for us a host of facts about the Norman invasion—and tells another, unintended, story—about how those 11th century Britons lived, worked, and fought. Above and below the main scenes in the tapestry are borders that depict a variety of subjects. People are shown fighting, hunting, weaving, farming, building, and in other activities. Animals, both real and fantastical, are also used as border decorations. Many tools, weapons, and techniques of the times are clearly illustrated. And the story told by the major scenes is augmented by Latin labels, comments and explanations (which are referred to as tituli—which I guess is Latin for ‘sub-titles’, or something).

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All in all, it is an awesome thing—a piece of embroidery, showing what amounts to an historian’s paradise—and it outlasted a multitude of castles, fortifications, and whole nations—a roll of fabric that only becomes more priceless as it disintegrates. And the most capricious aspect of all is that this ‘Britain’s first comic-strip’ tells us more about that time than all the source documents or written accounts that survive from that age.

Sunday, November 20, 2016                                            5:24 PM

I’ve been pondering the beginnings of formal music in Western Civilization. There has always been folk music—or so I assume, since even children will hum or whistle or stomp to a rhythm—but since folk music was ephemeral, passed from parent to child, never notated, never recorded, that is the only assumption we can make about early folk music.

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Some records have survived—the Bulgarian Women’s Choir famously performs songs that reach back to the work songs, love songs, and laments of the peasants of Tsarist Russia. Musicology researchers in 1920s USA found folk music among the hill-people that may be near-perfect preservations of that of the Elizabethans who first settled there—and British, Irish, and other musicologists have found similar hand-me-down relics of the folk music of the British Isles, closer to their origin. Many sources from many places give us remnants of the music that existed before music became the formalized fine art we practice today.

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But when I speak of our ignorance of folk music, I mean that we don’t know where the surviving fragments evolved from, what came before that, and what came even earlier. We can never know—because music has its own pre-history, which dates to far more recently than pre-history in general. I assume that people made music for millennia, but the ‘civilizing’ of music in the formal notation and harmonies that we loosely call ‘Classical Music’ is the first time that any records of music were made. There is some notation stuff from the Roman Empire—but nobody knows what scale it’s based on, and other important contextual stuff that would allow us to translate it into a performance—that isn’t an exception, so much as an example of my point.

So, aside from whatever we might guess, or imagine, or assume about music’s history, the very beginning of its recorded history was Gregorian Chant. Original manuscripts of Gregorian Chant still exist today—and they are still often sung as written, today, by groups that specialize in archaic music. I believe there is an ensemble of monks who are famous for their recordings and performances. The Vatican preserves some beautifully illuminated neumes on original parchment.

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In the late 800s, something called the Metz project developed a system called ‘neumes’, which would develop into today’s standard staff notation. The Gregorian chants from all the surrounding areas were collected and recorded using neumes—and thus the church standardized its musical portion of the liturgy. These chants were very simple by today’s standards—to our ears they sound quite monotonous, but there is a rough grandeur to them—and their main purpose was in singing the words from scripture—or, really, chanting them.

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As with anything, formal music then developed through a combination of new ideas butting up against established norms, popularity overcoming prurience, and tradition often stifling innovation. And there was a lot of ground to cover, if we were to get from Gregorian chant all the way to Ariana Grande, so it isn’t too surprising that it took centuries for music to reach the variety and sophistication we enjoy today.

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The church would remain the sole source of formal music for centuries—until the advent of court musicians, members of a royal household whose sole function was to create musical entertainment. After that, further centuries would see formal music confined to the church and the nobility. Don’t worry—the regular folks still had their folk music—and if I had to choose, I might have preferred their entertainments over the renaissance and early baroque composers’ refinements.

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Classical music would not see verve equal to Folk music until the advent of Ragtime and Jazz. Even when a composer like Brahms would adapt a Hungarian folk tune, say, its wildness would be contained by an over-civility inherent in composed works of the age. So don’t feel too bad for the poor riff-raff excluded from the fancy music chambers of royalty—they knew pleasures far more vital than those heard by the stuffed shirts at their concerts.

In those pre-industrial times, a commoner’s life was hard work—the chance to gain a post as a church musician or a court musician was no small advantage—and the internecine rivalries and petty squabbles of the musicians vying for these posts was a constant. The film “Amadeus” shows us something of this, but in a rarefied form, since its ‘villain’, Salieri, is tortured by envy over Mozart’s heavenly talent more than his professional position.

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We also note the high number of composers who come from musical families—Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, and others had musician parents, even musician grandparents. A sure sign that competition for these sinecures was fierce: once someone got their foot in the door, they did their best to secure the same for their children. Though in fairness, every trade and career in those times was primarily handed down from father to son. Women, with rare exceptions, were excluded from the music profession.

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I used to think of composers as wise men who sat writing down notation all day—but I’ve come to realize that many of these great composers led lives of constant busyness. You can read it in their records—complaints about the amount of work expected of them, their students needing training, their ensembles and choirs needing rehearsing, problems with money, instruments, venues, and preparations for big events—and in their few, free, hurried moments they would jot down the actual music we love them for, even today.

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I doubt most people consider the effort involved—writing down every note sounded by every instrument and choir-voice, in separate manuscripts for each performer’s music-stand (and this was back using a quill pen and rough paper)—the notation alone must have been incredibly tedious, notwithstanding the need for the finished product to create beautiful music. Thus I have come a long way from seeing my books of piano music as ancient, alien diagrams from the forgotten past.

Today, when I play, I think of that person—the life they led, the place and time they lived in, and the shared humanity between myself and this or that guy who lived in 15th century England or 16th century Germany. If you listen closely, you can almost hear them saying ‘hello’. It’s a little miracle.

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Sex Matters   (2016Sep29)

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Thursday, September 29, 2016                                        3:20 PM

Let’s discuss presidents and sex. I don’t want to go back too far—let’s start with FDR. That great man was confined to a wheelchair and he still managed to have multiple affairs while in office. Truman, a great man as well, was also a good man—no known affairs, though he enjoyed drinking and gambling. Then there was Eisenhower—definitely an affair while SCAEF, but I’m not historian enough to know whether he fooled around in office.

Then we had Kennedy—I think we can put him in the plus column. Then we had LBJ—no affairs that I know of. Same with Nixon—though we’d be hard-pressed to call him a ‘good’ man. Then Ford—another no; then Carter—another no, though he ‘lusted in his heart’. (And what hetero man doesn’t—or gay, come to think of it?) And Carter was followed by Reagan—two wives, but no known affairs.

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Then we had Bush-41—a definite no. Bill Clinton was then the fourth modern president with publicly-known, documented affairs—but he was the first to be hounded for it while still in office. Then Bush-43 came along as the matching Puritanical bookend to his father. (If we can call a hard-partier like the young Bush-43 ‘Puritanical’, it is only in the fidelitous sense.) And last but not least, we have our present President—who, like Mary Poppins, is practically perfect in every particular (and certainly doesn’t have affairs).

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So there you have the modern roster—affairs aren’t exactly common among presidents, but then they aren’t exactly uncommon either. And, if we are honest about it, the Presidency is one of the few jobs where such a thing would still impact one’s position. Married men having affairs is no rarity. In today’s society, no one goes to jail or loses their job over infidelity alone—with the exception of politicians and priests. Likewise, in today’s society, Divorce has very little baggage—heck, Trump’s on his third marriage and nobody says boo about it—even with him as presidential candidate for the Conservatives.

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Yet as a man with five kids by three wives, he seems to be considering bringing up Hillary’s husband’s infidelity as a black mark against Hillary—he claims he denied himself that ‘weapon’ at the debate because he had scruples about embarrassing Chelsea. Bringing up Chelsea’s name in this context seems like the sensitive way to go, alright. But I still need to have explained to me what Bill’s peccadilloes have to do with his wife running for office?

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Is Trump going to criticize her for not abandoning her family when she suffered the embarrassment of Ken Starr dragging this affair out over two years’ worth of prurient headlines? That’s how Trump advised his daughter—saying that if she were sexually harassed at work, she should quit her job and find a new career. Does he believe that Secretary Clinton, as a woman, is also supposed to run away when a man hurts her feelings?

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Or is he going to try to blame Bill’s behavior on his wife? A lot of stand-up comics have gone that route, suggesting that, if Hillary had been more sexually inventive, Bill would have never strayed. I can see Trump going that way—it would fit with his apparent theme: ‘no lie too big, no statement too idiotic’. And his advisors clearly have trouble explaining the difference between a presidential campaign and a stand-up routine to the GOP nominee. Wait—scratch that—stand-ups rehearse their acts.

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I don’t know how Trump is going to tie Bill Clinton’s notorious hound-dogging to his wife’s character. Still, he blames the last thirty years of federal governing on her alone, without any problem with the logic of saying so. But even Trump supporters are going to have trouble with tarring a wife by her husband’s affairs—at least the women, I presume. The married ones may even resent such an implication—if Trump supporters even hear the words that come out of his mouth in the first place. There is no evidence of that at present.

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The world, and especially the media, await this idiot’s next words with baited breath—though for the life of me I can’t understand why. There’s no reason to fear this clown—we fear only the crowd that supports him and will, apparently, vote for him to be President of the United States—and the education system that is so broken that these crowds exist. President Clinton (the faithful one) will have to work on that.

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Thirty Years   (2016Sep27)

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016                                                    11:27 AM

Of all Trump’s bombastic BS, the ‘thirty years’ attack is the most exasperating. Trying to turn Hillary Clinton’s preparedness into a negative is as convoluted an argument as his claim that an unprepared ‘outsider’ is what this country needs in a leader.

Let’s take a page from Seth Myers and take ‘a closer look’ at this ‘thirty years’ nonsense. Hillary Clinton earned her law degree and was active in public service long before she became the First Lady of Arkansas, never mind First Lady of the United States (FLOTUS). Beyond that, of all the people who ‘serve at the pleasure of the President’, I think we can place FLOTUS at the head of that list.

In other words, while First Lady, Hillary Clinton tried to help her husband’s work, succeeding in creating (and passing) the Children’s Health Care bill and other notable good works. She met with elected officials from around the country, with foreign dignitaries, and with charitable efforts leaders, learned about the workings of the White House and the challenges of governing—but she did not govern.

After the White House, she won election to a Senate seat from New York—and was an able partner to the senior Senator from her state and worked diligently with both sides of the aisle—but she did not govern—she wasn’t even the minority whip.

Then she became Obama’s Secretary of State. Again, serving at the pleasure of the President—not governing.

So, all this experience is excellent preparation for becoming the President—but never gave her any opportunity to make her own decisions. I won’t deny that those were positions of influence—but influence is not power. Any decisions made by her husband, by Congress, or by Barack Obama, were theirs, not hers. And she couldn’t even publicly talk about any disagreements she might have had with the two presidents she worked beside—people don’t do that.

So the last thirty years of Hillary’s life have been an historically excellent preparation for the job of President—but they haven’t been thirty years of governing, as Trump would have us believe. He is simply trying to turn one of her greatest strengths into a negative.

Well, two can play at that game—Trump, you’ve had seventy years to engage in public service and you have never once bothered to care about other people—what’s makes you think you can convince us that you suddenly do care? Seventy years of self-serving, sometimes fraudulent, piracy have prepared you to do nothing other than lose to a qualified candidate. No amount of bombast can change that.

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Questions, anyone?

 

Putin the Puny   (2016Sep11)

Sunday, September 11, 2016                                                      3:16 PM

There is no strong leadership in Russia—Putin scrambles for respect and legitimacy in ways that only push those goals further from him. Invading other countries for conquest is not something people do any more—that’s what the UN is for. And rather than mindlessly respond in kind, the US and the UN are trying to have a dialogue with this thuggish government—because bombing the hell out of Russia has been on the table since JFK, but no president has wanted to be the one to start WWWIII. Besides which, bombing innocent Russians doesn’t get rid of the real problem—any more than the 9/11 attacks weakened America.

Unarmed Russian jets buzz our fleet, the Iranians’ motorboats hassle our missile cruisers—these are the acts of irresponsible children, not of strong leaders. The North Koreans starve while their dictator tests nuclear bombs and shoots off missiles (just like a real country—in the 50’s). Kim Jong Un seems blithely unaware of our potential to melt his entire country down to glass with a single button-push—but, again, the North Korean people don’t deserve to be attacked, only their child emperor does. Strong leadership? Please.

In an age of nuclear-fusion H-bombs and space stations, the question of military might is beside the point. Real strength, here in the present, where real people live, is a matter of control. When the US convinces a UN-based coalition to sanction these juvenile delinquents of the geopolitik, that’s power. And it couldn’t be done by an American President who acts without thought.

The flashy, trashy behavior that our enemies indulge in has no effect outside of a weekly news cycle—the steady, considered behavior of our country, and others, is what keeps the markets, trade, and commerce going around the globe. They offer their citizens nationalist rancor—we offer ours economic security (like food on the table). Granted, many of us still feel the sting of the economic crash—but that still beats the hell out of places where the common people take second place to the egos of their strong-man demagogues.

‘Strong Leadership’ can take many meanings—it can be the superficial judgment, as Trump and Pence use the phrase, or it can refer to the steadiness of nerve that Obama exhibits. I leave the choice to you, dear readers.

Dumber or Smarter   (2016Sep08)

Thursday, September 08, 2016                                         2:14 PM

Has Trump’s candidacy made the whole country dumber or smarter? For the most part, he has suppressed our intelligence, particularly where news pundits are concerned. The title-chiron ‘Trump Supporter’ has come to represent a talking-head as cornered animal. Because media ‘requirements’ give equal time to opposing views, these people make up half of what we watch—a daily symposium on obstinate rancor and half-truths. What do we learn from this? We learn ‘never answer a question directly’. Actually, make that ‘never answer a question’. And we learn ‘when in doubt, shout about the opposition’.

We are smarter in one specific way—Trump’s easy victory over the crowded GOP primary field points up the weakness of having a party that relies more on talking points than public service, or common sense. And we learn that, no matter how modern we consider ourselves, we are eternally under threat from demagoguery.

Trump’s similarities to infamous fascists and other strongman despots have not stopped the angriest and most frustrated citizens from taking his populist bait. Governmental and political professionals, take note: if you neglect the common welfare in favor of the wealthiest, and do it long enough to turn discomfort into resentment and anger, any old bully with a smooth line can capture the electorate. Democracy, a system that relies on judgment, will always be vulnerable to strong emotional tides in the masses.

The dysfunction, frustration and anger can all be traced back to Republican obstructionism of the most flagrant, over-the-top quality. While the media drones on, echoing the rock-throwing harpies who haunt Hillary, and legitimizing the GOP’s novelty candidate, I’ve been driven to watching CSPAN2.

I’ve been watching Democrat senators beg the Senate to unjam the appointments back-log. Garland is just one of the appointees being ignored—hundreds of empty benches are causing a crisis for the few judges struggling to handle caseloads. The GOP’s refusal to confirm nominations prolongs massive vacancies in both federal judgeships, and agency and department heads. The vacancies in leadership can make it as though certain agencies don’t exist—effectively shutting them down, and makes a travesty of our institutional systems. This is government by forced unemployment.

Democrat senator after Democrat senator rose on the floor yesterday to declaim this political, cynical affront to public service and the most minimal bipartisan action, only to be answered with the word, ‘Objection’. That’s the response from the GOP.

Today, Senate Democrats gathered to honor Joe Biden (whose speech was cut off after mere seconds by GOP-controlled cameras). They also took the occasion to put it to the American public that the Senate managed to work out a bipartisan Zika-defense bill, sent it to the House, and the House Republicans added rider after rider, attacking Planned Parenthood, endorsing the Confederate flag, and other political BS that had no place in an national emergency funding bill. Then they doubled-down on this amorality by claiming the Democrats ‘voted down a Zika bill’. What kind of a dick does that? They all seem shockingly comfortable with this kind of childish evil.

It’s a sliding scale—GOP Senators seem to feel an occasional pinch of conscience, just enough to be embarrassed, not enough to act; GOP Representatives feel no shame at any of the bullying nonsense they pull; and the GOP candidate for President has lifted ‘bullying nonsense’ to an art form. But they’re all guilty of obstructionism and gamesmanship for its own sake, while the people they swore to serve languish in extreme distress.

The Democrats may blunder. The Democrats may get confused. But the Democrats never base their agenda on the opposition, they base it on getting shit done. Even a dyed-in-the-wool Conservative must recognize that a nation’s government must maintain what it already has. Even if you don’t want anything new, you still want to keep our roads, our schools, our military and VA, our justice system—you want to keep the nuts and bolts working. You don’t shut down, sequester, and obstruct any attempt to maintain the nation’s needs—that’s as good as treason—that’s an enemy within, more than any kind of public servant.

When Obama was elected, he doubtless felt a great weight on his shoulders—not just the weight that all presidents feel, but the additional weight of knowing that many would consider his presidency as a test of his race. Well, Barack Obama passed his test with flying colors—but we, the rest of the nation, have failed it miserably. Insidious bigotry and divisiveness in an effort to somehow deny President Obama the full honor of the office to which he was twice elected, especially birtherism, has made a sorry display of American politics these last eight years—and I am ashamed to be one of you.

Now, this orange clown, seeing the racism and nationalism ramping upward throughout Obama’s two terms, thinks he can win by running on the Nazi ticket. I mean GOP ticket. A debased and doddering tycoon hopes to bamboozle us all into ignoring the most able candidate—and the first woman candidate—that America has ever had. So says Barack—and so says her husband, Bill. And for what—a wall? Cracker please.

So, does Trump make us all Dumber or Smarter? I suppose that remains to be seen. November will tell the tale.

Damn Good Woman   (2016Aug28)

Sunday, August 28, 2016                                         6:52 PM

Lately a lot of people are saying the election has gotten very ugly, that the rancorous back-and-forth is getting out of hand. To me, this is just more unconscious misogyny. Trump has said some very ugly and thoughtless things—it’s most of his platform, really—and lots of ugly things are being said about Hillary, the Clinton family, and their Foundation. But Hillary herself has done nothing but point to Trump’s record, and quote his own words—is that really Hillary being ugly, or just holding up a mirror to her opponent? I know people like to say that politics is a rough business—having one ugly candidate in the race is enough to tar them both—but that seems pretty facile to me.

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There has been nothing underhanded or resentful in Hillary Clinton’s attacks on her opponent and his positions. She was very careful, recently, to outline the facts that reflect racism in Trump’s history, without ever calling him a name. Trump did that—and he’s the only one, Dem or GOP, that has had the foul grace to do so. News-chyrons trumpet his sensationalism, feeling no need to add that it’s a childish and baseless claim. But again, Trump is being ugly, so the news-folk are being ugly—still no ugliness from Hillary.

When are Americans going to give this woman a fucking break? When was the last time enemy-agents destroyed this country by donating hundreds of thousands of dollars to get a luncheon invitation? Umm, never. What office-holder doesn’t have a network of contacts that help them serve their constituency? Umm, none of them—not if they’re doing their jobs. Who the hell, in or out of government, can guarantee us that all their cyber-comms are completely un-hackable? Nobody. Since when does an FBI head criticize the State Department for being sloppy, without it being taken with a grain of salt for the political elbow-in-the-ribs it most likely is? When it’s Hillary, that’s when. Why has every single, silly, stupid charge the far-right can raise against her made headline news? I’ll tell you why—because it’s two stories. First they can dazzle us with the exotic claims, then, they can report on the dull facts that belie the stupid claims—that’s why they do it. Two for one—and fuck the poor lady’s feelings.

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She does have them, you know. Yes, even you, with the sore throat and the spittle on your lip from screaming her damnation—you have to admit that she has feelings. Successful strong women have just as many feelings as any of us. Imagine what it’s like to be a political football, having to take time out from the very hard, very complicated work of serving the nation at the highest levels, to answer a bunch of rabid barking from the most thoughtless group of people ever known. You couldn’t pay me.

And speaking of pay—Secretary Clinton never twisted anyone’s arm for her speaking fees. If I may quote “Moneyball”: ‘High salary says the same thing about you that it says about other top players—that you’re worth it.’  I suspect Trump’s camp picked the speaking fees as a target because it gives them an extra free hit—suggesting that Hillary isn’t really worth what she was payed, therefore it had to be ‘influence money’. Please—just because no one ever has, or ever will, pay Trump the same amount—try again, losers.

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Yet Trump gets a pass. Every day, we get to hear foolish back-and-forth over immigration and inner cities. Let’s go back to the original problem. Trump has no experience and no empathy. Trump hasn’t the preparation or the knowledge for the office he seeks. Trump hasn’t the temperament or the self-control to be fit for the office he seeks. He’s a narcissist who wouldn’t be running for president, if he really knew what the job was all about. His daily feed of BS may divert us from this core problem, but it will never make it go away.

So, we can go on picking apart the fifty-year career of a political master, and continue to ignore the wreck that is supposed to oppose her, but it’s all just misogyny at this point. I’d appreciate anyone who can convince me otherwise—this is all very disheartening. Even a gay guy wouldn’t have to take this shit. And, speaking of taking shit, it’s a good thing both Donald and Bill are old farts, or Trump wouldn’t be talking so fast and loose about a damn good woman—he’d be swallowing teeth.

Journal Entry   (2016Aug14)

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Saturday, August 13, 2016                                                8:04 PM

Okay, I give up. Yes, the computer room needs an air conditioner. In this heat I waver from wanting to stay in the cool bedroom, or coming out here to the hot-box and typing on my PC. I can be comfortable and bored, or engaged and sweating like a pig. Neither one is working right this minute—and I always decide I need A/C on the weekend, when I have to wait until Monday to order one. What a schmo.

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I just got back from the supermarket. Chef-Boy-Ar-Dee pastas and Progresso hearty soups—it’s a can festival. Also some hot dogs. Now that I know I can make it into next week without shopping for a while, I feel better—plus, call me picky, but I like to eat dinner almost every day. I bought dill pickles and pickled sausage bites and some Laughing Cow and those round cheeses in the net-bag.

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I found the world’s best microwavable breakfast—Eggo’s bacon-egg-and-cheese waffle-meals. And I grabbed some Polar Bears (Heath bar flavored). I was worried about getting those two things home and in our freezer before they were ruined—I think I made it.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         12:48 PM

“98.6” by Keith—what a great tune. It lifts my spirits. I collect one-hit wonders—the Ripley’s Believe It Or Not of the music world—strange artifacts that belong to no movement or genre but their own personal musical ‘ear’. There are a surprising number of them—and it’s sad in a certain way. Think about it—you can try for a musical career, spend a few years touring local bars and clubs, then peter out from lack of determination or lack of audience interest—or you can get lucky and hit it big, get signed to a label, tour big venues, the whole nine. But with a one-hit wonder, the artists are served the success-banquet and then have the whole thing snatched from their mouths after the first course. The same amount of grueling giggery, PR, lawyers, fans, and yet more giggery—then the promise of fame and fortune—then the almost instant fading of it all—how hard that must be. I love one-hit wonders—but I truly feel for the artists that make them.

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And it begs a question that often haunts a sixty-year-old would-be artist like myself: Is there a finite amount of creativity in each of us, to one extent or another? Would Beethoven’s Tenth have been anti-climactic? Did Van Gogh kill himself because he had used all the colors in every way he could imagine—and was loathe to repeat himself? Was Dickens’ last novel just ‘more of the same’? In olden times an artists could be satisfied with just one single ‘masterwork’. Of course, if one is capable of that, there was probably a bunch of stuff one could do—Michelangelo did sculpture, painting, architecture, and poetry, but he did some things better than others.

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But today, with the ‘industrialized’ arts, if you can have a hit record, contracts are drawn up by the money-people, as if to say, “Well, anyone who can please the public can continue to do so forever”. There is no recognition of the possibility that what makes someone creative may be the same thing that bridles at being expected to play those songs every day for years, or come up with another whole album of ‘more’. What the hell is ‘more’ when dealing with inspiration? And how can we expect inspiration to stick to a release deadline?

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We think of art as a job. It was never a job. The musicians that played at weddings and dances were just the folks who had a knack for music—they had day jobs. The artists of old weren’t working on canvas—they were carving sculptures into the furniture they made, painting landscapes with glazes on the pots they were throwing. The ‘career’ thing started with court appointments—Michelangelo was part of his Pope’s court, Bach worked for his church choir until his fame made him a member of the household of the Duke of Brandenburg.

These early artists didn’t do anything but their art—but they were servants to royalty, at their beck and call—even with regard to subject matter and style. No artists made a living from their art except the travelling troupes of entertainers—and they were mostly fugitives, working sub-rosa in a culture that forbade merriment in general—criminals of art, in effect. No individual musicians made a living concertizing until the nineteenth century. The monetization of art has a fascinating history—but it is a history of the deformation of the original impulse to art.

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Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         6:48 PM

I’ve made a nice video that contains our granddaughter’s latest pictures and, in between the two improvs, a piano cover of Cole Porter’s “Tomorrow”—so I tried to throw in some entertainment. It’s difficult to create a video under these rolling thunderstorms—I’m a computer hack since back in the ‘80s—lightning is my mortal enemy. I always rush to power down the PC when the lightning gets too proximate.

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Usually a storm comes and I call it a day, computer-wise. But with this kind of late summer weather, I can either play the margins or wait for Fall—intermittent thundershowers are forecast for the foreseeable future.

So, I’m going to upload my video and get off until tomorrow—it’s hot and muggy even when the sun breaks through. Only a fool gets stressed on Sunday. Bear returns next Thursday, thank goodness.

 

ttfn.

Dossier   (2016Aug02)

Tuesday, August 02, 2016                                       5:01 PM

You know me—quick trigger finger when I hear about injustice.

Right now, I’ve been compiling a dossier on Hillary Clinton. I tried to find reliable sources for the main conspiracy theories that paint her as the devil in a blue dress.

I must admit, she’s no saint—but neither do I find anything worthy of the hysterical venom directed at her.

Let’s remember that I am saying nothing of the innumerable good, and even great, things that Hillary Clinton has done in a lifetime of public service—I think people forget sometimes that the blips below arise, and could only arise, from someone who is deeply involved in the administration of our government. And, like the government, we are prone to stress the problems with Hillary Clinton without remembering all the good things we take for granted, every day, year after year.

Also, I would be remise if I didn’t mention the cretin who conflates, lies, insults, and accuses not just Hillary Clinton, but our president, our military, our vets, our minorities, our Muslims, and our women. He has made a catalog of every stumble in Hillary’s career, true or false, and blown them out of all proportion. Hillary can’t respond in kind, since he has no public service experience of any kind, at the age of seventy. She can point out his execrable business practices, but it’s not quite the same thing.

So, here we go—the worst of Hillary Clinton.

  • Source:

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Whitewater_controversy

“David Hale, the source of criminal allegations against the Clintons, claimed in November 1993, that Bill Clinton had pressured him into providing an illegal $300,000 loan to Susan McDougal, the Clintons’ partner in the Whitewater land deal. Clinton supporters regarded Hale’s allegations as questionable, as Hale had not mentioned Clinton in reference to this loan during the original FBI investigation of Madison Guaranty in 1989; only after coming under indictment in 1993, did Hale make allegations against the Clintons. A U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission investigation did result in convictions against the McDougals for their role in the Whitewater project. Jim Guy Tucker, Bill Clinton’s successor as governor, was convicted of fraud and sentenced to four years of probation for his role in the matter. Susan McDougal served 18 months in prison for contempt of court for refusing to answer questions relating to Whitewater. The Clintons themselves were never prosecuted, after three separate inquiries found insufficient evidence linking them with the criminal conduct of others related to the land deal, and Susan McDougal was granted a pardon by President Clinton before he left office.

The term Whitewater is also sometimes used to include other controversies from the Bill Clinton administration, especially Travelgate, Filegate, and the circumstances surrounding Vince Foster’s death, that were investigated by the Whitewater independent counsel.”

  • Source:

http://www.nytimes.com/2008/03/25/us/politics/25clinton.html

By PATRICK HEALY and KATHARINE Q. SEELYE – MARCH 25, 2008 – The New York Times:

“BLUE BELL, Pa. — As part of her argument that she has the best experience and instincts to deal with a sudden crisis as president, Senator Hillary Rodham Clinton recently offered a vivid description of having to run across a tarmac to avoid sniper fire after landing in Bosnia as first lady in 1996.”

“Mrs. Clinton corrected herself at a meeting with the Philadelphia Daily News editorial board; she did not explain why she had misspoken, but only admitted it and then offered a less dramatic description.

Mrs. Clinton said she had been told “that we had to land a certain way and move quickly because of the threat of sniper fire,” not that actual shots were being fired.

“So I misspoke,” she said.”

  • Source:

http://foreignpolicy.com/2016/04/14/hillary-clinton-has-no-regrets-about-libya/

“On the campaign trail, Clinton has not shied from defending her decision to support the intervention that toppled dictator Muammar al-Qaddafi. “I think President Obama made the right decision at the time,” she said in the first Democratic debate in October as she pointed to the 2012 General Assembly elections in which Libyans voted mostly for moderate parties

But that answer focused on the more promising days of 2012 – before the killing of U.S. Ambassador Chris Stevens and the country’s descent into civil war. We are now, of course, in 2016. How does Clinton make sense of what went wrong in Libya in the years since she left the State Department? Her answer to that question is one of the keys to understanding how she will approach the Middle East if she makes it to the White House.”

  • Source:

http://www.state.gov/secretary/20092013clinton/rm/2012/09/197628.htm

Statement on the Attack in Benghazi

Press Statement

Hillary Rodham Clinton

Secretary of State

Washington, DC

September 11, 2012

I condemn in the strongest terms the attack on our mission in Benghazi today. As we work to secure our personnel and facilities, we have confirmed that one of our State Department officers was killed. We are heartbroken by this terrible loss. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and those who have suffered in this attack.

This evening, I called Libyan President Magariaf to coordinate additional support to protect Americans in Libya. President Magariaf expressed his condemnation and condolences and pledged his government’s full cooperation.

Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.

In light of the events of today, the United States government is working with partner countries around the world to protect our personnel, our missions, and American citizens worldwide.”

  • Source:

http://www.factcheck.org/2012/10/benghazi-timeline/

“About 10:00 p.m.: Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issues a statement confirming that one State official was killed in an attack on the U.S. consulate in Benghazi. Her statement, which MSNBC posted at 10:32 p.m., made reference to the anti-Muslim video:

Clinton: Some have sought to justify this vicious behavior as a response to inflammatory material posted on the Internet. The United States deplores any intentional effort to denigrate the religious beliefs of others. Our commitment to religious tolerance goes back to the very beginning of our nation. But let me be clear: There is never any justification for violent acts of this kind.”

“Sept. 12: Clinton issues a statement confirming that four U.S. officials, not one, had been killed. She calls it a “violent attack.”

Clinton: All the Americans we lost in yesterday’s attacks made the ultimate sacrifice. We condemn this vicious and violent attack that took their lives, which they had committed to helping the Libyan people reach for a better future.”

“Sept. 12, 3:04 p.m.: Clinton calls then-Egyptian Prime Minister Hisham Qandil and tells him, “We know the attack in Libya had nothing to do with the film. It was a planned attack — not a protest.” An account of that call was contained in an email written by State Department Public Affairs Officer Lawrence Randolph. The email was released by the House Benghazi committee. EMAIL:

http://benghazi.house.gov/sites/republicans.benghazi.house.gov/files/documents/Tab%2079.pdf

“Oct. 15: Clinton, in an interview on CNN, blames the “fog of war” when asked why the administration initially claimed the attack began with the anti-Muslim video, even though the State Department never reached that conclusion. “In the wake of an attack like this in the fog of war, there’s always going to be confusion, and I think it is absolutely fair to say that everyone had the same intelligence,” Clinton says. “Everyone who spoke tried to give the information they had. As time has gone on, the information has changed, we’ve gotten more detail, but that’s not surprising. That always happens.”

  • Source:

https://www.fbi.gov/news/pressrel/press-releases/statement-by-fbi-director-james-b-comey-on-the-investigation-of-secretary-hillary-clinton2019s-use-of-a-personal-e-mail-system

“Although we did not find clear evidence that Secretary Clinton or her colleagues intended to violate laws governing the handling of classified information, there is evidence that they were extremely careless in their handling of very sensitive, highly classified information.”

“While not the focus of our investigation, we also developed evidence that the security culture of the State Department in general, and with respect to use of unclassified e-mail systems in particular, was generally lacking in the kind of care for classified information found elsewhere in the government.

With respect to potential computer intrusion by hostile actors, we did not find direct evidence that Secretary Clinton’s personal e-mail domain, in its various configurations since 2009, was successfully hacked.”

“In looking back at our investigations into mishandling or removal of classified information, we cannot find a case that would support bringing criminal charges on these facts. All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.”

“I know there were many opinions expressed by people who were not part of the investigation—including people in government—but none of that mattered to us. Opinions are irrelevant, and they were all uninformed by insight into our investigation, because we did the investigation the right way. Only facts matter, and the FBI found them here in an entirely apolitical and professional way.”

 

***

 

So, there you go—food for thought—even, perhaps, food for suspicion—in the highlights of these and other over-inflated ‘scandals’ that the media and the GOP both feed on. But do remember that Secretary Clinton has gotten up every morning of her life and worked hard, achieving no small amount of good, week after week, month after month, year after year, and decade after decade. The above is the very worst that her enemies can say about her.

I don’t know—maybe our country’s most admired politician would make a bad president—well, second most admired (let’s not forget the guy she’s replacing). Maybe we should try four years with a vicious, vacuous clown? Naaah!

***

 

One last point, on the wording of Comey’s statement:

“All the cases prosecuted involved some combination of: clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; or vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; or indications of disloyalty to the United States; or efforts to obstruct justice. We do not see those things here.”

He could just as easily have said:

“We did not see clearly intentional and willful mishandling of classified information; we did not see vast quantities of materials exposed in such a way as to support an inference of intentional misconduct; we did not see indications of disloyalty to the United States; and we did not see  efforts to obstruct justice.”

But he chose not to. Perhaps that’s apolitical, perhaps it isn’t….

Come Listen Young People Wherever You Roam   (2016Jul28)

Thursday, July 28, 2016                                           5:28 PM

My heart is full—I’ve been binge-watching the Philadelphia convention all week—the straight CSPAN feed (I want to make up my own mind—both about what’s worth watching and what I think about what I see and hear). Next week, I can go watch PBS, MSNBC, CNN, BBC, & FOX to see what the ‘buzz’ is. So far, it’s been like singing the national anthem—which I love to do—I love what’s best about our country. That doesn’t mean I ignore our problems. It certainly doesn’t mean I don’t worry. Neither does it mean that I believe everything I hear (from either side) nor was I born yesterday.

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I’ve been a studious guy my whole life—I’ve studied world history, American history, and I follow politics. I’m sixty, which doesn’t make me an expert, but it does mean that I’ve lived through the same period of recent history as either candidate. I know what it was like for African-Americans in politics in the 1960s—and for a woman in politics in the 1970s—or rather, I remember what it was like for them—young people don’t know. If you had talked about a black president or a woman president back in those days, people would have laughed in your face. And if a gay person came out, he (or she) would have been dragged into a back alley and beat to death by an angry mob. No one can laugh at the first ‘if’ any more. Gays are still subject to violence—but the attackers don’t get a pat on the back anymore—they get charged with a crime.

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People too young to have lived through those decades can be excused for not feeling Hillary Clinton—she’s just an old politician to them, with plenty of bad press. But they should recognize that Secretary Clinton has been getting bad press since before she graduated from law school—she has been a target of conservatives since she first appeared on the public stage, going undercover down south to prove that private schools maintained ‘hush-hush’ segregation, in violation of federal funding provisions.

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People too young to know of Bill Clinton’s presidency can be excused for wondering what’s up with his cheating, their marriage, and therefore, her sincerity. Bill Clinton was a very young president when he got a blow-job from Monica Lewinski, an adoring, worshipful intern—then got in trouble when he swore he ‘didn’t have sexual relations with that woman’. He meant he hadn’t had intercourse, but others insisted that fellatio is a sex act and that he had lied. Now, Bill was a very popular president, very capable—and the GOP had to destroy him—they tried to impeach him, but couldn’t quite get him out of office. The whole country talked about blow-jobs for two years—it was stupid. Hillary stood by Bill, publicly, both as a believer before-hand, and as a wronged wife after the truth was publicized.

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Now, people say that their marriage is a sham—as if no other marriage had bad problems and recovered. We’re coming up on our thirty-fifth anniversary next month and I can tell you—no marriage is without its ups and downs—long marriages are not a convenience, they are proof of character. But the press, comics, and her opponents, like to dredge this stuff up decades after the Clintons, I’m sure, have put it behind them.20160727XD_HillaryClinton_06

Benghazi was Ambassador Stevens’ valiant choice, but her opponents insist on labelling it Hillary’s mistake. Her email server mistake did no demonstrable damage to national security or personal privacy—and she was not the only government official to do this—she was just the only one being stalked by her long-time haters. And let’s say that I have too high an opinion of her—that she has serious flaws. Look at her record, look at her achievements—recognize that the kind of work she does makes enemies in powerful places—recognize that she has been a target since before most of you were born.

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If Hillary Clinton is an imperfect person, she has somehow managed, in spite of that, to do good for millions, to get healthcare for children, to broker a brief but important peace in the Mid-East, to get compensation for New York City, its police and its first-responders in the health crisis that was the aftermath of 9/11 rescue efforts. And much more—watch the convention for the full bio on CSPAN.org—it’s pretty damned impressive—and we should all be impressed. This is the lady who should be ‘locked-up’?! Yeah, by a dictator, maybe….

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People say they don’t trust Hillary—I wonder who convinced them to think that way? People say Hillary makes mistakes—their list of complaints is mighty short for a decades-long career—maybe they had to look extra hard, maybe they had to inflate some things out of proportion—for instance, who the hell hasn’t had trouble with their email?

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I trust Hillary because I have followed her career since she became First Lady—and I’ve learned about her life before that. There is a reason everyone in Washington assumed she’d be president two years ago—it wasn’t because she was an ‘insider’—it was because all of Washington knew her to be one of the brightest stars in American politics that anyone, on either side of the aisle, had ever seen. They won’t admit it now, during campaign season—but they’re still thinking it.

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Anyway, I gotta go—don’t wanna miss her speech tonight…

Here’s a little something I played today—this convention is really lifting my spirits:

 

..ttfn

Belated History   (2016Jul27)

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016                                                12:50 AM

Yesterday’s nomination of Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic party’s presidential candidate and, with a little luck, the first woman president, was a major historic event—undercut only by the fact that it took us two hundred years and 44 male presidents to get here. The UK’s first woman leader is already a quaint bit of nostalgia—and many other democracies have been graced by women leaders—and we’re just getting around to it.

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That’s the trouble with America—we’ve done so much—yet there is even more still left to be done. Michael Moore recently made an entire movie about good ideas that originated in America, were adopted by other countries (who benefitted greatly) yet failed to catch on, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. And every time a progressive puts forth a good idea for making America a better place there’s a stubborn autocrat who finds a reason to block progress. Democracy is slow, grinding work—especially when it’s swimming upstream against the Citizen’s United ruling that opened the lobbyists’ coffers.

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We saw an old lady at the convention who was a little girl in 1920, when the nineteenth amendment gave women voting rights, and lived to vote for the lady who we hope to be our nation’s first Madam President. Barack Obama’s presidency has given the empowerment of dreams to millions of African-American children—Hillary Clinton is in line to do the same for half our nation’s citizens, and every little girl in America. The GOP wants to minimize this aspect of Hillary’s candidacy, but our President is first and foremost a symbol to the world—and it’s about time we broke the gender wall. Everyone calls it a ceiling, but that’s just to emphasize the unfairness of holding women down—it’s really a wall and we need to break through.

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I was also pleased to see so many details of Hillary Clinton’s long and selfless service to the people of America—state after state credited her with making a positive difference in their lives. The truth about her civil service only makes the GOP smear campaign, over the decades, that much more reprehensible. And after tonight’s endorsements from her friends, her constituents, her colleagues, and her husband, the idea that the GOP nominee can stand up to any comparison is ludicrous.

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As president, one is expected to interact with Congress—that’s 100 Senators and 435 Representatives—over five hundred legislators—it helps if you’ve been to law school. As president, one is expected to make decisions about things happening around the globe, things happening in science, education, health, farming, industry, energy—and business. Knowing about business is great—but knowing a lot about a lot of things, knowing a lot of people, knowing how government works—these are all important, too. The presidency is a tough job for a qualified person—for a newbie trainee, it would be a tragic farce.

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I was always a problem student—I grasped concepts at once, and got very restless waiting for the rest of the class to catch up—my notebooks had more doodles than notes. Nobody appreciates the egghead who screws up the bell curve. But trust me—I’ve already solved this little multiple-choice problem and I am more than restless—I’m scared to death that the rest of the class might not catch up by November.

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The Revolting Day   (2016Jul02)

Saturday, July 02, 2016                                            12:22 PM

Considering the time of year, I guess we can’t really criticize the UK for Brexit—there were a lot of naysayers back on that first Independence Day. In fact, we rarely talk about the Tories—early Americans who took exception to the colonists’ decision to flip George III the bird. Back in the day, their lives weren’t worth a plugged nickel—especially once the Revolutionary War really got started. It must have been strange to move so far while standing still—one day they are patriots—good citizens of His Majesty—and the next day, traitors—dirty turncoats who sided with the lousy Redcoats.

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We can never tell how history will paint our portraits. Benedict Arnold, a much maligned figure in our history, was one of our greatest military officers—a fierce fighter and brilliant tactician—he found the Continental Congress of his day just as useless and frustrating as we do ours today. He saw them being negligent and inept, more concerned with their own well-being than with the fate of the young country. The rebels were suing the French government for military aid and financial backing—and Arnold felt that we were better off sticking with the British, bad as they were, than turning our country over to the French. So he turned spy—but with the best intentions. History, however, was definitely not on his side.

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And ever since, we have had historical figures who, at first blush, were labelled traitors, troublemakers, and insurgents—anyone who tried to see things from the Native Americans’ point of view, anyone who condemned slavery, anyone who worked towards votes for women—were all roundly booed, sometimes until long after the injustices were irreversible. There are even people today, over two hundred years later, whose parents have raised them still to belittle Native Americans, African Americans, and women of any type. More recently, the late Muhammad Ali was branded a traitor for refusing the draft, as were many anti-war protestors. Good isn’t ‘good’ until it wins the PR war and gets the imprimatur of history. It is not so much that history is written by the winners as that history is written by the winning.

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Like religion—source of humanity’s greatest comfort and engine of its worst atrocities—America has a wonderful, idealistic side which we use to block out the memory of all the horrendous reality that we’ve chalked up since we first gave out those poxy blankets, long before we decided to write declarations about human rights. We like to get on our high horse about the great American Experiment—but the nation that invented Public Education celebrates its big day by having the ill-educated go out and blow off their extremities with explosives—if they survived the car trip to the picnic area, that is.

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It’s lucky I’m gonna be a grandpa soon—here I am grumbling about firecrackers on Fourth of July Weekend—what kind of American am I, anyway? I still approve of barbequed hamburgers and hot dogs—even though I can’t decide which has more carcinogens—lighter fluid or maple wood chips. And I still like the flag—even though I can’t fly ours because a tree branch grew across the flagpole and the powerlines are too close (I think it’s a really old flag pole, so it would probably fall down with a flag on it anyway).

Plus, I’m retired—holidays suck once you’re retired—what good’s a day off if you don’t have any days on? The biggest change for me during holidays is the theme that Turner Classic Movies uses to mark the occasion in their day’s programming.

..

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’.

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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.

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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.

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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?

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Memorial Day   (2016May30)

Monday, May 30, 2016                                            11:50 AM

Last night PBS aired the Memorial Day Concert from Washington DC—and all weekend long there have been war movies on TV—I just watched one of my favorites on TCM—“Sergeant York” (1941). An uncredited portion of the soundtrack contains “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” (by James Milton Black, 1892) sung in church at the beginning of the picture. Afterwards at the piano, I guess I mixed it up in my mind with (“Give Me That”) “Old-Time Religion”, another traditional gospel song from 1873.

ELD 064My dad is in this picture somewhere–he served in Korea after boot camp, and made it home safe.

Anyhow, I decided to improvise on that, since the soundtrack of the movie had those themes woven into the music. I began by trying to pick out the tune, but if you can get past that, I think it turned out alright in the end. I’m remembering the fallen today—have a safe and happy Memorial Day, everybody.

The Weather—and Joseph Henry (2016May27)

Friday, May 27, 2016                                               9:21 AM

Yesterday was very warm—up in the eighties—and last night everyone turned on their air conditioning to go to bed (at least that’s how I figure it) and the power went out. Whatever the actual cause, though, we did have candles and cell phones from 9:30 PM until just before midnight. Once I got over being upset about it, I had a lovely time lying in the dark with the cross-breeze coming through the window—quiet, until the neighbors revved up their generators (I keep meaning to get us one).

There’s so little quiet in modern life—I miss it. That’s one of the great things about parks and trails and such—they don’t just preserve the wildlife, they preserve the quiet, too. Here on the Eastern Seaboard it’s become impossible to find total silence. My older brother moved to upstate New York for some years, back in the eighties—way out in the woods, far from any town—and a good ways from his nearest neighbors. But all he heard all summer long was chain-saws—and he was building a house himself, which was hardly silent. Even completely undeveloped places still have planes flying overhead or highways heard in the distance.

What is sometimes referred to as the Bos-Wash Megalopolis may not be the center of civilization, but it’s certainly in the top three concentrations of civilized development—and silence is not the only thing it has lost. It’s lost its darkness as well—New Yorkers who travel to the high desert out west, or down south to the Caribbean, will find themselves dazzled by the star-crowded sky enjoyed when the ambient city street-light isn’t washing out all but the brightest heavenly bodies.

Our water disappeared too—well, the clean water. It’s hard to imagine all the factory waste and sewage needed to make the Ohio River flammable—and even the mighty Hudson, despite Herculean efforts to clean it up, is hardly a crystal stream. Even the Great Lakes (and they don’t call them ‘great’ for nothing)—can you imagine how much crap we had to dump to pollute all five? It strains the imagination.

Diversity is another victim of civilization—this part of New York State once boasted bears, wolves, wildcats—and carrier pigeons so numerous as to block out the sun when a flock flew overhead. Not that I’d want to meet a bear or a pack of wolves in my front yard—but that’s what’s supposed to be here—that and so much more.

On the occasion of Joseph Henry’s death, he was memorialized at Princeton, where he had held a professorship prior to heading up the Smithsonian Institution in DC. I provide a link to the full article, but I wanted to show you some of my favorite quotes from this eulogy for my favorite historical figure:

https://books.google.com/books?id=Dk4tAAAAIAAJ&pg=RA1-PA139&num=19&source=gbs_toc_r&cad=4#v=onepage&q&f=false

Smithsonian Miscellaneous Collections, Volume 21

‘Memorial Discourse by Rev. Samuel B. Dod–delivered in the College Chapel, Princeton’

‘As a student of science he was ardent and enthusiastic in his love for the chosen pursuit of his life. He did not dally with it as a pastime, nor prosecute it with the greed of gain, nor pursue it with the ambition of making himself famous among men.’

‘He was characterized by great reverence in the pursuit of truth. Singularly modest as to his own powers and attainments, he never suffered the advancement of his own opinions to warp his judgment or govern his investigations; he held the progress of truth dearer than the success of a theory. And nothing moved his gentle nature to greater indignation than the pretensions of the charlatan or bigot in science.’

‘He says, when put on trial for his character as a man of science and a man of honor, “My life has been principally devoted to science and my investigations in different branches of physics have given me some reputation in the line of original discovery. I have sought however no patent for inventions and solicited no remuneration for my labors, but have freely given their results to the world; expecting only in return to enjoy the consciousness of having added by my investigations to the sum of human knowledge. The only reward I ever expected was the consciousness of advancing science, the pleasure of discovering new truths, and the scientfic reputation to which these labors would entitle me.” And verily I say unto you, he hath his reward.’

‘As an investigator, Professor Henry was characterized by great patience and thoroughness in his work of observation, and by broad, well-considered, and far-reaching generalizations. He distrusted the so-called “brilliant generalizations” with which those favor us who love speculation rather than study. He never took anything for granted, never despised the details of his work, but carefully established, step by step, those data on which he based his conclusions. In 1849 he says, “Since my removal to Princeton I have made several thousand original investigations on electricity, magnetism, and electro-magnetism, bearing on practical applications of electricity, brief minutes of which fill several hundred folio pages. They have cost me years of labor and much expense.”

A letter from Joseph Henry is appended by the Rev. Dod to this memorial discourse, in which Henry describes the outline of his work inventing the telegraph many years before Morse. Robert Morse, using tech developed for him by an associate of Henry’s, filed a patent for his ‘invention’, the telegraph—without having ever studied electricity. This is, to me, doubly devilish due to the prior instance, in which Michael Faraday and Henry discovered the principle of electro-magnetic induction almost simultaneously, with Henry, if anything, getting there first, but never given any share of credit.

Henry describes his legal fracas with Morse, explaining that he never wished to profit from his invention, and thus never applied for a patent, preferring to maintain the dignity of science. As he writes, “In this perhaps I was too fastidious.”—talk about an understatement. To end the discussion, he says, “To Mr. Morse however great credit is due for his alphabet, and for his great perseverance in bringing the telegraph into practical use.” To which we modern readers of this note may insert the implied ‘asshole’.

It is interesting to note in the story of early industrial-era science the concomitant birth of legal scrambles for credit which evolved into today’s battles over ownership of intellectual property. The Constitution mentions intellectual property in Article I, Section 8: “The Congress shall have Power … To promote the Progress of Science and useful Arts, by securing for limited Times to Authors and Inventors the exclusive Right to their respective Writings and Discoveries.”

Then there was the Patent Act of 1790, followed by the Patent Act of 1793 (between which only 55 patents were granted). But by the Patent Act of 1836, 10,000 patents had been granted. The Patent Act of 1836 was remarkable in creating the first Patent Office. It is no accident that all this legal and legislative activity coincided with the development of steam power and electro-magnetic technology. New inventions have always been looked back upon fondly for their elevation of the human condition—but there wasn’t a one of them that wasn’t also an immediate cash cow—and thus a bone of contention as well.

That Henry failed to perceive this is an example of the old dichotomy—a man with exceptional scientific insight rarely displays the same insight into human nature. There can be little doubt that Henry was a good man—but he was at a loss in dealing with lesser men.

It always seemed to me that the human brain confronts each of its child owners at some point, asking them if they want to observe what’s really happen in the universe, or if they want to observe the ritualized dance of what society perceives as happening—you can’t have both. But maybe that’s just me.

When Asked About Quantum Mechanics (2016May16)

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May 16th, 2016

The simple answer is that quantum physics is newer, and therefore more advanced than what we call mechanical physics (or ‘regular’ physics). However, modern quantum mechanics, our present-day method of studying physics (nuclear, chemical, or astronomical) is so complex that its 1st quarter-century, from 1900-1925, is now referred to as ‘Old Quantum Theory’. In that first, primitive form, Niels Bohr and a bunch of other guys noticed that electrons orbit a nucleus at different levels—never in-between the levels. They called the ‘steps’ from one level to another ‘quanta’ (the plural of ‘quantum’, both from the Latin quantus ‎(“how much”).

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Actually, they used ‘quantum’ to refer to the miniscule amount of energy lost or gained when an electron moved from one orbit to another. They realized that quanta are limited—down at that level, energy doesn’t slide smoothly up and down a scale, but jumps from one quantum level to another. And this is just one of the ways in which very-small-scale (or nuclear) physics differ from what we call macroscopic physics (like throwing a baseball or flying a plane).

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Another example is indeterminacy—usually referred to as Heisenberg’s Uncertainty Principle. What Heisenberg said was: you can’t see a thing without bouncing something off of it—usually a photon of light. But when things get very, very tiny you can’t bounce something off of it without moving it, or changing it somehow. So he concluded that you can’t look at something without changing the thing you’re looking at. It’s a great principle because it’s true of sub-atomic particles, but it’s also true of people—even of groups of people—if you watch them, they notice you’re watching them—and they change their behavior. But that’s not physics—it’s more like a coincidence.

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The biggest obstacle to understanding quantum mechanics is that it’s based on the idea that there are more dimensions than we know of, or are aware of—the usual three dimensions of Space, and the fourth dimension of Time. They theorize that there are many more dimensions—maybe eleven or twelve, nobody really knows yet. The dimensions we know of seem so basic, so much a part of reality, that’s it’s nearly impossible to imagine what a fifth or sixth dimension would do, or where it would go. But mathematics can let theoretical physicists play around with the idea and try to get something out of it that humans can understand, at least partly. Still, you can see why there aren’t a lot of theoretical physicists—it’s kind of a headache.

Fermi's Motion Produces a Study in Spirograph

Also, Multiple Dimensions pose the same problem as Dark Matter or Dark Energy—we only have so much empirical evidence to work with—the rest is all theories—and those theories, being about things we don’t see, or can’t comprehend, make it hard to come up with real-world experiments that could prove the theories.

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To prove the existence of the Higgs boson (the ‘God’ particle) CERN had to build the Large Hadron Collider, which straddles the border between Switzerland and France—it is a circular structure 17 miles in circumference. It took ten years to build it. Peter Higgs came up with the theory in 1964—but he didn’t win the Nobel Prize until 2013. There were several other scientists involved, but I don’t want to complicate this more than I have to. The famous Stephen Hawking experienced the same sort of thing—he theorized the Big Bang in his graduate thesis, and described theoretical properties of Black Holes—and had to wait many years before people stopped laughing at him and started respecting him for being right—just like Higgs.

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This is not the first time theory came long before experimental confirmation—when Einstein wanted to prove that gravity bent light, he devised an experiment that measured the apparent position of Mercury just before it passed behind the Sun. Because that light would have to pass by a big gravity-well like the Sun, the light gets bent and the apparent position of Mercury would differ from the known position of Mercury. The experiment had to be delayed because World War I U-boats made it impossible to go to the exact place on Earth where the observations had to be made—Einstein’s Special Theory of Relativity wasn’t published until after the war, when the experiment could finally be done. And that was before Quantum Physics even came into the picture.

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So, if pressed, I would have to say that the main difference between Mechanical Physics and Quantum Physics is that Mechanical Physics is human-oriented—Newton based his Laws of Motion and Universal Gravitation on careful observation—he described what he saw, and pointed out the mathematical relationships of physical phenomena, for instance, that gravity decreased in proportion to the square of the distance between two objects.

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Quantum Mechanics, on the other hand, is based on accepting that human limits are not the end of the story—that the universe is a strange place with more to it than we can see, or even imagine. It even opens up the possibility that a human brain may not ever be able to fully understand the universe—which makes Quantum Mechanics a glorious, even quixotic, quest for knowledge.

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End Times   (2016May14)

takanawa

Saturday, May 14, 2016                                           12:29 AM

If the end times come and the orange excrescence is voted president by a majority of Americans, we will have become victims of our own success, just like every empire before the American. When this country started out, we kicked out a king by force of arms—that’s commitment. Then we quelled a few rebellions and fought the War of 1812, after carefully designing a brand-new, unheard-of form of government.

great-wave_s01

Then we got stuck on some of the finer points and fought a Civil War over them. People attended their local town halls as religiously as they went to church. People sued each other as a hobby—the source of the term ‘litigious’—and not to rip someone off, like they do today—these people sued over the principle of the thing. Yes, it was stupid, in excess—but it was excessive involvement in self-government.

Ravi001

Women’s Liberation tried unsuccessfully to get an Equal Rights Amendment passed in the 1970s—but the real fight, the one women fought until they won, was for the right to vote, back at the turn of the previous century—they knew, as the Civil Rights movement knew later on, that all power, and change, comes from the power to vote.

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Today we have even forgotten that it is self-government. Things have run fairly smoothly, if you’re in the mainstream (i.e. white, male, Christian, rich, etc.) and the idea that we all attend town hall on a regular basis is just a bit of quaint whimsy in “Gilmore Girls”—to lend it that old-timey New England flavor. Today’s ‘town halls’ are just a cable-news-show format for politicians. And today’s litigious aren’t political cranks—they’re rich people hiring lawyers to rip off poor people. Lobbyists, political patrons, and commercially-biased journalists have more influence on present politics than the voters do.

DavidBonAlps

As the world, and our country, became more crowded, more hurried, and more complex, our politics devolved into the simplicity of a sporting event, which the voters watch on TV and then vote for their ‘team’—no one expects our government to react decisively on behalf of the people, as Roosevelt did with the New Deal, or as Johnson did with the Civil Rights Act. Today’s politicians are only required to react to the 24-hour-news-cycle’s latest story, knowing that tomorrow’s story will gloss over any cracks in their reasoning.

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It reminds me of when I was a young, first-time car owner—I knew that maintaining a car was a thing—but I’d never done anything with my car except get in and drive around—I thought putting the gas in was all the maintenance that mattered. One day, I ran out of oil and my engine block seized up—ever since then, owning a car has been much more hassle and less fun—but I use a car now without destroying it.

rackham9

We’ve been driving America for quite a while now, arguing over which turns to take—but nobody is worrying about whether the oil needs changing, or if the tires are bald. We’re too busy driving the car to take care of it. And it’s going to end up smoking by the side of the road—I know. America is in danger of falling victim to its own success—we take it all as given, like it can’t ever go away. The truth is that our wonderful lives are the product of a lot of effort that we no longer see—or see the need for.

Nizami-Khamsa-HaftPaikar c1430

America invented Public Education because we recognized that people can’t govern themselves if they are ignorant—it has become a world standard, that we are now falling behind on. That’s not a good sign. Education and journalism—real journalism—are two things that helped make America great—losing both of them is going to hurt us more with every passing day. We may not see it right now, but we’re losing important pillars of democracy—and without democracy in the mix, capitalism becomes fascism by paycheck.

pom12

I’d say we could use another World War—they always seem to perk us up—but we went and made nuclear bombs and screwed that whole thing up. I guess it’s time for some other country to advance humanity’s cause. That’s the only good news in all this—the American Empire may be headed the way of all empires—but there’s always another empire just around the corner. And let’s face it—if your elected leader is Donald Trump, it’s time to call it a day.

 

GoddessS0

 

ttfn….

 

Music Monday (2016Apr25)

Monday, April 25, 2016                                          12:34 PM

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

 

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

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

 

Have a good week.

Science Hero   (2016Apr13)

Wednesday, April 13, 2016                                              2:44 PM

The human cost of science, particularly medical science, is often overlooked. When I saw the recent NY Times Science article about a man who had a chip implanted in his brain that allowed him to move his paralyzed hand, my first thought was, ‘How thrilling—we’re actually getting into electronic-brain interface on a very practical level’. The last thing I thought about was the man.

But as I read the article, I found out some things about this guy. First off, he had to recover from a freak accident that left his hands and feet paralyzed—months of rehab were required before he was able to go home—and then only to be cared for by family—still being virtually helpless. That kind of trauma can take someone out of the fight, all by itself—many people’s reaction to such tragedy is to stay in bed until the end of forever.

Then, having learned of this experimental project, he had to volunteer for elective brain surgery—then he had to convince his family to accept it—no easy task. Try telling your mother that you want to get unnecessary brain surgery—right after suffering a paralyzing accident.

Then he describes the enormous effort, hour after hour, of concentrating on trying to move fingers that were no longer connected to his brain—waiting for the scientists to calibrate the software that decrypted his brain signals. As he learned, the signals changed—so re-calibration was required for every session. He likened it to sports training—which, if I remember high school football training, means repeating efforts to the point of exhaustion, day after day. And while he’s training, he’s got a port cable sticking out of the back of his head, plugged into a computer—not exactly comfortable.

Now, after extensive training, he can pour liquid from one container to another—and other feats of dexterity. But when the training’s over, the plug is unplugged and he goes back home, helpless and paralyzed again. And that’s not all—the program is complete now. The scientists are shutting down the program and they’re basically done with him. The experiment was a success, but we are still years from something a person like him could wear and use in daily life.

By the time I finished the article, I was less impressed by the tech—I see it now as a story about an unsung hero of science. See for yourself: http://www.nytimes.com/2016/04/14/health/paralysis-limb-reanimation-brain-chip.html

 

Piano   (2016Apr06)

SAM_2136

Wednesday, April 06, 2016                                              12:14 PM

I feel better about my piano-playing when I listen to some Erik Satie—but that’s a false equivalence—since his rebellious ‘ditties’ flew in the face of more than a century of standards and practices in Western music, whereas my plonking about comes long after Stravinsky, Schoenberg, Cage—not to mention Zappa. Still, there’s something similar there and it makes me feel better about myself and my playing. I’ve been practicing a lot of Chopin and Tchaikovsky lately—and those two are definitely not reassuring to later musicians but, rather, make one feel that music in general is far beyond mere mortals.

MORNING AND NIGHT

 

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Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Tchaikovsky—it’s weird how most of my practicing boils down to these three nowadays—I used to be all about the Baroque—especially Bach, Handel, and Telemann. I still play them on occasion but in recent years I’ve developed a fondness for that intimate personal touch so prevalent in the Romantics. I’ve also progressed to where they have become more accessible—the Romantics can be more demanding of technique.

TELEMANN

 

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I’ve been doing a lot of writing and a lot of piano-playing lately—but I haven’t had the presence of mind to include the piano recordings into the blog-posts, so this post will include several YouTube recordings I’ve neglected to share recently. Beyond that, there’s a great deal of piano-playing I won’t be sharing at all—sometimes I take a break from recording and just play—it gives me some elbow-room to take a break from being recorded. I’ve tried to learn to ignore the camera, but nothing I do seems to make me unaware of being observed—and that tightens up my playing in a way that makes playing without the camera a tremendous relief.

KLAVIERWERKE

 

I wrote a poem yesterday about Tchaikovsky—not a very good poem, but I can’t help that. Much has been made of Tchaikovsky being gay (true) and of his being pressured into committing suicide (false) so it’s difficult for me to imagine his life and times—however, it is true that in spite of his innovative compositions, his contemporaries sometimes criticized him for being too European and not Russian enough—kinda strange for the guy who wrote March Slav, huh?

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Tuesday, April 05, 2016                                          3:16 PM

 

Pyotr Ilyich

My fingers plonk the keys—some Tchaikovsky

For beginners—full of Russian folk themes—

And the poor man’s life—under the thumb of

Entitled bullies and spoiled aristos.

Tchaikovsky is so delicate—so effeminate in some phrases,

Such fairy-like, walking-on-air-ish-ness—

His music is beloved—but for such a man

To live in the cold world—the horror.

 

I love Tchaikovsky—anyone, really, destroyed

By their own delicacy—to live is to die, and no matter

How long the course, among the many ways to die

What more glorious fate?

So many of us rail against the challenges of life.

We neglect to feel life—and our accomplishments,

Even those of grandeur, are as nothing if we fail

To build something inside us.

Pyotr Ilyich will live forever.

 

-© April 5th, MMXVI  by Xper Dunn

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But evolving acceptance of gays has rendered the isolation and frustration of millions of gay people through the centuries a uselessly cruel tragedy—in a way, by channeling his struggles into his wonderful music, Tchaikovsky got more out of his social taboo than most gays of the past. That doesn’t lessen his suffering—but his legacy is a lot more than most gay people in his era were granted. I sometimes ponder the possibility that most of the fine arts were practiced by a predominance of gays—it being the only place where they could express themselves without being thrown in jail or burned at the stake. Then I remind myself that there’s plenty of misery available to the straight life, too—enough to evoke creative expression to equal the biblically damned.

TCHAIKOVSKY

 

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I also played an improv to go along with my previous post about Grandma/First Lady/Senator/Secretary/Candidate Clinton—which I belatedly include herein:

GRANDMA CLINTON

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Then there’s this business, which I couldn’t think up a title for, so I used a misspelled version of a current movie title:

SUM

And that brings me up to date with my YouTube postings. I hope you enjoy some or all of them….

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Old Songs   (2016Mar23)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016                                            2:07 PM

A fresh day in early spring—this is what we’ve earned by our patience through the long, dreary winter. The daffodils have a white pallor that suits them and belies the bright yellow they will eventually achieve. Here in the foyer the front door is ajar. A light breeze is clearing out the tobacco smoke and mixing in heady earth-tones of life stirring in the mud.

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My head is clear and my mood is solid—something I’ve learned to appreciate for its increasing rarity. I’m also thankful about many other things I took for granted, back when they were so plentiful and constant I mistook them for permanent fixtures rather than the glory of youth.

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My daughter’s gift for my sixtieth birthday was socks—Superman socks, Spiderman socks—an embarrassment of super-hero socks. She knows me too well. Not every adult is comfortable sporting Superman socks—I have no problem with wearing anything silly—red plaid pants with green plaid shirt and argyle socks—I don’t care. I never leave the house—and when I do, I assume everyone’s staring at me anyway because I’m kinda neurotic—so if they really stare at my socks, I don’t think anything of it. Life can’t have too much color in it, if you ask me. I could never be cool because cool people only wear black. I’ll wait for the funeral, thanks.

Okay, so—why play these creaky old tunes? Is it ironic? Well, maybe a little—but not entirely—some of them are fun, some are funny, some are just a great tune. Take, for example, “Paddlin’ Madelin’ Home”—now this song has got the silliest lyrics ever—and I’m not entirely sure the lyrics aren’t ingenuously sexual—they’re certainly suggestive. And “Yes! We Have No Bananas”—what kind of monster could fail to love that song? It makes no sense at all—I love things that make no sense at all. And I can’t sing “The Sheik of Araby” without picturing a mob of flappers swooning over Valentino wearing too much kohl around his eyes.

 

Old songs—the more I play them, the dearer they become to me. I think my favorite songs are still the ones I learned in grade-school assemblies and Boy Scout campfire sing-alongs. As a teen I was always eager for the latest hits—but I think people generally prefer songs they’ve heard over and over—it’s more fun when you don’t even have to think about it to sing along.

Today’s improv, “Extra-Sharp”, is passable–but you can skip the “Player Ade” improv from a few days ago–if it were anything special, I wouldn’t have waited so long to post it.

 

 

toodle-oo!

Daylight Is Their Greatest Enemy   (2016Mar12)

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Saturday, March 12, 2016                                        12:42 PM

In the present political climate I often wonder how the world I grew up in became so surreally chaotic. But then I realize that the staid and stuffy aspects of society that bothered me as a youngster have all been, to varying degrees, knocked into rubble—silence is no longer the answer to an ugly problem. And we have found many ugly problems had been caused by the suppression of beautiful people—real people, not just the idealized Dicks and Janes of the 1950s. That people, in all their variety, can no longer be publicly shamed for being different, in whatever way, is a great step forward—but institutionalized biases persist—and individual families’ lore makes bigotry an eternal legacy—so true equality and acceptance continue to elude America.

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We have today a clash that was impossible in the 1950s—Plurality has won many Supreme Court battles, from Thurgood Marshall’s historic vindications to the recent acceptance of gay marriage—thus the laws that made equality a joke have all been deemed unconstitutional—but the personal hatred and fear still persists. The cancer of Capitalism confuses the issue enormously—especially because lots of old, bigoted, homophobic, evangelical white men have most of the money. The opium of Religion confuses the issue, too, by supporting ancient codes of morality that predate both science and medicine, i.e. they were written by ignorant people—and by making up ‘teams’, each religion vying for supremacy, as god intended—their god, anyway.

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In the 1960s, the growing liberal population was relegated to the ‘sub-culture’—equality and free speech used to be something of an underground movement, vulnerable to police brutality and legislative bans. Criminalizing drugs, particularly weed, was targeted at the subculture. Lenny Bruce, the stand-up comic, when he wasn’t being arrested for talking openly about sex or using profane language, was being arrested for possession. Schools banned long hair on boys and pants on girls. Looking back we are tempted to say, how trivial, how silly—but this was the level of blind conformism that those in power presumed upon themselves.

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Thus ‘the establishment’ made themselves easy targets for lampoon and ridicule—and liberality became more mainstream—there was a backlash of ‘what’s the big deal with long hair and dirty words—especially while our kids are being sent into a meat-grinder in South East Asia?’ And ever since, it has been more and more the case that the establishment is now the underground movement –and the trouble is that evil thrives in secrecy—especially wealthy evil. The worst disaster to befall the Republican party in the last election was when some journalist smuggled out a tape of a meeting where they spoke plainly among themselves. When we heard Romney’s ‘47%’ comment, he lost the race. Daylight is their greatest enemy.

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The sixties were an era of great conflict—even riots in the streets—and that was when truth and justice were ‘the underground’. Now that greed and evil are the new ‘underground’ movement, we can just sit back and wait for the end of civilization as we know it—the bastards. Like all poorly-shaped minds, they search the new liberality, cherry-picking those freedoms that allow for dirtier tricks than ever before, while ignoring the ideals behind those freedoms.

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Their idea of ‘fighting fire with fire’ is to lie and twist the truth and engender fear and loathing of one group for another, while pretending to be good businesspeople, good family people, and good Americans. I hate a bald-faced, shameless liar—and so I don’t much care for Republican politicians. At least the Democrats accept Science—I mean, really.

In a way, Trump, by presenting the GOP as the naked fascism it is, is a breath of fresh air—finally, a blatantly stupid, hateful pig who doesn’t try to pretend he’s just as intelligent and sensitive as a Democrat.

That S**t-Eating Grin    (2016Mar11)

Friday, March 11, 2016                                  12:26 PM

History proves, huh? I can’t even remember last night—how can you think that the past tells us anything but what we wish to hear? Yes, this happened, but that happened too—and who knows what else happened that’s being left out, or what’s been added with the ‘benefit’ of hindsight? Even in the present, we don’t know people’s mindsets—what they’re thinking, how they see things—we certainly can’t pretend we know what went through the minds of those long gone.

The only thing history proves is that we, here in the present, are the survivors of an endless struggle—a struggle with ourselves, with others, with the elements, with ignorance, with knowledge—it’s all chaos. Pinning it down to prove a point only twists the few facts we know into a narrative that proves our point—and that isn’t proof, that’s rationalizing. You can’t use history to prove anything—history is a list of experiences—that’s its value—we can learn from history.

But we don’t. We didn’t learn from Prohibition—we still have billions of dollars and millions of people embroiled in the criminalization of drugs. We didn’t learn from Sandy Hook, et. al.—we still pretend guns are a safety measure. People are stupid, but we’d rather die than admit it—the Trump rally supporters are just the cream of the crop—and even those morons have worked it out in their heads that they are the tip of the spear of common sense.

As a highly educated person, I have a warning for all you students out there—stop now, while you still have a chance of living your life without frustration and bitterness. Only the ignorant know bliss. Step one—believe in God—that’s a good start—that’ll have you deluded right from the get-go—and it makes all the other stupidities of convention that much easier to swallow. Step two—never listen to anyone who disagrees with you. Step three—be afraid—be very afraid—it doesn’t really matter what you’re afraid of—as long as it keeps your mind closed to new ideas.

There, now you can float through life without being driven mad, as I am, by the countless daily examples of humanity’s idiocy. Trust me, you won’t regret being stupid—look at that shit-eating grin on Trump’s face.

Why Trump Is Winning   (2016Mar04)

Friday, March 04, 2016                                            9:07 AM

Did you ever wonder how a psychotic Hitler came to be the leader of all Germany? It’s not as if he went crazy after he rose to power—he wrote “Mein Kampf” long before his brown-shirts started bullying the populace, or before he framed the communists for burning down the Reichstag. And in “Mein Kampf”, he even spelled out how he’d like to slaughter virtually every Jew in Europe—he just left out the other ten million people that would ultimately die in his quest for absolute power—and the ruin that Europe would become by the time he was stopped.

A lot of people saw that coming—but people in power couldn’t help having great respect for him—so he remained legitimized in the public eye until it was far too late to stop him without violence. When Charlie Chaplin made “The Great Dictator” in 1940, there were still many Americans who thought it unwise to criticize a ‘respected world leader’. America had many people who thought we should be on Germany’s side, against England. How were we lucky enough to come out on the right side of history?

America was going through the Great Depression—times were tough. But they weren’t utterly hopeless, like they were in Germany. Germany was suffering under the draconian financial burden imposed by the Treaty of Versailles—the government was as broke as the people. American people were broke, but our government still had the wherewithal to institute the New Deal—so we did not have runaway inflation, making what money they did have worthless, like the Germans.

Germany was literally starving. Extreme conditions breed extreme attitudes—‘kill’em all’ sounds like a sensible solution when you are yourself on death’s doorway. Apart from the sociopathic anti-Semitism that permeated Europe (and America) Germans also blamed the rest of Europe for their financial straits (and not without reason). Oddly enough, they saw genocide and world conquest as a survival strategy—and Hitler gave them a blueprint for it. So they all ‘heiled’ Hitler.

Growing income inequality today has made Americans hungry for change—and we’re getting hungry enough to start flailing about for answers, no matter how crazy or cold-blooded. “Build a wall”; “Ban the Muslims”; “Mexicans are rapists”—would Americans have stood for such naked violence in any previous decade? No. But the GOP has been crippling our government, hence our economy, for years now—they lie about the president, they lie about global warming, they lie about Planned Parenthood, they shut down the government. They’ve done all this to protect the wealthy and the evangelicals and the racists—and now they’re upset because someone is using the same tactics to satisfy his own ego—and he’s doing it better than they ever did.

It’s tempting to savor the GOP’s dismay, but they’ve set the stage for something even worse than themselves—so we must perforce join them in condemning their presidential frontrunner. However, the idea that Cruz or Rubio would fix the problem is hilarious—Hillary was right—they’re all ‘Trump’, just not as good at it as he is. Trump has adopted their methods of lying, obstructionism, and willful ignorance—and made it his personal art form.

Trump has an animal slyness that can easily be mistaken for intelligence—especially among the uneducated—his demographic sweet-spot. The uneducated aren’t upset by Trump’s lack of policy details—they’re relieved. They don’t want to discuss the thorny problems of national government—they want someone to fix it—and Trump confidently says he’ll ‘fix it’. That’s all they need to hear. But all I hear is someone promising to cut the Gordian Knot that was tied by Washington, Lincoln, Roosevelt, Kennedy, King, and Obama—being the ‘lamp beside the golden door’ to the rest of the world is just too complicated—let’s be bullies instead.

The rest of the world is getting ready to refuse Trump entry into their countries—how’s that for an endorsement? His own party is anti-endorsing him (if that’s even a word) but we can’t take them seriously until they break down and tell their constituents to vote for Hillary. The one person endorsing Trump publicly is Chris Christie—and the terrified look on his face every time he appears standing next to Trump makes me think he’s envisioning future history—when his name will be tied to Trump’s in the story of how America died.

Too New For T. S. Eliot   (2016Feb17)

(Originally posted on Medium.com)

Wednesday, February 17, 2016                                       11:03 AM

The new millennium is here—everything is online! Or maybe not. We expect Wikipedia to have every single factoid in it—and due to its popularity and it frequency of use, it seems to have almost everything. But the rest of the interweb can be surprisingly new and lacking in context. Take Medium, for instance—just this morning I thought to myself, “Let’s see what Medium has about T. S. Eliot…” and I searched for that hash-tag. I expected a few ‘stories’ because I’ve done a few myself, on my WordPress blog—and I know I’m not alone on WordPress when it comes to blogging with T. S. Eliot hash-tagged content.

But zip was all I got—nada on the Eliot-man. So, here we go, Medium readers—this is what I know about the guy: T. S. Eliot was born in St. Louis Missouri around the turn of the last century to a family whose patriarch was a founder of the Unitarian Church in early America. He spent his summers on the Atlantic coast—so he was an Easterner to those in St. Louis, and a hick to those in New England—the typical isolated youth of a creative genius. He studied philosophy at Harvard but then went to England, from which he never returned—preventing him from ever receiving his doctoral degree, in spite of completing all the work except for the in-person presentation.

He fell in love with England once he got there—the English often joked that he was more English than the English, wearing a bowler hat and carrying an umbrella. He married Vivienne Haigh-Wood, but theirs was a troubled marriage, partly due to her mental instability—there’s an excellent bio-pic about the marriage, “Tom and Viv” (1994), which is enjoyable both as cinema and as educational material.

Eliot’s early successes in poetry included “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufock”, which created a small stir, but it was his “The Waste Land” that exploded onto the literary scene in 1922, making him a household word. This was followed by “Ash Wednesday” and “The Hollow Men”—and eventually my favorites, the “Four Quartets”. But in his later life he turned to playwriting in verse, creating “Murder in the Cathedral”, “The Cocktail Party”, and “The Confidential Clerk”, among others. In 1948, Eliot was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. A reporter asked him what poem he was being given the prize for and Eliot responded, “I believe it’s for the entire opus.” And the reporter asked, “When did you write that?”

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As the greatest poet of the last century, Eliot’s output is surprisingly small—his poems can all fit into a small volume. It is the quality of each poem that makes him so great. Another surprising fact is that his most renowned work is a book of children’s rhymes entitled “Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats”, which provided the lyrics for Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Broadway musical, “Cats”.

I studied poetry in my youth. In the end, I grew tired of the lyrical stiltedness of poetic expression—at its worst, poetry can be quite similar to talking with a fake accent—nothing new is being said, it’s just being said in an unusual way. T. S. Eliot remains favored reading material for me, however, because while all other poets were creating artistic expressions, he created philosophical expressions—poems that were more about thinking than feeling. That appeals to me.

As with many artists, there are troubling aspects to T. S. Eliot—some claim he may have been a closet homosexual, some claim he was a staunch anti-Semite, some feel he did badly by his first wife when he had her committed for life. This happens—many of my favorite artists turn out to be, upon reading their biographies, mere humans with feet of clay. All I can say is: read the poetry.

Here’s the first bit of his Burnt Norton (from “Four Quartets”):

 

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

What might have been is an abstraction

Remaining a perpetual possibility

Only in a world of speculation.

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.

Footfalls echo in the memory

Down the passage which we did not take

Towards the door we never opened

Into the rose-garden. My words echo

Thus, in your mind.

                              But to what purpose

Disturbing the dust on a bowl of rose-leaves

I do not know.”

 

[NOTE: It has come to my attention that Medium.com doesn’t allow special characters in their hash-tags, so when I searched on the Tag ‘T. S. Eliot’ and got nothing, it may have only been because I should’ve searched on ‘TS Eliot’ instead.]

 

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Roarin’ Piano Covers   (2016Feb16)

Tuesday, February 16, 2016                                             3:23 PM

Billie Holiday’s discography includes some beautiful old standards—one of my favorites is “I Can’t Believe That You’re In Love With Me” written by Jimmy McHugh & Clarence Gaskill in 1926. I find the sheet music demanding and if I can’t play the thing properly, I certainly can’t give you the slightest idea of how exquisitely simply beautiful it is on the Billie Holiday recording. Those early recordings of Billy Holiday with the Teddy Wilson Orchestra are, in many ways, the apotheosis of musicality—so weirdly perfect and so perfectly weird. (Apotheosis means “the highest point in the development of something; culmination or climax.”—I looked it up to make sure I wasn’t being stupid.) Here’s another favorite Holiday recording:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=69CS90p-s80

 

Besides Billie Holiday, I’ve owned a few albums of Art Tatum, Joe Williams, Sarah Vaughan, and of early blues singers—this sort of wonderfulness:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4q7nYEDzljE

 

And that’s the context in which I first heard performed “Everybody Loves My Baby (But My Baby Don’t Love Nobody But Me)” written by Jack Palmer & Spencer Williams in 1924. Again, I struggle too much with getting this sheet music played to give it the easy bounce that it should have.

The middle piece from today’s video is by Vincent Youmans—a real class act—influenced in later years by Jerome Kern—but this early song is more of a jazz take on a revival-tent choir—“Hallelujah” written by Vincent Youmans, with words by Clifford Grey & Leo Robin in 1927. Here’s another from 1927, “I Know That You Know”:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NF6cZJIsTgc

 

“Hallelujah” is a tricky piece, included today because I’m not likely to get a better take of it. So there you go, caveats included—my piano cover video for today:

 

And here are a couple of not-too-bad improvs:

 

(a short one:)

 

Th-th-th-that’s all, folks!

Vigor (2016Feb12)

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Thursday, February 11, 2016                                           5:23 PM

We rely on the Brownian motion of personal relationships—we don’t acknowledge it outright, though—instead, we tend, when things are going well, to say ‘uh-oh, I just know something bad’s gonna happen’—or when things are going badly, to say ‘oh well, things will get better’. We don’t assume our lives will always get better—but we like to assume they’ll always change. And I suppose one of my biggest fears is that I would someday find myself in a situation that never changed—I can take the bad with the good, but I can’t take the nothing. That wouldn’t work for me.

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I think that’s the horror of poverty—looking at the situation and seeing no possibility that it will ever change. Even the American Dream has something of that—the pursuit of happiness doesn’t guarantee happiness, but it implies change of some kind—the possibility of it, at least—and that is why President Obama’s call for hope and change resonated so deeply for Americans—change is the American Dream. The financial inequality and the shrinking of the middle class frighten us—because they signal an end to mobility. America is becoming set in its ways—and that’s exactly what people yearn to escape when they dream of coming here. It’s the curse of ancient roots—to lose even the dream of change—and America, at a mere two centuries, is already getting as stagnant as the rest of the world.

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Americans used to travel more—we used to relocate more—we were restless—‘cruisin’ was the national pastime. Growing job markets used to attract relocated workers looking for new opportunities—now growing industries hide inside our computers—we don’t even go outside anymore—except to go to the gym. When did fresh air and new sights become the enemy? The person who figures out how to reinvigorate the millennials is going to make a revolution—and a butt-load of money. But what kind of app gets people outdoors?

I recorded a lot today—a whole bunch of Chopin mazurkas (only three made it onto YouTube) and a bunch of scraps of improvising that I threw together into one video—it isn’t nearly as bad as I thought it would be—it’s really kind of a nice change for me.

 

 

 

 

If I don’t post before then–have a good Valentines Day!

Lachrymosa Regina   (2016Feb06)

Saturday, February 06, 2016                          9:43 AM

Struggle, Weep, And sacrifice

Snuggle, Sleep, And love a wife

Burgle, Beat, And stab a knife

Gurgle, Bleat, And laugh at strife

Wiggle, Crawl, Behind the lies

Giggle, Beam, As sun will rise

In the olden times, a man could spend all day chopping wood—and he’d have been a hard-working, responsible adult with profitable employment; a woman could spend a week sewing a single fancy dress—and she’d have been considered quite clever and industrious. Today, either person would be considered to be wasting their time. The Bayeux Tapestry took an army of ladies-in-waiting, through three separate reigns, over many years, to complete—today it could be scanned into a digital loom’s memory and printed out in a few days’ time—possibly a few hours.

Travel was simpler in olden times—it simply wasn’t done. Those few times when anyone left their home for somewhere more than a mile off was called a Pilgrimage—and it was the event of a lifetime. Even in the beginning of the nineteenth century a trip up the Rhine from say, Bonn to Vienna, was a week-long excursion that took the form of a traveling celebration—I learned this today from reading a biography of Beethoven which describes just such a journey. Before trains (and then cars) travel was, and had always been, at a walking pace—nobody ran, and a team of trotting horses was considered positively speedy.

Communications were only possible within shouting distance—anything further off, and you had to write a note and have someone carry it to the person you wished to speak to. Medicine was as famous for its frauds and failures as for its rare successes. In short, life was simpler. The question that harries me is this: is life required to be simple? Are people who evolved to chop wood and sew their clothes capable of being happy in a world of traffic-jams, I-phones, and 3D-printers?

The popularity of Zumba classes speaks to our need to go out of our way to find some semblance of the exertion that our bodies have evolved to expect—exertion that our bodies, to some extent, need to remain healthy. The popularity of Zen, Yoga, and meditation speaks to our need for quietude—and to how difficult it is to find in our modern lives. Our interest in gourmet cuisine shows that even when food can be prepared in seconds, we are happier when we can make a production of its preparation, and a ritual out of its serving and its consumption.

The entire human race is, to some extent, being hauled forward through time, like a child being marched down the sidewalk by an impatient parent. We are given no time to appreciate our surroundings, no time to contemplate our simple existence, and no escape from the arcane complexities that our lives have come to contain. When we began to rebel against the childish despotism and the simple-minded morality of past centuries, we also began to distance ourselves from our childish nature. Today’s pre-pubescent middle-schooler has more sophistry than the most jaded courtesan of a few hundred years ago—and while that includes the blessing of women’s liberation, it also requires a maturity that may exceed our natural limits.

Complexity and self-control are assumed by the heralds of Progress—it’s taken for granted that, if man can create automobiles, for instance, then man is capable of using automobiles correctly. Highway safety statistics put the lie to that assumption—even after we’ve created protocols for testing, licensing, and registering drivers—and created highway patrols to enforce safety regulations. Weapons offer another example of technology being embraced without any thought for its dangers—as do drugs, banks, and computers. All of these ‘wonders’ present us with as many risks as benefits. Hence the growing complexity.

Only a student of history can envision how completely modern civilization has severed itself from its roots. Humans used to be fairly fancy animals—we had risen above bestiality, but we still bustled about with simple tools—we were animals that had found a few handy shortcuts. Today’s human can go for years without leaving a paved surface, a home, or an office—they never have to plant anything, dig anything, or exert themselves in any way—yet their food will be cooked, their clothes washed, and their homes kept warm (or cool, if needed). Money is involved of course—which means a job is probably involved—but in these times, a job doesn’t mean real work—it means something quite different from chopping wood or making clothes by hand.

This is a philosophical discussion, of course—we are well past the global population size that could have been supported in olden times, using man-power-based agriculture and transportation—so it goes without saying that we can’t go back. There’s no need to point out that I would be uncomfortable without the luxury of running water or flush toilets—I’m not unconscious of the blessings of modern life—nor is there any need to point out that democracy and free speech are an improvement over absolute monarchies or theocracies—I’m actually a big fan of human rights. But it would be jejune to imply that Progress comes without cost—many an immigrant to America has testified to the subtle panic at suddenly realizing total personal freedom—the right to make our own decisions is also a heavy obligation.

The strangest part of modern life is that things that once seemed acceptable—natural human impulses—become either impossible or criminal. Whittling was once a popular pastime—someone would pick up a piece of wood and starting carving it with a knife. Nowadays, carrying a knife is considered somewhat belligerent—and finding wood on the ground is a rare thing—and the pile of shavings might even get you a ticket for littering. Spitting used to be a common affectation—spittoons were once profligate, attempting to keep the mess of indoor spitting to a dull roar. People used to be more careless—and far less mature. It was 1920 before anyone even recognized that excessive drinking was a problem—and then, of course, we overreacted—childishly.

Are people still childish at times? Of course they are. My question is should we expect humanity to be as adult as a modern civilization requires them to be? I suspect we have over-reached ourselves. If we consider the sophistication of global issues in modern times—and contrast them with the regressive attitudes of the Republican party—we see a picture of hosts of immature, thoughtless people railing against the constraints of modernity—they want a return to conformity, bigotry, and dogma—and while we may all agree that they are wrong, we must still ask the question: are we asking too much of the human race as a whole?

When Einstein first published his Relativity work, it was famously incomprehensible. When Turing first published his work on automated computing, it too was beyond the understanding of people. Both Einstein and Turing had insights so profound that even the best and brightest of their peers had trouble comprehending them—and the public at large was left with buzz-words and jokes about relativity being gobbledy-gook. And Turing wasn’t helped by having his work kept secret for fifty years—Einstein was fortunate to have achieved his fame before the atom bomb made his work a state secret. And even before the bomb, public opinion was encapsulated in “As Time Goes By”, written by Herman Hupfeld in 1931, which includes the lyric “Yet we get a trifle weary with Mr. Einstein’s theory. So we must get down to earth at times, relax, relieve the tension…”

And let’s face it—while far simpler, Edison’s electric dynamo, the combustion engine, and even Watt’s primitive steam engine, while familiar to us in concept—are also beyond the ability of most people, myself included, to explain in any detail. We are surrounded by mystery—reassured only by the assumption that if we studied engineering, we could probably understand these things. But that doesn’t change the fact that only one in a million people truly understands how most of our technology really works. It works—is the most we know about most things.

Our Constitution, while not technological, is also a complex invention that most people do not fully understand. And I’m not talking about internecine debates in the Supreme Court over fine legal points—I’m saying that too many of the people who live by, or at least under, our Constitution don’t have a firm grasp of its basic points. The fact that the world’s greatest democracy also enjoys the lowest voter turnout per capita for its elections is just one of the failings I could place in evidence. The evangelicals’ lobbying for theocratic legislation is another. These people obviously have no understanding of the system. Conservatives used to do their best to suppress free speech—reaching a high-water-mark during the red scare of the McCarthy Era—now, neo-cons have flipped the script, embracing ‘free speech’ as a license to ignore the rules—the so-called ‘teaching of the controversy’. But dumb is still dumb.

People are dumb. We are children—I’m sixty years old and I still have to remind myself to act like an adult. While I would never advocate giving in to the regressives, I think we need to ask ourselves—how far can we push ourselves in certain avenues while merely maintaining the status quo with others—or more to the point, pretending that there are no other avenues? We can push ahead with technology and social change—but if we don’t match that with some progress in pluralism and income equality—if we don’t delve as deeply into the quality of human nature as we do into changing the ways we live—we court chaos—and disaster. The hell with courting it—we live in chaos, on the edge of global disaster. And it seems to me we don’t have the sense to even ask ourselves why.

It’s the proverbial modern dilemma—how do you fix a car while you’re driving it down the freeway? Stopping, much less going backwards, is not an option. I believe we need to broaden our understanding—to go beyond economic absolutism, beyond political demagoguery—to seek working compromises between personal liberty and social support programs—between ownership and responsibility for others. We need to envision a world without starvation and war and slavery—and ask ourselves: how do we get there from here without dropping a stitch? And most importantly—how much do we need to ask of ourselves to get there—and do we have that much to give?

Obama’s Paean   (2016Jan12)

Tuesday, January 12, 2016                                                10:35 PM

Eight years and many a fine speech—but perhaps more impressively, never a stupid remark—take that, Republicans. We used to handicap poor Dubya whenever he made a speech. Bill had a good run—until the end when he started debating the definition of ‘is’—and lying some, which is its own kind of stupid. Before Bill we had Reagan and Bush—theirs was a kind of dazed-bully kind of stupid. But President Obama is an intellectual—he’s used to having to talk down to people without ‘talking down’ to them—but he’s always been more the knowledgeable guy you look up to than the guy you want to drink beer with. I’ll never understand the ‘drink beer with’ BS.

You may want to feel good towards your candidate for president—but you have to feel that they are more knowledgeable than Joe Schmoe from the local bar. I mean—even Dubya was a college grad—he wasn’t stupid stupid, just stupid for a president. It’s a hard job—you can’t have no idiot at the switch in there.

Which brings me to my favorite part of Obama’s final State of the Union Address—when he called out Trump and Cruz for their anti-American rhetoric of hate and division, saying we should reject all politics that target people by race or religion. That was good. I also enjoyed when he pointed out that America is too strong to be threatened in any real way by ISIL or Al-Qaeda—that citizens may be under threat from random craziness, but the country as a whole should deal with that without jumping the shark about national security. It’s refreshing to hear a politician tell us not to be afraid, isn’t it?

I’ll tell you why the healots have gotten out of hand—progressives have progressed—they learned that progressive programs are more subtle than a catch-phrase. The world’s complexity demands thought and patience—and we have to be sturdy in our grasp of change. Change without thought breeds chaos—catch-phrases work on the emotions, not on governance. The divide between good politics and good governance widens every day—it has always created a paradox, but now the ubiquity of media makes a monster of campaigning, completely overshadowing the whole idea of good government. So, while thoughtful politicians must be ever more careful of statements they know will be picked apart by nitpickers, the hucksters can shout their vitriol to the rafters without fear of an answering shout from their more serious rivals—people handicapped by their insistence on thinking before speaking.

I understand that people like Trump have to be covered by the media while they are running for president—but I hope we can enjoy a moratorium on idiots after the election is over (assuming we don’t elect one). I’ve heard enough from Trump to last me—and if I never hear him again it’ll be too soon. On the other hand, President Obama’s cool will be sorely missed—it’s hard being an egghead—and there’s something reassuring about having one in office. I felt like, even if the rest of the country is going crazy, at least the president gets it—I’ll miss that—I truly believe it’s better to have some brains in the executive office.

Anyway, here’s today’s improv:

 

 

Time Passes Slowly   (2015Nov15)

Sunday, November 15, 2015                                            12:12 PM

“Time Passes Slowly” was one of my favorite Judy Collins songs when I was a teenager—I only wish I could still sense that stillness of time. Here in my aged future, time passes far too quickly—and with less happening in it, to boot. At the moment, it seems last spring was only a few weeks back, that last summer was yesterday, that Halloween came and went while I was glancing at something else—and Thanksgiving is only seconds away, to be followed an hour later by Christmas. That’s what being old feels like (in between the groans and the wheezing, of course) a maelstrom of time that gives not a moment’s rest.

As promised, I purchased Amazon’s only listed biography of Joseph Henry, the American discoverer of electromagnetic induction (Michael Faraday is given the historical credit, in the cliff-notes version). If you remember, I wanted to discover why his name is so unknown today, when he was so revered by scientists for over a century. While that project is still under weigh, I have come up with one thought to share.

Joseph Henry was born in 1797—George Washington was still alive. Henry lived in Albany, New York—recently made the new capital city of New York State. Sloops made regular trips up and down the Hudson River to New York City though by 1807, Fulton’s “Clermont” was steaming over the same route—to be followed by numerous other steam-powered vessels throughout Henry’s youth. As a young teacher-to-be, he made a trip down to West Point to attend a teacher’s conference and learned there of a new invention for the classroom—a black board, which could be written on with chalk, then wiped down and used again—it was a breakthrough in classroom demonstration—the i-pad of its day, if you will.

Henry would continue his experiments with magnetism while teaching Chemistry—Physics would not be recognized as a separate study for some time. And native Americans still lived in the Albany area when he was young—many pioneers passed through Albany on their way west—the North American interior was still very much a separate world. Both the United States and science would grow, slowly but surely, over the years.

It occurred to me that science progresses quite slowly. Euclid’s geometry was written down in the third century BC. Alchemists would work with metalworking, refining, colored dyes, pigments, and other useful materials for centuries, providing the foundation for the Chemistry to come, while being hunted as Satanists. Medical science and astronomy would work through similar resistance from religious institutions to reach understandings of basic human anatomy or the course of the planets through the heavens. Men like Ben Franklin, Alessandro Volta, and Luigi Galvani would spend lifetimes studying electricity without even connecting it with magnetism.

Likewise, it would be almost a century before Henry’s own discovery of induction would produce practical devices such as Morse’s telegraph, Bell’s telephone, or Edison’s dynamo. All of science and technology would crawl along, taking years, or even centuries, to take a single step.

But here’s the thing—as a student in the 1960s and 1970s, I was taught all of these wonders in the space of a handful of semesters. They were not presented as a ‘story of us’—rather as a mere list of rules and functions. It would take me years more to discover the story of humankind implied behind the bare bones of chemistry, calculus, and physics as taught in school.

As I read history, I learned of the life stories of these men and women, of how they lived and died, of the cultures they inhabited while ferreting out these secrets of the universe. I saw the steps taken, one person standing on the shoulders of all who came before—and becoming a foundation for those who would come after. I imagined the changing lives of people who went from caves to indoor plumbing, from horses to steam engines, from papyrus to Gutenberg’s printing-press, from leeches to open-heart surgery.

But I also realized that these giants of human knowledge were all geniuses of some degree—that the principles, the formulas, the mathematics that make up the education of modern children take time to teach because they are all gems of perfect understanding, insights that only our greatest minds could reveal. Their greatness is obvious in the sheer effort required by mortal minds such as my own to grasp what they saw—what they had the genius to recognize and to communicate to the rest of the world (no small feat of its own).

So, yes, it takes time to acquire a good education—because we are climbing on the shoulders of a crowd of intellectual giants. Even so, we are only learning the barest highlights of what they did—without even the names of the people who mined this treasure, much less their stories, or the story of how this knowledge percolated through civilization to yield the wonders of our modern age—no wonder children ask why they need to know these things—they are never told of the richness of humanity’s struggle to wrest understanding from an opaque existence. It’s as if we are loading their knapsacks with gold bars—and never telling them of its value.

So, to begin with, the story of Joseph Henry’s invisibility is the same as the story of the death of a liberal arts education—many people don’t appreciate the context of information as being of equal value to the information itself. We used to teach scholars ancient Greek and Latin—dead languages with no apparent face-value—but when using these old terms, by knowing their origins, we are reminded that some things are as old as ancient Athens or Rome, and that the people of that time were no different from ourselves. Context is its own wisdom—its own information.

Now we are inclined to pare down education even further, by renouncing the creative arts—a sure sign that we don’t appreciate the connection between music and mathematics, painting and chemistry, or dance and physics. We are educating ourselves as if we are machines being prepared to be slotted into a job after our training is over—not as if we want to raise humans with hearts and minds that find fulfilment and wonder in the world around them. Context is everything. I will continue reading Joseph Henry’s biography and I’ll keep you all informed of what I find.

Had a windy day yesterday:

From Ritual to Romance   (2015Nov08)

Sunday, November 08, 2015                                            6:21 PM

“From Ritual to Romance” was written by Jessie L. Weston in 1920. It is mentioned by T. S. Eliot in the notes to his poem, ‘The Waste Land’: “Not only the title, but the plan and a good deal of the incidental symbolism of the poem were suggested by Miss Jessie L. Weston’s book.”  Weston’s book, along with Sir James George Frazer ‘s “The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion”, first published in 1890, were hot topics in Eliot’s day. Frazer’s ‘Golden Bough’ did for anthropology what Darwin’s “On The Origin Of Species” did for biology in 1869—it presented academic research indicating that the Christianity of the day was evolved, in many ways, from more-ancient rituals and earlier gods. Further, it showed that religion changes with the times, while it re-tasks older beliefs and traditions. Simple examples include the importance of mistletoe in Christmas tradition—a holdover from Druidic beliefs and rituals—and Christmas itself, a pre-Christian mid-winter festival re-assigned as the day of Christ’s birth, whereas the historical Jesus was most likely born in the spring.

Just as Darwin’s work slowly percolated for decades after its initial publication (the Scopes trial wasn’t until 1925) so too Frazer’s research would not bear the fruit of Weston’s and other writers’ works until well into the beginning of the twentieth century—and this affected T. S. Eliot, scion of a famous Unitarian family and a student of Ancient Greek, Latin, and even Sanskrit (he familiarized himself somewhat with Eastern philosophy—the final ‘shanti’ in The Waste Land is Sanskrit for ‘peace’)—but an intellectual who considered himself an atheist early in his writing career. That he would join the Church of England in his later years, he admitted, was in large part due to his desire for ritual and the focused meditation of prayer.

In his essays on Christianity, culture, and society, Eliot worried that the ending of borders in Europe would lead to an overly homogenous culture, losing the variety of differences between the many nations. His concerns were misplaced, as the United States would handily blanket the globe with Pepsi and Quarter-Pounders soon after the next World War. But the foundation of his concern for cultural diversity, as well as his eventual decision to rejoin a religious community—was at heart a concern for meaning in one’s life and indeed in the lives of everyone.

His masterpiece, “The Waste Land”, was to some extent a gigantic howl at a universe that was losing its old meanings—and having trouble replacing them with modern equivalents. Industrialization, science, and technology were erasing many of the givens—people of different countries were no longer separated by mere physical distance—the secrets of life, of matter, of the universe—all of which had been the province of faith—were now being revealed by scientific inquiry—‘God’ himself had been dethroned.

And Eliot raises a valid point—I spent many years being agnostic, being unsure if my rejection of all religion was based on valid reasoning—but once I decided absolutely on atheism, I’ve spent every moment since in trying to find a way to give life meaning without reverting to any magical improvisations that would simply be religion in another guise. And it’s not easy.

As I watched a PBS documentary on Johnny Carson today, this issue of rituals again raised itself in my mind. In my youth, TVs were made from tubes. This required a TV to be big and boxy—the bigger the screen, the bigger the whole box had to be. So—a very substantial piece of furniture sat in the center of virtually every home—and, at dinner-time, virtually every American turned it on, like a national campfire, and watched either Walter Cronkite or Chet Huntley and David Brinkley tell them the news of the day. Later, at bed-time, Johnny Carson would come on and clue us all in on what was going on, what to care about, what was ‘cool’, and what to laugh off.

The real importance of this was in the following day—our conversations with each other would always have a common context—we all referenced the same ‘source material’. Equally important was our unanimous acceptance of whatever information was received—we talked about how we felt about current events—we never discussed whether we believed what Cronkite or Carson had told us. That’s where the cliché of ‘water-cooler conversation’ comes from—although presently even water-coolers are a thing of the past—now most office workers show up to work with their own individual caffeine drinks from Starbucks or Dunkin Donuts.

Older times saw technology enabling us to be tribal on a larger scale—first radio, then television, gave us a sense that the entire nation, from coast to coast, was all ‘on the same page’. Automobiles allowed us to congregate in public places in larger numbers—and from a larger overall area. The limitations of corded, rotary landlines—mostly always just one to a household—retained the sense that real communication could only be accomplished face-to-face.

And while we are tempted to blame laptops and i-phones for the insularity of modern communication, we should remember that earlier electronics began the change—the advent of touch-tone dialing, call-waiting, multi-party calls, caller-ID, etc.—all made telephony simpler and more akin to an actual conversation. It was around this time that phone cords of exaggerated length became popular—phoning had become easier, and we began to feel a restlessness from still being pinned to one spot in the home.

The differences today are many: we all have our own phones now; we can take them wherever we go now; we don’t have to worry about missing a call—not only do we know who tried to call us, but they can leave a recorded message for us to hear later. Point-of-contact used to be the family kitchen—now each wandering individual is a point-of-contact. Telephone contact is so universal today that we are confronted by situations, as when driving a car, where talking on the phone can actually kill us.

Similar conveniences have stripped away the trials of scholarship—fifty years ago one would inevitably find oneself in need of a public library—specifically the reference section. ‘Mini-reference-sections’, called encyclopedias, were sold door-to-door—mostly to minimize the number of trips to the library. We got to know our librarians; we got to know each other—if we were the kind of people who spent a lot of time reading or studying or researching. Today, I have no need for the reference section of my local library—I don’t even have to cross the room to use my own encyclopedia (yes, I still have a set)—I can just do a Google-search, or check Wikipedia, or find the e-text of a classic tome on the Gutenberg Project website.

Don’t get me wrong—there’s tremendous power there. Not only do I have access to the equivalent of a library reference section—I have access, from right here where I’m sitting, to every university, laboratory, professional association, research society—hell, with the right access codes, I could rifle through the files of DARPA, NASA, or CERN. But my point today is not concerned with the wonders of the Internet—I’m focusing on the fact that I don’t need to break my solitude—I don’t need to open my front door—and I still have access to virtually every bit of information known to mankind.

Convenience in communication, and in scholarship, was welcome progress—but we still needed to get together to have ‘something to do’. Increasing the number of TV channels from three to 300 made it possible to watch a lot more TV—and cable TV made it possible to watch movies without attending a movie theater—but still, there is a limit to how much TV a person can watch. Likewise, there is only so much time that can be spent talking on the phone or studying. In my day, a person always reached a point where he or she simply had to go outside, to mingle with the throng—or simply hang with one’s friends.

Eventually, one way of ‘hanging with friends’ became playing video games—a group of kids would congregate around a TV hooked up to a video game system and take turns using the controllers. And this is where everything came off the rails, in a sense. The advent of multiplayer online gaming, combined with the use of laptops and cellphones, made it possible to both play with friends and socialize with friends—all without leaving the privacy of one’s room. Additionally, one could leave one’s room—could in fact go anywhere—and still remain essentially within that gaming social gathering. This leads, of course, to the phenomenon whereby your kids could be in the room with you, but not really ‘be’ there at all—they’re texting, or IM-ing, or gaming with unseen other kids while their bodies, devoid of conscious awareness, sit in the same room you’re in.

We call this new generation ‘digital natives’—people who grow up with digital, online technology as a given. To digital natives, being physically present is of less importance than online connection—they pay attention to their screens, not to the people in their environment—hence all the car-crashes caused by cellphones. There was once a time when a rainy day was bad news for kids—it meant we couldn’t go outside to play—and that was a major tragedy in our young lives. Nowadays, when parents force their kids to go outside, it is more likely to cut them off from their friends and their playtime.

In a culture that shops online, plays online, watches online entertainment, communicates online, and learns online, we find that something is lost. In Eliot’s time, they felt the loss of religion as an absolute—but they also lost the comfortable patterns of a life where God was central to everyday activities. In our time, we are experiencing the loss an even more elemental aspect of our daily lives—shared physical presence. And the list of rituals being lost in this new ‘normal’ is even greater.

Consider laundry—there are still parts of the world where we could witness the weekly washing of clothes by a riverbank—those people gather and mingle and chat as they do their laundry ‘community-style’—and for centuries, all mankind did their laundry in this way. When washing machines came along, people hung up their wash on clotheslines—often socializing with their neighbors over the back fence—a smaller social group, but still partially a community activity. Then came electric dryers—and homemakers found themselves, at least as far as laundry was concerned, acting in solitude, shut up each in their own homes.

Why are rituals important? Look at it this way—we can strive for success, for achievement, for goals of many types—we can chase after lovers, mates, and romance—we can eat, sleep, and work—but all of it is empty without a context, a continuum, that is the cycle of our daily lives. Humans are a social species—we need the comforting presence of others, we need interaction with our peers. But we are raising children in an environment of solitude—where are they supposed to find meaning and fulfillment in their lives? How can they build a comforting pattern of social rhythms to give their lives continuity?

And make no mistake—we have need of these things. Take the Sabbath day as an example—with the decline of religion, one might ask why bother with a day of interruption? But we need rest as much as we need sleep—however we came up with the idea of a ‘day of rest and prayer’, it fits our biological rhythms—even without feeling obligated to pray to God once a week, we still benefit from the rhythm of taking every seventh day off. Or take another example—the taboos on certain foods, like pork or shellfish, were once considered religious observances—but they were useful in that such foods are health risks if not carefully cooked. Further, in modern America, where a person can eat anything—and as much of it as they please—we find that eating without limits presents greater health risks than any one type of food could ever pose.

Boundaries, rituals, democracy, all the inconveniences of being part of a group, rather than a free, solitary agent—these things have a value to our mental and physical health, to our sense of having a rich, fulfilling life. We may be able to get along without our imaginary friend, God, but we are finding out that life can be even more empty and angst-ridden if we try to live without each other, without community and society. There may come a day when we no longer have prisons—we may come to recognize that everyone is already in a prison, that criminals can be punished and isolated from society by the simple expedient of taking away their online connection.

This may seem rambling and generalizing, but I’m trying to make the point that the rhythms and patterns of community provide a substrate for the discrete pursuits of life—earning a living, raising a family, the arts, the sciences, politics, etc. We focus on these ‘goals’ of life and overlook the fact that life has a context within which all this goal-seeking behavior occurs—that there are moments between these activities—that our consciousness goes in and out of these discrete pursuits, but our awareness is confronted by an unbroken continuum of existence—and that overall ‘existence’, without substance, becomes a void that we fall into whenever we are not consciously busy with a particular aspect of our interest. No matter what our individual interests may be, we still need our overall lives to have texture and substance. Without experience outside of our online connections, life becomes disjointed, disconnected, and begins to lose value or meaning.

The human animal can adapt to many changes—but not to emptiness. It has been noted that a person left in a sensory-deprivation chamber will quickly be driven mad by a nervous system bereft of input. We are in danger of finding our global village trapped in an electronic isolation that will drive the whole world mad—we may find that civilization will ultimately be destroyed, not by fire or ice, but by our lust for convenience.

Four Political Thoughts (2015Nov06)

20151106XD-Rijk_LArbre_de_science

Thursday, November 05, 2015                                         3:41 PM

Can You Feel The Warming Now?   (2015Nov05)

Oil and Coal interests have been denying climate change for so long that they are now being investigated by the New York attorney general Eric T. Schneiderman. Since the world outside our borders has accepted climate change as real, there are a mounting number of international agreements on limiting carbon emissions. As the writing on the wall becomes more legible, a new legal strategy presents itself—by obfuscating the unstoppable tide of repression that fossil fuels face in the near future, Schneiderman posits, energy companies have been misleading their investors as to the value of energy stocks—in other words, financial fraud.20151106XD-Rijk_Lectern-Felix_Meritis_Society

Big Energy has been questioning scientists’ concerns over greenhouse gasses since the 1970s—and has been successful, domestically, in carrying the day, partly due to confusion raised by conflicting research—which they paid for. This was a successful strategy insofar as it focused on doubting the details and expanding the questions—difficulties with ‘absolute proof’ are inherent in scientific research, especially in a field as new as climate science. That is the whole point of ‘doubt factory’ lawyering.

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But we have reached a point where doubting climate science only works now in a court of law—finer points aside, only an idiot would question climate change as visible, and worsening. Plus, even if climate change is unprovable, in a legal sense, there is no question that people and businesses are now behaving as if it is true—and this changes the future potential value of energy stocks. In short, economic pressures pushed the energy companies to fight the inevitable—and now economic pressures are going to oppose their interests.

There is sometimes a subtle poetry to politics—if efforts like this new lawsuit can enhance America’s too-slow response to this issue, we may yet have a hope of retaining the polar ice-caps and avoiding sending most of the globe’s coastal real estate where Atlantis went. Of course, there’s still overfishing and rising acidity in the oceans, habitat-loss and species-loss on land, and plenty of other disasters-in-waiting to worry about—but clean-energy conversion would still be something we could all be proud of.

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Some Kind Of Crazy

What is the difference between Trump crazy and Ben Carson crazy? Trump’s brand of crazy comes from ego and avarice—a businessman who feels that defeating the competition is as valuable as succeeding, a boardroom warrior who would rather burn down the building than lose his standing, a financier who would gladly bankrupt his company to protect his personal fortune, regardless of the losses suffered by others. He respects strength and strategy—which is understandably attractive to Republicans, yet Trump doesn’t discard practical knowledge, math, or science because they are too useful—and far more common in business than they ever are in politics.

Ben Carson’s crazy is a whole other animal—Rachel Maddow recently described it as a war on epistemology, or the ‘theory of knowledge’. According to recent quotes, it appears that Carson’s ‘American History’ (as well as his personal history) are simply stories he makes up as he goes along. His fundamentalism makes for some outlandishly screwy quotes that would place most people firmly in the ‘crank’ category—but he is a GOP presidential candidate, so at least during the primary he gets a pass on that particular line of nutcake.

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Ben Carson is an iconoclast, i.e. ‘a person who attacks cherished beliefs or institutions’—but where traditional usage refers to those who attack religion and the establishment, Carson is an iconoclast who attacks the cherished ideas of humanism and science. More than that, he attacks many ideals that most of us consider core principles of the American spirit. His statements about barring Muslims from elected office are a direct contradiction of our Constitution. Moreover, I find any kind of fundamentalism or evangelical zealotry to be vaguely un-American—to accept pluralism requires us to be hard-headed about which of our faiths’ finer points should be debated as public policy.

On the surface, it would appear that anyone can believe anything—our thoughts don’t show, our religion doesn’t imprint on our foreheads. Our freedom of religion recognizes that fact—but it also implies that we have to be circumspect in any real-world manifestations of our chosen faith, particularly in public—especially in politics. There is a world of difference between believing that the Earth is only 6,000 years old—and deciding policy based on that belief. If your faith tells you that women have less status than men, you still have to recognize that, in the real world, the rest of us—and the law—don’t agree.

Today’s far-right has embraced the evangelical, ignoring the fact that theocracy by any other name is still anti-American. There are many faiths in this country—and there always will be. To pick just one, and incorporate it into a political platform, should by all rights be political suicide—that this is not true for the GOP is just one of its many dysfunctions. And it is also what makes a delusional nut-job like Ben Carson a viable candidate for their party.

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Why We (Choose To) Fight

I was shocked the other night watching “The Brain with David Eagleman” on PBS—it was the episode about how we make choices. Towards the end, he shows an experiment that measures a person’s ‘disgust’ threshold—that is, how easily they are grossed out. Then he follows that up with another experiment that measures a person’s political bent—conservative or liberal. What was shocking about this was his statement that the tests showed a virtually unanimous correlation between a low ‘disgust’ threshold and a preference for conservatism. Neuroscientist David Eagleman said that he could look at the results of just the first test—and tell a person’s political leanings without giving them the second test.

If you think about it, it makes a lot of sense. What are the things conservatives often deride about liberals?—Gooey things, like long hair, quiche, yogurt, or tofu—just the kinds of things that, at first glance, are somewhat repulsive. There is a ‘disgust’ barrier around these things—and only certain kinds of people will push back long enough to give these things a try. Not all liberals enjoy yogurt, you understand—but liberals are more likely to give it a try.

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Being hawkish is a conservative trait—perhaps the male ego feels disgust for the idea of not fighting—even when fighting may be a bad idea. Poor people can be kind of gross—and women’s health certainly makes men squeamish—health issues in general can get pretty slimy, repulsing both men and women. Wouldn’t it be funny if conservatism turned out to be regressive—a sign of emotional childishness? Like kids who won’t even try their broccoli. Xenophobia is a form of disgust—perhaps that is what makes liberals more inclusive—they more easily look past the surface strangeness to the human being underneath.

I say we stop considering conservatism as merely another point of view—I say we start calling liberalism what it really is—intellectual maturity. Then again, I don’t need a scientist to convince me that conservatives are often childish—and being childish, nothing anyone says will convince them to change their minds. Only voting them out of office will do that.

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Suggestion Box

I have a couple of suggestions. First, we should consider the millions of Syrian refugees as a potential resource. European countries are already seeing the potential benefit of an influx of younger, more energetic citizens. But what about giving Syrians a chance to do something about their own country?

What say the UN offers all young adult Syrian refugees the opportunity for military training—we gear up a few divisions of native sons and daughters, give them the arms and equipment and support they’d need to retake their country, and point them at Assad and ISIL? That way, outsiders like the US don’t have to send troops into a foreign country. Young displaced Syrians have an opportunity to do something other than depend on the charity of the world—and they wouldn’t go anywhere after the fighting is over—they’ll set up a responsive government—maybe they’ll even send for their relatives, old and young, to rejoin them in their native land— a Syria finally free of endless fighting. It’s just a thought.

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My second suggestion is for Hillary Clinton’s campaign—hey, why don’t you guys rise above the media’s narrative and focus your platform entirely on infrastructure? You could come up with specific projects for most of the fifty states—smart highways, clean energy, bullet trains, wilderness bridges, dam tunnel, bridge and highway refurbishing, underground fiber-optic networks,–hell, I could go on and on—and I’m just one person. I’m sure a room full of people could produce quite a list.

And every one of those projects would make jobs, stimulate our economy, and put America’s infrastructure back to its former place as leader of the world. One of the most telling aspects of a developed country is its ease of transportation and communication—and these are the greatest lacks of underdeveloped countries. Lack of roads and barriers to communication contribute to poverty, hunger, and despotism in all the most bedeviled parts of the world—and those with a plethora of such resources are too busy doing business to have uprisings, insurgents, or to invite the chaos we find in the world’s worst trouble-spots.

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Eisenhower’s great post-war push to grow America’s highways was an essential element in our rise to wealth and power in the latter half of the twentieth century—but now we are losing roads, bridges and other key features through neglect and an assumed entitlement that often precedes a great empire’s slide into decline. This stuff won’t fix itself.

We spend a lot of time and money on what we call Defense—it’s more than half the federal budget. Shouldn’t we consider taking some defensive measures against the passage of time? If we don’t have the will, or the spirit, to improve our infrastructure, we should at least defend against the loss of what our forebears have already provided.

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All images are property of the Rijksmuseum—to whom all thanks are due:

Gazette du Bon Ton 1914, No. 8, Pl. 80: L’Arbre de science /Robe du soir de Doeuillet, Anonymous, George Doeuillet, Lucien Vogel, 1914

Mantle clock (pendule), Anonymous, Benjamin Lewis Vulliamy, c. 1802 – c. 1803

Allegory of the science, Jeremias of Chess, Henry Crown Velt, 1696

Portrait of Dr Gachet, Vincent van Gogh, Paul Ferdinand Gachet, 1890

Invention of the compass, Philips Galle, c. 1589 – c. 1593

Mécanique de Vaisseau-volant, Anonymous, c. 1781 – c. 1784

Lectern of the Felix Meritis Society, Anonymous, c. 1778 – c. 1779

Artilleriewerkplaats, Philips Galle, c. 1589 – c. 1593

Book Printing, Philips Galle, c. 1589 – c. 1593

Windmolen, Philips Galle, c. 1598 – c. 1593

Up The Women   (2015Oct29)

Thursday, October 29, 2015                                             10:17 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Lost In A Space   (2015Oct21)

Monday, October 19, 2015                                               1:42 PM

Lost In A Space

Warm by the woodstove your just-bathed

Body borne on flannel quilt—

Droplets in the cleft above your lip,

Starry-eyed and blushed over,

I bring two steaming mugs

Of hot chocolate and we sip

Around the marshmallows,

Gazing into one another’s eyes.

Outside the other, darker world hurries on.

We hear only crackling from splits of apple wood

In the quiet closeness of our snug little keep.

I kneel and you raise your soft lips to mine

The glow of your bath still softening your arms

And I am lost forever amid the comforts of home.

Monday, July 13, 2015                                             2:39 PM

I don’t know. I have a lot going on inside me—it makes me feel like I have something to write—but there’s just chaos in there, virtually screaming a million things at once, none of it coherent. So, no, not really anything to write.

My body seems to be slowly bouncing back from its long decline—enough so that I begin to feel restless about spending all day every day inside this tiny house. Not that we don’t love our cozy little cabin—but hell, sometimes you have to go out. Now, that wasn’t true—hasn’t been true for many years—I’d focus more on having the energy to get out of bed or make myself a sandwich or take a shower. But before I got sick, it was pretty common—I get bored and frustrated very quickly when I’m in touch with my full capacity.

And I’m sick and tired of retracing my words just to explicate that ‘full capacity’ now does not mean back to my original 35-year-old, healthy, rambunctious self. Take it as given that if I’m talking about a resurgence of my vitality or a sharpening of my senses, I’m only talking relative to my near-death experience and decades-long infirmity. I’ll never be young again. I’ll never have twenty-twenty vision again. My hands will never be steady again. And most of all I’ll never have the ability to get lost in my own thoughts again.

I used to think of that zoned-out state I’d get into while programming code or drawing a picture as a kind of wandering—but it wasn’t. I was taking for granted something that came easily to me—but now I can see it for the very strenuous hacking through the mental jungle that it was. I can feel the effort of thought now—if I heard about effort of thinking in those young days, I refused to believe it. I couldn’t perceive any effort—even though my mind was functioning like gang-busters. I miss that a lot—in the way you can only miss something that you lost without ever having known how valuable it was.

Of course, I also miss it because it was my meal ticket. I used to think that I was lucky to find a job in programming and systems—now it is clear to me that I was never good at anything else, not professionally. My mind started to weaken from illness at about the same time I was considering looking for more challenging coding work. It was very frustrating to lose my super-power, slowly, mysteriously, just as I was trying to move on to even more difficult puzzles. Now I can’t program my way out of a paper bag—which leaves me with a large past life that was headed towards something I can never go back to. So, yeah, I miss that a lot.

My old self is dead. I am alive. It’s a quandary.

Wednesday, October 21, 2015                                         10:29 AM

Fall proceeds apace—others have posted some striking photos of the leaves changing, so I’m gonna pass on taking my own photos of the yard and environs. The urge to photograph things is always there, but I’d rather conserve my energy on the off-chance that I’ll get antsy enough to draw a picture instead.

The endless drone of leaf-blowers gives the Fall a sour strangeness—these people want their mess cleaned up and their lawns bare, and they don’t care how much racket they make getting it done. Who could have imagined that getting an artificial wind to blow would be best accomplished with tiny engines that make a deafening whine and emit grey clouds of diesel soot?

But enough of my seasonal peeves—no more. What matters is the doing—and what am I doing?

Monday, October 19, 2015                                               6:04 PM

Joseph Henry was an American physicist who discovered the principle of electromagnetic induction nearly simultaneously with Michael Faraday, the Englishman who, through the vagaries of history, is known as its sole discoverer. But such quibbles about ‘first-places’ abound in the history of science—Morse was not the first man to send a signal by electrified wire, Edison was not the first man to create a moving picture (or a light-bulb, for that matter)—there are often two stories. One is the closely researched story of who did which step and when, and how it all ‘worked out’ to what we’re familiar with today—and the other story is what we call ‘popular history’, where Ford ‘invented’ the car and Italians ‘invented’ pasta.

It is a little odd that in trying to tell some of the detailed, accurate story, an historian has to set up and knock down several widely-held misapprehensions common in the popular understanding of history. Serious historians must tell the true story while ‘untelling’ the false ones. This can lead to great interest amongst the populace—and some will argue with any history based on the archived records simply because they love the popular version so much better. And some details are just too bothersome to retain—Columbus’s voyage west to the Indies involved five ships—this is well-documented, and even taught in school—but the image of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria endures.

The only book offered on Amazon.com has a blurb which extols the great achievements and the seminal place that Joseph Henry held in the formation of the United States as a scientific world leader, but such importance is belied by the fact that there is only the one book—a biography. I placed an order for a used copy—I want to see if I can find out why we care so little about a man who was Edison’s Edison.

I’ve also downloaded Cervantes’ “Don Quixote” from the Gutenburg Project’s digital library—I’m thinking of doing a video that combines my readings of passages, my illustrations of the story as images, and my music as soundtrack. The book is enormous—the idea of illustrating every passage, even in rough sketches, would take a younger man than myself—and completing such an audio/video chapter-book is that much more unlikely. But it will give me a project that never ends—and in my mind, they are the only ones worth starting.

Are You A Robot? (or Dan Cablevision de la Mancha)   (2015Oct15)

Thursday, October 15, 2015                                             3:11 PM

Most who know me would say that to describe me as ‘quixotic’ would be putting it too kindly—I can be downright ingenuous when the situation arises—as it did today, as I read my Kindle while listening to classical music on my cable TV. Optimum cable offers Music Choice as part of its TV service—a channel for every popular music genre, displaying title and artists while it plays the audio (with silent graphic ads, of course). Classical music, being less than popular, gets only the last two channels—Classical Masterpieces and Light Classical. Don’t be fooled—the only difference is that Light Classical plays shorter pieces—they don’t really understand what ‘Light Classical’ means, technically. But the channels’ titles are not that big a deal.

What upset me was that I heard a Bach piano piece that I also play—it was familiar to me so I looked up from my book and saw “Bach- English Suite No. 1 in A – Huguette Dreyfus, Harpsichord”. This was not the first time I had seen Music Choice listing a piano performance as a harpsichord performance—while Baroque music can be played on the original harpsichord or the modern piano, they are very different performances that only a machine could confuse together—and inaccuracy makes me crazy—especially when it’s on a digital database. When a database is filled with errors, those errors last forever—it’s a mistake that will never be erased, and I don’t cotton to such rapscallity.

If Music Choice wants to spell Keisha with an ‘S’ instead of a dollar sign, that’s okay by me—but classical music is historical, and errors in historical data confuse an already difficult subject. Imagine if someone wrote a biography of George Washington that was full of inaccuracies—wouldn’t that bother you? Imagine how you’d feel if they put it on TV on an infinite loop, 24/7.

You won’t be surprised by what happened when I went on live-chat with Optimum’s customer service. But perhaps it will amuse you:

(responding)

New party (‘Tierra’) has joined the session

Tierra: Hi, my name is Tierra M and I will be assisting you today.

CHRIS DUNN: Hi Tierra

Tierra: Hi, My name is Tierra, How can I help you today?

CHRIS DUNN: Music Choice airs piano piece but titles it harpsichord piece on the Classical Masterpiece Channel – description is “Huguette Dreyfus, Harpsichord – Bach- English Suite No. 1 in A” but the performance is a piano.

CHRIS DUNN: This is not the first time I’ve seen mistakes in the listings

Tierra: I am sorry that you are having an issue and will be more than happy to assist you.

CHRIS DUNN: Who checks this stuff?

Tierra: Can we start by verifying the account info with your name/address/& phone # associated with the account please.

CHRIS DUNN: chris dunn po box 343 (914) 048-0035

Tierra: I need the complete service address please.

CHRIS DUNN: 44 jupiter drive, somer NY 10500

Tierra: Thank you, please allow me a few moments to review your account to better help you.

CHRIS DUNN: It is not me who requires help. I know that the titles on your Music Choice music are wrong—my concern is for the people that don’t know—who trust Optimum to provide accurate historical information

Tierra: I do have to follow protocol to get this addressed for you.

Tierra: Can you tell me if it’s on both boxes?

Tierra: As well as the channel number please.

CHRIS DUNN: I’m not stopping you—I’m just saying.

CHRIS DUNN: the channel number is 898

CHRIS DUNN: It’s not a problem with my box, but with your broadcast

Tierra: I understand and have to get all the information from you to be able to assist you further.

Tierra: Can you let me know if it’s happening on both boxes?

CHRIS DUNN: yes

CHRIS DUNN: it is

Tierra: Thank you, I’m going to get these boxes updated and reset if that’s okay?

CHRIS DUNN: You can reset my boxes, if that’s what you want to do. I’m a little disappointed that you don’t seem to understand what I’m saying.

Tierra: I’m sorry you think I don’t understand what your saying, I do understand you, I do have to follow protocol to be able to assist you further to getting this issue resolved.

CHRIS DUNN: Okay

Tierra: One moment while I troubleshoot this issue.

Tierra: Can you see if these boxes rebooted please?

CHRIS DUNN: The HD box is in the process—the other box is normal.

Tierra: The other box will not allow me to reset it from here, You will need to unplug the power cord for the box either by the outlet or from the box of the box. You are to leave it out for 15 seconds and then plug it back in for it to reset.

CHRIS DUNN: What now?

CHRIS DUNN: Power reset complete

Tierra: Thank you, when it say’s turn on, power it on and let me know when you get a picture.

CHRIS DUNN: Okay

Tierra: Thank you.

CHRIS DUNN: Picture

Tierra: Thank you, I will go ahead and escalate this issue over to our engineering team for them to see if they can address this issue and they will follow up with you within 24 hours. When they contact you, if they cannot reach you they will make a second attempt and leave you a voice mail. At this time, is there anything else that I can assist you with?

CHRIS DUNN:  No thank you

Tierra: It was my pleasure helping you today, Please know we are available 24/7 for you, by Live Chat, Email, Phone, as well as by Twitter and Face book. Have a great day!

Party (‘Tierra’) has left the session.

:Party (‘CHRIS DUNN’) has left the session.

Now, I wanted to say a lot more than ‘no thank you’ at this end of this farce—but I left open the possibility that this person felt trapped in her protocols and could only report my complaint if she did all her usual stuff. I believe it far more likely that she was a not-nice person who enjoys using her job to annoy anyone who contacts her, but you never know. Either way, she’s not getting a job in rocket science anytime soon.

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I’m disappointed that Optimum is smart enough to know how to make money off of their music channels, but not smart enough to identify the music they air. And by insulating themselves so completely from anyone who might ask them to correct their mistakes Optimum represents what is worst about our new digital society. To log on to my chat-session, I was asked to prove I wasn’t a robot—if only it worked both ways.

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Tea Party Success   (2015Oct09)

Friday, October 09, 2015                                         4:30 PM

I sense a repeated pattern of history—once, when the rich and powerful felt that slavery was too necessary to their continued peace they began to rationalize indecency as convention, even tradition—and it caused a national schism. Now, we have rich and powerful people who feel that climate-warming and arms dealing are too necessary to their continued peace—and they have been busy rationalizing indecency as convention, even tradition—even as ‘constitutionally protected’. Now they have caused a schism in our nation—but we’re too modern for a second civil war—no, we’re just going to shut down the government, ruin its credit rating, and let the whole beautiful dream turn to poo.

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The turmoil in Congress is indicative of this—no one on the Right can agree because the Right has entered the world of rationalization—all of their reasons must support Big Energy, and the NRA—logic be damned. It’s not that they’re wrong for abandoning logic—that can be an effective tactic—it’s just that when you get a whole roomful of people doing it, they’ll all come up with their own rationalizations. And they have. The term ‘Congress’ implies a coming together—and it has operated in that spirit, more or less, for centuries—but not anymore.

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Many people in this country have let themselves be convinced that government is bad—they should grow the hell up. We’re going to have government whether we like it or not—the only things that’s bad is bad government—and that’s what the Tea Party propaganda has led us to. They can’t get rid of government, but they can sure fuck it up so it doesn’t work anymore—good job, boys and girls—and you too, you loyal voters.

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The crisis isn’t who the next speaker will be—that’s so unimportant it’s not funny. The crisis is: How do we get rid of these yahoos that clog our political system like human cholesterol? It’s like the red states are voting to give this country a heart attack—well, congrats, Baggers—the whole place is falling apart. We’re weaker; we’re less secure; our infrastructure is rotting; our economy is stagnating; there aren’t enough jobs—but hey—we can all still carry pistols around. Yippie-kiyay, motherfuckers!20150526XD-Radio_03_1920s

Please note: For illustrations, I was going to download images of some House Republicans and photoshop memes that had the caption “Do You Trust This Man?” but I’m too damn lazy—you’ll have to imagine them for yourselves. Sorry.

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Things That Are Wrong (2015Oct02)

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Friday, October 02, 2015                                         6:42 PM

Guns are bombs, okay? They’re sophisticated bombs with a piece of custom-shaped shrapnel that comes out the end. They’re explosives—adding the bells and whistles doesn’t change that. Now think about the difference between our attitudes towards guns and our attitudes towards bombs. Think about the pre-boarding inspections that confiscate water bottles and cuticle scissors. Think about that schoolkid who got busted for bringing a clock to school. Now think about those yahoos that parade about in public spaces with semi-automatic rifles across their shoulders.

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We have got to stop romanticizing guns—we have to amend the constitution to rescind the ‘right of the people to keep and bear arms’. We have to end the NRA’s choke-hold on Washington—and on state and local lawmakers. Or we should just add ‘bombs’ to the Second Amendment—what’s the difference? Most homeowners own guns—and of those who use them, most of them accidentally shoot a family member—now that’s a proud tradition.

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Money has hacked our democracy—and the proof is in the proliferation of commerce and industry, without a commensurate explosion in regulatory agencies. We are constantly told of all the wonderful new advances, new products, new materials, new investment derivatives, new genetically-modified products—where’s the damned regulatory structure to keep all these new enterprises from going rogue? They’re being suppressed by the rich bastards who are making money off all these new things—using society as a vast, cost-free experiment lab. We live on a knife-edge of new technology running in all directions at once—where is the government oversight on all the wonderful new risks and excesses?

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We are unwilling guinea pigs for every new internet site, drug, GMO food or feed, flavor enhancer, investment scheme, and safety feature (or lack thereof) on every vehicle, appliance, or toy. We are told that the unions our grandparents went to jail for, got beat up for, or died for, are the evil influence—not the owners and executives with all the power—and because of our failing educational system, many of us are stupid enough to believe that. But don’t get me started on what the American voters have become stupid enough to believe—common sense has long fled the field of battle against these pidgeon-heads—a mindless victory that is looking fair to elect a clown for president. If you need further proof that our democracy has been hacked by capitalism—explain to me Trump’s poll numbers. I think he would be the first president who never read a history book.

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Vladimr Putin is a gangster—a short one, because he’s not a whole person—he’s mostly asshole. Now that Russia is run by mobsters, it makes sense that the one with the Napoleon-complex is the big cheese. But the worst part about Putin is that he’s right. America thought it was clever to arm a bunch of religious fanatics and let them do the fighting in Afghanistan—then America turned its back on Afghanistan after the Russians gave up and went home—just when that region needed committed efforts (and funds) to help to transform itself into a developing country. Now we’ve got Taliban, Al Qaeda, Boko Haram, and ISIL—in some ways it would have been better to let the Russians occupy the place.

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So that’s on us—9/11 was a direct response from a bunch of pissed-off fanatics that resented being used by America to fight their Cold War, and then got dumped once they had done what we wanted. And attacking the wrong country in response—well, that was just Dubya’s little cherry on top, destabilizing the entire Middle East for no good reason. Now this oafish Capone-ski, Putin, is annexing countries and bombing Syrian freedom-fighters for Assad—and he’s got the moral high-ground. This is what happens when Conservatives use whatever it is they use, instead of thinking, to lead our nation.

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Obama is understandably reluctant to throw fuel on the fire, having been elected partly on the premise that militarism in the Middle East is not America’s strong suit. And really, how is America supposed to end the conflicts between Shia and Sunni half-a-world away? All we could do is copy Putin—drop bombs on whatever targets present themselves and hope that random bloodshed adds to the discourse—and we’re already doing that. World War III, here we come—Oh, boy!

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Meanwhile, all the reasonable Syrians are on hiking trips, or boating in the Mediterranean—well, if I think about it, I’m sure there are millions of decent Syrians who are too poor or too trapped to leave. Maybe someday, if the fighting ever stops, there’ll be a couple of intelligent people left to rebuild the place.

And of course our National village idiot, Trump, promises to ship all the Syrian refugees back to Syria (that’s after he’s shipped millions of undocumented workers south of the border). He’s really into transportation, this guy. What a tool.

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The presumed-next Speaker, McCarthy, has admitted that the only purpose of the Benghazi hearings was to throw a wrench into Hillary Clinton’s political image and muddy her rep—that’s an unexpected bit of fresh air—not that he shouldn’t be ashamed of himself and his party for putting themselves above the service they purport to render. I watched a little C-SPAN and heard them cawing over Planned Parenthood—until Cecile Richards had to correct one of them on live TV. But even after the tapes were proved edited and it was pointed out that Planned Parenthood provides important women’s health care, with only a small percentage of their efforts involving abortion (which is legal, BTW) the GOP continues to pretend that Cecile Richards is leading a band of bloodthirsty cannibals who eat baby-brains for lunch. (They have it on video.) We hardly need rich people to screw up the world with idiots like this in government, especially now that they’ve gotten into the habit of doubling down on every stupid lie, no matter how many times it’s exposed as a lie.

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And, as I predicted, the moronic Jeb Bush is making the talk-show rounds and looking downright erudite after a whole summer of Trump—and the Democrats, according to polls, are falling for the Hillary E-Mail smear—proof that we Democrats are just as stupid as the GOP—just in our own way. When I look at Hillary Clinton I see someone who’s uncomfortable—she’s not a natural politician, like her husband—she’s less comfortable feeding us bullshit. But I think that’s a good thing. When I look at Hillary Clinton I see someone who’s spent her life in public service—someone who has only entered politics because that’s where the chance for real change is. Perhaps I go too far—but isn’t it about time we had a counter-balance to the GOP’s bullshit against her? Whatever her faults, she’s Socrates with a touch of Einstein—compared to her rivals.

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And whatever happened to our dream of electing the first woman president? Are we too smug now that we’ve had an African-American president—do we think that we’ve been ‘enlightened’ enough for now, let’s get back to the rich white guys that always do such a bang-up job? Yeah, that’s sounds about right. Sorry, Hil—you’re more than qualified, but the GOP says your email server destroyed the free world—and your lady Democrats got hit on the head, I guess, because they’re starting to believe those jerks.

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No News Is Good News   (2015Sep29)

Tuesday, September 29, 2015                                          12:19 PM

I’m exhausted—and no wonder. The pope, the speaker, the UN, refugees, drought in California, water on Mars, a super blood moon, the new Daily Show once again precedes the Colbert show… is it just me or is the world turning twice as fast these days? Have you noticed a lot of news shows start their segments with, “Well, there’s a lot to cover tonight…”? That used to signify a ‘busy’ news day—now it’s just what they always say.

My personal life, away from the TV, isn’t quite as busy. But I did just post a big Brahms performance I’ve been working on for months—and I just found out today is my son’s 27th birthday! (I wish Claire had told me before I said to him, “Good Morning”—like it was any other day…) We had our daughter and her husband here for a visit from California last week. Claire just passed her big OT qualification test—a culmination of years of study for her OT Master’s Degree—and a sign that she will soon be job-hunting. But first she has to do jury duty in NYC—we were relieved she was only called downtown last week for Thursday morning—commuting right through the pope’s visit to ground zero—that would have been a hassle. I’ve got a road-test next week that will re-instate my driver license, if I pass it—Spencer just passed his a few weeks ago. So, okay, maybe I am busy.

As they say, it beats the alternative. I’m sitting here at my keyboard, on watch to tip the delivery man when he gets here with birthday lunch Chinese take-out. Tuesday is new movies day On Demand—Melissa McCarthy in “Spy”—so there’s even a good movie in my ‘cart’. Time to catch my breath, I think.

Patton was right—“Americans love to fight”—but I think he oversimplified it, thinking in bellicose terms. Our Revolutionary War was a declaration of our willingness to fight when we encountered unfairness. “Live Free or Die” seems overly familiar and trite to us today but it was a formula for suicide in the centuries before the Declaration—when the greatest prior advance in social justice had been the allowance that a person owned their own soul at death—“Free Doom”. Somewhat less ambitious, wouldn’t you say?

And after the revolution, when Texas was willing to enter the Union rather than submit to Spanish imperialism, we fought for them. Then the majority of Americans decided to fight against slavery—give or take a week-long Civil War historians conference on the ‘root causes’. It was unfair—and we were willing to fight over it. In both World Wars, we entered on the losing side—fighting unfairness. The internal struggles over racial equality, gender equality, and the rights of the sick, disabled, LGBT—all fights over unfairness. You show me an injustice and I’m ready to start swinging—why? Because I’m American, that’s why. I really would rather die than live in unfairness.

There are always those who don’t get the central premise—as early as Hamilton’s arguments with Jefferson over Federalist versus Republican, there were those who sought out the ‘easy win’—people who felt that leaving the mother country was simply a chance to be an England of our own, with a monarchy and all that implies. They wanted Washington to be “President for Life” and be addressed as ‘your majesty’—but Washington said ‘no’, like an American. Hence he is known as the Father of our Country not just because he fought the war, but also kept the peace as an American would and always will.

Today we have many people who don’t get the central premise—they think America’s greatness resides in its wealth and power—its shock and awe. Nonsense—childish nonsense. The unbelievable success of our country comes not from any material richness or military prowess—it comes from our ambition to fight for the truth. Yankee ingenuity has been finding new shortcuts towards a better future since the founding. Freedom of speech has made our democracy into the strongest of ties between a government and its people of any country on Earth. Open minds and open commerce have exploded into a global community of digital thinking, space exploration, genetic manipulation, super-sonic travel, and on and on.

Our greatest threat is the explosive variety of our success—the ‘easy wins’ float around like fish in a crowded barrel—the opportunities to exploit our success by working either in lieu of the American spirit (through hyper-capitalism) or in direct opposition to it (through extremist bible-thumping and xenophobic exclusion) are more numerous, and get better media coverage, than the real goals of true Americans.

The enemies of America seek to reinstate unfairness through new pathways—income inequality, religious division, jingoism, and denying the existence of intractable racial injustice—and all their arguments are based on fear and hatred, with a big dollop of laziness and greed to top it off. They make me tired—traitors in our own land. Fight the power!

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There—I had to get that off my chest. I always get self-righteous after watching a documentary. I just watched “Standing In the Shadows of Motown—The Funk Brothers”—about all the great studio musicians whose uncredited artistry was behind hundreds of number one hits—hits that I remember from my childhood as the ‘product’ of the lead singers and groups whose names are so familiar to us all today. A handful of men in a Chicago basement would be responsible for over a decade of a multi-million-dollar music industry, without so much as a credit on the dustjacket. That kind of unfairness burns my chaps and it always will. Why? ‘Cause I’m a ‘Murican, that’s why.

Brahms Day   (2015Sep26)

Saturday, September 26, 2015                                          12:34 PM

Finally, I’ve reached the point where I’m willing to share my progress on the Brahms Opus 117. Here are some details about this special trio of piano intermezzi I’ve pieced together (mostly from Wikipedia.org):

Johannes Brahms

Three Intermezzi

Op. 117

(first published in 1892)

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The book is originally Claire’s (she’ll still play a bit now and then—still better than me—oh, well) so you can see I had the benefit of practice notes left in her margins by the great piano teacher and performer, Muriel Brooks, who taught Claire for years—and even gave me the only ten lessons I ever had. Old Ms. Brooks is notable for the host of young Westchester piano students she helped shepherd towards musical enlightenment—most of us not so cooperative, as you may imagine. Some of Claire’s fingering is also marked in pencil which made things much easier for me.

  1. in Eb major – Andante moderato

 

“Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schön!

Mich dauert’s sehr, dich weinen sehn.”

—(Schottisch. Aus Herders Volksliedern)

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[Schlaf sanft mein Kind, schlaf sanft und schön!

Mich dauert’s sehr, dich weinen sehn.]

[(Sleep softly, my child, sleep softly and well!

It breaks my heart to see you weep.)]

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This first intermezzo, so like a lullaby, has such sonorous harmonies, such profound base lines, and so soaring and angelic a recapitulation in the finale that I find it almost too exciting to play. While this is considered a fairly simple piece to perform, as you can hear—even a single wrong note can mar the entire work.

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  1. in Bb minor – Andante non troppo e con molto espressione

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This second piece, my favorite, demands the most of what I lack—an alacrity with the keyboard—though I’ve tried many times, I can never give it the lilting simplicity it requires. This is as close as I can get, so far.

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  1. in C# minor – Andante con moto

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This last, longest, and most difficult of the three is something of a voyage—there are changes of mood, of key, and of texture—it begins with a troll-like dirge but the middle section is the most gymnastic and fragile keyboard sheet-music I’ve ever seen.

I first heard this work on an LP included in a Time-Life boxed set entitled “The Romantic Era” back in the early 1970s. Something about these three intermezzi has led me to listen to this piece again and again—I am haunted by its beauty. In some sense, each of the three is a variation on an old Scotch lullaby. In some papers there is also a tantalizing utterance of Brahms about “cradle songs of my sorrows”, which has often been associated with the set. I always found these pieces too dramatic to be lullabies, with the exception of the first, which does share tones of the famous Brahms’ Lullaby—but who am I to argue with music historians?

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And now, a note in defense of my posting these to the public:

Music belongs to us all. Sure, there are those who excel at performance or composition—and I’m the last person who’d ever disrespect their tremendous talent and skill—but again, music is for everybody. As Judy Garland once sang, “If you feel like singing, sing. (If you can’t sing good, sing soft).” And my version of ‘singing soft’ is to post my piano-playing recordings on YouTube, where other people can listen to them, ignore them, or even complain about them—and I don’t disagree with the complainers. I’m not a gifted musician—I never will be—but I’m in love with music, with the piano, with the music of the great composers.

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And aren’t we all on different levels of ability or skill in just about every endeavor? Isn’t there always someone better, or smarter, or quicker? Even if that isn’t always true, it is true for all of us except one—and that one only in one area of expertise. But we don’t sit about, waiting for only the best to do the things we are not ‘best’ at—we all do what we can, as best we can, at whatever moves us.

Classical music seems exotic to us—so we think of virtuosi as almost sacred (which in some ways they are) and exempt ourselves from attempting what they have already done, better than we ever could. I say no—I say music is for everyone. Listen to the greats—but let yourself sing as well—or play an instrument, or write a song—you have every right—in some ways, you even have a responsibility to have creativity and self-expression be a part of your life.

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When we absent ourselves from the arts we atrophy the most aspirational aspects of our personalities—we are less than we can be, when we eschew the arts—just as we are ignorant when we eschew the sciences, for lack of being ‘geniuses’. In practicing piano, I have always heeded an early piece of advice: Always work on the parts that are the most difficult for you. And I’ve broadened this to include my whole life—for those of us with slender talents, it is just as important, perhaps more so, to make an effort towards creativity; for those of us with trouble learning, it is just as important to read something new, to learn, however slowly, new things. I don’t see adulthood as an end-point, but as a higher level of development towards a better self, an advanced stage of the learning and growing that we sometimes assume is the role of schoolchildren—and ends with childhood.

Plus, I like to share my stuff with my friends and relations who love me and support my meager efforts—just because I made them. And YouTube is free. So there it is—the great Brahms Project—but understand that I hope to post a much better performance next year, or the year after that.

Years ago, I often named my improvs ‘post-Bach’, ‘post-Haydn’, etc.—because I felt that the composers whom I had just sight-read had inspired me somewhat in the improv immediately afterward. But that naming convention led to too many duplicate titles, so I began making up names instead, for mnemonic purposes. Today, however, I return to this convention, in honor of Brahms.

Atheist Applauds Pope   (2015Sep24)

Thursday, September 24, 2015                                        3:36 PM

I join in the celebration of light and compassion that the papal visit has become—as an atheist, I can applaud his words and actions without necessarily dropping the ‘lapsed’ from my childhood Catholicism. I enjoy the wild excitement of the people lining the streets to be blessed or touched or kissed by the current occupant of St. Peter’s Chair. It’s not like some other world figure or celebrity—the crowds just want to see him, to be near him—and he returns their affection. It’s a beautiful thing—says Capt. Obvious.

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I truly don’t know what to do with my feelings—just as this head of the Church of Rome is almost a Humanist in comparison to his predecessors, this is the first time in my memory that people are in the streets celebrating the truly important things—compassion, forgiveness, charity, acceptance—without looking for something, wanting something or someone. It is very paradoxical for a man who, as a boy, found all the authoritarianism and close-minded-ness that seemed to be the real evil in the world, in the Catholic church. I guess one thing you can say for a vast authoritarian institution—in the hands of a proper leader, the Holy Roman Catholic Church, like some many things, finds its true self and flourishes.

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All illustrations are from the Papal Archives

I suggest we make the carrying of toddlers from rope line to papal vehicle (approx. 50 yards) and back again an Olympic event—those guys make it look easy—and some of those toddlers were big enough to walk themselves—did you see it? Amazing. Like they were ‘baby-boys’ at the US Open or something.

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The only sour note in this whole celebration is the rogue Republican—you don’t hear the Democrats whining about the many ways in which Catholicism departs from their platform—they just celebrate the commonalities, like good hosts. But GOP pols have become so knee-jerk about climate change and protecting big business that they just have to attack any other opinions—let the whole world disagree (which we mostly do).

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Francis has no beef with them—he’s just being a Catholic—out loud. Better not let Ben Carson hear him—Catholics are at least as crazy as Muslims—just ask the Irish. Next thing you know we’ll have to put an asterisk beside JFK’s name. Will someone please read the Constitution to Ben Carson—article 6 – “…shall be bound by Oath or Affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

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So hail Pop Francis! Or as the Italians say—‘Poppa’. Someone needs to say to the fat cats, “You oughta be ashamed of yourselves.”—but who among us has the moral authority? Not me, bub. But he does—and he’s making some people deservedly uncomfortable. Let criticism of Pope Francis be our shibboleth—by their words shall ye know them.

And while we’re about ‘knowing them’, let me say that Volkswagen has recently been caught installing emissions devices that only operate when the sensor tells them they’re hooked-up to a testing device! The rest of the time, all their 8 million customers were driving around in illegal, over-polluting cars. Without their knowledge, they had been duped into being pawns in a fraudulent conspiracy. Why anyone would ever buy a Volkswagen again is beyond me—we forgave them for having been Nazis, but this is just too much.

For those of you who think I’m easily swayed—well, that’s true—but my point is that I celebrate the effect that Pope Francis’ visit is having on the country, particularly on Washington. That doesn’t mean that I support Catholicism—Pope Francis is wisely focused on the best his faith has to offer—it has other aspects whose details I take exception to. But leadership counts for almost as much as dogma—what Francis emphasizes will become the emphasis of his followers, regardless of the fine print. And that should be celebrated.

Here are some papal tiaras:

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papaltiara2

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TiaraPiusIX

triregno

Jonathan Kruk — Legendary (2015Sep23)

My old friend, Jon Kruk, has been telling stories to schoolchildren for decades. His premiere ouvre, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow, is a great favorite here in Westchester, where Washington Irving originally set the tale–and Jon’s lively re-telling verges on a one-man re-enactment. Below I share with all my readers his latest email:

Hi My Friends –

My headless horseman gallops live!  If, you support me in the chase.

One sleet-gripped November evening, a couple for years ago, Andrea, my film-making wife, galvanized a crew of film makers to gather in 17th century Old Dutch Church.  We got an audience of fans to fill the ancient setting of the “The Legend.” Jim Keyes pulled out all the stops on the grand pipe organ.  They filmed me performing with passion and panache, my signature story “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow.”

Here’s the two minute trailer.

Now, we need to your help producing and getting the out film; “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow – a solo performance by Jonathan Kruk, Master Storyteller.”   Here’s the full story, in just three hundred in fifty words,a trailer and a pitch (two and four minutes each)

Please click below.  https://www.gofundme.com/kz2xzwfw

And here’s the website with everything Jonathan and headless horseman.

http://www.jonathankruk.wix.com/legendofsleepyhollow

This film captures the drama and vitality of my retelling.  Please jump in and help me catch my dream of reaching new audiences.

Thanks very much  –

Your Storyteller

Jonathan

Storyteller Jonathan Kruk, M.A.ed.
www.jonathankruk.com
1.800.578.4859

Author – Legends and Lore of Sleepy Hollow and the Hudson Valley
“Best Storyteller in the Hudson Valley”
Good Citizenship Medal – The National Society of the Sons of the American Revolution
“The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” Silver Medal – Parents’ Choice & N.A.P.P.A.
“Barkface & Rootnose” Parents Choice Approved
“Once Upon the HudsonThe Hudson River Ramblers Parents Choice Recommendation
“Revolution on the River” – The Hudson River Ramblers – “Best CD in the Hudson Valley”
The Rainbow Dragon, Rip Van Winkle, Halloween Tales!

VOD Movie Review: “Love And Mercy”

Saturday, September 12, 2015                                                   10:47 AM

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I just watched “Love and Mercy” (Director: Bill Pohlad, 2014) a Brian Wilson biopic, starring Paul Dano as his ‘past self’ and John Cusack as his ‘future self’. It was beautifully made—not just the photography, which was stunning—but Atticus Ross’s musical collages, made for the soundtrack using samples from the Beach Boys’ oeuvre, had a way of (very appropriately) making Brian Wilson’s inner nightmare sound like a cyclone of Beach Boys tunes. And John’s sister, Joan, isn’t fooling anyone with her uncredited cameo as one of the back-up dancers in the scene that recreates the “Fun, Fun, Fun” televised performance—she’s only in the background for an instant, but there’s no mistaking that toothy grin.

The Beach Boys were a guilty pleasure of my youth—much like Anthony Edwards’ character in “Downtown” (Director: Richard Benjamin, 1990) who meets with disgust from Forest Whitaker’s character when he claims the Beach Boys as his ‘jam’. (It gave me inordinate pleasure to see Whitaker’s character’s ‘family’ become Beach Boys fans by the end of the film.) While the politics and social agendas of other song-writers’ lyrics of the time made many dismiss the Beach Boys as insubstantial party music, Brian Wilson’s musical genius shone through for people like me who cared more for the sound than the ‘meaning’.

Also, there is great yearning and loneliness in songs like “In My Room” and “Wouldn’t It Be Nice” that was audible to those of us who shared Wilson’s suffering under draconian parenting or his isolation from less-sensitive, less-artistic family and friends. So often, people condescend to Beach Boys music as fluff—while overlooking Wilson’s subtle but profound reflections of domestic abuse and teen angst—perhaps it takes a ‘fellow traveler’ to hear that subtext.

“Love and Mercy”, like other Beach Boys biopics, made my skin crawl with the depiction of his horrendous father—and then added an even creepier note to Wilson’s life by depicting his twisted therapist. Both nightmare scenarios resonate strongly for me—too strongly to enjoy the story, in spite of the incredible cinematic skill brought to this effort. But I gloried in the deconstruction of their classic hits as we are shown recreations of the production process Brian Wilson goes through, experimenting and fine-tuning every instrument, every beat—to create the overall sound that we find so familiar. I especially enjoyed the evolution of the passage that combined Theremin and cello within “Good Vibrations”—so hard core, yet so outside the box of ‘rock’—an ineluctable sound if there ever was one.

I also wanted to cheer when Melinda Ledbetter (played by Elizabeth Banks) throws open her office door to confront the monster therapist (played with Oscar-worthy monstrosity by Paul Giamatti)—what a moment! Though difficult for me to bear, the movie was overall a tremendous experience—a true masterwork of film in many ways—and a welcome further examination of the life behind some of the twentieth century’s finest music.

Here’s a YouTube playlist that shows my ongoing struggle to mind-meld with Brian Wilson:

Tomorrow We’ll All Be Okies    (2015Sep09)

Wednesday, September 09, 2015                                                       1:23 PM

The nation’s founders were agrarian—to them, independence and liberty seemed a simple enough thing—a farm for everyone and everyone on their own farm. And for our first century, there were few indications that America would ever be anything other than a bunch of farmers.

But with industrialization came factories—and with factories came two enemies of liberty—men with hitherto unimagined wealth and power—and a labor pool ripe for abuse and persecution. With slavery still part of our culture, it was easy to mistake any large work-force as ‘owned’ and devoid of privilege—and early factory workers saw working conditions not much different from slavery—even the children worked a full day (but without, of course, full pay) and no one got reasonable hours, time off, or safe working conditions.

We have spent more than a century now, beating back these persecutions with legislation—trying to get owners and business leaders to see their labor pool as human beings, while they scream about the only thing that matters to them—profits. But even that is just an excuse, since productivity often increases when employees are treated with the respect any human being deserves. We killed each other in stacks, like cordwood, over some of us still wanting to be slave-owners—it’s no surprise that we still struggle with the relationship between workers and owners. And our migrant workers (or, as the media likes to tag them—the ‘immigration problem’) only come here because those who employ them can’t resist an employee who works for almost nothing and has no civil rights to speak of.

This ideal we all have—that a person must earn their way in this world—made perfect sense in an agrarian culture—cows don’t milk themselves and farming, in general, is pretty demanding of the farmer. If a person went hungry, it was most likely because they neglected their chores. In modern life, we still see an approximation of this—but the complexity of modern life has people working for institutions, rather than for themselves. The industrial age made the common run into a labor pool—and owners have used that labor pool without having any sense of responsibility for their employees. It is up to the workers to find their own place, to prepare themselves with the required skillset, to locate themselves where the jobs are, etc.

We have even interpreted this condition as ‘independence’—we are all free to work where we want, for whomever we want. We imagine that there is an element of competition there—that owners will have to make allowances for their employees needs or those people will go work for someone else—leaving the owner without labor—but this is an imaginary condition. There are always more-needy workers who will take the place of any employees who object to being treated like slaves. Owners, by virtue of being employers, can even claim that they support the work force—that everyone in America makes a living through their beneficence.

While that is true, in a sense, it is also just one way of looking at the situation—I see it as owners taking labor for granted, using what they need and letting the rest go to hell, for all they care. If we look at the entire citizenry as ‘a labor force’, then we see that owners are actually very irresponsible and careless about those they rely on to get done the work that keeps owners rich and powerful. When government tries to intervene, to create programs to care for the ‘outsiders’, those who don’t fit into business’s plans or who are unable to work, owners band together, complain about ‘big government’, and insist that it is un-American to support anyone who doesn’t slave for them, like they’re supposed to.

At the same time, modern businesses are rushing to increase that ‘outsider’ group through digital tech and robotics. While they want any laborers that aren’t specifically working for them to live in poverty, they also seek to increase profits by putting more people into the street. With the speedy growth of AI and robotics, it won’t be long before we are all out on the street—will it be wrong of government to help us then? Imagine how heavily the government will have to tax those business-owners to feed a nation of unemployed. But if the government doesn’t support us, how will we become customers for the business-owners to enrich themselves through?

Henry Ford (a horrible fascist and anti-Semite) did have one important insight—he paid his workers so well that they were able to become his customers. Work out the profit on that, today’s small-minded CEO. Somewhere along the way, business-owners have forgotten that America’s workers are also America’s consumers—and the less they make, the less they spend. By greedily straining after every last penny of profit, Business has actually constricted itself into a depressed economy—at a time when America should be virtually exploding with innovation and commerce. Still, that’s old news.

The new problem is the disappearance of work—underpaid workers don’t spend much, but unemployed workers replaced by robots don’t make a dime. When every factory in America becomes automated, who is going to buy their stuff? This already happened once—everyone in the country used to be a farmer. With the dawn of the Industrial Age, powered farm equipment made most crowd-sourced farming chores into a job done by one guy sitting on a tractor, plow, seeder, or harvester. Had industry not also spawned cities, and factory jobs, we would have had a country of idle indigents—‘Okies’ from coast to coast, with nowhere to go for new jobs.

Now we face the disappearance of city jobs, factory jobs—even truck drivers are less than a generation away from going the way of the buggy whip. It’s time we started to look at all of us as ‘the labor force’. It’s time we started to imagine a world where there is no work to be paid for—how will we live in a world where the living is too easy?

Daily Doings   (2015Sep05)

Saturday, September 05, 2015                                          6:19 PM

My last few posts are not of the type I admire or enjoy—I don’t know why I post them. They feel right at the time—but in the rearview, they always seem kinda mean-spirited—as if I catch the meanness from the meanies I rail against. But time will take care of them—time makes everything seem less urgent, less dire—and it doesn’t need me to do that.

I’ve been too distracted lately to interweave my posts with anything other than my anger. Today I present a recital, warts and all—fairly representative of my usual morning’s doings. There are works by Mendelssohn, Bach, and Brahms—unedited, with all my slip-ups, and a nice little two-minute improv at the end. I would have preferred to edit the page-turns and the garbled notes—for the sake of you, dear listener—but today you get the real deal, just by way of full disclosure. I have also appended some videos which I left out of recent postings. No pressure—watch’em when you want the musical equivalent of ‘peace and quiet’ and you won’t go far wrong.

Morning Recital (Mendelssohn, Bach, Brahms)   (2015Sep05)

Improv – Delicatito   (2015Sep02)

Improv – Family Time   (2015Sep03)

Improv – Weavers Dance (2015Sep02)

Sir Yes Sir   (2015Sep05)

Saturday, September 05, 2015                                          12:21 PM

The Times reported 30 cadets suffered concussions and broken bones after their annual, traditional ‘pillow fight’—I guess it should be called ‘pillow-plus’, since duck-down rarely causes contusions. Reportedly, helmets were added to the pillowcases—the word ‘rambunctious’ comes to mind. Despite the injuries, I consider such a foofaraw small potatoes compared to the military’s ongoing struggle with rape within the ranks. Both problems bring up the question of how organizations so focused on discipline struggle with disciplinary problems.

Cognitive dissonance and soldiering seem to go together like peanut butter and jelly. ‘Honor’ is often used as a watchword during training that includes instructions on how to stab someone in the face. ‘Obedience’ to orders is considered a sine qua non—yet soldiers are told that, in extreme situations, each one of them is still expected to disobey when they feel they are being ordered to commit crimes against humanity—this as part of a cooperative murdering enterprise. Call the confusion police.

Don’t misunderstand—I’m not against the military, nor do I question the need for a military. We’re no crazier than the rest of the world—there’s just more method to our military madness than anyone else’s. But I am a great believer in seeing things as they are. The military—not so much. For all the “Always Faithful” being thrown around, we still somehow end up with thousands of vets without homes, without jobs, and committing suicide—some of them disabled from literally shedding their blood for the rest of us.

Yes, veterans should be cared for as a matter of public policy—though they never have been—not sufficiently. But, failing that, shouldn’t the military itself have a program that sees to these old warriors’ needs? And between the public and the military, isn’t it shameful that no such provisions are made? In battle, a soldier keeps marching forward as others fall—the medics will see to the wounded and the fallen. Is our neglect of veterans a mirror of that, writ large? Do we, like Donald Trump, prefer soldiers who don’t get captured (or shot)?

But the main confusion in matters military is discipline—they want disciplined fighters. But they want fighters—not traditionally the most disciplined people. The military has no choice but to admire the spirit of young people who like to ‘mix it up’—they invariably have to look the other way when certain traditions get out of hand—nothing could be worse than a battalion of docile, obedient pacifists—you might not be able to trust them to kill.

‘Roughhouse’ is a tidy little word, isn’t it? It implies that otherwise criminal behavior is just a matter of letting off steam—and in the case of trained killers, roughhouse can extend all the way to concussions, broken bones, rape—well, the boundaries get a little fuzzy after a while. One commenter on the pillow-fight story asks, “Seriously? These are our future military leaders?” Unfortunately, the answer is yes—military leaders have to deal with chaos and violence from both without and within—violence is their purpose. How can it help but be their essence?

Rot There, Lil Miss Kentucky   (2015Sep04)

Friday, September 04, 2015                                              11:16 AM

I’m glad that Kentucky clerk is cooling her heels in jail—what a piece of work. There’s not a lot of love in that face—in those beady little eyes—no kindness in that holier-than-thou claim to ‘obedience to God’. (I don’t know how God manages it—she obviously doesn’t care for rules.)

She says she’s following ‘God’s law’ and the Media, like the trained puppy it is, jumps to chair the debate over God’s law vs. Man’s law. But in the midst of this arguing we tend to overlook an important fact—we’re not talking about God’s law—we’re talking about her God’s law. This is not God talking, this is some troublesome bitch (who thinks she knows God) talking. It’s not my God talking, or your God talking, it’s her God talking.

This is the crux of religious freedom—you can believe in any God you wish—but legally, your God can’t trump everyone else’s—no matter how pious you think you are. Being a conscientious objector absolves you from manning the front lines—it doesn’t put you in command—if her job offends her, she should find a new job. Even if your entire community is unanimous in one faith—that still doesn’t make your God the ‘God of all America’—it’s still just your own personal faith. That is why we have had separation of church and state since the pilgrim days. Have your own personal faith–please. Treasure it—die for it, even—but don’t put that shit on me—I’ve got my own God, thank you very much. And my God’s law is: Don’t be a hater.

You Tread On My Dreams   (2015Aug31)

Monday, August 31, 2015                                       1:54 PM

William Butler Yeats (1865 – 1939) is an interesting guy. Considered one of the pillars of twentieth-century poetry, he was born in 1865—much like our twenty-first-century pop stars who were all born in the 1980s—centuries can be a weirdly illogical dividing line. Yeats’ life was a full one—he excelled early on, and it is said that he is one of the few writers who wrote their best work after winning the Nobel Prize for Literature. His poetry is like walking through a dream—he really had a knack.

It always surprises me that a great artist and creator can have such subtleties of expression and nuance of feeling—yet their relations with women are always as confused and complicated as any moron’s. It’s as if women are men’s blind spot—and if you look at the present-day struggle simply to recognize women as equal, you may consider the theory proved. What is our problem?

His poem, “Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven” is a strikingly beautiful bit of writing—it has been quoted in books, movies, and songs galore. One of the most famous musical-setting versions is “Yeats Songs”, for baritone & piano, by Richard Bunger Evans—I’m not crazy about ‘modern’ atonal stuff, but you may enjoy it:

Yeats Songs, for baritone & piano:

The poem also inspires its share of artwork, as well—for example:

http://lacewoodshelties.blogspot.com/2009/03/aedh-wishes-for-clothes-of-heaven.html

Here are the words:

The Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heaven’s embroidered cloths,

Enwrought with golden and silver light,

The blue and the dim and the dark cloths

Of night and light and the half-light;

I would spread the cloths under your feet:

But I, being poor, have only my dreams;

I have spread my dreams under your feet;

Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

-W. B. Yeats

Gorgeous imagery, isn’t it? But isn’t Aedh being a little passive-aggressive? Aedh is one of Yeats’ three mythic characters—the others are the Artistic one and the Rational one, but Aedh is a pale, lovelorn victim of La belle dame sans merci—a passive-aggressive take on love if there ever was one. It’s not too far off from a rapist blaming his behavior on the woman’s attractive attire—as if, when men find women attractive, it’s their fault that we suffer when they fail to reciprocate our feelings. It’s as romantic as misogyny gets.

Still, it is romantic, much like when Elton John can’t remember what color eyes a girl has but still ‘loves’ her enough to write her “Your Song” (I won’t get into the details of Bernie Taupin being the lyricist—or of John being gay, for that matter). Much of our romantic-themed media is layered with latent misogyny—perhaps indicative of the confusion men feel when women want to be equals in public but still prefer a more brutish, or brutish-seeming, mate—that this is just the flip side of men’s feelings about the same things never seems to occur to us.

And speaking of gay—I think it’s possible that our emotional problems with the LGBT community are largely based on our tendencies to separate the female from the male—and when we’re struggling to meet public standards of political correctness concerning the ‘weaker sex’, gays make it all just too confusing—like an added complication that breaks our mental backs. It’s just a theory.

Anyway, I feel like I’ve wandered too far from any one topic to ever make a coherent post out of this mess, so why don’t I just offer today’s musical ‘sermon’:

You Tread On My Dreams:

O—and here’s something even weirder from yesterday:

Insecten:

It’s a Win-Win (For Me, Anyway)   (2015Aug25)

Wednesday, August 26, 2015                                           4:01 PM

Well, we’ve been confusing two different things for a long time—for so long that it’s become a part of our national character—a lot of us think that good business practice is the same as good governance. So we must not blame Mr. Trump, who simply surfs the wave of public approbation.

I’m reminded of how the ‘modern’ age of machines brought so many sudden changes that some changes in our thinking went a little too mechanistic—into fascism. Fascism seemed reasonable at the time—it had logic and (pretend) science, and modern folk were all about the logic and science and mechanization back in those days.

Opnamedatum: 2010-1-19

Inflating of Nadars air balloon on a field outside the Barrier Utrecht, Amsterdam, September 14, 1865, John D. Brewer, 1865 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Likewise today we have great changes that influence changes in our thinking—we don’t even need wires today to make a connection, never mind something as arcane as eye-contact. We’re de-centralizing—we’re going Uber. And Americans maintain a firm belief that business will ‘regulate’ itself—although that is only true in terms of fair competition between companies, and has no relevance to the way in which business treats people. Unfair business practices do somehow persist—proving that business regulates itself on the same model as evolution—a bloody, kill-or-be-killed status quo that ends up with the winners becoming alpha predators—and everyone else is the food. The endgame is simply a new monarchy based on ownership rather than bloodlines—if those two things are truly separate.

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Hemelvaart, Jan Punt, 1748 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Because of technology, we have lost the connection between ourselves and our world—our survival is more dependent upon the economic infrastructure—the stores, banks, office buildings, mines, factories, ports, the housing, highways and airliners—than it ever was on the source material for those sophistries: the crops, water, air, lumber, cattle, and cotton—the stuff that hitherto more visibly either grew from or fed off the Earth.

Opnamedatum: 2012-07-19

Bacchus and Ariadne, Gerard de Lairesse, c. 1680 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

We used to husband our resources, tend our fields, plant and harvest our crops—now we buy stuff. Some guy with a huge machine is doing all the agricultural stuff, somewhere out in that blank breadbasket between the coasts. Except for that one Mr. Greenjeans out in Iowa, the rest of us are working on maintaining our infrastructure—though it should more rightly be considered a superstructure, as it is built upon a natural world that once had a structure of its own—we couldn’t control nature like we do our modern environment, but we didn’t have to maintain it, either.

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Dolls-house Ceiling-Painting of a Cloudy Sky with Birds, attributed to Nicolaes Piemont, c. 1690 – c. 1709 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Progress isn’t addition, it’s a trade-off—you get the new, but you lose the old. And while we are marveling at the brave new cyberworld of our present—where paper is disappearing and robots are working faster and better than the humans they replace—we should give a thought to the tremendous loss that implies. It’s not a question—it’s a given. Worse yet, history tells us that we never appreciate the true value of something until it is gone beyond recall. So, while we know that our loss is enormous, we are still waiting to feel the pain. Some days, it feels lucky to be old.

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Paradise, Herri met de Bles, c. 1541 – c. 1550 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

As I see it, ‘isms’ will always trip you up. Take any Ism to its logical conclusion and you get mayhem—capitalism turns to thievery, democracy turns to mob rule, Christianity becomes a platform for hate and violence. None of our societal systems and structures stand on their own, alone—they all must be leavened with humanity. One sign of our modern progress is that some people are finally trying to turn humanity into ‘humanism’—they may mess it up—people usually do—but at least we recognize that there is something there, something elemental—that outshines any system of government or faith or justice. It is humanity that allows compromise, forgiveness, and tolerance.

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Loss of Faith, Jan Toorop, 1894 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

These are the foundation of freedom and justice—without them, we have only an eye for an eye and the whole world blind—or at least lacking depth-perception. The most singular aspect of humanity is that it isn’t a system of checks and balances—it’s just giving. It’s what we do for infants, for the sick or hungry, for our grandparents and great-grandparents, for anyone we truly feel love for—or even for a stranger—we give, and we don’t look for compensation.

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The Shipyard of the Amsterdam Admiralty, Ludolf Bakhuysen, 1655 – 1660 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

When I see these crowds at campaign rallies shouting for justice, I want them to stop shouting long enough for someone to tell them that you don’t get justice—you give mercy, and you hope for justice. Laws help keep the injustice to a dull roar, but nothing will ever end injustice but mercy, compassion, and generosity. If you’re fighting for someone else’s rights, you have a shot at being a force for justice, but if you just looking to get your own, Jack—you’re being selfish. Your therapists will tell you that’s a good thing—but your therapist is an idiot. Still, what can your therapist tell you? How do you tell anyone exactly how to be a human being?

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Val van Icarus, Hans Bol, Anonymous, c. 1550 – c. 1650 [Artwork courtesy of the Rijksmuseum Website]

Thus endeth the lesson, as Sean Connery intones in “The Untouchables”. I’m wearing a T-Shirt today that I’ve had since one summer of the 80s, when our onetime family business, Mal Dunn Associates, threw a pool party, back in the day–pretty good shirts–still looks good:

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I used the above photo, along with my usual pilfering of the Rijksmuseums website’s collection of masterpieces, for the three videos below: