Better Than All Y’all (2019Aug01)

Thursday, August 01, 2019                                               1:12 PM

Better Than All Y’all   (2019Aug01)

Obama committed political suicide to give all of us the Affordable Care  Act. The Republicans lied so monstrously about the ‘dangers’ of the ACA that you would have thought ‘affordable health care’ was a nuclear device. They lied about Obama not reviving the economy (when they had totaled it), about the ‘risks’ of health care—even about where Obama had been born.

Now Trump is running on Obama’s recovered economy, while Trump’s only contribution has been Destabilization: shutdowns, tariff wars, border closings, etc.

The Democrats turned tail after the ACA was signed, abandoning support for Obama. Their voters followed suit, bringing us the GOP Congress we’ve suffered under, since long before Obama’s term ended—even before his reelection.

Now, with Trump’s impeachment and imprisonment our nation’s top priority, the Democrats have found a way to chew up air-time, distracting us from this entirely present problem, by talking about an election that’s over a year away.

Obama gave us Obamacare—he had damned little support from Democrats before or after. And he had a rabidly partisan Congress barring any of the rest of his agenda, for the six years of his office remaining. Of course, the Republicans are still blocking any immigration legislation that might ease their favorite crisis.

But to see the Democrats go on stage last night and start singing from the GOP hymnal made me realize that these people are, with some exceptions, only barely more ethical than Trump is.

You could vote for Warren. Or you could accept that democracy, in a nation of idiots, is worse than a dice throw.

And, P. S.—all that fear-mongering about death-panels & national bankruptcy that would attend the ACA—you don’t hear that anymore, do you? In fact, you hear Dems and Reps alike talking about how we make it better, don’t you? That’s because Obama gave the American people what they needed, as best he could.

And you Democrats are cowards, at best. And you Voters—given a choice between HRC and the racist, sexist pig, in your infinite wisdom, picked the pig.

You don’t need the opposite of the pig, you need the next nearest to Obama. And that would be Warren.

Oh My Word!   (2017Dec17)

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Sunday, December 17, 2017                                                       2:34 AM

Oh My Word!   (2017Dec17)

Okay, let’s just say there’s nothing left to add—our situation is obvious, even though the cable-news would have us think much is afoot—Mueller will make it impossible for the Republicans to leave Trump unimpeached, or he will fall short, and leave Trump in the White House the entire four years.

That’s the long and short of it—I’m tired and I don’t want to hear any more about it until it’s settled, one way or the other. Stupidity has become the towering mountain range of our mental landscapes, ever since Trump started questioning Obama’s citizenship. For years, every day just gets stupider and stupider—in keeping with our empty-head-of-state and the pack of skeezballs known as Republican legislators.

They’re supposed to be politicians, right? But what group of politicians gets together and decides, “Yeah, let’s back the child-molester”? They want to tax the poor to pay the rich—and they’re not even hiding it. They just took CHIP away, by letting it lapse—but they’re in a big hurry to throw all the DACAs out of the USA. How the hell is this politics? Aren’t you supposed to make people like and trust you?

To think that one of those assholes shouted “Liar!” from the back of the room, during Obama’s first SOTU Address—and no one has even whispered it, during all the times our blowhard-in-chief started spouting his bullshit! I would think at least one Democrat would do the right thing and give these bullies a taste of their own. Someone should be shouting “Liar!” at the top of his or her lungs—every single time Trump opens his fat trap.

And talk about politically-correct snowflakes—have you seen the thirty-word phrase that Trump wants to substitute for ‘science-based’? It goes like this: “CDC bases its recommendations on science in consideration with community standards and wishes.” And that, roughly translated, is: “If your science goes against our religion, keep it.” Who’s the cuck now, tweet-fucker?

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Gore Builds It—Trump Breaks It (and not in that good way)  (2017Dec14)

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Thursday, December 14, 2017                                         3:13 PM

Gore Builds It—Trump Breaks It (and not in that good way)  (2017Dec14)

I’ve been upset—I’ve been angry. It wasn’t until today that the core problem hit me—I’m heartbroken. I love truth, knowledge, fairness, and justice—the things Trump and all Republicans spurn with lip-service, and the things they work so hard to circumvent. I love precision and accuracy, discussion and consideration, triple-back-up safeties, and plans that scale for both short-term and long-term—the things ‘businesspeople’ consider a waste of time and money.

These people have substituted pomposity for real dignity for far too long—they have become so comfortable with twisting the truth, they’ve begun to manufacture it out of whole cloth. Today, they are simultaneously attempting to tax the poor to help the rich (and increase the debt to help the rich even more) while demolishing net-neutrality regulations, enabling ISPs to enrich themselves on the corpse of digital free speech. Cherry on top: Trump decides he’s going to renege on every safety or quality-control regulation enacted since the 1960s—just today—he thought it’d be a great idea. (Who am I kidding? ‘He thought’? What a knee-slapper.)

That’s a banner day in the age of Republican secession from decency. Is it possible that the plutocrats are using the votes of the lower third of the national intellect—to bind the rest of us, helplessly awake while the GOP harvests our organs for re-sale? I’ve said it before: Putin and his fat-cat cronies are bit players in the enslavement of the masses—the USA has always had the best Capitalist pigs. Who do you think finances garbage like Breitbart or Bannon or that delirious drug-addict on the radio—the one that’s a cheerleader for despair and distrust? Whatever.

Just compare the education stats to the Trump support—it’s right there in black and white (for those of us who can read). How else do we compare a career civil-servant to a spoiled-bitch, fraudulent serial-accoster-of-women—and come out with ‘Hillary is the bad guy’? Putin’s thugs were in the mix, but they were just extra sauce.

The super-wealthy have hacked democracy—empower the lower third of the intellects—to give their idiocy equal weight to serious thought or complex reasoning—and amid the upheaval, truth becomes moot. Thus we have, as president, a man I wouldn’t trust with a kindergarten classroom—a man whom I know to be more ignorant than myself (a first for me—and for presidents).

My heart breaks for the end of America’s dignity and self-confidence. At this point, even after Trump is ejected, the United States will have to face its citizens, its voters, and the other peoples and nations of the world—and our government will have to try to convince people that something like that can never happen again. Then we will all have to hope like hell that it’s true.

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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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Policy, Theoretically   (2017Sep27)

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Wednesday, September 27, 2017                                              3:24 PM

Policy, Theoretically   (2017Sep27)

Trump spouts an endless stream of lies, hate-speech, willful obtuseness, and the rhetoric of a school-yard bully (or is it ‘a junk-yard dog’?) yet the media displays these assaults on our society, these insults to our intelligence—then they turn around and talk about the ‘Administration’s policies’, discussing them as if they were ‘thought-out’, or ‘a settled matter’—neither of which is ever the case.

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To talk of a Trump policy is to posit a theoretical—unless we count ‘a pompous attitude and suppressed rage’ as a policy stance. Look at health care (ignoring the GOP for the moment—which, trust me, is the best you can do for them at this point). Trump’s office has never specified a single item of detail on health-care legislation—and Trump has never said anything on the subject that he hasn’t contradicted in some video archive somewhere. He has blamed specific people for his failure. He has attacked his opposition (everybody?) for thinking there is anything good in Obamacare. But positive input? No, Trump doesn’t play that.

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Now everyone is discussing tax reform—referring to Trump on this or that point—but Trump, being pointless, simply functions as a screen for GOP wealthy-donor pandering. He’ll say stuff (My god—as if this overgrown lap-dog could ever stop his yapping!) but it won’t have any bearing on anything besides himself.

The GOP will try to publicly reconcile their overall stinginess with their generosity towards the fat-cat donors, in statements that will push bamboozlement to new heights—but it’ll all be so much bullshit. Nothing new there—except perhaps the new, raw, nakedness of the GOP’s pandering to the wealthy, counter to any public-opinion-poll that shows 98% of citizens wanting the opposite. The wealthy, IMHO, are painting themselves into a corner. When there are only a dozen of them, and ten billion starving outside their mansion walls, what will their money be worth then?

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Alas, we are ruled by people who specialize in winning campaign fights—a mark against them, if anything. Look at HRC—woulda made a great leader—but she lacked Trump’s capacity for hypocrisy and bullshit. It was never about which would make a better president—lucky for Rockhead Man.

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What Happened? I’ll Tell You What Happened   (2017Sep12)

New York, Hillary Rodham Clinton

Hillary Rodham Clinton speaks to the reporters at United Nations headquarters, Tuesday, March 10, 2015. Clinton conceded that she should have used a government email to conduct business as secretary of state, saying her decision was simply a matter of “convenience.” (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

Tuesday, September 12, 2017                                          11:07 AM

What Happened? I’ll Tell You What Happened   (2017Sep12)

Hillary Clinton’s new book, “What Happened”, has been getting a multitude of similar reviews—all of which summarize her reasoning and smugly find it lacking, for a bunch of self-assured reasons. It makes me crazy to see this reek of misogyny continuing on, as if the election were still in progress.

We all know exactly ‘What Happened’. Hillary Clinton offered the country an intelligent, reasonable choice—and we, in our collective wisdom (or lack of) chose Donald Trump—an idiot we would be hard pressed to find the equal of. It is not Hillary who has to explain herself. ‘We have met the enemy—and he is us.’

The GOP blamed Obama for eight years of struggle to recover our employment rate—forgetting that Bush made the crater Obama then crawled out of. Did Hillary fail to recognize the spasms of rage and resentment being stoked by Republicans, Alt-righters, and Russians? Did she keep her head in an environment where quiet common sense had gone out of fashion? Yes. Does her being a minority of one mean that she should have acted like a carnival barker—that she was the one making mistake after mistake? Sadly, no—that was us.

The media, especially social media, whipped us all into paroxysms of hysteria over the 2016 presidential race—and only in such a fact-free, reason-free, top-of-your-voice environment could we have been turned around enough to have voted in a TV con-man with his hand out, groping for pussy. But hey—that’s What Happened.

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The Ephemeral Nature of Knowledge   (2017Sep09)

GiaquintoWinter

Saturday, September 09, 2017                                          11:14 PM

The Ephemeral Nature of Knowledge   (2017Sep09)

In 1975, the two parts of the Apollo-Soyuz mission took off—Soyuz 19 launched from Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakhstan, Apollo from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida. That’s how things were in my day—information was free, research was shared, all classes were open to audit. Oddly enough, science had to court interest back then.

Now that information has been commodified, the focus has turned to how the new data or discovery can be cashed in on for the highest price—even if it’s just a nuisance lawsuit against an actual inventor. If you want help with your computer, you have to pay for it. In the past, if something broke, you only payed for parts and labor—in our brave new world, we have to pay for explanations about products and services we bought in good faith. That may be the norm, but no way does that make it right and proper.

We see this info-hoarding effecting education, too, in scam seminar universities, scam online degrees, predatory school loans, and a general consensus among the business world that it is now okay for someone to be charged for information—and as always ‘caveat emptor’. Conversely, as Bill Maher addressed in his ‘New Rules’ last night, people can be charged for what they don’t know:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xP13QTOI9z4&list=PLAF22812129BFCD50&index=1

 

There is another side of the information situation—YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, Gutenberg.org, et. al—the Net-Neutrality crowd, so to speak—which allows anyone with computer access to self-educate, up to and including PhD-level science lectures from Ivy League professors on YouTube. The only catch is that it is all public-access, public-domain. For example, let’s look at http://www.gutenberg.org (The Gutenberg Project)—their mission was to make the text of every book available, online, for free.

When I first found this site, I was blown away. Previously, I had spent childhood in the library and adulthood in the bookstores—and neither could ever offer ‘every’ book, much less without leaving home. Gutenberg allows free text downloads of every classic in English literature—the only catch is, they can only offer what is in the public domain. Amazon started selling the for-profit books, the latest, the bestsellers, anything really—it was a bibliophile’s dream, even before they started in with e-books.

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Today, when you go to Gutenberg’s site, it has been hybridized, offering the same free downloads, but with a Kindle e-book-file download-option—so users can keep their reading material all on one device. The oddest part is that some of Gutenberg’s offerings have been re-issued as e-book classics by the publishers of the hard copy—making it possible to buy a book (say Jane Austen’s Emma) on Amazon, that is available free on Gutenberg. I know because I have done it—and keep both editions on my Kindle out of sheer cussedness.

But my point is that if you read every book they have (I’m joking—an impossible task, in one lifetime) you still would not be acknowledged academically in any way. The same is true for whatever you learn online—even the degree-issuing online institutions are condescended to by the analog schools—as if being on-site really impacts most of today’s workplaces.

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However, you can do things with knowledge—that is its ultimate purpose—so even if education can’t get you a job, it can still help you invent your own. Nevertheless, the sheepskin (as a ticket into a well-paid position) is a commodity now—and must be paid for. But all these conditions are just the extremes of greed brought out by the commodification of knowledge.

The real danger is the stagnation of research and development. Not only are the greed for profits skewing the directions of researching, but the findings themselves are kept confidential.

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The boom days of Thinking are over. In Einstein’s time, German universities were hubs of intercourse between academics and scientists, as were the great schools of Britain and the rest of Europe—and American institutions as well. Traveling to mingle with others in one’s field, holding conventions and seminars on the challenges of the day—it was as free as a bird. Nobody knew what an NDA was—hell, scientists at NASA were challenging the government’s Security strictures (mid-Cold War) because they claimed that science could only exist as a global effort, with shared information. Imagine.

And it is worth mentioning that the guy who ran IBM, who put up signs around the offices with the one word ‘THINK’—was not being cute. After two world wars, people didn’t waste time sitting around thinking—no one had had that kind of leisure in living memory. But it was exactly what IBM needed its employees to do. He had to actually encourage them to remember that thinking was their job now.

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The reason for the change was that academics had entered the everyday—it had started with autos and radios and such—but now people had electrified homes, TVs, rocket ships—and as the IBM staff thunk, it only got more complicated and scientific. Now, I’d have to write several paragraphs to summarize all the modern stuff in our modern lives.

But the dichotomy is still there—we still believe that achievement should make you sweat. We still believe that just sitting and figuring something out is a waste of time—‘things are okay as they are’. We are wrong to believe that.

We have accepted all the gifts of technology, but pretended that it was all for free. We are close to recognizing that technology has a cost on our environment—several decades have been spent on that inconvenient truth—and there are still those who refuse to acknowledge the bill coming due.

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We haven’t even begun to address the cost to our society of technology. If we are going to have our children growing up around wireless electronic devices, we need to start calculating the parameters of how much their development will be influenced, or even damaged, by certain gadgets, apps, and games. We also need to address the asocializing effect which smartphones have on both children and adults.

Beyond that, it would be nice to have a grown-up discussion about the fact that half of society has integrated itself with the Internet, to the point of total dependency on its reliability—while the other half is finding ways to disrupt online systems for political or profitable gain, assuring us that the Internet can never be secure in the way we need it.

Yesterday’s announcement about the Equifax hack, exposing private info on millions of Americans and their finances, leaves all those people vulnerable to ID-theft and bank fraud. And this is the same system that runs our banks, our government, our phones, and damn near everything else—while totally unsecure. I’d like to talk about that—wouldn’t you?

Still, the ‘big boss’ paradigm persists—the idea that a strongman like Trump is America’s best choice for a leader, here in the twenty-first century—should be a joke. A man who can’t even use Twitter without typos is the wrong guy to be in charge of an online, subatomic, robotic world, okay? Bluster is still very effective—a lot can be done with bluster. But like many American workers today, having an old skill-set leaves one obsolete for the challenges of today.

And while all the fat cats are getting rich off of each new boner pill or wireless ear-pod, real forward movement in science is relatively crippled by the secrecy and the patent lawsuits and the proprietary research that’s kept hidden.

It’s time for one of my ‘true stories from history’. In ancient China, the emperor’s court was very exclusive—successive layers of the grounds were off-limits to the public and to lesser officials. One of the innermost places was the workshop of the Emperor’s scientists and engineers. When one emperor’s reign ended, the new emperor would appoint new scientists and engineers. In this way, many inventions and discoveries came and went.

In eighth century China, an artificer created the first escapement clockwork—but the usurping Emperor caused all record of the clock’s design (and the clock) to be destroyed. Clocks would disappear, until they were reinvented in Europe, in the fourteenth century.

People tend to focus on firsts—who gets credit for inventing a new thing—who gets credit for noticing some physical constant for the first time? But this story struck me not as a story of invention, but a cautionary tale about the ephemeral nature of knowledge. If the machines break, if the books get burnt (or locked away), if the kids don’t get educated—all technology, all knowledge—just disappears. And information is a lot easier to keep than it is to find.

The way to preserve information is to disseminate it, print it, teach it, put it online, make a movie about it. The way to lose information is to hoard it, to dole it out for a price—as we have seen, when information becomes a commodity, a lot of cheap knock-offs get sold—fake news, scam universities, corporate climate-change denial. The truth is precious is its own right—putting a price-tag on knowledge only corrupts it.

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Dear Mr. President:   (2017Jul19)

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Wednesday, July 19, 2017                                                2:52 PM

Dear Mr. President:   (2017Jul19)

Don’t lecture us that ‘Obamacare will fail’. The Presidency should embody a figurehead, not a scolding schoolmarm. And stop pointing fingers, you ‘whiny little bitch’ (credit: Bill Maher)—the last thing a President should ever do is try to shift blame. If our fearless leader is looking around, mewling, “Who, me?” then how will that make America look, to the rest of the world? I don’t mind you embarrassing yourself—you obviously enjoy it, and I could give a damn—but as far as making America a laughingstock—that I don’t appreciate.

Don’t think we failed to notice you’re unable to talk policy specifics with thorny issues like healthcare—we knew you were ignorant about it, going in, and we know you’re a seventy-year-old putz who can’t learn anything new, even if you had the will to do it. Your sales schpiel is all you have in the way of managerial skill—you never need to know anything, just push others to do it and blame them if they fail.

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Undoing Obama’s work towards addressing the threat of climate change may have garnered you a few points with your racist base—but everyone else, in America, and in the entire world, sees it as proof of your idiocy. Your helpless flailing, when it comes to healthcare, tax reform, immigration, or education—pairs nicely with the Republican majority’s dog-who-finally-caught-the-car act.

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Let’s face it—you and your ignorant GOP legislators are typical bullies, becoming enraged, to hide your suspicions that your opponents are correct—and overturning the table because the board-game isn’t going your way. Understand me—it’s no crime to be slow-witted, we aren’t judging you for that, but enforcing ignorance is a crime against nature and man.

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Science Fictions   (2017Jul05)

Wednesday, July 05, 2017                                                10:53 PM

Science Fictions   (2017Jul05)

Improv – Jeans Instability

Before I begin ranting, let me explain about today’s batch of baby videos—I decided to take all the titles from Astronomical Terminology, which I googled—if you want to know what a ‘Jeans Instability’ is, you can google it, too. (It’s the point at which a galactic dust cloud gets massive enough for gravity to start making it collapse into a baby star, though).

Improv – Galactic Tide

As usual, the titles, baby videos, and the piano music have nothing to do with each other—that’s just the way we do things here. Now, on with the lecture:

Improv – Critical Rotation

Greetings, People of Earth. Today’s message is: Things can only get better. I’m sure of it. Honest Abe said you can’t fool everybody all the time—and people are getting a nice, close look at the way things are. Politicians and business leaders can blue-sky all they want about tomorrow—seeing real-time performance on a daily basis, even with all the spin in the world, is harder to dismiss with words. In other words, I think it will be harder for Trump to run on his record than it was to run without one.

Improv – Celestial Sphere

Depending on how the Supreme Court sees ‘gerrymandering’, we might even see some Democrats win an election or two. There’s no limit to how much change for the better may be ahead. Heck, we could win it all—and we’d still have a couple of years of work on legislation and diplomacy before we could undo the damage the GOP has already done (and Donnie helped!), post-Obama.

Improv – Eccentricity

By now, whatever further extremes the Right goes to, those actions will only inflame the backlash of people who didn’t see this reactionary wave coming—and are watching government implode almost daily. Did you hear the departure of the last few people, last week, wiped out the larger White House Office of Science and Technology Policy? You can ignore Science, if it means so much to you—but turning our backs on Science is extremely dangerous—as dangerous as putting its detractors in charge (a pretty ignorant act in itself).

 

We know how scary technology can be—with serious people making the decisions. It gets a lot scarier when things like quality-control become a matter of alternative facts. Humanity has raised a mighty pyramid of technological connections—it is awesome in its complexity, its interdependence—every cog matching every tooth in in every gear, round and round, humming without a break—like a heartbeat from the world. We are letting childish people tear out pieces, clog up chain-links, and throw big, fat monkey-wrenches into this global clockwork.

Freedom of Speech may allow people to bad-mouth Science—and hard-case Ministers may encourage that—but anyone who wants to turn their back on our technology is threatening your life and everything in it. We take our developed-country lives for granted—they only exist courtesy of a gigantic legacy that started with Fulton and Edison—and continues with Jobs and Musk, etc. Trucks, Trains, Ships, Air Freight—spiderwebs of businesses—blizzards of paperwork—from international trade agreements to the economics of your corner deli—and that’s just for all the food and drink. Denying Science is the most retrograde opinion a person could hold—it’s like intellectual suicide.

Respectfully   (2017May31)

Wednesday, May 31, 2017                                               7:07 PM

This whole political snafu is about respect. Our president is supposed to champion our country—and for most people, that means championing what America stands for. It was perfect, in its way—because a lot of bullshit gets sold under the rubric of ‘American Values’—bullshit just as coldblooded a scam as Trump’s administration.

Pompous peacocks have gotten a lot of mileage out of ever-so-solemn reference to our founding principles—and while I disagree with Trump that political correctness is clogging the works—it’s not nearly as bad as the political bullshitting—I agree with the premise: We need to get our government back. So while the country’s middle became unhappy with the neglect and corruption, they sought a champion that would shovel the bullshit out of Washington and get the pipes working again. Unfortunately, all they got was a new layer of fresher manure.

Individuality and new perspectives have always had value—but they are not absolute goods, just an ingredient in a healthy whole. For the individualists and free-thinkers that support Trump, he represents someone who will bypass all the red tape and get stuff done. They applaud when he upsets the bureaucratic apple-carts and garners gasps from the liberal media at all the false gods he throws to the ground. They love the Tweets signaling them late at night that, behind that sober guy at the desk, there’s a fool with no concept of probity—just like themselves.

But in giving respect, finally, to these overlooked groups of people—people who say they want less government—when what they need is good government—Trump has, through ignorance or otherwise, signaled disrespect for things that made our government better. It is no better to blame American values for being in the mouths of corrupt politicians than to blame Islam for being in the mouths of mindless animals.

When Americans support Freedom of Religion, we do not support religious freedom—we do not support religion at all—not in our government. And we do this for the very good reason that people have different religions. Our government has consciously, purposely kept its distance from religion since the Pilgrims settled—they came from Europe—where people killed each other over religion for centuries—and they had no intention of just bringing in the old problems.

There is an unhealthy Fundamentalist Christian group in this country that promotes the ignorance to misunderstand this important principle—and tries to twist it into an excuse for their overweening influence on legislation. These people are dangerous extremists—using our legal system to subvert our way of life—and they can pray ‘til doomsday and it won’t make them any righter. These are some of the people who are finally getting the respect they pine for, from Trump.

Money influences (or simply bypasses) government in much more direct ways than lobbying—often the only way to stop corrupting influences is to arrest the people who break the rules—very rich, very connected people. That can only happen in a country where the law cannot be bought, not in broad daylight.

Many people work for rich people who use their wealth to influence their employees, enlisting them in getting around regulations put in place to protect those employees—and whistleblowers, especially undocumented ones, are a rare breed that usually gets crushed, no matter how the big picture works out. Business owners like it that way—and they don’t like inspectors—and they are finally getting respect from a guy who does business the same way, Trump.

Rich people have a sad habit of starting to look down on others—as if their money put them in a higher level. Money madness—poor people know who they are—they don’t look to possessions to define themselves. I’m not saying we should hunt down all the rich folks, or anything, I’m just saying it doesn’t hurt to put them in their place sometimes. But they too see a kindred spirit in Trump.

I think it’s the American Dream idea—lots of people dream of making it big, having it all, and giving back. Some people leave off the last part, making their American Dream into a lonely, rapacious video game, where you never win enough money and possessions. America used to whine less about helping others—we were eager to do what we could to lift up the less fortunate, to let them and their children have a shot at living a nice life. Now all we do is bitch about our taxes being used for ‘no-accounts’—like, who died and made you the fucking king of the hill?

Let some of those rich bastards fall on hard times—suddenly, they’re filled with wisdom—from living on the street, from feeling like they need help and it’s not there. Like you couldn’t empathize with this back when you could have done something to help? You had to have your face rubbed in it? Eau de humanite.

Anyway—getting off topic there. So: respect. Middle America wanted it—and they got it. They did not get better government (my money is on worse, much worse) but they did get respect, for now, and they’ll keep supporting him until something changes their minds. What that is I couldn’t say. A lot of them will be dead by the time their kids and grandkids have to deal with the damage from the Trump presidency—so I guess they did the right thing, as they saw it.

But I can’t help pointing out that Coolidge tried to create the League of Nations after the first World War—and failed. Truman tried to create a United Nations after the second World War—and when that failed to fully form, NATO was created to act as a bulwark against any future rogue alliances bent on war.

If you will consider their times, you can see that they not only wanted peace—they were sick of the horror of war. Millions of corpses littered the world’s largest land mass—twice—and sensible people felt that war had no profit for anyone—and led to much death and destruction—no brain-teaser there. But we have had half-a-century to develop amnesia, or extreme myopia, call it whatever you like—and we don’t have the least idea of the suffering that a third global conflict would visit upon us.

And that specter demands some respect, too.

The Russians aided the Trump campaign—and characterizing that as an ‘excuse for losing’ misses the point. Being infiltrated by Russians is a bad thing—and the worst thing about it would be not to recognize that the Russians have fed you lies. The next worst thing would be the reasons why we were so easily played—how could this work on us?

The bad guys have found a way to weaponize Free Speech—and that makes it important for all of us to become smart-asses—people who look things up and study original sources and work on checking the math. We need to become too smart to fall for their bullshit—and it starts with recognizing that it happened.

Public education was one of America’s great advantages against the rest of the world—and we have fallen behind, forgetting the tremendous value of educated, highly skilled, even innovative young people. And we are blind to the great expense of being negligent of citizens in need, especially the young. A productive citizen is an asset—a neglected citizen becomes a liability. It’s simple logic—there’s no bleeding heart here—it just makes sense to do the right thing. Anyone who says different has a touch of the sociopath.

So, Trump has taught us a valuable lesson—the road paved with bullshit leads to madness. We can no longer rely solely on the United States to function automatically—we have to build new voting blocs of people who want to do the right thing, who feel better with a real leader at the head of our state, and will not condemn their own children in their eagerness to deprive the children of strangers. Which is harder, getting the voters or finding the candidates amongst honest Americans? It’s an impossibly huge job—but that’s what happens when you put democracy on two-party cruise-control for a full century.

Or we could just wave Democracy bye-bye, as the fat cats work their mindfuck magic on the unsuspecting pod-people, and we all just watch TV.

Kosinski Redux (2017Apr09)

Jerzy Kosinsky

Jerzy Kosinsky en rechts Harry Mulisch *28 februari 1969

Sunday, April 09, 2017                                            1:48 PM

Jerzy Kosinski, the enigmatic and controversial writer of the 1960s-1970s, is perhaps most famous for his screenplay “Being There” (1979). That successful Peter Sellers vehicle has become a classic tautology: given a stylized-enough established order, a complete idiot can stumble his way to the presidency. The Trump administration, to date, has been so fraught with purposeful malfeasance that we tend to overlook Trump’s Chauncey-Gardener-like qualities.

Now, with the advent of military strikes, his perfect ignorance comes to the fore. As usual, there are documented past statements (that is to say, as always with Trump, Tweets) where he criticized Obama for taking similar actions in Syria, and in the same way (absent Congressional approval) and calling it a mistake. And, as always, our military action is spurious, when what we really need is a definitive plan, a long-term road-map towards specific goals—and one that accounts for the existence of other countries—you know, something like Obama was doing—facing the reality that a ‘Big Stick’ is of limited use.

But the would-be-funny-if-it weren’t-so-scary part is the news media, seriously discussing what amounts to knee-jerk militaristic grandstanding—as if it did indeed have a definitive plan behind it. This is Chauncey Gardener to a tee. Serious panelists mistake vague mindlessness for inscrutable subtlety, chasing their tails to find the adult philosophy behind a child’s wanderings.

Original_movie_poster_for_Being_There

What lowers the present situation beneath even “Being There” is that these talking heads know that they are debating the impulses of an idiot—they simply discuss everything with a bias towards false gravitas—out of habit. They can’t help themselves—bullshit has become their lifestyle.

Thus we see that 59 cruise missiles don’t end a six-year-old civil war—fancy that. A military fellow pointed out that the strike didn’t even target radar or surface-to-air installations, which makes it safer to come back and do it again, and is SOP for a first strike. Even as a spurious first move, the Tomahawk flurry didn’t make sense—it was a display of impotence as much as anything else.

So by all means, talk about Trump’s increased Presidential-ness, now that he’s a big-boy Commander-in-Chief—keep that bullshit flowing, because god forbid anyone on cable news talks like a sane person with their head on straight. Just keep in mind that Trump didn’t do a goddamned thing for those poor, beautiful children he ‘cried’ over—or any of the Syrian refugees like them whom Trump is presently afraid to allow to live here.

SyrianRefugees_NatGeo

D is for Dummy   (2017Feb28)

battlodseagods

Tuesday, February 28, 2017                                             9:11 AM

According to the New York Times, Trump wants to add $54 billion to our military spending, saying, “We have to start winning wars again.” This sorry fuckwad doesn’t see a problem with wars—just with losing them. It may be difficult for those of us living in reality to understand what this drooling moron means when he spews his ignorance. I believe this particular tid-bit was meant to suggest that we will go to every hot spot on Earth and use American Might to slaughter everyone involved, thus ‘winning’. I guess when you’re that old, mere diplomacy and world peace won’t get your dick hard.

BLOTUS says, “Nobody knew that health care could be so complicated.” He doesn’t want to admit it was just him—so he says ‘Nobody’ knew. This is the beauty of seeing reality as a story to be shaped, rather than a true thing—you can adjust the facts to make yourself look sane. Every-fucking-body knew—and everyone has known for years and years, that Health Care was complex—only someone who completely ignored politics until last year could possibly have missed the fact that Health Care was complex—and guess who that sounds like.

avarice

I know that facts are unpopular nowadays—but here’s one: the ACA was based on a Republican governor’s successful state program—it addressed several injustices that existed in commercial health insurance, it saved lives, and the only way it could be improved or made more economic would be to put back the single-payer option that Obama was forced to drop when he pushed the bill through. That’s the simple truth.

But Republicans and Trump campaigned on the notion that the ACA was evil incarnate—a curse upon the nation. They wanted to repeal it so bad they could taste it. They passed repeal bills in the House like sixty-something times. We can see now why they were so desperate—people have gotten used to health insurance—they like it and they don’t want anyone to take it away now. It turns out that some people look on this evil curse as a blessing—who knew that keeping kids healthy would be popular with parents—even dyed-in-the-wool Republican parents?

But how can they rail against something for years—and then turn around and claim they had no idea how complicated it was? How can they justify ending a government policy so popular that twenty million people signed up for it—and without any kind of replacement? Trump went on to say that his Obamacare-replacement plan is going to be incredibly super-terrific—he doesn’t have one yet, but he knows that it will be terrific. Is that just his subtle way of reminding us that ‘terrific’ has the same root as ‘terror’? I’m afraid so.

allegochastity

But I’m not going to condescend to you, dear reader, as if you were some brainless Trump supporter. You know he’s an ignorant, confused old elitist who snuck into a position he is unfit for. You don’t need me to tell you that the GOP has to use gerrymandering to win elections because their priorities don’t include serving the people. You don’t need me to tell you you’re being lied to—you can tell the truth from a punch in the face without any help from me. I only write these posts because I’m consumed with a thirst for vengeance, just dying for truth and justice to make a comeback.

Trump’s statements, his behavior, his so-called policies—I see them as proof of treasonous criminality and incompetence. Others see them as something to vote for. That’s an incomprehensible gap in our perception of things. I believe that a quarter of this country is made up of people who had trouble with school, with comprehension and reading skills—people who’ve spent their lifetimes being corrected, confused, and condescended to by intelligent people.

They hate subtlety, they hate ideas and ideals, they hate science and math, they hate history and education—and most of all, they hate eggheads, nerds, brains, or intelligentsia of any kind—study and knowledge are the enemy to that quarter of our population—the quarter who see Trump as their champion. Trump told them it’s okay to stand up in public and be an idiot, to say something that three-quarters of Americans laugh at for its inanity—that being a perfect fool is nothing to be ashamed of—and they love him for it.

Of course, it’s a little uncomfortable to come right out and champion stupidity, so they rebrand intelligence as ‘being liberal’. Then they change it to ‘libertards’, to imply that thinking is the real stupidity (and to get away with using ‘retard’ as an insult without anyone being able to call them on it). Sadly, they condemn thinking as if it’s something they would never do—when the truth is that thinking is something they’ve never been able to do.

That quarter of our population got Trump into office—but they had help. The people who didn’t bother to vote (which was fully half the country) may not have been stupid enough to vote for him—but they were stupid enough to let it happen. I give them a D.

allegovirtunvice

Evil, Ignorant, or Psychotic   (2017Feb27)

wealthnbenefits

Monday, February 27, 2017                                             5:40 PM

What do we mean when we say someone is ‘psychotic’? I don’t know anything about psychiatry—but I know it doesn’t mean misbehavior—we have criminal law to define what misbehavior is—and it even has conditions that attempt to separate crime from insanity—so ‘psychotic’, whatever that means to us, is not merely doing something bad. I’ve always assumed it meant disassociation from reality—perceiving reality in a way that is fundamentally different from sane people.

And we’ve seen several media reports recently that go out of their way to point out that psychosis, in and of itself, isn’t evil, per se. They give examples of people who are diagnosed as psychotic, but functional, meaning that such people can take care of themselves and don’t make a habit of hurting anyone else, but are nevertheless technically psychotic. That would seem to bear out my assumption that being psychotic isn’t the same as being a bad person.

I think, when we discuss modern politics, we often use ‘psychotic’ to label someone who thinks they have a good idea—and we recognize that ‘good idea’ as a very bad idea, the badness of which should be self-evident to any sane person. Thus Trump and most of his coterie are often described as psychotic—their ideas, if you can call them that, have been seen before, have been discussed before, and have been discarded as shortsighted, or just plain wrong, sometimes years or even decades before now. Their ignorance and willful blindness suggest someone with a malevolent agenda—and rather than call them evil traitors, we give them the benefit of the doubt—and say they must be crazy.

But these are our choices: evil, ignorant, or psychotic—they’re either doing wrong because they intend to, because they don’t know better, or because they fail to grasp reality. Not great choices. Rachel Maddow did a segment on this last week, giving examples of seeming malfeasance, or incompetence, depending on how much volition and knowledge you give them credit for. With each example she repeated the mystery: ‘Are they evil, or are they ignorant and incompetent? You choose.’ But she left out bat-shit crazy—and I can understand why she wanted to keep it simple, but she still left out a very real possibility.

work

And I can also see where a knowledgeable reporter would shy away from the question of psychosis. Capitalism is psychotic, when we consider that we are destroying our planet as fast as we can, meanwhile shouting to all who will listen that we can’t afford to slow down. American Politics is psychotic, when we consider that Trump won the election. Religion is psychotic on its face—the very definition of insanity—believing in something that there is no evidence of. And you and I are somewhat crazy as well—everyone is a little crazy, or a lot, depending. I like to think I’m only a little bit crazy, but who knows?

But a true psychotic is like a runaway robot—it will follow its programming, and it won’t slow down just because people start suffering or dying. It won’t adjust for outside input, peer pressure, ethics, morality, or any other reason—it will do what it is doing, and god help you if you get in its way.

And if that sounds a little too much like Trump and his administration, then you and I are in agreement. He may be evil. He is most certainly one of the most ignorant people ever to wield such power. But whatever else he is, there’s some crazy in there, too, no doubt about it.

Look at his life before politics—always skirting the far edges of propriety when it came to personal behavior, always skirting the far edges of legality when it came to acquiring profits, always dismissive of anything like ethics. Had things gone a little differently, Trump would have been campaigning from a jail cell, arrested for one illegal or perverted act or another. It is entirely possible his entire campaign was meant merely to give him immunity from prosecution for many actions he dismissed so quickly, while yelling that his opponent belonged in jail.

The fact that Trump University was found to be fraudulent, during the campaign, and even this clear indicator was ignored by his supporters—means that a good quarter of the country’s voters are a little t’eched in the head, as well.

Then there’s Putin—a murdering crime-boss who wormed his way into the Russian establishment and will kill anyone who threatens his primacy, now that he has it. Trump admired him openly during the campaign and now, as president, he urges America to ‘get along’ with this mafia thug. Crazy loves crazy, I guess.

But America is funny—we’ll do the whole four years with a madman in the White House—but if he takes off his pants and starts running around the front lawn singing nursery rhymes—we’ve got him. This is ironic since, if Trump were to do that, it would be among his most sensible activities—and his least harmful agendas—in the last year.

musesuraniancalliope

Bunch Of Geniuses   (2017Feb24)

marinerj

Friday, February 24, 2017                                                 8:19 AM

Why is everyone so excited about a new solar system 40 light-years away? Do you really think we’re clever enough to suss out interstellar travel, when we can’t even pick a president?

We still have a whole branch of government that does nothing but kill or be killed—but don’t worry—we only use our military when it’s absolutely necessary for national security, i.e. when the Wall fails.

And even though Jewish people have been around longer than anyone else, we still manage to teach kids to hate Jews—shouldn’t it be the Jews that hate us, at this point?

If you can’t look at a woman without undervaluing her or thinking of ways to mistreat her or take advantage of her—that’s not a definition of what it means to be female—that’s you, being an animal. But I get it—women are strong, women are powerful—they’re scary, and we men need every handicap we can heap upon them, to avoid being totally intimidated and outclassed.

Any man who can afford a suit and tie, and has the ability to have his voice heard on television—has no business commenting on the poor, the underpaid, or the underserved. Miss a meal or two, be ignored for a week—then maybe you’ll have the slightest idea about it. Until then, your entitled, elitist, overbearing, smug thought-bubbles are worse than useless and you should really be keeping that verbal embarrassment to yourself.

I’m all for guns—everybody should have them—especially kids. Take some kids, kids who’ll only be thirty-five or so when the rising ocean levels are due to wipe out all the coastal cities—give those kids some guns, and the address of the Koch Bros. compound. Second Amendment rules!

And let’s stop blaming Trump for everything—he’s an idiotic clown, yes, but he’s an idiotic clown who’s being propped up by cynical, wealth-grubbing Republican party-leaders and a willfully misinformed constituency. These suicidally foolish people maintain their support for Trump, even after proof that the Russians have their hooks in him, and helped get him elected. Oh yeah, let’s get that group of geniuses together and design that starship.

marinerg

Aspera Ad Astra   (2017Feb23)

Thursday, February 23, 2017                                           8:26 AM

20170223xd-trappist-1_02

The discovery of seven earth-sized planets orbiting a dwarf star, Trappist-1, makes me wonder how big the ‘goldilocks’-zone is, when talking of a star that isn’t much bigger than Jupiter—and if the orbits of all seven planets could all fit in that little slice of space. Being the same size as Earth means the gravity would be the same—but without placement in the ‘goldilocks’-zone, a planet will be too cold or too hot to live on.

I’m so used to thinking in terms of science fiction that it’s hard for me to get excited about seven planets orbiting a dwarf star forty light-years from Earth. But even from a non-fiction point of view—forty light-years is a ‘fer piece’.

Do the math: one light-year equals 5.8 trillion miles (that’s 10 to the twelfth, for those of you playing at home). Here—we’ll do it the kids’ way: 5,800,000,000,000 miles. That is a very long walk. If we traveled at 1,000 mph, it would take about 6,600 years to travel one light-year. If we traveled at 10,000 mph, it would still take over 660 years to travel one light-year. Thus, in practical terms, a light-year is a distance that a person has never traveled—and has no way of traveling, at present, within a single lifetime. The new solar system that was just found—that’s forty-of-those-things distance from us—that’s just a ridiculous distance away.

Light-years, the unit of distance, was created by and for astronomers—it allows astronomers to discuss the relative distances of stars—but don’t let that fool you into thinking of light-years in terms of human travel—it’s not a human scale of distance.

Plus, if you want to fly through space at 10,000 mph for 660 years, you’re going to need a very big gas tank. Carl Sagan told us that we could avoid this problem by using a Bussard ramjet, a spaceship that collects hydrogen atoms as it moves forward—and uses fusion to propel itself. The Bussard ramjet would use the near-vacuum of space as its fuel—imagine!

But that still leaves you with the need for food, water, and breathable air for however many people for however many years—and even with great recycling tech, that’s a lot of supplies to push through space. And again—forty light-years—if we could travel one light-year, we’d still need to do it forty times to reach that dwarf star with its seven planets.

Also, once you arrive at the dwarf star, you are completely cut-off from Earth—and Earth from you. Forty light-years means that even a radio message would take forty years to go in one direction—which means, if you got on the phone, said ‘hi’, and waited for the other end to say ‘hi’ back—that’s eighty years.

If we ever send people out there, we won’t be ‘colonizing’, we’ll just be sending little samples of humanity out into the cosmos. Maybe their great-grandchildren will communicate with Earth, but never in a “Hi, How are ya” kind of way. Assuming they survived, they would become a totally separate civilization from our own.

And this is the sad truth—space exploration will not ‘save’ the Earth. Sending people to space, even into our local solar system, will help protect the human race from extinction—but it won’t do anything for the people that remain on Earth. And living in space will never be as safe and easy as living here, on the cradle of life.

There is enough raw material in the asteroid belts and the Oort cloud for us to build several ‘earths’—but we will never be able to move significant numbers of people up from Earth ‘s gravity well without a space elevator—and we still don’t have the technology to build one of those.

In summary, space exploration is not easy or simple. It will take more determination than the human race has shown itself capable of, to date, to get there in any meaningful way. People often theorize that an alien invasion would help to unify the human race—and, in the same vein, the destruction of our biosphere would help to motivate people into space. But why do we need a global disaster to get our asses in gear? Can’t we just be grown-ups? Let’s reach for the stars.

20170223xd-trappist-1_01

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

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.

Stupid In A Crisis   (2017Jan24)

Tuesday, January 24, 2017                                                7:46 PM

I’m exhausted from responding to alt-right trolls on Facebook. I know that nothing that happens on Facebook matters worth a damn—and I know I’m never going to change the mind of any of these hysterical jingoists. Still, with things as they are, whenever any of that pro-Trump idiocy appears on my feed, I’m going to keep on responding, contradicting and insulting the people who post it.

I didn’t use to. I used to look at their stuff and say to myself that no one could ever be so blind as to be taken in by the charlatan and his creepy minions. But the Electoral College has proven that I was wrong about that. So now, whenever I see a stupid, thoughtless post in support of criminals who just happened to get elected—I post a reply of my own. I don’t want to—I’ve got better things to do—certainly nicer ways to spend my time. But I will no longer let these lies go unchallenged—even in the wasteland of Facebook.

Is it wrong of me to insult these people? Under ordinary circumstances, yes, it certainly would be. And if they are truly so deluded that they believe in Trump, it’s actually cruel of me to torture them with my scorn. But a lot of these people are just feeling the oats of their misogyny, racism, nationalism, and plain old resentment over how shitty their lives turned out. The miserable irony of it is that they have been conned into staunchly supporting the very people that keep their lives so miserable.

Can you imagine it? These rich, powerful people—who can create major changes with the stroke of a pen—accuse the poor, the sick, the displaced, and the immigrant of causing all our troubles. These cynical pigs stand there, with their hands on the switches, their fingers on the buttons—and they expect us to believe that the most powerless, vulnerable people on this earth are causing the problems. It’s beyond tragedy—it’s even beyond farce.

Their eagerness to smear anyone who stands against them is a sure sign that they have no conscience, no real concern for anyone but themselves—they echo the true accusations we make against them, like little children—yet enough people were taken in by this childishness that he won the Electoral College.

So, I apologize to all you people who I may call Stupid (and other things) over the course of the next four years. Please understand that I wouldn’t insult you without reason—you have been stupid, you continue to be blind and ignorant to the real threats, and you show no sign of wanting to become un-stupid in the foreseeable future. If the situation allowed for me to be polite enough to ignore your empty-headedness, I would gladly let it pass—but stupid in a crisis is a real danger, and I don’t have the luxury of etiquette anymore. However meaningless and futile my comments and posts on Facebook may be, they are my only point of push-back against the cretins—besides, evil pisses me off.

 

Hardasses   (2017Jan21)

clowntrump3

Saturday, January 21, 2017                                               9:48 AM

Hardasses like to rag on the Arts as if one-tenth-of-a-cent on every tax dollar is going to kill them—meanwhile, they wouldn’t give up their Sunday football games if it were they that were getting concussed, instead of their ‘heroes’. These are the same bozos who want to institutionalize Islamophobia, driving hordes into the arms of ISIS just so they can hug their hate ever so close. I think we should relocate all the anti-watchdog advocates to Flint, so they can see what they’re pushing for.

George Washington did not lead a rebellion so that we could each sit back and say, “What about me?”—he was thinking more along the lines of “What about We?” Selfishness may be natural, but when overindulged, it becomes downright un-American—or should I say Trumpian? Listen to me, hardasses—you think you’re being tough? Maybe in a barfight—but in the world of ideas and understanding, you’re all a bunch of whiny little sissies.

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You all think you’re so tough, being against the Other. But guess what happens when it’s your own kid—or anyone you really care about? All of a sudden, being gay, or poor, or sick, isn’t the crime you thought it was—suddenly, it’s just a human problem. We’ve seen it a million times—so don’t pretend you’re tough on the issues—you’re just unconnected to them, ignorant of the full spectrum of the human condition. You’re trying to make a virtue of being unable to put yourself in someone else’s shoes.

This clown you just elected president is going to embarrass you, just as all your weak-minded judgements ultimately leave you walking around in the emperor’s new duds. His first act as President?—Putting his wife’s jewelry e-store on the White House web page. Signs of things to come. I would have been shocked, if he hadn’t spent the last year showing us how stupid he is.

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I’m Gonna Laugh, Too   (2017Jan18)

Wednesday, January 18, 2017                                          12:08 AM

I think I’m getting a handle on this thing—I’m pretty sure that by the inauguration, I’ll avoid my head exploding. But it’s a big adjustment—losing that reasonable, measured presence at the head of the nation. I had gotten used to the luxury of having the ‘final authority’ be a better man than I am. I had forgotten the patience I acquired while Bush Jr. chuckled his way through his self-actualized shit-storm.

My concern with Bush-43—I doubted he saw the longer game, the problem taken out beyond the short term, or seen in a wider context—I didn’t expect wisdom from Bush, but I expected a modicum of caution and restraint—as a person might show, when responsible for the fate of the world. And indeed it took him the full eight years to cause all the damage of his administration.

The thought of Trump in the same position made me panic because, in Trump’s case, never mind the longer game—he doesn’t appear to see the short game—or the nose on his face, in many respects. He compounds his ignorance with an unstable personality—which could light up the whole ball of wax, in myriad scenarios and in shockingly brief time periods. Once sworn in, I wouldn’t be surprised if he could outdo Bush’s mistakes by an order of magnitude, and in a mere eight months.

I haven’t decided which scenario frightens me more—the transforming of ourselves into neo-Nazi nationalists—or the various forms that World War III could assume. The irony is that now, when the Tea-Partiers have won through, I agree with them—no legislation should be passed for the next four years—Congress should do nothing until they have completed the ethics reviews of Trump’s cabinet appointees (that should take most of four years, anyway, if they do a good job of it).

I’m curious about how the Republicans are going to spin things, now that they have both Houses, and the Administrative branch, and their pick of Supremes—if the employment rate doesn’t rise, if wages don’t rise, if health care and health insurance costs keep rising—who are they going to blame then? I would consider the possibility of their success—if they had offered any clear vision of their version of things.

They’ve been knocking the Dems for so long, so fixedly, that I have to wonder if they’re capable of switching gears, of getting anything useful done. Their present focus seems to be on undoing the Affordable Care Act—most sensible people would want to have a clear model of a replacement first, but everybody has their own style, right?

And it’s all coming back to me now. That was Jon Stewart’s big explosion as a satirist—when Bush was President, if we didn’t laugh, we would have had to cry—and this is certainly still a temptation. But I’ve become so serious about all of this that I hardly see the clownish side of the Republicans anymore.

Plus, we are always tainted by the enemies we fight—in this case, Trump has absolutely no sense of humor—he thinks insults are humor, because he enjoys insulting people—he doesn’t realize that insult-comedy has to be clever to work. And we really can’t expect an appreciation for satire from a man who seems born to be its target.

And so, during this death-march of an election, I slowly but surely lost my own sense of humor. It wasn’t just Trump and his team—the news media as well became a vacuum of humor. When the Trump spinnerets tried to pass off his Pussy-Grabbing comment as ‘locker room talk’, no one behind a news-desk had the dignity or grace to laugh in their faces. And as I watched what should have been farcical, treated with leaden gravity, I lost my sense of humor along with my sense of sanity.

But I’m getting it back now slowly but surely—as people are wont to do when they pass through what they used to see as an upper-limit on crazy. I voted. I blogged. I argued with friends. In my tiny way, I did what I could. But it’s over now—and if I didn’t win my case, I have won the right to sit back and watch my warnings come to fruition. People have a thing about saying I told you so—but I’m fine with it. If you refused to listen and went ahead and cut yourself, I’m gonna go ahead and say I told you so. And, yes, I’m gonna laugh, too.

Trump has lied and connived himself into a position he has no business holding—and I’m going to ridicule him until he leaves that position. If he can make a joke out of this country, I can certainly make a joke out of him. Don’t dish it out if you can’t take it, Donald.

What Is It Good For?   (2016Dec28)

Wednesday, December 28, 2016                                               5:04 PM

There are levels of civilization—there are communities that are more comfortable with brutality than others—and brutality can take many forms. When we look backwards in time, to an age when women were denied their full personhood under the law, we can appreciate the brutality of what was, to the people of that time (including the women), normal daily life. If we look at history we see civilizations that were comfortable with slavery, with debtors’ prisons, with stoning, with so-called honor-killing—and even war.

In many cases, we do not need to research the dim past to find these behaviors—they live among us still. Their very intransigence is often used as a rationalization by those who would suggest that society rules don’t apply uniformly—and may thus be ignored when inconvenient. However, here in the soft underbelly of 21st century, middle-income, suburban New York, we have reached a level of awareness that makes it possible to look at something as old and accepted as war—and say to ourselves that humanity is just a bunch of assholes fighting over thrones while the rest of us endure whatever madness and waste that leads to.

But lest you think I’m all het-up about the stupidity of war, settle back, bub. War is just the stupidest example. In every case of conflict or injustice, we can always see an easy solution—being generous. But this path is unfailingly left idle, while we wear grooves in all the very stupidest alternatives. Why? Well, because you can’t go feeding stray kittens—that’s why. If we’re too generous, we may end up with nothing left for ourselves!

And that is certainly a risk faced by overly-generous individuals. However, the global community could easily provide a comfortable life for every single soul on the planet—if it weren’t for one small detail: Modern civilization, as full of potential as it may be, is also predicated on greed and competition.

We search in vain for ways to make a competitive system a humanitarian system as well—we even run into bloated fat-cats who think universal healthcare is overly generous. Point one—if it weren’t for the selfless humanitarian pioneers in the field of medicine, there wouldn’t be these bloodless Big-Pharma and Insurancing entities, sucking their profits out of the veins of the sick and infirm. Point two—it is more efficient to provide universal public healthcare than it is to squeeze maximum profits from the solvent and let the poor slip between the cracks. While individual profit-centers may suffer, the overall public expense is less when using the charitable option.

And let’s face it—most people don’t want programs giving away free stuff to poor people, because they hate their damn jobs and they resent anyone who gets something out of it, besides themselves. They don’t stop to think that their stingy boss is getting most of the profit from their work—and the boss, besides getting out of working hard, even gets to boss them around. But sure, go ahead and resent poor people, if you think that’s your enemy. And don’t forget to kiss ass at work.

The truth is right in front of us—being generous is the best way to lower violence and suffering—and it is far more effective than coercion or scare-tactics, because once you have a community that feels secure and comfortable, you couldn’t break them out of their living rooms with dynamite. Jobs that pay a lot of money create people who spend a lot of money. Paying big bonuses to hot-shots in upper management doesn’t create any commerce—it depresses it by creating a huge group of non-consumers.

The concentration of wealth among 1% of the population creates the same kind of stagnation that keeping all your money in a safe creates—those bloated, confused billionaires don’t have the slightest fraction of the energy for commerce, for buying and selling, for growing and making, that the same money would find in the hands of large numbers of the working classes. Those billions of dollars might just as well not exist to begin with. And that is all beside the point of the unacceptable injustice of Post-Capitalism—where everyone works harder and harder, getting poorer and poorer—except for the greedy pigs and the corrupt legislators.

And that is my point today—we spend a great deal of time bewailing the horrendous injustices of our Capitalist paradigm (as well we should) but we should spare equal time for considering that this unfairness is not merely wrong and cruel—it is also stupid. It is idiotic to base our lives solely on competing for money—but if you ask any Trump voter, they will assure you that that’s the American way. And by Trump voter, I mean to suggest a stupid person.

We are about to get quite a show from the crowd of leeches that constitute the incoming administration—they’re going to slash and burn every vestige of liberalism they can find. The sad thing about these money-grubbing turds is that they will not be replacing anything they tear down—they will not add one note of grace or gleam of bounty to our lives—they may even destroy themselves as they tear at the delicate fabric of so many reasonable men’s and women’s efforts to form a better union. They offer nothing but spite and bile—and it is a great shame that we did not see them coming, before we were stuck with them.

If It Ain’t Broke   (2016Nov23)

Wednesday, November 23, 2016                                              5:06 PM

20161115xd-nancyhd_s_pottery-2Like me, you may have wondered at times how to fix people, how to make society better—that sort of thing. The answer is that you don’t—or rather, you can’t. Imagine a world where everybody is kind and caring and generous. Now forget that—because people are kind and caring and generous, at certain times (if at all—some of them) but that is not our constant state. That’s not how humans work. Being kind and caring and generous is part of what we are, but it is only a part, and it is not permanent—it is an intermittent thing that we do when we are not being something else, something less angelic.

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Think of all the time we spend without eating—most of our time, right? But it would be silly to say, “Why can’t people ‘not eat’ all the time?” We don’t spend most of our time eating, but we still must eat. The same with sleeping—eventually, we need to sleep. There are a bunch of other things we have to fit into our time—less basic things, but still important—pay bills, gas the car, go to the bathroom, even. Many parts of our lives have little or nothing to do with our character—they’re just included in the deal, the ‘parts and maintenance’ of living our lives.

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Whatever list of things you collect as basic parts of living your life, if that list becomes too big and life becomes too precarious, the opportunities to find gaps in that life which allow you to display your character will dwindle. Living in poverty can create a treadmill so exhausting that poor people can find no time at all to look up from their grind and ponder the good and bad of things. Conversely, the wealthy often contrive to make themselves very ‘busy’ to create the pretense that they’re in the same situation. Either way, you end up with a lot of people who either can’t care or won’t care about all the causes and charities and politics and ethics.

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So I say—don’t put the cart before the horse. Don’t try to turn people into angels right off—start out by trying to make a world where people don’t go hungry or naked, where their education is easily available—a world that isn’t just crouching there, ready to eat us alive. Then, maybe, start worrying about people being good. You can’t throw someone’s ass into a wood-chipper, and then lecture them on ethics.

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And another thing—stop worrying about how intelligent people are. If everyone around you seems to be acting like an idiot—enjoy it—you’re of above-average intelligence. If you weren’t, someone else would be watching you act like an idiot—and maybe they are. How can you know? Human intelligence is a range of values—that’s just the way it is. Being on the high end may be frustrating, but it beats the alternative.

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I’m grateful for all the education I’ve received in my lifetime—but I don’t assume that those without it are uneducated by choice. Education is something your community and your family provide—without that infrastructure, some people never get a good education—and that isn’t up to them. Also, if a whole area is weak on public education, even the best intentions have a hard time ‘injecting’ education into a neighborhood where it’s never properly existed before.

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Thus, while I am always eager to badger some poor bastard for being willfully blind or proudly ignorant, I accept that people will be quick or slow, learned or not—and shouldn’t be judged on that, either way. It’s no different from judging people by their physique or coordination—we all have our places on the various scales of ability, mental or physical. These are not the measure of a person’s character.

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I take all of the above as contextual—a given. Even so, when I complain that someone is being ‘stupid’, and I’m assuming that you, dear reader, understand all that—I’m really only saying they’re being mentally stubborn or arrogant—but I still worry that someone might think that I despise people who aren’t real smart. And that would go against what I really believe. So I try to avoid it—but I get angry enough to use the word sometimes—I should find a better word.

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The difficulty lies in the difference between political correctness and the hard truth—yes there are people who lack intelligence or education through no failing of their own—but then, there are people who could and should know better than they pretend. These people hide within that ‘range of values’—they dare you to prove that they’re knowingly embracing an ignorance. They glory in their willful blindness, as if having the right to our own opinions gives them the right to ignore truth, and to go on hating something out of pure spitefulness—these people need a good kick in the ass.

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Regardless, there are limits to how broad a range of understanding we can allow for—clever people are busy day and night, trying to think up new stuff to make life better. They invent cars and computers, medicines and space stations—but as they proceed, life becomes more complicated. Now that we have enough industry and energy-use to threaten the atmospheric environment, for instance, we have to be smart enough to see the threat coming before it’s too late. If we create complicated problems, we can’t rely on a handful of clever people to keep a lid on all the trouble.

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The recent election of a simpleton is a perfect example—being the head of the United States puts him at the center of a web of complex interactions. Someone as ignorant as Trump could cause a variety of disasters, just by virtue of what he doesn’t know or doesn’t understand. And he was elected by mostly uneducated people—most of whom chose him out of desperation, without thinking through how dangerous he is.

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So we are living a demonstration of my point—this country’s development by clever people has built up a house of cards—and if the majority of us are careless enough, the whole thing will collapse at the first bump of the table. It doesn’t matter what we invent, achieve, or figure out a plan for—once it is in the hands of people who don’t understand it, they will misuse it, or break it, or let it go to waste.

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American democracy can survive a range of values of intelligence—but there has to be a minimum average of intelligence commensurate with the complexity of our nation’s functioning. You can’t build a nuclear arsenal—and then hand it to a baby. That’s trouble waiting to happen. Maybe it’s time for the clever people to ask themselves, “If I am clever enough to use this, will it be safe to assume that everyone else will use this, and not abuse it?” Maybe it’s time we design society to fit the least-common-denominator of carelessness and obliviousness—I bet those same class-clown types would quickly start to complain that they’re not as stupid as we seem to think they are.

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It’s human nature—expect people to be on-the-ball, and they’ll act like they’ve just been hit on the head—but if we expect people to be dull, they’ll bust a gut to prove how on-the-ball they really are. The electorate just recently so much as insisted that they be allowed to roll in the mud of ignorance—I say, let’em. Once they sampled the leadership of someone who isn’t just pretending he’s a moron, they’ll wise up surprisingly.

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It is far past the time when we can continue to conflate humanity with reason. Reason is unnatural—humanity is far more influenced by feelings than by reason—our judgements are emotional, not rational. Democracy sounds like a good idea—but it tends to give us what we want, not what we need. The biggest failing of democracy, it seems, is that there are no wrong answers in an election, just a consensus. It’s like taking an opinion poll of reality—it tells us what we feel, but it doesn’t tell us if we’re right to feel that way.

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Still, I support the supremacy of feeling over reason—I support the will of the majority—not because I admire these ideas, but because they are the only fair way to go about organizing ourselves. Even within that paradigm, we find ourselves surrounded by unfairness and violence—but without those principles, it just gets worse. Government by fiat and firepower—a proven cancer on any hope of economic development, or personal security.

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So, here I am, at the far side of a long life of reading and learning, having found that people (including myself) are both far more and far less than we believe ourselves to be. Cynicism and nihilism plague me—I’ve gathered enough knowledge to learn that knowledge is itself a relative term, without the rock-sure permanence the word implies. And when I consider the dysfunction in the world around me, and feel that urge to ‘change the world’—or even merely ‘improve my neighborhood’—I must ask myself if I’m really the proper person to do that? Would I want everyone else to end up like me? I don’t think so.

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Changing society is little different from raising kids. When two kids are arguing, my impulse is to break it up and bring peace to the situation—but kids grow up better if they learn to work things out—so my impulse may be the worst thing I could do. Or it may be the correct choice. I’m not the sort of nurturing person who could easily discern which is which. And if I’m unsure of myself while supervising two children at play, I should perhaps think twice before I decide I’m going to change society. Is society perfect? No. Is it useful for me to think in terms of changing the system? Maybe it would be better if I confined myself to helping out a single person, in a single moment, as I go along—of thinking as much about the people around me as I do of myself.

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But then, I might get tired of helping person after person with the same problem—I might decide that they are all being victimized by the same flaw in the system. At that point, I might consider becoming an activist for change, because I would have a specific issue that I knew about and understood. That makes plenty of sense. But for me to just speculate on broad changes to our whole society, based on whatever tweaked my beard that day, would be the height of arrogance—especially if I’m doing so from the remove of my office, basing my opinions on what the TV says, rather than mixing with actual people.

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And this is something that goes for TV and media, in a broader sense. We watch these programs and reports—and we absorb the idea that the universe being presented is the complete reality. The globe is reduced to a chessboard, the players become whatever labels the media puts on certain groups—and it is presented to us as a contest, where enjoying the contest is as much the point as who wins or loses. You don’t see kids in Aleppo watching CNN—and if they did, they’d be horrified by their commodification as info-tainment, their lives and the lives (and deaths) of everyone they know concentrated down to a brief segment-subject.

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You want to know the World? You can’t. Okay? The world is too big. So you can watch the world news, if you enjoy it, but don’t kid yourself—you’re watching a show. You don’t know nothing. (Hey, I didn’t mean that the way it sounded—I mean, I don’t know nothing, either—I’m just making a point.) When I think about it—my neighborhood is never on the news. Does that mean nothing happens here? Does that mean we aren’t important? No, it just means that we don’t bleed enough to make it onto the show.

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Big Numbers   (2016Nov15)

Tuesday, November 15, 2016                                           3:24 PM

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It’s a large-number day! Jessica forwarded 50 new pictures of the family, mostly of princess-baby-granddaughter—and I am working as fast as I can to process them into a new video slide-show with piano music—my hands are stiff and numb from sitting here in the front room typing all day on this rainy, chilly November Tuesday.

Claire received her case of professional pastels—a big wooden chest containing three wooden removable drawers, each with rows of different-colored pastels. I assume it is meant for the studio—schlepping this thing around would give someone a hernia. I used to dream of getting such a set, back in my artsy days—but such panoply of choices would paralyze me—that’s probably why I mostly stayed with ink and paper. Claire will put them to good use, I’m sure—she’s not afraid of color. She’s even dipped a toe into oil-painting recently.

I was not left out—I received several pieces of pottery from Nancy Holmes-Doyle in the post today. One of them—a heartbreakingly gorgeous pinch-pot bowl—was shattered in transit. Just another reason to feel bad about missing the ceramics party, from which I could have carried them home unharmed—and gotten to visit with the Holmes-Doyles. It’s been too long—but every day it gets harder for me to get around. Still, we have two beautiful new mugs, two beautiful new candle-houses, a decorative platter, and a little spoon-rest in the shape of a hand—incredible stuff. I’ll try to photograph them all for this post—you really oughta see them.

 

 

Wednesday, November 16, 2016                                              9:52 AM

Can We Be Rude To God?   (2016Nov16)

Believing in God is not a neutral act—it is an offense against reason and a surrender of sanity. I don’t say that to be cruel—it is simply a fact. It’s even part of the rules—ask your preacher—if there were any practical proof of God, then there wouldn’t be any faith—or any need for faith. God says, “Believe in Me.”—He doesn’t say, “Look over here.

Recent ‘Questions’ posted on The Humanist website seem to be subtly asking, ‘How do Humanists make allowances for our group psychosis?’ In a way, they seem to be asking how far we’re willing to go with this Rational Thinking business—and whether or not we non-believers reach a point where we are willing to be rude about the differences.

And that is a valid question in a country founded on religious freedom. After all, it was our religious freedom that allowed us to eschew religion without being burned at the stake—it stands to reason that Christians would wonder if we’ve been given too much freedom—if perhaps it is they, or at least their faith, that will be victimized.

It is a thorny question. Obviously, I am an American, and Americans believe in freedom of religion—but freedom of religion doesn’t address an important issue: How much respect is shown for another’s beliefs? People who believe in something that no one else respects usually get put into mental institutions—it is only natural for believers to be concerned with the amount of respect they are given.

Yet how much respect can a non-believer have for the fanciful tales and notions of theists? Shorn of their ‘given’ legitimacy, the arcana of the major faiths become ludicrous—heaven, hell, angels, an old bearded guy in the sky, transubstantiation—these fantasies are no more acceptable than Greek or Norse mythological tales. As a rational man, I can’t possibly respect these ideas—yet, as a man, I can respect other people having other ideas.

If someone says to me, “I’ll pray for you.” I am capable of holding my tongue—there is little to be gained by insulting someone who has just expressed concern for my welfare. If, at a funeral, a child is being reassured that grandma will be happy in heaven—I’m not going to be the cretin who decides Grandma’s funeral is the place for discussing atheism. But I behave this way because of my respect for other people’s feelings, not my respect for their beliefs.

So please, Humanist-question-contributors, stop asking questions that are sneaky attempts to force us to show respect for your faiths. We don’t respect your faiths—we are unable to. It’s nothing personal—we are simply practicing freedom of religion by answering ‘no’ to all of the above. What we can and do respect are your feelings—if you want to believe in God, we will try not to laugh about it or argue against it.

But if you insist on believing in something that isn’t there, there are going to be conflicts of perception—women and gays are two good examples. The whole point of freedom of religion is to avoid the kind of bloodthirsty nonsense that’s playing out in the Middle East right now. Yet Religious Freedom can only do so much—there will always be disagreements between people of different faiths—and people without faith—the point is to try to live side-by-side, in spite of the disagreements. That’s the reason for separation of church and state—so that no one can make rules to enforce their beliefs, or to criminalize another’s.

But you are probably asking yourself—wouldn’t I, as an atheist, try to criminalize theism, given the chance? I would be tempted—there are many aspects of faith that seem little more than child-abuse or bigotry—indoctrination from infancy, or bias against women and gays—these things are wrong from my point of view. But then again, they were deeply religious people who came up with freedom of religion, and separation of church and state—and those principles kept us atheists from being declare outlaws, back when our lives could have been forfeit. Turning your own good ideas against you would be the height of ingratitude and incivility. I like to think I’m better than that.

So please, Humanist question-submitters, try to stick with questions asked out of curiosity and avoid questions that are little more than subtle digs at ‘the other’.

 

I keep hearing all this BS about how we have to come together now. Yes, he won the election—that doesn’t mean he stopped being a monster. Yes, your candidate won—that doesn’t make you right. I’d love to ‘come together’—but not with Nazis. You people come back to America—we’re waiting right here. Meantime, try not to turn this place into too much of a friggin nightmare.

I’m starting to think the only reason for Republicans is to turn out the Democrat vote, every other election.

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I’ve seen a lot of Trump-supporter memes, crowing over their victory all over the internet. Let me remind you of something. The Nazis attacked Britain—and the British invented a thinking machine—a computer—and Germany ended up as smoking rubble. The Japanese Empire attacked America—and Americans invented the ultimate killing machine—the nuclear bomb—which destroyed Japan to its very atoms. My point being that intelligent, imaginative, open-minded, decent people don’t like to waste time on belligerence and rancor—but it’s still a really bad idea to piss them off.

Queen of the Nerds   (2016Nov13)

 

Sunday, November 13, 2016                                            12:20 PM

The election is over and people still want to talk about it, even protest about it. I don’t think they understand what the word ‘election’ really means. I was happy to argue over the choices, while the election was still to come—indeed, I did little else. But we are no longer arguing about what Trump might do—he’s president-elect now, and he’s gonna do pretty much whatever comes into that fool head of his.

The time to stop him has passed. You lose. Or, rather, we lose—I lose—and I don’t feel much like talking about it anymore. It’s painful enough to know that half the voters didn’t even show up, that Hillary got the most votes of those who did show up, and that Trump won the race anyway.

What else is there to talk about? Are we going to torture ourselves, watching every stupid move this clown makes, every mistake that sets the world a-shudder? Not me—if the country is this stupid, I’m not watching it self-destruct on TV—I’ll wait until it shows up at my front door.

In the meantime, I’ll try to stay busy and stay positive. I try to remind myself that, underneath it all, Hillary probably feels great—she’s free as a bird, she did her best—it was the country that lost out in not getting her for our president. What did she lose? Four, maybe eight years of the most grueling job on earth—she’s well out of it.

From a personal point of view, Hillary won big. She got a million more votes than Trump, but she doesn’t have to be imprisoned on Pennsylvania Avenue for the next few years—she can take it easy, take some time for herself.

An eighteen-month presidential campaign is no picnic (and she had to bull through pneumonia along the way) so I’m sure she could use a little downtime. Truly, I’m almost as happy for her as I am heartbroken for myself. Hillary, you win Nerd-dom hands down—this is the supreme example of the cool kids not listening to the head-down, hard-working, smart girl—you are the Queen of the Nerds for life.

It’s done wonders for us here—after the initial shock of disappointment, Claire threw out her TV and got intensely busy with her various projects; Spencer seemed galvanized to start doing all kinds of projects (I think this election has convinced him that there is a threatening world out there—something I was loathe to teach him myself, but that may have some good come of it); and I am emerging, too, into a fresh, new world that doesn’t revolve around watching news channels and writing my election blog-posts.

I enjoyed the last eight years of politics, particularly after the preceding eight years of frustration (and war and economic crisis). I felt the arrow of time bending towards progressivism—which only makes sense in a world growing ever more closely-bound together. But the future must wait. The next four years will be an epic hiccup in our social progress—and excuse me if I choose to ignore it entirely until 2020.

I am impatient with any waste of time—and following politics, for the present, will be nothing but an exercise in masochism. I’ll just keep my head down and hope for something better, next time around. You younger, healthier people should spend the next four years getting your ducks in a row, preparing to take the government back from the dickheads. I’m not saying everyone should be old and sick like me, unable to bounce back from this debacle—in fact, you should be working on getting some Dems elected in the 2018 races—you’ll want a plurality in both Houses, when and if you get another Dem for Prez.

But I am done. I’ve watched Cronkite report on JFK’s assassination, LBJ’s war protesters, Nixon’s tapes, Ford’s fumbles, Carter’s hostages, and Reagan’s Cold War victory. I’ve watched CNN’s Wolf report on Bush Sr.’s Iraq War, Clinton’s peccadilloes, Bush Jr.’s Iraq War, and Obama’s Health Care. I’ve seen enough—and the turd that just rolled up has no place among these past leaders.

Yes, somehow the world manages to become a better place, year by year, but not without a lot of problems lingering, or even getting worse. President-elect Aberration is a perfect example of that. But Trump’s election is no reason for total despair—his incompetence is still preferable to the polished evil of his VP. And four years of practice will prove to his supporters what they refused to face during the election. The Republicans have finally ousted all their favorite excuses—what will they say when they have no Obama to blame, no Hillary to scapegoat?

Oh, they’ll still lie—they’ll still make excuses—getting elected doesn’t change anything. But they’ll have a lot less cover. And the truth will out—no matter how many biased news-reports try to hide it. Congress will still suck—and now they’ll be working with a president who doesn’t know what he’s doing—should be great fun, eh?

But I don’t watch reality TV—and now that politics has commingled with that genre, I’m going to watch something else for the foreseeable future. Please let me know if journalism makes a comeback, or if voters become engaged, or if a competent person replaces our new president-elect. And don’t worry, I’m not gonna hold my breath.

But I will not torture myself by following every dick move this guy pulls, day after day. I gave up two years being mesmerized by TV, watching them play this media game, where the truth is hidden under one of the shifting teacups—‘that’s right, viewer, just keep your eyes on the swirling teacups….’  I’m done, I tell you.

Now that I’m much older than 99% of the talking heads, I see them more clearly than they see themselves—and the kernels of truth squeezed in amongst all their sensationalism get rarer and rarer, like gems in the mud. I’m like one of those old master-butchers—you give me a carcass of story and I’ll trim away all the fat with a few expert slices of the knife, leaving only the lonely fillets of factual info—but present media reporting is a conveyor-belt of animal parts fit only for dog-or-cat-food. Presenting such a fact-free wasteland to an old butcher like me is an insult, and I won’t take it anymore.

 

Sunday, November 13, 2016                                            5:24 PM

Even If Flames Surround Them

 

As the veil of anti-depressants falls away

The mind doesn’t clear so much as catch fire,

The clarity cluttered by the rawness.

The first thought is ‘Retreat!’—losing a grip on the cotton

Clouds, peering over my shoulder at the long fall

Back down to the ground.

And between that downfall of an election

And the constant shouting of the still, small voice

That says, ‘Quit smoking!’ this may seem a bad time

To stop softening the edges of the world in my head.

Yet down we must come. Down we must be,

Here on the ground where we can touch the

Things that matter, even if flames surround them.

 

As the grumbling gremlins become visible,

And all-too-well heard, shoulders hunch in revulsion.

Words jumble; memories tumble, stumble, and fumble.

Why do I need to be here? What’s my job?

I stand on that lone promontory, confused.

How do emotions get broken—and how do we

Clear them from the road ahead while they remain

Too heavy to shift? If I can climb over, if I

Can get through, if I can keep moving,

I think I can. I think I can. I think I can.

And descend to the valley of the real, down

On the ground where I can touch the

People that matter, even if flames surround them.

 

Monday, November 14, 2016                                           12:08 PM

Something Everybody Does   (2016Nov14)

You know that feeling when you’re just starting to wake up? It’s comfortable and fluffy, but you don’t know anything—where you are, who you are, what day it is—that sort of thing. It’s a beautiful moment—I remember enjoying that immensely. But now I never get passed that feeling. I can’t get a firm purchase on the surface of my thoughts—they slide around me like wisps of smoke. I miss having a working brain—they are handy.

So many things can be accomplished with good wetware—I’ve been exiled from their kingdom, but I refuse to join the people who hug their ignorance to themselves like a fur coat in a strong breeze. Maybe I can’t think anymore, but I can still tell the difference between what is and what I wish would be. All this pretending is so childish.

We pretend that we are not animals. We make excuses for our impulses, pretending there are reasons behind them. It makes me laugh—the more ignorant we are, the more proud we are of our opinions—intelligent people are never sure of themselves. The world is a complicated thing—thinking you’ve figured it out is a sure sign of idiocy.

There is nothing as hilarious to me as someone with the confidence of his or her convictions—I remember when I was that young. I was so sure I was right and everybody who thought otherwise was wrong. But I was a little kid, then—there’s no excuse for that kind of childishness when you’re a grown person.

People can be very demanding—they want what’s theirs; they want their rights; they want their fair share; they want free speech for themselves—and a little peace and quiet from everybody else. And they don’t even see the paradox in their hypocrisy. We want our kids to behave—and we want them to think for themselves. We want our parents to give us everything we want—and protect us from the things we shouldn’t have. We want to make a killing in business, but we want businesses to be fair to us. We don’t understand why we have to wait, when we are so busy. We try to get past the rules we don’t like, but we want to punish those who dare to break the rules.

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William Blake once drew a picture symbolizing childhood—it was a child at the foot of a ladder that goes up to the moon, the child reaching up and crying, “I want! I want!” I think he was going easy on the human race, implying that all that sort of thing ends in childhood. I certainly have little more to offer the world than my urges, my needs, and my desires—and I can’t think of anyone else who could honestly claim differently. I suppose his point is that children don’t climb the ladder—they wait for someone else to fetch them the moon. But while an adult may climb the ladder, it’s still in thoughtless pursuit of the bright object—little different from a myna bird seeking tin-foil for its nest.

We still seek food and shelter—but we do it in this deferred-reward capitalist square-dance that trades time and effort for money, then money for food and shelter. The stress of this requires escapism, so some of the money goes to our leisure pursuits—though the fact of ‘leisure’ being necessary to the system tells you something’s off about the whole thing. Then there’re the layers of pretending—the wealthy get to pretend there’s a reason why they have it easy, the poor get to pretend that the system that keeps them poor is a good one.

We’re just a bunch of animals who’ve learned how to play pretend on a grand scale. But for me, the pretense takes something out of the grandeur. A culture based on facts and common sense would undoubtedly be less imaginative, perhaps even less fun—and that is probably why Progressives have such a job getting people to change the way they think. Their mistake is in assuming that thinking is something everybody does.

 

 

ttfn.

 

Happiness Is Music   (2016Oct25)

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Tuesday, October 25, 2016                                               11:55 PM

On the one hand, I could hate myself for becoming too old to have any ambition in music any longer; but on the other hand, I’m not so sure the intensity of my grasping for music was entirely helpful. There are certain aspects of my piano playing today that I believe are enhanced by my lack of fixation on exactly what I’m doing. I’ve always known that certain activities are done best when least thought of—and music is certainly a great example of that, but I’ve only recently seen certain aspects of that which have ‘held me back’ to a degree.

I always knew my physical limitations would hold me back in piano-playing. So it wasn’t until I accepted that, at sixty, I had probably reached wherever my physical abilities would take me, that I became aware of some mental limitations I had placed on myself—at least in the way I thought of my playing as it related to making sounds. Music is such a wonderful gift—it changes with maturity, always morphing into something more richly-layered, like one’s self, but never degenerating, like one’s body does.

So I accept that the music I play today is as good as it will get. It’s not as much as I hoped for, but it’s far more than I ever dreamed of, back when I started. It has been both a challenging and comforting companion—the best kind of friend.

Today I played a nice long improv. I’m not sure what it sounded like, so, we’ll see.

 

Then I played a bunch of classical arrangements for piano. Three of them were decent enough to post.

 

Then I played a little ‘trailer’ at the end.

 

So much for the musical portion of my day.

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Wednesday, October 26, 2016                                         6:29 PM

The Enemy of My Enemy   (2016Oct26)

It’s funny—here we are with two weeks left—everyone’s pretty sure of the outcome of the election—more than that, everyone’s pretty clear that Trump was an evil anomaly—a thing that we narrowly avoided mistaking for a fit candidate. Yet one can still hear conservative pundits talking about his policies—as if he ever had any firm, practical, thought-out policies in the first place—and as if it still matters now, with early voting heavily in Hillary’s favor. Trump is fortunate to find the Republicans so in denial, and so blindly partisan, that nothing he says or does prevents most of them from pushing for the defeat of their arch-enemy, Hillary Clinton.

And this seems indicative to me. The Republicans have adopted an unhealthy habit of using any old rationale, provided it is anti-Democrat, and calling it a policy. The fact that these policies are impractical (like building a wall and deporting millions) or unconstitutional (like banning a religious group) or just plain crazy (like “bomb the hell out of them”) doesn’t seem to matter as much as whether  a policy can be used to beat Democrats over the head. The blind partisanship, and nearly overt bigotry and sexism that lies at the heart of conservatism, have shed the restrictions of logic, science, and sense.

The influence of money hangs over both parties, but the Republicans seem to favor the plutocrats philosophically, as well—as if they approve of a classist view of the citizenry. This hit-or-miss business of the American Dream was like winning the lottery, even back when it had more frequent examples. To think that we can go along as we have been, with people being helpless in the face of big businesses, just so we retain the illusion of economic mobility—is to ignore the oncoming waves of change that will make employment a very different, and much less common thing than we are used to.

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Republicans and Capitalists see the system as set in stone. Their focus is entirely on the status quo and the quarterly forecasts. They fear the true future—the reality behind their pushy forecasts—because time is no respecter of wealth or property or law. The Democrats (the good ones, at least) are more willing to face the future, and to say that people have rights that transcend profit.

When Democrats attempt to enact social safety nets, business regulation, or consumer protection, the Republicans always claim that the government does these things badly—and that the free market would do all this naturally, given free rein. This is false. It reminds me of a time when I was a young man working for my father’s company. I went to him and asked for a raise—I told him I couldn’t afford to live on my current salary. He replied that the company doesn’t pay people what they need—it pays people what they’re worth. (He could be a real hard-ass sometimes.)

Now, in a business paradigm, that makes perfect sense. But as a person on disability now—a person, in other words, who is worth nothing to a company—I can tell you that the free market doesn’t care if you are happy or sad, alive or dead—all it knows is mathematics. The Republicans get partial credit for their claim, however, because it is indeed rare that a government program runs any better than a square-wheeled bicycle.

Still, politics makes everything into a win/lose proposition. If a program isn’t perfect, it’s worthless. If a program is working, you shouldn’t criticize it. This is all very ineffectual and immature nonsense. Outside of political speeches, it is obvious to all of us that if something important doesn’t work, you don’t throw it out—you fix it. And one thing the Republicans don’t make a lot of noise about is this: government programs are complicated as much by wealthy influences and corporate lobbyists as they are by their inherent complexities.

And the whole ‘small government’ argument—please. You don’t hear Russia or China talking about ‘small government’. Our beloved Constitution is the rule-book for our government, such as it is, so we have to have government. And if we have a government, shouldn’t we have a good one, rather than a small one? What is the virtue of small, in the context of the 21st century? It would be nice to pretend we all live on our own farms, and don’t need no G-men snooping around—but that was two centuries ago. These fifty modern states, plus assorted territories, need an up-to-date, fully-functioning government—and anyone who wants it otherwise is a fool or a traitor.

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When you don’t know if you’re being hacked by the Chinese, the Russians, or the North Koreans—do you want small government? When hurricane surges flood New York City—do you want small government? When the Republicans extol the virtues of small government, they are cheering for the idea that businesses can make a profit from abusing people’s trust—but only if the government turns a blind eye. That’s what ‘small government’ means to big business—and that’s why Republicans campaign on it. I’ll believe them when they start to advocate for ‘small military’. You don’t hear that one much, do you? ‘Small government’, my ass—the freedom to rip us off, more like.

What I really can’t understand is why people are so willing to believe the worst of Hillary Clinton. Have you seen The West Wing, or Madame Secretary, or Scandal? To be a politician, even a well-meaning one, you have to play the game—and it’s a rough game. When the Alt-Righters try to blow up her every machination into a demonic conspiracy, it works much better on Hillary than it ever did on anyone else. Why is that? I can never see the point.

Is it the old female catch-22—that if they’re tough, they’re crazy bitches, and if they’re not tough, they can’t handle a man’s world—is it that bullshit? Maybe partly—but I’ll tell you my theory: you remember how we went for good ol’ boys for our last four presidents? Bush Sr., Bill, and Bush, Jr. were none of’em geniuses—and Obama got away with being smart by being so darned charismatic no one noticed. But in all those elections, there were smart, capable, but non-charismatic eggheads that would have made decent presidents—and we practically thumped our chests in defiance, as if to say, “We don’t need any pencil-necked geeks running this place.”

And now we are stuck with Hillary—smarter than us, more reliable than us, harder-working than us—of course everyone hates Hillary. We’re all looking around for a president we can ‘have a beer with’—the most important credential America knows of, in a president. The candidate we want is missing—and boy are we ticked off that we have to vote for the candidate we need. We’ve never made a practical choice for president before—and wouldn’t you know it—it’s a woman this time. Ooh, my aching back.

That’s my theory. The presidency gives one person too much power—we can live with that, but we’re sure not going to vote for someone who’s smarter than us—that’s a step too far. Fortunately, most voters will (as they say on the news constantly) ‘hold their noses’ and vote for her. As if…—Hey, we’re lucky to have Hillary—take a look at the guts of your I-phone and tell me it’s okay for America to have a moron for president.

I have to laugh when the Republicans bow to the inevitable, and tell people to vote for Hillary for president, but to make sure they vote Republican on the down-ballots—to keep a ‘check’ on her power. Yes, sure—the woman whose life has been all about helping children and families—be afraid of what she might do—be very afraid. Meanwhile, we’re supposed to re-elect the bunch that thought stymying every initiative of President Obama’s, just because he’s black, was a great idea—oh, yes—let’s put them back in Congress, by all means. Although, personally, I think they should all be lined up and shot. Effing traitors.

The Republicans are just Trump-Lite—they both advocate the same things—testing us to see how self-destructively stupid a lie can be, and still work on the electorate. The Republicans never win an election because they are right, they win because we are stupid enough to believe their lies.

What no one talks about is the Russian interference in our election. Why are they doing this? Well, let’s see—they’re only attacking Clinton—not one email from the Trump camp. Can we deduce anything from this? It seems to me that they want Hillary to lose. Why would the Russians want Hillary to lose? Maybe they’re afraid of her. If they were afraid of Trump, they’d be trying to sabotage Trump’s campaign. But they don’t care about any other candidate—just Hillary. Am I the only one who sees some significance in that?

I think they’re afraid of her. If I were Russia, I would be afraid of Hillary. She’s gonna shut down their little expansion party—she’s gonna stare them down and, if need be, shove a cruise missile up their asses. You don’t mess with Hillary. Trump hasn’t gotten any endorsements to speak of in this campaign—it’s a shame that Putin is the only one who wants him to win. Thus, the Wikileaks are something of an endorsement for Hillary, if you think about it. The enemy of my enemy is my friend.

Now, Finally   (2016Oct14)

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Thursday, October 13, 2016                                             7:45 PM

With all the problems in this world, we nevertheless have one clown ready and eager to burn it all down to satisfy his ego—Donald Trump, and three people who won’t let their inevitable failure keep them from their ‘right to run for president’: Evan McMullin, Gary Johnson, and Jill Stein. If Trump wins (God forbid) he will have done it with their help. And people say Hillary is ambitious.

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Friday, October 14, 2016                                                  12:04 PM

It is a season of extremes. If Trump wins, I will feel a greater despair than when Bush-43 was re-elected. If Hillary wins, I will feel an even greater elation than when Barack was elected. And that’s not hyperbole—those moments of deep disappointment and sky-high celebration are both burned in my memory.

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Though I resented Bush and felt happy for Obama, my deep disappointment was in my fellow American voters—my celebration was, too. Democracy means self-government—we rarely contemplate that such a system depends entirely on the knife-edge of people’s judgement. It’s terrifying. An uninformed, or misinformed, electorate will have the judgement of a drunkard—which is to say, no judgement at all. And as we become more and more a culture with various ‘genres’ of truth, judgement becomes something of a commodity.

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The complexity of modern life requires not only that we reveal the truth, but that we also beat back the misinformation. Children are educated in schools, where there is some quality-control on the information being taught—but the rest of us get our information from the media. Some media-combines have a political agenda. They promote this agenda by cherry-picking their info—but they also have to cast doubt on the rest of the media, which contradicts many of their premises—and even their ‘facts’.

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It is a very fancy, very cyber-age form of lying. It’s lying. The whole point of Journalism (with a capital ‘J’) is to be impartial, to report the facts, without any filter. But we live in a complex world—reporting all the facts is virtually impossible—no one can read that fast. So today’s reporting is, by necessity, an abstract of the research—rather than printing 2,000 pages of a report, reporters try to convey the sense of the report. Objectivity is an ideal—and such reporting almost begs to be interpreted subjectively—so a journalist has no easy task trying to give us nothing-but-the-facts. If media outlets go into that process with an agenda, their results can’t be truly labeled ‘journalism’.

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The differences in our politics used to be philosophical differences—this ‘genre-fication’ of our news-media twists our politics into a battle of air-time, spin, and financial backing. This is, no doubt, what convinced the SCOTUS to find that ‘money is speech’ in the Citizens United ruling. Personally, I think they can only truly find so if, and only if, speech is also money—which it ain’t.

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The beautiful thing about the truth is that it has a ring to it. When propagandists go too far, we can tell. When the entertainment value of Trump’s rallies wears off and we revisit what he has said, we find nothing but the vacuous nonsense and bitter resentment of a spoiled child. When Fox News fails to air Obama’s speech this morning, we can still watch it on all the other news channels. There may be millions of bitter, frustrated Americans who eagerly latch on to Trump’s ‘hate train’, but the rest of us can easily see through his machinations.

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I put it to you that Hillary Clinton has been investigated in courts, Congressional hearings, and by the friggin FBI—if she belonged in jail, don’t you think she’d be there? The Republicans have been stalking her for thirty years—if there was even a hint of real criminality, wouldn’t they have convicted her by now? And, since that hasn’t happened, can we now, finally, begin to question the motives of those who stalk her? Can a lady who has done so much good, also manage to do so much bad—and do it so secretly that no one can find any hard evidence of wrongdoing? Please.

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If the Wiki-leaks hack of Podesta’s emails shows anything, it shows an engaged career politician hacking her way through the undergrowth of others’ mendacity. Granted, politics is nothing if not manipulative—but it is manipulation for a cause—private and public policies are a reality. Only a history-illiterate newbie like Trump would deny that Lincoln was a politician as much as a leader. Trump is not a candidate so much as an insult to our intelligence—to even begin to compare him to a real leader like Hillary, we would have to first find, in his seventy years of existence, one instance where he thought of someone else’s welfare, ever. ‘Nuf said.

Vote for Hillary!

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History   (2016Oct13)

Thursday, October 13, 2016                                             1:44 PM

We all have history. I have incidents in my past of which I am not proud, things that make me wince to remember. But I tell myself that I learned from those mistakes, that I’ve become a better person by feeling the shame of past sins—I’ve come to realize how thoughtless behavior can feel to the person on the wrong end of it, and now I am more careful in my words and deeds.

I’ve also learned that mistakes can’t be undone. If confronted with my past, I tell myself, “Don’t deny that you hurt someone—that would just make it worse—like hurting them all over again.” It’s easy for me—I don’t have any dark secret to confess—I’ve simply been rude or thoughtless in my youth at certain points—and felt bad enough about it afterward that the memories haunt me.

Donald Trump didn’t coalesce into existence behind a podium one year ago—he has a history, too. Now, he prefers to label it a ‘media conspiracy’, but it used to be a reputation he was proud of—the wealthy Manhattanite man-about-town, with an eye for the ladies. His boasting, aboard Billy Bush’s bus, is an example of him propagating that rep—and his bragging about being the owner of a pageant, thus being able to pop into dressing rooms, jibes neatly with the accusations of then-fourteen-year-old girls who describe the same experience from their point of view.

Of all the blatantly transparent lies that Trump has told throughout the campaign, his denial of his own personal history is the biggest whopper so far. It must be dizzying, even for him, to go from bragging about this aspect of himself, to denying it as a filthy lie. I’m starting to think that Trump’s emphatic untruths are a subconscious compulsion—when he says, ‘Lock her up’, he’s really shouting to the world, “I should be locked up!” Perhaps that explains why he mirrors everything Secretary Clinton says, in reverse—he’s actually agreeing with her in the only way his ego will allow him to say it?

Who knows? I’m no psychiatrist. Yet, as a layman, I still feel confident in saying he has a screw loose. Millions of Americans find it appealing—that’s the real problem. I can see that he’s crazy—but how in the world do I get someone else to see it? I can’t put my eyes in someone else’s head.

I saw a Facebook comment this morning where someone said everything I have said, that Trump still won’t show his taxes, he’s horrible and unfit, etc., but ended with the conclusion that our country needs to be ‘disrupted’ by someone like him, because it is too ingrown and self-defeating. I don’t dismiss those points but, as I’ve said before, you don’t fix a computer by taking a hammer to it. And governing fifty states at once, plus being the world police, makes the USA as complicated as any computer. In many ways, it is more complex—people always make everything more complicated. Setting off a bomb, as a president, seems more an expression of frustration than a thoughtful judgement call.

Plus, Trump and the Republicans habitually downplay all the good news coming out of the latest stats. (Isn’t it funny how we value stats based partly on how well they agree with our opinions?) If you look at the stats, the idea of ‘four more years of Obama’ is hardly the threat they wish it sounded like. If a Democrat President with the entire Congress standing in his way could have this much success, imagine what Hillary could accomplish with a willing Senate, maybe even a House of Representatives.

This women’s-equality thing and inclusion-of-gays thing is working out just fine—to the outrage of the far right. Their only chance was to bring us backwards before the new attitudes could settle in. Trump was their shot at that. But it looks as though we may have dodged the bullet.

Trump’s campaign boils down to: ‘Who ya gonna believe?’ He does this because, in business, the answer is always ‘the bloated billionaire’. Unfortunately, this is politics, where the answer to ‘Who ya gonna believe?’ is never ‘the bloated billionaire’, it’s ‘the lifelong public servant’. Vote for Hillary.

Cautiously Optimistic   (2016Oct12)

Wednesday, October 12, 2016                                         10:42 AM

This is more like it. I don’t feel like a lone voice crying in the wilderness anymore. Most people seem to have caught on—electing Donald Trump would be just like electing a hog because it had won the blue ribbon at the Iowa State Fair. That’s a good pig—that’s a pig above its peers—but it’s still a pig.

Donald was (and is) a scheming skeeve, first as a real-estate conniver and Manhattan ‘playboy’, then as a reality-TV star who entertained by being pompously cruel. That he had fourteen seasons is a sad commentary on the American TV audience—but enjoying his perfidy, as semi-fictional guilty pleasure, is a far cry from finding him fit to lead the nation.

Cmdr. Spock could have told you right off that a human doesn’t indulge himself at the expense of others for seventy years—and become a model public servant the next day. He’s not a plotline, he’s a person—he doesn’t ‘pivot’, or suddenly transform in any other way—anymore than you or I do. Thus we conclude that his candidacy was nothing more than a quest for self-aggrandizement and power—in other words, an ego-trip.

And I can forgive Trump and Billy B. for their lewdness on the tape—I can even forgive Trump running for President, for the most venal of motivations, and pretending he’s been ‘called’ to public service, out of idealism. I can forgive all that. To forgive is divine. But I ain’t gonna vote for him—no, that’s a fer piece beyond forgiveness.

Hillary Clinton, on the other hand, began her life with a passion for helping children. As her life brought her to positions of influence, she used that influence to help children—and learned that helping families is a great way to do that—and found that a community (or ‘a village’) is a great model for raising every American to a place of opportunity, security, and freedom. Thus her passion for children and her love of country melded into a single driving motivation.

Comparison between the two candidates is laughably unequal. Those who hate Hillary Clinton have very vague and diffuse rage against the status quo—the hysterical intensity of it marks it as a prejudice, rather than a reasoned judgement. When they try to tell me that Hillary is ‘just as bad’ as Trump, I can’t think of how to answer them—except to call them ‘dumb people’ (which rarely helps).

I truly think that the world is getting too complicated for a certain segment of the populace—they view the election as an unfair test—a test they are afraid to fail, as if life had become one long math class—and Trump is waving at them, saying, ‘Easy answer!—Over here!’ They are voting their frustration, not their judgement. Emotions and Democracy don’t mix, any more than emotions and the judicial system, or emotions and the practice of medicine. Passion has its place in politics, but only as passion for good, for the truth, and justice.

Has thirty years of campaigning, media fire-storms, scandals, political infighting, and partisan attacks blunted Hillary’s idealism? I should hope so. Imagine, if you will, what such a ‘refining fire’ would do to your dewy-eyed, youthful dreams, or what it did to mine (and I’m just a regular guy). A battle-scarred pol may seem an uninspiring option to the young absolutists—but we should keep in mind what fights she fought while earning those scars.

They were not legal tussles with creditors and unpaid workmen and excluded minorities. She fought to end school segregation. She fought to get disabled kids the right to be included in our public education system. She fought for health care for people who weren’t rich enough, or healthy enough, to get their own. She has served the public her whole life.

Trump, at the 2nd debate, said she’s been in power for thirty years and ‘has nothing to show for it’. That’s right, Donald—by your lights, Hillary has nothing to show for a lifetime of public service—she hasn’t become a billionaire, or a celebrity TV bully, or cheated decent people out of payment for the work they gave in good faith—nothing to show for her life. Well, except maybe millions of grateful people whose lives have been improved, even saved, by her work—and the respect of decent people like myself.

I was very excited about seeing Hillary Clinton be elected the first woman president of the United States. I didn’t think the Republicans could field an opponent that had a chance against her. I was pretty shocked to realize that the campaign to impugn Hillary Clinton was not only alive and well, but had become rabid—and that the majority of Americans were starting to believe, through sheer persistence of repetition, everything her opponents were accusing her of—no matter how wild.

This was complicated by the fact that Hillary Clinton—the actual human being—is indeed less than perfect. She has made mistakes—and she has been a politician—and decades of attack have spurred her to a few unfortunate verbal rejoinders. I get the feeling she doesn’t suffer fools gladly. Neither do I. But none of that—and certainly none of the hogwash peddled by her haters—changes the fact that she is a whip-smart, doggedly capable person—and we’d be hard-pressed to find a better leader for the next eight years.

But enough—28 days from now, we’ll vote, and then we’ll, finally, know whether we are safe. Vote as if your life depended on it. VOTE.

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?

 

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.

How Smart Do You Have To Be?   (2016Sep07)

Wednesday, September 07, 2016                                              12:34 PM

Debates are coming. Can Trump hide ignorance with sheer bluster? Can Hillary Clinton overcome public awkwardness to reveal her inner beauty? We shall see.

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People say ‘if Trump wins, I’m moving to Canada’—but for me, it’s more like cause to slit my throat—America is the greatest thing on Earth—we just can’t give it to a jerk who can’t see that greatness, who wants to replace it with his own conceited idea of what ‘greatness’ is.

But if there is a God (and even if there isn’t) Hillary should kick his ass. (And here I insert the obligatory reminder that we shouldn’t take it for granted—we must Vote—and get out the Vote.) If the world is made right again in November, and Hillary does win, I will feel a warm glow inside, knowing that America is safe from that bullying charlatan. But…

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Here’s the thing. We have ‘checks and balances’—the tripartite nature of our government is meant to prevent excesses in any one branch—including the Executive. It is not meant to paralyze our government. And it never has before now, when subtle racism has made the Legislative branch into a stone wall preventing the Executive branch from any action, not only in legislation, but even in filling the complement of the Judicial branch. This is cynical politicization of government beyond the bounds of responsibility, or of shame.

After the disaster of Bush-43’s presidency, the GOP did an autopsy to see why their bankrupt ideological platform wasn’t getting any votes outside of their carefully gerrymandered pockets of influence. They solved the problem, and then ignored the solution, because the solution was to be more like the Democrats—that is, ‘decent human beings’. Not their scene, apparently. So they went down a rabbit-hole of lies, rationales, and bluster against the Democrats.

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That conglomeration of ignorance and dog-whistling became so threadbare that a reality-TV celebrity was able to outshine them—when he should have been laughed off the primary-debate-dais by the contrast between himself and a dozen serious politicians. But by that point, he wasn’t facing rational, reasonable, serious politicians—he was facing Jeb, Marco, and Ted. Plus, the GOP had curated themselves a base of yahoos before the primary even began—so Trump won. They’re sorry now—but still, not because of their platforms, but because Trump made fools of them.

Now, these people are saying, “Okay, vote for Hillary if you must—but make sure to vote the party on the down-ballots, to provide a ‘check’ against Hillary”. In other words, if the GOP can’t govern, no one else should—and Democracy be damned. I say, if you’re going to elect a President, elect people who will work with her. We’ve had it, we little people—let someone get some goddam governing done. If the Dems fuck it up, elect a GOP president and Congress to replace them, but let somebody do something.

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‘Small Government’, in a highly-developed country, in the 21st century? Yeah, that’ll work, alright. ‘Nationalism’, when we need the injection of fresh blood that only immigration can bring—and when we need the real Muslims, as our greatest defense against extremist murderers? Yeah, that’ll work, alright. Ignorance and Science-denial, in the midst of a cyber cold-war and increasing automation and AI? Yeah, that’ll work, alright. I know, I’m an egghead—but how smart do you have to be, to see the hypocrisy of the GOP or the unfitness of their candidate? How ignorant do you have to be, to fall for it?

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Confusion Reigns   (2016Sep01)

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Thursday, September 01, 2016                                        1:56 PM

I’m confused. I like Hillary Clinton a lot—but everyone else seems to hate her. A person accused of endless atrocities, but never proved guilty of any of them, is a rare and wondrous thing. If she is truly guilty of all this criminality, then she is unbelievably clever. If she is not, then she is the target of the longest, most intense smear campaign in history—and yet continues to be the favorite for the upcoming. That would make her unbelievably tough. Clever or tough, or both—I like that—and I don’t see where all the spite is coming from.

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I’m not confused about all the free media Trump gets—everyone knows: if it bleeds, it leads. Trump’s campaign has been bleeding (out of his wherever) since he first announced his candidacy by calling Mexicans rapists. Everything he says is full of entertainment value—he’s shocking. I’m shocked that, with all he has said, he has anyone willing to vote for him—and we are all shocked by his hate-speech, his rudeness, his trashing of American ideals, and especially his ignorance—considering the job he’s asking for.

Consider this: many people who know and work with Trump have been telling people that he is a narcissist, a cheat, and a bully. No one who has worked with or knows Hillary Clinton has anything bad to say about her. The people who vilify her are always people who don’t know her. Even Republicans she has worked with have testified to her competence and ability—and never accused her of duplicity, as her detractors do.

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So, if Hillary Clinton is a villain, she’s not only clever enough to never be proven guilty, she’s also clever enough to fool everyone she’s ever met. And that’s too damned clever—that’s beyond the limit of credibility. One has to wonder. Is it a coincidence that these same people hate her husband, Bill, or her former boss, President Obama? That sounds a lot like the attitude of an angry Conservative, not the indictments of an objective observer.

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These would-be angry-mob-leaders blame Hillary for the deaths in Benghazi—even after Ambassador Stevens’s sister said, “We all recognize that there’s a risk in serving in a dangerous environment. Chris thought that was very important, and he probably would have done it again. I don’t see any usefulness in continuing to criticize her. It is very unjust. The GOP do a disservice to the late ambassador’s heroism—yet the public still makes it a black mark on Hillary’s ledger, eclipsing the memory of Chris Stevens and the honor of his sacrifice.

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That one bugs me the most—but there are two sides to all the accusations made by her enemies—and, as with Trump, only the most shocking and sensational sides are harped-on in the media. No one, to my knowledge, has ever done an in-depth analysis of the Hillary-smear’s long history, or the pros-and-cons of each smear, to expose this nebulous far-right propaganda machine for the ‘doubt factory’ it is. Sixty Minutes, where are you when we need you?

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We should remember that her accusers are the same people who brought us Climate-change Denial, Reverse Racism, and Trickle-down Economics. They are the liars, not her. They are the criminals, not her. They are the bigots, not her. That should be clear to everyone. It is not. I’m confused. Are American voters such empty-headed lemmings? Can a horror-show like Trump really worm his way into power, when we have Hillary Clinton as an option? Someone explain this to me.

And while you’re at it, explain to me how people so judgmental that they disapprove of Hillary Clinton can elect a Congress full of village idiots. Those are the good guys? And Hillary is the Wicked Witch of the East? Very sound, everyone—extraordinarily wise—well done. Shit. Nice to know the country is just crawling with intelligence.

The world loves Hillary, but America doesn’t. The world believes in Climate Change, but America doesn’t. The world is dead set against using nuclear weapons, but Trump is considering it. How am I supposed to love my country, when it is so tightly-packed full of morons? I am confused.

 

bye now.

 

Exam   (2016Aug30)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016                                                 12:24 PM

A list of key-words, a chart of interconnections, a graph of differences—the idea of Algebra tries to worm its way into life. I used to make myself to-do lists, back when I did things—I’d have Top Priorities (things that needed doing right away), Regular things (a sort of ‘daily chores and maintenance’ list), Non-Work things (commitments I had made to people), Long-Term Projects (often becoming a list of things I never got to), and so on. Late at night, I’d still be scribbling away like John Nash from “A Beautiful Mind”—the list became its own project, keeping me from doing the things on the list.

Analysis can become a rabbit-hole from which there is no escape. Philosophical discussions that devolve into semantics—finding, at the end, that language is more personal than universal—can only be enjoyed so many times before we realize that life is to be lived. There is just as much value to experiential data-gathering as there is to mental wool-gathering, perhaps more—and certainly more stimulation.

Yet ‘the unexamined life is not worth living’—or so philosophers would have us think (no pun intended). So we think about what we’re doing while we do it. Occasionally we’ll find that we need to sit and think, to put down what we’re doing and ponder a question—maybe even draw a diagram or blueprint. My least favorite thing is to realize, in the middle of doing something, that I’m doing it wrong—or, worse yet, that I don’t need to do it.

Life is like a deep wood—we follow the trail without too much care, but where the trail ends, or forks, we have to stop and consider our options. Sometimes we have to trail-blaze where there is no path; sometimes we have to gamble on which fork leads in the best direction. Sometimes we have to micro-manage, such as making camp before the sun goes down; sometimes we have to macro-manage, such as planning where to get provisions over the next month’s travel. All activity involves thought, planning, decision, and judgment—we humans are rarely wholly physical—our actions are the physical complement to our calculations.

Examination, though, is a special case—it has no boundaries. We can examine something forever, if we wish. We can opt not to examine something at all—taking for granted that it is a known quantity or a known object. To walk the ‘tightrope of examination’, to do it well, being aware of the world around us without losing the context of our lives—that’s the trick. Too much or too little are both dangerous ground.

I’ve been speaking, so far, of learned debate—where people try to agree on terms and their usage, where both sides are actively engaged in a search for truth or meaning. Most of our public examinations, unfortunately, are not like that.

When I see a news-show’s panel of commentators about to debate the presidential election, I know I’m in for a heaping helping of snake-oil and tap-dancing. The pretense of fairness and balance becomes a shambles of illogical carping and condemnation—insisting on their opponent’s evil while excusing the same evil in their champion. It’s a virtual ballet of slippery memes, with a dash of shouting and derision. Both sides hold up their ‘true facts’ while we, the voters, recognize neither’s claims as either true or factual—we call them ‘talking’ points, not ‘thinking’ points.

One of the candidates has latched onto the new Media-philosophy and has based his platform on the idea that what he says is more important than whether there is any earthly reason to say it. His constituents are no better—a recent poll reveals that, of those who will vote for Trump, 4% think he can’t be trusted with nuclear weapons. As Rachel Maddow pointed out last night—that means that a certain number of Trump supporters don’t trust him with nuclear weapons, but want to give them to him anyway.

A hilarious recent article in the New York Times made the point that Trump supporters are loyal to a fault. In it, a supposed Trump advocate scolds the rest of us for pointing out Trump’s faults, assuring us that nothing anyone says will change the minds of his base. Funny as hell, except for the part about it being true–nothing can destroy democracy quite so thoroughly as an evidence-proof electorate.

The hypocrites in the GOP, the ones who, for years, have been shoving reason through a black hole, so that it always comes out backwards and upside-down, are caught flat-footed. They like Trump’s hypocrisy a lot, but they’re nervous about how unabashedly he exposes it, without a whisper of the usual serpentine reasoning they usually like to use, to confuse the issues.

He just says the stupidest things—and liberals are confused. They’re used to having a debate with someone who injects a lot of false data and emotional blackmail into their policy, requiring an exhaustive review of what’s actually true, to rebut. Trump’s bald-faced “Build a Wall” or “Ban the Muslims” leaves them with their jaws hanging, unable to process such public abandonment of adult responsibility. It’s an unexpected gear-change. Trump no doubt mistakes it for awe, or something.

Trump supporters and far-right wackos of all kinds worry about an invasion of ‘foreigners’ in the USA. But people like me see past the surface of a person’s skin color or faith—we worry about an invasion from within, by the ignorant. America believes in equality—so the ignorant have as much of a say as any high-school graduate or PhD. Even the willfully ignorant, proud of their dismissal of science and logic, proud of their bigotry and chauvinism, eager to kick over the sand-castles of the liberal progressives—even these troglodytes have an equal say in the making of America. They are the cup of sugar in the gas tank of democracy.

Nothing I say will change them. Nothing I write will even propel them towards thought or questioning. So I’m not writing for them—I’m writing for you. You can grade my examination now.

Dear CNN   (2016Aug16)

Tuesday, August 16, 2016                                       9:31 AM

Dear CNN:

Since when did crazy-stupid become the ‘other side’ of the issue? In my day, we called that the ‘wrong’ side—and we didn’t broadcast it to lower the IQ of every viewer.

You’re presenting a narrative: “See the clash of ignorant belligerence against mature probity!” That’s not news, that’s story-telling. When a presidential candidate cites the National Inquirer as his information source—that’s news. The cotton-candy he spins from it—that’s not news.

When a grandmother faces down a prosecutor-packed congressional inquiry for nine hours—and sails through, leaving them the more exhausted side—that’s news. Childish carping that she may not have ‘stamina’—from a seventy-year-old who ought to know better—doesn’t meet that threshold.

CNN, you have fallen into the bad habit of reporting on what Donald Trump says as if he is not purposely manipulating the public—as if his words have the substance they lacked in his last hundred statements. Come back down to Earth and join the rest of us, who know that his pouty vitriol is an expression of venom, not a pronouncement from some learned sage.

You have made the chiron-title ‘Trump supporter’ a synonym for deluded neurotic—they are like the old zoo-animal ‘guests’ Johnny Carson sometimes had on the Tonight Show—they can make a brief TV appearance, but they need to be ushered off before they bite someone, or poop on the news-desk.

We thought we were considering a serious GOP candidate for president—why is it exactly like having an argument with a petulant pre-schooler? I know that you want to support democracy in America—which makes it impossible for you to admit that there is only one person to vote for this election. Democracy has to be a contest. In that sense, I suppose Trump has let CNN down as badly as he has the GOP. I sympathize.

But ask yourselves—does ‘fairness’ exist without reference to common sense? Does ‘balanced’ require the acceptance of every convoluted, partisan serving of word-salad? Have you any idea how hungry we are?—how badly we need to hear one of your anchors say to one of these spokes-goblins, “Enough! You make less sense than a monkey doing mathematics. Get your ignorant, unethical, nonsensical mouth off my set.” How we would cheer.

It Was Easy   (2016Jun23)

Thursday, June 23, 2016                                          4:33 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Laughing At Logic   (2016Jun12)

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Saturday, June 11, 2016                                           11:05 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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.

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

Friday, April 29, 2016                                              9:50 AM

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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

Back to the Drawing Board   (2016Apr21)

Thursday, April 21, 2016                                        12:14 PM

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

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

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

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

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

Journal Entry   (2016Apr12)

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Saturday, April 09, 2016                                          10:27 PM

In high school I wrote a term paper comparing T. S.Eliot’s “The Waste Land” with Lewis Carroll’s “Alice In Wonderland”—a spurious pairing based on both titles inferring the existence of a ‘land’ of some sort. On first reading I found T. S. Eliot rather opaque—so I was able to make a case that both works involved a lot of nonsense. My teacher was probably so glad that someone bothered to read Eliot that she forbore from destroying my facile interpretation of his poem—I think I got a high grade based solely on the ambition of my reading.

But having been introduced to Mr. Eliot, I was off and running. I read all his poems and most of his plays—then I read most of his essays—then I read critical analysis of Eliot’s life and works, seeking some explication of this rather difficult poet. In the process, I was led to read parts of the Bible, some Shakespeare plays, some poetry by Marvell and Donne, Jessie Weston’s “From Ritual To Romance”, and a good chunk of Fraser’s “The Golden Bough”. At one time I could recite “Burnt Norton” from memory—though at sixty now, and having read all the Four Quartets many times over, I think I understand the poem better now than I did when I could recite it.

Eliot is a strange influence on a young man—he was both after and before his time. He was after his time in the sense that Old World propriety meant more to this native of St. Louis than to the inhabitants of the modern-day London where he spent his adult life. He was before his time in many ways—not least of which being his rejection of religion in his youth and his return to it later in life—not unlike the born-again backlash against secularism that would sweep America a decade after his death.

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Eliot being as much a philosopher as a poet, studying his work as an adolescent may have made me old before my time, at least mentally. Looking back on it, I feel that studying Eliot made me old before my time in much the same way that being ill for so long, and even dying momentarily on the table during my eleventh-hour liver transplant, made me dead before my time. In my mind the two are similar in having made me an outsider among my contemporaries and robbing me, in a sense, of the innocence enjoyed by most people—both the carefree-ness of youth and the ignorance of death most adults maintain right up to the end. But there is room for doubt as to whether those things affected me or if I just have that sort of personality.

Because of this feeling I have a tendency to feel irritable whenever my thoughts turn to social ills, politics, or man’s inhumanity to man—I know that most people give these things only cursory attention now and then, rather than becoming obsessed with our immature behavior as a race. Most people cling to the assumption that humans shouldn’t be any better than they ought to be—but my ‘old geezer’ perspective rants and raves at our insistence on such ingenuousness. I look ahead so persistently that I never enjoy the present—it is a maturity shared by few. And that’s the way it should be—it is foolish to take the world’s troubles on one’s shoulders, when there is little to be done about it other than fret.

‘One day at a time’ is considered great wisdom by many—to me, it smacks of the grasshopper—wasting away the present, without a thought for tomorrow’s troubles. But then, I’m no big fan of ‘surrendering to a higher power’ either. So no twelve steps for me—I get along without them, but I’m glad they work for other people.

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Monday, April 11, 2016                                          11:53 AM

Yes, I know that Monday has a bad rep amongst the working—but for those of us who are unable to work, Monday has a sweetness to it that workers could never imagine. After being disabled it took me years to get over the vestigial thrill of the weekend. Every Friday night I would get that conditioned response—relief that the weekend was finally upon us—but what followed were two more days just like all the rest, if not less enjoyable.

Stores close early on the weekends—those that open on Sunday at all—and you can’t call any place of business to work out a billing or customer service problem. The weekend roadways, should I venture out, are crowded and slow. House-bound people tend to watch a lot of TV—and weekend TV sucks. (Okay, I’ll give you “Madame Secretary” and John Oliver on Sunday night, but that’s it.)

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All weekend long it’s mostly sports on TV—I could never acquire a taste for televised sporting events—believe me, I’ve tried. Even Turner Classic Movies (TCM) deserts me—Slip Mahoney and the Gang in the morning and silent films at night. The news channels (which I dislike enough on weekdays) run ‘caught on tape’ prison documentaries instead of live reporting—which is very apropos—weekends on TV are a lot like prison. All of this makes perfect sense—the vast majority of people have lives—and those lives are busiest on the weekend—why run top programming for an empty room?

I’ve learned to love Mondays. On Monday the New York Times crossword is as easy as it’s going to get—and Jeopardy is once again on at seven—those may seem like little things, but they loom large when one’s life has few other high-points. Weekend food is usually leftovers and take-out, so the food is better on Monday, too. Everyone else is starting their week and that excitement comes through a little, even if there’s a lot of tail-dragging that goes with it. When weekends involved a lot of partying, I used to have a terrible time on Monday morning—now that I can’t have that sort of fun, enjoying Mondays is my booby-prize, I guess.

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Tuesday, April 12, 2016                                          9:50 AM

There is so much music. I own so many CDs that a strong man couldn’t carry them all in one trip—stacks and stacks of them pile up as I continue re-ripping my collection to my new external hard drive—and all I can think about as I go through them is how much music is missing. My old LP collection was more complete, and I never lose that urge to buy enough CDs to equal that former glory—but that old collection was largely built up during my dad’s tenure as VP of Direct Mail at BBDO, back in the sixties. It included the Deutsche Gramophone recordings of the complete works of Beethoven (about twelve volumes of six records each) and the entire Time-Life classical music series (another pallet-full of records)—an avalanche of recordings he was given as free samples in the course of determining their mail-order ad campaigns. (We used to joke that he should talk Mercedes Benz into doing a Direct Mail campaign.)

I am one of five siblings, but neither my parents nor my siblings showed any interest in classical music back then—all the free records went to me and no one was jealous about it—in fact, I often fought over the living room hi-fi with my siblings—they much preferred Rock and R&B. I liked that music also—but I preferred variety—I wanted to listen to all music. The whole world was mesmerized by rock’n’roll back then—when I actually bought classical records  at Fox & Sutherland’s, they were going cheap—sometimes only a dollar or two, where Beatles albums were closer to ten bucks. The whole classical catalog was referred to as ‘loss-leaders’—records that were produced to enhance the reputation of the label, rather than to make a profit.

Having that in my early days, I would get huffy, later on, when some piece of classical music became popular—“Thus Spake Zarathustra” used in the soundtrack to “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Bolero” used in the movie “10”—people would say, “You’ve got to hear this!” and in my mind I was always thinking, “Yeah, right—like I’ve never heard that before, you philistine.”

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When you listen to classical music and read classic literature at thirteen, you get used to being an outsider. But there is a way in which everyone will suddenly become an expert on something that found its way out of obscurity and into the spotlight for a time—and I find myself caught between my delight that others are finally sharing in the joy I get from these obscure sources—and resentment of my private preserve being trampled by the unwashed. But it’s not all my fault—I spent most of my time feeling outside of society and to do that day after day required that I build up some pride in being different—and there’s some unavoidable bitterness when that difference gets erased in a surge of popularity.

To make matters worse, there is so much music that even my obsession has gaps in knowledge. When ‘Classical Music’ appears as a Jeopardy category, I always assume I’ll know all the answers—but oftentimes I don’t—there’s just too much to know. Plus, ‘opera’ is the most popular form of classical music—and I’ve never much cared for opera—I don’t know much about it. Well, that’s not true—but I know less about opera than an opera buff.

It makes me laugh when Music Choice’s ‘Classical Masterpieces’ channel gives out with three factoids about the composer, that cycle on the screen while the piece is played on the audio. It’s ludicrous—they could be scrolling the composer’s complete entry from Grove’s Music Dictionary—or at the very least, the Wiki entry—in the time it takes some symphonies to play. Do they suppose that would make people less likely to watch? How information-phobic are people, anyway? They’d probably tell you that the factoids are meant to pique your interest so you’ll go google the composer yourself—but that’s just lazy.

Then again, I only turn to that channel when I’m reading—still, they could actually build up a viewership of music-geeks, if they put a little effort into it—maybe not—I don’t know. They make me irritable anyway, mis-titling and mis-crediting a surprising number of audio-tracks—so I know there’s nobody home at that company that gives a damn about classical music. I guess it’s still a loss-leader.

 

Here’s a song cover and an improv from yesterday:

 

 

 

All Men Are Brothers (2016Mar23)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016                                            6:29 PM

All Men Are Brothers

(or – It’s A Mistake To Be Afraid)

There’s a reason why Europe is more exposed to terrorist cells—in the US, we encourage integration of immigrants. Perhaps we have clumps of ethnicity or religion, particularly when the incoming culture is insular to begin with, but that is the exception rather than the rule. In Europe, from what I understand, Middle-Easterners have their own communities—and the Europeans prefer it that way. I heard that in Brussels recent reports about potential extremist suspects went unexamined partly due to their habit of letting that conclave ‘police itself’. That sounds suspiciously like they’re saying the immigrant community is officially invisible—the better to ignore and isolate them.

But we have such conclaves in the US, too—some of the blame falls on the immigrants for shunning the whole melting-pot experience and remaining purposely insular. But let’s face it—this behavior is easier to come by when the natives aren’t too fond of you to begin with. Britain had a fairly hands-off approach to their Middle-Eastern immigrant communities, just like Brussels—until the terror attacks there made that policy seem too lax.

But properly policing such areas is just a detail—these areas are obviously neglected by civic authority in many ways—and for the same reason they are so cohesive—the immigrants have not been made entirely welcome. They have not been absorbed by their new homelands, they have only been tolerated within them. Even some parts of the US have these hardened nodes of acculturation.

With the recent bombings in Brussels, I’ve seen two reactions—one is an obvious increase in police presence in Brussels’ immigrant community—and the other is candidate Ted Cruz’s call to restrain Muslim-Americans within their communities.

As for Europe, they, like us, will need the good graces of their Muslim nationals to combat terrorism. For Europeans to crack down on already-neglected communities within Europe—and to start shunning desperate refugees fleeing the violence in the Middle East—is exactly what they shouldn’t be doing. By lumping their potential allies in with their enemies, they are well on their way to making all Muslims their enemy.

America’s Cruz doubles down on his error—as usual. Not only does the same principal apply to the US as to Europe—but here in America, most Muslims don’t live in one lump community—most of them live next door to some other kind of American. The few ‘communities’ that Cruz’s plan could apply to, therefore, includes the merest fraction of all Muslim-Americans. But that’s Cruz—the flag-bearer of the party of stupid.

We have to act on intelligence related to a suspected terrorist. But we also have to give all Muslims the respect and due-process we owe to any citizen. The Brussels attack, like the Boston Marathon bombing, was executed by a pair of brothers. The fear and isolation of the West creates a simmering pot, reduced to a smaller and smaller, hotter and hotter core of frustration. We ostracize them into a small community, they often divide themselves by gender—so you get a bunch of young males sitting around—neglected, underserved, frustrated, feeling excluded from opportunity and equal rights—and eventually angry.

We must continue to hunt down terrorists. But isn’t it even more important that we avoid, as far as possible, manufacturing new ones? Set aside fairness or justice or even good manners—we still need Muslims to be our friends and allies in the fight against extremism.

That isn’t to say that we should stay as we are—part of the problem is we’ve been too insular already, too ready to neglect people we don’t know or understand. We should not be discussing stemming the flow of immigrant refugees—we should be planning how we can dazzle them with the peace, plenty, and security that all people deserve—and that we, with a lot of effort and a little courage, have the capacity to offer them.

Every refugee that we can comfortable ensconce in the lap of the West is not just subtracted from the ranks of potential terrorists—he or she will become one more champion of freedom and liberty, ready to defend it with their lives. If we fail to do this, our cowardice will doom them and us. When FDR said ‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’, he wasn’t just saying that we should overcome fear—he was saying that fear is the enemy. Or, as may be the case in our current situation, fear creates the enemy.

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.

Now We All Know How Casandra Felt   (2016Mar09)

Tuesday, March 08, 2016                                        12:18 PM

Let’s face it—there are good and bad people in the world—some of us are manipulative blackguards, selfish misanthropes, or just plain miserable human beings. That’s okay—no biggy—any Buddha will tell you that you need the bad for the good to exist—or for it to be visible—whatever—I’m not sure—but you can’t have everything your own way. There are people I’d be tempted to describe as ‘bad’ people—though of course we’re all (theoretically) a combination of good and bad. Let’s just say they’re bad politically—their influence is backwards—against the tide of humanity’s enlightenment and good fellowship. They are backwards people.

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The backwards people aren’t sure it was right to let women have an equal footing—to let them vote, or choose, or have equal dignity to men. Some of them think that skin color really makes an important difference. Some are old-fashioned anti-Semites—a perennial favorite amongst the backwards—and some are new-fangled Islamophobes (so much technical jargon to legitimize the hate). They look down their noses at the disabled, the self-gendered, the self-sexualized, the non-English-speaking, and, of course, the poor—as if being different from themselves made a difference to anyone but themselves. The Backwards’ minds have the depth of puddles.

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I’ve heard we average one-in-ten people who are gay—or LGBTQ—I’m not certain which—but anyway, I figure the Backwards come out to about the same stats. At least one-in-ten people are Backwards—either closet Backwards, with enough awareness to know that the other 9/10ths see things differently—or just straight-out bigoted, ignorant bullies. No, I don’t have stats to back that estimate—but I assume I’m low-balling the real figure—don’t you? The Backwards have always been with us—they’ve fucked things up for their communities since the first community began.

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Have you ever wondered why it takes centuries of struggle to fix even one little thing—like slavery or date-rape? It’s because of these backwards people—they’re more concerned with maintaining their personal status quo than with stretching their minds to accommodate outsiders. And they love pride—the thing that makes it okay to be a jackass. And they have no shame—they scream their bullying bullshit far louder than any genius ever crowed over a great discovery—and this gives them influence over their communities far greater than their numbers ever warranted—they are the squeaky wheels on the devolution express-train. And humanity has a tendency to listen to them whenever things get scary—fear always trumps rational thought, even in normally decent people.

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I did a little math in my head—I figure the two-party system allowed for an equal division of the Backwards between Democrat and Republican—but then the Republicans started dog-whistling to them, until now most of the Backward have found a home in the GOP. That brings them up to 20% of the group—and their zealousness brings them to the mid-30s—about Trump’s average polling target. Certain states have an ingrained culture that is friendly to the Backward (states that still fly the racist banner, for instance) while other, bluer states seem to suppress their Backwards demographic to the point where they’d actually vote for one of the other GOP candidates, just to stop him. The simplemindedness of Cruz or Rubio is excused under threat of the far more confident ignorance of our new would-be Hitler, ‘Drumpf’—even Republicans have enough sense to be afraid of this man

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Unfortunately, presidential contests aside, Trump’s capitalist neo-fascism is just the visible part of an iceberg of such inhumanity—the wealthy think they can go on milking the rest of us without giving us any food or water—they’ve convinced themselves that society is a one-way spigot without responsibility or consequence. That this is greedy and selfish is far less important than that it is incredibly stupid. And this stupidity has also led them down the ‘dog-whistle’ path.

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The wealthy court the backward because the backward are most likely to mistake authority for rectitude—or to mistake wealth as something deserved by those who have it, making the wealthy worthy of respect. To me, one glance at how the wealthy raise their feral children (like Drumpf) is enough to put the lie to such foolishness—but then, I’m not backward.

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Climate change goes unaddressed, non-renewable resources are treated as if infinite, and habitat loss threatens the very food chain that supports all life—even our fancy-assed civilized human lives. Income inequality is just the icing on the cake—the final handcuff that keeps the species from modifying its behavior sensibly. They buy off the legislators, the regulators, and the justice system—how else would something like the 2008 crash end up with millions of people losing everything, while rich Wall Street crooks got reimbursed for being too greedy?

An Eruption of Mount Vesuvius 1839 by Clarkson Frederick Stanfield 1793-1867

No, Trump’s attack on social justice and social progress is just the next step—now that the rich have covered all their angles, they have to prepare to be pretty draconian in their suppression of discontent among the 99.9%. Things are going to get ugly in the next twenty years—sea levels rising—water sources drying up—high-energy seasonal storm-systems worsening—and geopolitical tensions aren’t likely to ease with everything else going to hell—so things like Syria and Crimea are just going to escalate and spread. To maintain their cozy lifestyles while millions suffer a dwindling quality-of-life and the ranks of the impoverished grows as a percentage of the whole population—well, all I can say is, they’re gonna be finding all kinds of uses for military-grade surplus in the local police departments. Americans like to fight their wars over ideals—they’ve never had to fight over food or water—that’s about to change.

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Now the rich, if they weren’t so stupid, could change much of that forecast and point things in a more positive direction—it would not only be the right thing to do for everybody, it would undoubtedly make even their lives better. We wouldn’t all hate their guts, for one thing. And a rising tide lifts all boats. Instead the rich hustle about, picking up free fish off the suddenly dry seabed, while the rest of us wait for the tsunami that always follows such a windfall. Whether we successfully rebuff Trump is a minor detail in the big picture.

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Children Please   (2016Mar04)

Friday, March 04, 2016                                            10:30 PM

It’s a frightening world. The older I get, the thinner gets the veneer of ‘grown-ups having things under control’. As a young man, I made allowances—I told myself that people in their thirties or forties were surely dependable, sensible people—and, if not all of them, then at least the ones in charge. With each successive decade of age, I pushed the imaginary grown-ups further and further into seniority—but now I am sixty and there’s no place left to hide. We are all of us children—grasping, whining, and playing games.

And I realize that the ‘grown-ups’ I imagined were just that—imaginary. They were what I hoped grown-ups would be—but human beings only become more experienced, not more mature. We adapt to the ‘independence’ and ‘responsibility’ of adulthood—some of us better than others—some faster than others—but we never lose the urges, the impatience, or the selfishness—we are either goaded or peer-pressured or legally forced into subliming our inner children. Still, they eagerly await any opportunity to indulge themselves once more.

Knowing that the world is run by overgrown children—that dependable, sensible people are like unicorns—isn’t nearly as upsetting as the realization that I will never be a ‘grown-up’—I will never have that easy grasp of wisdom and self-control that I always imagined was the reward for growing older. This isn’t a recent realization—it’s just come to the forefront of my thoughts due to the threatening specter of millions of Americans possibly voting for a puss-bag in an orange hair-piece.

I knew this country was in trouble when they debuted that show, “Are You Smarter Than A Fourth-Grader?” and nobody could beat the fourth-graders. I died a little inside when stats started to show that American education was falling behind the rest of the developed world—hell, we invented public education. I suppose future historians will mark the day that more Americans voted for “American Idol” contestants than voted in the prior election. Grown-ups would have maintained this country’s greatness and moved it forward—but we are doing what all empires have always done—we’re pissing it all away—and now I know why—people are children.

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.

Super Leap Week   (2016Mar01)

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016                                                  5:18 PM

I know what would fix our economy—raises. Nobody’s been given a raise since the 1980s. You could double the salary of any working person today, and they’d still be underpaid if calculated by the same increases the wealthy have enjoyed these last few decades. But no—the wealthy fret about how the world would end if we had a $15/hour minimum wage. Are you kidding me? Who could live on $15/hour? And if you can’t run your business without paying a living wage—then you can’t run your business—you’re incompetent. Since when does a business plan include victimizing your employees? Well, I take that back—literally all business plans do that, and always have.

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It seems strange to me that employers make half their money short-changing their customers—and the other half from short-changing their employees. Shouldn’t we just shoo these people away? We haven’t converted to an ‘office-free’ economy—we’ve converted to a ‘security-free’ economy—at least to employees.

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And a business is not a person. Until a business can feel pain, it will never be a person—and it will never deserve the rights and considerations of a person. That’s just legal mumbo-jumbo being promulgated by the rich. Let’s shoo all them off too.

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I’m serious—terrorists at least have the decency to chop your head off and make a clean end to it—American employers want to enslave us and abuse us until the end of time—who’s really worse? Capitalism has gotten out of hand—and the only way to restore the balance is to make the streets our workplace, dismissing all CEOs, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and HR personnel. Shoo’em off, that’s what I say. Their mismanagement is going to let our infrastructure rot away and be buried beneath the waves of global warming, anyway—dismissing these entitled fops wouldn’t cause any less disruption than their continued oversight will produce. We’ll just feed them the same line they feed everyone else—‘Hey, it’s not personal—it’s just business’. It is unfortunate that wealth confers power, without conferring one whit of good judgement. It that sense, it greatly resembles violence.

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Harumph! Anyway—let’s talk about something important—how’s Hillary doing? It is Super Tuesday, and the sun’s getting low in the sky—though, if you ask me, Leap Day is pretty special—making ‘super’ Tuesday something of an anticlimax. It’s just a bunch of primaries. Still, if I imagine myself in Hillary’s shoes (and yes that does feel uncomfortable) it must be a thrilling day.

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I’ve gone from sight-reading through Chopin’s book of mazurkas to his book of nocturnes—I have hours of recordings I’ve spared my listeners—I enjoy sight-reading through good music like that—but I don’t keep to tempo—and I go back and correct myself when I flub a passage—it’s a lot more like actual reading than it is performance—it’s quite unlistenable. I just do it for myself—it’s really fun. And after I find favorites, and do them over and over, I eventually get to play them better. I used to post some of the work—nowadays I only post the finished product—when I’ve gotten it as far as I’m going to get it. But that’s a tough call—take today’s nocturnes—they’re not great, but they’re a lot better than the other four that I’m not posting.

The improvs are a poser as well. I try to make them all different and, technically speaking, they are all different. But inasmuch as they’re all ‘me’, they’re pretty much all the same, too. So I post them all, even knowing that some judicious editing would make my YouTube channel far more attractive. But when you post nearly every day, it gets to be like writing a journal—you’re too busy writing it to ever read it back to yourself. Same with this blog—sometimes I go look at a post from a year or two ago, and I think to myself, ‘Huh! Did I write that?’

Okay then.

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Drunks Tussling   (2016Feb27)

Saturday, February 27, 2016                                             4:33 PM

In a reasonable world, Hillary Clinton would win the presidential race in a walk—and if I’m living in an unreasonable world, I’d just as soon not have my face rubbed in it. If, god forbid, a Republican did win, that would be a tragic-enough disaster, without making me listen to these people—as I have already for more than a year—for the rest of this year. I’ve listened to them ad nauseam—and in their case, that’s about three minutes in—do I really have to bear the sound of Trump’s voice until November? Hasn’t he said enough idiotic things?

I remember our last Republican president—do you? He was an idiot—he got us in a war by mistake—he destroyed our economy—he didn’t speak in complete sentences—and what sentences he managed to get out had made-up words in them. Cruz or Rubio would be just as bad—maybe worse—and the nightmare scenario of a Trump presidency conjures up the movie-title-to-be: “The Return Of Fascism” or maybe “The Rise Of American Fascism”.

We are all aware that there is a contest between these three Republicans—it’s all the news, all the time—but to me it resembles a bunch of drunks tussling on the sidewalk just outside a bar-room—my concern for who wins is nothing compared to my concern that a cop will come along and get them off the street before a passer-by gets hurt. But there are no cops on CNN, or in journalism generally. News shows can keep airing this stuff—but I’ve got better ways to spend my time than watching a stupidest-man contest.

Likewise, while I appreciate Bernie forcing Hillary to add a focus on income inequality to her platform—I don’t want to hear any more about how he’s going to make college, health-care, and whatever else, free for everyone—yes that’s the way it should be—there are a lot of things that aren’t the way they should be in this country—but nothing happens on inauguration day—and Hillary is better prepared for the day after inauguration—both domestically and internationally. I don’t think Bernie supporters understand what a president actually does—I think they think he or she’s a wizard who makes a decree, and changes things all by himself or herself.

So that’s it between me and the news—I’ll wait to hear from other people about anything important. Hillary should win—and even if she doesn’t—that’s just more reason not to spend until November listening to all of this back-and-forth BS. Seeing as how our government is already broken, I think it’s a pretty sweet gig—getting a free pass on all the work our government should be doing while we all have a two-year long conversation about the Donald. I’m sure the folks in Flint, MI or Hoosick Falls, NY are glued to their sets. If I ran CNN, I’m pretty sure I could find more interesting stuff to report on—but fans of ‘The Apprentice’ might tune out the news—and that’s a huge demographic. I can hear it now: “Mr. Dunn, you’re fired.”

Ah, America—I hardly knew ye.

Enough. Here’s today’s improv:

Conflict In The News   (2016Feb24)

Wednesday, February 24, 2016                                       2:19 PM

I often bemoan the lack of a filter on today’s media—but the filters media once had were based on avoiding criticism of the establishment, silencing cries of injustice, and a priggish abhorrence of prurience. I should be more precise in criticizing media—first of all, I should take the trouble to specify mass media, since by definition, my own blog—and that of many other individuals without malice or agenda—is part of modern media as a whole.

Neither is mass media truly without filter—there are all kinds of filters on mass media, Money being one—and Conflict (actual or goosed-up by obsessive coverage) being another. During the recent Oscars ‘white-out’ controversy, several filmmakers pointed the finger at backers who won’t take risks on their investments—and while that may display a lack of enterprise and independence among filmmakers, they still have a point—all mass media gets financed up front, so none of it gets through without a green light from some financier. And, if I understand correctly, the money-peoples’ influence doesn’t end with the initial approval—far from it.

News-reporting has an even more evil monkey on its back—the need for constant attention—but instead of throwing tantrums, the media manufactures tantrums for us to throw. It is hard to hear what any interviewee is actually saying when they’re constantly being cross-examined by reporters who echo the lies and suspicions of the ‘other side’ of the story. And here’s where there is a filter missing—there is no filter on how jack-assed the ‘other side’ can be—no matter how asinine, any controversial opinion is welcome. And often as not, in their desperation to find a counter-point, the media’s talking heads often overlook the actual forces in conflict—particularly when those differences are nuanced, or require some thought.

Trump, for instance, is just a bully—that’s plain to see. But the media flock to conflict, shining a spotlight of respectability on this wanna-be prater. On the comedic news-parody programs, they ridicule Trump mercilessly—it’s like shooting fish in a barrel—but if the real news did that, they’d have to admit that a real-estate hustler doesn’t deserve our respect—or our attention, whenever he says whatever crazy shit comes flying out of his mouth. Those golden pronouncements make lots of money for the news divisions in ad revenue—but they are still the mouthings of a monkey.

This ‘nobody is wrong’ attitude seems like pluralism—but it is simple lack of judgment—some things are open to question in a real sense, but other ideas and alternatives are either willful blindness or simple delusion. And this is where I feel obligated to debunk religion—the original alternative to what’s clearly right in front of our noses. I think of freedom of religion as being limited to faith itself—you can believe whatever you want—religion, in the stricter sense, is the aspect of faith that you insert into reality—even try to impose on the reality of others—and there’s nothing free about that. But I could spend all day trying to explain why it’s okay for us to believe differently, as long as your religion doesn’t impose any limits on my understanding—if you don’t understand the spirit of ‘freedom of religion’, it’s probably because you have one. The unfortunate fact is that the idea of ‘freedom of religion’ is really an ass-backwards way of admitting it’s all bullshit, without actually saying so—but I don’t want to get bogged down in that morass, either.

We should be avoiding conflict—not whipping it up at every opportunity. In truth, the solution to most of civilization’s problems could be solved if we threw money at it. We don’t want to make life fair or easy or comfortable for the least of us—we want them to suffer. Instead of figuring out the minimum amount of money that local governments have to spend to keep corpses from rotting in the street, we should be investing lavishly in public services, throwing money at every aspect of inequality. It seems counterintuitive, but everywhere it’s done, the effects are always remarkable, always hailed as a ‘miracle’ of success—when it’s only the right way to do things. Americans love conflict—but there are aspects of civilization that patently should not be competitive—that’s a simple fact. That may be why we’ve recently let Socialism out of the dirty-word closet.

The trouble with Socialism, at this point in time, is that it’s become Bernie Sanders’ brand-name, when the entire Democratic party have been ‘socialist’-leaning all along, Hillary included—but chose to couch it as intelligent governance, due to the unpopularity of words like Socialism in recent decades. America is inherently socialist—justice and equality are very much the people’s values—which is why the conservatives go to such pains to convince us that ‘the business of America is business’—it helps them justify their greed and subversion. But I can promise you that voting for Trump is the hardest way for us to learn that lesson. Voting for Bernie will only teach you the futility of electing a socialist to lead a GOP legislature and a polarized nation. I’m still voting for Hillary—she’s not perfect, she’s not superwoman—but she is better than all the alternatives by a long shot.

The trouble with Socialism is that it was initially offered as an alternative to monarchies and other autocracies—and Capitalism managed to present itself as an alternative to Socialism, when it was really just a burgeoning new form of autocracy, infesting the democratic process with special exemptions and entitlements for the rich and powerful. And Socialism, when described, can often sound suspiciously like Christianity, in its means, if not its motives—not the faux Christianity of Capitalists, with its Xmas shopping, judgmentalism and sexism—but the hard, pure Christianity of Christ, with charity, mercy, and love one’s neighbor as oneself. Hey—I’m an atheist, but I know a good idea when I hear one.

No Black President   (2016Feb14)

Sunday, February 14, 2016                                               10:05 AM

Excuse me? Obama shouldn’t appoint Scalia’s successor? Oh I’m sorry—I was under the foolish impression that the President appoints SCOTUS nominees and the senate confirms them. Is this like the Executive Order thing—where it has always been a prerogative of Presidents—until we got a black one? Republicans, we know you guys are all closeted-bigots—why do you have to expose your racism so blatantly?—I thought politicians liked to be cagey about their failings as human beings.

Trump put it on the table: “Delay. Delay. Delay.” That’s been the GOP response to all government activity since Obama was sworn in—they told us that’s what they’d do—and they’ve kept their word with a vengeance. It is ironic that, in electing our first black president, we have not proved that racism is over—but the opposite. The senate has the power to delay any Obama appointee—yet they immediately start a conversation about how Obama shouldn’t even make an appointment—that it wouldn’t be ‘right’ for him to take advantage of being the President.

Now, I really shouldn’t put all the blame on the racist fuckheads known as the Republican congress—it took whole communities of racist fuckheads to elect these haters to their seats. This country is crawling with idiots—look at Trump’s poll numbers—look at our international standings in education ranking. America is the land of the free—and in the twenty-first century we see Americans have embraced the freedom to abandon reason.

But freedom is a responsibility, not an amusement park ride—if it is divorced from sober common sense, as in the case of many Americans, it becomes mere licentiousness—permission to indulge our darkest failings, rather than enable our highest aspirations. When people say freedom isn’t free, they suggest that it must be won with blood and sacrifice—but there is something else mandated by freedom—live and let live. And it is the ‘let live’ part that a lot of Americans have thrown out with the bath-water.

Conservatives have only recently presented us with their twisted ‘religious freedom’ argument to make America a Christian theocracy—but they have been doing the same ass-backward reasoning about Freedom for decades without anyone calling them on it—raising the issue of ‘police safety’ in response to the police habitually slaughtering young black men—raising the issue of ‘teachers unions’ in response to the shameful dysfunction of inner-city schools—favoring tax breaks for the powerful while insisting that we can’t afford to feed the homeless children. They make me ashamed to be American.

Now the real question—why are the Republicans afraid of an Obama-appointed justice? Will that appointee be too concerned with people, not concerned enough with the fat cats? Will that appointee see women as the equals of men? Will that person (god forbid) accept the reality of climate change? Oh, no! The world is going to end. I’m so mad I could spit. Racist assholes….

Join The Debate   (2016Feb11)

Wednesday, February 10, 2016                                       6:25 PM

I’m working on backups—I’ve had it in the back of my mind ever since the new year turned—and when the PC crashed yesterday, I was worried about how much writing, music, scans, and who-knows-what-else I might have lost—so—backups, right away—before I forget. And I have it in mind to try and think of a way to do intermediate, frequent backups of work-in-progress—just to keep this sort of thing from covering too broad a time period.

Thursday, February 11, 2016                                           11:05 AM

The pain is obscene—I’m having a bad day. God, I could scream. I’m not usually Mr. Comfortable—but I’m used to that. It’s when the pain is just so severe and so constant that I can’t think straight—that’s when I get a little bitchy about it.

I resisted the strong urge to respond to all the political posts on my Facebook wall—thankfully—there’s nothing to be gained by venting my ‘old crabby guy’ sentiments all over Facebook, just so some trollish meathead can engage me with what he or she is sure is ‘cogent reasoning’, but which in the end only proves how superficial, emotional, and peer-pressured their thinking is. The trouble with Facebook is that an educated, intelligent person can find himself or herself put on the same level as the dumbest ass in the country—and I recoil at the waste of time represented by arguing with someone who can’t even use the English language (or, at least, spell-check).

Also, there’s a mountain of difference between someone with fifty years of engagement in history, politics, and current events—and someone whose political involvement began when they decided to jump on Bernie’s bandwagon two months ago. I won’t even go into the depths of stupidity, and lack of self-preservation, represented by favoring the GOP. I could face standing in front of a classroom, trying to teach people what they don’t know—but I’ll be damned if I’m going to face them as equals, trading quips, while I try to educate them—and while they pretend to an equal understanding. That’s too hard for me—and much too easy on them.

And it is too easy to be a troll—they can just keep spewing bullshit until someone calls them on it—I, on the other hand, feel a responsibility to know what I’m talking about before I argue a point. I could twist the truth eight ways from Sunday—but I call myself on that stuff before it even leaves my lips—I don’t just throw it out there and dare someone else to refute it, just because it wins my argument for me. That’s debate-team bullshit—and everyone knows it—even the people who habitually use it in place of verisimilitude. Debate and argument are like government—none of it works properly without good will on both sides.

Not that I intend to leave the battlefield to the morons—I’ll post political comments on Facebook again someday—but using the cold logic of reason—not out of this pit of bitterness and pain.

Here’s some piano music from before the recent computer crash:

 

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Hillary—Accept No Substitutes   (2016Feb07)

Sunday, February 07, 2016                                      9:58 AM

Bernie Sanders is a nice guy—capable, well-meaning, firm in his convictions, and smart. If I had to choose between Bernie and any of the candidates from the GOP field, I’d pick Bernie. Bernie has been making speeches all over America telling people about our serious problems with income inequality and the influence of money on government—and I’d have to agree with him that solutions to these problems are vital to our continued well-being. Fixing these problems—and doing it well—would make our country even greater than it ever has been—which is pretty damn great. Bernie has a dream—and he’s running on his dream.

Unfortunately, Hillary Clinton is running for a job. She’s having trouble matching Bernie’s progressive rhetoric—because she knows too well that the president is not a plumber—Prez don’t fix no pipes. Hard working legislators and supreme court justices do that. Bernie is running to succeed at the work he’s been trying to do in the Senate—Hillary is running for the job of President of the United States. Her vision for America’s future is more complicated than ‘attack Wall Street’.

No one in government—excepting John Kerry or Joe Biden—has experience in dealing with heads of state to equal Hillary Clinton’s CV—two terms as First Lady and four years as Secretary of State. And in case you forgot, she was elected to the Senate, too—just like Bernie. Her superior experience would stick out like a sore thumb if it wasn’t for one wrinkle.

The GOP has attacked Hillary Clinton since she became the first lady in 1992—that’s just shy of a quarter-century of libelous aspersions being cast on her character and morals. To many people, this is proof that there’s something untrustworthy about Hillary—but when I consider the end result of all these attacks, I see it as proof of the reverse—that the GOP has been dishonest about Hillary for all that time. Name another public figure who could be sniped at, and snared, and ambushed, and bushwacked for twenty-four years—and come out the other end spotless—you can’t do it. If you or I were under the same poisonous scrutiny and suspicion for so long a time, what would our reputations look like?

The GOP believes that if they just keep slinging mud at Hillary some of it will stick—and the Bernie-lemmings are proving them correct. But I ask you—of the countless accusations leveled against her, which of them has been proved? They called them ‘scandals’—not just the GOP, but the media (always up for a brawl)—and they trumpet her potential disgrace from the mountaintops—but they never give out a peep when each successive house of cards collapses in her vindication. Most of the country, when asked, will claim that they ‘don’t trust’ Hillary Clinton—why? Because they trust Ted Cruz and his slime-ball friends more? That’s just crazy.

So let’s re-cap: Hillary Clinton is no more dishonest than any other politician, including Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton has far more experience in public service and international affairs than any other candidate from either party, including Bernie Sanders. Hillary Clinton recognizes that income inequality is a major issue—but she is also prepared to deal with the million other things that a president will be called upon to deal with, unlike Bernie Sanders. Finally, Hillary is a woman—what John Lennon called the ‘n-words of the world’—so we can count on her being sensitive to minorities—I’d say that much is a given, considering she’s spent the last ten years trying to become the first woman president.

Secretary Clinton didn’t become a battle-scarred veteran because she is insignificant—she got those scars because the GOP is scared to death of her. Years of effective efforts to make progressive change have made her their favorite boogey-man—if they can just discredit Hillary, the GOP believes, then the fight is half-won. But where the right is overly belligerent, the left tends to be indecisive—that’s why we’re turning to Bernie’s pie-in-the-sky, rather than deal with the complexities of Hillary’s long struggle. It is said that young people are flocking to Bernie Sanders—does anyone remember the story of the Pied Piper? Kids—what are you gonna do, right? Be a grown-up—stand for Hillary.

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?

Groundhog Day   (2016Feb02)

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Tuesday, February 02, 2016                                             6:32 PM

I had “Groundhog Day” playing in the background for part of the day—Comedy Central ran it on a loop, in honor of the day. And for those of you following at home, Puxatawney Phil did not see his shadow this morning—which legends tells us betokens an early spring—as if global warming wasn’t threatening to bewilder the spring bulbs out of the lawn right here in early February. I have a special fondness for Groundhog Day because it has always been the day before my birthday—which I share with Horace Greeley, among others. And the eponymous film is one of my favorites because lots of people say they don’t care for science fiction—but everybody loves “Groundhog Day”, and if that’s not science fiction, nothing is.

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My CD-library-designated external hard-drive died, and today I purchased a new one-terrabyte Passport by Western Digital to replace it. I’ve started ripping my CDs to the new drive—but I have hundreds of CDs, so it’s going to take a few days. I hope I didn’t lose anything irreplaceable—but I’m not going to spend $500 to find out (that’s the average cost of a data-retrieval service to restore a broken hard-drive’s data). I’m enjoying the review of my CD collection, anyway—so I’m just going to relax and enjoy rebuilding my digital music library. I was fortunate in using my C: drive for the downloaded music files delivered by Amazon or I-Tunes—I don’t know where I’d begin to restore that part of my music collection. Do I re-order it? Do I have to pay for it twice? What’s the deal? Here’s hoping I never have to find out.

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Hillary won (just barely) and Trump lost in last night’s Iowa Caucuses, so I’m cautiously optimistic. I think people forget that Hillary Clinton would be our first woman president—and that’s aside from being the best candidate, regardless of gender. We’ve been so excited and proud, most of us, to have elected Barrack Obama—and now we have a chance for another first—but somehow, the fact that we’ve had our first non-white president takes some of the luster off of the idea of our first woman president—which is weird. I guess, emotionally, people can get too much of a good thing.

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Ms./First Lady/Senator/Secretary Clinton has done a lot of the downplaying herself—I guess she doesn’t want to make her gender the focus of her candidacy—and I can see why she’d think that—but I’m excited. Female heads of state may be rare—but guess what’s rarer? Female heads of state who commit war crimes, or get caught in corruption, or do the many bad things that male heads of state get up to when they get the chance—that’s what (or should I say who?). Not that women are always good—perhaps they get less chances to ruin the world—but that still leaves them with pretty good track records.

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Good old Bernie is a nice guy—but he’s promising the moon to college kids—and those young people have enough school-loan-debt and unemployment to make them hungry for change—even hungry enough to vote. But let’s get serious about a Socialist running in the national election—the Democratic primary is one thing, but getting the whole country behind him is altogether different. And that’s just getting him elected. Look at Bernie Sanders’ voting record in office and ask yourself how much bi-partisan support his programs are liable to generate—even an elected Bernie could never deliver on his promises unless those same people vote in progressive Democrats to the Congressional and Senate seats.

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Anyway, I continue to watch the race with interest. Now here are some videos I posted recently—I hope you like them:

 

 

 

 

 

 

And, finally, this is a post originally from my Amazon Customer Reviews:

Monday, February 01, 2016                                             3:58 PM

Book Report: “This Long Vigil” by Rhett Bruno   (2016Feb01)

This would be more properly titled ‘Short Story Report’ but I often fall into the pit of convention—and in this case I am helped along by my Kindle, which renders the purchase and consumption of all fiction into the same seamless ‘buy-with-one-click’ stream—with the exception of the length of time for which we will be beguiled by the author. In this case—blink and you’ll miss it.

I found ‘This Long Vigil’ entertaining, well-written, and engrossing—but far too short. In the case of such snippets, one is more likely to feel the resonance of what’s missing than the paucity of what’s not. In this particularly case, I was left wondering how the premise came to be—what devilish organization would decide to put humans into the situation which the protagonist of this story finds himself? A solitary life leavened only by the voice of a parental computer, but surrounded by a thousand sleeping bodies who will never wake—this story leaves a lot unexplored—particularly how someone could survive such a life without succumbing to emotional imbalance or outright insanity. The protagonist’s final option skirts the issue, but couches it as a hero’s choice—not the ultimate desperation of a tortured guinea pig.

In programming we have the ‘reality check’—we look at a program’s results and, rather than check the calculations, we’d ask ourselves ‘does the output make any sense in general?’ If the ‘number of orders shipped’ equals negative two, or twenty million—you know you have a program bug—that’s a ‘reality check’. Story’s like “This Long Vigil” can be haunting and evocative—but the lack of a ‘reality check’ in the premise always breaks my vicarious concentration. Fortunately, this story is over before you have too long to dwell on it—the doubts come after. I look forward to reading something of Rhett Bruno that is longer and less darkly-toned—and I must stop here lest my review outstrip the story.

I’m Getting Stoned   (2016Jan29)

Friday, January 29, 2016                                          10:35 AM

I’m gonna get stoned. Don’t call me. I’m gonna get stoned and watch TV—I won’t be available for public appearances. I won’t be able to legally drive my car—hell, I’m not the safest driver when I’m straight—you don’t want the stoned me coming at you.

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This is my problem with modern living—life has a texture, a quality—and that’s its only purpose—the ‘economy’ doesn’t mean shit—it’s double-talk for how secure the fat cats are—the ‘economy’ for people like you and me is ‘I don’t have enough of it’. People argue, for instance, over childcare and maternity leave—as if those activities are secondary to a schmoe like you or me sitting in a cubicle making money for the man—what a truckload of utter bullshit.

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We should be taking care of our children (AKA our future) and debating whether or not we have the time and money to waste on sitting in cubicles making money—not the other way around. We should be spending our money on drug programs to help drug abusers—not programs to hunt them down and shoot them. Why do we have Prohibition for drugs when we know from history that prohibition doesn’t work? All we’ve accomplished is to create an international black market whose economy rivals many small nations—and some big ones. Fear-reaction politics has led us all down a very self-destructive path.

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Now we have clowns vying to be president—that should tell you just how far off track we’ve gotten. When did mature, educated people become such a small part of the electorate? Are we really this stupid? I don’t think so—people can be surprisingly clever—I think what’s happened is that we’re being purposely led astray by conservatives.

We know damn well that Religion is bullshit—but conservatives insist they want to carry that delusional baggage into the twenty-first century. We know that Capitalism is just organized greed—but the wealthy perpetuate it because the more common-sense future of socialism threatens their wealth and power of influence. If technology has already freed us from grubbing in the dirt individually, why can’t we see that digital technology is well on the way to freeing the entire human race from grubbing for a living? Independents try to frighten us with a loss of freedom that living under a caretaker government suggests—but having the government distribute wealth is no less dangerous than letting the fat cats run their employment free-for-alls which leave the least of us with the greatest challenges.

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The business-owners want to pick and choose from the pool of employable people—and let the rest of us shift for ourselves. With technology taking over people’s jobs, that ‘rest of them’ group grows ever larger—a mounting segment of the population grows impoverished while the overall productivity rises—and all that profit goes to the owners. What kind of bullshit is that? I’m getting stoned—fuck this bullshit.

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Talking Politics   (2016Jan26)

Tuesday, January 26, 2016                                                4:54 PM

It’s Tuesday so let’s talk politics. I’m painfully saddened by the ongoing lead poisoning in the Flint, Michigan drinking water—this is what happens to the disenfranchised—they get chiseled to death by the wealthy. Flint is just an exaggeration of that principle—you can find it everywhere in America now. The powerful have become so entrenched, so abetted by the political machinery, that, far from realizing some American dream, lower income families are lucky to escape death by neglect. America has grown top-heavy, but as the top clings to and accumulates more and more power, it stands on the weaker and weaker legs of the population as a whole.

I’m overjoyed that Planned Parenthood has been cleared of all the trumped-up charges recently leveled against it—and that the trumper-uppers are now facing prosecution themselves—justice prevails! A rare victory for an embattled principle—women’s health care is attacked most effectively through local legislation that drives away health care institutions like Planned Parenthood—leaving whole swathes of the nation with no women’s health care for hundreds of miles in every direction. That the blatant lies so recently leveled against it have been proven false is but small comfort—to the far right, women are still the enemy.

That fundamentalists can still attack gays, which are but ten percent of our country, is bad enough—but that they can still find support for their attacks on women, who comprise fifty percent of the people, beggars belief. Add in their attempts to roll back voting rights and immigration reform and you can see that the right really is just the bastion of white Christian males—plus those they despise who are somehow confused enough to support them in spite of themselves. The GOP contains women like Carly Fiorina and minorities like Ben Carson—but not many, just the twisted, self-hating dregs of the groups their party works so hard to keep under the jackboot.

A recent Facebook meme quotes Donald Trump from 1998, “If I were to run, I’d run as a Republican. They’re the dumbest group of voters in the country. They love anything on Fox News. I could lie and they’d still eat it up. I bet my numbers would be terrific.” Right-wingers were quick to fact-check this—and claim that he never said it—that, in fact, there was no Trump interview in People magazine that year. Still, it sounds like something he would say—and I’m only too glad to spread the quote, even if it’s not true. He definitely did say, just recently, that he could shoot someone in the street without losing any supporters—and while that may speak well of his political ability, it certainly doesn’t say much different about his supporters than the debunked quote does. To my mind, it’s even more insulting.

Everyone seems to be talking about the caucuses now—as if the arcane nomination process will protect the establishment candidates, protecting the Republicans from a popular candidate that doesn’t represent them—and protecting the Democrats from getting stuck with Bernie, whose popularity within the party may not translate to popularity in a national race. It’s been said that the lines at the registration desks—where first-timers sign in—will tell the story long before the nominations are tallied—this phenomenon was observed during Obama’s first campaign caucuses and it’s considered a sure sign of ‘outsider’ strength.

Well, that’s as far as I’m willing to go with discussing politics—any further and I risk upsetting myself to the point of illness. Basically nothing has changed—our fates hang by a thread, good may triumph but its odds are long, and no news is good news—unless, like Flint, you’re already in the news.

Today is our daughter Jessy’s birthday, so we miss her back east here while she celebrates in sunny CA.

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:

 

 

Omniscience   (2016Jan07)

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Supermassive and Super-hungry Galactic Core Black Hole – NASA/ESA Hubble Space Telescope

 

Thursday, January 07, 2016                                              10:49 AM

Think of existence as a river—think of the novas as upriver and the black holes as downstream—something explodes into our existence and, after a little while, something leaks back out of existence. We used to think of the cosmos as static—nowadays we think of the universe as a long, slow-motion explosion—but existence is neither so simple nor so unidirectional. We are told of matter and energy that are ‘black’, meaning that we can’t see anything there, but we know from its effect on what we can see that ‘something’ is there—albeit a something that can’t be seen or understood.

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Then there’s dimensionality—quantum physics indicates that there are as many as twelve different dimensions, give or take. We can see and understand the three dimensions of space—and if you add Time as the fourth, you get four easily understood dimensions to existence—so, in what direction do the other dimensions extend? Are we as ignorant of Nature’s true nature as a flatlander is of a sphere—but six or eight times more ignorant? This new Multiverse idea—is that like saying that our entire universe is like a point on a line—and that there are an infinite number of universes in both ‘directions’ along that dimensional line? Probability itself suggests that our universe is just a single roll of the dice—and that other universes exist where things went differently—a new universe for every atom that turns left instead of right, up instead of down.

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For all the incredible cleverness of advanced physics, all our scientific information seems to indicate that we don’t really know much—that we can’t really know much. Imagine that—science proving that science is virtually useless. Think of the technology—the smelting of alloys, the nuclear energy, electron microscopes, gene-splicing, robots on Mars, and laser spectrography—yet the ultimate message of all our research is that there is more to know than we could ever expect—that knowledge exceeds our senses, our intuition—even our imaginations.

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Strangely enough, this all still cuts both ways—we can view it as proof that there was never a God who created a flat Earth with a Sun and Moon moving across its sky—or we can view it as proof that only something unimaginably omniscient and omnipotent could create this puzzling universe. On the one hand, ‘excess’ dimensions are proof of the supernatural—there are things we can’t see. On the other hand, the ancient scriptures of the main religions show an ignorance that could only come from early humanity—with no sign of input from a creature that really knows the universe’s workings.

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Thus when evangelicals claim that the ways of God passeth all understanding—I can’t disagree—but when they claim that the Creator picked out individual humans to talk to, or had temper tantrums that resembled natural disasters—or my favorite—that humanity was created from whole cloth instead of evolving from bacteria along with the rest of biology—well, I see a lot more humanity in all of that than any hint of a Supreme Being. I find myself in the awkward position of finding the universe even more mysterious than the wildest zealot’s claims—but completely unable to accept the nonsense in our sacred texts dating from the pre-shoes era of human history. Show me a God who created the Higgs boson particle and I’ll go to church on Sundays—if you know what I mean.

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Nothing To Be Afraid Of (2016Jan06)

Wednesday, January 06, 2016                                          12:41 PM

Suicides are up; random violence is rising; Europe is turning away from its march towards unity—back towards nationalism; borders are being walled off; and worst of all, stupidity is on the ascendant. I don’t think even Hillary can handle all of America’s problems—and I don’t think even America can handle all the world’s problems. Yet population continues to grow—meaning there’s less of everything for everyone. And our planet is hurting, which means we can’t use as much of it as we used to.

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We’ve been told that racism is over—but it isn’t. We’ve been told that population growth is no longer a problem—but it is. We’ve been told that capitalism is good for us—but it isn’t good for all of us. People will be what people have always been—talking a good game, but walking the walk of self-centered-ness. Problems that can be solved are not—and problems that make money for somebody are lied about—their existence denied outright.

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It looks pretty hopeless, doesn’t it? How do we solve one problem when that one problem is enmeshed with a hundred others? How do we discuss our problems when the kibitzers get all the air-time—and the words of wise men and wise women get bumped for Bieber updates? As I look over this post I see nothing but bummed-out despair in my words—but am I lying? No. Am I focusing on the bad and ignoring the good? No—the good’s ‘all good’ but it doesn’t solve the problems of the bad. Sunshine and laughter would make far better material for a post—I know that. But our problems abide.

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What do we do? I don’t know. All I know is what we shouldn’t do—we shouldn’t turn to demagogues like Trump—he’s just a 21st century Hitler waiting to happen. And we shouldn’t throw up our hands, just because there are too many problems. We should care about each other—that’s the only answer. Pass all the laws you like—if we don’t care about each other, it’s all just wasted paper.

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Trump’s recent call to register Muslims reminds me of a story I heard—about Sweden during the Nazis—when they were told to have all their Jews wear Stars of David on their clothes, the entire population put stars of David on their clothes. They found an answer to Hitler—through the simple expedient of caring about each other. And they did something else—they put their fear aside. Americans used to think of themselves as that kind of people—people that put their fear aside.

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Today America is the world’s largest producer of fear—we have become a nation of cowards. We cower before black teens, we cower before people who wear headdresses, we run to the gun store to stock up on firearms, as if our neighborhoods are different than they were last year, or the year before—fear is in fashion.

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We have to stop being afraid of our neighbors and start caring about them. And we have to act on that caring—and stop acting on our fears. People will never be sensible—it’s not in our nature. We cannot ‘formulate solutions’ to all the threats our imaginations can conjure—we have to care about each other and embrace the courage that made this country great.

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Personally, I’d prefer to take all the super-wealthy out back and shoot’em—but Iraq taught us that evil is a snake without a head—destruction without caring about what comes after just makes things worse. We are quick to listen to the shouters, the bullies, the hecklers—as if there was no wisdom in silence, no good in quiet reason, and no point in patience. We can’t help it—people are like that. But if we care about each other—and if we act on that care—we might start voting for people who care about people, too. We might start voting for people who aren’t rich or pretty—like Berny. But he’s just one guy—electing him wouldn’t do nearly as much good as emulating him. Better we should all become him than expect him to change the world all by himself.

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A phrase from T. S. Eliot’s “Ash Wednesday” has always stuck in my head:

“Teach us to care and not to care

Teach us to sit still.”

I think it means that we need to learn what to care about—and we have to have the courage to sit still—to not flinch at every worry that flies past our heads—and to have the patience to work things out the hard way—instead of going with ‘Hulk smash!’

So, anyway, my two improvs for today are titled “Teach Us To Care” and “To Sit Still”.

 

The camera didn’t work today, so I’ve substituted video of photos randomly selected from my hard drive–if you are a relative or friend of mine, you’re probably in the video–then I ran out of material and used illustrations from my book of Bear Poems to fill up the rest of the video. For the classical recital’s video, I used some of the great art from my library of images.

I also played from my “Classics To Moderns” piano book today—the stuff towards the end of the book. Run down to Stanton’s Sheet Music to get your own copy—there’s a whole series of easy-to-middling piano works for the amateur (like me) that are nonetheless very beautiful and satisfying to play—I’m sure with a little practice, you could play them much better yourselves in a surprisingly short time.

 

Xper Dunn plays Piano, January 6th, 2016

12 Works from ‘Classics To Moderns’ :

Romance –Reinhold Gliere (1876-1958)

Brisk Game, Novelette, & The Horseman –Dmitri Kabalevsky (1904-1987)

Chanson Sans Paroles (Op. 40, No. 2) –Jan Sibelius (1865-1957)

Prelude No. 4 (Op. 11) –Alexander Scriabine (1872-1915)

Sea Piece & To A Wild Rose –Edward MacDowell (1861-1908)

Valses Poeticos –Enrique Granados (1867-1916)

Elfin Dance, Song of the North, (‘Saebygga’) & The Cowherd’s Song (Op.17) –Edvard Grieg (1843-1907)

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On Paper   (2016Jan01)

Friday, January 01, 2016                                          6:49 PM

The major American wars were over legislation—the Revolution and the Civil War were both ultimately fought over pieces of paper. Granted, slaughtering the indigenous people—that original sin, the century-long continental sweep of genocide—that was pretty bloody. But given that, the subsequent Americans traditionally never fought over territory—we prefer to fight over the rules. We elect officials to office—but we are led by a piece of paper—it’s a doozy, but it’s still just words written on paper.

The words represent ideas, perhaps even ideals—but they’re not perfect words—they prescribe three branches: two places to argue over the words—and one place for a tie-breaker. It’s a prescription for an imperfect world—thus it breathes, it morphs, it accommodates us, as the changing times alter our problems and our perceptions. But I didn’t start out to write an Ode to the Constitution—I just can’t help myself—Hi, my name is Chris and I am a Yankee-Doodle Dandy.

But we do argue over the rules—we recognize that our rights and our voices are more valuable than property or privilege. Americans are a litigious bunch—and we’ve always been quick to expose corruption and malfeasance. Perhaps that is why gun violence is on the rise—now that the printed word is digitized, it’s lost some of its weight—not to mention the competition for attention from screens. Politicians and corporations play fast and loose with words now—words are branded rather than defined. Hard science is denied. Fear is popularized. The pen has lost its power—and we revert to pointless violence—something we’re used to seeing elsewhere in the world, but not here, in the land of the free.

An educated, literate constituency is so important to the proper function of America—our once-leading position in the world on Public Education was a major factor in all that we have become. And now our educational system seems to be broken—how can that be? How is it possible that we knew how to educate our kids in the 1950s, the 1960s, and the 1970s—but we don’t know how now? How the hell did that happen? That’s our present government’s major malfunction—lack of education bleeds into the economy, human rights, our international status—into government itself. It is the foundation—the fountainhead—our most valuable natural resource. Do we act that way? Do we fund it that way? No and no. That’s messed up.

Higher education has been made into a profit center—it now produces more debtors than scholars—score another victory for capitalism free of reason and restraint. How’s that ‘trickle-down’ feel on the back of your neck?

And that is what enrages me when I hear a Republican advocate persecution of Muslims—not that it’s Hitlerian (which it is) not that it gives aid and comfort to ISIL (which it does) but because it is crap like this that keeps our eye off the ball. Education and Infrastructure—and fuck the rest. Or rather—take care of the rest without performing Wagner’s Ring-Cycle over every goddamned affront to your God-given bigotry. And focus on Education and Infrastructure—that’s your job. People elect you—you work for them.

See, this is the trouble with turning politics into a popularity contest—in a democracy, you vote for the best person to do the job—not the one you like the most. That is, if voters have the sense to understand that government is work—it’s not a debate society—it’s supposed to be a bunch of adults who work out their differences and come up with compromises. It’s not a show. They make it one on TV, but government is not a show. It’s hard enough to get a good effort out of a bunch of politicians without giving them all the wriggle-room that mass-media and the dumbing of America affords them.

Polls are a thriving business these days—if we’re not careful we’ll end up spending more money learning how we feel than we spend on teaching our kids how to think. Congratulations, America—you’ve invented religion-free dogma. Better yet—someone’s making a good buck off it—and all you have to do is put up with the unwanted phone-calls at dinner-time and the spam in your email. It’s a great business model, really—the owner of the business pays minimum wage for the telemarketers who call and question you —and pays you, the callee, nothing—and makes a bundle selling the metadata—ka-ching.

Anyway, I’ve lost the thread of what I was saying. Here are two videos from last year that I forgot to post before now:

 

 

O—and Happy New Year!

 

Year-to-Date   (2015Dec31)

Thursday, December 31, 2015                                         1:14 PM

Happy New Year’s Eve, everyone! I feel a lot better than I did yesterday—yesterday, I was just gnawing away at my own insides for some reason—I get like that sometimes—temporary insanity—I’d be more comfortable with full-time work, as far as that goes—but we don’t get to pick and choose our personal brain chemistries, so what can you do, right? I’ll append my unposted rant from yesterday below—but don’t take it too seriously—it represents a mood more than a state of mind.

But before I get to all the screaming and shouting, let me talk about today which, as I say, finds me in a far more temperate state of mind. I was just watching “A Night At The Opera”, starring the Marx Brothers and Kitty Carlisle—the shipboard music number, to be precise, when first Chico plays piano, then Harpo goes from piano to harp, with the male lead (I forget his name) singing “Cosi Cosa”. The Marx Brothers make music seem so simple and easy, like they’re not even paying attention to what they’re doing. It inspired me to the point of muting the TV and going to play some piano myself.

Today’s improv is me trying to emulate the breezy, simple music they always played as a feature in each of their films. Can I play the piano as if I’m shooting the keys with my forefinger, like Chico? No, sadly, I can’t. Can I add that soupcon of old-world classical style, with a hint of angelic despair, like Harpo? I wish. But I can play in the same spirit—and that is what I’ve tried to do with today’s offering.

As much as I admire the Marx Brothers, I must admit I’m glad it’s New Year’s Eve—weeks of movie marathons, Hallmark movies, holiday specials, and Top-10-retrospectives of the year—with commercials promising to resume first-run programming, airing fantastic new stuff—has me wishing that at least the late-night hosts would come back from holiday re-run hiatus. Why interrupt a re-run to tell people that good TV will be shown next week—are TV execs just frustrated torturers that missed out on the Inquisition?

I depend too heavily on TV as pastime to be comfortable with half-a-month without oxygen. I’ve started checking the year-of-release of all the cable movies—I say to myself, “1992—let’s see, that came out twenty-three years ago.” I wonder how many times I’ve wasted two hours re-watching this movie on cable over the decades. It’s a sad exercise—one I would gladly give up to watch a new release—but even the VOD-movie-releases dry up during the holidays—as if the whole world had ‘things to do’ during the holidays.

Some genius should start a new cable channel for TV addicts—no commercials and nothing is ever shown twice. I’d watch that, no matter what they put on. No, I take that back—the so-called Science Fiction Channel (or Syfy) taught me that TV can ruin anything. There’s very little sci-fi on Syfy—it’s mostly horror and paranormal garbage. There’s little science on Science—and scant history on History (unless you’re obsessed with Hitler—what’s with that?) TV can be so disappointing.

Here’s wishing everyone a Happy New Year, with lots of good TV to watch. Now as promised, I append yesterday’s horrible writing, by turns deathly boring and insanely spiteful—enjoy:

 

Wednesday, December 30, 2015                                               8:52 AM

Those NASA photos get to me after awhile—they’re pictures of things so immense that if the entire planet Earth was in the picture, it wouldn’t be big enough to make out against the backdrop of nebular clouds and lenticular galaxies. Then there’s the ‘pretty picture’ issue—when astronomers take pictures using radio-waves or x-rays, the pictures are the color of radio and x-ray, i.e. invisible—and so are displayed using false colors—which is fine. I mean, a picture that can’t be seen by the human eye is of limited use—using false-color hues to indicate depth and shadow is mandatory—but when you give someone a box of Crayolas, you have to expect a little creativity in the result. And while the resulting NASA photos are spectacular, they bear little resemblance to what I see when I go outside at night.

Not that I want NASA to be boring—I find the whole subject fascinating—humans spent centuries puzzling over the nature of light—which can exhibit the characteristics of both particle and wave—before we realized that light is simply that range of electromagnetic radiation which our optic nerves respond to. That is just wild, to me—imagine—radio waves with wavelengths longer than a grown man, and microwaves of (naturally) microscopic wavelength, are also electromagnetic radiation, but too big or too small to be sensed by human eyes.

There is nothing special about visible light—except to humans, which have evolved eyeballs to see green—that’s why green is smack in the middle of the visible spectrum—because human eyes evolved to better find food (green vegetation). The other colors are just extra, a way for our brains to separate out the green. Electromagnetic radiation in the infra-red range—now that’s special—infra-red is what we call heat—small enough to be invisible, but big enough to excite molecules (which is where the heat comes in). Infra-red’s wavelength is so close to that of visible light that we can make goggles that display infra-red imaging as visible—though I couldn’t say how they do it.

I get confused by the idea of imaging non-visible electromagnetic radiation—I know that the original discovery of x-ray photography was based on the reaction of photographic plates to x-rays—but how in the world do they do that digitally? Mysteries abound. How does a magnet know which end is positive? How does a circular magnet know where the ends are? What is the difference between electric current in a wire and electromagnetic radiation moving through space? I love physics, but it’s very confusing.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015                                               1:08 PM

I don’t know why I’m so full of frustrated rage today—maybe I’m coming down with a cold or something—I have no patience, no mercy, and no interest in being polite. It’s probably best if I stay off of social media today—I was just cursing at the News on TV—just sitting by myself, watching the news, and cursing a blue streak at high volume, directed towards the subjects of the news, the interviewees, and the talking heads themselves, each in their turn. No one meets my apparently-too-demanding standards of common sense and objectivity—but I usually just turn the channel—not stay there, screaming at my TV. I need a change of scenery or something—I’m really starting to lose it altogether.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015                                               9:26 PM

Trumpelstiltskin   (2015Dec30)

Donald Trump is a pompous dick. He says he’s a successful businessman but he’s really just a successful greedy person—there are lots of ways to get rich off of strategic bankruptcy filings, which let principle officers walk away with all the cash and leave the creditors, suppliers, and employees with nothing—but that’s not ‘good business’—that’s just being good at unethical, yet still technically legal, dealings. Trump, in his Mussolini-esque way, would insist that that’s still business—which says a lot about his take on ethics.

He’s never held office or won an election—how do we size him up? Maybe we should ask the people he has done business with—or maybe ask the people who work for him. He does a lot of talking—but we don’t hear a peep out of the people that know him. He’s pretty good at publicity—how is it he’s never been able to introduce us to his friends and colleagues? What is he afraid they might say?

Does he need ethics for a career in politics? Sadly, no. Politics is a cesspool and always has been—but the Republican solution—to elect incompetents and delusional morons to the legislature—is actually making things worse. This last hurrah of the Tea Party—a bid to elect the most incompetent moron to the highest office in the land—has been side-tracked. There are so many candidates with equally empty skulls—Cruz, Rubio, Bush, Christie—that they should by all rights be spoiled for choice. But that has all been swept aside by a reality-TV personality who has years of experience playing to the mouth-breathers. The Tea Party constituency has forgotten this is an election—they think it’s a game show—and they want their hero to win.

The GOP has only itself to blame—they’ve trained these knee-jerk reactionaries to run counter to common sense—and the party faithful have learned their lesson all too well. The Republicans wanted stupid voters and they’ve got’em—and they’re all gonna vote for the bully who’s ‘on their side’—how little they suspect what an elected Trump would truly mean for them and their families, and their day-to-day reality.

President Obama has been notably focused on positive results—so much so that, even with all the push-back, he has almost undone all the damage Bush did—but that still leaves us sixteen years behind where we should be. Imagine what would happen with Trump in that office, knowing nothing except how to bitch and blame and criticize other people. As an atheist, I can only say, ‘God help us’ if that happens. On the other hand, Trump actually making policy, making decisions about America—is an even more terrifying prospect. Bush showed us how dangerous a simple idiot president can be (the fucking ‘decider’—what a tool)—and we don’t want to find out what a reckless idiot president entails.

Doesn’t this smarmy, entitled prick have enough? Does his ego truly require the destruction of the greatest nation in the world? Why doesn’t he go back to ripping off anyone stupid enough to trust him, and building surprisingly ugly buildings with his name plastered over the door? Fucking asshole.

I call this election the last hurrah of the Tea Party because it can only end one of two ways. Either they’ll lose, proving that the electorate is too smart to fall for another Bush, or worse, a Trumpelstiltskin—or they’ll win, which will mean the doom of America—either way, the Tea Party will die. Republicans will have to go back to pretending they believe in science and pluralism and all those things they hate—they will have to accept that voters are people, with all the horrible variety that implies. Sorry, right-wingers—the world is just too serious for your childish tantrums; too complex for your simplistic pretenses.

In a world where change is so frighteningly fast that nobody can keep up, the conservatives are bound to take a beating—and ever since the digital revolution, they have had to rely on misdirection and dirty tricks to maintain any kind of influence. In fact, for people who want to live in the past, they are surprisingly adept at absorbing new technology to enhance all the misdirection and dirty tricks. The fat cats love the right because nothing panics a fat cat like the prospect of change—or fairness—and Americans, historically, have a bad habit of changing things for the better, making things fairer—so conservatism is the only safety afforded the wealthy and powerful—it’s been that way since we kicked out the British.

We let ourselves be fooled by leaders like FDR and Kennedy—men raised in wealth who still had more concern for the people than for the ruling class they came from—and boy, did their peers hate them for it. But they were special men—great men. Outside of such rare exceptions, we should never be voting for rich people—rich people suck. I submit that Trumpelstiltskin sucks big red hairy ones—he’s special, alright—just not in a good way. If he wasn’t so afraid of political correctness, he’d probably ask for a wheel-chair ramp for his brain. Then again, he’s very sly and nasty—that’s almost like being intelligent, if you don’t look too close.

Children   (2015Dec28)

Monday, December 28, 2015                                           12:01 PM

I saw two thought-provoking items in the New York Times Art Section today. One was about laser-scanning ancient historical sites under threat from ISIL vandalizing—and the other was about Jennifer Jason Leigh’s return to movies after the birth of her son.

I love the laser-scanning—once completed, a good laser-scan allows us to buy up some real estate down in Anaheim (next door to you-know-who) and recreate an entire site—right down to the texture of the stones—suitable for family visits or archaeological study. Indeed, we live in a world where, before long, even the reconstruction will be unnecessary—virtual-reality headgear will allow us to visit the site without leaving our homes. Meanwhile, science-denying thugs wandering the deserts of the Middle East can crack all the stones they want—was there ever such a display of ignorance?—destroying the remains of our past out of fundamentalist superstition. What children. Our only remaining threat would be Chinese-ISIL—people who could hack our digital heritage sites.

It is fitting that the season of Santa Claus would be a time for Jennifer Jason Leigh to start wishing for a role in a film her five-year-old could see. We parents are careful to keep our children from growth-stunting stuff like caffeine, alcohol, or cigarettes—and we do the same with perceptions. We feel (correctly, I think) that children’s minds cannot mature properly if certain memes are presented too early—vice, violence, betrayal, and despair can overtax a growing mind, killing its spirit before it has a chance to grow strong enough to handle adult issues.

Thus we raise our children in a fantasy world of happy endings, magic, and limited evil—we lie to them about Santa Claus for their own good—even though we must be revealed as liars, in time. Movie stars like Jennifer Jason Leigh act in challenging roles that suit their young ambitions—but when they become parents, they invariably start to think about roles in family-friendly fare—they become Santa Claus actors. Are they surprised, I wonder, when they discover that it is just as difficult to act out fantasy as reality? Ask a children’s-book author—it is as hard to write an engaging children’s story with limited vocabulary, devoid of adult issues, as it is to write adult literature full of big words and complex problems.

And if it is truly necessary to raise our children in a bubble of innocence, why have we never addressed this scientifically? Scientists might be able to determine the exact age at which children are best told that Santa Claus is a fiction—instead of having those uncomfortable confrontations between kids whose parents let the cat out of the bag—and kids whose parents want to hang onto innocence awhile longer. It is one of those ‘givens’ that we recognize, but never study outright. Doctors and nutritionists give careful study to which foods are appropriate for growing infants—when to start on solid foods, etc.—but we leave the decision about emotional maturity to the MPAA, which determines how old you have to be to watch each film being released—and the MPAA, trust me, is not a scientific institution with our children’s mental health as their primary concern.

Of course, even if we studied this issue, there would be parents who would take exception for their kids—as some of them do now, with polio shots and other school-mandated vaccines. Ignorance is an important part of childhood—and we parents sometimes want to prolong their ignorance—yet no parent would admit that they want their children to grow up to be ignorant adults. Even though reproduction is the cardinal activity of living beings, we still have debates over whether we should enlighten our children with sex education classes. That attitude seems more for the parents than for the kids—wishful thinking that our kids won’t have sex. Some school systems even have so-called sex-ed classes that supply misinformation and focus on abstention, rather than giving kids the information they need to avoid early pregnancy or STDs.

We even lie to teenagers—take any class in business administration and show me the chapter that deals with bribes, protection, or corruption—unavoidable factors in real-world business that we nevertheless overlook when we study the subject. Criminality is like an unrecognized sovereignty—it doesn’t officially exist, but any real-world activity must take it into account. This accounts for the phenomenon of college-graduates who don’t know a damned thing about real life—for all the debt being incurred, that seems kind of wasteful.

Eventually, we must admit that the lying never ends—even adults can be grouped into levels of greater or lesser reality-facing. There’s a group that believes in the efficacy of group prayer. There’s a group that believes America is great because it is rich and powerful—and never asks how it got that way, or how it stays that way. People can be categorized by how much childhood innocence and ignorance they retain, and how much, and what kinds, of reality they embrace. We live in a world where, no matter how true something is, there’s a group of people that don’t believe it—and, conversely, no matter how silly something is, there’s a group of people that do believe it.

As T. S. Eliot once wrote, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality.” We have difficulty living in the present. We have difficulty accepting hard truths. Outside of the infinity of truths even a scientist cannot know, there is a further infinity of truths we refuse to acknowledge—it is troubling for me, a seeker of truths, to accept that for many people the avoidance of truth is a valid pursuit. Long ago, in my youth, I used to see religion as the prime avoidance technique—but now that mass media has come into its own, I see that misinformation has no limits. Some people are so insistent on falsehood that they can contradict themselves without embarrassment—or deny that they said something, moments after they said it.

It is fitting, I suppose, in this age when knowledge is exploding in every direction, that misinformation should explode as well—but that doesn’t make it any less tragic.

Breaking News: The Day After Christmas   (2015Dec26)

Saturday, December 26, 2015                                           12:33 PM

The affectionate whip has snapped and lies still—all its uncoiled energy came to a head with the crack of Christmas—and it is now hung coiled and still on a hook on the wall. We wake to the absence of holiday and the unnatural warmth of winter in a world out of balance—as if petrol prices weren’t low enough, the eastern seaboard is sporting shorts to New Year’s Eve parties.

The Stock Exchange reminds me of the Republican party—good news for humankind (the unexpectedly speedy, easy progress of conversion to alternative energy) is bad news for Wall Street—which is the same as saying it’s bad news for the fat cats. The petroleum industry, combined with the military-industrial arms-makers, make humanity’s doom the largest global profit center—what’s good for us is bad for business. You can’t pull down that kind of profit selling food or clothes or books.

The whole idea of making civilization a competition is stupid. Cooperation is the only smart thing to do—but there’s no profit in that; there’s no excitement in that; and there are no sinecures in true cooperation—nobody gets ahead. Yet if we insist on a society that allows us to get ahead, we are insisting that someone be left behind. Individual freedom is sacred to Americans—but a person without civic responsibility or a willingness to cooperate with the community is not exercising freedom—just willfulness.

We tend to include amongst our freedoms the right to be impatient—if argument goes too long or reason becomes too complex, we feel justified in cutting the Gordian Knot, throwing up our hands and saying, ‘Nuke the bastards’ or ‘Build a wall’. Being willfully stupid has become Americans’ favorite way of exercising our freedoms. I watched a beautiful program yesterday—it was a movie of new citizens being sworn in—a ceremony in each of the fifty states of the union—with interviews of newly-minted Americans extolling what they most loved about their new country. A common thread was voiced by one of them—‘Americans take their freedoms for granted—they don’t appreciate the miracle that is the United States’.

But that is only true of the loudest and sloppiest Americans—many of us are deeply appreciative, every day, to live here—and to keep vigil over our history and our ideals—and feel real pain at the words of demagogues—especially the ones who become media darlings through their outrageous subversion of our American way. Does CNN really think that the constituency that elected Obama to two terms is going to vote for John Wilkes Trump or Benedict Cruz? No, they just want ratings—and the hell with public service. We lost an important sinew of American cooperation when the news media went ‘for profit’.

We used to have champions of the public good acting as journalists and editors—now we have paparazzi and businessmen in their place—people who give a megaphone to any nitwit with a sensational way of spouting their ignorance. People like Trump and Cruz have always been with us—but the media used to keep its lenses trained on the sober, rational leaders who focused on the public good—and trusted that their honest efforts would gain them votes, without millionaires backing expensive hucksters to pump out propaganda. Sensation now substitutes for substance in the media—but the substantial challenges abide, and the sensations only distract us from the work of real change. The fourth estate used to help—now it just gets in the way, another tool of those in power.

People ask how America became so sharply divided—simple—the media made politics into a sporting event, encouraging people to pick a side and root for their team, rather than think about issues or answers. ‘Playing the devil’s advocate’ can be a useful exercise, in moderation—but when it’s the only thing you do, you’re just a rabble-rouser—a trouble-maker who profits from a fight and doesn’t care what the fight’s about.

Absurdities and Fragments (2015Dec13)

Friday, December 11, 2015                                               11:26 AM

Absurdities

Like a waterfall in the ocean, or a cloud beneath the ground

Or if toes could type like fingers, or the flowers sniff themselves

Like rain all night in weather dry, or songs without a sound

Or heaven without angel wings, or Santa without elves—

If I could only fly aloft by lying in my bed

Or make a universe exist with a logarithmic word

I’d think up all the great ideas with nothing in my head

And make a world of common sense seem patently absurd.

Friday, December 11, 2015                                                        2:10 PM

Fragments   (2015Dec12)

I was struck today by the image of a waterfall in the ocean—see, you can’t have a waterfall in the ocean—you need solid ground to make a waterfall—isn’t that weird? Stoner thinking—I know. But while we stoners seem pretty silly, ceaselessly marveling at the simplest things—I can’t help wondering if a penchant for being blasé about the universe is such a great alternative. The ability to see things anew, with a fresh appreciation, isn’t a distortion—it’s a gift beyond price. Being bullheaded about everything is just as foolish—and I see people do that all the time—without benefit of any self-medication.

I’ve decided to back away from politics—not that it doesn’t matter—it matters plenty—it’s just that I see now that politics is just a bunch of people fighting over the steering wheel while no one is looking out the windshield. In the end, people run politics as much as politics run people—if the politicians go too far wrong, they’ll always get corrected by public pressure. Look at Trump—front-runner for prez one day, shunned by the entire globe the next. While politics is important, my giving myself a stroke watching it on TV doesn’t do anyone any good—especially nowadays, when TV anchors report both sides of the news—the sensible and the idiotic. They used to report on different sides of the sensible and simply discount the idiots—and I miss that—but that may have been my youthful ignorance and there’s been idiots all along—whatever.

Feelings are so confusing. Sometimes I feel that I’m on the cusp of a great notion—something new, an exciting idea, a fresh insight—then a gear slips and my mind is blank—nothing left but a vague notion that I had an idea. I’m confused about which part of my mind is malfunctioning—is it my memory that collapses every time I get inspired—or am I just delusional and never had an inspiration to begin with, just the notion of one? Given the result, it hardly matters which—I guess I just want to know which to grieve over.

Today’s post is a great illustration of my mindset—every paragraph is about a different subject—nothing coheres. I used to wield my mind like a chainsaw—buzzing through any obstacle—focused on one job at a time—but now my mind is more like a river that I sit alongside of and watch go by. The thoughts and ideas drift into view—then drift away—and while new ones come after, none of them can be held tight and examined closely. People think that intelligence and memory are separate things but I’m here to tell you—you can’t have one without the other.

And one could say that my near-lifetime of TV-watching during my infirmity is much like watching a river go by—a stream of media, if you will—yet I can’t do anything useful, like fishing if I was watching a real river. But I am struck often by the archival footage of old conservatives, espousing hatred of all the different groups—at every distinction they can find, really—and how one can match them up with people speaking today, on CNN, yet no one seems to see the direct line-of-descent of this changeless ignorance.

It’s holiday time—lots of Christmas carols on the piano (prepping for caroling parties) and watching lots of Hallmark’s latest seasonal TV films, but not enough buying of trees or presents—I’m better at celebrating in my head than actually celebrating. Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but it’s also pretty confusing and emotion-laden to the point of stress—even more so for us atheists who don’t let our disbelief ruin a good holiday.

And as if there weren’t enough stress to the season, we’re experiencing a record-breakingly warm December here in New York—far from a white Christmas, we’ll be lucky if it even rains. With our climate, a white Christmas is never guaranteed—but in the past at least it managed to be cold! Pacific island nations may be in danger of disappearing beneath the waves, but a warm Christmas will probably do more to promote climate-consciousness in New Englanders than any other weather phenomenon—so perhaps it’s a good thing.

 

The Culture Novels of Iain M. Banks   (2015Dec12)

Saturday, December 12, 2015                                           5:57 PM

Technically (at least with regard to Amazon.com) there are only ten ‘Culture Novels’ listed in their website’s ‘Kindle department’—but there are, to my knowledge, twelve Culture Books to date. Amazon’s Kindle-publishing didn’t offer “Against A Dark Background” [1993] on Kindle until just recently—and it still doesn’t offer “Transition” [2009] (or “Inversions” [1996], though they list it as one of the ten—go figure). There are debates about whether something is distinctly a Culture novel or not—but as far as I’m concerned, they’re all written from a Culture frame of mind and are set in the same ‘universe’ (though vastly extended over both time and space) and are thus all Culture novels—but that’s just me.

In the course of my choice to re-read all the Culture Novels in chronological order, this and other details led me to create a table—and for anyone with a yen to do the same, I hereby save you the trouble:

20151212XD-Banks_CultureNovels_GRFC_02

I’m presently on ‘book 6’—which means that I’m reading “Against A Dark Background” on my Kindle—with plans to read “Inversions”, which I luckily have a printed copy of, the next time Kindle interrupts my reading for a charging of its battery—take that, Kindle! Truth is, I have them all in print somewhere—but there’s a lot of rooting-around implied in that phrase ‘somewhere’, so I’m just biting the bullet and paying for the Kindle versions (where available). I’ve become spoiled by reading a lit screen—and I really can’t read print by lamplight for very long nowadays, anyhow.

“Fans of the Culture novels by Iain M Banks” is a Public Group on Facebook that I just joined. Iain M. Banks is the ‘science-fiction-name-version’ of Iain Banks, a Scottish author whose initial renown springs from his gruesomely violent “The Wasp Factory” published in 1984. “The Quarry” and “The Bridge” are subsequent non-sci-fi novels—and the Iain Banks without the middle initial is thus a bestselling novelist. Still, ‘Wiki sez’ that he began as a sci-fi writer and couldn’t get published—and further, that there are aspects of “The Wasp Factory” that are sci-fi in disguise, so to speak.

I find this odd, but not that odd—science fiction should have its own publishers and editors—how can we expect a ‘regular person’ with no interest in science fiction to recognize what makes great sci-fi reading? Iain Banks, by manipulating his own talents in a more commercially-acceptable genre, gained acceptance as a writer first. Then he was able to slingshot around the imagination-opaque editors and get his sci-fi published. Being a logical kinda guy, he used his middle ‘M.’ to keep up the Chinese Wall between his two audiences.

I first read “Consider Phlebas” in the 1980s—I was its dead-center demographic—a sci-fi reader with a hard-on for anything T.S. Eliot—my favorite poet. Banks uses Eliot quotes for book-titles, sometimes—my kind of guy. I was pleasantly surprised by ‘Phlebas’—many writers throw in some T.S. Eliot for legitimacy—and who doesn’t want to quote the greatest poet of the last century—especially back in the last century? Most do it out of a well-founded sense of inadequacy—but Banks’ writing makes it clear that his affinity for Eliot comes from an affinity for the same kind of ‘big picture’ concepts dealt with in the great man’s poetry—and no small amount of literary talent. Banks’ fiction is exceptionally good reading—an even rarer prize in the sci-fi genre than in fiction generally.

Banks is also amongst those writers whose envelope-pushing in their own medium make them difficult fodder for the cinematic-conversion that so many writers envision as the end-game to success—he succeeds in his writing perhaps too well to succeed as the germinator of movie adaptations. His writings’ best features are also almost a list of things that are hard to adapt from the literary—though great screenwriters have adapted some wild stuff from past writers, so I wouldn’t go so far as to say the Culture novels will never be adapted for mass media in some way. Still, I can almost guarantee they will lose something in the process.

When I was ill for many years, I read very little—I had such poor memory that I could only read a Banks novel by keeping a few index cards between its pages—on which I would write the names of the many humanoids and ship-minds that filled the story. Ship-mind names proliferate—and any reader with a poor memory will have difficulty keeping them all straight—I noticed this particularly last week, while re-reading “Excession” [1996]. I do enjoy the serendipity of the naming of the mind-ships, though—and I enjoy the concept of super-AI minds being housed in starships whose size and power match their imagined mental capacity.

Fiction takes us to another world, another time or place, and allows the vicarious experience of other characters—when it’s done well, it’s transportive. In the case of science fiction, that escape is heightened by the absence of any boundaries of place or time—it can let us be not just different people in different places, but things that don’t exist in worlds that are different from Earth—even with physics that differ from our observed reality. What a trip. Iain M. Banks is one of those rare sci-fi writers that can comfortably, confidently take us on such limitless journeys and I recommend his books to anyone who has hitherto been missing out.

[Blogger’s Postscript: I wrote this post yesterday under the assumption that Iain Banks was still living and that he would bring us more books in future. I’m saddened to learn that Mr. Banks passed away in 2013 of cancer–and I hope no one feels I have disrespected him by writing about him as if he was still with us.]

Trump’s Fascist Hate-Speech   (2051Dec07)

Monday, December 07, 2015                                           5:48 PM

Here I was earlier—quite proud to be an American as I watched all the Pearl-Harbor-themed movies on TV this morning. The America of the 1940s, a unified gargantuan force, dead-set on vengeance against would-be tyrants—ah, in amongst all that desolation and blood, it was a magnificent sight—the greatest generation, etc. Then I hear that Donald Trump has called for the banning of Muslims from entering the United States. And all that pride melts away, replaced by shame.

I’m unsure what embarrasses me most–it could be the childishly ignorant hate-speech itself; it could be the TV reporters calling it ‘politics’ instead of plain villainy; or it could be the string of Republican presidential candidates who echo his sentiments—proving that stupidity is now a sellable brand within that party. When I think of how Muslim-Americans must feel when they hear this—as if America and all it stands for can be chucked out whenever these overfed oafs get a little nervous—I want to rush door-to-door, upstairs and down, all through the town, yelling, “Don’t worry—America is not represented by these idiots—they just get too much air time!”

I’m sick and tired of these people giving a pass to all the Christian nut-jobs without pausing for breath—and then conflating 1.6 billion Muslims with a pack of nut-jobs that live in another country. Excluding 22% percent of the world’s population might be problematical, especially since ‘being Muslim’ doesn’t show—did Trump forget the part where they all have to wear little cloth crescent-moons on their lapels? What about Muslim-Americans who’ve left the country on business or on vacation—can they come back in? Can their relatives ever see them again—or will Muslim-Americans have to leave our shores to be allowed to see their native families from now on? I feel that the 74th anniversary of Pearl Harbor is a bad day for a presidential candidate to do his Hitler impression for the cameras. Donald, you’re not funny anymore.

 

I’m loathe to include my latest piano music with this post about an evil clown with delusions of awareness, but here they are (I’m damned if I’m going to do two posts just because Trump’s a galactic-class asshole):

Now The News   (2015Nov21)

Saturday, November 21, 2015                                          10:28 AM

Here we are—all together for the holidays. America, Syria, France, Iraq, Iran, Russia, Israel, Jordan, Mali, Greece, Ukraine, UK, Italy, Turkey, Afghanistan, Mexico, China, Myanmar—well, ‘countries recently in the news’ is a list too long for me to type here. And in some senses, it doesn’t matter—the places unmentioned in the news are experiencing their own difficulties—there’s just no sensational story there—or it’s too hot to report from—but you can find troubles everywhere. Trouble for the holidays—just what everybody put on their Christmas lists!

I’m tempted to stop watching the news on TV—it’s not that I don’t care—I care a lot—it’s just that I don’t approve of the way they’re telling the story. The media leaves out too much of importance and focuses too much (and for too long) on the unimportant. It’s a stupid way to tell a story—and when the story is of civilization’s progress through time, I judge it worthy of some care in the telling.

I see journalists—and whole news networks—filtering their output through self-interest and sensationalism. When the whole point of journalism is to give us ‘just the facts’, these reporters insult our intelligence and abuse our trust by reporting on a bias. News stories often focus on how the people ‘felt’—“What did it feel like to be there?”—“What are your feelings now that’s it’s over?”—that sort of thing—it’s called ‘human interest’. Human interest stories used to be what the newspapers used for filler on a slow news day, when they had no actual facts to report. But now, we’re lucky if any facts get through at all.

Do I care about how people feel? Yes, I do. In a democracy, the ‘feelings’ of the majority determine who is elected and what laws are passed (theoretically). Plus, we all want to know where we stand in relation to the views of the majority. Everyone’s feelings about everything, however, should oughta be based on what we know—and we rely on the news to inform us, not to consolidate our ‘feelings’ about our ignorance.

We have specialty news outlets that lean left or right—catering to our existing emotional biases—or confine themselves to business (the rich people channel, I call it) or confine themselves to sports (adults getting paid to play games). Here are the specialties by which I think the news should be diversified. There should be a Statistics news channel that shows graphs of data, changes over time, projections of future trends, and comparisons of one set of indices against another. There should be a Global news channel that gives the status of every country in the world, whether it’s currently a hot news spot or not—who’s in charge of each country, how their economy is doing, what their human rights status is, and what their least-represented citizens are having to endure. It should also give us a sense of which countries are cooperating with each other, which countries are opposed to each other, and whether that conflict is one of arms, jihad, genocide, economic pressure, or environmental threat.

And there should be a Political news channel—but not for a bunch of speeches and photo-ops—it should report on new legislation being passed on the federal level, the state level, and locally. The overall effect of the legislation should be examined, of good or bad potential—and it should report on which lobby pushed for the legislation and what the motives behind it are—and there should be some notice taken of the effects of any new legislation on the people who had no desire for it, but had it imposed on them. They could even have a ‘fun’ segment that listed all the lies told that day by politicians of either party—and maybe even a ‘heroes’ segment once a week that touts a politician who speaks an unpopular truth (though that may have to be just once a month, or even once a year).

I wouldn’t mind a Disenfranchised news channel, reporting on how things look from the bottom of the heap—the ad revenue for such a channel would be abysmal, but the viewership would be enormous. Science-based news would be good too—but not to report on new gadgets and spacecraft launches—it should report on the connections between scientist and funding, corporations and universities connecting, government and research being influenced by lobbyists—and all that sort of thing. You could throw in some stuff about education too—new educational methods and their implementation, or the barriers against education raised by fundamentalists, prudes, and special interests.

I could go on about all the important content that is presently ignored by the ‘news’, but you get my drift. People have been talking about the monopolization of media by the wealthy; about the surrender of journalism to capitalism, for decades—but now it’s really coming home to roost. Democracy can’t function without free speech and an informed constituency—and while free speech abides, we are no longer being properly informed. The popularity of presidential candidates with no experience in governing and no knowledge of American history gives some small indication of that.

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:

Ben Carson is No Democrat   (2015Nov12)

Thursday, November 12, 2015                                         4:10 PM

Missouri State University has had some controversy lately, with widely publicized student protests resulting in the resignation of the University’s president. Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson gave his thoughts to Megyn Kelly in a FoxNews interview on Nov. 11, 2015:

“We need to recognize that this is a very dangerous trend. When we get to a point where a majority can say, ‘I don’t like what you’re doing—that’s offensive and therefore I have a right to be violent towards you or to deprive you of rights because I don’t like what you’re doing’, you know, that really goes against the grain of our constitutional rights—and if we don’t see that, we’re in really big trouble right now.”

I’d like to spend a moment unpacking this strange pronouncement because it hurt my ears just to hear someone say it—and I think it deserves to be taken out of the assembly-line of stupid quotes that pass us by each day—and really looked at for the thinking it represents.

Firstly, I want to back-track a bit—when I refer to Carson’s ‘thoughts’ or his ‘thinking’—I’m not entirely sure those are the correct terms—I suspect that Dr. Ben is somewhat delusional. But, beyond that, let’s begin with “We need to recognize that this is a very dangerous trend. When we get to a point where a majority can say, ‘I don’t like what you’re doing’“ –well, that’s called Democracy—and, as our constitutional rights are predicated on an elected body of leaders and representatives, I’d say democracy is kinda constitutional.

When a political party represents the minority, especially as in the case of the GOP, which represents the power elite, they are often put to great pains in finding ways to tell the masses how we should behave—without denying our democratic principles—which they know will upset our feelings. We rarely hear them tell us so baldly how they really feel about majority rule—even when they advocate the new reversals on voting-rights down south.

Carson attempting to dull the pain of his paean against democracy by saying that their decision amounts to “a right to be violent towards you or to deprive you of rights” is a bit of hyperbole, it seems, since asking a college president to resign after he’s offended the entire community is hardly ‘violence’ against him. The whole statement is a masterful example of Republican mirroring-strategy, where the oppressor is called the victim, and the victims are a majority being led astray by shadowy ‘agents of subversion’ that exist only in the conspiracy-nut minds of right-wingers.

Carson concludes with “you know, that really goes against the grain of our constitutional rights—and if we don’t see that, we’re in really big trouble right now.” Now, the decision of the majority sometimes gives us the right to be violent towards someone—as in the case of our many states that still practice executions. Outside of our penal system, it is wrong to be violent—but it is ‘against the law’, not ‘unconstitutional’—as Ben would have it. And that final sentence is pure GOP—i.e., ‘but if you don’t see it my way, you should be very afraid.’

Brain surgeon or not, whenever this man opens his mouth it makes my head hurt—he’s such a dolt. I won’t go into the crowds of mouth-breathers who reverently look up to him as their choice to lead this country—thankfully, I don’t think we’ve gotten ‘to a point where a majority can say’ that—and as long as we remain a democracy, that should keep them from realizing their nightmarish dream.

I played my electric piano for a little while today:

I took some pictures of Fall outside my window today:

SAM_1938

SAM_1937

SAM_1935

And I wrote a bit of poetry the other day:

Tuesday, November 10, 2015        1:43 PM

The Don Quixote Fan Club Theme Song

(Unfinished)

Lovers and heroes and shiny things

Whatever the treasure adventure brings

Lions with faces and ladies with wings

All tales are told when the fall wind sings

You take a sword—I’ve got my bow and arrow

Though the passes be high and the straits be narrow

We’ll battle and tussle and fight our way through—

Whatever adventures adventurers do.

You hop on a charger—I’ll find me a steed

Along the rough road we’ll find else we may need

For nothing can stop us—we ride and we charge

Though troubles be many and monsters be large.

So here’s to our quest

May we all be the best of fellows

Put us to the test

We’ll puff out our chests and bellow

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.