Journal Entry   (2015Aug14)

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Friday, August 14, 2015                                           2:46 PM

I like this new business of ‘clarifying’ things—walking things back, revisiting ones comments, non-apologies for things that may or may not have been said (hey, they’re on videotape). When I went to school, if you said something stupid that tail was pinned on your donkey for life—no take-backs. I guess grown-ups get to come at it two or three times (or over the course of a weekly cycle, as with Jeb’s recent multiple-choice answer to a simple question).

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This plays right into Trump’s hands, since he wants to make questionable statements—keeping the media coming back, keeping him at the top of every news-hour recap—campaigning for free, courtesy of the 24-hour infotainment cycle. God help us if he ever gets to that part of a stand-up schtick when the performer says, “But, seriously, folks…”—even a glimmer of intelligence will seem to us the wisdom of Jove.

But fuck Trump.

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I join all of you in dreading the end of summer—I could use another three months of this weather, but we’ll probably only get another three weeks. Yet, with global warming, we won’t have any snow until February. I liked it better the old way—four seasons, all distinct, all on schedule.

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Hooray! My driving test is scheduled for October. Re-licensing, here I come. It’s a two-edged sword, though—I’m pretty confident I know how to drive, but how embarrassed will I be if I flunk my driver’s test at the tender age of fifty-nine?

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The quest for Brahms-ian competency trudges on—I’m playing the Opus 117 every day—all three Intermezzos. I get better and better—I keep thinking: soon, I’ll be able to post a video of me playing the Brahms Opus 117! But it’s a moving target. Once I reach one level of familiarity, it only accentuates how poorly I’m handling the rhythm, or the dynamics, or the voicing, or the fingering, or the phrasing—there’s no end to the damned thing. I figure I’ll just keep going. This will be the first time I’ll have practiced a piece before posting a video of it, and I don’t want it to be a waste of effort—I want to sound like I can play the thing—yet that remains to be seen.

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My drawing continues to defy me—I know I can do it. Not as well as when my hands didn’t shake, but I can still get something out of it. No, the hardest part is getting myself to start. I have to find the pad and the pen and put on my glasses. (Who’d have thought you need to see what you’re drawing? You’d think you’d know, like you’d feel it or something, but no—not that easy.) Once I get going, I forget the cigarette smoldering in the ashtray—it’s always been that way—I look up a half-hour later and see this long ash that I could swear I just lit a second ago. It’s the starting that stops me.

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My poetry had a good summer—must have been four or five poems. They’re good for my drawing, too, since I have a “Graphic Poetry” blog and I get impatient, once I’ve written a decent poem, to have some artwork to make the new post with. It gets me drawing.

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So with all the recent activity, I daydream about releasing a twelfth digital album on CD Baby (See my eleventh  here). It would only be my second digital album, really. The first ten were privately burned to CD and distributed as Xmas cards to my friends and family somewhere between five and ten years ago. It’s just as well—I feel like my recent efforts are another level above my old stuff—not necessarily ‘great’, but certainly much better than my earlier recordings. Still, like the work on the Brahms, I’m inclined to wait and see just how much better I can get over the next few months or years.

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I’m also toying with the idea of printing out my poems. The beauty part about creating each poem as a graphic, like a small poster—is that I don’t need to do anything but print them out on good presentation paper with a fresh ink cartridge and a ‘highest quality’ print setting. I could even print them on both sides of the heavy paper, just like a real book. But while I’ve always meant to learn some DIY binding craft, I never got around to it—so I’d still be stuck with a loose pile of papers. I don’t know, just junk I think about…

Here’s today’s improv:

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:

Stupid by Crazy (2015Aug08)

Friday, August 07, 2015                                           9:48 AM

An Off Day   (2015Aug07)

Yesterday, after I’d upgraded to Windows 10, I restarted my PC. Upon re-booting, it asked my for my MS account login. Had I not been able to, miraculously, dredge my password up from my foggy memory, my computer would have become a worthless chunk of chips and wires right then and there. Then the router started acting up—my son fixed it by plugging my PC directly into the cable modem, but now he and my wife have no WyFy access! Is it a coincidence that our router failed right when I upgraded to Windows 10? I’ll let you know after he’s bought and installed a new router. [Note from the following Saturday: Booboo installed the new router and all’s well.]

Operating System upgrades for Windows actually go back to DOS versions—before Windows, we had several versions of DOS. Sometimes a new OS would re-format the hard drive, erasing all the files. It always required changes to the software and the hardware-drivers—meaning that the new OS was useless until all the upgraded versions of the programs were installed. And OS upgrades had their share of bugs, too. After forty years of this, I am understandably leery of OS upgrades.

In the earlier days, a new OS would give noticeably faster response time, notably better user-friendliness, and noticeably more-reliable overall performance. As we’ve become more sophisticated, the changes are harder to pin down. And as OSes became more concerned with online connectivity, the changes have become blurred by differences in bandwidth, signal strength, and traffic density.

We see OS changes that benefit the computer industry more than the individual users—like adding the ‘Store’ option to our media-player apps. And we see an unhealthy focus on phones—as if having a desk to sit at is a bad idea—not that I’m against i-phones, PDAs, etc., but all that curries to the trend in making computing a superficial, convenience-based behavior, rather than an activity we use for specific purposes. It is glamour (and distraction) over substance.

But I’m mostly just grouchy because I’m having an off day—I suppose it’s to be expected after my recent run of very active, mostly successful days. Nothing is as reliable in life as ups and downs. I used to marvel at how the blackest prospects could turn around in a day, or how giddy climbing could suddenly come crashing down—now I just take it for granted. The miracle would be if change ceased and all days were uniform.

Today, I couldn’t play the piano worth a damn—relatively speaking. And I can’t get settled. And I can’t eat. And I went for my walk but I didn’t like it. Fuck this.

 

 

 

Saturday, August 08, 2015                                                11:53 AM

Stupid by Crazy   (2015Aug08)

Stupid by itself is not a problem. Ignorance is nothing but a blank space where information might be, but isn’t. Kitties are stupid—puppies are stupid—babies are stupid—ain’t nothing wrong with stupid. Crazy by itself I have no problem with. I’m a little crazy myself—there’s nothing wrong with a little crazy—sometimes it even helps. But when you take Stupid and lead it around by Crazy—then you’ve got trouble.

That’s why we need to get a handle on religion. That’s why we need to get together on the history of religion. Anyone can know about it—Frazer’s “The Golden Bough” gives a dense (and somewhat boring) outline of how beliefs and rituals evolved over time—how no religion sprang from nowhere, how they’re all related and they all evolved over the ages as a continuum of human nature.

Further, the Dead Sea Scrolls and the library at Nag Hammadi give us insight into the early days of Christianity—when many different people had many different ideas about who Christ was, how He lived and died (and lived?) and what His message was. We have the record of the four Councils of Nîmes from the early first millennium, delineating the church rules that men ultimately formed based on their understanding at the time. And we have the history of the Papal Wars, the Reformation, and the Enlightenment to further show that religion is not set in stone—and never has been.

Then there’s the cognitive dissonances of religion. Ancient texts show none of the  knowledge of astrophysics or astronomy that one would expect in a creator of the universe—they indicate only the ignorance of pre-science humans. Religions have differences based on geographical limits—where one might expect a supreme being to speak to all humans as one, all over the world. I could go on, but religion itself is a process of having faith without proof—it’s as hard to argue with that kind of idea as it is to argue with an idiot.

Yet I believe religion has a place in our lives. It enhances community, it provides purpose and meaning in a world that lacks both, and it is especially important for children to have some framework to overlay the cold-blooded chaos of the godless universe. But we must forever relegate religion to a ‘Santa Claus’-like status, wherein it is given no domain over the decisions of adults, particularly our leaders. It is used now to promote and perpetuate fear, conflict, and abnormal psychology—we must remove that absolutism from our society if we are ever to stop bigotry, misogyny, and charismatic megalomania.

We in America see the rise of wireless communication begin to transform our leaders into followers—the instantaneous response of large numbers of the electorate leads to knee-jerk reactions on the part of our politicians. They no longer sit and contemplate the future well-being of their constituencies—they’re too busy responding to tweets about what happened two minutes ago. I’d like to see a politician or two stand up to a podium and say that they are atheists—that they don’t represent modern mythology any more than they represent the ancient Greek pantheon of gods.

What I’d really like to see is all the big businesses lose the support of all that evangelical hogwash they use to befog issues that should be determined purely on human rights, without any hocus-pocus. I’d like to see leaders with the guts to stand up to the universe without imagining a ‘Blue Fairy’ god at their backs, protecting them with magic, promising them an afterlife in heaven (or hell) or giving them permission to judge harshly those who are different.

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.

“That Was a Way of Putting It”   (2015Aug04)

Monday, August 03, 2015                                       6:55 PM

Here’s a T. S. Eliot quote:

“That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory:

A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion,

Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle

With words and meanings. The poetry does not matter.

It was not (to start again) what one had expected.

What was to be the value of the long looked forward to,

Long hoped for calm, the autumnal serenity

And the wisdom of age? Had they deceived us

Or deceived themselves, the quiet-voiced elders,

Bequeathing us merely a receipt for deceit?

The serenity only a deliberate hebetude,

The wisdom only the knowledge of dead secrets

Useless in the darkness into which they peered

Or from which they turned their eyes. There is, it seems to us,

At best, only a limited value

In the knowledge derived from experience.

The knowledge imposes a pattern, and falsifies,

For the pattern is new in every moment

And every moment is a new and shocking

Valuation of all we have been. We are only undeceived

Of that which, deceiving, could no longer harm.

In the middle, not only in the middle of the way

But all the way, in a dark wood, in a bramble,

On the edge of a grimpen, where is no secure foothold,

And menaced by monsters, fancy lights,

Risking enchantment. Do not let me hear

Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,

Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,

Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.

The only wisdom we can hope to acquire

Is the wisdom of humility: humility is endless.”

—from T. S. Eliot’s “East Coker” (The second of his “Four Quartets”)

Whenever I write poems, I always reach a point where I want to put in that quote from T.S. Eliot, just the first part: “That was a way of putting it—not very satisfactory: / A periphrastic study in a worn-out poetical fashion, / Leaving one still with the intolerable wrestle / With words and meanings.”  I don’t know why—it’s just the perfect segue from being poetical to being self-referential.

It’s sad, really. I admire Eliot’s poetry so much that usually I’d just as soon stop thinking up my own stuff and just quote him. And even when I write my own stuff I often throw in a phrase or an expression that Eliot-lovers will readily recognize—but that is partly because I have ‘absorbed’ his poetry into my speech, quoting him frequently enough that I sometimes forget it’s not ‘original’, or ‘common speech’. I’m a walking pile of plagiarism—but, never having been published, it’s not that big a problem.

Another Eliot quote I can never get out of my head is:

“Words strain,

Crack and sometimes break, under the burden,

Under the tension, slip, slide, perish,

Decay with imprecision, will not stay in place,

Will not stay still.”

—from T. S. Eliot’s “Burnt Norton” (The first of his “Four Quartets”)

I guess I love it because Eliot does what few people do—he stares directly into the weakness, the fault, the nothingness. He recognizes that we fool ourselves when we assume that speaking is a precise communication—a fact that most poets are loath to even think upon, never mind address as a part of their poetry.

I’ve experienced many kinds of misunderstanding. There’s the misunderstanding that comes from incomprehension—then there’s the willful sort of obliqueness that comes from those who don’t want to be convinced. There’s the misunderstanding that comes from inexperience—as when the old try to speak to the young. Differing preferences, different cultures and backgrounds, and especially different beliefs can all cause misunderstandings.

But as often as not, it’s the words themselves—sounding the same but meaning different things, sounding different but meaning the same thing, meaning too many things, or used as similes in ways that mean a potential infinity of things, such as ‘life is an onion’, etc.

This morning I had the pleasure of reading “They Saw A Game: A Case Study” -by Albert H. Hastorf & Hadley Cantril (originally published in The Journal of Abnormal Psychology in 1954). It concerns itself with a 1951 football game where Dartmouth played Princeton. On this particular day, the rivalry between the two schools engendered a violent, penalty-laden game with multiple injuries to players on both sides. For the study, spectators were given questionnaires asking their reactions to various points of play. The main upshot of the study was that Dartmouth boosters saw a different game than Princeton boosters—more than their interpretation of events, even their perception of the events was controlled by their preconceptions, their prior knowledge, and their preference for their own team’s welfare.

Princeton fans not only didn’t judge their players for hits against Dartmouth players—they didn’t even see them—and the same, in reverse, was true for the Dartmouth fans. And if we only see what we want to see during a simple football game, how can we expect to agree on what is happening during a complex conversation?

In my mind, it all boils down to entertainment—we talk to each other as much to pass the time as through any belief that we are actually sharing knowledge. Points of agreement are as often as not points on which two people already share a common thought—the words exchanged, rather than creating that bond, only reveal what is already there. Points of disagreement are reliably irreconcilable through anything as sloppy as verbal discussion or argument. (When was the last time you won one?)

We often see in dramas the ‘courtroom scene’ where a canny attorney uses the ‘yes or no answer’ limitation on a witness to force one into saying what the attorney wants to hear, rather than what the witness truly wishes to impart. We can look at language itself as a larger example of this kind of hobbling—words will often say only part of what we wish to impart to others. The clumsiness of language is most apparent when a speaker uses a chart or some other visual aid to add precision to their speech—the chart represents that which can be better communicated in ways other than words.

Words, rather than being the scientifically precise instruments we wish them to be, are merely sounds by which we reassure each other that we agree on our shared context—arguments are only the recognition of the void where shared context does not exist. We’d like to fill all those voids—‘the brotherhood of man’—but, like dark matter or dark energy (those necessary compliments to the substance of our observable universe) —these empty places surround and support the points on which we all agree, giving substance and character to society. We fear a tyrant who would force us all to think and speak the same—but how much more horrible that would be if it happened by itself!

Here’s a new video–and it’s pronounced ‘Swirly-Cue’ BTW–in which I’ve put pictures of myself. I don’t care for egotism, but who’s else’s pictures am I gonna put in there, huh? I was so busy putting in the pictures I forgot to add any weird visual effects. Next time….

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.

Pulps and Piano   (2015Jul27)

Monday, July 27, 2015                                             9:29 PM

After my exciting trip to play a fancy concert grand at WestConn, I’ve had some more-intimate experiences with the freshly-tuned piano in my living room, which I’d like to share with you here:

[The following two book reviews were posted to Amazon on July 27th, 2015]:

Book Review: “Armada” by Ernest Cline

20150727XD-ArmadaByErnestCline

I’ve just finished reading “Armada” by Ernest Cline. There’s a new-ish school of fiction that suits science-fiction specifically, which I think of as the jump-the-shark approach. Scalzi’s “Redshirts” is a good example—the premise is based on the old insider-joke about Star Trek (the original TV series): the away-team member who wears a red shirt is the character that will be sacrificed to add suspense to the episode. In the Scalzi book, the hero finds himself thrust into what he considered a fictional setting—eventually discovering that his fate is being controlled by some outside ‘programming director’ who has misunderstood the exact role that Star Trek plays in our entertainment, and in our reality.

The hilarious “Galaxy Quest” (1999), again, posits a Star-Trek-like classic TV series which an alien race have mistaken for historical non-fiction and subsequently built themselves a real starship, complete with transporter and a parroting computer-voice. They come to Earth to ask the aging star of the series to be a real captain on their starship—mayhem and comedy ensues. It’s great fun—I’m a fan of jump-the-shark, when it is done with wit and competence.

Ernest Cline’s “Armada” takes a page from “The Last Starfighter” (1984) in which an ordinary teenager obsessively plays a video game that simulates space battle, only to discover that the machine is a testing device to locate talented recruits for real ‘starfighters’ struggling to defend the galaxy from evil. But Cline goes beyond jump-the-shark to ‘multiply-referential jump-the-shark’, including a backstory that involves most sci-fi movies and video games of the past forty years being both training devices for potential warriors and orientation for the whole planet’s population—preparing them to find out that much of popular science-fiction is, in fact, non-fiction.

In doing this, Cline gives the reader a survey of popular science fiction and gaming culture from the premiere of the first Star Wars through to the near-future setting of the story. He pre-empts criticism of recycled plot-lines by cataloging the many ways in which his character’s story reflects the plot premises of the many films, games and stories from which he borrows.

Such ingenuousness gives the story great humor and zip—the protagonist’s interior monologue is not unlike our own interior critique of the story we’re reading. And in the age of remakes, one can hardly criticize Cline for re-doing the concept of Last Starfighter—that movie is thirty years old, familiar only to old farts like myself—and the pixel-screened arcade game of that old classic is as a stone spear-head in comparison to today’s MMO-game-players and the globally interactive worlds they now inhabit.

My disappointment stems from my inability to become absorbed in the story. While much ingenuity is displayed in the references to pop culture and other attempts to add a sense of realism to a highly coincidence-crammed story, the story itself never lingers long enough to give any one scene or character as much depth as is needed to balance out the fantastical aspects of the book. Worse, not a single turn of plot manages to rise above the cliché. While I hesitate to spoil the story, I can assure you that you will not be surprised. Amused, perhaps, but hardly surprised—or engaged.

This style of storytelling comes close to reproducing the suspense and excitement of an action movie—and as with action movies, death can be a stumbling block. Deaths, whether of individuals or of whole populations, are seen through the lens of ‘the mission’, rather than engaged with as dramatic events, as in a ‘chick flick’—and such insularity against this most deeply human aspect of any story has caused many an action thriller to fall flat. The audience is unable to ‘will its suspension of disbelief’ in the face of too much superficiality.

Conversely, young readers and sci-fi newcomers will no doubt find this a much fresher experience than I did—over the decades I’ve become a really tough audience. When the cultural references become central to the story, there is an unavoidable difference in the reaction of older readers, like me, who may find it all too familiar, and younger readers who experience a sort of ‘revelation’ from the massive download of new ideas and connections. Forty years of sci-fi cultural remixing may blow the minds of today’s teens, but it’s just old, familiar memories to someone with gray hair.

Cline’s previous novel, “Ready Player One”, was likewise criticized for a lack of dimension in a NY Times book review, while USA Today wrote, “[it] undoubtedly qualifies Cline as the hottest geek on the planet right now”. So there you have it—“Armada” is another Cline book that may act as a dividing line between we sci-fi ‘grandpa’s and the younger audience coming on. I still give it five stars, just because it is head and shoulders above a lot of what’s out there.

Book Review: “Idempotency” by Joshua Wright

20150727XD-IdempotencyByJoshuaWright

“Idempotency” takes a difficult computer term as its title because the ‘tech’ in this techno-thriller is an imagined method for allowing a person’s mind to be led through a simulation of an alternate life and to return from the virtual experience without losing one’s sense of their original self. It is a concept almost as thorny as the actual definition of the word.

Fortunately, the plot manages to simplify all of that into a cyberpunk-like tale of suspense, cyber-hacking, secrecy, and madness. There is still some imbalance, as in the fact that the supposed protagonist turns out to be more of a victim, while several other extraneous characters fight over his fate. There is also a great deal of vagueness as to who’s hacking who—or who’s spoofing who. The near-future society-building is sprawling but diffuse—dystopian vistas are suggested but never fully drawn, leaving the background of events somewhat muddied.

I found the writing slightly opaque—but I can’t honestly say whether that is a failing of the author’s or my own. Sometimes, stuff just goes over my head. In my experience, science fiction writers and readers have to find their intellectual level—and there are some writers who are simply beyond my ken. Then again, I found the ‘villain’, an unstable, bitter fundamentalist, to be almost over-the-top simplistic—and unbearably grating—insanity-level religious extremism makes me crazy in real life, so much so that I find it hard to take even in a fictional character.

There’s originality here, though not a lot of it. Bottom line—I finished the book. These days, that’s a winner, just for that—but it didn’t inspire me to sing its praises. Still, the young Mr. Wright is just getting started—I look forward to his next effort.

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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Hurry Up Please—It’s Time   (2015Jul16)

Thursday, July 16, 2015                                           11:12 AM

Time sucks. We’re always waiting for something to end—when we’re not waiting for something to begin. And then, when it’s happening, we either wonder how long we can hope it will last or when it will finally be over. If time isn’t stretching out interminably into the distance, it’s contracting to a sliver in which we haven’t time to take a breath.

The only time we are truly happy is when we find ourselves outside of time—so focused on someone or something that we don’t even think about the passage of time. We always come out of such experiences wondering how much time has passed, or surprised at how much or how little time has gone by. Time is very strict and a person would be a fool to ignore it—which makes it very hard to get outside of that pressure, and why we love to escape from time’s grasp.

Our obsession with time is paradoxical. We call games ‘pastimes’ because they ‘help us’ pass the time. ‘Diversions’, too, while helping us escape the cold bareness of reality, also help speed the passage of empty moments. While we often wish we had more time for one thing or another (and we are certainly in no hurry to reach the end of our time) we spend a lot of our lives trying to lose our awareness of our sequential voyage from one moment to the next.

Time is elastic—but, seemingly, never in our favor. Hard times seem to drag on—good times are always over too soon. Whenever we are truly uncomfortable time will seem to literally stand still. Whenever we are in the throes of pure bliss, it seems to end before it’s even fully begun.

I love T. S. Eliot’s “Four Quartets” because it explores the mystery of time:

“Time present and time past

Are both perhaps present in time future,

And time future contained in time past.

If all time is eternally present

All time is unredeemable.

What might have been is an abstraction

Remaining a perpetual possibility

Only in a world of speculation.

What might have been and what has been

Point to one end, which is always present.”

 

Memory, as well, is explored—another elastic paradox having to do with time. Yet memory is nearly instantaneous—we don’t need the same amount of time for a memory that we need for the original event. How does our brain remember something that happened for hours, or days, without spending more than a moment to do it?

Still, even in physics, time can be measured to the micro-second—but it retains its elasticity through the mechanism of relativity. Einstein says, ‘the faster we move, the slower time goes’. But relativity only pertains in relation to something else—in our solitude, time has no relativity, it simply goes on.

In life, we get two breaks—we don’t have to deal with any of the time before we are born, and we needn’t concern ourselves with time after we die. It’s odd that something so central to our lives is almost non-existent outside of our lifelines. That’s why the subject of history is a choice—we can, if we’re interested, study the times that preceded our existence—but we don’t have to. History can’t be changed—but it is easily ignored.

My interest in time was purely academic in my youth—but now I can’t help obsessing over the differences made by my long illness. Most people have a childhood, a school period, an adult career, and retirement. But for me the period most of my peers spent having a career was spent being severely ill, at times flirting with death. Had my life been a few years earlier, I would have died when I was half the age I am now—but due to progress in medicine, my illness was cured and I returned to a ‘normal’ life in my late fifties. But there’s nothing normal about a life that has such a strong similarity to the tale of Rip Van Winkle. He had a little trouble with time, too.

I was oddly happier when on death’s doorway than I am now—back then I saw things through a hazy half-awareness, lost between my lack of short-term memory and the blur of anti-depressants—and other drugs too numerous to catalog. Now that I’m somewhat straight, somewhat aware, and somewhat active, I find myself going from TV to piano to computer to front yard. To cycle through those four lonely choices, sometimes several times a day, becomes a threadbare existence so repetitive that it threatens to lose all meaning.

There are many examples in history of great people whose childhood was sickly, solitary, or otherwise troubled and lonely—and that translated into strengths in later life. There are even more examples of people whose later years became shrunken and cut-off, with nothing but memories of past excitement. But these are relatively natural occurrences.

There’s nothing so unnatural and disorienting as having the ‘hole in one’s life’ be smack in the middle of it. It cancels out any of the inertia from one’s beginning—and it leaves no running room to get up to speed for what’s to come. Just as an example—try job-hunting with a resume that’s blank from 1991 on—it’s hard enough to get hired at the age of fifty-nine, going on retired.

The only silver lining is that I’m able to read again. I get tired quickly and I have to use an index card/bookmark to keep track of the characters’ names when I read the really big books, more than 800 pages, that I love the most. But it’s summer—which means that my TV is showing over 300 channels of garbage and re-runs until September—so having my favorite diversion available again is a real godsend.

Still, I was at such loose ends today that I played three separate improvs on the piano—morning, afternoon, and evening. I hope you find that they help pass the time.

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.

Hey, Where’d Everybody Go?   (2015Jul11)

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Saturday, July 11, 2015                                                      10:16 AM

There are tides in the ceaseless shifting of society. Thus while one form of solitude is to be without companions, another form is to be disconnected from those tides. There are those on the autism spectrum who cannot gauge the tone of a roomful of people or the mood of a crowd. There are non-Christians who feel somewhat excluded by the ‘Christmas season’. There are little old ladies in Pasadena who don’t think to wait for the morning rush-hour to end before they slowly wend their cars to the Piggly-Wiggly.

Then there’s summer. How isolated we feel when we spend an entire week working in a near-empty office—the herd went on vacation and we missed the signals. It’s worse when our neighbors have all vanished—leaving only lawn-maintenance crews and renovation contractors, to insure that our solitude won’t be a peaceful one. Even the inter-web goes quiet in the depths of summer—leaving the few shut-ins like me to chatter amongst ourselves until society gets back in gear.

I’ve always had a horror of being left out—which is sad, seeing as I’ve never been ‘in’, as it were. And I have proved through experience that chasing the wave is a loser’s pastime—if the tide of events doesn’t carry you with it, you’ll find it’s always one step ahead of you. And for the innately excluded, history becomes an attractive pastime—after all, history is all about the crests of the waves of society—and they stand still, waiting to be closely scrutinized. We’re still not a part of it—but we can become expert in what we missed—something the present stubbornly refuses to allow us to perceive.

History is a sad consolation, however—we don’t know what’s going on, but after it’s happened, we can offer all kinds of theories on why it happened. The studious may have a deeper understanding than the intuitive, but that understanding only comes from being an outside observer of events. And explanations, after the fact, have a limited value—certainly nowhere near the power of those who have the alacrity to dance in time with the music.

Here we find a dichotomy that transcends the debate between the educated and the ignorant, the serious versus the superficial. Even among the ‘enlightened’ there will always be disagreement between those who have an inkling of our motivations and those who simply motivate. Entrepreneurs, for instance, are too busy succeeding at Capitalism to question or examine the system itself. Meanwhile scholars may have insights into Capitalism that go unrecognized by the players, simply because such scholars have no dog in the fight.

Beyond these philosophical differences, we have the daily confusion of stray people who go up the down staircase, who drive the wrong way down a one-way street, or who simply stand still in the middle of a busy Midtown sidewalk. Society could use an orchestra conductor—someone to keep us all in rhythm with each other. But leadership of such totality inspires visions of egomania, tyranny, and corruption. Still, there are chamber groups that perform without a conductor—how do they reach consensus? Such groups should be closely studied—they succeed at something we all need to learn.

Yet if society could learn to intuit its movements, shifting with the precision of an exultation of larks—that would just leave us, the out-of-step children, even more isolated. It seems that society is always begging for improvement—but any change always raises the specter of excluding some group, or restricting some impulse, or just taking the fun out of life. So we go on, an imperfect society, dreaming of a perfection we don’t really want. By wanting to exceed our humanity we court the inhuman.

The Singularity Series Does NOT Disappoint   (2015Jul05)

Sunday, July 05, 2015                  6:47 PM

[A review published yesterday on Amazon.com]

 “Avogadro Corp : The Singularity is Closer than it Appears version 2.0” (The Singularity Series: Book One)

“A. I. Apocalypse” (The Singularity Series: Book Two)

“The Last Firewall” (The Singularity Series: Book Three)

“The Turing Exception” (The Singularity Series: Book Four)

Publisher:         liquididea press, Portland, OR

Author:             William Hertling

Science fiction was once such a tiny pond compared with the oceans of it we have today. My favorite thing about that is finding a whole series by a new author—a good writer, and writing right down my demographic alley, as it were. Hard sci-fi, AI computers, space-flight, robots—I’m a sucker for all of it.

I enjoy how we can always have our eyes opened to something fantastic about our existing tech—some new bit of its history, some obscure phenomenon that we always noticed but never thought about—or just appreciating some small, cog-like component of the vast sprawl of global infrastructure that makes all the wheels go round. Then there’s an even greater enjoyment in the vicarious world of the future.

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The future gets closer all the time. People used to write sci-fi about a hundred years from now—now sci-fi writers can speculate about ten years from now—and come up with a lot more than ‘flying cars’. Which makes sense—we just had the centennial of powered flight, computers have turned fifty, wireless is still in its teens. Born in the 1950s, I just marvel constantly over the parabolic—no, logarithmic arc of tech development. One of my grandmas once reminisced to me about fetching water in a bucket. My son is an expert gamer of MMORPGs. It’s a strange world—and getting stranger, faster, all the time.

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I worked with programming and systems most of my career, so when sci-fi gained all of its ‘cyber’ themes, I was equally amazed by the good writers and amused by the genre-pulpers who were obviously better-versed in writing than in computer basics. Now that AI is getting its time to shine, as a fiction-writing premise, there’s a lot of lurid pulps out there, romanticizing the concept out of all believability. There are some who get it right and still tell a good story.

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But William Hertling has done something I like even better than that. He’s had fun with it—he’s brought humor to it—and that makes all the difference. Clearly, this is no comic romp—it’s a fast-paced action thriller from Book One right on through to the last chapter of Book Four. I just finished Book Four and I’m still high on Hertling. That was a great read.

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People talk about binge-watching TV—they don’t know. Bookworms have been shoving thousand-page gulps down their reddened eyeballs for a long time—there’s nothing like losing all the feeling in your extremities from standing still too long, almost passing out from the rush of finally standing up. I get so lost in the story that reality becomes annoying. Imagine the nerve—asking me to stop the universe so this stupid body can go relieve itself.

AI presents unmatched dramatic possibilities—the idea that we could make our machines so much smarter than ourselves that they would lose interest in us—or worse yet, seek to destroy us—is high drama already. Add to that the speed of microprocessors—the possibility that it could all happen in minutes or hours—and things get pretty tense.

So make sure you have nothing else planned before you dive into this wonderful series. Once you’ve finished (and caught your breath) head over to William Hertling’s website, where the links to articles pointing to the reality of much of his story will keep you sleepless for yet another night.

Reviews In Review   (2015Jun09)

Tuesday, June 09, 2015                                              5:10 PM

I’ve just finished reading:

“The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Liu,  (Ken Liu -Translator)

“(R)evolution” by PJ Manney  (‘Phoenix Horizon’ Book 1)

“The Water Knife” by Paolo Bacigalupi

And watching:

“Jupiter Ascending” (2015) –  Written and Directed by The Wachowskis and Starring: Channing Tatum, Mila Kunis, and Eddie Redmayne

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” (2014) –  Directed by Matthew Vaughn and Starring: Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, and Samuel L. Jackson

[Note: the following three book reviews were published on Amazon.com yesterday]

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In “The Three-Body Problem” by Cixin Liu, I was treated to some rare Chinese historical fiction, as the story involves both alien invaders and their contact on Earth—and, in a fresh take, someone on Earth other than an American establishes First Contact. The protagonist’s story begins with her childhood during the most horrific times of the many Reform movements that swept China early in the second half of the twentieth century. Starting that far back, we are given a small primer in modern China’s history and culture by the time the story’s climax reaches the present day.

But there’s more. There’s science too—radio astronomy, virtual-reality gaming, extra-dimensional manipulation, near-FTL travel, and a planet with an unusual orbit, to say the least, are only some of the highlights. Things get technical enough that I glimpsed one reviewer in passing, complaining that this book ‘read like a tech manual’—but I found it refreshingly reminiscent of Clarke and Asimov. This is still a nerd’s genre—if you can’t take the heat, you’re not going to enjoy the story.

The characters and relationships are, however, as fully fleshed-out as one could wish—this is no space opera—and the plot is so clever that I hesitate to give even the slightest of spoilers. You should discover this book for yourself. And—good news—it is the first in a series—so there’s even more to come!

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In “(R)evolution” by PJ Manney, I found an entertaining and involving thriller based on the idea of nanotechnology used to facilitate the brain/electronic interface. While there is little new in the scientist who experiments on himself, or in super-secret societies that control our businesses and governments from the shadows of limitless wealth and power, there’s still a freshness to the storytelling that kept me turning pages until late into the night. Good writing, if not especially great science fiction.

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“The Water Knife” by the reliable Paolo Bacigalupi is a story of a near-future America suffering through the destruction of the American Southwest due to water shortages. The draining of the aquifers, combined with the lack of snow-melt from the Rockies, leaves California, Nevada, Arizona, and displaced Texans all struggling in a world where rivers are covered to prevent excess evaporation. Water rights become life or death matters for cities Las Vegas, LA, and Phoenix, AZ—where most of the action takes place.

The ‘water knife’ is a euphemism for an enforcer of water rights and a hunter of anyone trying to access water without legal authority. Angel is one of the best, in the employ of the sharp female administrator of Las Vegas’s Water Authority, Catherine Case. He becomes involved with a hunt for a water-rights treaty granted to Native Americans—a priceless document so old that it would take precedence over all existing agreements—and in the process, becomes involved with a female reporter who’s gone from being an observer to being in the thick of the life and death struggle of everyone in Phoenix as the water runs out and the dangers only grow more unbeatable.

However, the most frightening thing about this novel is its basis in fact—much of the disastrous environment described has been warned of in a non-fiction book, “Cadillac Desert: The American West and Its Disappearing Water” by Marc Reisner. That book was published in 1987, and much of what he warned about is starting to manifest itself—such as the present severe drought conditions in California.

Like most doomsday-scenario stories, “The Water Knife” describes people on the edge, people in trouble, and twisted people who take advantage of chaos to create their own little fiefdoms of violence and tyranny. I never read such stories purely for the goth-like rush of people being cruel and dark—but in cases where I feel the story will give insight into something real, I put up with it—especially from a writer as good as Bacigalupi. And this is an exciting, engrossing tale of intrigue, passion, and ‘history as a hammer’, for all its darkness.

[Here ends the text from my Amazon.com reviews]

Having just finished “The Water Knife”, right on the heels of “(R)Evolution”, I’ve had my fill of dystopian cynicism and game-theory-based ethics—or lack thereof, rather. “The Three-Body Problem” was the worst, however—a Chinese woman endures such a horrible childhood under the Red Revolution’s Reform Era that she wishes for aliens to take over the Earth—how’s that for misanthropic?

Science Fiction at its best can be wildly hopeful and uplifting but let’s face it—the vast majority of it deals with rather dark subject matter. I can only hope that my next read will have a little leavening of the stainless-steel truth in it. At heart, I’m a Disneyfied, happy-ending kind of guy.

In between, I watched a few movies. The latest include “Jupiter Ascending” and “Kingsman: The Secret Service”. Talk about dark!

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“Jupiter Ascending” is a science-fiction movie based on the premise that Earth—that is, all the inhabitants of Earth—are just a crop being grown only to ‘harvest’. Our unknown alien overlords are just about to harvest (i.e. slaughter) the Earth’s population for the purpose of creating the ‘rejuvenation juice’ that makes them immortal.

Our only chance is a young lady who is surprised to learn that she is the genetic double of Earth’s former ‘owner’, a wealthy noblewoman of the alien master-race whose death left her planetary holdings to her evil son, including the fabulously overpopulated Earth. The evil son is none too pleased to learn that a mere Earth girl is capable of confiscating his prize planet—and the hunt is on. Helping the girl evade the evil son and realize her destiny is a grizzled veteran of the alien military special-forces who’s been unfairly drummed out of his squad.

Some romance between the two slips between the non-stop CGI laser-beams and space destroyers, but even with a happy ending, it’s hard to get past that nightmarish premise.

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“Kingsman: The Secret Service”, being a more straight-forward action movie, might lead you to expect a lighter tone. But this Cinderella/James Bond story has several scenes of wholesale slaughter in hand-to-hand combat. Poor old Colin Firth ends up killing an entire congregation of a church—and while their preacher prefaces the scene with rankly bigoted ravings beforehand, it’s still not very enjoyable to see them all slaughtered for their ignorance.

The fight scenes (though in this context, I’m tempted to call them ‘slaughter scenes’) are so busy that the film has to freeze into slo-mo for each death-blow (or death-stab, or head-squish, etc., etc.) just so the naked eye can follow all the mayhem. This is one of the bloodiest films since ‘Reservoir Dogs”, but it has all the trappings of an arch re-mix of James Bond meets Agent Cody Banks.

The director seemed to have trouble fixing on a genre. Samuel L. Jackson is a chipper, lisping arch-villain; Colin Firth is a chipper, upper-class Brit in the style of Patrick Macnee in ‘The Avengers’ TV series; and Taron Egerton gives us a well-meaning but troubled English lad thrust into an unusual situation. But all the set dressing, style, and verve is drowned in a sea of blood that leaves little room for those delicious bits of comic relief that leaven the best action thrillers.

Having said all that, I must admit that as far as quality goes, these were two exceptional movies compared to the dreck that comes out of Hollywood most of the time. Had “Jupiter Ascending” had a gravitas more in keeping with its somber theme, or had “Kingsman” relied a little less heavily on squibs, they might have been great movies. As it is, they were merely good.

Guilty Of Surviving (2015Jun07)

Sunday, June 07, 2015                                             11:53 PM

Guilty Of Surviving

I condemn you, berate you, accuse you!

No I don’t—I’m just stretching

My dramatic muscles—

Getting ready.

I’m gonna write my life-story

As a Broadway musical

Starring everyone I know—

With the nicest people

As villains.

I’ll post it on YouTube—

An instant classic with no class—

Featuring myself as the Ass.

We open on a cozy log cabin

In a Long Island maternity ward

Where I am born to only parents

With four other children.

I am a child of the sixties,

Seventies, eighties, nineties—

I’m immature—who’re we kidding?

Then I die

Ten years ago

But forget

To stop breathing.

I’m doing it wrong.

How can I write a life-story

After it’s over

When it’s still unfinished?

Instead of rhyming June and Moon

I’ll couple Jew with Moo.

If you had died ten years ago

You’d be confus-ed too.

The tunes I’ll pluck from

Out the ether

Somber songs, but none so

Sweether.

What to call this mess-terpiece, huh? Anyhow, I’ve been watching movies on TV. I saw “Larry Gaye—Renegade Male Flight Attendant” starring the guy from ‘Royal Pains’. I also saw “The Spongebob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water”. They are both extremely silly movies—which means two thumbs up in my book. “Larry Gaye” seems like someone who loved “Airplane!” decided to write an updated script for the new millennium—it’s always just a hair’s breadth from a real movie, but always veers into nonsense before it quite gets there.

“Sponge Out Of Water” tries real hard and Antonio Banderas is just as engaged in silliness as he was in “Puss in Boots”—but I’m afraid nothing in the sequel compares to the scene in the original Spongebob Squarepants movie where David Hasselhoff transforms into a jet-propelled hydroplane. Nothing could follow that.

After the movie, I was inspired by the calypso-style music played over the end-credits scroll. I played the following improv, but I never actually got any Caribbean rhythm into it. Still, it came out okay.

Beethoven’s Pastoral Sixth and Disney in Stereo   (2015May22)

Friday, May 22, 2015                                               10:52 AM

When I was a boy, I liked to lie on the floor of a dark room and listen to classical music. My closed eyes became an IMAX screen for Rorschach-fueled fantasies—vague daydreams of struggle, passion, voyaging, and victory. Back then, I didn’t listen to music the way I do now—I simply heard a soundtrack to an invisible movie. Dvorak’s New World, Tchaikovsky’s 1812, Smetana’s Moldau, Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter—they all suggested vague plotlines of grand adventures, terrific battles, and transporting joys—and Beethoven’s symphonies were right up there in my ‘top hits’ list. Classical music has always been the soundtrack to my daydreams.

Because I felt that classical music (mostly Romantic, and symphonic, at that time) was a ‘drug’ that would take me on a ‘trip’, I preferred listening to it on my bedroom record-player to sitting in the audience at Lincoln Center—a privilege that my public school provided as often as twice a year, thanks to the wonderful Mr. Freeman, our music teacher. Young people, and non-musicians of any age, I suppose, can hear music without truly appreciating that musicians have to make it. In a sense, music, to me, came from a flat, round piece of vinyl.

Walt Disney and I had that in common, sort of—but he was not a lifelong music-lover—he didn’t come to appreciate Classical Music until he had already become a successful filmmaker. But upon discovering these treasures, they became his passion. He began to use it in his “Silly Symphonies” animated shorts. While working on an extended Silly Symphony of Dumas’ “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice” (a comeback role for Mickey Mouse, who was slipping in popularity) Disney determined to make it part of the full-length feature that came to be known as “Fantasia”, a set of eight animated classical works performed by Leopold Stokowski (the premiere conductor of the times).

I was in my late teens by the time I saw a reissue screening of what, by then, had become a classic film. The original 1940 release of “Fantasia” was marred by the start of World War II—the lack of European market revenue, and the mixed critical response, made the film seem a failure upon its opening. Plus, there were high costs involved in making an animated feature film—even more so in the case of “Fantasia”, as it was the first film shown in stereophonic sound, and ‘Fantasound’ equipment had to be installed in every theater that screened the film!

“Fantasia” is a treat—a celebration of both music and art, created by the world’s most beloved and successful commercial artist. Every musical piece in the film brings out special features of the individual pieces—and of music itself. For someone familiar with the music, the animation ‘accompaniment’ brought a whole new dimension to the works—and for those hearing them for the first time, it was an indelible, endearing introduction. The skill and effort of the creative teams, the innovations of artistry and technology used to achieve the film, gave the final collection of flickering images and sounds substance to rival the great pyramids of Egypt.

Now, having said all that, it’s not hard to imagine that today’s musicians could find “Fantasia” to be dated and superficial. It may be difficult for any of us today to appreciate the technical challenges of 1940—with the debut of “Beauty and the Beast” in 1991, we experienced the first CGI-generated animation (and the first animated film to be nominated for a “Best Picture” Oscar). Yet, to me, the old Disney animated classics are still marvels of effort and organization—and the proof is in the enduring value of the surviving individual cels, as collectors’ items and as works of art suitable for framing and hanging on the wall. That’s what those old films were—a sequence of hundreds of thousands of hand-painted artistic masterpieces! In comparison, CGI animations are akin to pyramids built with modern construction vehicles—still impressive, but hardly the same effort.

More importantly, serious musicians focus on the pure sound—what else is there, in music? Music videos have been a part of our culture since the 1980s—with their tendency to push more-pedestrian music’s popularity using provocative visual accompaniment, they can make ‘adding visuals’ seem overly manipulative. Plus, there are now many serious composers who are known for their soundtrack compositions made specifically for film, such as Richard Stephen Robbins’ score to “The Remains of the Day” (1993)—or even Karl Jenkin’s score for the DeBeers diamonds ad (1994). It is understandable that today’s musician might see “Fantasia” as opportunistic or exploitative of the great composers. But that would be overlooking the educational and popularizing effect of those times.

It was only the previous decade, the 1930s, that public radio broadcasts of classical music had allowed the masses to hear concert music—prior to radio, classical music had remained as much a privilege of the ‘upper class’ as it had been in the days of noble patronage, centuries before. And Leopold Stokowski, José Iturbi and Arturo Toscanini were still freshly-minted radio stars—the NBC Symphony Orchestra gave its premiere broadcast in 1937. Classical music, in 1940, was in a certain sense, the ‘latest thing’.

Plus, Disney’s animations ‘closed the distance’ for new fans of classical—instead of seeing the mechanics—a film of the orchestra itself, playing—we see the kinds of fantasies that listening to such music can inspire. Disney’s “Fantasia” showed music from the listener’s perspective, not the performer’s.

So when we are tempted to dismiss the film as trite or silly, we ignore its historical context. I’m reminded of Owen Wister, the author of “The Virginian” in 1902. Today we laugh at the clichés of Westerns—the shootouts at high noon, the schoolmarm sweethearts, the strong, silent gunslingers—yet all of these memes were original ideas when Wister first penned them. They only became clichés because these images were so powerful that they were copied and varied ad infinitum, for a century. In the same way, Disney’s enormous influence on our modern viewpoint blinds us to the originality and impact of his work when it was first created. Respect must be shown.

Not that I don’t respect Beethoven. I loved his Sixth Symphony long before I saw “Fantasia” and I love it still, in spite of the fleeting mental image of bare-breasted, gamboling centaur-nymphs imprinted by the film. I also see dancing mushrooms whenever I hear Tchaikovsky’s Nutcracker and feel the urge to belly-laugh whenever I hear Ponchielli’s Dance of the Hours—but I’m sure the composers themselves, if we could ask them, would be flattered to have received the loving attention of Walt Disney.

Opening Shot—Pending   (2015May21)

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Summer Day, Johan Hendrik Weissenbruch, c. 1870 – c. 1903 Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

 

Thursday, May 21, 2015                                          6:44 PM

A tragic death in the west coast family and medical issues on the east coast cast a pall of sorts over what should have been the joyous celebration of my love’s graduation. But here, we have grown used to taking the good with the bad—it seems to have become a constant—I can almost hear Karma’s footsteps dancing about every moment of life nowadays. The greatest drawback to my perspective is that I suspect Celebration, anyway—I’m much more comfortable with a day that passes without incident or remark. Good news seems to beg for bad news, so I’m a big fan of ‘no news’.

With such mixed feelings I face the impending Memorial Day Weekend—a festival marking the beginning of summer, with the paradoxical theme of remembering the fallen of past and present wars. Memorial Day has a heightened frenzy to it since it marks the beginning of summer and the end of school which, for kids at least, signals the start of months of fun in the sun.

This iconic weekend mixes that glee with the grind of throngs of hostesses and hosts trying to light charcoal, avoid burning the barbecue, and keep an eye on the kids in the pool or in the shallows of the beach. And the glee and the grind are mixed with the ghoulish reputation Memorial Day holds for being an annual high-water-mark for traffic fatalities, DWIs, and reckless driving in general. It’s as if we honor the fallen by slaughtering each other on the highways.

It’s like Christmas, almost. Holidays mean good times. Good times get people excited—and excited people are dangerous. The bigger the holiday, the more tragedy looms at its elbow. Not that I don’t enjoy a grilled sausage or a dip in the water—I’m just leery of Celebration. Celebration is the teetotalers’ inebriant—and leads to just as much mischief, in my experience. Add a few beers and you’ve got the worst of both worlds—I guess I’m just too old to appreciate that mixture of risk and uncertainty like I did as a young fellow. Oh, yes—I used to celebrate like a madman—but I seem to have lost the knack of it.

As young people we tend to get bored and impatient with peace and quiet—as we age, we learn to cherish it for its lack of problems and trouble. We also acquire a sense of responsibility—the kryptonite of fun—so we’re doomed to lose our taste for loud parties and wild times. Plus, we get winded almost immediately. What can I say? Don’t grow up—if you can help it. It’s a trap!

And enjoy the weekend, everyone—but not too much.

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A Summer Afternoon, Lake George N.Y., Seneca Ray Stoddard, 1855 – 1880 Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

 

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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Cheez-it! More Cops…   (2015Apr23)

Thursday, April 23, 2015                                        9:12 AM

CA152CAI saw a video of cops confusing a spinal injury with reluctance, manhandling a disabled suspect into a van—the suspect later died of a severed spinal cord. I saw a video of a US Marshal taking some lady’s camera-phone and smashing it on the ground in an excess of self-consciousness that may have had something to do with his not wanting to be filmed breaking the law. Too bad there was more than one camera-phone on the scene. I saw a video of a cop shooting a man in the back eight times and then running around, rearranging the evidence.

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I see these videos and I try to tell myself, “There are good cops. There are good cops.” Maybe we don’t see videos of them because the news won’t show them—too boring. Whatever. All the good cops in the world don’t undo what these video-stars are doing to their reputations. But just like Neo-Cons and their homophobic fringe, or like Muslims and their violent-extremist fringe—good cops may not be responsible for bad cops, but they are very close by, and their actions don’t display any great disfavor of such unprofessionalism.

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I’m also reminded of the dismaying frequency of rape in our armed services. Isn’t there some training where recruits hear it explained how bad an idea it is to rape someone, when you might need them to watch your back in a fight? Aren’t there officers who disapprove of rapists? Aren’t there some men in the service who have it together enough to reprimand their buddies for mistreating soldiers who happen to be female? Or is it all just accepted as part of making a killing-machine out of a human being?

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There is something sick about the military culture—and there is sickness in police culture, in political culture, and in our business culture. All of them try to combine a ‘dog-eat-dog’ approach with humanism—and they all fail miserably. Police can’t handle the complexity of a job where they have authority, but that authority only extends to maintaining everyone’s rights equally. Instead, they invariably choose a ‘side’, and operate as if the other ‘side’ deserves only the appearance of civil rights.

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We aren’t comfortable unless we can simplify our difficulties, distilling them down to a fight between us-and-them. We all agree loudly that the real answer is not to create divisions of us-and-them—but in practice, we always ignore that and go for the conflict—it’s just easier. And, according to tradition, you can’t ask a person to go in harm’s way and to think about what they’re doing—that’s just too much to ask.

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Bullies run the world—and whenever someone rises up to change things, they find that they must become bullies themselves to conquer the existing bullies. It’s a paradox. We all want good people to be our leaders—but cruelty is so much more powerful that any who refute cruelty make themselves too weak to win. Thus we have the myth of the leader who is both cruel and kind. Our presidents are an example—drone-strikes and jailing privacy-advocates are both forgotten while our president reads a story to kids on the White House lawn. He’s not really a killer—he’s just the Commander-in-Chief—his hands are clean.

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So we are left with a conundrum. Are all these videos of police criminality indicative of a broken police system, or are they simply examples of human nature? How many of us could be trusted to wander the neighborhood with a gun and a beat-stick—and how long could we do it without deciding that we need to use those ‘tools’? And is it even possible to become familiar with a neighborhood’s people and not let the job become personal rather than professional? Of course, racism doesn’t help—I don’t think it’s the cause of police violence, but with an ‘us-and-them’ mindset, it certainly makes the decision of who ‘them’ is a lot easier.

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Top Security   (2015Apr20)

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Monday, April 20, 2015                                          11:06 AM

Yesterday couldn’t have been nicer—warm and sunny and green exploding as far as the eye can see. Now this chilly, damp mess—it’s April, alright. Everyone is getting restless and kind of wound-up. We’re all starting to look for places to go, instead of places to hole up and stay warm. The phrase ‘youth is wasted on the young’ comes to mind, but I think it’s more a matter of ‘my youth was wasted on my past—I could use a little right now’. There’s really no need to bring young people into it.

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Recent media reports often tell us of risks to our privacy. We are told that the government is forcing companies with large consumer databases to share them with the NSA—particularly phone and messaging services, but retail purchases and travel records are also included. We are told that hackers can get into our Facebook profiles and get our personal history down to the smallest detail. We are told that our credit cards and bank accounts can be appropriated online at the drop of a hat.

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My first response is like what the mayonnaise said to the refrigerator—“Close the door—I’m dressing!” We are encouraged to feel as if we’re changing our clothes, unaware that we’re standing in Macy’s window. We often want to say something to one person that we don’t want another person to hear—not that we’re all in the cast of “Mean Girls”, it’s just that there’s often a greater latitude for honesty when speaking about someone than when speaking to someone.

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But there is another side to all this and that’s what I want to address. Security is nothing new. People had big mouths long before they could thumb-type whatever it is they’re saying. If one is indulging in criminal behavior or conspiracy, odds are one shouldn’t talk about it, online or otherwise. If the way one talks about others is revealing of oneself, i.e. if one is naturally bitchy and mean-spirited, that too is best left out of online communications. Government shadows and mentally-unbalanced stalkers have been tracking us, too, long before the digital age arrived—and discretion was a valuable watchword then as now.

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

There are two schools of thought about computer information. The ignorant assume that something so complicated as a computer is safe as houses. The informed are well-aware that putting anything on a computer is not too different from putting it on a billboard. The confusion comes from the fact that, yes, if you type something into your computer, it will lie there, still, silent, and unseen—but, if someone comes specifically looking for your information, it’s not very hard for them to find. Putting things on your computer is like hiding things under your pillow—it’s fine for keeping things out of plain sight, but it won’t do any good if someone is actually searching for your stuff.

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Outside of such basic considerations, there can still be danger online. But I, like many people, have a very effective defense—we are not interesting, or rich. I suppose my bank account could be hacked as easily as anyone’s—but the amount of money to be gained wouldn’t pay for the equipment a hacker would need. Hackers could, likewise, embarrass me by publicizing my personal life and quirks—but first they’d need to find someone who gave a damn.

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This is especially odd due to the equally popular debate over how to ‘build an audience’. One the one hand, we receive warnings about giving away too much online, and on the other hand, we are given advice as to how we can increase interest in ourselves within the online community. I tried to forestall this paradox by having two online identities—I use the ID ‘Xper Dunn’ for public consumption-type online activity, and ‘Chris Dunn’ for my personal, private activity. In my case this proved unnecessary, since interest in Xper Dunn hasn’t risen above the visibility of my private Chris Dunn persona, anyway.

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So we see that disinterest is the greatest of all security measures—if I have no money, and I don’t interest people’s prurient curiosity, there’s little reason for anyone to hack me. And with proper backups, I can always recover from a cyber-attack—at worst, I have to buy new hardware. In other words, “Don’t start none, won’t be none”. If, like me, you have had difficulty attracting attention online, remember, that’s not altogether a bad thing.

rm317

 

 

Now, here are two videos from yesterday:

 

 

Cheez-it—The Cops!   (2015Apr16)

Thursday, April 16, 2015            2:19 PM

I saw “Kill The Messenger” last night—Jeremy Renner plays Gary Webb, a reporter who uncovers the link between CIA support of the Contras and the epidemic of crack cocaine that flooded America’s cities in the 1980s. It was no surprise to learn that the CIA denied the truth and destroyed Gregg’s credibility (and career, and home life, and peace of mind) through a campaign of misdirection and personal attacks. Hell, they’re the CIA—that’s what they do—well, that, and kill people. Seven years after Webb resigned from his paper, he was found shot twice in the head and his death ruled a suicide—which sounds like some pretty fancy shooting to me.

Some high-minded CIA chief admitted the truth of the accusations a few years later (and then was fired). It would seem that Gary Webb wasn’t so much guilty of reporting dangerous secrets as he was guilty of rushing the CIA to admit guilt. It’s more likely, though, that they never would have admitted guilt had it not been for Webb’s reportage. Either way, Webb was destroyed and the CIA was left untouched—even by shame.

Attracting the wrong kind of attention from the CIA will get a person killed. But then, so would attracting the wrong kind of attention from corporate execs, police, military, mobsters, gang leaders, or drug dealers. There’s even the odd nut-job out there that will kill people that attract their attention just ‘because’. Yet murder in developed countries has become relatively rare, if we use history for comparison. Murder doesn’t happen that often, really, because it’s such a big deal. It gets in your head, so I’m told—and I can well imagine. Most people will do anything else to avoid becoming a murderer.

Yet our society, our educational system, our family units somehow produce the occasional killer—usually through military training, if not forced into it sooner by dire domestic or community circumstances. But military training, or even service, can’t be blamed—many veterans return home and never kill again. They may suffer a lifetime of PTSD, but they keep it together enough not to go back to killing people. Still, violence is part of human nature. Murder is nothing new. What gets me is the lying and the secrecy.

Both the British Secret Service and America’s CIA were sometimes found to have Soviet agents in the highest positions, not only passing information to the enemy but able to misdirect the activities of those services as leaders. This was a historic case of the snake of secrets eating its own tail—a system completely self-contained, and completely useless—unless we count the damage done by these self-important members of the Bull-Moose Lodge.

Alan Turing’s heroism was occluded for a half-century in the name of secrecy, while Jerry Sandusky enjoyed decades of fame and admiration until he was revealed as a secret monster. He was only following the ancient, secret, traditions of the Catholic priesthood, maybe. Bush, Jr. used lies and secrets to start a war. Wall Street used lies and secrets to bankrupt the country and steal half our homes. The Koch boys went to court to make it legal to use money to spread lies and attack ads. The big shots aren’t satisfied to have it all, to run it all—they have to lie to us, too.

Maybe that’s because you can’t really do anything you want without doing some wrong. Or maybe they find controlling our perception of the world even more satisfying than controlling our lives—who knows what weird brain-farts they get after money has rotted their minds away.

I wanted to include a list of major lies we’ve been told over time. The bankers and industrialists who made hay from both sides during World War II come to mind. Then there was the Blacklist—the complexity of that scare campaign was confusing enough to make everyone in America look over their shoulder before they spoke—afraid that their unedited thoughts might get them jailed for treason. Eisenhower warned us that there existed a military-industrial complex that fed on war and conflict—and taxpayer funding—but that didn’t even slow down the growth of this still healthy and enthusiastic fear-factory of death-cheerleaders. The tobacco companies fought for decades to keep us from the truth about cigarettes—and now they still fight health legislation in any of the third-world countries that try to follow our example in protecting their citizens from toxic smoke-a-treats.

I’m a smoker myself. I love cigarettes—and I don’t blame the tobacco industry for my personal life-style choice. I’ve decided my pleasure in smoking is sufficient to outweigh the certain risk to my health. I understand that most people would disagree—but I’m not an entirely sensible person, especially when it comes to risk assessment. I’d only mention that I use coal and automobiles and electricity and plastic, too—even though they all present a risk to my health and to everyone else’s. I don’t want to include health and medicine in an essay about lies—but let’s just all agree that our chances of eternal life are pretty slim, okay? Let’s leave health and medicine in the white-lie category, next to religion.

I depend on the police and the military, as well, to keep the peace and to defend our borders and interests. Okay, I depend on the idea of the police and the military to do those things. The actual institutions are all hopelessly staffed with human beings—which makes them ineffective, practically worthless—even counter-productive at times. But you can’t have the protection of the idea unless you deal with the nightmare of having the actual thing.

Among their lies, the most remarkable is the casual race-persecution found in police forces across the country. I would start by pointing out that this is just the tip of the iceberg. That black men are regularly gunned down in the streets without any subsequent justice for them, or punishment for their murderers, is only the most visual, violent instance of the racial persecution that lurks in our communities, our schools, our businesses and, most especially, our justice system. Much as slavery was replaced with Emancipation, followed by Jim Crow, followed by the Civil Rights Act, every effort to make Race a matter of difference in humanity rather than a degree of humanity is seen by some to be a mere loosening of the leash which they believe they’re still entitled to hold.

Black people learn of the threat of police violence through family lore or hard experience. White people have trouble believing in the truth of police violence because they can’t imagine such disgusting behavior could possibly go unchecked. That is what is so remarkable about cop-on-black violence—the police lie about it so habitually, and cooperate so well in covering up evidence, that there is zero official documentation of this ‘hallowed tradition’ among our keepers of the peace.

The attempted stonewalling of officials and line officers during the recent spate of videotaped police crimes has been an orgy of cognitive dissonance—the cops expect their lies to work like they always have and the victims and families can’t believe that no one takes the videos for what they are—hard evidence. And the whole stereotype of black criminality can be seen through a new lens—African-Americans are not more likely to be criminals—they’re more likely to be scapegoats. When you add in the CIA’s fund-raising, making billions for foreign wars by flooding cities with crack, then throwing their drug-dealing workforce into prison as reward for addicting and robbing their neighbors—it’s a wonder there isn’t a New Black Panther party busily burning this country to the ground.

That’s social inertia for you—lucky for white people. The same inertia that let a whole country watch Rodney King get beat up by a crowd of cops in the middle of the street, and for way too long—right there on film—and still not convict those cops of any wrongdoing. I think we just couldn’t believe our fucking eyes. Now that we’ve had a chance to see a parade of these videos, our response is not as disbelieving as during that not-so-long-ago Rodney King scandal—but the babble of double-talk persists with every new documentation of police criminality.

Authoritative liars are strangely insensate to overwhelming discredit—they’ll pop right back onto CNN and just start lying twice as loud, as if they’d never been proved liars at all. Right-wing pols have made an art-form of it in recent years. I shouldn’t cherry-pick my liars, though—the liar’s club is never exclusive—most of the men in the world will tell you that women are inferior. We can all see what a fine job they’re doing, running the world while judging people based on upper-body strength and aggression. Meanwhile, their mothers and wives keep them from being even bigger asses than they are when under female supervision.

Well, there’s plenty more big lies in the world—history has been made many-layered by the effects of lies and secrecy—there’s the original, false history, then the partially-more-true version that slips out over the next ten years, then the more-baldly-stated truth of fifty-years of hindsight—all the way up to the fullness of ‘history’ (which is still fifty percent fiction and fifty percent misunderstanding).  Then there are the everyday lies we tell ourselves out of animal ignorance, such as ‘ugly people are not nice people’ or ‘making money is a good thing’. Our instincts make liars and fools of us all. I just don’t like to see people embrace dishonesty like some fucking virtue, is all.

Overreaction   (2015Apr13)

Monday, April 13, 2015                                 12:03 PM

Yesterday CNN had a parade of talking heads using Hillary Clinton’s eminent YouTube announcement as an excuse to dish about her, her husband, her detractors, her unauthorized biographers, and how she is simultaneously the same as Obama and worse than Obama. I heard very little factual material and a landslide of attack, dismissal, insinuation, and extrapolation—but CNN isn’t famous for reeling off mountains of data these days, so no big surprise there. The only thing that struck me was how their tone leaned so far towards FOX, and had so little MSNBC to it.

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They expressed their editorial opinion, so here’s mine. Hillary Clinton is no saint, but neither is she the devil. She’s a world-class politician and a pretty good one. Any comment that fails to give her at least that much credit is serving someone else’s agenda, whether it’s the Tea Party, the Libertarians, or the media’s need for ‘sensations’. Anyone who tries to tie her character to her husband’s sexual misbehavior is reaching. And those who make a media feast out of her emails should really have some ‘dirt’ to point to, rather than trying to make her email system itself sound nebulously nefarious. But having prefaced the Email flap with the Benghazi snipe-hunt, we now know that actual wrong-doing is unnecessary to the Hillary-hunters.

Few media voices want to endanger their ratings by pointing out that the profusion of manufactured scandals is evidence of a total lack of any real wrong-doing—God forbid they inject any fairness into their rabble-rousing. One could make the case that this is good for Ms. Clinton—if she had done any actual wrong, the media will be too busy with their BS to find out about it. But while the media dances on the surface of things, there are truly dedicated right-wingers that will dig and dig—so I don’t think we need to worry about any of her actions being overlooked by her critics–except, of course, anything praiseworthy.

Neither am I prepared to give the same carte blanche to Hillary Clinton that I’ve allowed President Obama over his two terms—his mistakes display a surfeit of idealism, while her career has been more obviously a political battle. Plus, his symbolism as the first African-American president required some engagement with this country’s difficulties with race relations, whereas Hillary’s election as the first female president would be a self-contained achievement, without requiring that she ‘cure sexism’ in America.

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Hillary Clinton, like most good politicians, is a mediator, a compromiser. She is far more interested in reaching across the aisle than any of her right-wing challengers. She is not trying to take us backwards in time, to repeal science, or to institute a theocracy. She doesn’t show the same bitter antipathy to her competitors that they show towards her. She’s the sensible choice for this country—and that’s her biggest problem.

How can the sensible candidate win in a country whose eyes and ears, the media, refuse to consider anything less exciting than a schoolyard brawl? They adore the divisive ignorance of Ted Cruz or Rand Paul—how exciting it is to see these jokers challenge observed reality! The media can’t be expected to waste time on the dusty business of governing, as discussed by Hillary Clinton, when they have mind-bending yahoos to cut to—people that not only say the craziest things, but never bore us with the sleep-inducing details of realpolitik.

Reince Priebus, the head of the GOP, claims that people don’t trust Hillary Clinton—and it is true that anyone listening to the GOP, as far back as the Whitewater pseudo-scandal, would have plenty of reason to question her honesty. But since the GOP has an entire news-network devoted to spreading right-wing falsehoods and misrepresentations, and Hillary has only a private email server, we must hear echoes of the pot calling out the kettle’ in that idiot, Priebus’s, observation that “the country deserves better than Clinton”. If we listen to the GOP, this country deserves bigotry, violence and plutocracy—and they don’t believe Hillary will give us nearly as much of those things as they can. That, somehow, I believe.

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Media-mouths like to say that Hillary avoids talking about foreign policy because the administration of which she was Secretary of State saw the rise of terrorist groups like ISIS and Boko-Haram. To me, this is patently short-sighted. Dubya was the one who brought hundreds of thousands of American soldiers to a country that we had no business invading. When Obama tried to draw down our military presence, the damage had already been done. We had begun a civil war among Middle Eastern Muslim sects, Sunni and Shia, before we were fully aware that Muslims had sects—hell, our training manuals for Iraqi soldiers were originally printed in Arabic, even though Iraqis speak Persian—that’s how little we understood the people we attacked so precipitately.

Like Bush’s financial crash, these things take time to repair. Obama took a lot of criticism for not fixing our economy the day after he was sworn in, with very little being said about the causes of the problem he tried so urgently (and ultimately, successfully) to fix. Bush’s invasion of the Middle East created a far bigger mess, and will take more time to fix. Until that time, the GOP will continue to criticize the Democrats for failing to fix what the GOP has broken. That is their strategy—blame, accusation, and the assumption that nothing they do is wrong.

That strategy’s success depends on our willingness to think like Ellen DeGeneres’s fish character in “Finding Nemo”—we forget anything that happened more than thirty seconds ago. I am burdened with memories of how the actions of fifty years ago, of twenty years ago, or of ten years ago led to the circumstances of the present—I could never be a member of the GOP because I believe in cause and effect.

But the dysfunction of the GOP has its counterpart in the Democrats’ lack of spine—it’s as if the Democrats, who don’t lie as professionally as the GOP, are nonetheless afraid to tell the truth. They may not act like the GOP, but they appear to believe that their constituents are as immune to facts as the Tea Party’s supporters. And I believe this accounts for the lack of Democrats showing up to vote—in and among, of course, our national disregard for that most essential of democratic activities.

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Many supporters want a ‘firebrand’ to challenge Hillary Clinton for the nomination—usually either Bernie Sands or Liz Warren—but they don’t want to run for President. Their messages are too polarizing, and their overall experience in matters of state falls far below the level of Ms. Clinton’s CV. Their presidencies would just be Obama-all-over-again, without the overt racism. It would be thrilling—the media would love it—but our federal government’s dysfunction would only deepen.

The GOP has taken control of both houses of Congress—but they are stuck for a presidential candidate who isn’t outright laughable—even to themselves. So the question becomes: what Democratic president will best be able to do business with them? Hillary Clinton, for all their venomous attitudes towards her, is much more a member of their species than any of the more idealist Democrats capturing media attention today. Even the GOP’s rank sexism, so overbearing towards women in general, would work against them when dealing with a lady president. She’s perfect—and that’s the media’s problem with her. She’s a bit too ‘on the nose’ for their agenda, which is “Controversy, twenty-four, seven”.

In summary, I’ll be voting for Hillary in 2016—and I won’t change my mind because of GOP smear tactics or media scandal-mongering. She may not be perfect, but she’s perfect for the job at hand. And no one with better experience or better credentials is going to rise up out of obscurity because, if there was such a person, they’ve had ample opportunity to show their face already. And anyone who appears so will simply be someone so new to the national stage that we don’t really know anything about them.

Hillary has been out there, giving as good as she got, since Bill was elected—any newcomer’s advantage will be only that—that they’re new. And in a job with a built-in minimum age limit, meant to exclude the inexperienced, the last thing we need is New. Besides, it’s time for the “Land of Opportunity” to legitimize its nickname by electing its first female head of state. And all you non-atheists out there can get down on your knees and thank God that it wasn’t Sarah Palin.

Keep Rolling, Stone   (2015Apr06)

Monday, April 06, 2015                                            1:18 PM

Rolling Stone magazine has just retracted its infamous story on a college gang-rape that apparently didn’t happen. This is bad news for girls, because on-campus sexual predation is a time-honored epidemic in the hallowed halls of higher education, unaffected by the women’s liberation movement, the no-bullying movement, or any other uplift of American social consciousness. College and university administrators habitually try to cover-up or silence any reports of rape, and police traditionally avoid any criminal case that has a low conviction rate, rape being the all-time loss-leader in that category.

Women are treated differently, and always have been. They get paid less for the same work. They get judged more harshly on their appearance than men are—even more so in our modern times, when women (we claim) are no longer being valued solely on their appearance. Their ability to create and foster new human beings is considered a drawback—in a world where men are lionized just for making a profit. But most important of all in this context, women are considered less credible than men—cognitive dissonance alert, everyone.

Do our mothers lie to us more than our fathers? Do our sisters lie to us more than our brothers? Not in my experience—not by a long shot. It must be a case of transference—we accuse women of lying because we lie to women more than we lie to each other—more than we lie to ourselves, which is saying a lot. Women lie, of course—everybody lies. Yet we still accept sworn testimony as evidence in court—unless it’s a woman claiming rape.

It’s tradition. Only recently have we ceased to assume children are lying when they accuse priests of molestation. Only recently have we ceased to assume soldiers are lying when they say that their service left them damaged by toxins or stress. It is very difficult to end the tradition of accepting ‘lies about liars’ being told by figures of authority. It is time we stopped giving men the ‘authority’ to gainsay women’s accusations of rape.

Rape is ugly. But it is also incredibly common. Men are pigs, most of them—they’ll rape their daughters, their sisters, their girlfriends, their co-workers, and in a pinch, they’ll even rape a stranger. But nowhere is rape more prevalent than on college campuses. It’s ridiculous. One in five college women experience sexual violence—and that’s the official number. The actual number is probably worse. And one in five is too damned many, anyhow.

Which begs the question: how the hell did Rolling Stone find the one college rape story that wasn’t true? And how did this rare falsehood make headlines, when hundreds of true stories went unreported? Was this story made a cause célèbre  just to help bolster the myth of lying women reporting rapes that never happen? Or are we simply not interested in something as common as rape—our interest piqued only by the rare story where a woman was actually proved to lie about it?

What happens to the next girl brave enough to report her assailant? Do we just point to the Rolling Stone article and say, “Oh, you’re lying”? That’s just great. Rapists rejoice!

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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National Prayer   (2015Apr01)

Wednesday, April 01, 2015                                                12:04 PM

April Fools! The “National Day of Prayer” isn’t until Thursday, May 7th. Americans United has a nifty little site: What’s Wrong With The National Day of Prayer, if anyone isn’t clear on there being a problem with it. To quote Rabbi Merrill Shapiro, President of AU’s National Board of Trustees: “The National Day of Prayer is problematic because it presumes that Americans should take direction on their religious lives from the government. It suggests that they will engage in certain religious activities because the government recommends they do. People do not need government directives to pray or take part in any other form of worship.”

I can’t argue with that. But a case could be made that National Days are not so much directives as they are responses to popular opinion. Americans United is in danger of making the same mistake as the Tea Party’s anti-government nonsense. The government doesn’t create National Days out of thin air—they are proposed by citizens, often due to an existing, less-official celebration tradition—Memorial Day, Veteran’s Day, Fourth of July—these were all popular observances that came from the collective heart of Americans. Their canonization into ‘bank holidays’ came later. And atheist or otherwise, I don’t think anyone can claim that there aren’t a lot of prayer-friendly citizens in this country.

If we were talking about a Mandatory Day of Prayer, then okay, that would be a problem. But a day that celebrates prayer can only be wrong if there’s something wrong with prayer. The fact that I don’t pray may leave me out of the celebration, but that doesn’t make it wrong to celebrate. I don’t have a womb, either—but I have no problem with baby showers.

We’re living in the future, folks. And space-age living requires that we pay attention. There is a distinct difference between what we don’t like and what is wrong. There are lots of things I don’t like—that doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong with those things. There are lots of things that are wrong—the fact that they may appeal greatly to me doesn’t make them less wrong.

People with seniority, people with power, people with money—such people often get to have things their way—their preferences have importance. This is confusing. Their preferences shouldn’t have importance, but reality says otherwise. We have to reconcile this ongoing condition with its temporary equivalent—a hostage stand-off. Yes, a person holding us at gunpoint has the power to inforce their preferences—but we must decide whether to give in to their threats or to try to rush in and disarm the hostage-taker.  It’s called ethics—and the reason most people avoid thinking about ethics is that having them is often similar to rushing an armed attacker—it can be suicidal. Hence the expression, ‘Live Free Or Die’.

It’s ironic that the non-religious would waste time, effort and attention on something that isn’t intrinsically wrong, like a National Day of Prayer, when they should be focusing on actual wrongs, like the recent states’ legislation legitimizing religion-based bigotry—the anti-gay laws and the anti-abortion laws. Gays make up ten percent of our population. Women make up fifty percent of our population. Between the two groups we can figure that a solid majority of American citizens are being persecuted by religion-based laws. This condition may have spurred the anti-prayer sentiment, but opposing a National Day of Prayer is rather missing the point. Better we should all pray they repeal that nonsense—and maybe start voting for politicians instead of fundamentalist zealots.

A Taste For The Real   (2015Mar30)

Monday, March 30, 2015                                                    6:49 PM

I watched TV all day. I got caught up in “Muhammed Ali’s Greatest Fight” (2013) about the Supreme Court justices, and their clerks, at work on the decision whether to uphold Ali’s conviction for draft evasion—a conviction they ultimately reversed in a dramatic series of events (if we take the movie at face value). I felt it to be a stirring illustration of a point in time when reasonable men were confronted by their own prejudices and confused by the tug-of-war between the ‘traditions’ of racism and its incompatibility with even-handed protection of constitutional rights.

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Then I saw a PBS documentary about the author/illustrator of “Mike Mulligan and His Steam Shovel” (1939), “Virginia Lee Burton: A Sense of Place”. This tells the story of the life and art of a “Renaissance woman”, innovative children’s book author/illustrator, textile designer, painter, and sculptor in granite, marble and wood. The film goes to places on Cape Ann that inspired ‘Jinnee’, including her home and studio, Folly Cove, Gloucester Harbor and the shores of the Atlantic Ocean.

Her designs of her children’s books reflected her efforts to compete with her sons’ fascination with comic books—one of the film’s commentators remarked that her books were the first examples of the graphic novel. She also founded Folly Cove Designs, a textile collective prominent during the Craft Art Revival era, employing many locals who went on to become accomplished craftspeople in their own right—the collective’s works were retailed in major stores and exhibited by several museums. When Virginia Lee Burton died in 1968, the remaining members of Folly Cove Designs decided to shut its doors.

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Then I watched “The Valiant Hours” (1960), an American docudrama about William F. Halsey, Jr., and his efforts in fighting against Admiral Yamamoto and his Japanese Navy in the Guadalcanal campaign of World War II. This film was the sole product of James Cagney’s production company, and Cagney gives a great performance as Halsey. The story is a nail-biting bit of head-to-head between the US and the Japanese in the Pacific, with Guadalcanal becoming the high-water mark for Japanese conquest and the beginning of the turning of the tide of that war. Told from the point of view of an admiral who spends most of the battles sitting at his desk drinking coffee, the film is careful to annotate the fates of those regular marines with whom Halsey meets during his personal visit to the island.

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That visit impacted the morale of the tired, struggling soldiers who felt on their last legs before Halsey even took over for poor Woolsey (whose only mistake, says Halsey in one scene, was in ‘getting there first’). Japanese intelligence even credited the strengthening of resistance among American forces to that visit. Moreover, it was in an attempt to bolster his own troops in the same way that Yamamoto was later shot down by American flyers in transit. The film is a wonderful tough-guy cameo of both the Admiral and of the War in the Pacific.

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It occurred to me during all of this that I had, in some sense, outgrown fiction. Earlier in life, I’d been puzzled by people who never read novels or watched movies or TV, preferring to read only non-fiction. It seemed a draconian approach to information-gathering, since much of fictional art has a lot to say, both about the people and times of the story, and about the story-teller.

And I don’t think that my recent change in taste is a concession to that point of view—but the information to be gathered from fiction has reached a point of diminishing returns for me—I’m familiar with the rough outlines of social, economic, and military history, with the cultural oddities to be found in Dicken’s London, Cervantes’ Spain, Michener’s America, and Clancy’s Cold-War, with the habits and jargon of Berkeley’s Broadway, Ford’s Old West, and an endless list of other times, places, and peoples.

Further, while this information source dries up for me, the settings, plotlines, conflicts, and dramatic devices become ever more familiar. I find that large swathes of popular culture are not only intended for the young, but are utterly predictable and unsurprising to an older audience. More importantly, the vicarious experience becomes problematical when the characters are concerned with something as jejune as first love or first career-step or becoming new parents. I can’t place myself in the action when the action concerns a teenager, or a twenty-something, or even a thirty-something.

The ultimate effect of most new movies that appear on my VOD menu is to make me depressed about how old I am, when I’m not in full critic mode, questioning the decisions made by the directors, the writers, or the actors. So I find myself, after the end of an interesting, fact-based program, desperate to find something of equal interest—something that treats with real life, rather than a diversion meant to make me laugh, feel desire, or dream of the future.

But there is a silver lining. The occasional excellent movie will be appreciated that much more—they do still make them, though they’re few and far between. Meanwhile, my health has improved to the point where I can read almost as much as I used to—and books have much better ‘pickings’ than cable TV when it comes to jaded, over-experienced audience-members like myself.

Hence This Essay   (2015Mar22)

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Sunday, March 22, 2015                                            12:13 PM

It’s funny how I type up my thoughts, read them back, and say to myself, “Yeesh—why am I so hard to understand?” My run-on sentences get lost in themselves. Thoughts that are clear in my mind become unalterably muddy on my page.

My mind gets a charge out of this meme or that concept—and is bored by this aspect or that concern. All our minds react differently to every word in a sentence—another person’s words take us on a roller-coaster of ups and downs, as their special interpretation of reality attempts to mesh with our own. Simplicity and directness can ease these attempts at mind-to-mind communication—but complex ideas don’t easily succumb to simplification.

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When it comes to writing or speaking, I see three phases. When we’re young, we learn the basics of communication. When we are adults, we learn competency in communication. And when we grow old, we learn the emptiness of communication. At my age, I’ve begun to see nothing but futility in these little essays, my attempts at sharing my thoughts with the rest of you. At the same time, the sense of purpose in doing so is also fading away. Who the hell am I—and why should you listen—and even if you listen, what difference does it make? Such ‘old guy’ thoughts are nearly paralyzing.

My natural inclination to share my thoughts with other people was a stumbling block in my youth. It turned out that I was rarely on par with my peers—my impulse to share became a tendency to teach. And teaching felt very natural when I became an adult—though I was never a schoolteacher, I did spend most of my time explaining, instructing and training employees and co-workers in the fresh, new art of coexisting with a desktop PC. I also tutored various subjects in my free time. Then there was parenting—lots of teaching required there—in fact as a parent, my greatest challenge was learning when to stop being a teacher.

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But now I’m older—as are my peers. They don’t need any words of wisdom from me—any wisdom they don’t have, they’ve learned to live without. I have gone from being sought after for information and explanation to being isolated, ejected from the rat-race by long illness—so long that my return to health coincides with my approach to senior-citizenry.

My blog of essays is just a vestigial impulse to teach, lingering on after I’ve lost the point of doing so. Life on the downhill side of middle-age is full of fatalism—existence ceases its pretense at eternity and shrinks down to a handful of unproductive years. Life begins to settle down into nothing more than the delaying of the inevitable. I look back on what was my ‘real’ life and realize that it was always a young person’s game. Careers and activism lose their substance in the knowledge that for oneself, competition and cooperation are moot—my accomplishments, or lack thereof, are already on the tally-board.

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Younger people long for retirement—it is only after we reach retirement age that we realize it is an ejection from the mainstream of life. If we have any remaining ambitions, they are out of step with the times we find ourselves in. If we make any long-term plans, it becomes blindingly obvious that the time-line exceeds any reasonable life-expectancy. Any inclination to invest in future schemes is vetoed by our responsibility to invest in our children’s futures. If we want to put a positive spin on it, we could say that we reduce our own self-importance—but the stark truth is that our self-importance is diluted by the passage of time and the responsibilities of parenthood.

One thing that increases with age is appreciation of busyness. We come to realize that our goal-oriented behavior is a thing unto itself—making us happy, passing the time, regardless of the value produced, if any, by our busy-making. Think of a toddler, puttering away, humming—enjoying being busy without yet being taught that our busyness should have a practical end to it. Or consider the word ‘pastime’—the word implies a game but, reduced to their basest components, all activities have as their chief point the distraction of our minds from the relentless passage of time. Hence these essays, dear reader.

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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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That’s Your Opinion   (2015Mar17)

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Tuesday, March 17, 2015                                 12:20 AM

Why do I get so upset with other people who argue with me on Facebook? I guess it’s partly because, in the old days, most of the people I argued with knew me personally.

They knew that I was straight-A student who had an annoying habit of correcting my teachers. They knew I won a merit scholarship, killed on my SATs, and got accepted to an Ivy League college in my junior year. They knew that I often tutored both college and high-school students in any subject, and never failed to help them pass their course or their test.

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They knew that I was an incorrigible bookworm who averaged 1.5 books a day. They knew that if they didn’t keep moving, they’d end up hearing a lecture on philosophy or physics or American History. They knew that I was a scholar by temperament, a person who couldn’t help but be curious about everything, to study everything.

They knew that my father would never have made his first million without one of his kids being a computer whiz, back before there were any college courses or “Idiot’s Guides” to anything electronic. They knew that my stupid brother, after firing me, hired five people to replace me and still had to hire me back ten years later because none of them could de-bug my most difficult and important code.

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People knew that, yes, you could shout me down, you could outdo me with debating tricks and snappy comebacks (never my strong suit) but you could never truly out-reason me because I have made a life-long study of reason and, unlike most people, I am not put off by the fact that reason doesn’t care how I personally feel about things. When people argue with me it is clear as glass to me which parts of their argument are cogent and which parts are emotion-laden, wishful thinking.

But the funny thing about it is, when someone threatens to punch me in the nose, that means I’ve won the argument. It’s not good news, of course—no one likes a punch in the head, but it isn’t defeat, either. The only defeat I suffer is when they find the chink in my armor—that of putting their half-baked interpretations of a few facts on an equal footing with my experienced erudition.

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We’re all entitled to our opinions. But opinions don’t need to be correct, they just need to please us. I have plenty of stupid opinions—but I don’t share them with people as if they were information, for god’s sake. If you want to tell me what you like, what you prefer, hell, I’ll listen all day long and not make a peep, figuratively speaking. But if you’re going to tell me what you think, you ought to recognize that you’re talking to someone who considers them thar fightin’ words.

Thinking was the source of human rights, of justice under the law, of all the aspects of society that push back against our animal natures and our inclination towards bullying whenever we have the upper hand. Thinking is the only thing that stands between us as a society and the rule of the gun. Thinking is deadly serious business, not some chat I’m trying to have on Facebook.

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You know, with all my scholarship, I’ve never earned a degree. I attended seven different colleges and universities at various times. But I was always more interested in the information than the validation. (Besides, like I said, there were no computer courses on my work until after I’d done most of it.) Scholarship was and is a calling for me—I’ve never stopped learning and I never will. I don’t need to pay tuition, I don’t need to be graded, I just like to read and learn and think. And I’ve been ostracized and looked askance at my whole life—so don’t you dare start now telling me that your understanding of stuff you barely glance at between video games is just as considered as mine. It just ain’t.

Ergo, if you want to win an argument with me, just take an opinion based on sloppy reasoning and spotty research and claim that it is equally as valid as my thoughts on something I’ve spent years studying, considering, and debating with other learned people. I’ll immediately lose my temper and, voila, you’ve won. Hey, you’re entitled to your opinion. Aren’t you?

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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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“I Fall In Love Too Easily”   (2015Mar13)

Friday, March 13, 2015                                    9:36 PM

Cool—just in time for a Friday the thirteenth blog-post. Which reminds me—I hope I get to post tomorrow, Pi Day—and a special Pi Day, because digitally speaking, this year Pi goes 3.14159-forty-seven or something, whatever the next two digits of Pi are, at 3/14/15, at 9:47am. Cool, huh? Anyway.

I love this song—always felt a great kinship with the sentiment of it:

Frankly, I fall in love at first sight with everyone I’ve ever met—man, woman, or child. It’s not like I’m trying, that’s just the way it works for me. And, no, I’m not talking about some perverse, physical thing. But if you think that loving everyone indiscriminately is less anti-social than perversion, you just haven’t thought it through. I have, believe me, though it took a lot of years before I learned to pretend I’m just like everybody else. I don’t think of it as repressing myself. It’s just that it’s okay if I trust everybody and respect everybody and care about everybody—as long as I don’t let it show.

That’s one of the great things about having a family. I can love those guys without reservation and no one bats an eye. But loving your business associates, your casual acquaintances, your basic stranger—that’ll get you a punch in the face, one way or another, figuratively or literally.

I suppose I’m not that different from other people—everybody loves a disaster. I remember the big NYC blackout in ’76 (’78?) It was like a river-to-river block party. Whenever there’s an emergency, people throw off their reservation, almost with relief, and let their love spill out. Heroes, by and large, tend to be in a mystical, one-way lover’s suicide pact—giving themselves entirely for other people. It’s all about love—when it isn’t business as usual.

That must be why Eliot’s quote, “Humankind cannot bear very much reality” has always had a strong resonance in my thoughts. In emergencies and extremes, we bond like chimps, as the human animal is wont to do. But afterward, when things go back to normal, we start to get self-conscious and fidgety, we move apart, and re-wrap ourselves in the hard shells of society. We start to think, “What am I doing out in the street with my face covered in soot?” or something to that effect, and we head off to wash our face—and go back to being up-tight, cool, and very, very busy.

Perhaps that is what the mass media is tapping into. Perhaps we watch, hoping for disaster, so we can live with our hearts out for a little while—so we can say of our stupid jobs, “Hey, the hell with that.”—even for one day. But now that they have us hooked on potential freedom, i.e. sudden mayhem or disaster, they string us along by giving a microphone to the daffiest people they can find (mostly politicians and celebrities) and getting us all gabbing about trivial nonsense.

It wouldn’t be so bad if the ‘breaking news’ started from a place of maturity and intelligence and went downhill from there into the lying, the jeering, the backbiting, and the stonewalling. But today’s news starts from a place of moronic lunacy—and goes downhill from there. Not a good use of my time and attention. I know that. But if I stop watching, I might miss the next disaster. I wish they’d start a TV channel that gives us what we ought to have, instead of what we want. I know it wouldn’t make money—but that’s no reason to give up on a good idea.

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?

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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Bring It On   (2015Feb20)

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Friday, February 20, 2015                      9:56 AM

Looking at a possible record for coldest day today, I woke up, went to the kitchen and turned on the oven to 425 with the door open, turned on the plasma TV in the bedroom (plasma TVs act as space-heaters, which helps in winter, but is not so good in summer) and put the space heater on full blast in the foyer. It’s still pretty chilly in here, so I’m sitting at my PC with a scarf and Elmer-Fudd-hat on. The only way to warm my hands is by holding them over the open oven door, but then I’m breathing in the heat coming straight up at my head, so I can’t do it for long.

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Winter takes a lot out of a guy. Whenever I think of spring, I feel an overwhelming weariness at the thought of all the days between now and then, all the hours of chilled bones, stiff muscles, and runny noses. I hung one of those seed bells from a tree branch outside the window yesterday—I’ve been putting it off because it’s been too cold to run outside, but then I thought of how hard it must be for the birds to find food right now, so I forced myself to get out there and do it. I couldn’t tie a good knot with that nylon webbing they come in—I expect it to be on the ground, being gnawed at by squirrels, before the day is out. Even then, the birds will still get the small seeds that the squirrels leave behind, so it’s not a complete waste.

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I wish I could, with a snap of my fingers, hang ten of those things from squirrel-proof wires all around the property and just make our yard a bird’s winter paradise—but all that ladder work is problematical when there’s more than a foot of snow on the ground, so that will remain a fantasy. Tough luck, birds.

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I’m expecting a visitor or two today, but I won’t be surprised if no one shows up. It’s tempting to think of just going back to bed and calling the whole day a wash. Winter always makes me politically incorrect—there’s nothing sounds so good to me right now as ‘global warming’. Warming, did you say? Bring it on!

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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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So I’m An Idiot (2015Feb06)

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Friday, February 06, 2015                      9:08 AM

Tried to say something nice about someone yesterday—what an idiot I am—and what a hassle! In private, perhaps a kind word will land as intended—maybe even make someone feel good for a second. But I blog now—and it would do me well to remember that blogging is a public activity. First I should expect those very modern cretins, the paid post-bombers that jump on every post, trying to put their mindless filth into the first or second comment, just to poison the well. (Oh, how I appreciate their tireless efforts—and the wonderful job they do for all of us.) Next, I should expect lonely people, with too much time on their hands, to make nonsensical comments—confusing my words with their ignorance and misunderstanding—just to hear themselves type.

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Surprisingly, third comes my right-wing ‘friends’ whose comments are often informed (to some degree) and on point. I actually welcome a worthy opponent. I live for reasonable debate—it’s mother’s milk to me—but there’s always a fly in the soup with right-wingers. Some bit of madness is always nestled snugly in their mostly reasonable thought-processes—fundamentalism, the right to bear arms, charity is bad, etc. I do my best to avoid saying that someone is crazy stupid, but sometimes there’s just nothing else to be said.

Congresswoman Nita Lowey’s recent Facebook post said, “Weapons designed to shoot as many people as possible, as quickly as possible, do not belong on our streets. That’s why I co-sponsored the Large Capacity Ammunition Feeding Device Act that bans magazines holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. It’s time we listen to 90 percent of Americans who #SayNo2MoreAmmo.” Of course, this post quickly filled up with comments from gun enthusiasts—so I added a comment:

“Gun-owners make the world they live in. We, the unarmed, live in a world that must seem frighteningly vulnerable to gun nuts—but that is how civilized people live. If I had to live in their Quick-Draw-McGraw dreamscape, I wouldn’t be all that concerned about getting my head blown off—what a friggin nightmare…”

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And, of course, someone replied:

“Even people who do not wish to own guns benefit from a society in which the carry of firearms for self defense is completely legal and encouraged. A car jacker, mugger, convenience store robber, etc. does not know who is armed or not. The simple fact that there is a great chance that someone could POSSIBLY be armed and retaliate against them acts as a deterrent before one ever even considers committing such an act.”

To which I replied: “Nonsense. I don’t plan my life around car-jackers—neither should you.” But I get tired of these endless, pointless arguments with thoughtless morons. And it isn’t as though anyone’s mind is being changed—it’s just a bunch of unthinking people with set agendas, ‘rooting’ for their ‘teams’. Sometimes I have to agree with my wife, who refuses to join Facebook.

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But Facebook is small potatoes. Sometimes I want to just quit having any interest in politics, too—but even the crushing futility of American politics isn’t enough reason to leave the choosing of our government and laws exclusively to the yahoos. So I’m stuck. At least I don’t watch Fox News anymore—if I want pure fiction, I’ll read a novel. I heard they publicly apologized for one of their stupider remarks recently—way to pretend to be a real news service, Fox!

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The Great Man (2015Feb05)

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Thursday, February 05, 2015                          9:36 AM

President Obama has endured a great struggle during his time in office. Over the last six years, I have often been disturbed by the bitter acrimony and the seething resentment of his many detractors. But now I see that these attacks have ultimately succeeded in only one thing—serving as a background against which his extraordinary compassion and leadership stands out in stark contrast. Ordinarily, we are taught in school to allocate greatness to this person or that. With our president, we have had the opportunity to witness greatness and recognize it for ourselves.

His humor, his warmth, his coolheaded-ness under fire—I was just watching a YouTube video entitled “Obama’s Coolest Moments” and I was overwhelmed by the preponderance of examples where crazed, reactionary, mindless criticism was belied by his calm, cool, and sensible responses to every difficulty that arises. Like all great Americans, he simply wants America to live up to its promise, to realize its wildest dreams of freedom and justice. He does not oppose his enemies, only what they stand for. During a period when the majority of his defamers have made personal attacks, his responses have always been on message—never descending into the personal squabbling so popular in Washington.

With many politicians, the bloom will eventually fade from the rose—but I find myself admiring President Obama more with every passing year. The President who sings like Al Green, the baby-whisperer President, the President who kicks ass at a game of P-I-G (or P-O-T-U-S, as he plays it)—his personal quirks are endearing—although some try to characterize it as a cult of personality. To me, that aspect of him is far less sinister. He is simply an admirable person, a man whom power (for once) failed to turn into an asshole.

But while I enjoy his humor and grace, I focus more on his leadership. He gets on TV whenever there’s a problem—and he’s usually saying, “Hey, there’s a problem, but we are not going to start immediately bombing people—we’re going to find out what’s really going on, first.” I like that in a ‘Leader of the Free World’—I really do. And it’s such a nice change from the last guy. When it comes to sticky domestic issues, like the unpopular LGBT-rights movement, he plumps for Love over Hate, calm over panic, and humanity over business. It’s really quite strange, rooting for an ‘underdog’ who’s also the President, hoping against hope that the most powerful man in the world won’t be stymied at every turn by the forces of evil.

I’ve learned a lot from Obama, too. The last election was a real eye-opener—I learned that politicians, while they may be problematical, are not the primary problem. We are. Worse than the number of people who didn’t vote Democrat was the number of people who just didn’t vote, period. Obama did some great things—but imagine what he could have done with an engaged constituency.

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O–and, while I’m posting stuff:

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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I See What You Did There (2015Jan24)

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When I was young, I was one of those lucky people who saw their own capabilities as homogenous powers—I could see; I could hear; I could think; I could run and jump. What’s more, I had better-than-average capabilities in many of those categories—this was what seemed most important to me—at least, the better-than-average thinking part of it. What escaped my then-inexperienced awareness was what we all learn as we age—that our abilities have a spectrum.

I used to think I was lucky that I had sight where a blind person did not, or had hearing where the deaf have none. What I should have been thinking was I was lucky to be young and have youthful powers of sight and hearing.

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Eventually came the day I noticed that if I turned up the volume of my radio enough to hear the rhythm, I still couldn’t hear the bass; if I turned up the volume enough to hear the bass I still couldn’t hear all the individual notes; if I turned it up enough to hear all the individual notes I still couldn’t hear the timbres; and if I turned it up enough to hear the instruments’ timbres, I’d still need a touch more to hear the ambient sound of the recording. My hearing had levels. Who knew? Worse yet, once I’d reached that ‘complete’ volume, it was too loud for prolonged comfort, and I could only listen for so long before the violence of the volume outshone the beauty of the music. So at my age, hearing has become a choice of balance between audibility and endurance.

Vision, also, has revealed levels. I can clearly see the horizon at sundown, but if I look down I can’t see my hand in front of my face. (I was surprised to learn, long ago, that color drains with the light. As lighting becomes dimmer, our eyes perceive less of the information they use to process colors. This seemed unnatural to me on first hearing. But now it seems normal, with the understanding that ‘color’ is simply an overlay, of sorts, that our eyes and brains use to process color’s wavelengths. As the information supplied by dimmer lighting gives less data, the eyes revert to their most basic function—determining shapes and outlines.)

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Normally I walk around without any glasses. I have a different magnification for the glasses I use to read a book, to read sheet music at the piano, and to read and write on the screen of my PC—that’s three different pairs and they are not interchangeable. I also require a fourth, very hi-magnification pair that I go and find whenever I have to look at the fine print on a pill bottle or the like. This took some getting used to–I used to do all that with just my eyeballs. My night vision is kaput for driving. I’ve become an aficionado of good lighting—it’s amazing how much a bright light can enhance vision. On the other hand, I’ve lost the trick of walking outside on a sunny day without some sunglasses, and a visor on my hat. (The hat is just to protect my balding dome from UV-rays.) Extremes of any sensory input are as bad, or worse, than paucity—I’m more easily disoriented, and I lose what sense of balance I still have at the drop of a hat (or, more likely, the picking of it back up).

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No one tells kids this stuff. Maybe they do, and kids are simply incapable of hearing the truth in it—and they may need to be. Our brains don’t attain their mature form until well into young adulthood. The child-like brain-format, more open to risk-taking, less empathetic, and less sensitive to consequences, may be a requirement for the rigors of entering adulthood and for carving out a new niche for a self-sufficient member of society to live in. Once a toe-hold has been established, we old farts can settle for steadier brains that focus on stability, with half-an-eye out for potential growth.

But that’s Darwin’s bottom line talking—species continuity is best assured—oh yeah, that’s fine, species-wise. But that requires that a great scientist or artist do their best work before they turn twenty-four years of age. What, you thought it was just athletes? Sorry, pal. Newton, Darwin, Einstein, Gödel—you name the scientist—they all flared out with tremendous achievements in their youth. In their later years, at best, they brought mature consideration to the breadth of their initial breakthroughs—at worst, they flounder about with little or no results or, sadly, devolve into head cases.

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Artists and musicians experience the same game clock—create a great work with what remains of your child-like brain-form, and its attendant more-prolix imagination, or turn into an old fuddy-duddy, incapable of re-attaining the Olympian heights (and the fresher, more energetic yearnings and frustrations) of your more youthful brain-power. But don’t misunderstand me—age does not bring stupidity—it brings change. The brain needed by a child is different than the one that ensures a successful adult.

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That our younger brain-formats are better suited to making advancements in the arts and sciences—that, further, our adolescent brains, changing from the old format to the new, in a relatively chaotic brain-format, are at the optimum opportunity to think new thoughts and create new imaginings—is something we may well consider. Here we live in the chaos of exploding science and technological change, incessant media communication and information input, in a constant struggle over socialization, rules and boundaries (not to mention the rat-race for sheer survival). And our society, oddly enough, has begun to prize that same, golden age-demographic that enables such cursed-blessing chaos—where, once, it seemed obvious that our elders were the ones to whom we should turn for leadership.

Perhaps our least-mature adults are now best-suited to deal with the immaturity of the civilization we’ve built up. But, if we reject the present model due to its probably-suicidal short-sightedness, we see that maturity may be important to our long-term point-of-view. Imagine mature behavior in politicians. Imagine mature judgment being exercised in the running of multi-national corporations. Imagine if all the scientists in all the corporate research and development labs gave mature consideration to what they are doing, how they are doing it, and whether they should do what they’re thinking of doing. Imagine, if your head doesn’t explode, world leaders whose decisions were unfailingly, objectively humanitarian. Would they still make mistakes? Yes, they’d still be humans. The difference would be in the lag time between recognition of a problem and the implementation of a corrective policy.

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As things stand now, we could (and when I say we, I mean the human race in general) destroy the entire planet—by accident. Well, without meaning to, at least—and in several different ways. And that’s just the planet. We also have in the works several ways in which we make ourselves miserable, unnecessarily—and many of the worst examples are currently experiencing tremendous growth. Our social institutions have never been about what common sense tells us they should be about—everyone’s peaceful pursuit of freedom and happiness. They began as draconian systems of repression and inhumanity—and our history is a story of how we have tried to improve upon tyranny. Tyranny is, however, a tough nut to crack. Our social institutions still battle on many levels against partisanship, influence, theocracy, capitalism, xenophobia, and bullying in all its forms—and forward motion is by no means a given.

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Even a slight up-tick in manifest maturity amongst all the adults in the world would be a really good idea right about now. Yet I would be loath to start crowd-funding a World Maturity Drive just yet—the word ‘Maturity’ is as vulnerable to mangling as the words “Christianity’ or ‘Communism’ and there seems little point to adding another body to the mosh pit. O well. At least when the end finally comes, I won’t see or hear it nearly as clearly as those young bastards that brought it on….

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Still A Student (2015Jan24)

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Saturday, January 24, 2015                    11:07 AM

My experience of learning has taught me the futility of goal-seeking. When we learn mathematics in school, we do not come to a conclusion—we simply learn it well enough to move on to algebra, geometry, and trigonometry. Just as basic math teaches us how to ‘make change’, algebra and the rest teach us how to draw circles and measure for carpentry—but those subjects, like math, are not the end of the trail. They lead to calculus, set theory, analytical geometry, topology, etc. And these subjects, also, will yield immediate skills and insights (usually the reason for their creation—as when Newton invented The Calculus to work on the ‘per second per second’ aspect of Gravitational attraction) but they too are not the end of the trail.

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In fact, as mathematical skill reaches higher and higher levels, it also bifurcates into multiple new trails to be blazed—the trail never ends, it only broadens into the infinite, beckoning us to discover new topics and techniques in Mathematics. Paradoxically, to penetrate further into this infinite mathematical unknown, one must choose a specific aspect of the mathematical unknown and work upon only those specific complexities to make any headway into the sum total of human mathematical knowledge.

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Thus, we never ‘learn math’—we only learn a little more math. Math makes a clear example of this point, but it is true of all subjects. History can be learned in broad strokes, i.e. mankind had a prehistory, a stone age, an iron age, a bronze age, an industrial revolution, and a digital revolution—the end. Scholars can go into further detail, i.e. 15th century Europe had a feudal society, used gothic architecture, and played renaissance music, etc. Beyond that, we can study history by subject, i.e. the history of religion, the history of women, the history of science, etc.—we can even study it individually, through biographies and autobiographies—or more subtly, as in the daily life of people during the Reformation, or the history of minority religious groups and the extent of their persecution by the majority.

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Still, in history as in math (or any other subject) we can never ‘learn history’; we can only learn a little more history. If we had a video history of every individual who ever lived, we still wouldn’t know it all—we might need two-camera coverage, or three or more camera angles to get the full story—and that’s ignoring the impossibility of any one person having the time to watch the billions of video biographies of everyone who ever lived.

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That’s why I have trouble with quotes like the following: “Only when we love ourselves fully and forgive all the people and experiences that have caused us pain….can we truly heal and find inner peace.” – from “Walking Home” by Sonia Choquet. Such sentiments intimate that there is, in fact, an end to all our studies; that we do have the capacity to come to a full understanding of something, of anything. Forgiveness is a fine idea, but it is difficult, to say the least, when we remember that forgiveness rarely comes without understanding, and full understanding of other people is just as messy a proposition as full understanding of say, Mathematics—it ain’t happening.

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Likewise, we cannot love ourselves fully without curtailing our curiosity about who we really are. To accept something as it is, even ourselves, requires us to put an end to our efforts to analyze ourselves—could we love ourselves fully without overlooking any potential failings or corruptions that we are not yet aware of? No. If we are to accept ourselves, we must cease to study ourselves—enforced ignorance in the name of inner peace.

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Don’t get me wrong. This is not a bad thing. I have experienced brief moments of inner peace myself—it does come with acceptance of what is, without full understanding of what that is is. But that doesn’t make ‘inner peace’ an end-point—it makes it a respite from reality. I can experience inner peace for as long as I’m able to maintain a stillness of mind that accepts what is, without understanding. But no one walks through life with their brain turned off—eventually, we find ourselves with the brain turned back on, curious, unsatisfied, mystified—and the game resumes. Goodbye inner peace—you were just a time-out, after all.

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Can inner peace be an end-point for some people? Yes—if that’s all they want from life, then by all means—but not for me. I prefer the peace-less-ness of constant inquiry. To me, a mind that ceases to explore the unknown is a mind that has ceased to function—and while mine will certainly do so, one day, it will never be because I have chosen to turn it off.

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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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Review: “All Is by My Side” (2015Jan15)

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(Just out on VOD:)

Jimi: All Is By My Side” (2013)  [originally “All Is By My Side”] 118 mins.

(A drama based on Hendrix’s life as he left New York City for London, where his career took off.)

Director, Screenplay: John Ridley

Starring: André Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots

This bio-pic was fittingly obtuse in some ways, hard to follow—not unlike its subject. I’ve never been quick on the uptake—much of my favorite music is music I disliked on first hearing—and Hendrix certainly falls into that category. But the funny thing is that I appreciate and enjoy Hendrix more with age—and having seen this movie (and allowing for its being a cinematic work rather than a reference work, but nonetheless) I think Hendrix was too prolix and light-heartedly free in his music for the age of the super-serious, socially-conscious music stars such as The Beatles and Bob Dylan. That was certainly my youthful problem with him—so maybe I’m just projecting.

But being unlimited in what he could do with a guitar, his penchant for musical playfulness, flights of fancy, and unabashed abrogation of anyone and everyone else’s songs, styles, and techniques was to be expected. He was a virtuoso in a time after the recognition of virtuosity. His newer age had ‘discovered’ that emotional depth and spirit outdid pure expertise every time, but we (I was a way-too-serious ten-year-old on Long Island during Hendrix’s year in London) may have overlooked the fact that some virtuosi, such as Mozart or Chopin, were expert musicians as a side-effect of their unbounded talent and artistry—as was (is?) the case with Hendrix.

My confusion with tenses needs explaining—it’s just that musicians may die, but in our time, music lives forever; and it’s hard to separate the person and their music. If, when listening to Hendrix’s recording of Dylan’s “All Along The Watchtower”, I lose myself inside Hendrix’s performance, is he not alive? But, that’s my issue—so I leave it here.

In my youth, there was a compulsion among some of my peers to analyze the lives of their musical heroes—as if the biographical data, no matter how trivial, always gave greater insight into the music they so revered. I was never reverential about anything—I was raised to ‘show respect’, which I quickly learned meant speaking and acting in such a way as to avoid getting beat up or killed, so I reserve my true respect for very few things, and even fewer people. I suppose those music-obsessive friends of mine bothered me because they were the exact opposite—too quick to give their respect, unthinkingly and completely.

But in this movie, which covers a pivotal, but single year in the life and career of Jimi Hendrix, I was shown that biography can indeed be a powerful way of granting insight into, if not the music, certainly the musician. How effective it is for those who only know the sixties second-hand, I can’t say—but that is neither the filmmakers’ nor my problem. I didn’t require the big-picture, historical back-fill—and I was tickled by all the little details, drenched with significance by their connection to his more broad-cast iconography.

André Benjamin does a great job, although I was given pause by one aspect of his performance. He depicts Jimi Hendrix as a thoughtful, gentle, infinitely peaceful dude—but then, in one scene (and I assume it’s historically accurate) his character, in a sudden rage, repeatedly smashes his girlfriend’s face with one of those old pay-phone phone-receivers—she ends up hospitalized. Now, either Mr. Benjamin, or Mr. Ridley, or someone—did a little image-buffing here, or there was a far more physical side to Jimi Hendrix than we see in the course of this film, outside of that one scene.

And it is remarkable that Hendrix’s past is well-indicated, that his childhood was not an easy one, nor his father quick to give approval (or able to) while also depicting his on-screen self, the product of that environment, as very self-contained, almost demurring. He is shown to be unusually sensitive, it’s true, and unstable in some ways, but extreme sensitivity, raised in a harsh environment, rarely produces the o-so-civil young adult portrayed through most of the film. But now I’m just spouting—is it the film, the history, or my own assumptions that raise the issue? Anyway, it just stuck out as a question, to me, plus I was shocked by the sudden savagery—which distracted me from the film. Is that too critical?

All in all, I was swept up by the experience (if you’ll pardon the pun). I won’t say I enjoyed it, because the story of Jimi Hendrix is not a happy story with a happy ending—and I do love happy endings. Based-on-fact films, however, are not famous for predictable, tied-in-a-bow endings—and I watch them for engagement and education, more than mere enjoyment. And “All Is By My Side” certainly succeeds in that sense.

Brrr! (2015Jan09)

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Friday, January 09, 2015                        1:42 PM

So ends the first work-week of 2015. Not that I’m employed, but I follow along. It’s cold—everywhere. Whatever happened to Florida or California (or Syria, for that matter) being warm in winter? It’s even colder, psychologically speaking, in Paris right now—attacks on freedom of speech and violent anti-Semitism makes it hard to feel the warmth of humanity.

An Islamic apologist makes the point that Muslims act differently in different countries, that, for instance, female genital mutilation is practiced in Christian countries, too, and that it is a characteristic of African countries, not Muslim ones. And it occurs to me that Islam predominates in the under-developed world, where ‘Christianity-lite’ or outright Agnosticism predominates in the developed world. A case could be made for poverty, ignorance, and lack of good government being the true source of most terrorism—but that only means the Muslims should be the most pro-active in distancing Islam from these bad actors.

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However, the unhappy truth is that large numbers of Muslims applaud the attacks on modern civilization, i.e. the Great Satan, America, and its allies, and like-minded countries. And is America innocent?—of course not. Some of the activities of our government make me ashamed to call myself an American—but no country is perfect, and America has a great deal to be proud of. More importantly, America has the ability to recognize its own mistakes, and to change. Considering our place in the world, I think it’s obvious that working out our problems is preferable to burning the place down and beheading everybody.

But my personal problem is that I’m against religion of any kind. How tempting it is to hold up these terrorists as an example of how dangerous and ignorant religion is. The suppression of women, the persecution of gays, and other religion-based ignorance, is nearly as common in the developed world as it is in the rest of the planet. But violence is common to fundamentalists and atheists alike—and the raising of children to be adults capable of cold-blooded murder is the real problem. Religion is just the nail some of us hang it on.

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Ending poverty and illiteracy would do more to eliminate violence than any other action we could take. Warring against religions because of their specific violence can only make more violence. I saw a hopeful slogan today on a Humanists Facebook post, “Humanity before Creed”. I like it, but in our present environment, I anticipate that theists will take exception.

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Warning Signs (2015Jan08)

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Thursday, January 08, 2015                             3:31 PM

Madness is a part of life. We are all mad, to some extent. But the only time we call someone ‘mad’ in earnest and lock them up is when a person manifests a danger to themselves or others—and even this is not entirely the case, if you consider the dangers represented by certain politicians and businesspeople, not to mention gang-members and organized criminals. Even the slip-shod mechanic who neglects to tighten the bolts on your new tires is, to some degree, a public danger.

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So most of us are let loose upon the public, willy-nilly—hell, I could even run for elected office, if I wanted, and possibly become responsible for a whole town or county—talk about madness. But my unsuitability would stem from incompetence. The majority of elected officials are unsuitable for far darker reasons—reasons having to do with human nature, and with the connection between wanting to be ‘in charge’ and the type of person that wants that.

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But a touch of Napoleon Complex isn’t the end of the world. Outside of elected offices, we deal with such people all the time—they are often behind a counter, or teaching a class, or patrolling the neighborhood. Martinets are a fact of life. Having a touch of the compulsive, myself, I’m tempted to give them a pass.

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Then there are people who don’t care for children or animals—but even that is understandable. As both a parent and a pet-owner, I’ve experienced occasional annoyance at both kids and pets—so I can easily see where someone with a short fuse might well have difficulty appreciating the little darlings.

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So let’s agree that people can have a multitude of perhaps disagreeable inclinations or personality quirks and still merit the label ‘sane’. However, I occasionally run across a person who sends a chill down my spine—a person in whom I fail to detect a minimum level of what I would call humanity. These are people who slip through the cracks, using the variable standards we must have for personalities as cover for attitudes that are beyond the pale. I’m sure you’ve met them, too—the surprise white supremacist, the callous misogynist, the over-the-top fundamentalist—people who shock us with the nightmarish implications of their casual comments—people who, given responsibility for any group or organization, will make of that group a hell on earth—or use that group to spread hatred and violence.

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There are some warning signs. Today, a friend of mine shared the following quote on Facebook: “François Rabelais invented a number of neologisms that have since entered the French and other languages, but one of his words has been forgotten, and this is regrettable. It is the word agélaste; it comes from the Greek and it means a man who does not laugh, who has no sense of humour. Rabelais detested the agélastes. He feared them. He complained that the agélastes treated him so atrociously that he nearly stopped writing forever.”  — Milan Kundera

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Thus we have warning sign number one: no sense of humor. Don’t misunderstand—these people will laugh—everybody laughs—but they are only amused by the slapstick of human tragedy. Perhaps ‘wit’ is a fitter word for what they lack—one can imagine that ‘a sense of humor’ is an aspect of intelligence, the mechanism by which we recognize unpalatable truths, even about ourselves. People who lack a sense of humor will be generally constipated, emotionally—they won’t dance or play games, and they’ll be squeamish about intimacy. Somehow, they don’t stop at merely lacking this form of insight—they’ll usually react against it in others—which is what makes this a top warning sign for ‘inhuman humans’.

The second warning sign is expressed in one of my favorite quotes from the Bard:

“The man that hath no music in himself,

Nor is not mov’d with concord of sweet sounds,

Is fit for treasons, stratagems, and spoils;

The motions of his spirit are dull as night,

And his affections dark as Erebus:

Let no such man be trusted.

—Mark the music.”

— Wllm. Shakespeare “The Merchant of Venice” Scene V, Act I

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One sees this aspect in very few people—music appreciation is pretty basic, as human attributes go—which makes it all the more chilling in the few that truly feel no response to the temptations of music. Unlike those with no sense of humor, the unmusical don’t really manifest their failing in any practical way—it is simply an indication that some basic connection to the rest of humankind is missing from a person’s psyche.

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Unfortunately, the third warning sign is one we see the most of—blood-thirsty fundamentalism. Most of us recognize that our spiritual lives are, at their core, personal journeys, interior workings-through of what our lives mean to each of us. The fundamentalist wants to put these spiritual workings-through on a worldly stage, making a life-and-death chess-match out of something they haven’t the subtlety to recognize as a personal struggle. They suffer no cognitive dissonance due to the joining of something as ethereal as faith with something as cold and concrete as murder.

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Here’s an example from today’s discussion of the murder of cartoonists in Paris. In a USA Today article, this unbelievable cretin, Anjem Choudary, wrote, “So why in this case did the French government allow the magazine Charlie Hebdo to continue to provoke Muslims, thereby placing the sanctity of its citizens at risk? It is time that the sanctity of a Prophet revered by up to one-quarter of the world’s population was protected.

This scum is suggesting that the murder was bound to be committed by some devout Muslim, sooner or later—and that the real problem is that the cartoonists’ work should have been against the law. And he has the lady-balls to suggest that such legislation, now, is the correct response to this tragedy. Why do wackos like him get their idiocy printed up in a national newspaper? Has the sensationalizing of journalism made newspapers champions of the ignorant and amoral? Do I have to ask?

Now you know how to spot evil people. No music, no laughter, or a tendency to confuse sanctity with sociopathic behavior. These are their ‘tells’—run if you see them.

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On Whose Authority? (2015Jan07)

I was frustrated by the senseless violence in Paris today, as can be seen by the essay below. But, just to lighten things up a bit, here’s an improv, too….

 

“At Least 11 Killed in Shooting Attack on Paris Newspaper”

– The New York Times

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Wednesday, January 07, 2015                        11:05 AM

On Whose Authority?

In France today an editor and many contributing cartoonists of a satirical magazine were the target of Muslim extremists with AK-47s. Their offices had been bombed by the same people in 2011. These French terrorists have also been increasingly violent towards Jewish communities in the area. One is tempted to wonder what it is about Islam that makes it such a tempting badge for psychopathic, cold-blooded murderers? But one must remember that such behavior is just under the surface of Christianity and Judaism, as well. All three major faiths are really just variations on Western Monotheism, i.e the Judeo-Christian-Muslim heritage of Western Civilization. Between the Crusades and other Holy Wars, the Inquisitions, the Wars of the Reformation, the Nazi’s ‘Final Solution’, and the burning of ‘witches’, there is an ugly history of religion-based bloodshed, war, and genocide. The modern ‘Muslim’ terrorist is just the latest in a long line.

These wretches are not terrorists who become Muslims—they are Muslims who are weaponized by the Imams who lead their sects. Like all religious killers, they are authorized (and, to varying degrees, directed) by their leaders. Their targets are likewise based on threats to Authority—which puts cartoonists at the top of their hit list. Being laughed at has always maddened the puffed-up egos that dare to claim they speak for God. ‘Sharia Law’ is another example—the opposite of ‘separation of church and state’, Sharia Law states that no earthly authority can supersede the words of the Imam—as if some jerk in a kaftan is more in tune with the wishes of the Universe than any cop or judge or legislator.

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We are no better. Our ongoing struggle against gay rights, and against the self-determination of women, shows the same tendency to ignore common sense in the face of Authority. Anyone with any sense can see that being gay is not a choice—the only choice gay people have is whether or not to be honest about themselves in public. And any man who believes he has more insight into pregnancy than a woman is an idiot. Only blind adherence to comforting Authority allows such hateful stupidity to persist. Otherwise, these Christian conservatives would use their heads and their hearts to understand and embrace the rights and freedoms of others.

We wonder how the Republicans, who seem to have it in for the human race, could have won both houses in last year’s election, when they are so dysfunctional, so corrupt, and so ignorant. But that question answers itself—the more ignorant and capricious a leader is, the stronger their authority seems. The Democrats offer benign leadership, while the GOP has a tendency to tell us to shut up and do what we’re told—of course we vote for the assholes—they’re the strongest-seeming leaders. More importantly, they absolve us from the responsibility of thinking for ourselves. Freedom is frightening—a true American lives on the knife-edge of responsibility. Like Spiderman, he or she cannot have the enormous power of freedom without accepting the enormous burden of responsibility.

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Unfortunately, such responsibility requires education, engagement, and civic awareness—and not everybody lucky enough to be born here is capable of upholding these standards. We now have a population wherein those who cry most loudly about “The American Way” are the same people who flee from any of the difficulties inherent in maintaining our standing as a bastion of freedom. Plus, there are a vast number of us who confuse American with Wealthy—people for whom money is the greatness on which we are founded. They forget (or never knew) that America’s emergence as a land of wealth was a consequence of our freedoms, not their source. But let’s stay on track for now.

For years I have avoided criticism of Christianity in deference to my friends who take solace and meaning from it, who raise their children by it, and who find in religion a way of life. After all, there is much good to be found in faith, particularly in the teachings of Jesus. But the Judeo-Christian-Muslim tradition of Faith is also an unflinching supporter of Authority. And because Faith eschews Facts, religious authorities can justify, rationalize, and perpetrate any crime, any violence. “In the name of God” becomes synonymous with “Because I said so”.

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If we look back into history, we see that monarchs operated on the same basis. Monarchies were a working system—so they could say, “If it ain’t broke, why fix it?” When more-enlightened rulers sat on thrones, they could take credit for the good works they did—and when despots made things worse, they could kill any critics. Religion, likewise, is a very good thing when it is used for good by good people—and unassailable when it causes evil. Their similarities are due to the similarity in Authority. Whenever people in charge are left to their own justifications, we get pot-luck—good things from the rare, good leaders, and evil from the far more numerous, perverted ones. In that sense, religion is as obsolete and corrupt as monarchy.

So how do we take the good things from religion and eliminate the bad? Can we believe in a beneficent creator, an afterlife, and purposeful living, without believing in priests, imams, and preachers? That depends. If our intention is to look behind the veil of existence to find meaning, then it is possible. But I fear that for most people, religion is a security blanket to protect us from the cold, practical reality of the infinite universe—their search is for safety, not meaning. In that fear for their safety, they surrender themselves to any Authority that pretends the universe is on their side, no matter how messed up and violent the practices of that religion.

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The temptation to invoke religious authority is so strong that it may be impossible to have religion without it—it is certainly impossible with the old religions we now have, ancient faiths with their roots deep in our authoritarian past. Our founding fathers’ concerns over religion were based on their perception of Religion being, like the English king, a source of empty, non-representative, and divisive Authority. Much as I would like to overlook the failings of religion for the sake of those for whom it is a positive, it’s threat to our modern civilization, as indicated by today’s attack, makes that an irresponsible weakness on my part.

However, my feelings for or against are beside the point. The world we live in is suffused with religion, and with religious authority. The fact that they’ll kill anyone who laughs at them means that we must take every opportunity to hold them up to ridicule. The fact that they are incapable of laughing at themselves makes them dangerously narcissistic—not to mention lacking a sense of humor, which makes them ugly, stupid people, in my opinion.

Eastern philosophies see Good and Evil as counterparts, as a balancing of opposites to form the whole of existence. Our Western-influenced insistence that we increase the Good and try to eliminate the Evil shows a total lack of understanding of human nature. Even more ignorant is our predilection to give Authority to one who is presumed to represent Good, one who is devoid of Evil—there is no such person. The fact that, as a society, we are unable to learn this basic truth renders this entire essay a waste of time. But I don’t mind—it gives me something to do while I try not to think about the savage, animal bloodshed that is the hallmark of all true believers.

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