The Blowing of the Wind   (2017Dec13)

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Wednesday, December 13, 2017                                               3:16 PM

The Blowing of the Wind   (2017Dec13)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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Presidency, Bought & Paid For   (2017Jul25)

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Tuesday, July 25, 2017                                             8:26 PM

Presidency, Bought & Paid For   (2017Jul25)

I don’t follow the Trump story anymore—what it boils down to is this: the man is unfit for office, and it’s a matter of whether, and when, the Republicans will finally reach their collective limit, in supporting this destructive and dangerous clown. Meanwhile, the Democrats should be focused on what they’re going to do—their hands are tied for the next several years, no matter what happens with Trump—and they have to reach the people with some hard truth. Otherwise, they’ll just stay ‘Republican-lite’.

Perhaps we’ll learn from a bull-in-a-china-shop like Trump that our government is very fragile, in some basic ways—informed engagement being foremost among its needs, in a democracy—and that government and business are two separate things for an excellent reason—government is supposed to be For the People. Business is just about the money.

Now, before you get started—yes, money is everywhere—in everything from how well we can raise our children to whether we can afford life-saving medicine. But businesses are not required to concern themselves with that—they are concerned solely with how much money comes in and goes out.

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Government regulations, government inspections, government testing—we hear a lot of bad-mouthing of these activities, as a rule. But we only hear from the business interests that find government quality-control too great an expense. If anyone wants to bad-mouth the EPA, or the FDA (or whatever few government regulatory agencies have survived the business-friendly Republicans) it should be about how their function isn’t being fulfilled properly.

Arguing against government regulation is stupid. Arguing to make regulations ‘more better’—now, that’s a good idea. If you take home packages of food and bottles of drinks, don’t you want to know that the people that sell it are legally liable if they get careless with your family’s food? Of course business will always criticize government—they don’t want any rules. But they need them—or rather, we need them—to protect us from rampant business without a conscience.

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Remember when Volkswagen had half-a-million ‘volks’ driving around what they thought were fuel-efficient, eco-friendly cars—and they were simply cars with ‘lying’ emissions readouts. That’s what you get when you have rules in place. Imagine a reason to “let up” on business watchdogs—I dare you. We need consumer protection, eco-protection, and employee protection. The lack of sufficient government oversight is the reason we have so few, but very rich, people now—and most workers haven’t seen an increase in thirty years.

That’s hundreds of millions of Americans being taken advantage of by what Senator Sanders calls ‘da Big Banks’. That’s the trouble with technology—if this were pre-industrial times, no way such a small group of people could sit on mountains of money while everyone else struggles.

If the American Revolution hadn’t happened when it did, it couldn’t have worked—if we’d waited until the British had Gatling Guns, we’d have lost. Of course, you correctly point out that the Gatling Gun was a product of our Civil War, and so wouldn’t have existed—but someone would have come up with something like it, so I maintain my point holds. Automatic gunfire is the ultimate crowd control—so, nowadays, anyone who can hire a gang of mercenaries with automatic weapons becomes a small nation unto themselves.

The mindless power of wealth is armed with all the latest weapons—if we are not already adopting paranoia towards its potential to enslave us all, we are not being careful enough. While we, as individuals, meander through our destinies, trying to get by and minding our own business, the wealthy are plotting to become more wealthy. Why?—because that’s how they got wealthy. And with all that money, they can lobby legislation, they can ‘buy’ influence for ‘their’ candidates, they can tell a whole town full of employees ‘how it’s gonna be’.

Wealth is powerful—but it doesn’t think—or feel. It is a danger when uncontrolled and we knew it, long ago. But ever since the last World War, propaganda for a stronger military—and against socialism—has turned Republicans against their better interests. We already have some Socialism in our government—and it does a lot of good. Taxes are a form of socialism, too—in their own way—they are a collective asset, spent for the good of all.

Humane, safe, fair conditions for employees—that was a struggle fought over decades. And the owners that opposed the workers cited Socialism as the problem. Socialism is used as an insulting label by Conservatives—any group activity they disapprove of is Socialism—if they approve of it, it’s the Right to Assemble being exercised. These people have always been villains—the fact that one of them is probably your employer doesn’t make them the one good guy out of the rest—he or she is the most dangerous—because they hold your life in their hand.

Conservatives have to stop chowing down on the s**t-sandwich that is ‘a business-friendly’ government. Any time the government takes the side of business over the people, they are disgracing themselves—all these congressional bills pampering the big industries (and their profits) are a betrayal—and people don’t see that. It’s very frustrating. You don’t see the media taking this perspective—maybe it’s because they are owned by a bunch of fat-cat oligarch-types.

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Sunday, July 23, 2017                                              1:11 PM

Butterfly   (2017Jul23)

The butterfly was very curious about me (‘though I don’t know why—I’m wearing black pants and a grey shirt—and I’m pretty sure I don’t smell like perfume). It flew around and around me, up and down—it especially liked my ears, which freaked me out a little. I noticed then that the butterfly was just one of hundreds of butterflies, bugs, bees, and bits of tree falling in the light breeze.

The fact that the air was full of anomalies reminded me about outer space—about how space isn’t a pure vacuum, that there’s plenty of dust and particles. If a starship went through space fast enough, it would have its nose-cone eroded by the friction of passing through that dust and whatnot—just as when a car on the highway will see its windshield accumulate a layer of squished bugs.

The Most Dangerous Game   (2017Apr03)

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Monday, April 03, 2017                                          10:47 AM

We like to pride ourselves on our progress—we’ve conquered the apex predators with stones and bones, conquered the elements with clay and lumber, conquered hunger with agriculture and husbandry, conquered thirst with aqueducts, pumps, and plumbing, conquered winter with fire, and conquered boredom with the arts and sciences. Using these tools, we expanded our species from its niche-point to cover the globe.

Taking all that success as encouragement, we entered an industrial age, an atomic age, and a digital age—our control and manipulation of matter, energy, and other life is impressive. But there’s one thing we don’t control—ourselves.

We have laws, treaties, and understandings—but these are frail things that leave us still with a substantial amount of war, crime, and violence. We have some socialism, but it still leaves substantial numbers of children hungry, sick, uneducated, and generally underserved. We have some equality, but it still leaves substantial numbers of wealthy people able to take advantage of others and skirt the law.

We have a representative government—but somehow it fails to represent us all. As soon as the Constitution was ratified, self-serving people have sought to circumvent its spirit—two centuries later, they’ve got the whole thing pretty well hacked. Now, it is a joke, and we elected a clown who, evidence indicates, has no idea what it says in the document he swore to uphold and defend.

I could live with a venal president who wanted only to line his pockets. I could live with a conservative whose ideals are premised differently from my own. That’s democracy—but how does a perverted, ignorant narcissist get elected? Border-line-legal corruption and intentional confusion are the only answers. We are still waiting for the answer to the question of whether legality’s borderline was, in fact, crossed—and the crooks are in charge of the investigation, so we’re not holding our breath.

Trump is the poster-boy for our present day crisis—people need to have unity and inclusion. Patriotism, capitalism, tyranny, and secrecy are all opposed to unity—these ideas split us into ‘teams’ that work against each other and fear each other. Wealth also breeds disunity, making poor people resentful and rich people paranoid. This is a bad thing for a global community that is on the edge of climate change, habitat loss, resource shrinkage, and overpopulation—and anyone considering making the whole thing worse with a ‘limited nuclear exchange’ is just flat-out psychotic.

Income inequality wouldn’t be such a big deal if there were a bottom to the lower end of the income scale. If everyone could be sure their families had plenty to eat, public education, internet access, and all the other necessities of modern life—then having rich people driving around in fancy cars would simply be an annoyance, at worst. The reality is that these people take and take, in the face of millions who go wanting—and that’s sociopathic.

Capitalism was founded back when the class system was still the norm—that is why the vast majority of its participants, the laborers, fight even today to get their due—their nature was defined back when their equal value as humans was ignored. That is why capitalism, an inherently mathematical idea, became nothing more than a re-tread of monarchial rule. Capitalism allows us all a loophole, where we can ignore the Constitution (and all decent human instinct) in favor of owners’ rights and the laws of property.

Now, I want to keep my property as much as the next guy—I own a home on a piece of property, a car, appliances, and books and other sundries. Compared to most of the third-world, I’m in the lap of luxury—and I consider myself to be so. But there should be limits on property—if I had $85 billion, like the Koch Bros., I would consider it only fair that I disburse some of that money to other people, perhaps hungry children or college students who can’t afford their tuition. Just keep a few billion—anyone who feels strapped because they only have a couple of billion bucks is living in a fantasy world.

Financial institutions try to frighten us with ‘Cold-War’-like warnings of the Chinese or the Russians having bigger financial cannons—that’s nonsense. A more grass-roots, localized economy is stronger in the long run—and less likely to abuse its power. Greed will continue as major motivation for so long as we refuse to recognize the unfairness of capitalism—and greed, at this point in our civilization, is a fatal addiction. Unity is the only health food that can wean us off of greed.

So we must recognize that our government is infested by greed—and our mass media, too—and we must begin some sort of underground that circumvents all these broken institutions, without becoming just another problem in the mix. Human nature defies us to try—nothing has yet withstood the rot of corruption—even the great experiment that was America is frayed and torn. But those men in Philadelphia made a good jab at the problem—and perhaps our best tribute to them would be to try for something new, like they did, in spite of the odds against success.

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Ceding Power To The Pig (Snort!)   (2017Jan03)

Tuesday, January 03, 2017                                                6:22 PM

20141019XD-StandardsSunday (35)To many people someone like me is going to seem like an alarmist, an inciter, a stirrer-up of trouble—trying to upset the boat when everything is mostly working out just fine. What’s so wrong (I imagine them asking) with the world today—especially with the United States—with the status quo? And truly I have no rebuttal to that—for many millions of people, life is better than it has ever been before, in the history of all mankind. The tremendous lace-work of global civilization, with its titanic industries and giant manufactories, with the endless cycle of tons of material—necessities and luxuries—that circle the globe by sea, by rail, by truck, and by air, the smooth operation of all the stores and shops, restaurants and theaters, schools and hospitals, universities and laboratories—our world is a marvel.

And if the United States of America isn’t the epicenter of that marvel, I don’t know where else it could be. Everything is state-of-the-art: communications, transportation, engineering, entertainment, agriculture, medicine—most of the modern world originated here, if not literally, then in spirit. And I wish us all the best—me, you, whoever—I hope the whole thing outlasts all the neglect and abuse heaped on it by we who have come to take it all for granted.

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But, just as a person may be very good at securing a high post, yet have little ability to do the job once hired—it’s looking like the USA was well-equipped to invent the future, but has given no thought at all to maintaining all its healthy ambition, now that Babel has reached thunderbolt-calling altitude.

An older America, full of empty space and potential, loved rapid growth—we suffered boomtowns and cities choking on their own waste—conditions were such that a modern business or local government could never get away with the health risks, the dangers, and the unfairness inherent in an open town, with more traffic in change than in civilizing influences.

And the laws and ordinances that prohibit such chaos today were enacted only after the rush of development had settled and slowed to the point where people started to care about their homes and communities as much as whatever commerce was going on.

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Plus, new business in the present would not be filling a void. Today’s new business is far more likely to impinge on some other business’s market. The kind of growth that made America a ‘big-shouldered’ country—that’s all over. And the cracks that allowed people to avoid being imprisoned by Capitalism have all been filled.

When the power of Capitalism was more potential than actual, the idea of ‘every man for himself’ made things as fair as such things can be. But now we have a mature Capitalism, fully formed and, more importantly, entirely owned already—by a surprisingly small group of people. They not only own all the old stuff—they are strategically poised to acquire any new stuff from the puny inventors or entrepreneurs that find new ways to break through the status quo.

But it is not simply a stranglehold on the common man or woman, whose chances of making it big from scratch are on par with winning the Lotto—it is a stranglehold on the culture. Our legislators and our courts spend virtually all their time and energy on serving the wealthy—good governance and justice have become antiques, found only rarely, in tiny, out-of-the-way places.

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Our obsession with absolute property is itself a symptom of the stagnation and stultification of mature Capitalism—corporations own people’s likenesses, they own people’s silences—they even pay scientists to do research, insuring that, if they can’t own the truth, they can at least obscure it.

Capitalism, Progress, the American Dream—whatever you want to call it—its job is done. We don’t need to build empires anymore—they are built. We don’t need to access our natural resources anymore—they’ve been accessed. We don’t need to build a Republic anymore—it’s been given infrastructure, industry, wealth, and power—all its citizens can talk to each other, from any place at any time—we are the envy of the world.

Our biggest and only problem is recognizing that the ends our forebears worked towards have been reached—period—full stop. Our job is not to keep hammering our heads against the family wall—it is to take stock of what we have—of where we’ve arrived—and try to find some new way forward. Hopefully it will have something to do with taking responsibility for the deprived victims of our present system. Hopefully it will reverse our present system’s tendency to empower the entitled, elitist pigs, like our fresh-baked president-elect.

Before Sundown, Every Day   (2017Jan02)

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Tuesday, January 03, 2017                                                1:03 PM

Congress voted to do something truly stupid the other day—then they changed their minds in the space of 24 hours, and decided not to do that particular stupid thing. I’m not sure which is worse: the poor judgement that first led to the initiative, or the mercurial, chicken-without-a-head nature of this totally corrupt majority in Congress.

But I do not call them corrupt because they were trying to disintegrate an ethics watchdog (created not so very long ago—because of all their corruption). I refer to the corruption of their wetware—the bad programming in their heads. These people get elected through gerrymandering legerdemain and mass media tap-dancing—they answer to sponsors, not to voters. They have no ethical motivation—and they have no need to make even a pretense of it.

They are misguided, thinking that to succeed in politics is to succeed in government. They are misguided, thinking that winning at Capitalism is winning at survival. But what misleads their thinking most often is this idea that having the world’s most powerful military gives us the most influence over the world.

The best idea is always what has the most influence on the world. Our nation’s preeminence can be directly traced back to the best ideas—even our vaunted military is the product of thinking, done in an open-minded society that valued creativity and vision—and many other freedoms.

Our penchant for ownership of creative and scientific efforts is the latest and most deadly infection of Capitalism—first created to protect inventors and artists, copyright and trademark laws now operate as a means for corporations to ‘own’ the efforts of its best and brightest employees, without any requirement to give them equal value in return. It also acts as a shield of legal secrecy about any shady dealings that can be labeled (however pretentiously) ‘proprietary knowledge’.

Monday, January 02, 2017                                                1:11 PM

The airwaves are supposed to be for the public good, but they have become ‘profit centers’ instead. We can weigh, one supposes, the value of all the people employed by the entertainment industry—who support their families through television, and through advertising—against the total lack of value, for the viewer, in any of the garbage that gets broadcast one way or another to the various screens that fill our lives.

The schools are supposed to be for the public good, but now they either snooker you out of your money with fake classes, a la Trump U., or they give you an ‘actual’ education by handing you over to the loansharks. The loansharks will be a bigger part of your future life than the education, in many cases—so now many people seriously consider whether they really want to bother ransoming their youth for the sake of a sheepskin, or whether they might be happier in a trade. That sort of attitude is bound to keep America at the forefront of innovation—he typed facetiously.

Government is, of course, supposed to be all about the public good, but its rules against bribery and corruption do nothing to protect our legislators from lobbyists whose sole task is to influence in favor of special interests. Add in all the nonsense about fund-raising and campaigning becoming the higher priority than the actual job one was elected to do—all bound up with the perceived primacy of media-spending over fitness for office—and you get the kind of ‘democracy’ that we find ourselves stuck with today.

Capitalism goes beyond money and transactions—even beyond a way of life—it is a way of distorting reality, to make nonsense seem oh-so-sensible. Our public forums, our educational system, and our government are all baldly under the sway of the wealthy—one would laugh at the notion of ‘self-government’ were it not for that terribly sour taste in the back of the mouth.

Our interdependence is intrinsic, it is undeniable. Competition is a nice way to introduce energy into our culture’s interdependence—but Capitalism puts the competition before the interdependence. Wealth is a club—and there is no law against beating people to death with it. As we have seen, there’s not even any law against demolishing our values with it. Money makes monsters of us all—clutching our own to ourselves, more worried for our own skins than whether anything has a right or a wrong to it.

People say money is the root of all evil—I disagree. Surely people found ways to mistreat each other before specie was invented. No, I think of money as more of an enabler of evil, an enzyme for cruelty, if you will. If there are thousands of laws protecting our grasp on our money—and no laws that insist that every person be sheltered and fed before sundown, every day—then we have some messed-up laws.

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

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Friday, December 09, 2016                                               10:08 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Avoiding the Void   (2016Aug21)

 

Sunday, August 21, 2016                                         11:20 AM

Only 80 or so days until our national mental-health referendum. I expect we’ll pass it with flying colors (knock wood) and then we can turn to Europe and the rest of the world and say, “Sorry if we scared you. That’s free speech—waddaya gonna do?” There are several countries with dictators who strut about and make stupid decisions—and don’t even bother to make up believable propaganda to excuse their neglect, their excesses, and their violence. But I think the citizens of those countries, though used to such blatant bullshit, would have been crestfallen to witness proof that the United States of America was no different from any other tin-pot dictatorship.

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The USA has been a symbolic haven for many people of the world who never reach our shores—it is a dream they have. Those of us who live the American Dream may well envy them their perfect dream of a land of liberty. Would that the reality met their bar—but America is still an experiment in living—a work in progress. Our growth, our reaching for perfection, is less obvious—after 200+ years, we’ve gotten sedentary in some of our ways—and the lure of conservatism grows with every new blessing we stand to lose through the gamble of progressivism.

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But the struggle goes on. America is a work in progress. If you think about it, irresistible change over time makes that a truism for all nations—whether they countenance the fact or not, the world’s sovereignties should all have some mechanism by which they can deal with the permutations of time, nature, and civilization. Resignation to the impossibility of Perfection should never prevent us from the pursuit of perfection—it is the pursuit that refines our lives, not the perfection.

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A paradox arises from our core strengths—free speech, freedom of religion, democracy, justice, and tolerance. We aspire to those things, not just for ourselves but for everyone in the world. Hence UN, NATO, and our many other treaties and pacts with the nations of the world—we want to hold common cause with any governments that embrace, as we do, democracy, human rights, and equal justice. Thus, while nothing is ‘nailed down’ about America, there is an infrastructure to it. At times confidence men will contort freedom of speech to threaten our ethical infrastructure itself. Because it goes beyond the bounds of freedom, into the realm of nihilism, we call it ‘hate speech’. The con-men counter with a sneer at ‘political correctness’.

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They have an answer for everything—their debate skills are phenomenal. It is in the absence of understanding that they reveal themselves. Their statements chivvy us towards frustration, anger, even violence—but they will always say something that gives them away. They don’t understand or appreciate the grandeur of America’s dream. To them, it is a game to be won—and in their exertion to win the prize, they reveal their cold emptiness of spirit. They carry the seeds of their own downfall within them.

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It is an easy mistake to make. Capitalism is America’s guilty pleasure. Within the bounds of commerce we permit ourselves to seek power and wealth, to be selfish, rude, even cruel. And money is power of a kind. But in embracing Capitalism we conveniently overlook the fact that, in terms of our ideals, America should be one big hippie commune—Capitalism opposes freedom and equality—it rewards the cold-blooded and preys on the careless.

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That is the true focus of the two-party system in America, as I suspect it is in most places, though with less rules to the dance. The Democrats represent the people and the Republicans represent the money and the power. In effect, the Republicans are the bad guys, unless you’re one of them. To hide their shame, their political rhetoric has evolved a series of memes that ‘invert the argument’.

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For instance, their ‘voter-ID’ legislative efforts are a transparent attempt to keep minorities from exercising their right to vote. Their ‘Pro-life’ anti-abortion agenda is likewise transparent pandering to the evangelical right-wing, AKA Christians With a Bad Attitude. Their denial of Climate Change is really just their stupefying genuflection to the big pockets of Big Oil. Their vaunted ‘patriotism’ is just craven sucking-up to the military-industrial complex—the Republicans don’t care if we have a good military, just so long as it’s an expensive and profitable one.

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The Democrats try to enact benefits for vets, and get shut down by the Republicans. The GOP doesn’t want to know that, after they make money off of war, some kids make the final payment in blood—and we owe them for that, at least. But they see that as an unnecessary expense. Some patriots.

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The Republicans fought against the Affordable Care Act—and still fight it, after it’s already been made law—and shown economic benefits. They want ‘smaller government’ because their friends in Big Pharma and the Insurance Industry own these ‘representatives’ of the people. Millions of sick and dying are not their priority—but what is? If Americans have to live in agony or die uncared for, I’m gonna need something more than word-salad as an excuse.

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So America tries to keep the struggle between rich and poor off the streets—we consign them to political teams and watch them play against each other, with democracy as the referee. When some guy waltzes in and says he’s gonna turn everything on its head—he’s not talking about ending political gridlock—he’s talking about trashing our most sacred beliefs and creating a void where the Constitution used to be. That’s already a problem for us—the last thing we need is someone rushing headlong into the void—and taking us with him.

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So Capitalism is as much America as our Constitution is—Democrats prioritize the people, and Republicans will say, ‘The business of America is business’. The debate between the two parties is serious business—but our media have learned to mine treasure from its drama, so it can be made to look like a circus, especially this latest show. And with Journalism also falling victim to Capitalism, we were in mortal danger of falling for a snake-oil salesman—thank goodness his own words revealed his true nature before the election.

Trump

Journal Entry   (2016Aug14)

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Saturday, August 13, 2016                                                8:04 PM

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         12:48 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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Sunday, August 14, 2016                                         6:48 PM

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

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

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

 

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The Usual Business   (2016Aug03)

Wednesday, August 03, 2016                                           6:42 PM

In our outrage over Trump as a presidential candidate, we are overlooking a special case of injustice—understandably, given the stakes—though this injustice provides both insight and explanation. Those of us who have been in business, whether high-stakes tycoon-ing or low-end advertising, know how business works. It is a cold-blooded thing wherein the one with all the money and all the lawyers makes the rules—he or she doesn’t just win the game—one rules. You tell your employees what the rules are and what the pay is. You tell your suppliers what you’re willing to pay, take it or leave it. And the customers—well, you know what happens to customers, I think.

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In most cases, this environment is leavened by the fact that virtually everyone has a boss—managers have top managers, top managers have board members, board members have chairpersons. Even business owners have either a major client or a bank that owns them—someone they answer to. But some people don’t really answer to anyone else—they’re very rich, they never share control, and they stick to one-shot stuff like real estate and construction—or scams like overpriced, insubstantial business seminars. They specialize in stiffing debtors and using bankruptcy as an ejection button—leaving with a ‘parachute’ that protects only themselves—leaving the rest in mid-air.

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These people operate in a closed system—surrounded by the infrastructure, using the society, but always seeking profit, never offering something for less than the market will bear. In business law, there are many protections for ownership—no one has to approve of your behavior, no one has to agree with you—as long as you’re the boss, you are in charge. And everyone around you has to do what you say, pretend to like you, even socialize with you outside of the workplace—no matter what your true opinion of your employer may be. No one ever says no to these people—except perhaps lawyers—and even then, not always.

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As a boss, the more belligerent you are, the more mule-headed—the more successful you’ll be. There are no penalties for being selfish, cruel, or willfully stupid—it all comes along with the unimpeachable power of being a boss. The only thing that you can possibly do wrong is to lose money—that’s the only sin for the bosses.

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So, if we now reexamine Trump’s behavior, his statements, during his presidential campaign, we can easily see how it all makes perfect sense to him. This is how you win in business. He does, unfortunately, seem blind to the difference between being a boss and being president. He thinks the rules of “The Apprentice” still apply to his television audience. He doesn’t recognize the nature of public service—even corrupt politicians know enough to tell the right lies, to suppress the selfishness inside them and say the politic thing.

FYI:

pol·i·tic – /ˈpäləˌtik/ – adjective

  1. (of an action) seeming sensible and judicious under the circumstances.

 

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But I don’t feel the need to add my small voice to the cacophony of backlash against the orange fool who raped the GOP. I’m here to discuss the fact that, outside of politics, all of us are, or have been, on the wrong side of the business environment described above. Hyper-Capitalism gives the wealthy far more than mere ownership—it gives them the power of life and death over their workers and suppliers, it allows them to rob their employees of dignity—and then underpay them for the privilege. It gives the wealthy overpowering influence over our government, our courts, our media, and our health and safety.

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But most of all it gives them authority that they haven’t earned. We tell ourselves we are governed by a democracy—but that government is all too often circumvented and distorted by the power of wealth. The fact that they make the lion’s share of profit and still bamboozle us into refusing to raise their taxes tells you all you need to know about them—and us.

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Monopoly   (2016May23)

Monday, May 23, 2016                                            11:32 AM

What is improvement? If we get too extreme in bodybuilding, we become muscle-bound, unable to move about as easily as someone who doesn’t exercise. We often comment that there is a thin line between genius and madness—and the competition to be the ‘smartest’ puts college students at risk of nervous breakdowns and suicides, as well as brilliant careers. Business executives who perform at their peak can easily succumb to ‘burn-out’ in the same way.

Success and wealth for a parent rarely translates into success for their children—being raised wealthy robs them of the struggles that tempered their parents’ steel. More lottery winners go broke or have life crises than the rare few who survive being made instantly rich.

Extremes are dangerous—even little extremes can be unsettling. If I have a pile of books I’m looking forward to reading, I get confused about which book to read first. I think they call that ‘rich people’s problems’. Not that I’m in the one-percent—but I am, like most Americans, fabulously wealthy compared to any third-world citizen. And the existence of ‘rich people’s problems’ itself is proof that ‘improving’ one’s lot in life can be more accurately described as acquiring different problems.

But I don’t wish to oversimplify—one of ‘rich people’s problems’ is that other people are poor. This makes Charity an exercise in which rich people, with ‘rich people’s problems’, try to help people with poverty problems. Notice how charity never consists of simply handing poor people money. It’s an ‘if you teach a man to fish’ thing—rich people don’t see redistribution as a solution. They want to enable the poor to join them in a competition the rich have already won—it’s like lending money to the loser when you’re winning in Monopoly—you want to keep the game going.

And Monopoly is a good illustration of modern capitalism—most Monopoly games reach that point where all the potential plans have been played out and purchased, where one player has almost everything and the rest are a dice-throw away from bankruptcy. That’s why many Monopoly games don’t reach the finish—the end becomes a foregone conclusion long before. Monopoly, at the start, is full of possibilities—end-game Monopoly is more an on-rushing train. Likewise, American Capitalism started out as a world of possibilities and is now in a straight-jacket of previous purchases. Just as the second amendment made sense for muskets, but became madness for automatic assault weapons—success is a one-time thing.

America has trouble with success—our early financial success was based on the use of slaves—our early wealth of natural resources trained us to become despoilers of nature—our early adoption of public education made us think we were smarter than everybody else—and our invention of the atom bomb made us think we were in charge of the whole world. Every time Americans win we learn a false lesson from it.

Basing everything on money rather than birth seemed like a freeing sort of approach—you could, through personal effort, rise. Your future had potential that went undreamed-of in a class-based society. That image persists, even now, when all the years of effort by others has gelled into a rigged game. Wealth once again comes almost entirely through inheritance—and opportunities for the common man have become as rare as in the time of kings and serfs. Capitalism is no longer the handmaiden of Freedom—and it has become something darker.

A fragile web of distribution keeps food on supermarket shelves, gas in the stove, oil in the heater, water from the tap, sewage down the toilet, and electricity to the phone-chargers. Disruption of the system is dangerous to us all—destroying the establishment would mean a return to primitivism. The infrastructure of capitalism holds us hostage—it makes us need it. And the need to earn a wage holds us prisoner—which makes us need employers. The rich have more power over the rest of us than kings or pharaohs could ever imagine—yet we call this society a free one. Like children of an abusive father, we have no place else to go.

Changing capitalism won’t be easy—we can’t rebel against it—if we attack it we only hurt ourselves. A subtle, drawn-out political process is the only possible escape. Yet see how easily we are diverted and entertained by our politics—that’s not an accident. If people took politics seriously, we’d be talking about change in a pragmatic way, instead of shouting buzzwords at each other—we might enact some changes—and that is the only real threat the one-percent are facing. I wish we knew that as well as they do.

Manufacture This   (2016Apr27)

Wednesday, April 27, 2016                                              9:28 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cruel Spring   (2016Apr04)

Monday, April 04, 2016                                                    11:40 AM

April cruel? Well, yeah—in the midst of summer we feast among bountiful greenery—but in early spring, we wrest new life from the dank, chill mud—it’s a challenge. And life is challenge—without resistance to entropy, it is a meaningless Mandelbrot pattern—without struggle, there is no need to keep pumping that blood through the veins, that sap through the roots. Anger can be a lifesaver. Want creates wealth.

That’s the basic, natural principle. But we live in what we are pleased to call a civilization—dare I claim a society?—and in such, we give nothing a free pass simply because it is natural. We legislate against certain natural urges, we pressure our peers to respect civility over instinct. And civilization seeks to minimize struggle. If strength were our only criteria, we’d elect a chimp to be emperor of the world.

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But what if we look at it differently? Perhaps we have merely traded physical struggles for mental struggles. Our mental struggles have given us strength undreamed of by our cave-dwelling forebears—but our society is plagued by stress. We invent competitions to simulate natural selection—and those competitions are as much, if not more, about mental strength as physical ability. We begin with school grades, then advanced degrees, then job interviews—these are all competitions entirely of our own invention. And they all lead into the main event—the acquisition of money. That too is an invented competition that we choose to maintain—it is an agreed-upon, imaginary method of gauging strength and gaining power.

What we call Capitalism is just the collected agreements governing the sport of money-getting—whenever we wish to call a time-out on the game, and give something to someone for free, out of simple humanity, this is called Charity. Now, charity is cheating—why play the game if you’re going to break the rules whenever your feelings tell you to? But that is a valid question even without conditions—why play the game? Well, as with every game, the ones who are winning want to keep playing—the ones who don’t stand a chance are tired of the game. The odd thing about Capitalism is that it is a game that only a few thousand people are really enjoying—while literally billions of people would rather play something more enjoyable.

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Socialism began as an attempt to make Charity the prevailing game and restrict Capitalism to a few places, under tight controls, wherever it made sense to use it. This was thought up out of a desire for fairness—like the abolition of monarchial government, it was meant to prevent rich people from supplanting monarchy with wealth, and to give all people a fair say and a fair chance. Socialism is an attempt to make life, as well as government—of the people, by the people, and for the people. Money is power—but like the monarchy, that is only so because we choose to agree that it’s so. And Humanity isn’t power—it’s just a feeling. It’s a powerful feeling, as Christ, Gandhi, Dr. King, and others have demonstrated—but its power only manifests in unity—a single person’s humanity is just a feeling.

Still, an innate feeling has more staying power than any imaginary social construct—no matter how long Capitalism remains, the feeling of its wrongness will persist in the hearts of people. We allow for the least of ourselves—the weakest, the slowest, the least able—because they are one of us. We don’t compete with them—we cooperate with them, we include them. Capitalism is unfair because it puts competition ahead of humanity—naming the winners and losers, by law, is more important than what happens to the competitors—it enforces mandatory inhumanity—it makes us bad people.

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Socialism for fairness’s sake has gotten more traction in Europe than here in America—here we think of Capitalism as the supreme ideology, the giant that slew the Communist menace, the bulwark that upholds the champions of democracy and freedom. But it has never been that. Communism was an ideal—and attempts to practice it ignored human nature. The Soviet Union was a paranoid, corrupt regime that had no resemblance to Communism the idea—and the dysfunction of that regime destroyed itself, while we out-competed them on the global stage. I concede that Capitalism was more efficient than the Soviet nightmare—but that doesn’t make it good, just better than the worst idea ever.

Capitalism is straightforward—Socialism is more complex a system. But Socialism’s time has come—we are approaching a productivity ‘singularity’, a day when we have the production capacity of billions, yet only require the employment of thousands to do it. When there are no more jobs that need doing, the cracks in Capitalism’s façade will start to peek through—how can we call it competition when the field of play has evaporated? How can we say that only workers deserve rewards when there is no work to be done?

Ironically, this future conundrum doesn’t work for Capitalism’s winners, either—in a world of 99% unemployment, where are your customers? The rise of smart systems, robotics, and automation will require us to abandon Capitalism—it’s not an if, it’s a when. On the way there, while the super-wealthy cling to their unimaginable power and the rest of us become more displaced, chaos looms. I don’t advocate Socialism out of a hatred of Capitalism, but for safety’s sake—we see the future coming and I’d prefer, for my children’s and grandchildren’s sake, that we don’t freeze up like a deer in the headlights.

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As a child I watched Star Trek TOS, where, like much of science fiction, I saw a world without money—we always assume that humanity will one day achieve that Peaceable Kingdom, but we’ve never really thought about the transition phase from where we are now to that far-off, dream-like future. I think we leave that part blank because it’s a tough nut to crack—how can we ever switch gears from a roaring global economy to a thriving global village? One thing it will certainly involve is the confiscation of great power from those who presently hold it. That has always meant war in the past, and there’s little reason to suppose we could avoid it in this instance. So, how do the rest of us declare war on the only people with any power? Good luck with that one.

I suppose we could take a page from their book—the wealthy and their lobbyists have been slowly transforming our democracy, decade after decade, infusing it with special privileges and protections for the wealthy and the big corporations. Perhaps we could initiate a similar ‘frog in a sauce-pan’ strategy, where we legislate higher and higher taxes, greater public-services commitments, tighter regulations, and mandatory transparency. With a little luck we could bring them back down to our level without them ever noticing the water has begun to boil. But that would require a grass-roots political awakening that would make Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign look like a disaffected chess club meeting. Plus, there’s the problem of legislation being limited by jurisdiction, where cash is unhindered by borders or flags—it wouldn’t do us much good to socialize America by alienating all the wealth and power to foreign lands.

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And now that I think about it—Nationalism is as spurious and divisive an influence on humanity as Capitalism. The European Union illustrates, as did the United States, that divisions between regions and cultures should find their own levels and not be closed borders separating neighbors at the point of a gun. The more advanced a society becomes, the more obvious this fact appears—that’s probably why we all dream of ‘world peace’ someday, in spite of all evidence that this will never happen—we know that it should happen.

So, easy-peasy—we end Capitalism and Nationalism and we all live happily ever after. What a relief. Enjoy the sleet on this chilly April afternoon.

One Step Progress, Two Steps Capitalism   (2016Mar16)

Wednesday, March 16, 2016                                            4:35 PM

As the number of people who need to support themselves becomes more and more disconnected from the needs of employers because of robotics, automation, digital innovations, and smart systems, we approach a point where the economy won’t need humans—with the single discrepancy that they’ll still need customers. Scholastic failings that were once only a limitation to avenues of employment now close off any possibility of an above-board job. The number of jobs falls while the skill-set requirements climb. This is a self-imposed evolutionary winnowing effect—except that, unlike natural selection, the losers are not prevented from multiplying—they are simply excluded from the paradise at the top of the pyramid, consigned to endless deprivation and insecurity, someplace where the rich don’t have to look at them.

I’ve often advocated experimenting in a government minimum allowance policy that would be paid for by business taxes—a way of forcing business to take responsibility for the whole worker pool, instead of cherry-picking the best and leaving the rest to rot. But after consideration, it’s occurred to me that such a program would only shift the problem onto government—that the only way to equally balance the riches of productivity with the needs of all the people is to replace Capitalism and the monetary system itself with something less cold-blooded. And, obviously, this would require global cooperation—something far more complex than a national legislative reform—which makes it even farther from the realm of possibility than socializing the USA—which was pretty far out there to begin with. Still, I figure if you want to fix something, fix it right—even if it’s only in your own head.

We once had neither the sophistication nor the organization to consider a socialized society—although socialized communities have had some notable successes—and failures. We all recognize the togetherness of an extended family—but for some reason, we don’t try to widen the circle—perhaps because families can be stifling sometimes, and we don’t want to have even more people in our business all the time—that’s understandable. But we naturally accept the strength and security of that group unity—unity makes people into super-people—the bigger the group, the more united, the more unstoppable they are. One reason people don’t consider a socialized global village is, maybe, because it blows your mind.

Imagine a world where job creation was focused on offering people satisfying lives—where the arms industry and the military-industrial complex died of starvation—where space exploration wasn’t a race, or a business, but a true frontier—where we made just the slightest effort to extend our social progress to meet our technological strides. We’re talking about another planet—another species—no wonder it seems so far-fetched. That’s not a place where real humans live—sad, but true.

We know that global productivity can handle feeding everybody—if feeding everybody was our goal. And the same is true for all the practical and medical needs of every person—we are able to support them—if supporting them were our goal. But this thought—a ‘better world for everybody’—was at the back of the minds of all the people who researched and experimented and crusaded, fought and died for our modern world of freedom and equality. In a perfect world, yes—but in a Capitalist world, ‘everyone’ becomes ‘everyone with money’—and that’s a problem. Our eyes are on one horizon, but the tracks our train is riding on head the other way.

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?

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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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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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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.

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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Things That Are Wrong (2015Oct02)

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Friday, October 02, 2015                                         6:42 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Tomorrow We’ll All Be Okies    (2015Sep09)

Wednesday, September 09, 2015                                                       1:23 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Collaboration   (2015Aug19)

Wednesday, August 19, 2015                                           1:03 PM

Pete came by yesterday—we killed our imaginary audience and made some recordings which I hope no one will mistake for Pete’s fault—if you look closely, you’ll see a very capable drummer trying to be nice to a totally awful piano-player. This mess is completely my responsibility. I almost never play with musicians because musicians, understandably, don’t go looking for half-assed collaborators—but Pete is an exceptionally kind soul and an old friend who is the exception that proves the rule.

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This is a picture of Pete and Spencer back in the day–If you watch Spencer’s walk-through on the video, you’ll see he’s grown some since this picture was taken.

I’ve been thinking about collaboration lately. As I’ve mentioned often in these posts, I think that people may have excellent self-control when the situation demands it but that humanity as a group, as a mob, has no brain and does whatever it does, crazy (or even suicidal) or not. We try to mitigate this with governments and other frameworks for group action—but even these foundations can only influence people en masse to a certain degree.

Take the Drug War as an example—with Prohibition as a historical precedent, we can’t be very surprised that the Drug War has been a complete failure—drug abuse is a part of the human condition. People will seek out recreational drugs just as they seek out alcoholic beverages. After all, life is a struggle and there aren’t that many features that offer unalloyed enjoyment—we can gain peace from our relationships and achievement from our endeavors, but not always—and it’s a struggle, win or lose. But a weekend spree is an easy and affordable escape from the rigors of the work-week and the number of people who choose to do without it will never be unanimous—criminalization simply complicates things.

Collaboration, cooperation,—even democracy—all also run up against the matter of people all being different in many ways. I heard the debate yesterday during the news reports of the first two women who passed the Rangers Training School requirements. As the closet-misogynist debated the moderate-feminist, they both had some confusion about the fact that average men have expected differences from average women, but the best of the best soldiers are exceptional people with above-average abilities, gender notwithstanding. Generalizations about gender roles do not apply when speaking of virtual Supergirls—although, rightly, we ought to take the hint that generalizations about gender all have that flaw to some degree—because we are all different.

Thus individuality and human nature are both obstacles to traditional governments and other organizing frameworks—yet they are both strengths as well. Perhaps our paradigms of organization are at fault. Churchill once opined that ‘Democracy isn’t a perfect form of government—it’s just better than all the others’. And I feel that we have become sophisticated enough to look at democracy (and capitalism, for that matter) and start to face that fact—having found systems that outdo more ancients customs is great—but is it the best we can do?

For that matter, can Democracy and Capitalism coexist without one cancelling the other? We see many examples where capitalism has infringed on the democratic process recently—but there are also times when the force of majority rule outdoes the primacy of property. We aren’t really being honest about this whole subject—we’ve been too busy defending democracy from fascism and capitalism from communism to allow ourselves to question their basic values.

While Democracy and Capitalism fight it out (and while we pretend that they work together) we have a third player—religion, or Christianity, since I’m speaking primarily of the USA. Many conservatives will insist that religion is a bedrock value—in spite of the fact that we are famous for sidelining religion from our governing principles. They’ll put on their blinders and assure us that ‘religious freedom’ was only meant to apply to the different Protestant sects of Christianity—as if that made sense, and full ‘religious freedom’ didn’t.

This is partly a failure to understand history—in much the same way that conservatives insist that our constitutional guarantee of ownership of flintlock rifles translates into prowling the Wal-Mart with semi-automatic weapons. But it is also a failure to understand religion, as a concept. Most people of faith make the mistake of counting their religion as the truth, while all other religions are, at best, to be tolerated. But Truth and Faith are not interchangeable—particularly in the situation where we have allowed for the existence of more than one form of faith.

What the original colonists did was recognize that even a single individual’s unique faith, with or without an established church, may be questioned as to its validity—but it can’t be made illegal. The opposite truth to that premise is that no one religion can be made the legal faith under our government. Basically, we accept that citizens will have whatever faith they may or may not have, but the law will operate separately from any one faith. Anyone who seriously proposes that America become a Christian nation is as much a threat to our way of life as the Communists were in the 1950s—even more so, since the Commies have had their day and faded away. ISIS would be a better example, come to think of it—both parties wish to transform us into a theocracy.

But let me return to collaboration. In science fiction novels, one gets the impression that the human race will expand outward, mimicking our behavior of the exploration era and the pioneering era. One gets used to the idea of the human race having a ‘destiny’—a place or a state that our future selves will eventually reach out to and evolve into. We envision a solar system busy with mining, colonization, exploration, and discovery—our little blue marble, Earth, just a single part of a civilization that calls the Sun its home. We even dream of FTL starships that allow colonization of other stars—a future civilization so vast and varied that imagination can barely envisage its size, never mind its nature.

Our gravity well, however, is no small barrier. If humanity is ever going to go beyond Earth, it will have to involve tremendous collaboration. At this point in modern technology, we will need tremendous collaboration just to survive at all. Where does the motive come from? How do we mobilize our efforts towards the survival of humankind when we have never had to worry about it before? Up until now, we’ve been so sure that the Earth is invulnerable to our attentions that we have never considered it a factor in our decision-making. The whole debate over climate change is really just humanity trying to convince itself that we’ve outgrown that simplicity.

Our systems of government, of commerce, and our cultures have all developed under the mistaken mindset that humanity can do whatever it will—we are slowly coming to grips with the fact that this is no longer true.

Part of our problem is that heretofore we have assumed that the point of life was the afterlife—that we should concentrate on living our own individual lives under the tenets of our faiths because the important part, the afterlife, will be affected by how well we follow the rules while living. No part of human culture actually emphasizes the importance of species survival—‘God’ made us, so naturally we can’t be unmade unless ‘He’ decides to unmake us. Climate change, drought, chemical and oil spills, and nuclear waste make it clear that we can certainly unmake ourselves—there’s nothing religious about it, it’s just a fact.

So now we have to turn from our focus on our individual afterlives to the maintenance of the survival of the human genome, and to Gaea—or whatever you choose to call the overall biome of the Earth. For we have two ‘afterlifes’—one is a spiritual belief, the other is our offspring. To reach the first one, we have to be mindful of ethics. To protect the second we will have to begin having ethics as a group—something we’ve never had, and something I have no idea how we’ll ever attain. The alternative is to remain the simple, global mob we’ve always been—and just wait for the lights to go out.

Trumpical Correctness   (2015Aug12)

Wednesday, August 12, 2015                                           7:33 PM

Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump, Trump. Okay, okay, fine, alright—you want to talk about this clown—let’s talk about him. He’s a wonderful businessman. In a boardroom he can’t be beat—he’ll shaft you right between the eyes without hesitation; he’ll burn your house down with your family inside and he won’t even blink. And his famous, off-the-cuff, no-filter patter—that’s a powerful business tool. It lets whoever he’s talking to know that he’s up on all the political-correctness memes—he knows how far he can go without crossing a legal line—but he also lets us all know that he doesn’t give a damn about right or wrong—he’s all business. Or, in his own words: “I don’t have time to be politically correct—I’m too busy.”

He may be a misogynist—he may not be—in his heart of hearts, who knows? But Business is a misogynist culture where condescending to women is as acceptable as calling a man a pussy for not ‘going for the throat’—and he’s a Business Man.

This comes to the fore in what passes for his foreign policy also—trash-talking one’s rivals is common business practice and no American businessperson ever lost points for smiling at their Chinese or Mexican counterparts while at the negotiating table and then trash-talking them to his American cronies afterwards. Trash-talking is a part of sports and Business is a blood sport.

Would brash bullying be an advantage to an American President? Reagan had some success with it—but he was canny conservative, not a lord of the boardroom who had been lauded his whole life primarily for his cold-blooded willingness to attack all comers. If Business is like Football, then Politics is a Chess game—can Trump’s aggression, flexibility and maneuverability win the day against a longer, deeper game-player who looks many moves ahead? This question has two answers—because we are in the uncomfortable position of considering (a) whether Trump can win the election and (b) what kind of country will result from a Trump presidency.

I say ‘uncomfortable position’ because this will be the first time that our country’s choice of its leader may have no connection to our expectations as to what that leader will lead us into. But as Trump says when asked about policy, “We’ll get to that later.”

As a businessman, Trump is strongest in his domestic agenda (what there is of a Trump political agenda, that is). He’s made noises about fixing our infrastructure and improving the jobs market—and a real businessman may be what we need in that regard. It may come at the price of a sweeping away of most of the social progress of the last fifty years, but you don’t get nothing for nothing. It is conceivable that a single Trump term might get this country out of its domestic doldrums—and that the reactionary Democrat who follows him will have a fairly easy time putting our social justice agenda back on track.

But it is the breadth of the presidency’s powers and responsibilities that scares me—what consequences may result from four years of Trump leadership—and will those consequences be too heavy a payment for a surge in our domestic economy?

I don’t believe Trump himself expects America to be dumb enough to actually elect him—he may have underestimated the power of modern media. Jon Stewart when interviewing President Obama asked the president if he felt the public was fair in mistrusting politicians for speaking so ‘carefully’—and Obama replied to the effect that a citizen was freer to express himself or herself, while members of government had to consider the potential influence of their words on things like the stock market, international relations, and other factors—outside of whatever they might wish to say to their constituents in plainer language.

You can take that with a whole bag of salt but there is a kernel of reality there. A businessman/reality-show-host may find that distinction a bit too fine—Trump has never allowed himself to feel vulnerable. The great American empire, however strong, is far more vulnerable—not existentially, of course, but the point of America is not whether it will continue to exist.

The point of America has always been about what it will become. Will it offer social justice? Will it maintain human rights? Will it look after the old, the weak, and the sick? Will it reward honest effort and restrain the mighty from creating a de facto upper class? Will we retain our primacy in the arts and innovation because of the love of free expression we instill in every kindergarten child? Will we remain the first and most successfully unreligious government in history? And will America continue to be among the leaders of the United Nations that try to maintain peace and international humanity?

Some tall corn, I grant you—but whether that is what we are, or if it’s only what I wish we are becoming, it’s still my American Dream and I don’t think I’m alone in that. I’ve always felt that America isn’t great because it is rich and powerful, but rather the other way around. Successful businesspersons like Trump are playing the game of Capitalism. Like I said before, it’s blood sport—a serious game—but it is still a game, based on the conventions of property, currency and bookkeeping—it’s all somewhat fictional, in a sense. Governing America, on the other hand is no game.

Trump wants to stop all the blathering nonsense that is today’s Republican party—and I applaud that sentiment—but the answer is not to double down on the anger that seethes among the disaffected. I have never cared for the rich, elder citizens in Somers County who fight against real estate taxes for personal gain. That money goes to our public schools—something only a moron would underfund. I’m still happy to pay any kind of school budget, even though my own kids are long gone from our local schools—it’s common sense. You don’t want to be known as the county with the dumbest kids.

And I feel that this principle applies in a larger sense. People are always fighting against taxes. I don’t want to fight against taxes—I want to fight over what we spend them on (and who’s lining their pockets along the way). I don’t want to pay less for gasoline for two years—I want to drive on well-maintained roads (and breathe the air). I don’t want to be tax wise and infrastructure foolish. I don’t want to mine any more of the fool’s gold this country has been busily digging up for so long—interference in women’s health (to protect the poor things, I guess), interference in gay relations and lifestyles (to stop Satan, I guess), and caving to the personal whims of our nation’s wealthiest and most influential (because it’s “by business, of business, and for business”, isn’t it?)

Trump would say that’s all a bunch of ‘political correctness’. But it is interesting to note that we have come to think of that as a term for those who go too far in their socially-conscious vocabulary. People aren’t into subtlety these days, but there is a difference between rectitude and correctness. Political rectitude is farcical—but political correctness, in its literal sense, is what America is all about. Outside of their casting doubt on scientific verification, the invention of the term ‘political correctness’ is one of the right’s strongest moves in their eternal march towards the past. It allows them to poo-poo that which we hold most dear—the acknowledgement as equals of those who are different from ourselves.

The English language evolved in a society of god-fearing, bigoted, male chauvinists—trying to modify it to sound like free-thinking egalitarians makes for the occasionally ridiculous. Using that laughter to dismiss such efforts, however, is an urge from the pit of the evil one—and is only stressed by those who yearn to maintain that old-timey slime.

Here’s a video I forgot to post a few days ago:

Negligence   (2015Aug06)

Thursday, August 06, 2015                                               12:34 PM

I take the approach of tonight’s GOP debate show as my cue to break my promise to myself not to upset myself by discussing current events. My love/hate indecision about talking politics is, I suppose, like my feeling about bad drivers on the road. There are a lot of bad drivers out there—if I allow myself to dwell on them, I only upset myself and make it harder to contain my own barely contained road rage—but I can only ignore them at the risk of mortal danger to myself and the others around me. It’s a catch-22.

As I surfed from one noon-time news reports to the next—all slathered with saliva over tonight’s big circus—I found myself yearning for November. I thought to myself, “By November it will only be a year to go before all this mishegas is over.” Think about that. These many months of back-and-forth babbling between the talking heads debating the 2016 presidential election (not the candidates so much, mind you, but the anchors, correspondents, and pundits) have been ubiquitous. And we still have more than a year to go before anyone actually casts a vote.

The idea that this election is that important begs the question—shouldn’t we be talking issues, and legislation? Shouldn’t we be talking about the other elected offices, federal, state, and local—if only to correlate their effects on whoever ends up with the office of president? It is a three-part system of powers in balance, after all—the president, in and of him-or-her-self, can do nothing alone. Even the executive orders that have been in the news lately are subject to review by the judicial branch.

Never has the term ‘weapons of mass distraction’ been so apt. Why does mass media get tunnel-vision over this single event scheduled for the November after next? I’m tempted to say it’s for the same reason that Donald Trump is ahead in the polls—because the media have become champions of ignorance and instant gratification. Election Day 2016 will be an exciting day—why not simulate a bit of it every day, just for the thrill? And why not flood us with examples of this one bully’s idiocy?—He sure is entertaining.

In “Good Night And Good Luck” we saw a reenactment of the moment when adult, responsible analysis of our times first when down in defeat to the public’s ceaseless hunger for distraction. Since then there has been an evolution of further and further focus on titillation in favor of substance on television. And commerce has not been lazy about nailing down its influence over many other aspects of our lives—the people who believe money is everything have managed to insert that belief into our laws, our arts, our culture, and our educational system. It would be quixotic to hope, at this late date, that any maturity could be brought to bear on the mass media’s choice of content.

I feel that Obama’s election to two terms is indicative of the majority’s thirst for enlightened government by sober, intelligent adults. Further, I consider all of the GOP candidates to be ‘far right’ in the historical sense, regardless of how they appear in relation to each other. The entire party seems to have been hijacked by cranks, cronies, and the super-wealthy. Their greatest support comes from those who get all their information from television. Their greatest detractors now come from the ranks of those with a passing knowledge of science, ethics, or the arts.

Therefore I think it’s perfectly safe to miss out on the big debate tonight—the biggest gaffes will be replayed ad infinitum over the following few days; the chances of someone saying something intelligent are vanishingly small; and by this November (still a year from the election) none of what happens tonight will matter.

To me, the only real question is whether Bernie Sanders will become so much more attractive than Hillary Clinton that the Democrats will forget that Bernie can’t possibly draw enough of the middle to win a national election. Not that I wouldn’t vote for him—it’s just that he’s less likely to win the big one.

The Fundamental Truth   (2015Jul30)

Thursday, July 30, 2015                                           12:00 PM

I wasn’t always an atheist. I used to have the fervor of a potential priest—I’ve always taken life far more seriously than is good for me. I’m not very different—I get mad when I see bullying, I feel bad when someone else is hurting, I try not to be selfish—basic stuff.

Fundamentalists made me just as irritable then as they do now. Even as a child I could see the willfulness of it—trying to insist on certain magical things being literal without the need for any questions—or even the right to ask a question at all. That is so obviously the behavior of someone trying to be a bully—to strengthen their autocratic hand.

True religion is little different from true humanism—simplicity of purpose and purity of intention. If I were a religious leader today, I’d be declaring war on the fundamentalists, the creationists, the science-deniers, and the anti-evolutionists—these people seek to make a circus sideshow of a community’s core. Why does fundamentalism grow in a time of hyper-capitalism? Because they both work on the same properties—lust for personal power, increasing the client-base, and destroying the competition.

And fundamentalism suits the capitalist mind-set because they both pose a threat to humanism and true religion. The values of humans—security, safety, self-determination, and self-expression—have no place in either capitalism or fundamentalism. In fact, all those things (with the exception of self-determination) become marketable commodities under capitalism. Fundamentalism adds spice to self-expression by making parts of it ‘forbidden’ or immoral—making it more marketable—while offering imaginary safety and security that have nothing to do with the real thing.

Fundamentalism comes on strong right when capitalism needed it—until we began questioning simple statements of fact, business leaders were helpless in the face of scientific testimony. In the space age, only an idiot would question an accepted tenet of the scientific community—now, we do it all the time. And it’s no coincidence that petroleum magnates, like the Koch brothers, so willingly embrace the madness of fundamentalism—it is of a piece with their willingness to befoul the planet for profit. And they can only do this if they maintain that all the scientists are wrong.

Capitalism has jumped into the ‘fact’ fight with both feet. They regularly invest in laboratory studies that are intended to produce foregone conclusions to counter the real science being done elsewhere. How sick is that? And, of course, they have their legal cat-and-mouse game of hiding information under the guise of ‘intellectual property’—a very fancy way of saying ‘I ain’t tellin’. But the link to fundamentalism is the most cold-blooded aspect of modern capitalism—they are not satisfied with despoiling the planet and enslaving the 99%—they have to mess with our heads, too. Bastards.

Pro-Iranians in Congress   (2015Jul25)

Saturday, July 25, 2015                                            9:34 AM

There’s nothing as stupid as a man—or a woman—except for a kid. Kids will walk into traffic without a grown-up to stop them. But there’s no one to stop us grown-ups from doing our stupid stuff.

The Iran nuclear agreement is a good example. Diplomats worked on this deal for years—it represents a consensus among ten or so different countries. After it was finally hammered out, the UN voted unanimously in its favor. Imagine how difficult it is to get that many countries to agree on anything. The fact that it took two years to get there speaks to that a little bit.

The only thing that can screw it up now are the Anti-Obama-ists. I won’t call them Republicans, because the Republicans are a political party—these are just a bunch of idiots who hate anything to do with Obama. They have an ad on TV denouncing the nuclear agreement that ends with the tag line: ‘we deserve a better deal’. No, they deserve to be horsewhipped. Where is their two years of effort, unanimously approved by the UN? Those bastards want a war—some ‘better deal’.

Without this deal, all of Netanyahu’s dire predictions about Iran’s nuclear ambitions could be realized in a matter of months. That’s their ‘better deal’—but they don’t talk about what happens without the deal—they just want to carp about how Obama’s deal isn’t good enough. They are entitled, ignorant, treasonous assholes.

We’d all be better off if Obama was some evil arch-villain. Then there would be some benefit to every idiot in the USA being knee-jerk opposed to every single thing he did. Unfortunately, Obama is good and brave and just, relatively speaking—which makes the Republican party the ‘arch-villain’. The Republicans are somewhat upset about the fact that an egomaniacal billionaire sociopath is their presidential front-runner. Having made their platform a support structure for ignorance and hate, they’re upset now because this monster is what their constituency is most approving of.

Repent, Republicans! You’ve become the party that wants to cancel health insurance for millions, the party that wants to bomb Iran and make a nuclear wasteland of the Middle East, the party that wants to insult the people who, let’s be honest, do all the hard work. You might secretly have a few sensible thoughts—you might secretly even agree with Obama on a few things (God forbid). But the way you’ve worked it up to this point, you’ve created a constituency that approves of a clown in an expensive suit—a self-declared clown, no less. You’ve created a stupidity super-storm.

Now a word for you Democrats in Congress—the GOP has been treasonously anti-presidential, but you guys have done a grand job of pretending you don’t have a president. While the opposition has boldly begun trashing the Iran deal without reading it, you’ve all been quiet as mice, saying that ‘you haven’t finished reading it yet’. Well, it’s been a week—time’s up, cowards—time to start supporting the President’s effort.

And just to remind both parties—you can still bomb the hell out of Iran in a few months, if that’s the way things shake out. All you’re really doing by refusing this deal is saying that your political strategy trumps any potential effort to make the world a safer place, to keep the kids in our military from dying over your pique.

People say that America isn’t a true democracy, what with the party-controlled primaries and the electoral college—and I suppose the fact that our Congress is a collection of the country’s biggest morons is proof of that—how the hell did we ever wind up electing these jerks? Our political parties pretend to offer leadership—but the current leadership reminds me of the ‘cool kid’s leadership of a house-party being given while the parents are out of town—the intended result seems to be to trash the place. Who stops the grown-ups from being stupid? Optimally, shame would do it—but our current politicians have never heard of it.

In Geeks We Trust   (2015Jul19)

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Sunday, July 19, 2015                                              6:06 PM

Some people get whiny when their cell-phone service isn’t perfect. It’s a mistake to take instantaneous light-speed communication with anyone else on the face of the Earth for granted. For thousands of years of civilization, no one could speak to anyone who wasn’t within shouting distance. And that’s still true whenever there’s a power outage, a natural disaster, or if you travel too far from where people make money.

The electromagnetic umbrella of cell-phone coverage does not blanket the Earth. It doesn’t even blanket where all the people are. It only covers where there are people making and spending money. Some people purposely vacation where there is no cell-phone coverage, to hide from people who abuse the privilege—but those people are usually involved in over-intruding on others, when they’re not on vacation, so most of us aren’t driven to such an extreme.

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When we lose cell-phone service because of a storm, we don’t think of it as a deadly threat—we wait for someone to fix it. But if it didn’t get fixed, we’d be in a bit of a mess. The further we travel down the road to wireless everything, the more resounding the thud when Mother Nature or some other cause brings down the network. When we began using computers in our office, back in the seventies, we kept paper back-up records of everything. The computers broke down sometimes, and we had to be able to go back to the old paper records to continue doing business.

After a while, we stopped doing that. Not only were the records a huge storage problem, but the volume of transactions we were doing on a daily basis had grown far beyond what could be done by hand in the same amount of time. We were doing business faster using computers than we could have physically done by hand on paper. Suddenly, our digital back-ups became important—even vital. Hard drives can die—and without a digital back-up to restore from, an entire business can disappear—all the records of sales, bills, and payments gone—poof.

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Now we’ve invested in digital to the point where even an individual can find themselves in big trouble through the sudden loss of a cell-phone. To a large degree, they’ve replaced wallets, address books, calendars—they’re even starting to replace credit cards recently. We don’t just talk on them, we exchange memos, agenda, travel info, we have meetings with small groups, we get directions, we store passwords and account info. Pretty much anything that used to involve a piece of paper or the use of a reference book or map or required memorization—it’s all been digitized down into that one little gadget.

Back-ups became as important a part of our personal lives as our businesses—enter the ‘cloud’. A cloud is a place where you rely on someone else to make reliable back-ups of your stuff. If you lose your phone, you can get a new phone and replace everything from your cloud. Clouds are billed as ‘conveniences’, but this belies the enormous trust and reliability implicit in (1) trusting someone with all your personal info and (2) relying on them to do a better job of keeping your data safe than you could do yourself.

For most people this is natural—they don’t know from back-ups and would have, in the past, simply accepted the fact that they lost all their data whenever they lost their phone. But my background goes back far enough that I still talk about ‘computers’—I’m old school. I spent most of those old days worrying over my own back-ups, in the office and at home. My home PC is fully backed up, in duplicate, on CDs (for the older files) and external hard drives (a more recent, easier and cheaper alternative due to the plummeting cost of digital media storage).

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But even for me, the cloud offers something important. One rule of safe back-ups is to always have one copy off-site. A cloud allows me to have another copy of all my personal data files in a place other than my house—in case it burns down or something. For now, I’m not doing this—clouds are expensive and new, which makes them unreliable. And this idea that new technology guarantees trust is ridiculous—I’m never getting behind the wheel of a vehicle that can be hacked—that’s insane. And I’m never going to trust my data to a cloud until clouds have some kind of industry oversight or government regulation. If information is the new currency, then where’s the Federal Reserve Board for my personal data?

I don’t want to get all survivalist about it—but those people are correct when they point out the fragility of our existing infrastructure. The more complex the system, the more vulnerable it becomes. Our digital technology gives us great speed and convenience, but our trust and reliance on its uninterrupted, secure continuance is based on wishful thinking rather than any proof that the digital industry has the gravitas of a life-supporting industry. They are more like kittens, easily distracted with a laser-pointer.

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Hacking can come from friend and foe alike. Parents can hack their kids. Kids can hack their schools. Government can hack us all. And black hats can hack the government. Businesses, without any actual hacking, can take your life story and sell it as demographic research to marketers and retailers. Online services can take tacit ownership of your intellectual property through draconian EULAs that users never even read before clicking ‘I Accept’. Banks and phone companies and credit cards can stick little charges in your bills, hoping that you won’t look close enough, or care enough, to complain. Insurance companies routinely refuse claims, or make you jump through an exhausting number of hoops, knowing that a certain percentage of people will just throw up their hands and walk away. We’ve been ‘hacking’ each other for long before computers got involved—they’ve just added another layer to the conundrum.

Yet we willingly place our trust in anything that’s got silicon chips inside. I can see where it got started. People used to have to trust nerds—we were the only ones who could tell you how to work a computer. But it’s not like that anymore—except in the basement of development labs working on new tech. Everywhere else in business and consumer electronics, the nerds are no longer in charge—or they own the company, which amounts to the same thing—a billionaire becomes a businessperson, nerd or not. Just ask Bill. And there is one thing we know for sure about business—it can’t be trusted with the public welfare.

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As digital becomes more important in our lives, we see many bad side-effects. We see poor driving—make that dangerous driving. We see a lack of social interaction and a rise in online addiction. We see misuse of mega-data collected for one purpose and used for a hundred others. We see online stalking, online bullying, and online terrorism. We see ubiquitous surveillance. We see the markets being manipulated by micro-traders. Drones and hackers range from the harmless to the bloodthirsty. What we don’t see is regulation and oversight.

I want to keep the Internet free and open to equal access—but that’s the only thing I want to see remain in its wild state. Everything else should be managed and regulated with the same stringent requirements as money or medical records. I know that such an initiative would just draw all the lobbyists out of the woodwork, trying to tie us all into a tighter-still knot of commercial peonage, rather than acting as the civil service I’m suggesting. But there’s little enough accountability in business and government today—the digital industry should have at least a taste of it. After all, we aren’t that far from a day when we’ll all die without it—shouldn’t we take it a little seriously?

We can’t take a bottle of water onto a commercial airplane—but we can take a laptop, cell-phone, i-whatever—and we’re not all agreed yet on whether those things can crash the flight electronics of certain planes. Does that make any sense? Electromagnetism is invisible—we’re always tempted to think of it as harmless. We’re lucky there’s thunder—or we wouldn’t have the sense to fear the lightning.

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Obama Put the Good Back in News   (2015Jul14)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015                                             10:04 AM

Granted, I don’t know much about global politics—although I suspect it’s an unpleasant subject full of unlikeable characters and tragic circumstances. Still, when President Obama took office, Iran’s people were suffering from a global economic blockade, Iran’s leaders were pushing ahead with nuclear weapons programs, and we still had no diplomatic relations with Cuba, our nearest non-contiguous neighboring sovereignty. We still had large troop deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Here at home when President Obama took office, gays couldn’t get married—they couldn’t even admit they were gay, if they wanted to serve in the armed forces. Health insurance was a privilege of the well-to-do—and that privilege was limited to those without pre-existing conditions. The economy was in a nose-dive. Unemployment was headed for new lows.

Seven years later, we can get the impression from daily news reports that the world is as full of trouble as ever, and getting worse—but the truth is that a lot of good stuff has happened. After eight years of Bush W, the news got into a rhythm of reporting on an ever-darkening future—and they still adopt that narrative to a great degree. But Obama’s presidency has forced them to intersperse the tragedy with glimmers of good news—and the news shows, ever mindful of how trouble drives viewership, almost seem to trip over their prompters when announcing something as unabashedly good as the recent SCOTUS ruling on gay marriage.

When Obama was first elected, the GOP was nakedly opposed to him, personally—as if to say, ‘the hell with public service—politics first’. They broke with our hallowed tradition of post-election conciliation and support of the people’s ultimate choice. Then, and since, many people felt, as I do, that this is a treasonous abandonment of our political maturity—all we’d need now is a few fist-fights on the floor of congress to match the inanity of some third-world parliament. Of course, they’re paying for it now—currently there are fifteen of these idiots convinced that their eight years of obstructionism against our president has prepared them to take his place—and as a bonus, they’ve got Trump in the mix, holding up a fun-house mirror to their inanity.

I suspect Trump is secretly pro-Democrat. He’s on record as a contributor to both Hillary Clinton and Nancy Pelosi. But more importantly, his GOP candidacy illustrates the conservative paradigm taken to its logical extreme—anger, close-minded-ness, lack of charity, and a willingness to overlook or oversimplify anything complex enough to require a high school education. Trump removes the double-talk from the neo-con position and presents it baldly as the jingoistic, moronic snit it really is. How this can fail to help Hillary get elected is beyond me.

Are the many blessings of these last few years proof of Obama’s greatness or were they ideas whose time had come, and Obama was just in office at the right time? I choose to believe that FDR had the answer—‘the only thing we have to fear is fear itself’. Trying to push through the ACA legislation, giving the green light for Seal Team Six to take out Bin Laden, publicly supporting gay rights—these were all politically dangerous decisions that a pure politician would have wisely deferred. So I’d have to say Obama’s courage was the indispensable factor in many of the good things his presidency has wrought.

And when I look at the many important changes in our lives since 2008, I marvel at how much Obama has accomplished in the face of such stiff opposition—and I can’t help wondering how much more would have been done by our president if his congress had maintained the tradition of working in good faith with whoever was elected.

Currently, the big question is who will take Obama’s place—and if it were up to me, the answer would be a third term for Obama. Hillary Clinton, the favorite, is a competent, professional politician. But even she will be a pale substitute for our ass-kicking, name-taking, fearless leader. If any candidates from the GOP field are elected, it will signal (for me) that Americans will endure any level of abuse and incompetence, as long as they’ve had eight years off to get over the last time.

“Look Upon My Works, Ye Mighty, And Despair…”   (2015May17)

Sunday, May 17, 2015                                              12:19 PM

In the ancient long ago, the gods were a part of our confusion. Our behavior comprised of animalistic reactions to threat, urge, curiosity and temptation. Monotheism, by simplifying and idealizing godhood, helped to idealize humanity, in that one god forced the idea of one people, of humanity as a unit—rather than focusing on our pecking order, or who was friend or foe, we apprehended ourselves as humankind. Under self-absorbed, squabbling gods, Civilization was a disconnected collection of gadgets and power struggles. Only the dawn of Christianity made possible a vision of people as a collective, as an interdependent society.

As a longtime atheist, my focus has been on the history of religion and on the process of progressivism as it relates to freedom of religion. But as a lapsed Catholic I’ve always kept an eye out for any serious information about the supernatural—or anything that might replace the unifying validation of the human species which religion provides. Short of a religious experience, I hold little optimism for personal enlightenment. But I’ve never entirely surrendered the hope that rational analysis of the human condition may yield something of equal solace to religion.

I feel the same way about the supernatural that I feel about the creator—yes, they are undeniable—but, no, the things we think we know about them are old campfire stories, modified over the millennia. The truth of the supernatural or the creator is outside the ken of people. Let’s face it—people didn’t even realize the immense size of existence until ten or fifteen years ago, after they fixed the Hubble and started seeing the universe without an atmosphere in the way. We haven’t even learned the street names in our neighborhood yet—how can we be so smug as to think we understand the city planner?

But in the meantime, the problem for me has become: How do I rationalize my life—how do I explain why I care? To be crude about it: Why don’t I just kill myself? Up until recently, my only answer has been that life is a ride and there’s no sense in not enjoying it—there’s no guarantee that you’ll get anything more than the one. This is sufficient, but unsatisfying. It reduces life to a long, interactive action/comedy/romance/drama story with no real continuity or ultimate point, either to the story, or to participation in the first place.

Just now, however, it occurred to me that the core aspect of religion is the practical discovery of ourselves as a group. Animals act independently, individually, and their effects as a group are statistical, not intentional. Even herd animals act in concert through instinct—intention and awareness play no part in their tactics. People are no different—they act independently, randomly—until leadership enters the mind of one or more, and they begin to manipulate the group towards collective ends.

Ancient people could only form larger tribes and villages by using threats and rewards—leaders who found their practical control too limiting would add supernatural threats and rewards to enhance control. They would tie them in with campfire stories of creation, origins, ghosts and heroes—thus government-sanctioned religion was born.

Still, the individuals in these communities acted independently, taking into account the societal ‘sticks and carrots’, but leaving personal survival as the bottom line for individual behavior. Pharaoh Akhenaten took a stab at monotheism early on—after he died, not only was the old religion restored, but he was demonized in the recorded history of his successors. Jewish monotheism provides examples of both the enduring antipathy it generated in outsiders, and of the unshakeable strength of a community so tightly bound together by their beliefs.

Christianity is special because it was the first widely-popularized combination of the unifying strength of monotheism and the vision of the Golden Rule, or Love thy Neighbor, or whatever catch-phrase you were raised on. Unlike Judaism, early Christianity spread like wildfire—it was revolutionary in that it suggested a new perspective, a vision of humanity as a whole, bound together by love and caring. The interdependence and support of the old tribal ways were re-inserted into the modern, power-oriented outlook of a conquering empire’s people. Caring about one’s neighbor may have been thought country-bumpkin-ish by the citizens of the great Roman Empire—but Christianity revealed it to be Love, instead—an ancient wisdom to be reclaimed.

First, let me get the semantics of Love out of the way. Lovers who mate are a separate issue from the Golden Rule—passionate love has an element of possessiveness to it—that is part of the desire to protect and please one’s lover. But even in carnal love we must fight the natural impulse to confuse love with possession—people are not things, and to love someone is not to own them. Lust, jealousy, fidelity and infidelity confuse carnal affairs even further.

I’m talking about the other, more pedestrian, love that we have for others, be they family, friends, or strangers—we don’t want to bother them, we want to be friends, we want to help if we can. Conversely, we hope that they don’t want to bother us, that they want to be friends, that they’re willing to help us if they can. Whatever spirit it was that led us to invent politeness, before we learned to use politeness as a weapon—that’s the love I’m talking about.

Empathy is a tricky thing—like charity, it can be taken too far and thus rendered madness—but it is still a natural impulse. The question becomes whether empathy is an indulgence or an inspiration. While that question remains open, it should be noted that the Golden Rule does not endorse empathy any more than it endorses common sense.

On the other hand, the concept of unity should not be over-simplified into a goose-stepping regime, either. Early Communism saw the problem of a lack of human unity in the Capitalist paradigm, but it focused on the unity and overlooked the humanity. It’s not that simple—as was evident from the horrific regimes produced by those early efforts. The main problem is that the cohesion of society cannot stem from a government—it can only come from a society that has the will to be good to each other.

The phrase ‘do as you would be done by’ advocates unity, but not the military cohesiveness of a unity of power. The Golden Rule urges us to be a Family of Man, but to avoid using rationales to bar the pursuit of someone else’s happiness. We should be united, but still free to be ourselves. It’s complicated, which is one of the reasons why we aren’t even close to achieving it. Such an approach is also completely unrelated to the money-oriented outlook which blares from every media outlet and is sold from every political speaker’s dais.

Humanity, at the peak of its potential, has been hijacked by the rich and powerful, and turned towards goals so trite and empty that it is shocking to think how fully we immerse ourselves in their fantasy. Add in their insistence that modern arms, pollution, and habitat destruction are all a normal part of modern civilization, and there seems little reason not to turn our backs on them and their agenda, as one person. But we are kept distracted and engaged in their diversions to the point where we don’t ever stop to question our baldly suicidal sprint towards toxifying the planet and enslaving the non-wealthy—sounds like a fun time to me. Just ‘cause it’s called civilization doesn’t mean it has to be civil—right?

But my point is this: we think of the Family of Man as a spiritual aspect, separate from the mundane aspects of food, shelter, money, etc. Yet the religions that reveal this unity are simply recognizing a truth that is not obvious—that we have two natures: one as individuals and one as members of a species. The whole idea of a society suggests a balancing act between these two—we must live our lives, but we must also be members of a society.

There was a recent debate over taxing small-business owners. The question was whether they had created their institutions in a vacuum, or whether they owed some thanks to the local roads they used, the local shops that fed them, and the local workers they employed—in short, the community that made their own achievements possible. Aside from the argument being semantic nonsense, it illustrates the problem with the wealthy—they prize ownership over reality.

Even when rejecting religion, we are still aware of this core vision—that humanity is a creature of its own, and each of us is a piece of it. In such a paradigm, personal survival becomes insignificant except in its effect on the whole. Thus altruism exists, even without traditional faith. We can each choose for ourselves how much we focus on ourselves and how much we focus on our involvement as part of the whole.

This idea is bedeviled by our divisions into seemingly discrete groups—nations, races, societies—which confuse our perception of ourselves as part of the species. But the global community being formed by the digital age makes such distinctions increasingly fatuous—revealed as the spurious, self-generated divisions of more narrow-minded times.

We don’t need to be a Family of Man—but there’s little point to civilization if our basic foundations remain strife and competition—and without that higher vision, we may as well have stayed animals. There’s no glory in a civilization whose ultimate goal is the despoiling of the planet and the subjugation of the masses. That’s pointless and stupid. Capitalism is a fever-dream that lives off our animal impulses, giving us flimsy rationales for ignoring its faults.

Automation and AI are well on their way to making human labor obsolete. What will Capitalism become in a world without jobs—slavery or ultimate freedom? What will money be worth in a world without salaries? And what will we do with our lives when we don’t have to do anything? Once the issue of personal survival is ‘solved’, what will we be left with, except our destiny as a species?

Failure at CNN and The New York Times   (2015Apr24)

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Friday, April 24, 2015                                              5:59 PM

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What with FOX News, Court TV, Network TV news, and MSNBC all out there working their angles, I use to tell myself not to worry—after all, there was always the ‘Gray Lady’ and CNN. They both have respectable histories and both seemed to display a real dedication to journalism. But I’ve been noticing the mob mentality of mass media inveigling its way into the thinking of even the ‘respectable’ news-editors lately. I’m even starting to wonder about Gwen Ifill!

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Let me give two examples from today that raised my blood-pressure and totaled my peace of mind. The first was the headline of the New York Times issue on the kitchen table: “Obama Apologizes For Drone Strike that Kills American and Italian Hostage” What the hell is that? We didn’t take those people hostage. We don’t use human shields as SOP military strategy. And Obama wasn’t at the controls of the drone that hit the innocent victims. It’s ISIS who should apologize (if those fuckers had consciences, like human beings). These fucking savages terrorize the planet for years, and we focus on the rare mistakes where one or two of the deaths can be laid at our doorstep (if you ignore the source of the exigent circumstances).

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When are we going to cut this poor bastard a break? But Obama is nearing the end of his last term—for my second example, let’s turn to Hillary Clinton. I wouldn’t be Hillary Clinton for all the tea in China—this poor lady is America’s favorite target. I hope she doesn’t get elected—you fuckers don’t deserve her. And she certainly doesn’t deserve the treatment she gets at the hands of all the hacks pretending to be journalists.

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I saw three assholes talking on CNN. The left-wing-view guy makes a simple declarative statement—that ‘no evidence has been produced to support any charges of wrongdoing in the case of the Clinton Foundation vis-à-vis contributors getting special favors’. End of story, right? I mean, they’re journalists, right? Wrong. The moderator asshole responds, “Well, isn’t that just daring people to go and find proof?” In what bizzaro universe is an avowal of innocence the same as a dare to find wrongdoing? Only a total asshole would twist a simple sentence to mean its opposite—and only in the name of high ratings, truth be damned. A professional journalist wouldn’t even be talking about malfeasance without proof in the first place, never mind insisting on speculating on the whispers of her self-professed haters.

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These people are lucky they live in a modern world where they can say these things in print or on a TV screen. If they said this shit in public, I’d fucking attack them—what a bunch of scum. You’ll notice I mentioned glancing at a newspaper headline on the table and seeing three assholes on CNN. I did not read the paper and I didn’t watch CNN—these were just snippets that I noticed in passing—and wished I hadn’t. I’ll pay actual attention to the details of these jerks when journalism comes back in style—and that’ll happen as soon as the major media corporations go bust, not before. So, I’m not holding my breath—or watching the news. Fuck’em all.

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I Don’t Know   (2015Apr12)

Sunday, April 12, 2015                                            2:10 AM

I made the mistake of watching too much History Channel—they had a run of episodes today of their series “The Men Who Built America”. I won’t go into that title—it speaks for itself—but the story makes a case for the main thrust of American growth in the late 19th—early 20th centuries being attributable to a handful of men—Vanderbilt with his railroads, Rockefeller with his petroleum, Carnegie with his steel mills and skyscrapers, and J.P. Morgan using Edison’s innovations to create the power-and-light industry. I think Ford and his assembly-lines came next—I fell out after one-hour-too-much of this stuff, so I can’t say for sure.

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However, I had seen enough. The History Channel makes it plain that these were all predatory, unscrupulous men whose attainment of ‘greatness’ in history involved business methods so rapacious that they are all illegal today. Cartels, monopolies, price-fixing—these guys were lucky to be first—not just because of the advantage being first gave them, but because they got to be grossly unfair before any rules were made. We see a similar frontier-like approach to the digital business world—entrepreneurs doing whatever they like in a field where no rules yet exist.

But it is the story of the factory workers, mill workers, and miners that gives us our most depressing history lesson. The bitterness we feel at the treatment of these miserable victims of economic bullying (with plenty of physical bullying thrown in by strike-breaking troops and Pinkerton agents) is only sharpened by the knowledge that the minimum wage is still a bone of contention a full century later. The hands that make American industry run are still considered expendable, or at the least replaceable. And the Owners of this country still feel that their employees are among their possessions.

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Where does this curious entitlement come from? Is it the average person’s inclination to do what they’re told that gives these people the mistaken impression that it’s okay to go beyond merely taking the lion’s share, and going all the way to the point of squeezing the employees down to the lowest possible wage, regardless of the company’s profitability? What makes this okay? Who the hell are these greedy bastards?

It’s just plain stupid. Well-paid employees drive the economy. Subsistence-wage workers only profit today’s bottom-line, and that for just one company—that they guarantee an at-best stagnant economy in the larger picture seems like something that should be addressed. That, and another point brought up by the History Channel’s little series—that these ‘magnates’, and entrepreneurs generally, will push limits and squeeze wages not for sound business reasons or the sake of efficiency, but to be the alpha dog, the top of the heap, whatever the hell that means. In effect, we had an Industrial Revolution mostly because of a few men with serious emotional issues and zero self-awareness of their motives.

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That such people today often speak out against social or charitable programs is part of this mind-set. It is clear that it costs less to deal with needy people’s lacks up-front than to clean up the mess after they fail to provide for themselves—the fact that it is also more humane is beside the point, economically. This is plain to see, just as it is cheaper to keep people healthy than it is to pay for health-care after they get sick. The economy of a city would get as big a jolt, perhaps bigger, if it helped underserved communities heal themselves than it gets from gentrification of an area, driving out the existing community by driving up the rents. But that’s just not flashy or pushy or fast enough—that’s not the way rich people like to do things.

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But it’s the way we think of ourselves that bothers me the most. These jerks make up this paradigm where 99% of us are treated like the mud on their boots—and we just go along with it. Running a business is like running for office—you find mostly jerks doing it, because only jerks would want the job. This is the problem—most people don’t want to be in charge. It’s like cops—you get a lot of cops who are just bullies—but how many people want to do that job? Not many, except for those few who get off on being bullies. My apologies to you decent cops out there—I know you’re out there, but I also know you’re not unanimous—just saying.

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Unfortunately, a business owner, manager, or politician can do a lot more damage than a trigger-happy cop—they just do their dirty work in less obvious ways. There’s a succinct phrase to describe this phenomenon: ‘shit floats’. The paths to power and the skill-sets required to gain power are entirely separate from the requirements of good leadership or good governance. We don’t find our leaders among those most qualified to fill the posts, we get our leaders from those most qualified to get the posts. And anyone with a lick of sense avoids these leadership positions like the plague. A person can have greatness thrust upon him or her, but that is rare—most of us are pretty good at dodging ‘greatness’ when it’s thrust our way. And for good reason—among those ‘giants’ whom the History Channel claims ‘built’ America, there wasn’t a single happy soul. I look forward to the day when we stop confusing ‘greatness’ with the neurotic compulsions of men who lacked supportive father-figures.

Iran Hawks   (2015Apr03)

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Friday, April 03, 2015                                                7:38 PM

Does anyone remember the big kerfuffle over the “open letter to Iran” that the GOP released last month? The thrust of the letter was that any agreement between the US and Iran would be subject to veto by the Congress—comments both unhelpful and unnecessary. Now suddenly we hear of an agreement between European and Iranian negotiators—as if the US, and John Kerry, much less Obama, weren’t even involved.

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Isn’t this issue complex enough without the media massaging reality before they open their mouths to report to us? I’m concerned by this—and even more concerned by the seeming enthusiasm among the right-wing to start a shooting war with Iran. It reminds me of Wilson’s Congress destroying his dream of a League of Nations, the failure of which led to World War II.

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I don’t know anything about Iran. This is standard practice for a country being vilified by conservative Americans. We knew nothing of Russia and Russians during the Cold War. The satirical film “The Russians Are Coming! The Russians Are Coming!” was so effective because it surprised American audiences with lost Russian U-Boat sailors who behaved as typical people, rather than the one-dimensional monstrosities as which we’d been encouraged to view their entire populace.

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And it would be almost as dangerous to speak well of the Iranians in public, now, as it would have been to say something nice about the Russians during the McCarthy Era, or to speak against the War in Iraq while Dixie Chicks CDs were being burnt in public squares. For a country that prides itself on Free Speech, we can be real pussies whenever the principle experiences any pressure from the climate of the mob. Real ‘freedom of speech’ continues to elude the American culture as a whole.

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We made modern Iran by propping up our own oil-interests-friendly government there, which was so unbearable to the Iranians that they had a revolt in the seventies. It may have been the Carter Administration’s Hostage Crisis, during that revolution, that caused us to sanction Iran with embargoes, but it is mere pique that has kept those sanctions in place for—wait, let’s count up the decades that the Iranian economy has suffered from US-imposed embargoes—the eighties, the nineties, plus fifteen….hmm. And please note that I say the Iranian economy, not the Iranian government, which seems to have weathered those sanctions far better than the average Iranian family trying to keep food on the table.

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We don’t see any of those poor bastards on the news, do we? That’s because they’re too much like us, normal people being screwed over by the power-players of the globe. We might decide we’re on their side. We might even be right. We can’t have that.

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People talked about Watergate as the ‘end of authority’ in the United States. But it wasn’t the end, it was more of a ‘fair beginning’. A contemporaneous scandal, the New York Times’ publishing of the Ellsberg Papers, revealed that the US government had continued fighting a war they had long determined was unwinnable, out of sheer political embarrassment.

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In the years since we have seen the truth of World War II come to light, first in Pynchon’s “Gravity’s Rainbow”, which outlined the interlocking corporations that armed, supplied and invested in the war, entirely outside of the battling governments of the world—and often at cross-purposes with them. Secondly, we learned of possibly the greatest single hero of World War II, Alan Turing, in a book that wasn’t published until decades after Turing’s death—and wasn’t made a popular film until this very year, over fifty years after the events.

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We learned that Catholic priests had a centuries-old ‘tradition’ of pederasty, kept purposely secret by the heads of the church. We learned that tobacco companies knew they were lying for the several decades of legal battles over the carcinogenic effects of tobacco smoking. We learned that the vast majority of hardline conservatives pushing for anti-gay legislation are themselves gay!

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Then things really start rolling with the establishment of a news service, Fox, which guarantees it will skew the news in a certain direction—an acid-trip of a programming idea if there ever was one. At the same time, we see the emergence of satirical news, with SNL’s “Weekend Update” and Comedy Central’s “The Daily Show with John Stewart” and “The Colbert Report”. These programs were based on the expectation that there will be so much misbehavior and malfeasance that a daily round-up of jokes about them will have ample fuel for continuous operation. HBO’s John Oliver in “Last Week Tonight” reaches a pinnacle of this genre—he picks a particularly pernicious issue and finds enough stupidity, corruption, and inequity in its history and practice to fill an entire 30-minute program with sarcastic pokes at these false idols.

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Then there’s the Tea Party, a blend of racism, ignorance, and reactionary fury that I would compare to the behavior of a spoil brat, if it wasn’t so unfair to the spoiled brats of the world. The Republican Party in general, under the Tea Party’s influence, has become the party that has never heard the Aesop’s Fable in which a person cuts off their own nose to spite their face. They’ve gone so far past common sense that their conservatives have become anti-conservation climate-change-deniers—and they don’t even see the irony in that. But their extremes are simply a symptom of the influence of extreme wealth on the democratic process, which wasn’t so democratic in the first place.

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We see the same thing in the recent ties between South American drug smugglers and violent extremists in Africa—the enormous amounts of cash involved completely overrun any small African government’s attempts at humane governance, buying up their heads of state, their police forces, even their militaries. And while we’re on the subject of the War on Drugs, let’s remember that the effect of all those years of time and billions of dollars has been—nothing. If anything, drug use has escalated, in the USA and around the world—and the corruption by cash of the many would-be fighters in that war has the effect of institutionalizing the drug trade on both sides of the imagined border between the ‘good guys’ and the ‘bad guys’.

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So today we see Authority, that mirage of stability, has always been a con job. We see that they have lied to us about our past, that they are lying to us about our present, and that the future will be a very one-sided fight in which normal people like you and I try to live just and peaceful lives amidst criminals in all but name who have effective control of our government, our businesses, and our lives.

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Will these bastards allow a peaceful, diplomatic solution to the Iran nuclear issue, or will they use it to start a war, sending our young people to the ends of the Earth to fight and die, instead? Call me a crabby, old misanthrope if you must, but these right-wingers have shown their colors time and again and only a fool would expect them to suddenly behave like rational folks.

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Only a very few people get into politics out of idealism—the vast majority are power-hungry egotists with all the fear and loathing of desperate, insecure men. Only the GOP is twisted enough to seek out women to publicly support their misogyny, or African-Americans to publicly support their racism, or Latino-Americans to publicly support their elitism and exclusion. There’s something very sick about all that—especially on top of their insistence that none of us can be financially secure unless the super-wealthy are super-secure, both in their right to hoard their ungodly treasure and their right to treat the rest of us as chattel.

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I’m going bald on top, scratching my head, trying to figure out how they get people to vote for them, when they’d all be far better off not just voting against them, but running against them. After all, both the super-wealthy and the Tea Party represent vanishingly small percentages of our nation’s population—even a dysfunctional democracy ought to be able to do something against these jerks.

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Happy Birthday, Emmy Noether!   (2015Mar23)

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Monday, March 23, 2015                                          11:39 AM

Emmy Noether was a major mathematician and physicist of the era of Hilbert, Gödel, and Einstein. She spent most of her life being an un-matriculated, unwelcome university student—and then an unpaid, untitled university professor. Having broken past most of the boundaries met by female scholars, she found herself being ostracized anew by the Nazis, because of her being a Jew. She left for the USA before the Nazis progressed beyond merely firing Jews to murdering them. She spent two years at Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania before dying, at age 53, due to complications after surgery to remove a cyst. Einstein wrote a valedictory letter in her honor which was subsequently published in the Times [click here for article].

Her astonishing achievements in math and physics would have stood on their own, but her struggles to get clear of the close-minded sexism of her day were just as heroic, just as epic. It’s hard to think of these two battles as unrelated. Noether’s innovative mind pushed back humanity’s ignorance of science just as her day-to-day life pushed back against humanity’s ignorance about women, and Jews.

Clear, incisive thought will often overrule conventions without being conscious of it—ignoring some unimportant, nonsensical convention to arrive at the correct solution, unaware of how much importance society-at-large puts upon those unimportant, nonsensical conventions. Giordano Bruno was burnt at the stake for suggesting the existence of other solar systems among the countless stars in the sky—where a less intelligent person would have scrupled at going against convention, willing to live in continued ignorance rather than die for the sake of correctitude.

Scholars and scientists appear to regard Ignorance as the greater death, the real torture. Such heroism has always been admired in explorers, but less obvious explorers, explorers of the mind and of truth, are rarely given the adulation offered up to Columbus, Admiral Perry, or Charles Lindberg. However, pure science has a way of finding an outlet into reality: Bernoulli’s principle becomes the Wright brothers’ first Flyer, Einstein’s relativity becomes Oppenheimer’s atomic bomb, Turing’s number theory becomes the first computer, et. al.

Thus admiration for scientific exploration often lags behind, waiting for society as a whole to recognize its ‘practical’ value. The preponderance of such evolutions of ‘thought into things’, by the dawn of the twentieth century, had gained some grudging respect for pure scientific exploration—we had finally caught on that these people, these squirrelly, often unkempt oddballs, were a potential source of speed and convenience, money and power.

Long before the modern age, as far back as the Enlightenment, we began to see science overrule convention. Authority, whether of the religious or the noble persuasion, had, until then, been protected from dissent by the simple expedient of executing the dissenter(s). Might was, demonstrably, right. Afterwards, new discoveries and inventions began to impact our lives. Gunpowder, cannon, and muskets rendered old defenses, such as castle walls and armor, obsolete. Sextants, chronometers, and maps removed the boundary of the open sea, reliable navigation making possible the Age of Discovery.

Thus the right of might became a fluid thing—solid stone and steel become vulnerable, the limits of the known world fall away with the discovery of a New World. Worse yet, in conservative terms, science in the hands of Galileo and Copernicus presents us with a spherical Earth orbiting the Sun—which, while interesting in itself, is disastrous in that it seems to put the lie to scripture—how can the God of Joshua ‘stop the sun in the sky’ if the sun doesn’t actually move across the sky?

This creates a dichotomy in society—what we call conservatives and progressives. Those who are delighted by the new and different tend towards progressivism. Those who fear change tend towards conservatism. And those with wealth or power are rarely progressive—no one has more to fear from change than those who are already on the top of the heap. For them, change can only be a disaster.

And so it went, for centuries—it was as much a matter of personal choice as anything practical that people chose to be either conservative or progressive, with the exception of those in power, who were invariably conservative for the reasons mentioned above. Then came the Digital Age, with its profusion of new gadgets, new techniques, and, most importantly, new changes to society and commerce. We are flummoxed both by the amount of change and the speed with which that change occurs.

Today, it would appear that conservatism is a dangerous choice. Science has made of society a shifting, nebulous mystery, a complex patchwork that demands our adaptability, both mental and emotional. ‘Being conservative’ goes from being a choice to being a mistake. And those in power, those with the greatest investment in conservatism, find themselves laid bare to the winds of change.

Now, when scientists determine that burning petroleum damages our air and water, we are tempted to act on that important information. But those who are rich and powerful because they do business in petroleum are not happy. The only answer for them is to counter science with an alternative. But what is the alternative to science? So far, the answers have been denial, ignorance and extreme fundamentalism. Conservativism goes from being a choice to being a bunker. Shorn of its connection to science, or even common sense, conservatism becomes an artificial position, jiggered to defend the rich and powerful, regardless of how far it wanders from sanity.

We see the Republican party, once known as the party of conservatives, become known as the party of the rich. Some effete intellectual has pointed out that we now have the ability to house, feed, and cloth every person on earth—that Capitalism, the system by which we reached this pinnacle, is now the only thing preventing us from going over the top, into a world of peace and prosperity. Capitalism morphs from the mechanism by which we all progressed into a mechanism for conserving the paradigm of rich and poor, the entitled and the deprived.

Today’s conservative is either forced into conservatism by their fear of change, or they are deluded into conservatism by the propaganda of those in power. Progressives, when they are not railing against the entropy of modern conservatives, are hard-pressed to deal with a rate of progress and of change that exceeds the capacity of an individual mind to absorb, before it changes yet again. We have enough trouble dealing with that excess of fulfillment of our hopes, without having to defend ourselves against reactionary revisionists.

Science struggled in the middle ages—chemistry was witchcraft, astronomy was heresy, electricity was the devil. It slowly made a place for itself by producing irresistible tools of power, convenience and freedom. By the twentieth century, science had begun to advance by leaps and bounds, hence the deification of Thomas Edison, Henry Ford, and others. But here in the twenty-first century, our digital technology runs amok—no one person can comprehend it, no one person can keep up with it. Science has revealed itself to be innately progressive—an enemy of conservatism and, thus, an enemy to those in power.

Today, conservatism has become an enemy of science—just as it has always favored might over right. Recently, the famous conservative, Rick Santorum, was quoted as saying “The smart people will never be on our side”. It isn’t easy to maintain popular support while advocating ignorance, but they are feeling their way, through various memes, to cast suspicion on intellectualism, i.e. the scientific method. They play on the resentment of those with below-average scholarship. They attempt to conflate the complexity of science with the confusion of double-talk. And they point to heaven, calling on their invisible authority to smite the smarty-pantses, oblivious to the scientists that float above, in the Space where dogma insists Paradise must be.

This is not new. Hitler famously used science to great effect during the Second World War—rockets, jets, coding machines, missile guidance systems, radar—but he didn’t believe in it, he just used it. That wealth of German technology would never have been his, had his regime not followed hard on the heels of a very liberal, open-minded university culture—a culture he destroyed while he looted the wealth of power it produced.

Before the Internet, Science was the first global community. And German universities were hubs of this international mingling of the great minds of their time. It is ironic, and fitting, that the scientists and thinkers driven from Germany by Hitler’s hate were instrumental in the eventual defeat of the Axis powers. But even as Hitler stomped on the sand castles of early twentieth century science, he gladly used any of its powers and insights that adapted themselves to world conquest.

Likewise, we see today many conservatives, including Rick Santorum, who gladly make use of science’s bountiful gifts while still denying its basic premise—rational thought and open-minded consideration of observed reality. They are bizarro, negative-image copies of our Founding Fathers, who invented the Bill of Rights and the Declaration of Independence, but insisted on the right to own slaves. The difference is that our Founding Fathers continued an old ignorance while creating a new enlightenment. Modern conservatives seek to create a new ignorance while resting on the laurels of the old enlightenment.

Conservatives want to undo religious freedom by abrogating the separation of church and state. They want to undo Roosevelt’s New Deal, destroying our society’s stability in favor of classist profiteering, making an elite of the greedy. They want to undo voting rights, making a plutocracy out of our democracy. They want to undo feminism most of all, because they know in their hearts that women have a dangerous propensity towards humane ideals and common sense, not to mention the female urge to care for the young and helpless. The conservatives have become such blatant cheerleaders for prejudice, poverty, and prison that it always leaves me dumbstruck—not only that they do this, but that they find so many followers to buy into their evil agenda.

Money may not deserve to be considered free speech, but it has certainly become a political party—the Republicans. And please note that I feel it has become redundant to speak of money and power—they are so close nowadays as to be synonyms. Sadly, many Democrats and Independents are also Republicans in sheep’s clothing. The infiltration of money despoils all parties—it merely finds a champion in the Republicans. And that champion is fighting with all its might—against we the people, against scientific truth, against fairness and democracy. Such total evil, to my incessant surprise, retains a wide following among people who are some of its most pitiable victims. They’ve managed to indoctrinate African-Americans, even misguided women, into their fold. They may not have a taste for rigorous scientific thought, but no one can deny that they are extremely clever bastards. Just like old Adolf.

But today we celebrate the birthday of Emmy Noether, the Jewish lady he so foolishly discarded—and his birthday? No one knows or cares. Likewise, Santorum has felt the weight of Science’s power—his name is now used across the Internet to mean “a frothy mixture of lubricant and fecal matter as an occasional byproduct of anal sex”. Deny that science, Ricky. And happy birthday, Emmy!

Why We Fight   (2015Mar19)

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Thursday, March 19, 2015                               2:19 PM

I’ve got a new theory. Right-wingers are people who, in early childhood, got a taste of bullying and found that they liked it. Then they grow up and find that life is not about bullying. Disappointed, they spend the rest of their lives trying to make the world safe for bullying again, like in the good old days.

Left-wingers are people who, in early childhood, got a taste of being bullied and found that they did not like it. Then they grow up and find that bullies belong in jail. Relieved, they spend the rest of their lives trying to reinforce civilization and restrict the bullying to kids’ playgrounds.

The remaining people don’t care about politics. Most of them live in poverty, have always lived in poverty, and don’t expect anything to change—can you blame them? The rest are made apathetic by their entitled, smug self-assurance that nothing will ever change their private little upper-income paradise—the same self-assurance that tells them there’s nothing wrong with their spoiled, wasteful lifestyles.

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These four groups try to share the same planet but, inevitably, the bullies start new bullying, the bullied start new protests, the poor get angry at the rich and the rich get scared of the poor. There’s a lot of trouble brewing out there, but at this point the conflict is mostly muted due to the artificial information broadcast by the rich who own the media. To hear them tell it, obnoxious people wearing business suits can be trusted to run the world and make sure there’s liberty and justice for all. I’m not convinced, but they sure are. Or they take money to keep up the pretense (see Cenk Uyger’s documentary, “Mad As Hell”).

But when the truth is suppressed or, as has become more common, is distorted, society can have a lot of festering ills boiling beneath the media’s gloss. And we do—boy, how we do. Even the super-wealthy are blinded by the news blackout—they have no idea how their neglect of their society is fouling their own nests. Gated communities only offer so much protection—when the pressure gets too intense, they’ll actually be the most endangered of all of us—because they’ll be the only ones who have what everyone else wants.

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As bad as things are now, there is still plenty of food and water for most people, particularly here in the world’s wealthiest nation. For now, the rich have all the privileges—but soon they’ll have all the food, too. That will be the time for them to start whining about class warfare, because then they will surely have it—and it won’t be political.

There are too many people. Global population growth proceeds apace, but it has long since passed the point where the Earth can easily support so many. Why do we keep flooding the Earth with more people when we already have too many? Because being human is not being sensible. Being human is not questioning the instinctive imperatives that our lizard brains insist upon, even when they run counter to survival, ours or our species’.

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And the pressure from population density has humankind, and its attendant filth, filling every living niche on the planet, killing off or pushing out the rich, natural biodiversity that keeps our air and water clean. We are even stupid enough to cut down the very last tree in the last rain forest before we realize that there is a limit to satisfying humanity’s greed. It’ll happen. We’ll wonder why. Well, I won’t—the answer is depressing simple—we’re too stupid to live.

We used to be somewhat safer from our own mistakes. There are places on Earth that no one would live in, places that are barely survivable—so we stayed away from them. But now we go into the Arctic, we dive deep beneath the oceans, we delve far into trackless wastes—and drill for oil. That doesn’t sound so bad, does it? What harm can an oil drill do? Well, it turns out that a certain, inevitable amount of spillage, fires, water-fouling, ground contaminating, and small-arms fighting can result from even a small oil field in development. Everywhere we go, we leave nothing but mud, toxic waste, and species-loss.

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I won’t go into the damage that oil-industry incursions do to the societies they impose themselves on. There’s an excellent documentary produced by Brad Pitt, “Big Man”, which gives a scathing account of the interlocking forces and corruption caused by oil developers in Africa—I won’t duplicate that effort here. The morons in that story are fighting solely about the money—a level of stupidity I won’t descend to today.

So why are we so stupid? Well, I think it’s that old ‘weakest link’ effect. The greediest and most thoughtless people rush in to fill any gap left by people of conscience and thoughtfulness. It isn’t enough to simply not do bad things, we have to stop each other from doing bad things. And we all know what happens when one person tries to stop another person from doing what they want. We fight.

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I wouldn’t mind so much if the problems that cause our fights and our wars were ever solved, either by the fighting or by the victors. But history tells us that when we fight, even when we fight something as horrible as the Nazis, and even when we win—we end up becoming the thing we fought. When the Nazis first bombed cities full of civilians, it was a new and shocking war-crime that everyone condemned—now it’s standard procedure for any military. Is that progress? I’m afraid it truly is.

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Well-Aged Capitalism   (2015Mar15)

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Sunday, March 15, 2015                         11:53 AM

When speaking of Capitalism we must be specific as to which Capitalism we mean. Fresh Capitalism is a wonderful ideal, but then so is Democracy, Communism or Socialism—as ideals, they’re all good. The question with any system is how does it age? Communism aged badly—the corruption and the power-struggling began before the ink was dry on new governing policy, and a police state (as we are learning) never helps matters much.

Socialism seems to be working well with parts of Europe, but xenophobia, greed, and lust for power have their ins into that system as well. Democracy holds off corruption the longest, because it makes power contingent on popularity, which curtails the worst, most open examples of tyranny and self-enrichment. But Democracy is like a business—easily managed when it’s young and small. Once a democracy becomes big and mature, complexity starts to mask some of the corruption, and makes it easier to confuse the electorate.

But Democracy, for a long time, was like a well-ballasted ship that would right itself no matter how hard we pitched to one side or the other. Freedom of speech got people talking whenever things didn’t smell right—and in a country where you can’t jail your opponents for criticism, it’s hard to be a real bad guy and keep your office. That this is no longer the case today has a lot to do with Capitalism, the worm in the apple.

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We always speak of the Industrial Revolution—but that era was about much more than inventions and assembly-lines. All business was privately owned, or a government franchise—and bookkeeping was art, performed in various styles, with various techniques, depending on the performer. But railroad tycoons wanted the riches of owning their railroads without the hassle of having to run the business themselves—which gave birth to the stock market. And business owners of constantly-growing businesses became frustrated by the elusiveness of valuation at any given time—which spawned the invention of double-entry accounting, the system we still use today to account for a business’s every penny spent and every penny earned.

So, the Industrial Revolution was dogged in its steps by the Business Revolution. Systems for trading in cash and in assets, systems for keeping precise track of it all, even new systems of business ownership, were all invented due to the increasing complexity of industry. Capitalism began to resemble the monarchies that Democracy was supposed to replace—and monopolies were a constant threat to the claim that Capitalism creates an even playing ground. Abusing the masses through draconian working conditions and meager wages was there, too—but people are strangely reluctant to complain about labor practices when starvation is still a significant cause of death.

Besides, monopolies are a rich person’s problem, and rich people had no problem getting the ear of government to urge that limits should be put on how unfair one rich guy could be to another rich guy. However, monopolies are also a rich person’s tool, so debate on how to limit it dragged on for decades—and continues today.

One area where pro-monopolists have always had more influence is that of communications and entertainment. Ironically, this is because a Democratic system places greater value on a microphone—or mass media, as we call it today—due to its potential to influence voters. The value of owning a TV station goes well beyond its monetary value—it grants editorial power over which news is reported, how it’s reported, and even in pure entertainment, ideas and messages supporting the interests of the owner can be promulgated without dissent.

This situation isn’t that important in an environment that contains many competing TV stations—when one station goes too far outside of observed reality, their competitors can capitalize on that cognitive dissonance by branding the offending station as untruthful. However, if all the TV stations are owned by one entity, dissent in public discourse is, at best, muddied, and at worst, completely squelched.

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This brings us to today, where in many states, the constituency is mostly encouraged not to bother voting, or to vote for a brain-dead, bought-and-paid-for criminal. And given that environment, it’s getting mighty hard to find a candidate who isn’t a brain-dead, bought-and-paid-for criminal. This doesn’t ‘break’ Capitalism, but it does break Democracy as we know it.

No, Capitalism is eating its own guts in different ways—suborning the government is just one of them. But it is key, in that it allows the other extremes—the failure to adequately tax the rich and the corporations, the failure to pay decent wages, and the failure to protect the vulnerable from the influence of the super-wealthy and from Wall Street’s predations. We’re starting to talk about income-inequality, but due to the monopoly on mass media, it comes out as ‘class warfare’. Yes, equality isn’t fairness to the poor—its ‘war’ on the rich. Sure, I’ll swallow that—I’m hungry and there’s nothing else to eat.

But seriously, what Capitalism’s big winners fail to realize is that destroying the government’s ability to govern has consequences beyond the immediate financial success they are enjoying at this moment. The GOP, money’s representative in Washington, have shut down the government repeatedly. They’ve stymied any significant legislation for almost a decade, not to mention the appointees they leave un-appointed—causing no end of government dysfunction.

And just recently, they put out a masterstroke of foreign policy obstruction—an open letter to Iran that has convinced most of the world, overnight, that the US is not to be trusted. That they revealed themselves to be seditious, ignorant troublemakers is beside the point, though it doesn’t help much, since they are our elected ‘leaders’, and the world has gone on quite oblivious to the fact that we’ve always had a pack of morons constituting our congress, until now.

Yet what bothers me most is that ‘honesty’ in media has become a punchline, where it was once considered of real value. Without truth as a touchstone, we are left with pure entertainment. But you can’t inform an electorate with entertainment. You can indoctrinate them, you can influence them—all good news for the fat cats trying to turn your head around, but not so good for real democracy. Democracy without information is just tyranny through convoluted means—and monopolizing the news to hide the truth is pretty convoluted. Luckily for the filthy rich, convoluted is confusing—and we are confused—too confused to call them out on their lies, too confused to take back our democracy—even too confused to vote for an honest candidate. Just don’t look to the mass media to straighten it all out—they were part of the solution, but now they’re part of the problem.

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Piggies   (2015Mar14)

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Saturday, March 14, 2015                                1:05 PM

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Happy Pi Day, everybody!

We are supposed to wander around begging for a job—if we don’t find a job, we go hungry and die. That’s our 21st century paradigm—and we are so married to it that Texan racists have been known to comment that black people were ‘better off’ as slaves. What they’re really saying (although their tiny brains don’t realize it) is that anyone who isn’t rich is better off in slavery—and they have a kind of a point. Let the employer go through all the hassle of finding housing and three meals a day and health care on the pittance that an employer is willing to pay for labor. Let the employer figure out how you’re going to earn your keep. After all, it’s bad enough that the wealthy get that way by underpaying their employees—it doesn’t seem fair that we get screwed by both the bad pay and the many inconveniences of trying to stay alive on subsistence wages.

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And what are the differences between today’s workaday workplace and slavery? Oh, they’re there—but when you think about it, you find that they’re rather subtle differences. Both situations take away a person’s self-determination and place them under the command of someone who isn’t interested in leadership, only in using you up and giving back as little as possible. Both situations infringe on the personal liberty of the victim, separating them from their families—sometimes to the point of destroying their families. And both give unwarranted power to some jackass who has no inherent intelligence or ability, only the power of financial life or death over the persecuted.

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Yes, slavery had the added drawback of giving the overseers the literal power of life or death over the persecuted—and that’s certainly important—but in most other ways, employment is self-imposed slavery. Conservatives will blow hard, insisting that a real man has to work to earn his way through life—but is that true? Do we have to work hard every day to survive? No, we don’t. Not in the 21st century. All we have to do to survive today is get a paycheck, an income, some revenue—it’s not hard work, per se, it’s just a matter of pleasing an employer. And employers have somehow worked it out in their heads that, even though the company is making them filthy rich, they still owe the people that make that happen nothing more than the legal minimum—and then they bitch about how there shouldn’t be a legal limit on how little they can pay a worker. Aren’t they sweet?

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It’s a good thing I don’t get out much. If I were to meet a rich person in person today, I’d be hard pressed not to just slap them right in the face—they disgust me. “Have you seen the little piggies rolling in the dirt?” sang the Beatles, once upon a time. Oh, we’ve seen them, alright. The natural shame that such people used to feel about being publicly piggish has evaporated—they bankroll political campaigns, lobbyists, hate groups, and fundamentalists—and they do it right on CNN, in front of the whole world, like they had nothing to be embarrassed about. Sorry, rich people—you do have something to be embarrassed about—but if you want to ignore that and just wait until there is such pressure from social inequality that it turns into an uprising, like they do in third-world countries, then go ahead. Just be advised that someone at some time is likely to decide you all deserve a bullet in the brain.

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I’m a gentle flower—I would never be able to do violence to anyone, no matter how deserving they are. But I’m well aware, and the fat cats should be likewise, that there are plenty of less-gentle people in the world. And after that first one or two billion, what’s the point, anyway? Why are you so greedy? What makes you such a pig? If I had too much money, I’d use it to get a degree, without having to go into debt. Why aren’t you idiots going to school? Are you so detached from the human race that you don’t want to know anything more than how to rip other people off? Have any of you ever noticed that non-rich people have friends, fun, happiness? You do know that no amount of money will get you those things, don’t you?

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Okay, now I’m in danger of making the mistake we always make—we pay too much attention to these scumbags. They are little in every way, other than their bank balance. They are stupid. They are greedy. They are blind. Yes, they have too much influence on our culture—but we should always be on guard against giving them any importance outside of the power of their money. They are sad, sorry creatures with no understanding of the world or of people. They only know about their filthy, worthless money. They’re like a disease in our society, creating imbalances and competitiveness where neither is needed, warping the purposes of both government and commerce. They are the bad apples at the bottom of our barrel and should be treated accordingly.

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Capitalism only works when it’s new-ish. But American Capitalism is old and settled now—laws and regulations by the thousands have worked their way into our legislation, making it nearly impossible for someone new to compete with existing businesses. Monopolies have fought against the anti-monopoly laws long enough that they no longer exist. Financiers have fought against regulation and oversight for so long that they now give orders to the government instead of the other way around—even when they screw up badly enough to throw us all into a Great Recession.

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Then, during that disaster, instead of being chased through the streets by angry mobs (like they should have been) they were busily foreclosing on every mortgage—even the paid-up ones. And their excuse for foreclosing on all their mortgages, regardless of their status—was that they had sold so many bad mortgages that they didn’t have the time or the manpower to carefully go through them all—like that’s our problem. You see, my problem isn’t with these people having so much money. My problem with the filthy rich is that somehow having a lot of money turns a person into a big pile of crap.

If only the drug companies would stop stacking up profits making boner pills, and tried to find a pill that would turn a rich person into a human being. Now, that would be ‘better living through chemistry’.

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Welcome to the Madhouse   (2015Mar10)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015                                 11:32 PM

It’s like being trapped in a nightmare. I don’t want to steal stuff, but plenty of people in this world do. I don’t want to own a gun, but plenty of people in this world do—and some of them even want to use them. I don’t want to fight, but plenty others do. If I go into business with someone I wouldn’t feel right unless it was fifty-fifty. But there are plenty of people who think it’s okay to hire twenty people at minimum wage and keep all the money for themselves.

I think the unfairness of the world would make a lot less sense if we were less accepting of the way things are—because the way things are is crazy. We don’t want to admit that—we don’t like to confront the fact that society is a madhouse—and by denial, we institutionalize the madness. The media reports on insanity with probity, as if the old men (and occasional woman) in charge gain dignity through wrinkled flesh. But those jerk-offs started out as egotistical little jerks, and they’re just older now, not all that much wiser. When they get on TV, I shudder at their mealy-mouthed evasions and mis-directions. They’re not fooling anyone but themselves, but the well-paid talking heads react as if they’re speaking plain English and using intelligence. What a load.

Someone shoots an unarmed person and we debate whether to throw the killer’s ass in jail, because he gets paid to carry a gun. Shouldn’t those people be held to a higher standard, not a lower one? If I kill someone, you can bet it’s because I was being an asshole—but if a cop kills someone unarmed, they’re being unprofessional. Don’t take the job if you can’t control yourself. End of fricking debate, unless you have some cleverly veiled racism to interject?

We’re going to look a grown woman straight in the eye and tell her that we, not she, are going to decide whether she has a baby or not? What jesus-freak planet does that logic come from? But, wait, since we’re discussing insanity, I’d better steer clear of Christianity—I don’t want to still be typing when the sun comes up.

I’m just sick of money and violence and the stupidity that incites it, excuses it, rationalizes it, and perpetuates it. Did you know that 75% of ISIS’s arms are made in the USA? Well, now you can add that to the insanity you’ve already accepted, like the scientists who are paid by the wealthy industrialists to deny the reality of climate change. You just sat there and took it, didn’t you? Even though we both know that our children’s middle-age will be a sci-fi-apocalypse nightmare—and it’ll be our fault. Just like it was our fault when all the yahoos started burning Dixie Chick CDs—and all us reasonable folk just sat back and watched while hundreds of thousands of young Americans were sent to turn Iraq into an incubator for terrorism, based on lies told to us by our leaders—and thousands of young Americans didn’t come back.

Bertrand Russell once complained to the effect that educated people were never sure they were right, but ignorant, crazy people were always positive. I have an addition to that postulate—ignorant, crazy people are more activist than reasonable people. Paradoxically, if we want the world to be less crazy, or at least slow down the expressway to crazy, we have to get a little crazy ourselves. We have to do the unthinkable—we have to get involved with politics. We have to get so involved that there are just as many reasonable people in politics as there are crazies—and I know that’s asking a lot, but I can’t change the facts of the matter.

When someone like that butt-head senator from Texas opens his yap, he should hear a room full of people laughing in his ignorant face. But he doesn’t—because he’s surrounded by butt-head senators. We’ve had democracy for a long time, but we only recently started voting for people as stupid as ourselves, instead of people we knew were smarter. I think it was Reagan who turned the presidency into a popularity contest–he was certainly the first openly stupid modern-day president we ever had, and the first movie star. (Beiber in 2036, anyone?) Sure, we’ve always resented intelligent people, but it used to include the grudging respect that intelligence deserves. Where did that kind of common sense go? When did we turn into children?

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think the past was any great shakes either. We had women virtually chained to kitchen stoves, and Jim Crow was not confined to the Deep South—we had corruption, fundamentalism, and elitism like you wouldn’t believe. The changes were good there, for a while. But then we all seemed to decide to get amnesia and re-examine debates that were settled in the 1950s. We started sliding backwards in our social progress, in the quality of our education, and in our perception as voters. Suddenly, only rich people were seeing things get better—the rest of us watched us go to war over a lie, lose our homes to the banks that lost us our jobs, and watched our government turn into a undisciplined kindergarten classroom.

The rich get upset over anything that smacks of humanity. They’ll tell you it’s too expensive. They’ll tell you it infringes on their rights. They’ll tell you it will bring ISIS to our shores. They’ll say anything—and they’ll say it a lot, through every media outlet they own, which is all of them. Those bastards are in charge and they want it all—the only thing they don’t want is change. Informed, self-determining people are so hard to push around. Luckily for the fat-cats, such creatures seem to be an endangered American species. Where have you gone, Kurt Vonnegut?

Confederacy of Dunces   (2015Mar10)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015                                 11:36 AM

The GOP’s cavalcade of stupidity marches on—and this time they’ve managed to embarrass us in front of the whole world. By airing their domestic dirty laundry in public with that open letter to Iran, they’ve demonstrated how incredibly provincial their thinking is. It never occurred to them that their obtuseness, without any coverage from their private propaganda outlet, FOXNews, is plain as day to the rest of the world. Foreigners were already nonplussed by their climate-change denials (sheer idiocy outside of our borders) but now they can see that the GOP is anti-American.

It must be heart-warming for America’s enemies to see our wealthiest and most powerful become so averse to the ideals which real Americans cherish. The Chinese must love their downplaying of human rights and their adoration of authority. The Iranians must love their dreams of theocratic rule. The Europeans must love it that the mantle of Enlightenment has returned to its birthplace. And Caribbeans must be overjoyed that our fat-cats are now pampered and waited upon by equally impoverished peons, right here at home!

A lot of us have jobs that we would quit, if it weren’t for our families or our preference for food and shelter—the biggest problem with America’s present failings is that many of them are supplying us with a steady wage. And let’s face it—the popular wisdom is ‘if your job is supporting your family but destroying the country—then fuck the country’. Once we accepted that money trumps ethics, our nation began its shockingly swift descent into the ‘bad joke’ version of America we live in today.

In the sixties, more Republicans than Democrats voted for the Voting Rights Act—but today, the GOP is trying to undo that legislative jewel in our crown—and not one of them showed up to commemorate Bloody Sunday on the bridge. They rant about reverse-racism or claim that racism doesn’t exist—they haven’t decided which is the stupider position yet—and stupidity appears to be their highest criterion for party loyalty.

But I don’t blame the GOP. They may not have the smarts required to tie their own shoes—but what does that make the people who elected them to run the country? And what does that make someone named Koch who spends billions to support them?

Melt-Downer   (2015Mar08)

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Sunday, March 08, 2015                                  5:14 PM

The snowing-est winter of recent memory sure had its excitements—and while most of them had to do with cold, discomfort, inconvenience, and cancelled work, school, outings, etc., it nevertheless feels a bit boring on this above-freezing, ice-melting day—even for a Sunday. The forecast is to reach into the forties every day this week—no blizzards, no storms—just melting snow and plenty of it. Early spring is like an early pregnancy (from the guy’s POV)—there’s little sign of it other than the knowledge that it’s on its way. In the meantime we just deal with the mess left behind by all of winter’s meteorological excitement.

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I saw a Facebook post about someplace in California that’s closing down its oil pumps to save water during their historic drought. It sounds like symbolism, a bit, but it’s really just the whole world in microcosm—it’s too real to be symbolic. People in the future will no doubt wonder what we did in the years leading up to and immediately following that recent announcement by scientists that we’ve reached the point-of-no-return on greenhouse gasses warming the globe. I’m starting to wonder a little myself. Should I already be long dead from a gun-battle with industrialists? Should I have long since emigrated out of the first-world, just to stop being a part of it all? I’m pretty sure I shouldn’t be typing away in my oil-heated home on a machine that requires mining rare-earth elements to manufacture.

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The people that know (scientist-type people) have already determined that we’ve crossed a serious line in our altering of the atmosphere and the oceans. The people that live in fear (leaders and wealthy people) are still furiously insisting that the problem doesn’t exist. They point to the fact that it still snows in winter—case closed. I resent the problem being discussed primarily by old farts—my age or older—who’ll be dead by the time they’re proved wrong.

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Oddly enough, our impending self-destruct is just one of the symptoms of a larger problem. By accepting technology into our lives, we’ve put ourselves in the hands of the technicians. When they say, ‘don’t stick your finger in the light-socket’, we should listen. And we do—when it’s as straight-forward as a zapping from a light-socket. But when it concerns something more complex  or subtle, like an atom-bomb, people just say, “Thanks, scientists.”, and take it away to do with it whatever they wish.

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A technician discovered how to build factories and power stations and cars—and we started making stuff, manufacturing stuff, marketing stuff—we know all there is to know about these inventions because we use them all the time. We don’t need the technicians any more, do we?—especially not if they have some crazy idea that their very convenient inventions have innate problems when used in large numbers. We don’t need to listen to technicians unless they have good news. Our grandchildren will have no such luxury. They’re going to have to listen to the technicians that tell them how to build sea-walls, how to electrify formerly combustion-driven machines, and how to keep breathing in a toxic atmosphere.

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There’s a lot of talk about money being free-speech, about corporations being legal persons—and that’s a problem. But the bigger problem is that capitalism causes us to give money more than free-speech—we give it judgment. People have known since the late sixties that our planet was endangered by technology—but we’ve wrung our hands for fifty years over the fact that ending our pollution would damage our economy. We’ve allowed money to convince us that pollution isn’t important, because the alternative is too expensive, or too inconvenient. Well, take a look at this place in twenty years and then come tell me about expensive and inconvenient.

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Do I sound crabby? I know I do—I don’t know why I asked. I’m in a lot of pain today—and I’m not really sure why. I overdid it a bit yesterday, walking through deep snow until I was gasping for air, my limbs burning from the effort. I was just returning from the house next door—it’s just a few yards—but the snow was up to my waist and there’s an ice layer on top that collapsed only when I stood up on it. It was like climbing giant stairs. It took forever for my breathing to get back to normal—I was exhausted. So maybe that’s it—after all, I haven’t been able to exert myself like that for twenty years—and that sort of thing took a day or two to recover from, even back when I was healthy.

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I’m also tired and a bit let down by my gargantuan post from last week—I spent two days playing piano and four days editing and posting all of it (ten complete videos—1 hour, 20 minutes total listening time). It’s going to be a long time before I record myself at the piano again—it’s a lot of work to post videos, but I don’t notice when I only do one or two of them every other day. If I was Horowitz, I’d gladly embrace the effort, but my little ditties make me wonder why I’m killing myself to share them. I’m starting to hate music as much as it hates me.

Or maybe I’m just tired.

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As Stupid Does   (2015Mar02)

Monday, March 02, 2015                                 4:36 PM

I showed my twenty-six-year-old son something I wrote yesterday—he told me he’s tired of reading criticisms of the GOP. Then it struck me—what a perfect tactic. Do something unbelievably stupid or say something unbelievably harsh every single day, and people will get tired of hearing all the outrage it engenders. It’s foolproof—which is lucky, since we’re talking about conservatives. The only problem I see is that they’re destroying the world and everyone in it. I don’t understand—why is that their goal? Are all their prejudices and fears really so valuable that the end of the world is their preferred alternative?

Oh, they’ll tell you that’s ridiculous, that they’re just trying to defend American values—but what right do they have to use words they clearly do not understand? Plus, they’re lying. How do I know? You know the answer—their lips are moving. Part of the new Stupid craze is believing you can lie your ass off—blatant, incredible, dangerous lies—and no one will notice. Plus, we can now pretend that science is a matter of opinion. Darwin, Einstein, Hawkings—all pretty smart people—where does a high-school drop-out get the cojones to stand up on his or her hind legs and howl their ignorance in the face of true intelligence? Sheer stupidity, that’s where.

We live in an age of wonders. Idiots have stumbled on a way to discredit intelligence and deny knowledge. What a through-the-looking-glass concept! And I think I know the reason for its sudden appearance in society—computers. Before computers, pencil-necked geeks were just pencil-necked geeks. The stupid jocks who beat them up got little satisfaction from it—they remained stupid and the geeks were still getting straight A’s. But once digital tech began to make geeks into super-stars and millionaires, the stupid majority had to put its foot down—intelligence has no value—it can’t and it never will, they cried. Thus, climate-change-deniers, evolution-deniers, holocaust-deniers—people by the thousands with their heads neatly tucked up their asses—but happy that way.

And we see a resurgence of fundamentalism—the world champion of stupidity. We see it in Europe, with the return of anti-Semitism. (How many times do we have to go over this, Europe? Any vague memories of last time? What the hell?) We see it in the third world, with the rise of Derf, or IS, or “book-no” haram. (It’s just my opinion, but I think you’d all prefer food, schools, and medicine—and think of all the fatigue of sledge-hammering our ancient history into oblivion. Is that really helpful?) And we see it here at home, where we’d rather have our kids mown down by lawfully-purchased firearms than let them catch a glimpse of two men kissing on TV. Men kissing? What a nightmare! “Get yer guns, boys—these sickos need to be dead.

My current theory is that money makes people stupid—and guess which political party is preferred by the rich? We all know how many people are super wealthy in the USA—one percent of us. So how does the party of the rich get support from fifty percent of the population? Masochism? Self-loathing? Or is it sheer stupidity? In the majority of cases, these people don’t have two dimes, but they American Dream that someday, they will—which makes them just as stupid and selfish as actual rich people. Or more so, if you consider how willfully and willingly deluded they are.

Part of the problem is that people are too sensitive about their smarts—someone posted something incredibly stupid on Facebook the other day, and even though she’s a friend of mine, I called it by its true name. She was incensed that I called her stupid. She missed the point—I was calling her post stupid. But she didn’t even consider the pros and cons of her narrow-minded meme; she just got pissed off because someone called her stupid. I would have been more diplomatic about it, but stupid ideas, like her meme that day, are destructive and dangerous. To me, it was as if she shot someone and got mad for being called a murderer—it’s not the insult that takes priority. Or is it? Maybe I’m the one who doesn’t get it. But at least I don’t post racist, exclusionary, misogynistic, fundamentalist bullshit on Facebook.

And, more importantly, I will never post or say or rant about anything in a way that encourages other people to do violence or practice hate—and that doesn’t mean I’m against freedom of speech—I’m just against misuse of freedom of speech. ‘Freedom’ implies that the choice is left to the individual—it doesn’t mean that you should abandon your own good judgment and say whatever the hell springs to mind.

Speaking of Freedom of Speech, let’s talk the Koch boys—they’re so crazy about it they want to extend it to money as well as words. Fine—I’ll tell you what the Koch boys’ money is saying. It’s no complex frigging mystery. It’s saying they are greedy and selfish—just the same as anyone else who has a ridiculous amount of money and doesn’t feel any obligation to spread it around. Sure, they’re probably ‘philanthropists’, but that just means they’re spending their money to influence others and to take tax breaks in April—it’s not the same as giving it away, free and clear. To them, that would be madness. That’s how greedy and selfish they are.

So, should you vote for a Koch boys candidate? Not unless you’re greedy and selfish enough to have a few billion dollars in your own bank account. See? Their money doesn’t have to say a word—we can take it as read. And how should we interpret the Koch boys’ support of the GOP? Well, birds of a feather, of course.

The way I see it, money talks plenty loud enough as it is. Try dissing your boss—what? No freedom of Speech all of a sudden? How’d that happen? Is your paycheck talking to you? Well, we have to be practical—food on the table first, freedom second. But should we actively support politicians who champion the rich and powerful? Should we purposely go out and vote for more restrictions, even more influence than the rich already have? I can’t imagine why. Maybe I’m too stupid. Uh-oh, guess I got to join the Republicans.

The Republicans, however, are running into a little trouble with the Stupid Stratagem. It seems that stupidity can be obstructive to more than ones enemies. John Boehner, whom no one could accuse of being a nerd, is apparently not stupid enough to lead his party—they demand someone even more idiotic, like Scott Walker. I wonder if they can achieve a stupidity-singularity, wherein intelligence or information once again become relevant? Maybe that’s their plan. Genius!

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It’s As Much About What One Becomes (2015Feb27)

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VIDEO: Tyler Sid reads his poem, “Open Culture”, beginning at time-mark 00:20 secs in. (He reads my poem, “Humility Is Fatal”, beginning at time-mark 24:20.)

 

Friday, February 27, 2015                                10:30 AM

First, a few admissions about my ‘poetry’—I have two gears, as it were, one of which is to get all technical and use a rigid meter and rhyme scheme (in this first gear, I can use the confinements of format to excuse any stiffness or awkward phrasing). My ‘second gear’ can be seen above—I basically write what I’m thinking, but I don’t allow myself any of the run-on sentences that are too much a feature of my prose. I chop off all my lines before they reach the right-hand side of the page and I capitalize every first letter of every line. However, I also allow myself to go from one thought or idea to another without any ‘connective tissue’, much less a segue—and I allow myself encapsulated symbolisms, used as shorthand, without being too judgmental about their aptness or comprehensiveness (i.e. describing all of modern, first-world technology as “addiction to the washing machine”).

But my poetry is also a great time-saver, for me and my readers. Take this line: “The more special we believe we are, the worse we behave.” Now, this thought, ordinarily, would come to my mind as an inspiration for a lengthy blog-post on human nature and the problem of modern humanity—and I do so love stringing those words together into a cohesive argument or illustration about truth and reality. But poetry is a beautiful thing—in poetry, I can just write down that ‘kernel-ized’ concept as a single line and, by the ‘rules’ of poetry, it is now left to the readers to read that line and write their own blogposts in their own heads. I trade the pleasure of spelling things out to a ‘T’ for the ease of simply saying the germ of the idea.

All you serious poets out there will have recognized by now that I am describing ‘writing prose in a poetic format’ more than ‘writing poetry’. I know when I’m reading ‘real’ poetry, because it leaves sense impressions in my head and evokes ephemeral feelings, without ever displaying any coherent thoughts or unmitigated images—and I respect that. Also, I truly hope that something like that effect is achieved by my less-nuanced writings–it isn’t as though I’m trying to do it wrong.  I know that if I tried to write that ‘real’ kind of poetry, I might succeed—but I’d be more than likely to get lost down the rabbit-hole of thinking poetically, un-sequentially, unconnectedly. And, if you’re not involved in creative pursuits, let me tell you—it’s as much about what one becomes, through pursuing the creative, as it is about what one achieves as a creative person. Madness is catching—and I prefer to cherry-pick my madnesses.

All that being said, poetry is undefinable—so if I write anything at all, as long as it has Caps at the beginning of each line, regardless of grammar, it’s my poem. And fortunately there are others who agree with me. Tyler Syd, a poet friend of mine, has chosen to include the above poem in his upcoming public reading (something which I’m very proud and flattered to know). I appreciate that because, while I may not consider myself a traditional poetaster, I do feel that I have something to say—and poetry, by virtue of requiring the readers to engage their own thought-processes and imaginations, is far better suited to communicating my somewhat ‘intellectual’ musings on society and the nature of reality.

While blog-posts are more straight-forward and specific, most readers will read a blog-post with half a mind towards what their comments or complaints or disagreements might be—with poetry, my readers do not approach the piece from that point of view. They put more focus on what is being said rather than their own responses. They maximize my images through their own imaginations rather than confine them to the limits of reflexive debate and objections. Not that I’m hiding from argument—just from ‘argument for argument’s sake’.

Have you ever had that experience where you’re in the middle of an argument and suddenly realized that you are wrong and the other person has a point? I used to hate, hate, hate that feeling! But now, in my dotage, I’ve learned to enjoy it, to embrace the revelation of something I hadn’t previously seen. And I learned, in the process, that a lot of argument is nothing more than momentum—the desire to keep on fighting, right or wrong—which is admirable in its way, but perhaps not entirely suitable to logical argument. And in such a complex world, I feel that reducing unnecessary argument is vital to positive progress. Thus my hearty disapproval of modern news media—we are in vital need of information, but we are force-fed controversy instead, because of its greater ‘entertainment value’—what a load.

It also fuels my resentment towards fundamentalists—the world is such a messy tangle of ideas, the last thing we need is a bunch of people re-raising questions that educated, thoughtful people have long since put to bed. To look upon all the amazing discoveries made by geologists, biologists, and astronomers—and dismiss it all in favor of one’s own ignorance—I can’t see that as anything other than madness—willful, egotistical blindness to the obvious. These same people will use jet airliners to travel and computers to communicate their ‘ideas’ about the falsity of science—I don’t know, I guess logic just doesn’t appeal to them.

I suppose I shouldn’t blame them—after all, logic isn’t the bottom line, survival is. We don’t need to make sense as much as we need to keep breathing. And if they want to trade logic for the chance to keep breathing even after they stop breathing, well, they’re certainly making a good start on it—an afterlife makes about as much sense as a fish on a bicycle. Now, go away, before I decide to capitalize all my first letters and turn this into a poem….

One last thing–here’s the drawing used to make the poetry-graphic, and an alternate version of the completed graphic:

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Oh, Grow Up   (2015Feb21)

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Saturday, February 21, 2015                                     11:54 AM

This messing around with science, these subtle digs at advanced degrees and laboratory exactitude—its roots can be found in our refusal to accept that our world is truly as complicated as it is. When we hear of atrocities being committed, we want to avenge the victims—we want blood, and no effing around about it. When we hear of injustice, we want the laws changed, repealed, or made anew—and we want it yesterday, no matter how old the injustice, no matter how tricky the wording of new law may be, and regardless of all the hinky details that get in the way of simple ‘solutions’.

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We prefer public protest to private voting even though a well-planned campaign, successfully voted in, is a guarantee of change, whereas a protest movement is all sound, fury, and public opinion. We prefer to ‘kill our way out’ of violent foreign controversies (as the assistant secretary of state put it recently) rather than defer the satisfaction of our bloodlust long enough to implement real change, especially changes in attitude. The mob effect, that tendency we have to behave like children when we clump together, causes immense confusion in the heat of public debate, but it is our hatred of complexity that draws the lines of that debate before it even begins.

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If we look closely at most of the controversies in politics today, we see that opposing ideologies can almost always be described as one group, which wants to overlook one or more bothersome details, opposing another group that feels those details do have relevance. Not that such distinctions are unimportant—even in mathematics we recognize the concept of the last significant decimal point, that point of precision beneath which any variation becomes moot.

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Mathematically, if you have a million dollars, say, it doesn’t really matter if you have exactly one million and one dollars, or only $999,999.00—it’s still basically one million dollars. When we are talking about millions, we usually consider change significant when the difference is in the thousands of dollars—individual dollar bills are insignificant in such a context. Yet even in mathematics there is room for debate—some people are so tight-fisted that they care about spending a single dollar more or less, even when their wealth is excessive.

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Considering that even the simplicity and straightforwardness of math is open to controversy, it is no surprise that we differ on the significance of details when discussing more esoteric subjects, like the war on extremist violence. When the Dash, or IS, or Boko Haram torture and execute their captives, we want to respond so bad we can taste it—we’re even open to drone strikes on their leadership, in spite of the danger of collateral damage. But the Middle East is now populated by those who see nothing but our collateral damage—we aren’t exactly winning hearts and minds there.

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The abortion debate hinges on the same judgment over exactly how many days, or even hours, of gestation manifest a human life. The immigration debate hinges on exactly how long one must live and work in the USA before being considered a citizen of the USA. And these debates’ strengths differ based on who we are—a pregnant woman sees abortion differently than a senator, a migrant worker sees immigration differently than a governor or a judge.

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We once looked upon these arguments over details and their relative importance as mere by-products of human nature, which they are and have always been. It is our approach that has changed—we once sought out candidates who were known for their ability to forge compromises—now we are more inclined to seek representatives that draw a line in the sand over our preferred details, or ignore the details we wish to ignore. We have forgotten that compromise is the only way forward.

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Our News Media thrive on this stultified outlook—and encourage it every day with sensationalism that distracts, rather than informs. The Doubt Factory’s very existence is predicated on our willingness to niggle over details—using petty factoids and legal cheat-codes to protect corporate profits and obstruct the public welfare. And our politics have become indistinguishable from our pro sports—we pick a side and root our hearts out, the hell with compromise.

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Well, here’s an exercise in being a grown-up—pick an issue, any issue—then pick an acquaintance with opposing political leanings. Tell them you’re trying an experiment and you want to try to work out a compromise on a certain issue. While doing this experiment, try to tell yourself that not every single detail of your policy is essential. Try to tell yourself that not every aspect of your opponent’s policy would be the end of the world. Try to keep in mind that the point of the exercise is not to get everything you want, but to get just some of what you want—that you don’t need to exclude all of your opponent’s ideas, just the ones you find most objectionable. Try to imagine that achieving the compromise itself is more important than achieving your personal beliefs.

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Do you want to know something funny? In the past, when compromise was a major tool in the political toolbox, the two sides would sometimes reach a compromise, enact a solution, and learn, to their amazement, that both sides had it wrong—that a third possibility had presented itself through the effort to reach a compromise! This could happen to us, too. But first, we have to unlock ourselves from this childish battle of wills and return politics to the province of grown-ups. Modern life, though it may not seem it, is based on the assumption of cooperation, of checks and balances, and worst of all, on our assumption of mature judgment in our leadership—nothing could be more dangerous than for us to continue this immature stonewalling and willful blindness.

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But the super-wealthy only see dangers that don’t impinge on their profits. That’s why they fund these worse-than-useless news outlets and doubt factories; that’s why they encourage partisanship. To them, the only real danger is a danger to their big pile of money—let the rest burn, as far as they’re concerned. But we are the ‘rest’, we are the burning, overlooked details in their jaundiced outlook—and, strange as it may seem, the only way to fight them is to stop all this fighting amongst ourselves.

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Re-Thinking   (2015Feb18)

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015                                11:36 AM

Okay, now I’m well and truly confused. You may remember I wrote a little post the other day, bitching about how no one gave my blog any ‘likes’ for a few days. But I looked at my ‘stats’ page and guess what? Over 10,000 people have viewed one or more of my blogposts. 29 people ‘follow’ my blog—which only means that my posts show up in their ‘readers’ (no guarantee they actually read the posts). Nonetheless, I get an average of 15 to 25 views a day—even today, before noon, when I haven’t posted anything for two days, I’ve gotten six views so far.

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Ordinarily, I have to assume, several people a day are looking at my blog posts, but no one is being impressed enough to click that ‘like’ button. It would seem that when I do get a handful of likes for a particular post, it is not a sign that a handful of people have read the post, but that the post in question was impressive enough to entail a response.

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In a way, it’s kind of creepy to imagine those 15 to 25 people lurking in silence, reading my thoughts without giving back squat. Even creepier is the question of ‘How did I trigger likes with one certain post and not the others?’ Am I resonating with their own thoughts on things? Or do people enjoy my posts more when I’m in obvious emotional distress? What is it?! And do I want to follow that ‘likeable’ thread, or avoid it? It would be so much easier for me if the likes corresponded to my own feelings about my posts—but many of what I consider good posts get zero likes, while some surprise me with the strength of their response. It’s confusing.

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Meanwhile, I’m getting tired of ‘the big picture’. The power of money has more influence than any other force, particularly any force for good. People such as myself can rant and rail until the cows come home—without money to force it down people’s throats, my opinions don’t mean squat. And the moneyed interests have lost any sense of shame or decency. A recent satirical piece by John Oliver on the shameless behavior of Philip Morris Inc. prompted that corporation to attack Oliver’s research as ‘misleading’—and they don’t see any irony in a tobacco company accusing someone else of being misleading or unfair. But what can you expect from a company that profits from killing its customers? With that as a starting point, the rest of their hi-jinks shouldn’t surprise anyone.

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The GOP, worthy of being renamed the Party of the Wealthy, has recently urged a cancellation of ACA (which would reverse our great increase in those covered) cancellation of history courses in high school (which would help keep us all in the dark about how un-American they are) and cancellation of the Dodd Frank bill (which would allow them to rip us all off in as unfettered a fashion as they did to bring about the Great Recession). Everything they do, everything the Republicans support, is unequivocally in favor of the rich over the rest of us. And how did they get elected? By spending so much money spreading lies and half-truths that they scare the less-educated into thinking they’re needed. Oh, we need them, all right—to screw us in the ass.

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The Koch boys have declared war on science ever since science found out that Koch oil profits are based on our suicidal addiction to petroleum energy. Even stupid, rich people like them have a sense of self-preservation, right? Wrong. These bitches have some kind of fundamentalism that tells them they’re supposed to end the world. Isn’t that special? (As Dana Carvey would say.)

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But what bothers me more than most things is the tendency of rich people to blather on about ‘hard work’. Yesterday I watched “Better Angels”, a beautifully-filmed re-enactment of Abraham Lincoln’s childhood. Talk about ‘hard work’. Pre-industrial people had a job—staying alive—and that was hard work, morning ‘til night. To pretend that such conditions still obtain, now that we have remote controls, heavy machinery, appliances, and robots, is a convenient pretext for the rich. If there were any mathematical fairness in labor, we’d all be getting paid top dollar for working about three hours a week. But no, say the rich, good people work hard—only lazy people want money without slavery.

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Let me tell you what ‘hard’ is. Being a good parent—that’s hard. Being a good citizen—that’s hard as hell. Thinking things through, even when we don’t like the results—that’s hard work. Slaving through unpaid overtime, without benefits, for minimum wage—that’s not ‘hard’, that’s unjust—and it benefits only one group. Guess how hard they work.

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Will people ever be fair to each other? Will people ever stand up on their hind legs and say ‘enough’ to their bloated overseers? No, it’s not in our nature to be fair. We prefer to compete, to win. That’s some win. Our society has become a suicidal enslavement-scam run by capitalists—and, bottom line, when money can’t buy enough influence, it just buys guns instead. It’s exhausting to have our every inkling towards freedom and fairness trampled by these sons-of-bitches. I’m sick of it. I’ve gotten past the fact that we can’t beat these bastards—nowadays, I focus on my outrage that everyone around me accepts the status quo, which is understandable, but nonetheless insane.

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My disability allows me to stand outside of the rat-race and view it objectively as the farce it has become—but am I being more objective or more over-simplified? Ask yourself this—how many people work hard every day at a job that means something to them other than a paycheck? In America, I’d guess that lucky few comprise maybe five percent of all full-time employees. The rest are just doing whatever they’re told, to keep from starving in the street. Is that a job, or slavery?

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Read Somebody Else’s Blog (2015Feb15)

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Sunday, February 15, 2015                              4:53 PM

I’ve had no likes on my blog for a few days—in contrast to a less-recent spate of interest and a slight up-tick in numbers. My first thought was ‘What did I say to turn people against me?’ But then I realized that my problem was not what I’d said—it was that I’d stopped saying it. My recent posts have been music videos, poems and such—my favorite things to do, but not a favorite of whatever blog-readers I may have. I get bigger responses from my tirades against the powers that be—against corruption, ignorance, and apathy.

I don’t like those posts. They are a relief valve for my mind at its most frustrated and enraged. I’ve been enjoying my release from that compulsion over the past few days—and now I realize that I had the beginnings of net popularity at my finger-tips. Well, you can keep it. If, to have a successful blog, I have to whip myself into a curmudgeonly frenzy every day, I’m likely to end up being the left’s answer to that tea-party king-of-talk-radio—that overweight drug-addict guy with all the thoughtless opinions—I can never remember his name.

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I’m a delicate flower. You want a diatribe, go read somebody else—I’ve pretty much said what there is for me to say, generally. I’ll post more, though—it’s inevitable that I’ll get into another funk sooner or later—hopefully later—but don’t hold your breath. My blog went un-liked before—it can go back to that and I’ll be okay.

I’ve always been easily bruised. As a child, I watched TV coverage of the racial violence in the deep South—I was horrified. What horrified me the most was that I had the same skin color as the bad guys—I’ve been ashamed of being Caucasian-American ever since. When I saw the final scene in “The Butler”, where the old White House butler watches Obama’s first election results on TV, it brought tears to my eyes—the election of a black man to the presidency was as important to me as it was to African-Americans. Racism cuts both ways—it may have caused untold suffering among black people, but it also caused untold assholery among whites. Not that racism is over, more’s the pity.

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My own anger, justified though it may be by the likes of the Kochs, Cruz, Palin, Paul, and Scalia, is the greatest threat to my health and well-being. Railing against these stains on humanity is bad for me—something I’d overlook if I had an audience of more than a handful—but as it stands, I’m just giving a tiny number of people “The Autobiography Of A Stroke Victim”, and I ain’t going out like that.

The majority of people just want to live their lives. Only the rich and powerful have a reason to nudge us towards ever-greater impositions on our peace and freedom. While it is healthier for us to ignore these dirt-bags, it is also the best way to help them screw us over—resistance, despite Star Trek, is not futile. Take as an example the recent talk of a Pacific Trade agreement that will tie up the developed world in a bow and deliver it, forever enslaved, to the one percent. How any politician can support this with a straight face is completely beyond my comprehension. Why don’t we resurrect Hitler while we’re at it?

But what can I do to stop it? Devote my life to anti-Trade-Pact protests? If I thought the filthy rich would stop there, I’d be happy to take my place on the wall. But their money allows them to attack from a hundred different directions—state legislation action groups, corporate lobbyists, fundamentalist-backed obstructionism, Fox news, anti-women’s-rights skeezes who make excuses for rapists and blame victims, and the Doubt Factory—that now-famous collection of lawyers, publicists, and ‘scientists’ who obscure any issue of health, safety, or personal freedom—ostensibly for justice, but practically for a paycheck from whatever corporation can then continue to profit—even after proof of danger or wrong-doing comes to light.

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These are first-world criminals—people who commit atrocities secure in the knowledge that their society is too benign to shoot them in the head, as they deserve. And America is the worst—with our proud tradition of rugged individualism, these money-barons can even make the case that they are guaranteed the freedom to commit their crimes. Thus our highest ideal, freedom, when applied to money, becomes the greatest threat to our civilization. It’s complicated—no wonder it’s so easy for them to confuse us.

Making our education system a profit center fits very neatly into all of this—educated, informed voters are their only threat and restricting education to only their own offspring suits their purpose beautifully—plus they make a few bucks. Meanwhile, the old stand-by, voter restriction, is making a comeback. Civilization is the story of freedom and humanity—we are obviously at that part of the story where the hero is in a deadly spot—gee, I hope there’s a happy ending.

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I’m sure of only one thing. If I won the lottery tomorrow, I wouldn’t be able to give the money to charity fast enough. I’d rather tell people I was a convict or a sex-offender than to tell them I was wealthy. Wealthy people disgust me and I wouldn’t want anyone to think of me or my family as part of that group. And it’s a good thing they prefer to live behind walls—if people start to wise up, these tics on society will be spending all their time there, afraid to walk the streets in daylight.

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Have a Koch and Be Beguiled (2015Feb08)

Sunday, February 08, 2015                              6:37 PM

Koch Industries I could care less about. Considering the enormity of the Koch boys’ fortune, I’m sure there are many important gee-gaws that spill from their factory floors. I’ll bet they have lots of happy, willing workers, too—I wouldn’t be surprised if they even got decent wages. Like all business owners, while relying on their ‘labor pool’ (we might think of it as a population) they have nightmares about ever taking responsibility for the labor pool—they just pick and choose from it, as needed. The rest is not their business, or so they are desperate to believe. But let’s leave that alone, and just agree that we have little to complain about so far as the industrial entities themselves are concerned.

Neither will we explore the question of Capitalism, possession, and whether or not there is any decency in two geezers having so impossibly much while so many have so few. Capitalism is the American way, isn’t it? So let’s just further agree that the Koch boys have every right to lord it over the rest of us. I’m sure the people who meet them socially find them to be lovely folks—almost impossible to imagine spitting in their faces, regardless of how much indication there may be that they deserve such treatment. In person, in a social setting, I imagine they strongly resemble real people.

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No, there’s just one thing to which I take exception, one thing which I can’t overlook, and that is their inability to understand how treasonous their behavior is. They want their pile of money to represent ‘free speech’—fine, as long as they’ve brought enough to share with the whole class. When the Koch boys are ready to sponsor both sides of a debate, great—but money spent on only one side is influence, not speech. And they know this, or they wouldn’t be so clever about circumventing the old rules. They can’t be cunning and dumb at the same time, though they and their ilk make a grand show of just that paradox, and quite often.

There is an ongoing outcry among champions like Liz Warren, bemoaning the intractable nature of such corruption—but there is a simple solution, and it should have occurred to us a long time ago. Do not vote for anyone who takes Koch money—simple. And if the Koch boys manage to buy all the candidates in a particular race, vote for whoever you want—it won’t make a difference. There ought to be a mob of people running for office, local, state, and national, whose only campaign pledge is that they won’t be bought. At this point I don’t care about political platforms—I’d vote for anybody else, if it meant defeating the Koch boys’ attempted purchase of our heritage.

I shouldn’t have to add the following, but in the interests of clarity let me point out that changing to some other big backer is not an option. Politics is dirty enough without the addition of big bankrolls—it’s been a dirty business long before it was acceptable to campaign for office. Did you know that it was once considered so grasping to actively campaign for an office that to do so was considered good reason not to vote for such a candidate? It’s true. We once had sense enough to avoid office-holders who actively sought the power of their office. Ah, the halcyon days of America…

But the Koch boys aren’t running for office—so why am I so angry with them? Can’t I be reasonable? They’re just trying to support the ideas they agree with—just like anyone else with billions of dollars and no clue about democracy. We are Americans—we all admire wealthy people—we all aspire to become wealthy people. But if we had great wealth, how many of us would decide that the best use of it would be to destroy our country? Who among us dreams of becoming rich solely for the purpose of making a mockery of our elections?

But more importantly, why do we vote for these paid mouthpieces? People joke that politicians should wear patches to declare their various sponsors, like NASCAR drivers—but we don’t need the stickers, we know that all these people are bought and paid for. So why do we vote for them? Democrats ran from photo-ops with the President during the last election because being aligned with him was considered bad politics. How then is it possible that endorsement by the Koch boys isn’t the kiss of death for any candidate? What kind of half-assed thinking is that? We’re acting like a bunch of morons, and we’ll end up with the government we deserve—I’m warning you.

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Popular Science Sucks—I Have a Pie-Chart to Prove It (2015Feb07)

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Saturday, February 07, 2015                            12:37 PM

The world was once a garden. Before the industrial age, everything was organic—the houses, the roads, the toilets, the farms, the furniture. We were once all-natural. When I say ‘garden’, I’m not implying any Garden of Eden—like all gardens, there was plenty of manure and rotting organic matter. If you caught that old garden in the wrong breeze, it stunk to high heaven—but it was a non-toxic stink.

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Then the steam engine led to the combustion engine, which led to the jet engine, then the rocket engine. Edison had his time in the sun, as did Ford, Einstein, Turing, Gates, and Jobs. Now the garden is gone and what’s left is not so pretty.

To sustain our first-world population requires mining, cutting, energy production, chemical processing, and manufacturing—all in mind-blowing, humongous quantities. (Did you know the world uses billions of tons of steel, every day?) We know that Earths’ infinite abundance is an illusion—that its amazing powers of recuperation can only be pushed so far. But we ignore that. And we keep ourselves so very, very busy trying to scam each other and distract each other that it is easy to ignore even such obvious facts.

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Between our old people, who are too ignorant to turn on a computer, and our young people, who are too ignorant to understand how unimportant computers are to the big picture, it’s obvious that our world is changing too fast for our society to keep up with. Meanwhile computers become ever more ingrained in our everyday lives, while computer experts baldly admit (as they always have) that the Internet can never be totally secure from malware. It’s kind of like accepting Politics, even while knowing that a bad politician can be humanity’s greatest threat—oh, wait—we do that, too.

There was no nerd happier than I when the Digital Era elevated ‘smarts’ to a sexy asset. But just as Star Wars popularized science fiction, and ended up diluting it into something sub-intellectual, so now science, math, and logic have been popularized, with the attendant dilution of these virtues into weapons of commerce and gamesmanship.

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There is no more popular meme than a pie-chart—but how many of today’s pie-charts illustrate hard data, and how many are printed in USA Today in an attempt to manipulate the un-informed? Back when they were too boring for anyone but us nerds, no one would have bothered to make a pie-chart of bad data—what would be the point, miscommunication? Yes, as it turns out, that’s a very good use for a mathematical tool. Because people love, love, love the appearance of reason—it’s the methodical application of reason that leaves us cold.

And words. Aren’t we all a little bit tired of words? If words had true meanings, arguments would end. If words had justice, they’d refuse to issue themselves from the mouths of many of the people on the TV news. Every word is a two-bladed sword—without good intentions, words are nothing but cudgels and self-appointed crowns. I’m so sick of the neat little bundles of words that spew from the faces of cold-blooded opportunists and greedy bastards—pretending that a logical algorithm of honest-sounding terms can erase horrible injustices that even three-year-olds would know in their hearts. A good argument is no substitute for a good person—and you can talk all day without changing that.

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But let’s return for a moment to pie-charts. I witnessed the early days of computing and I can attest to the fact that spreadsheet software was a big player. Descartes’ invention of a chart using an x-axis and a y-axis proved so useful that it pervaded mathematics and remains a part of it today. Just so did business leaders find in the mighty spreadsheet a powerful tool for business analysis, sales, and forecasting. Breaking down business activity into rows and columns of numbers gives people great clarity—if you’re into that sort of thing. But we’re not all math geeks—some of us prefer a simpler challenge to the mind. Presto, bar-graphs, pie-charts, etc.—graphic representations of numerical values—so simple even a child could use (or misuse) it.

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And way back then, I had a problem with the whole GUI, WYSWIG, object-oriented, ‘visual’ dumbing down of computer science. It seemed to me that if you couldn’t understand computer code, it wouldn’t help having everything be point-and-click. But the world has long over-ruled me on this point, and it’s only getting worse. What is the point of having scientists conduct a study—and then have a government official decide whether the study should be released? What is the point of a laboratory that conducts studies at the behest of large industrial sponsors—don’t they know that such circumstances taint the report before it’s even issued? Who do they expect to believe them? What is the point of classifying proprietary data from pharmaceutical studies—are they afraid the competition will steal their dangerous, toxic drug ideas while they’re being sued by their ‘patients’?

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We like that the world is getting more confusing—or, at least, some of us do—it makes it easier to lie and cheat and steal. And just to super-charge the confusion, we have a mass-media machine that craves excitement and ignores substance, like a spoiled child. Somewhere between the ‘yellow journalism’ at the break of the last century, and this century’s Fox News, we used to enjoy a historical ‘sweet-spot’, where Journalism was respected and professional—they even got to the point where it was available as a major in college study. TV news started out as a mandatory, public-service requirement for public broadcasters! They still have Journalism majors in colleges—but the classes are usually titled something like “Communicating In Media”, or some other name that lets you know you’re not dealing with ‘reporting’ anymore, you’re ‘communicating’. More dilution of something great into something ‘meh’.

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And that’s where the whole world is heading. Where once was sweet air and crystal-clear water, flush with fish and game, free of toxins—we will now enjoy ‘meh’. Where once dumb people could remain comfortably dumb, and scientists were trusted to think, we will now enjoy a free-for-all of debate points and well-turned phrases made out of pure bullshit—until reality pulls the plug. I once had hope that we would control ourselves in some way—I was so stupid. I guess I was misled by my intense desire for us to survive as a species, maybe even live as good people. Ha. We all have to grow up sometime.

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Strangling Big Government   (2015Jan30)

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Friday, January 30, 2015                                            11:39 AM

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The Times says Mitt Romney’s decision today not to run for President in 2016 frees up contributors and volunteers for other center-right Republicans, such as Jeb Bush. MSNBC says those on the far-right are hoping that Senator Elizabeth Warren will challenge Hillary Clinton. I’m always struck by how the strategy and the spin become issues unto themselves—let’s not waste any time on the actual issues. Just another example of mass media digging for excitement rather than information.

But is it exciting? Not to me. The damned election is in November 2016. I’ll tell you what would be exciting—mass involvement. If politics became as popular as the Super Bowl, I’d sure sit up straight and pay attention. It is so paradoxical to live in a nation whose greatest fame is democracy, but less than a quarter of our citizens participate in the vote. It doesn’t even take money or effort, like a college degree or a long vacation—but voting is becoming less popular than going to prison.

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Protests have seen a recent resurgence in America—that seems like a lot more effort than an annual trip to the voting booth. How do we explain the preference for protests for change over actual change? How can the media justify its focus on the infighting, the corruption, and the personalities of our legislators over their legislation (the only thing that affects the rest of us)? Only media reporting about the media goes as far into the land of self-absorption.

The government shut-downs of the recent past are another example—how do legislators get confused enough to consider refusing-to-do-their-jobs as part of their jobs? By running on a ‘government is bad’ ticket—and being elected by people who don’t like government, that’s how. The Republicans claim to be against ‘Big Government’—but that’s BS—how could our federal government be small?

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Being against ‘Big Government’ can really only be interpreted as being against America—we can’t expect fifty separate states to function properly without some unification of purpose. These ‘anti-government’ GOP creeps still manage to pass laws—they even pass spending bills. So it would seem they aren’t entirely against Government, they’re just against ‘Government by the people, for the people’. They claim that Freedom is our only goal—that Social Justice is some interloper that drains our coffers and interferes with business.

But Social Justice is little different from legal justice. If someone punches you in the face, the Republicans are all for throwing the bastard in jail—legal justice—but if you don’t have enough health care to get your face stitched back together, the Republicans don’t see any reason for government to get involved. So where do they draw the line? Perhaps they see punishment of a criminal as important, but redress for a victim (especially a victim of circumstance) they see as too soft-hearted for real ’Muricans. When the GOP thinks of Justice, they imagine a hammer, not a cradle.

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The conservatives operate by the Philosophy of the Strong. If you’re poor, toughen up and make more money. If you’re sick, toughen up and walk it off. If you’re unemployed, you must be lazy. If you are disadvantaged, just do whatever you have to do to keep up with the rest of us. It’s a wonderful philosophy, as long as you’re rich, well-educated, and healthy. It’s also serviceable if you’re a misanthropic red-neck with resentment oozing from every pore.

But the rest of us have feelings. We recognize the dangers of runaway government, but we’re still willing to risk a portion of our budget on helping the helpless and protecting the young and the disenfranchised. Anyway, lots of studies indicate that the economics-of-charity are more profitable than the economics-of-austerity—so the ‘waste of money’ argument is a false premise to begin with.

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And then there’s always the issue of complexity—our modern lives involve air-traffic control, satellite weather-forecasting, financial derivatives, gene-splicing, tidal generators, and rush-hour traffic-flow, to name just a few strands of our very tangled web. Anyone who tells you it’s time for ‘small government’ is trying to sell you a bridge to Brooklyn. Besides, government is already ‘big’ in many troublesome ways—Corporate lobbying, PAC funds, the IRS, the DEA, Homeland Security, the CIA—it doesn’t make sense to avoid Big Government on positive issues, when it’s already a runaway train in terms of negative issues.

Once again, I find myself writing about things everyone already knows—but no one does anything about.

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The Refining Fire   (2015Jan28)

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Sunday, January 25, 2015                       11:51 PM

I just played a few of Mendelssohn’s “Songs Without Words”, then I played ad lib, in D major, mostly. It all seemed quite impressive to me—I’ve spent a lot of time over the years on Mendelssohn—and he is a pianist’s composer, as far as I’m concerned—his pieces seem to fit the hand more elegantly than your average piano music. He manages to make me (or anybody) sound more accomplished than they are, without breaking your wrists to do it.

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And my improvisation has matured something awful—the simple chords I once pounded incessantly are no longer sufficient to satisfy. And that has been the case for some time now, so my searching and scratching for new harmonies, figures, turns, and fillips—and, more importantly, my recent focus on the attempt to make melodic lines a part of my improvs—has, in these most recent years, transformed my freestyle playing into something I’m almost proud of.

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Much of my improvement, and my enjoyment of it, is due to the seeming resurgence in my CNS. Ever since I took the HCV ‘cure’, the inflammations and other upsets to my insides–including my mind, my focus, my hand-to-eye, etc., have stopped, leaving me more clear-minded, more present, better coordinated, and better able to remember short-term, continuity-related memories.

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I don’t have time to think in terms of being proud of my music, though—the only reason I’ve come this far is by working as hard as you would expect someone who doesn’t believe they’ll ever get anywhere would work. When I lost my strength and my intelligence—during the worst, most death-defying periods of my liver disease—the idea of ‘making progress’ became laughably out-of-place. Playing the piano was simply primal enough to be included in the list of things I could still do—as long as I accepted that my playing went from bad to worse.

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So, I never stop to ask myself if I’m pleased with the result. I spent far too many years being quite sure of an answer in the negative, without even asking the question—it’s only now that the subject has even arisen. And still, it seems clear, I’ll never get anywhere near ‘flashy’ with a piano—I’m only excitable about the fact that I play almost all the correct notes when I play a Mendelssohn piece, nowadays— I’m still chained to sight-reading and I still can’t trust my left hand. Virtuosi are still safe from competition—even more so than before my long illness.

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But I pity everyone who is not me, nonetheless. No one else will ever hear how I play when I’m alone—and judging from what I can tell, it’s not half bad. Of course, I don’t compare myself to others’ music—I compare myself with what I’ve done before. Hearing myself play better than I’ve ever played can trick me into thinking it sounds great, when I’m making a relative judgment, instead of an esthetic judgment.

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It’s certainly better than what I get when the camera is capturing it—or when someone is in the room with me. I have a policy to always turn on the camera and take whatever comes, good or bad. That way, I thought, I’d get used to the camera. But I don’t. I just play like there’s a camera on. So, since my policy doesn’t work, I sometimes give myself a treat and play without a camera—it’s so freeing. Then afterwards, like now, all I can think of is “Was that good? Should I have had the camera on for this sitting?” It’s hopeless. All my acceptance of my limitations does nothing to quell my desire to be ‘good at’ the piano. And, yes, I know that great pianists have the same bottomless demands on their efforts—but they have better reason to push it; and they have far finer results to show for it.

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In many ways, my journey to the brink of death and back has enhanced whatever musicality I started with—maybe it’s that old ‘suffering artist’ hogwash. But I think it’s more specific than that. I think my struggles with my fading mental powers, the trembling and fatigue, the almost total loss of short-term memory—followed by my long recovery from my liver transplant and my more-recent return to something approaching my old self—was a learning experience that took place at the very source-code of my esthetic perspective. I learned not to take anything for granted—not even something so basic as remembering what I’m trying to say long enough to finish a sentence.

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At age fifty-nine, I’m also faced with the confusion between my recovery from illness and the losses due my natural aging. In a sense, I’m getting better and worse at the same time—my disability is lifting but I’m not getting any younger. Having been penalty-boxed for the last twenty years is just an emotional problem—starting over when I’m twenty years older is a baldly practical problem. In my case, ‘becoming healthy’ is a relative concept, with multiple perspectives to view it from.

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I faced death due to illness and was saved at the eleventh hour by my transplant surgeon and her team—but now, close to sixty, and not expecting to survive far into my senior-citizenship, I’m facing a more leisurely death due to natural causes. Once you start losing, it’s hard to stop, mentally. And modern life makes old age very confusing. In our time, a sixty-year-old, for example, faces the possibility of living for another forty years—but someone with my health issues can still see sixty as a kind of ‘two-minute warning’. Someone who takes care of themselves can become a centenarian—but even with my illness, I never learned to take care of myself. Hey—life is for living—that’s how it always seemed to me. I still smoke tobacco, among other things—and a smoker in his sixties is dead meat. Inhaling a house-fire is a young man’s game.

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I find myself ready to begin my life again—but I’m old, I have no degree, I’m just a step above bed-ridden, my driver license lapsed two years ago, I’m addicted to nicotine, I go to the bathroom more often than a normal person—it’s just demoralizing. And to complicate issues, the many years my failing health went undiagnosed, when my symptoms were mistaken for dissolution and irresponsibility, led to many stressful situations in the old office.

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I worked for my parents and family businesses are always stressful to begin with. I was a systems manager, coder, and PC specialist in those early times of business computing, when there was resentment against the geeky, entitled, self-taught computer-maven. Plus, the fragility of those earlier hardware systems brought its own freight of stress—young people who now toss around their I-phones have no idea!

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Just as my symptoms began to manifest—loss of focus, loss of memory, confusion, fatigue—my parents retired, sold the business to a VC-company that tried to bankrupt the business for personal gain (filing chapter eleven, or is it chapter thirteen?—whatever) which the family was in the process of buying back, out of receivership, when my father died suddenly, crashing his private Cessna. The business then became the responsibility of me and my siblings, which turned out to be a recipe for disaster—but I was slowly dying from liver disease without knowing it and trying to do my job—and failing.

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At the same time, there were a few bad employees, embezzling money through some kind of sales-commission scam—and the one managing the accounting department pointed fingers at me and my systems when there was confusion about unbalanced bookkeeping. My family chose to trust her, rather than the careless reprobate I appeared to have become. In the end, I was fired by my own brother.

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I spent the next ten years supporting my family in relative poverty, working jobs that were way below my usual skill-set, but just doable with the brain-power I had left—I did computer graphics for IBM for a year, then transferred outside-data to in-house field-formats at Telemarketing Concepts for a few years. Then I did Y2K-corrective coding as an independent contractor in NYC. After ten years, my brother called to re-hire me as Systems Manager. It turned out he had hired an entire systems department, four full-timers and an intern, to replace me and there was still some programs of mine that they couldn’t figure out how to de-bug. It also turned out that my brother lied—he hired someone else to run the systems department and made me a Special Projects Manager—which was his way of admitting he needed me, without actually being a decent human being about it. (His new ‘manager’ turned out to be a nut-case with control issues, fired within the year. Sadly, MDA went out of business after I left, as did Telemarketing Concepts, Inc.—and the old man I did the Y2K coding for died, ending his company, too—so time has brushed away virtually everything I’ve ever done in the business world. It makes for a sense of futility.)

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But I was barely there for a year myself before my illness overwhelmed me and I could no longer make the commute to work every morning, much less do any complicated programming. I would spend the next four years doing Interferon treatments and degenerating in mind and body until the liver cancer showed up. That was when the doctor told me I only had a few weeks left. I was barely conscious by then, tenuously lucid, and barely able to walk to the bathroom by myself. Claire helped me walk from the parking lot into the hospital on the night of my transplant.

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Transplant rehab takes at least a year—it was a few years before my abdomen fully healed (what was left of it—some control nerves were cut during the operation and a few muscles are now vestigial—which developed into a vertical hernia—I look pretty messed up without a shirt on). Post-op, though, was by-and-large, all positive progress—with my blood finally being cleaned by my liver once again, my body and my central nervous system began to rebound—though some nerve damage is permanent and my brain has atrophied. Then, a few years ago, my health started to tilt back into degeneration—the Hepatitis C virus had made a comeback and it was doing a number on my ten-year-old replacement liver. Recently, I took the new three-month treatment that eradicates HCV permanently.

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This time, the upward swing of my health and mental function has been a wonderful experience—my piano-playing is better; my writing is better; I’m more active, walking every day; and I’m getting restless enough to give serious thought to reclaiming my place in the rat race, nine to five, living for the weekends—with the attendant paychecks and feelings of self-worth. But my petit-PTSD burn-out from that rollercoaster ride during the final ten years of my professional office-work career has left me emotionally damaged—I’m markedly anti-social in close quarters. Like Lucy Van Pelt, ‘I love humanity—it’s people I can’t stand’. And I’m neurotically averse to authority—especially the petty dictates of middle-management.

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Thus, office work, my strong suit, is also the worst environment I can imagine. And I’m no good at anything else—as far as I know. Plus, I’m pretty old—the fire in my belly is a distant memory. I want to be useful. I want to be productive. I’m just not sure I want a job—or if I could handle a job. Jobs involve so much more than being useful and productive—and that’s my problem with them. It’s a tight spot—and I know tight spots. I also can’t help feeling a little resentment towards my peers—as I daydream about coming ‘back to life’, most of them are eyeing retirement, if they haven’t already retired. And they have adulthoods full of accomplishment to look back on.

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But enough background autobiography—back to my original point—esthetics enhanced by the purifying fires of mental dysfunction. For one thing, the connection between me and my piano is so much deeper now—it was there through all of it, when people, as a group, had their own lives to live. Time I might have spent socializing was spent communing with my keyboard, contemplating the intricacies of acoustic artistry. A PBS documentary on Thomas Edison claims that his hearing loss encouraged him to use the power of his inner mind, to separate himself from the bustle of the everyday and retreat to his inner workplace of invention. Van Gogh’s mental illness seems to have a direct link with his painting style. Otherwise normal people have been known to become artists as a result of head trauma.

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The brain is a mysterious thing. Creative expression is one of the few things that are even more mysterious. Sometimes I actually despair of having had no great tragedy or trauma, of not being raised in dire poverty or sociopathic dysfunction, of not being in a minority, not a woman, or a Jew. How can I compete as an artist when my whole life has been a core sample from the ‘average white guy’ milieu? Where’s the mighty engine of struggle supposed to come from? If a fairly happy, fairly comfortable life prevents one from any chance at greatness, it becomes hard to define what ‘happy’ really means.

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And it raises some weird questions. Children who endure hardships grow up to be tougher, more resilient, more capable—does that mean being nice to my kids was a mistake? Greatness never comes without struggle—should I envy the struggling, when I know darn well that I wouldn’t wish to suffer as they do? Perhaps, as Jack Nicholson said in “A Few Good Men”, I should stop questioning the ways of ‘the Arts’ and just say ‘thank you’ to those whom fate has decided to make artists. God, I hate that idea.

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Thank Goodness They’re That Bad (2015Jan26)

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Monday, January 26, 2015 10:07 AM

They’ve gone too far this time—and that’s a good thing. In their towering passion to oppose Obama, the Republican all-stars that made their bones sniping at him now find themselves objecting to and opposing everything, even each other. The same convoluted mind-set that found flaws in every action or aspect of our current President has gotten them into the habit of attacking anyone, even themselves, in the same way. After years of oblique responses, left-field criticisms, and denial, they can’t help but turn these awful weapons of unreason against each other.

 
Now that it is within their power to recreate the Dark Ages in the 21st-century, their well-sharpened debate reflexes have them arguing amongst themselves just how Dark the New Dark Ages should be. That’s good news. We have stood aghast as these new tricks learned by the powerful and the ignorant have stymied many of our government’s efforts to improve the lot of its citizens, and to promote peace and understanding throughout the world.

 

They oppose health care, particularly a women’s right to choose her own health-care options. They oppose homosexuality—statistically one in ten people, which seems to me enough people that ostracizing them becomes a threat against all our freedoms. They wish to establish the primacy of Christianity in a nation that prides itself on religious freedom. It seems pretty clear that they wish to retain their racism while debating racism’s existence. In a nation of immigrants they see new immigrants as our greatest threat. And in the wake of our nation’s greatest financial meltdown, their first priority is to undo the regulations that would prevent any future predatory banking and investment.

 

I’ll never understand how they got so many people to vote against their own interests in the last election. I knew that we, as a nation, pay more attention to TV commercials than we do to our teachers, but I never realized that such superficiality went ‘to the bone’, all the way to our decision-making process. The fact that many of their stratagems relied upon the success of bare-faced lying left me with a sense of overwhelming futility—not just that they would tell lies, but that we would be ignorant enough to be taken in by them. The changes wrought by the Citizens United ruling on our democratic process have brought me close to despair.

 

Our democracy, once a marketplace of ideas, has been downgraded to a mere marketplace. Money bought the offices won in the last election, not honest appraisal. It seems the voters have forgotten to look at their own lives as an indicator of whom they should vote for. Today, they are urged, and very convincingly, to vote based on the fictitious bugaboos of the GOP media machine. Dirt-poor voters were persuaded to vote for candidates that oppose financial regulation and government subsidies of the poor. Ignorant voters were persuaded to vote for candidates that prefer funding our military to funding our educational system. The unemployed were persuaded to vote for the super-wealthy’s candidates, who were unanimous in denying the income-inequality gap.

 

It was an election of madness. We chose our own self-destruction, and walked out of the polling booths proud of ourselves. And the only thing saving us now is the Republicans’ inability to switch gears from obstructionism to actual governing. Having opposed our government for so long, they seem at a loss as to how to become our new government—as if it were a crime to do the job they were elected for.

 

I know that people, as a group, are incapable of intelligent decision-making. I wasn’t born yesterday. But I’m so tired of Stupid. Aren’t we all pretty exhausted with Stupid? I’d like to kick those bastards out of congress, but Stupid is so damn popular. It must be all that money—even an ugly idiot is popular, when he’s filthy rich. Is it self-loathing? Why else would we millions with so little money be attracted to those few who have too much? Even that I find incomprehensible—what do we think, that the rich are going to share? Sorry, but Sharing is not in the Rich Guy’s Handbook. Wake up to yourself already.

 

I’m a fairly well-educated guy—but I don’t know everything there is to know about politics. Maybe, in the end, the Democrats are just as bad as the Republicans. I know that Obama is special—even if the rank and file of the Democratic Party are no better than the their GOP counterparts, Obama is the best they have to offer—and his own party chose, at various times, to support him or not support him, based on the passing whims of the poll-takers. Perhaps Obama’s bare-faced progressivism has given me a false sense that the Democrats can save us from the Republicans. It’s entirely possible that they are just as bad, as a group.

 

But if we look at the two parties’ platforms, we see a decided left-leaning in the Democrats, and a definite right-wing flavor to Republican goals. And the characteristics of progressivism and conservatism, while they may have represented nothing more than a difference in opinion in days past, have real-world consequences in the present. Conservatives are somehow against literal conservation. Progressives are concerned that an individual can make too much progress, to the detriment of others. It’s a hall of mirrors. Just add arguments over syntax, stir, and Voila!—perpetual chaos. I’m too old for this shit.

 

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State Of What Union? (2015Jan21)

Wednesday, January 21, 2015                        5:25 PM

20140205XD-Men__botm_left_detail_(smallversnOf_SK-C-402)Last night President Obama made his annual State of the Union address—I enjoyed it, especially when he talked about us still being the United States of America (i.e. capable of working towards good things for all citizens) and when he described our present-day politics, rife with obstructionist posturings, and pointed out that it doesn’t have to be that way. I also agreed with most of his other talking points—but that’s not what I want to talk about.

After the speech, every Republican supporter had the same thing to say. (When is that not the case?) They all said that ‘Obama’s initiatives’ were impossible pipe-dreams; that he was simply trying to antagonize the GOP by ignoring their agenda. They may be right—I’m not omniscient. But right or wrong, it certainly is convenient for the GOP that Obama made these proposals. It afforded them the ‘out’ of being anti-Obama, without all the fuss of having to explain why they oppose the specifics of Obama’s proposals.

With his accrued layers (visible only to Tea-Party eyes) of demonic filth, Obama makes a handy punching bag—it’s certainly easier to explain opposing Obama than it is to explain their opposition to closing tax loop-holes for the super-wealthy, making community college tuition-free, or guaranteeing women equal pay. The few Republicans with still-functioning consciences squirmed in their seats, knowing they should join the Democrats in applauding Obama’s most humane, populist proposals—but they were all wearing invisible shields made of anti-Obama and all pleas for desirable legislation just bounced right off.

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But Obama isn’t the Second Coming, at least not entirely—he also lowered himself to threats of vetoes and bragging about what his administration has accomplished—O, feet of clay! But I forgave him the boasting because it was, by and large, factual—and we don’t elect our Presidents based on modesty. In fact, I thought it was a shameful display of sour grapes that the GOP couldn’t join in celebration of our resurrection from Recession and War, just because it would in some small way legitimize Obama’s presidency.

Now, about the vetoes. The Tea Party, for all their air-time and extremism, represent a tiny fraction of backward-thinking, fundamentalist-leaning business-leaders, and the hoi polloi who have need of the delusional matrix broadcast through Fox News and other media outlets (i.e., rednecks sober enough to make it to the polls once a year). The vast majority of adult Americans don’t want the XL pipeline, they want overall enhanced infrastructure and carbon-emissions reduction. The vast majority do not want to pay women less than men or ban gay marriage or ban abortion, they want to provide child-care to working families and defend the freedoms of every sex or sexual orientation. The vast majority of us do not care about protecting billionaires from paying their fair share of taxes, we want to narrow the income-inequality gap and protect the poor from living in fear and suffering, especially children being raised in poverty.

How does the GOP get away with championing big businesses to the detriment of working citizens? They call potentially helpful laws “Obama boondoggles” (which is far more personal and effective than the old scarecrow ‘socialism’). They characterize any effort to hold the super-wealthy, and corporations, to the same responsibilities (and taxes) as the middle class as ‘class-warfare’ or as an attack on ‘job creators’.

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Then they describe Obama’s veto threats as antagonistic—as if their agenda, to undo the last fifty years of progressivism, isn’t a direct attack on genuine American values. They focus their ire on Obama’s newest victories, especially the Affordable Care Act—but they are also trying to undo Roe v. Wade (from 1973), the Voting Rights Act (from 1965), and Social Security for seniors (from FDR’s New Deal). At their farthest extreme, they even seek to undo the separation of church and state, as they have succeeded in undoing any financial limits placed on campaign contributions. Shouldn’t the Republicans now more aptly be called the Regressionists? Has what once was a mere political party become a force, like Westernized ISIS, for returning us to the Dark Ages?

One might even make a connection to these threads of ‘Business Uber Alles’, ‘America as Iron Fist’, misogyny, and racism—and the proliferation of global terrorism. Muslims, as a group, are as diverse in their beliefs and lifestyles as Christians, or any other group—it is clear that the truly common denominator of all global terrorism is poverty, ignorance, and bad government.

The main difference is one of enlightenment. The GOP sees global terrorism as a welcome enemy, something on which the world’s most powerful military might sharpen its claws and test its new tech—whereas Obama, and other thinking people, see terrorism as a problem that needs to be solved—even if the solution doesn’t involve a glorious, bloody field of battle. The GOP tell themselves that ISIS just appeared out of thin air—that our focus should be on their extermination. Obama, and others, accept that ISIS was created by the global situation, that it may be impossible to ‘exterminate’ the problem without changing our own behavior.

But why do I waste my time? Those who agree with me already know all this—and those who disagree have long since disappeared up their own asses.

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Poor, Poor Jamie –or- ‘What’s That Smell?’ (2015Jan16)

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Friday, January 16, 2015                        12:50 PM

Two days ago, Nathaniel Popper of the New York Times reported that JPMorgan Chase CEO, Jamie Dimon, ‘lashed out at regulators and analysts’, quoting Dimon as saying, “Banks are under assault”. As I looked at Dimon’s photograph next to the Popper article I understood for the first time just how much drama there is in investment banking. Dimon’s bland, style-less garb somehow managed to say, “We are very expensive clothes” without saying anything else; his pouty poker-face seems to proclaim ‘I’m better than anyone else in the room’ while his wooden body-language chimes in that ‘he’s not really so sure’.

I had my belly-full of these hand-tailored he-divas since their 90’s quest-to-become-‘Masters-of-the-Universe’ profiteering utterly destroyed our manufacturing base. Bankers’ exertions towards making the financial industry seem masculine and powerful have only gotten more extreme with the subsequent decades. Their attempts to make purchasing power, or high credit ratings, seem equivalent to bulging pecs or abs, are absolutely operatic. I see now that Dimon, rather than an able administrator of brokers and investors, is just the front-diva for an industry giant whose welfare relies almost wholly upon his projection of his company’s image as something it truly isn’t.

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Here’s a company that shares the blame, with all the other major investment banks, for the crash and Great Recession of 2008 (and the uncounted, unethical mortgage foreclosures they rushed through in its aftermath). Here’s a company that has recently been fined billions for unethical practices, a company that has just set aside another billion for further anticipated sanctions. Dimon even complains that new government insistence on greater capital holdings, which would make JPMorgan Chase a stronger element in our overall economy, would make the bank itself a weaker entity—as if that were a rational argument.

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Even non-government, industry-savvy analysts say the company would operate more efficiently and more profitably if it were broken up into several smaller companies—but Dimon insists his company’s bloated structure makes it a more effective bully or, as Mr. Popper put it, “argued that the bank’s size gave it many advantages against competitors — “the model works from a business standpoint,” Mr. Dimon said.”

Finally, to put the fear of God in all of us, Dimon suggests that regulating the ethical practices of American banks will allow some other country, mostly China—the boogeyman under our beds—to become the new world leader in banking. It’s pretty neat phrasing—he’s implying that unregulated, unethical American banking is vital to national security—but what security can such economic buggery truly offer us?

So I see now that Dimon is not actually the Chief Executive Officer of his bank, but of its public image. He knows that, like money itself, JPMorgan Chase’s value is only what others believe it to be. He seeks to match the recent monetization of politics with a politicization of money. While sticking his head up his own ass, he bids us follow him—to safety. Don’t go—it stinks in there.

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On Statesmen and Business Leaders (2015Jan15)

Thursday, January 15, 2015                             8:49 PM

Same stuff, different day: An improv, a few Beatles covers, and a cantankerous essay comprise your XperDunn blog-post for today:

 

 

 

 

On Statesmen and Business Leaders

The prior essay (“Do Your Worst”) unsettles me—I always want to take my temperature and blood pressure whenever I catch myself advocating anarchy and destruction. And I’ll cop to that—I’m a little ‘unstable’—I think is the fashionable term these days. But it’s also partially the fault of whoever’s in charge of our businesses and our government—they make it so that advocating anarchy is nothing more than a difference of degree to what we already endure. I’m not saying they suck—I’m saying they suck the big, hairy, hard one.

Neither am I talking about a mob—nor even a crowd. There are only one hundred senators and fifty state governors—and I doubt there are more than another 150 chairpersons of the kinds of bloated multi-national corporations that squat upon humanity and bring shit to everyone’s lives. So, say maybe three hundred and change, tops—that’s the number of people that keep the tens of millions of Americans from having decent, secure, dignified lives. That tiny army of power-mad mongrels does a wonderful job of keeping the rest of us in misery. Just think—in the olden days, we’d need thousands upon thousands of these assholes to do the same job on so many people.

It’s impressive, too, when you consider that they all have to spend most of their time pretending to be the kind of person you’d invite into your home without worrying about the inviolability of your house-pets. These men, and a few women, too (let’s not be sexist about this) spend the whole day babbling vacuous PC-speak about values and concerns, initiatives and committees, convincing the gullible among us that they have some concern for the average citizen—yeah, right. It has become so accepted that their job-description precludes plain speaking that we have a special term for their lies—when someone is never comfortable with honesty, we call the noises they make with their mouths ‘spin’, which is a euphemism for BS, and plenty of it.

We have to call it ‘spin’. Can you imagine news-reports, otherwise? “This afternoon, the heads of the major investment banks told a bunch of lies. Five senators who head crucial senate sub-committees told even more lies. The CEO of America’s largest petroleum producer told a total of ten real whoppers that no one in their right mind would ever believe for a second. And now, the weather…”

And what do these people do when they are not busy ensuring our perpetual misery and lying through their asses about it? They spend a lot of money. They have to—there’s little else a soul-less, hollow shell of a human being can do to pass the time. They can’t have real relationships—that would involve emotional maturity—and while these people may be alpha dogs, strong and successful and loaded, the one thing they never have time or talent for is learning to know themselves, or to truly care for another. Outside of the rough and tumble schoolyard of corporate and political in-fighting, they remain the children that all business-leaders must be to devote so much energy and determination to something so trivial as being first amongst douchebags, the top of the shit heap.

So, while these idiots may enrage us, frustrate us, drive us to the very edge of sanity—we may nonetheless be thankful that, at least, we are not one of them. For while they may ultimately (and frightfully soon) bring the entire planet to death and ruin, and kill us all—they are already dead, insofar as the ability to truly live like a human being was never in their grasp.

But if you ask any of these psychos whether they, personally, are part of the group I’m addressing, they will, without pausing for breath, start explaining furiously how they could not possibly be one of the damnable damned—and you will then hear what we like to call ‘spin’.

Do Your Worst (2015Jan14)

Wednesday, January 14, 2015                        10:42 AM

In Politics, the news is full of stories about how the Dems did this, the GOPs did that, big business is lobbying and buying elections, legislation concerning health care, banking regulation, gay marriage, minimum wage, social security, ad infinitum—is being debated, blocked, criticized, snuck through, fought over, and stalemating the legislative process. Then elections happen, where all that stuff is ignored and the same old pols get re-elected. Occasionally (and this is new) the government shuts down in a fit of pique—politics as scorched-earth warfare—with the odd caveat that all that needs to happen to end the shut-down is for our elected officials to say so. This is what we call ‘representation’.

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In Money, the news is full of stories about how unemployment is slowly improving, but wages are not—even while big business seems to think that it’s in the middle of a burgeoning recovery. Energy and mining industries continue to destroy the environment in the name of the almighty dollar—and its latest poster-boy is Fracking—a method that permits America to supply its own petroleum, as long as we accept living with earthquakes and flammable tap-water. The overall thrust is that corporations are attacking mankind on two fronts—they attempt to enslave us all in various forms of draconian ‘employment’ while simultaneously buying government influence to pass laws that enforce their kill-or-be-killed economic paradigm. Meanwhile, ‘austerity’ programs ensure that none of the damage caused by all the unethical, inhumane corporate gamesmanship is balanced out by any government support of the disenfranchised.

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War and starvation are everywhere. The governments in such places are either unable or unwilling to end the suffering—and the larger, more powerful, neighboring countries pretend that their sovereign borders absolve them of any responsibility to help. That doesn’t stop them when it’s a matter of exerting their economic influence on trade partners—but when it concerns ‘just people’, the line is magically un-crossable.

Then there’s the arms industry. These folks are supplying the wherewithal for all war, terrorism, hand-gun deaths, and basically any violence more lethal than fisticuffs—yet they are never burdened with the responsibility, or the ethical onus, for any of this violence and suffering. Their profits are as ‘clean’ as a farmer’s, while their output continues to make a hell on earth. They are almost as repugnant as bankers.

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I won’t even get into the details of global terrorism, race-hatred, and misogyny—that’s just the icing on the shit sandwich that our civilization has become. Our ever-more-complex technology seems to spur chaos, rather than purposeful growth, organization, or cooperation between people, groups, states, or countries. And this is not happening on its own—it is being nurtured by a media industry that is controlled by psychopathic owners and aimed at sensationalism rather than elucidation. The crazier and more horrible a situation gets, the better they like it, and the louder and longer they shout about it. The more mature and civil an issue, the more they ignore it.

And these politicians, corporations, media outlets, and arms manufacturers do not operate in a vacuum. They’ve grown out of our responses—we watch their TV shows, buy their guns, vote for the pols, and go to work every day for these fat-cats. I won’t waste my breath suggesting that we stop watching TV, owning guns, voting for Republicans, or quit our jobs—but I have an idea.

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Corporate America, around the time of the great Japanese economic surge, got very frightened (or pretended to) and began adopting many Japanese business practices. Not the good ones, like guaranteed job security, but the ugly ones, like longer, unpaid hours, lower wages, and curtailed benefits. They sought not just to destroy the power of unions, but to deprive labor of any pride or self-worth—and they have succeeded.

Americans now consider themselves lucky to have a job, even a job with long hours, unlivable wages, and zero benefits—they just kill themselves holding two or three such jobs. So here’s my idea. We’ve all been treated like shit, so let’s all start doing a shitty job at work. Let’s do things wrong at work, like they do in life. Let’s lie about everything at work, like they do in life. Let’s make their profits evaporate, like they did ours. Let’s show them that, while they may at some future date replace us all with machines, that we are still human beings—and while we are, we are going to kick back when someone kicks us in the teeth. If they want to ignore our humanity, let’s rub it in their faces.

Do your worst at work. The people in charge have gotten used to taking advantage of their positions—let’s all start doing the same.

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Super Hero? I’d Settle For An Average One. (2015Jan03)

Saturday, January 03, 2015                    2:19 PMadven312

I saw a discussion of “The Secret History Of Wonder Woman” on some book-talk of CSPAN’s just the other day—and just now, before being interrupted, I was watching a PBS documentary about Comic Book Super Heroes. I love to see this celebration of my boyhood head-space, just as I enjoyed the explosion of Sci-Fi obsession that came with “Star Wars” and the invention of CGI-FX. Unlike the occasional, and temporary, popularization of classical music, or poetry, caused by a temporal confluence with a trending meme or personality, the popularization of Sci-Fi, and of Super-Heroes, is permanent, due to hyper-commercialization of these genres.

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Everyone recognizes that commercializing classical music or poetry is just another way of saying ‘ruin’ classical music or poetry. The genesis of our iconic hero-images, and our dreams of space exploration and new sciences, was equally, delicately human—but their beginnings as ‘pulps’, unchallenging works aimed at an audience of children and the simple-minded, caused them to be born with an ingrained ‘wow’ factor. So we learn that Superman was the brain-child of Jewish sons of immigrants during Hitler’s rise to power—but we also learn that they were paid something like $5 a page for their work, with the copyright for one of the most popular and enduring (and profitable) trademarks in history going to the owners of the comic franchise.

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While they dreamed of a Superman to arise and smite down Hitler’s Fascism and Anti-Semitism, writer Jerry Siegel and artist Joe Shuster were ensconced in the comfortable slavery we call ‘employment’. The idea that one person can pay another to do work is fairly simple and straightforward—and I have no beef with that concept. The idea that such a relationship entitles the employer to ownership of a worker’s ideas, or creativity—someone is going to have to explain that one to me. Some people get confused about employment—an employer is buying the work, not the person—but not everyone is comfortable with that distinction—especially people that leech off of the brilliant and creative.

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Such abuse of ownership and employment has been popularized as a feature of the music and movie industries, but it is a standard feature of American Capitalism. First-time artists in publishing, games, theater, music, movies, and television are never allowed to retain the rights to their earliest (and sometimes greatest) creations—the owners claim it as a right due to a first-time investor in an unproven product. It is remarkable that only the truly successful artists get a say in the ownership and use of their productions—and in the movie business, where billions can rest on a single picture, even a mega-star will find himself or herself still subject to the whims of the ‘money people’.

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But Capitalism resists even so basic a human right for their employees as collective bargaining—so it is not surprising that it tramples on the rights of the lone, creative employee. Capitalism has, as one of its givens, a rule—that an employer is not responsible for paying employees what they need, only for the value of their work. This and many other sensible-seeming axioms are the rationales that Capitalism uses to explain away the suffering it causes and the unfairness it perpetuates. But in the case of an employee not being paid what is needed to survive, who is responsible? FDR, who was loathe to criticize Capitalism, felt that the government should step in, should help the underpaid and unemployed keep from starving or freezing to death. Truman went further, and determined that the government should see that poor people don’t die from treatable illnesses.

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All this time, as Capitalism grows stronger from paying people whatever pittance they deem them worthy of, Capitalism’s top players start to kick against the taxes they have to pay the government—apparently, they heard the government was keeping their employees from starving, like the little people are supposed to. Now, since 2008, things are back the way they should be, with austerity programs preventing even a little of the filthy rich’s money from going to the dirty wretches who work for them (or aren’t being hired by them).

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But let’s change the subject. One of America’s biggest problems today is obesity, particularly childhood obesity. The First Lady, Michelle Obama, runs a special program to fight this scourge that attacks our nation’s children. Now turn on the TV and watch during primetime—you’ll see a parade of commercials that are practically pornographic in their depiction of fast foods, tasty beverages, and sweet snacks lacking any known nutritional value, but containing the latest mystery chemical additive from their laboratory. How much harder this must make the fight for all those of us trying to control our diets. But we can’t interfere with the rights of Capitalism, can we? Those companies have a right to sell their product—they even have the right to schedule seductive, high-production-value food commercials for when people are at their weakest and most easily-influenced.

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This is no different than the petroleum industry’s penchant for destroying thousands of miles of beach habitat because they’re too cheap to build non-leaking tankers. These companies have a right to do business. But who are these people? Who makes the decision that it’s okay to dump poisonous industrial waste into the Hudson River, of all places? Who decides that employees, by virtue of being paid, lose their right to a safe and healthy work environment? What kind of person does that?

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When did it become the government’s problem to pick up the slack where Capitalism turns a blind eye to humanity? People will tell you that Money and Survival are the same thing—that no one can survive without money. But this is only true in the immediate sense. In the long term, with proper planning, we can easily transform the world into a place where money is not the only means of survival. It is only true now because Capitalism says it’s so. Capitalism insists that Commerce is a blood sport. However, the true roots of Commerce lie in exchange and cooperation—Capitalism has deformed that into a competition. And since Capitalism makes the rules, it’s winning the game. Unfortunately, it is no longer just Communism, but all of Humanity, that is losing.

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Do you remember being in high school, thinking about how you were just a few years from adulthood but were trapped in an environment that more closely resembled a Kindergarten? I always felt that, yes, we students were young, irresponsible, and unruly—but the faculty and administration were equally at fault for focusing on our failings and immaturity, instead of trying to bring out the burgeoning maturity of our years. And now, as my fifty-ninth birthday approaches, I find myself feeling a similar dissatisfaction with the global community. When will we stop running the world like a Kindergarten? Where can we find leadership that brings out our best and moves us forward? When will business leaders stop clowning around like children and adopt the responsible attitudes of adulthood?

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Seasonal Withdrawal (2014Dec29)

Well, it’s still a couple of days ’til New Year’s, but excuse me if felt the need to crawl back into my shell, post-xmas. Today you have a choice again, between a very introspective essay and an even more introspective piano improv. The roller-coaster moods of the Holidays may be wearing me out, but they certainly give my muse a kick in the ass, so I can’t complain. Hope you like’em!

 

ESSAY:

Monday, December 29, 2014                          2:13 AM

 

Before The Beginning And After The End

 

Well, problem-solving is in our nature. We often try to solve the problem of the human race. But humans are animals—we can accept our animal nature or we can change. If we change, how far do we change, and to what end? And if we change, will we still be human?

Born in 1956 and raised first on Long Island (next to the Grumman plant where the LEM was developed for Apollo’s Moon landings) I took to reading the Tom Swift, Jr. Series of science-fiction adventure books—I assumed that mankind’s future lay in its spread throughout the solar system and, eventually, the galaxy. I assumed that we would continue to discover scientific principles that would benefit mankind, and use them to perpetuate our destiny among the stars.

But now all electronic developments are geared towards the social interaction of young people and the entertainment of the masses. All microbiological advances are turned toward the making of profits for the pharmaceutical companies. Advances in mathematics are turned into new financial market products, such as derivatives—or used to protect and/or hack computers. Science marches on, but it has found a way to cater to the most mundane impulses of the human animal. Where we could once point to scientific research as a sacred crusade against the darkness of ignorance, we now see it put on a par with evangelical, tent-revival-type preaching and political maneuvering.

The flooding into our lives of technology has cheapened the once-pure luster of scientific clarity—clever apologists for Faith attempt to ‘turn the tables’, saying that if Science can destroy our beliefs, then our beliefs can destroy Science. Politics and Commerce do equal damage to Science, editing PR-negative sections from research reports, declining to release such reports when their contents are unabridgedly un-spinnable, and even hiding public-health related research data under the mantle of corporate proprietary-data protection laws. Between the zealots’ attempts to parse the mechanics of the universe into a theist-friendly syntax and the filthy rich attempting to commodify knowledge and probability, we are less concerned today with the challenges that confront current science and more concerned with turning Science to our own advantage, individually and in groups.

Forgetting that Science is just a fancy word for Reality, zealots impugn the Scientific Method for its lack of ultimate answers. Science gives many answers, such as how to make a multi-tonned, steel machine fly through the air faster than the speed of sound, but it has no answers (yet) for many other questions. It has no ultimate answers—and the faithful should keep in mind that their own ultimate answers were made up out of thin air and wishful thinking—and that was a thousand years ago. Confusing control of Technology with control of Reality, the filthy rich hid the science of tobacco-related health risks—and they’re still hiding the science behind climate change, particularly as it relates to vastly profitable fossil-fuel industries.

Simplicity is a desirable quality in life, but having set our steps on the path of Science, we must say goodbye to simplicity. “Occam’s Razor” is the shorthand term used for a principle that says, given more than one possible explanation of a thing, the simplest explanation is the most likely to be true. But there is what we refer to as ‘elegant’ simplicity, such as the Pythagorean Theorem, and there is seeming simplicity, the desire for things to be simpler and easier than they really are. In addition, Occam’s Razor only suggests that the simplest explanation is most likely—sometimes a thing requires a more complicated explanation. As a rule of thumb, Occam’s Razor can be useful—but as a scientific principle, it lacks the reproducible results found in all good science.

Simplicity thus becomes a matter of personal opinion. When Newton invented Calculus, he created one of the most complicated procedures ever conceived—but it allowed us, for the first time, to solve problems that were too complicated to be solved with any existing mathematics. Newton found a complex solution to a complex problem—and we could easily describe that as ‘simplifying’ the problem. So what is simplicity? The idyllic life of the hunter-gatherer age was simple in many respects. But many activities, such as obtaining clean drinking water from a sink faucet, are far simpler procedures today than they were then. So simplicity is not exactly simple.

And this is hard luck for us all, because Science can simplify many things, but it can’t simplify our reasons, our wants, or our ambitions. These aspects of human nature can never be simplified without making humanity less diverse, less chaotic. And if we change humanity, we become inhuman. Fascism was a stark example of this problem—their ‘solutions’ hinged on unexamined fears and hatreds. We cannot ‘perfect’ humanity unless we are first perfect—and who among us is without sin? I am no more capable of ‘improving’ humanity than Hitler was—my only advantage is that I’m smart enough not to try.

Yet, if we cannot improve humanity, what is the point of progress? Progress grants us the strength to build mighty structures: ships, rockets, skyscrapers. Progress let’s more of us stay alive for more years. Progress gives us power—power to transport, communicate, grow food, manufacture, refine, and destroy. But progress never changes who we are—it only changes what we can do.

That is the traditional view of progress. But modern progress goes beyond mere shipbuilding and high-yield crops. Sequencing the human genome is more than medical research—it is the beginning of our transforming ourselves into purposefully-designed creatures. Far beyond the choice of gender, or even the choice of eye color, IQ, and body-type, the deeper understanding of our own blueprint will allow us to design and create humans to specific standards.

But this does not necessarily mean that we are acquiring the means for self-improvement. We are reaching the point where we can change ourselves, but we have not done anything to prepare ourselves to determine what ‘improvement’ would consist of. Just as computerization transformed the developed world into a target for hackers, gene-sequencing may tempt us to manipulate our DNA before we fully understand the risks of eliminating the element of chance that made all of natural evolution come up with the human race. In our quest for progress, we might remove the possibility of our greatest progress so far—the natural selection that brought us from amoeba to homo sapiens.

If something as profound as Consciousness can be brought about by random selection, who can say what other wonders lay ahead? Shouldn’t we have a firmer grasp on the machinations of Mother Nature, before we try to wrest the wheel from her hands? Or is humanity’s progress too complex to leave to the random mutations of natural life? I’m tempted to answer that humanity’s progress is too complex, in general, relative to our development of our understanding of where humanity is headed, and wherefore.

I was directed to a fascinating online article today (http://www.common-place.org/vol-04/no-02/semonin/) “Peale’s Mastodon: The Skeleton in our Closet.” by Paul Semonin. Semonin tells of the famous portraitist, Peale, who dug up a Mastodon skeleton in the late 18th Century—and how this discovery of an extinct species set minds to work—including those of our founding fathers, Jefferson in particular, who tried to purchase the remains. Semonin says that the Europeans teased the new American republic, claiming that America was a land of small creatures and small men. The Americans were quick to seize on the image of a native-American animal that outsized all others, even the mighty elephant. Plus, they convinced themselves that the Mastodon was a carnivore and dubbed it the Ruler of the American Wilderness.

Semonin speaks of this idea of an alpha-predator, the anthropomorphizing of the mightiest and most terrible beasts in a given ‘wilderness’ into not just the most dangerous beings but, somehow, also in charge of the place. He points out that we speak similarly of the dinosaurs ‘ruling’ the earth of pre-humanity. I agree that he seems to have found a piece of pure human nature that has injected itself into our critical thinking, even unto the present.

Back in the bad old days, whoever was the ruler, the chief, king, emperor, head man—those guys had the power of life and death over those under their thrall. That makes a sort of sense when you figure that, prior to our reaching the apex of the food chain, something else was ‘taking out’ the occasional weakling or non-team player—and once a mighty leader puts an end to that culling of the tribe, that power transfers to the leader. The logic may seem specious, but you know how it is with ‘mighty leaders’ and ‘rules’.

It got me thinking about the whole ‘getting eaten’ thing. We started out as mere players in the great circle of the food chain, and as we attained the ability to fend off even the most dangerous predators, we retained the risk of being made a meal whenever we strayed from the group. There are still parts of the world where people can find themselves, if unarmed or unprepared, at the mercy of a large, hungry predator—but such locations are few and the predators sparse. I understand that there are villages in India that can still experience tiger incursions—once they become man-eaters, they are hunted mercilessly. And there continue to be plenty of bugs, snakes and what-not, which can kill with venom—not to mention the many deadly germs and viruses. We are not entirely safe from nature, but we are pretty safe from being eaten.

And I guess that presents a problem. A major consideration for all of our forebears, up until a handful of generations ago, was avoiding being eaten by a predator. Our instincts still stand up the hairs on our necks when we hear the howls of a wolf-pack, but outside of a camping trip in the mountains, we rarely have such reminders to think about. Modern people are far too concerned with the lack of money to waste any time thinking about lions, tigers, or bears. We used to respect the hell out of those creatures—and why not? They had the power of life and death—they were life or death.

It’s possible that our difficulty with choosing cooperation over competition is partly due to the fact that we evolved as creatures that were always under threat. We perceived ourselves, on some level, as prey—and still do. Our obsession with the totemic possession of power, if based on our instinctual expectations of predation, will always favor ‘controlling the fate of others’ over ‘responsible acts of leadership’. When we think of power, we think of using it to control others as much as we think of using it for betterment of the group. This makes it virtually impossible to wield power impersonally and rationally—thus, power corrupts.

But the problem is deeper than certain individuals being consumed by their imagining of whatever power or authority they control. The more basic problem is that we all place survival on an equal, perhaps even higher, priority with justice. When my young boy’s head was being filled with space-age daydreams of a Star Trek future, it included a world without commerce or poverty—a world where one could focus on competing with oneself, instead of scrambling to snatch necessities from the wanting mob. It foretold a world where everything was being done for the right reasons—and what could be more different from the ‘future’ we now find ourselves arrived in?

Of course, Roddenberry was a dreamer—Clarke was a real scientist—his science fiction included the twisted motives of civilization’s less-dreamy players. But even Arthur C. Clarke dreamed of a race of aliens that would come down and save us from destroying our own children when they began to mutate into the next phase of humanity, the phase that would become worthy of joining the interstellar civilization the aliens represented. The Aliens of “Childhood’s End” were there to protect us from our own atavistic fear, borne of our animal past, of the unknown—the urge to kill anything that may threaten us—even if we’re not sure how—even if the threat is our own offspring.

Science fiction does a strange job of showing us two mirrors—one reflects what we become if we act like angels, the other shows us what we become if we do not change. The latter, showing straightforward extrapolations from where we are to where we may end up, can be truly horrifying. But the Star Trek-types can be horrible in their own way—I never saw anyone on Star-Trek eating potato chips while watching TV, or bitching about their lousy love-life—the nearest thing they had to a cat-lady was the “Trouble with Tribbles” episode—and the tribbles didn’t even pee all over the ship.

That may all seem very Buck Rodgers and all that, but the question is—is the lacking laziness, loneliness, and personal hygiene issues something that ceased to exist—or is it something that is outlawed? If all the good behavior on Star Trek is mandatory, then the series would properly belong on the same shelf as Leni Riefenstahl’s opus. If it isn’t mandatory, then what happened between now and the future to transform these people into almost-saints who explore the universe, without pay, smiling in the face of danger, and all getting along famously without a cop in sight? Those people are not the same as us. If we want to see the Star Trek version of the future, we have to do more than invent a warp-drive.

As always, the main difficulty is our fear of death, of non-existence. We don’t like to think of our own death, and we aren’t much interested in the death of our species, either. But I think that we can only begin to make plans for our ‘Star Trek’ future after we have faced the truth that humanity wasn’t always there—and it won’t last forever. Civilization is not an inert object—it is an event. Granted, it’s timeline is huge, but we can never really exceed our natural selves and become something ‘better’ unless we can stand back far enough to get a perspective on all of us, everywhere, over all the centuries, and where we are going—and maybe even where we may ultimately decide to go.

Intellectual courage is one of the rarest of human characteristics, but as our intellectual strength so swiftly increases through science and technology, we are in great need of such courage. We can map the countless stars in the sky, but it won’t mean a thing if we don’t start surveying our interior wilderness, and confronting some of our inner predators.

Your Choice (2014Dec14)

Well, I wish I’d posted this yesterday (It was Sequential Day, that is, the date was 12-13-14) But, I can only play when my aching back lets me, so today was the best I could do.

You have a choice with this post:  you can read my boring-ass essay -or- you can listen to my silly-ass music–either way, please don’t forget to ‘like’ and ‘share’ or whatever.

 

 

 

 

“Baby Steps Among The Stars” – Part Two (Chap7)

Chapter Seven

Sounds easy—just place limits on money’s influence; allow it, where necessary, to be over-ruled by ecological or ethical considerations. But how? Much is made of the ‘revolving door’ of big-business executives and government regulators—doesn’t it invite corruption to have the same people flit between the leadership of these dangerous industries and the guardianship of the peoples’ interests, rights, and well-being vis-à-vis these industries? Certainly a conflict of interests is almost guaranteed by such intermingling. But what is the alternative? It doesn’t make much more sense to have all our potential regulatory chiefs be confined to those with no knowledge of the industry they monitor. Neither does it seem fair to ask a retiring federal regulator to find a job elsewhere than the industry in which he or she is a recognized expert.

And the power of Capitalism is likewise inherently bound up with the efficiency of our commerce—we can’t declare money invalid for one use and not another. If money has any purchasing power at all, it can ‘buy’ a person—or at least, their effort or their influence—which means that money can ‘buy’ exceptions to rules. The very versatility and anonymity that makes cash so useful also makes it impossible to confine to specific uses.

Worse yet, people are as much a part of the problem of Capitalism as its mechanisms. People, as has been mentioned above, are changed by both authority and submission to it—to be a boss affects one’s mind, as does being an employee. The office politics, the competition to climb the corporate ladder, the stress—all the unnecessary dramas produced by people under workplace conditions—are unavoidably caused by the nature of labor in business. This almost-biologically-mandated perversion of people in positions of authority has gotten much notice recently with regard to the police and their relationship to the communities they protect and serve. It would appear that any person given a gun to wear, and told to enforce the law, is in danger of becoming authoritarian, even violent towards those they ostensibly serve. But the same dynamics that obtain in that example are also true, to a certain extent, in any workplace where a manager is led astray by the urgings of power.

Because of this, it is safe to assume that, regardless of how many laws and regulations govern the workplace, it will always be an inherently unfair environment. Worse yet, this is only a statement of the influence of authority—it doesn’t even touch on the fact that people don’t necessarily arrive at a job with an intact, healthy psyche. People go through lots of stuff before they reach the legal age to get a job—and whatever traumas have formed their personalities are only exacerbated by ‘gainful employment’.

Indeed, this is true of people in general. Many are raised by less-than-perfect parents. Many are raised in religious fundamentalism, giving them a skewed perspective on reality. Many are raised in poverty, causing permanent fear and resentment towards those who live in comfort—and, conversely, being raised in wealth can lead many to become overbearing and dismissive towards the majority of the human race, particularly the poor.

The way we are raised, the conditions of our family and community life, the teachings of our spiritual leaders—all these things create a humanity that is far more disposed towards conflict than cooperation. The formation of an individual is so haphazard that a certain percentage of people can be expected to end up as murderers, rapists, thieves, and con-artists—and the rest of us are only relatively well-balanced. We are not perfect—we’re just good enough to stay out of prison, is all.

So when we speak of Civilization, of the Family of Man—or any such grand generalization—we are speaking in the aggregate of people who, as individuals, must each be considered potential time-bombs of anti-social behavior. And that behavior can take an infinite number of forms, from being crabby towards one’s own children, to being a cold-blooded dictator of an undeveloped nation. This clarifies the issue of ‘how can we be so self-destructive?” We can observe Humanity as a single entity, we can discuss Civilization as an overview of ourselves—but we have zero control over ourselves as a group.

Even when rules are so clear and exact as to describe a perfect situation, the troubles that live within each individual will eventually lead us to find ways to circumvent the spirit of the rules, to manipulate the letter of the rules, for selfish reasons. We have been in this race since Hammurabi’s Pillar, and even the lawyers find themselves working half the time in good faith with the law, and half the time working against it. When the rules get in the way of our dreams, we search for ways around the rules—it’s in our nature.

That’s us—nothing to be done about that. That was fine, back when the world was too enormous ever to be used up, back when God was in his Heaven, back before the Internet, when we weren’t on the cusp of quasi-AI and nanotech-enhanced, remote-presence medicine and self-contained, robotic Mars explorers. Now we don’t know whether to ban paraplegics from the Olympics because their hi-tech prostheses give an unfair advantage, or to baby-proof munitions factories so that single mothers can bring their kids to work.

In a recent broadcast, the discussion over e-share commerce brought out the point that Uber’s car service, while superior to existing urban transport, also circumvents a century’s worth of safety and regulatory legislation. This makes Uber both modern and primeval—they create a paradox by using modernity to circumvent civilization. (As of this writing, there is a news report that India has banned Uber due to a rape that occurred during a ride-share—an excellent example of the conflict between progress and human nature.)

Hacking has always been synonymous with coding—its only difference is in the suggestion of a rebel outlaw doing the coding. The term is important because software, like any tech, is open to both good and bad aims—but a hacker isn’t just a bad person who codes. Hacking can mean being a rebel, or a Robin Hood, who codes—possibly even a champion of human rights. Beyond that, the subject becomes one of syntax. But Hacking, as an activity, has also come to be synonymous with finding an easy way to solve or circumvent problems. So-called ‘life-hacks’ can be anything from the best way to refrigerate pineapple slices to the safest way to invest towards retirement. Hardly the acts of a criminal.

But Uber, and other e-share-oriented businesses, are busily pioneering the ‘corporate hack’, a digital backdoor that allows new forms of trade, free from the boundaries of written communication, brick-and-mortar competition, and civil oversight. These clever, new uses of the digital universe, however, create legislative loopholes faster than they generate new business models. The fly-by-night business, once confined to the mails, has now blanketed the globe via WyFy. A person without a physical location is not held back by the same constraints as a person who can be found behind the same counter on the day after you buy something unsatisfying from their shop. And when combined with computerized phone-answering, these businesses can even offer ‘customer service’ while still leaving the customer with no solid target for retaliation, or even complaint. Hence Yelp reviews, I guess.

So, complexity takes a quantum leap forward. Personal responsibility virtually evaporates. Global climate-change edges ever closer to global disaster. Population growth towers dizzyingly. Suddenly, our civilization is faced with an ultimatum—confine the term ‘civilization’ to mean only the one percent and consign the rest of us to savagery among ourselves -or- take a pick-axe to the existing paradigm through collective action. The first option is the most likely because it counts on the disorganized lack of action we can expect from ourselves as a group. The second option is far less likely, as it would require people, as a community, to act in their own best interest—something history tells us we have never, ever done before.

On the contrary, it seems that small, well-led groups of people are the only paradigm within which humanity can exert its greatest power. A team of dedicated people can be found at many of the central pivot-points of civilization’s history. Now, small groups empowered by technology, can accomplish incredible things—good and bad. Thus we witness the rise of SpaceX, a relatively new and tiny company that accomplishes things it once took a federal institution like NASA to orchestrate. And we see the birth of terrorist groups, without massive armies or host nations, capable of attacks on the world’s mightiest superpower. Even individuals have greater power than we ever dreamed—Snowden’s release of classified documents surprised us, in part, because it involved more pages of information than Edward, in an earlier age, could ever have moved without several large trucks—and he did it with a few clicks of a mouse, sending it all not just to one location, but virtually everywhere. That’s power—we all now have that power—any of us can send a mountain of information from one place to another, instantly.

Those of us old enough to appreciate the difference between then and now are hard pressed to encompass the meaning of such power as the digital age has conferred on us. Those young enough to take digital communication for granted have no idea how much the world will be changed by the growing inclusion of all seven billion of us into this information-empowerment. We tend to look at ‘progress’ as an ennobling evolution—that with great enough knowledge, surely wisdom must follow. But progress enables our fears as well, our greed and our bitterness—these things are provided with the same wings as our dreams.

So, at the end of all this trouble and woe, we find that improving ourselves and making things better for others is the most important progress of all.

But if truth is anything, it’s inconvenient. Take the Earth, for instance—looks flat, feels flat—and for hundreds of years, most people thought it was flat. Ancient Greeks who studied Philosophy (Science, before we called it that) knew that the world was round—some even calculated brilliant measurements that gave them a close approximation of the Earth’s diameter. Perhaps the Mayans, or the Chinese, maybe even the Atlanteans—knew similar stuff, but none of it mattered to Western Civilization during the Dark Ages. Most of ancient math and science would return to Europe during the Enlightenment via East, the caretakers of ancient knowledge during the chaos of post-Roman-Empire Europe—and, indeed, without that returning influx of science, Columbus may never have sailed.

These exceptions notwithstanding, the popular view was that the Earth was flat and arguing about it seemed a moot point. It was only after Columbus’s well-publicized return from the ‘New World’ that people began to see the globe, not as an intellectual exercise, but as a limitless expanse of unclaimed assets and resources. Now that there was land to be grabbed and money to be made, the world could be in the shape of a dodecahedron for all anyone cared. The truth of the world being round had ceased to be inconvenient.

But others remained. Now that we couldn’t avoid the image of all of us standing upright on the outside of a globe, gravitational force became another inconvenience. ‘Things fall down’ was no longer sufficient—because we now knew ‘down’ to be several different directions, and all of them inward, towards the center of the globe. Without Columbus’s voyages, there may not have been any cause for Newton to ponder the invisible force we call Gravity. But once his calculations produced the Laws of Motion, and the Calculus, it became possible to send a cannon-ball exactly where it would do the most damage. The truth of Gravity then went from inconvenient to useful—and physics was ‘born’. Between the chemists cooking up gunpowder and the mathematicians calculating parabolic arcs, the militant-minded leaders of early European states would forever-after find it convenient to shield the scientists from the witch-hunters and the clergy.

Science, however, would not confine itself to military uses. By the dawn of the twentieth century, we had begun to study ourselves. Archaeologists had studied our prehistoric past—and found it contained evidence of religion having evolved from primitive atavism to the modern churches. We discovered that God was a part of human lore, not of divine revelation—that God didn’t exist. This is the most inconvenient truth of all—and it has spawned a culture of debate, diversion, propaganda, indoctrination, and fundamentalist extremism. Half the world pines for the loss of innocence and simplicity—the other half is busy trying to undo science with suicide vests and beheadings.

I’ll always remain puzzled by this aversion to observable facts. We’ll trust science enough to take a ride across the globe in a multi-tonned, metal jet-airliner—but still hold it lightly enough that we pick and choose which science is convenient and which isn’t. Observable fact gets a bad rep—‘there’s more than meets the eye’; ‘all is not what it seems’; ‘the hand is quicker than the eye’—yes, observed fact can be misleading, but only because we feeble humans are doing the observing. Still, I consider the incompleteness of science to be a necessary characteristic of good science—observable fact may not be written in stone, but reproducible results are still of greater value than any other perspective has yet to offer mankind.

And the worst part is that we who believe in science are often so hard-pressed by theists that we shy away from the vital humanism that science lacks. It is, rather, all the more important to embrace what it means to be human in a world with no one to worship but ourselves. But we are too busy defending ourselves from people who would kill us in the name of their fairy tales.

“Baby Steps Among The Stars” – Part Two – Chapter Six (2014Nov30)

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We have created a force, Capitalism, which deforms, by its nature, the culture that embraces it too closely. Where public education was once approved as a public good, it is now a profit-center—its students have become its customers. Where incarceration was once a sad necessity, it is now a profit-center—its prisoners have become its employees. Where political office was once a empowering of one citizen to oversee the public welfare, it is now a self-perpetuating fund-raising organization. Its office-holders have stopped formulating the greatest good for the greatest number and now calculate merely the best way to increase campaign revenue.

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What went wrong? Let’s step back a bit, and look at ourselves in the past. In the past we struggled against nature and against ourselves. In the past, being strong, even violent, often meant winning the day. But now we have technology that must be restrained, weaponry that ought never to be used, unspoiled habitats that still provide clean air, clean water, and biodiversity—which must be protected, now that their numbers are grown so few. It has become so easy to hurt and kill each other that to continue the violent ways of the past means certain slaughter—and we have ample evidence of this, and will continue to have more such.

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In the past, there was no mechanism for international coordination or compromise. The United Nations and the World Court have virtually no power in their present states, but their very creations were indicative of our awareness that both war and crime are evils without borders, and that the best way to combat them is to organize forces of good that recognize no borders. The fact that these institutions remain little more than place-keepers, bookmarks on good ideas, is due largely to our focus on Capitalism. Ceding sovereign power is too close to ceding ownership to sit well in the minds of the rich and powerful—not to mention the benefits that multinationals obtain from the ‘chinese walls’ between the laws of taxation and regulation in separate nations.

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In the past, we could rely on the large-ness of the globe and the chaotic nature of global humanity—secrets were easily kept and keeping the masses uninformed was child’s play. In large part, we colluded in our own ignorance by hewing to the concept that some things were too distasteful to discuss publicly. And we colluded in our tacit agreement that women and girls were somehow less than men and boys, that dark skins were somehow less than pale skins, that the rich were more worthy than the poor, etc. But these obsolete attitudes have given way to the clarity of holding our leaders accountable. They may still get away with corruption, collusion, obfuscation, and obstructionism—but they may no longer pull the strings of our traditional hatreds without a good-sized minority calling them out in the media for this kind of manipulation.

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America is particularly vulnerable to modern changes. We have, historically speaking, just reached the end of our growth as a country—we didn’t add our last two states until 1958. The ‘becoming’ of the fifty states was still alive with changes, construction, development, and growth until very recently. But now we have the many small towns being strangled out of existence by malls and superstores, which have themselves begun to see oblivion in the face of online shopping. We have fishing villages on every coastline that have withered under the onslaught of commercial fisheries. We have industry after industry disappearing behind the waves of robotics, computers, and the internet—millions of human jobs that need never be done again. Good news for the business owner, bad news for the worker—and the culture.

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We seem to have fully blossomed—the ripeness of American life during the last half of the last century appears to have been a peak—and we see signs everywhere that America is beginning to de-stabilize. Opportunity has always been the main engine behind American ascendance. The growing income-inequality, the stranglehold of big business lobbies on legislation, and many other post-modern symptoms of Capitalist excesses which encroach on the weaknesses in Democracy—these things bring the notion of one person striking out into business for themselves further and further from reality and closer to a nostalgic fantasy akin to the horse-drawn buggy.

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There is also an apparent willfulness to our current stagnation. In the past quarter century we’ve gone from first among nations in college graduates, to twelfth—yet we have no national (or state or local) race to renew and improve our public education system. We have not only ceased to expand our infrastructure with new roads, bridges, and power-grids, we’ve lost the will to maintain the infrastructure we had.

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We have always deluded ourselves into having faith in Capitalism, as if it were some branch of physics—a mathematical purity, self-correcting, self-policing, compelled by its nature to be of benefit to all mankind. Even today there are those who will enthusiastically explain how all our difficulties are caused by our refusal to let Capitalism have its head, so to speak. But economics has never been merely a branch of mathematics—it contains within it (recognized or not) the history of humankind’s struggle over ownership and possession.