Stuck in the Snow   (2017Feb27)

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Monday, February 27, 2017                                             11:29 AM

I’m tired of discussing it. I’ve been in meetings with people I respected, people who knew what they were talking about—and still, at some point you reach a time when you just get tired. How much more tiring it is to have an argument (I won’t dignify them as ‘discussions’) with someone who is speaking from an emotional, partisan obstinacy.

They trot out their syllogisms, their zingers, their disdain for other points-of-view, their outrage, hurt pride, and puffed chests—the tools of those for whom reason holds no fascination—just a lurking fear that calm, sensible thought will prove them wrong, and a blindness to their emotional attachment to maintaining the wrong, if that’s the case.

It reminds me of a story. I was hitchhiking on I-684 in a snowstorm, coming back north from a visit to a friend in White Plains. Four guys in a real boat of a seventies car picked me up. Their friendliness was greater than their care for their automobile, for the windshield-wipers weren’t working and the driver was trying to reach out his window and wipe the snow from the windshield as he drove.

Traffic moves right along on 684—we must have been doing sixty when the driver’s attention to the windshield caused him to stop paying attention to the road and he went onto the shoulder. The shoulder had deeper snow, and so pulled the car further off the road—the steering wheel, at this point in the snowstorm, had become more a suggestion than an instruction.

Soon we were basically sleigh-riding the car through a field full of saplings by the side of the highway—shearing their tops off as the car’s inertia plowed us unerringly towards some older trees—trees with trunks that would put a quick stop to even the largest vehicle. The car, luckily, slowed to a stop just a few feet in front of one such tree. We all breathed a sigh of relief that we hadn’t met the tree, and piled out to try to push the car back from the tree and towards the road again.

The car wouldn’t budge. We pushed and pushed and nothing happened. I got down on the ground and looked under the car. I could see that we had sheared off a healthy sapling’s trunk and the base of the young tree was not only jammed up into the carriage, but bent towards the larger tree we had just avoided smashing into. Five men with slippery shoes in the snow would have had a tough time moving the car had it been free to roll. But this was five men trying to push a car hard enough to uproot a small tree—while pushing a car.

I tried to explain the physics to my kind travelers—but I couldn’t express myself clearly enough to make them understand that we would have to literally lift the car off the ground to extract it from the spot it was in—I couldn’t even get them to look under the car, as I had. They wanted me to continue helping them try to push the car.

At the time, I felt more stuck by my inability to get through to my new friends than by the car being physically, inextricably stuck where it was. I’m not an alpha-male—I’m not the assertive sort—when I say things, I don’t shout or insist—I just say them. It never fails to surprise me that no one ever listens—it’s not like I’m wrong all the time—and you’d think people would notice that, right? But, no—no one ever says, “Hey, we better listen to Chris—he’s usually right.” I only got noticed when I made a mistake. In that way, I’ve always identified with Hillary Clinton—the smartest person in whatever room she’s in, but the last person anyone wants to hear from—and just let her make one little slip….

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Of course this was all long ago, back when I had a pretty sharp mind—I’m wrong all the time these days—I live in a fog. Yet, I still see some things that seem obvious, even in my fog, that I simply can’t believe others don’t see clearly. I still get exhausted trying to argue with people who don’t think about what they’re saying, just saying whatever seems like a ‘good argument’ or a clever rebuttal—and fuck the big picture.

And I’ve found that most people are not at all stupid—even the Trump supporters are not as stupid as one would expect a Trump-supporter would have to be to support Trump. They don’t lack intelligence. They lack respect. They don’t respect reason—because they’re afraid of it—maybe having a hard time in school taught them that logic is not their friend—I don’t know. They don’t respect themselves—and that pushes them to reject any show of respect for people that know what they’re talking about—or even for the subject under discussion. Most Trump-support boils down to self-loathing, turned outwards towards the rest of the world. They’re basically saying, “I’m gonna make an ass of myself—and you can’t stop me, because I voted for the king of the ignoramuses—and idiocy is in charge now.

The Russians support Trump. Bannon is a confessed anarchist who wants to destroy the government. Conway got so used to lying she tried to give it a name: ‘alternative facts’. At least ten of Trump’s hires since inauguration have been expelled due to unfitness. And Trump has claimed that a free press is the enemy of the people—if I was crook and a liar, I’d say the same thing. The Republicans—jeez, these scumbags—whenever one of them opens their mouths, I want to shoot’em for treason. How do these trolls get elected—are their constituents in a coma? What? I just don’t get it—and boy, am I tired of pushing this car.

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Losing The Argument   (2016Dec10)

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Saturday, December 10, 2016                                           9:56 PM

Have you ever argued with someone who is wrong? Have you noticed that they are just as sure of being right as you are, even though they are wrong? And here’s the funniest thing of all—when we realize that we’ve been arguing for the wrong side, when we suddenly see the other side of the argument as correct—oh, what a symphony of confusion, embarrassment, and frustration we go through, how we choke on the gall of it. Some people get so upset that they just stalk off, pissed. I always make a point of swallowing that mistake and facing up to being the idiot that lost the argument.

We all are the idiot, eventually, at one time or another. There’s little use in pretending we are the one person who’s always right—that person doesn’t exist. And I firmly believe the most important part of an argument is not letting the argument itself become the point of conflict. In truth, when I lose an argument to someone, I eventually come to accept that I have learned something I didn’t know. I may never have the grace to be grateful for that, but I concede to myself that I should be.

Don’t get me wrong—I love to win an argument. But my motives are based on my belief that I’m thinking clearly about a problem, avoiding the temptation to ‘bend’ things in favor of my personal preferences—or my desire to be the ‘winner’ of the argument. I force myself to concede the other’s point, when a point is valid—sportsmanship is as important in argument as it is in sports—perhaps more so.

When arguing, it is good to cite reliable sources for one’s information. And that becomes a problem in the modern world—when something like ‘Fox News’ becomes a source for false information, the argument quickly devolves into a sub-argument about the validity of one’s sources. The reverse is also true—when an asshole like Trump tries to invalidate actual sources, such as The New York Times.

Trump is the champion of the dull and the easily-swayed—and he has spawned a whole counter-culture of people who imagine their own truth, outside of the popular, ‘observable’ variety. They believe in argument shorn of either sportsmanship or sources—argument where denying facts need only be shouted louder and longer than the opponent’s words to become ‘fact’, where talking about something else is the answer to uncomfortable, undeniable facts. Kelly Conway has made a career of this kind of argument, if you can call her rantings argument.

I’m sorry, KellyAnne, but if your mind is incapable of conceding anything said by your opponent, you’re not really arguing—you’re cheerleading. That’s all well and good at a ballgame, but it gets rather threadbare and feeble when it comes up against real life. Every time you ‘win’ an argument on TV, you’re making the whole country that much stupider—and for what? Let me tell you—I wasn’t always this way—I had a penchant for willful contrariness myself, once upon a time—but you can only juggle logic for so long before it bites you in the ass. I found that out—and you will too. Time is the great teacher.

Afterword: I nearly forgot my main point—which is this: You can have arguments all day long, but unless someone wins, it’s all a big waste of time. And if you haven’t changed a person’s mind, you haven’t won the argument. Even if you did succeed in making them feel hurt or sad or angry, you’ve still wasted your time. Miracles do happen—a person might change your mind, instead—and even that—even losing the argument (and maybe learning something) is time better spent than simply arguing with no end.

Playing Grown-Up   (2016Oct08)

Saturday, October 08, 2016                                              2:00 PM

What a roller-coaster of emotions. Initially, of course, disgust and mind-boggle-ment. Then an unattractive glee over this ethical implosion (but we were so frightened he might become our president—you really can’t blame us). Then back to disgust—but this time, over the fact that our politics have come to this. Then an overwhelming sense of relief—as in ‘he can’t win now.’ Then a chill of worry—after all, his cult following isn’t going to care—their support has no relation to judgement. Then ‘self-reassurance’, because he can’t win with just his existing base of zealots.

I’m positively dizzy with disorientation. But, as Rachel Maddow says, “You are awake. You are not dreaming. This is really happening.” I’ve long since stopped thinking about Trump at all—it became painfully clear that the problem is in the vast numbers of voters who see him as presidential material. People like Trump (and Trump himself) have always been there—but they’ve never had a shot at the presidency before. People have never been accepting of such a filthy, perverted creep before. Sure, there was Nixon—but he had the presence of mind to hide his lack of character as well as he could, not to revel in it.

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But let’s not overlook Julian Assange completely—he has waited for the perfect moment to drop his ‘bomb’ on the Clinton campaign. Well, the Billy Bush video kinda messed up that timing—but even without it, we are hard-pressed to understand how he could have thought Hillary’s speeches to businesses would destroy her. I’ve read what he leaked—it’s all pretty reasonable stuff, assuming your life is not dedicated to despising Hillary Clinton.

We are mature enough to watch Trump’s damning video—surely then, we’re mature enough to grapple with the paradox of democracy. An elected official needs to present themselves so as to be elected—if the right thing to do is unpopular, you only talk about it in private. That’s the crux of what is revealed about Hillary in this latest leak—small potatoes compared to the revelations about Trump’s character (or total absence thereof).

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The truth is—I don’t really know enough about international trade agreements to gainsay the people whose job it is to formulate such things. I do know that Europe has seen borderless-ness as a goal for generations—a sign that civilized people can live side by side without armed guards and walls. In examining their history, we may find ourselves embarrassed to be fixated on so bad an idea as a Big Wall. It’s a really stupid idea—and in so many ways.

I’m so desperately hoping this election comes out right—democracy has shat the bed twice, recently—first with Brexit, then again with the Columbians voting ‘No’ to peace with the FARC. It would be nice if the cradle of democracy could score one for the good guys. My nerves have had it.

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Catchphrases work well as political tools, but they are worthless as policy. If NAFTA is unfair, we should modify it until it is fair. Killing it is a simple idea—but rather simple-minded, if we remember that there were reasons why NAFTA was created. TPP is neither good or bad, either—it is an agreement, which can be changed if it is unfair. And, our experience with NAFTA will tell us what problems to look out for.

In the same way, the Affordable Care Act was a vital bill—that has been revealed to be flawed. Now, we can throw it in the trash—bumping 20,000,000 people off of health insurance—or we can modify the bill to be fair and economically feasible. Legislation and Trade Agreements are complex works which can be modified when faulty—but in using them as political footballs, we reduce the question to ‘live or die?’ We don’t want to trash these things—we want to tweak them until they work. You don’t fix a computer by taking a hammer to it.

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The Republicans are slippery on this—sometimes their objections are that the bill doesn’t work, sometimes their objections are that ‘socialized medicine’ is bad. In the end, they conflate both arguments, and say that we have to repeal Obamacare. Not that we have to fix it. And honestly, everyone knows that the Insurance Lobby blocked the single-payer-option because it makes the industry more competitive—and everyone knew that blocking the single-payer-option would make the bill a nonsensical mish-mash. They don’t want to fix the bill, now, for the same reason they fought the bill’s passing.

Tomorrow night’s debate should be fascinating. I hope Hillary knows that she’s already won—she should take it easy, not for his sake, but just because she’s gracious in victory. Then again—let’em have it—he’s earned it. Making us all look bad—grumble, grumble…..

Sex Matters   (2016Sep29)

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Thursday, September 29, 2016                                        3:20 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Thirty Years   (2016Sep27)

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Tuesday, September 27, 2016                                                    11:27 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Questions, anyone?

 

Exam   (2016Aug30)

Tuesday, August 30, 2016                                                 12:24 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Racists Have Feelings, Too   (2016Aug26)

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Friday, August 26, 2016                                           12:08 PM

Racists Have Feelings, Too   (2016Aug26)

Trump is a product of the reality-TV movement—in his world, Simon Cowell could insult, demean, and destroy a little girl’s or boy’s lifelong dream—and it was all a part of the show. The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat—an unavoidable feature of sports—now available as social interaction! Those voted off of American Idol, or ‘You’re Fired’ by Trump, would staunch their tears as they walked off, to mouth obligatory approval of their own dismissal, and the good judgment of Cowell or Trump—because that was still part of the performance. It’s all show-biz—no harm, no foul.

This suited Trump’s persona well—he’s an unfeeling sort. Being capricious, overbearing and cruel towards others—and far from being criticized, as you or I would be, but rewarded with big ratings—suits him down to a ‘T’. His romp through the Republican primaries was just more of the same—though the GOP curated their base to include many who confuse reality TV with reality—and it seemed, for one brief, horrifying moment, that his inertia would carry him into the White House.

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That his campaign is being shredded in the national one-on-one with a cogent, serious opponent is cause for pride amongst American voters, and no little shame for the GOP, to have the Tea-Party portion of their base be so shamefully exposed as insensitive mouth-breathers who see a kindred spirit in the Donald. His promise to eject millions of Mexicans from our country—and build a big wall to keep them out—had his faithful near hysteria with joy. His promise to ban Islam was just the cherry on top.

When we look more closely, we see that we’re talking about persecuting huge numbers of Americans, along with the ‘bad ones’, and that most Americans are not comfortable with a complete reversal of our traditions of equality and fairness. Good for us—wouldn’t it be tragic if our two-centuries-plus of idealism could have been squashed virtually overnight by an ignorant celebrity?

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And now, while Trump engages us in a hypocritical debate over who is a bigot, we all ignore the Native Americans protesting the invasion of an oil pipeline through their land. Our original sin of genocide returns to us, over and over, resuming its place in our present—because the original target of white bigotry is still getting shafted, even today. The urban pockets with decaying schools, without access to fresh, healthy foods, with landlords who feel no compulsion to repair their tenements—these dead-traps for minorities have persisted for decades. But they are still spanking-new issues compared to our ongoing persecution of our nation’s original residents.

Trumpeting his new-found tolerance and pity for non-whites at all-white rallies is Donald’s way of staying in his comfort zone—but he may find that he prefers an audience of color once it sinks in to his most zealous advocates that, like the rest of what Trump says, he didn’t really mean it about deporting all the Mexicans, American-citizen children and all.

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They supported him because, like him, they are insensitive to the suffering of others—their hate trumps their love—and they want America to show strength by being cruel. Their fear and hatred of having a woman control their lives has been slow-baked into them by the same parents, preachers, and culture that convinced them of the superiority of the light-skinned and the absolute need to carry a gun at all times. But bottom line, most of them are not financially secure themselves, and resent any comfort to the poor while they struggle to avoid their own poverty.

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Such people’s hatred of Hillary Clinton is a steady-state thing, they do it nightly at a bar or watching FOX-News at home—but this bait-and-switch of Donald’s just might rouse them to active hatred. Donald once joked light-heartedly about Hillary and her liberal SCOTUS nom-pick—“maybe the second amendment people can take care of that”—well, let’s hope he doesn’t find out that such things cut both ways. Calling together the most iron-hearted misanthropes in the country under a banner of law-and-order, only to turn around and say, “I was being sarcastic” is not the safest thing I can imagine.

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Substituting brash statements for policies has been a winning strategy so far for the Donald. It matches well with his total absence of experience. While he can snipe at a multitude of choices and missteps in Hillary’s long career, he offers no complementary points of attack upon himself. That might have worked, had Donald, like most villains, not had the seeds of his own destruction already within him.

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But policies can be re-worked, modified, changed in detail while leaving the message intact. Trump’s bold statements may not have been policies, but his supporters certainly took them as such. Having a policy of deportation would have allowed some wiggle-room, but the simple statement, “We’ll deport 11,000,000 people” is difficult to walk back, especially if your constituency has set their hearts on that promise. The fact that the majority of Americans see that as impractical and inhumane means that he has to court them with a ‘softening’ of his stance—yet he cannot ‘soften’ on the one thing his existing base agrees on—not without betraying them.

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So Trump has finally retreated to the political landscape of policies—and solved this paradox by having a policy ‘in flux’, i.e. he’s pleasing everybody by saying nothing definite. But there is an even greater danger for him in adopting a policy approach. Just as he left it until after his ignorant interviews to bone up on geopolitics; just as he left it until 75 days before the election to learn about minorities; he is switching to policy-planning virtually on the eve of debating Hillary Clinton. I would quake with fear to face Hillary Clinton in public to debate policy—and I’m a fairly informed person, unlike Trump. I almost feel sorry for him. But his would-be supporters won’t.

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Think Fast—Too Slow! (2016Jun25)

Saturday, June 25, 2016                                           5:40 PM

Think Fast—Too Slow!   (2016Jun25)

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

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

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

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:

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.

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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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.

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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.

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Now, here are two videos from yesterday:

 

 

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.

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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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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Hat Trick   (2015Mar01)

Sunday, March 01, 2015                                  3:50 PM

I almost had it on the twenty-seventh, last week—blogging and/or posting an original poem, an original drawing, and an original piano music video—but I had trouble trying to scan my drawing with the three-way printer/scan/faxer, which led to me destroying the internet connection to the router, which led to me crawling back into bed and watching TV for hours. By the time I’d created an illustrated-poem graphic, I just didn’t have the juice to sit down at the piano. So, just a poem and a drawing—though I shouldn’t complain—they were both well-received.

Today, I made sure I sat down for a quick keyboard recital, before I started working on all the technical stuff. Typing up a poem; sketching out a picture; tickling the ivories a bit—not that big a deal. But then try scanning, photo-shopping, text formatting, file-transferring, audio-editing, video-editing, and uploading it all—there’s where the hard work comes in.

Anyway, to content—to call today’s offering a mixed-bag is an understatement. Firstly—I was lying in bed last night and looked over at the t-shirt that I’d used to block the power-LED on the TV (otherwise the bright blue light is right in my eyes as I try to go to sleep). It looked just like the head of a cow or a moose—some sort of beast’s head. So I grabbed my trusty sketch-pad and drew what I saw. As you can see from the side-by-side comparison of a photo of the t-shirt and my drawing, the t-shirt still looks more like an animal’s head than my drawing does. (Hey, I never said I was Rembrandt).

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Secondly, I was hand-rolling my cigarettes this morning when the phrase ‘there’s nothing to it but to do it’ came into my head and started re-arranging itself. Pretty soon I had a whole stanza in my head and I had to rush through my tobacco-rolling to get to the keyboard—by which time my head had come up with a second stanza but was in danger of dumping the whole thing out of short-term memory. When I think of a poem, I literally have to run to the keyboard to type it in before it fades away—that’s how leaky my short-term memory is. Most of my essays, half-written in my head before I get to the computer, and my better improvs, singing in my head while I rush to set up the camera by the piano, are all the same story.

Interesting ideas come and go out of memory like flitting shadows—the trick is to get to a working medium in time for the good ones, while not exhausting myself by trying to capture every stray idea that blows through town. As you may have noticed, I’m not one of those planner-type artists—I don’t write voluminous novels, room-filling frescoes, or complete musical compositions. I just try to chase after the scraps of ideas that stumble into my broken brain, and catch them with my shaky fingers. The large-scale mind-palace that allows long-term project-planning (and once made me a sick programmer) is now just a memory. And, like all my memories, a vague one.

Back to content—so the poem happened to end with “I think I hit a fairy with my car.” Dramatic? Yes, but unsatisfying. So I wrote some more verse in front of the first-draft, some more verse after, and ended up with a politically themed poem, which was not my intention. Still, when writing, especially poetry, sometimes you tell it, sometimes it tells you. It’s hard enough to write a poem without trying to make it walk a straight line, too.

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And, thirdly, I have a brief musical interlude for today—a cover of the old classic, “That’s My Desire”, in which I do my best Vic Damone impression, and a squirrelly, little improv, for your delectation, dear reader/listener/viewer. I hope at least one of these hot messes provides someone with a moment’s pleasure today.

 

 

Finally, I’m adding my recent drawings to look at, which I finally got scans of, thanks to sneaker-net (my son repaired the internet connection, but the printer still isn’t ‘sharing’ like it’s supposed to). Here they are (click on the images to see them full-sized):

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

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

 

Friday, February 27, 2015                                10:30 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Oh, Grow Up   (2015Feb21)

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Saturday, February 21, 2015                                     11:54 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Re-Thinking   (2015Feb18)

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Wednesday, February 18, 2015                                11:36 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Read Somebody Else’s Blog (2015Feb15)

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Sunday, February 15, 2015                              4:53 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Have a Koch and Be Beguiled (2015Feb08)

Sunday, February 08, 2015                              6:37 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Saturday, February 07, 2015                            12:37 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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:

Terrorists? No, Animals. (2015Feb03)

Tuesday, February 03, 2015                            1:19 PM

Beheading people on video and burning people alive—this ends forever any claim these fuck-tards have to a religious connection. There’s nothing in the Quran about being a savage—there’s nothing at all religious about acting like animals. Nor am I afraid of these assholes. They are too stupid to live—and the countries that surround these wastes-of-life will surely rise up and end them.

America would do well to focus on containing them outside of our borders—to do anything more would be an insult to the Middle East nations, all of whom should know what ought to happen to mongrels like these. I say keep them from gaining a foothold in the developed world and just let this region come to terms with itself. If marauding bands of murderers sprang up in the USA, others countries wouldn’t send in troops—neither would they need to—we know what to do with people like that. It’s about time we let others learn the same lesson.

As with Cuba, if we remove the big, bad United States from the equation, lots of these tin-pot bloodsuckers lose their chief excuse for maintaining the grisly status quo—I say let’em be. Let’s give them a chance to face their own problems. Maybe when the true instability of the Middle East becomes more apparent to these entitled, oil-fattened shiekdoms, they’ll start to see how very un-useful it is to sponsor militaristic sociopaths. If you don’t like the 21st-century, fine—stew in your sixteenth-century conservatism until your paid slaughter-boys decide to take more than just your money. In the meantime, the USA will go back to its day job, inventing the future.

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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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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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 to dump poisonous industrial waste into the Hudson River, of all places? Who decides that employees, by virtue of being paid, lose their right to a safe and healthy work environment? What kind of person does that?

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

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

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Seasonal Withdrawal (2014Dec29)

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

 

ESSAY:

Monday, December 29, 2014                          2:13 AM

 

Before The Beginning And After The End

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time To Unplug For The Day (2014Dec22)

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Monday, December 22, 2014                          8:58 PM

I’m quite worn out with considering the issues that arise from watching the news and using the Internet. Even the stuff that concerns New York City, while possibly affecting friends and relations—is still far from my immediate sphere of interactivity. Likewise, there are people I care for who live in Norway, London, California, The Carolinas, Massachusetts, Florida—lots of places—and news of catastrophe in anyplace near those areas concern me more than, say, Syria or Crimea, which are only places where strangers live. I care about those strangers, too, in the general way that people do—it’s not as if I know everything about them from one newscast, and it’s not as if there’s a whole lot I can do on any given day to affect events on a global scale.

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But hearing news from far away is something that becomes more immediate in our present than it has even been in our past. News in print has been around virtually since the printing press was invented, but it was not only far away, it was well-aged—at least a day old, and in some cases a week or more. The advent of radio and TV news reduced the aging process, but did not remove it entirely. Now time is no longer dividing us from the people in the news—only distance. And the ubiquitous video cameras give us a good, close look—we are eye-witnesses—only our presence is distant. Our empathy kicks in. Ironically, the distance that once may have softened our concern becomes a frustrating detail that only excites our dismay at natural disasters, human-rights injustices, and genocides that occur thousands of miles away.

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This immediacy gives a power to current events, regional and global, and gives the news a kind of prescription strength—and we must all self-prescribe judiciously. It’s easy to overdose on current events—it’s easy to lose perspective, to get over-excited, to want to rail at the bad guys, even when the bad guys are us—it can be destabilizing, to say the least. People complain that we pay too much attention to our phones and tablets—I suggest we take a step back not just from the I-phone, but from what’s on it. Here’s a useful guideline—if you’re more upset about an international incident than you are about something that’s happening right in front of you, you need to take a beat and turn off the news feed for a while.

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People used to get bored to death sitting around at home—I remember we used to do anything to get out of the house and divert ourselves. But now it is only when we’re out and doing things that we are insulated by our geographic location—when we’re at home, our screens give us a window on the whole world—with a sharp focus on the most shocking, upsetting parts. I put it to you that inside and outside are no longer the ‘boredom divide’—now it’s offline and online. If you want to give your nerves a rest these days, you don’t stay indoors—you stay offline. If you want some peace and quiet, you don’t lock your door—you turn off your cellphone.

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I see many people posting ‘final’ holiday posts, implying that they’ll be offline for the remainder of the holiday period—and I applaud that. If I had a busier life, I’m sure I’d be doing the same. As a compromise, I’m ignoring anything negative and focusing on cheerful or funny or just plain interesting stuff for the duration. They’ll be time enough for sparring after the new year has come.

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Cats, Tabbies, Felines… What’s That Word? (2014Dec18)

Thursday, December 18, 2014                        12:39 PM

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Oh yeah—Pussies! That’s the word. Anyone who is afraid to go see “The Interview” at a movie theater—anyone who is afraid to show the movie in their theater—all world-class pussies who bring shame to our proud heritage. Some anonymous hacker makes a vague threat against anyone going to see this movie—and we do his bidding? I could scream with frustration.

Let me be clear. I think the Seth Rogen comedy-film paradigm, even propped up by the legitimacy of his friend, James Franco’s, reputation, has run its course. I anticipated being disappointed with the derivative ‘mad-cap’ zaniness of this farce, but I’m a tough audience—I’ve watched a lot of comedy, decades of it, and I’ve become somewhat jaded. But that doesn’t mean the kids wouldn’t have enjoyed it.

One of the things that made me anticipate disappointment was the crass hook of the story—joking about assassinating a living head of state (even the head of a crapulous state like North Korea) is unquestionably in poor taste, not to mention how it suggests bad behavior—it strikes me as just about the worst premise of any comedy I’ve ever heard of. Plus, the South Park boys, Trey Parker and Matt Stone, have already used the idea in “Team America: World Police”, although they were talking about Kim Jong Il, not Kim Jong Un. And it must be said that the meta-comedy of Parker and Stone is far more fertile soil for geopolitical satire than this latest offering from Rogen, the reigning king of the rom-coms (at which he is excellent).

But the quality of the film is beside the point. This is an issue of freedom of speech. How outraged we all would have been if SONY had made a boardroom decision not to release this movie for political reasons. How we would have poured into the streets in protest if our own government had tried to stop the release of this movie. But some jerk with a keyboard mentions 9/11, and we censor ourselves!? Unbelievable.

I call on SONY to release this movie immediately, to offer it on DVD, to stream it online. I call on theater owners to run this film night and day, in the name of their country. And I call on everyone to go see this no-doubt-average film, just because they don’t like being told what to do. Stop the cowering. Release “The Interview” now!

Your Choice (2014Dec14)

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Chapter Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Tortuous Debate (2014Dec11)

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Thursday, December 11, 2014                        6:21 PM

The CIA Director gave a press conference today, criticizing the oversight committee’s report on the CIA’s use of torture after 9/11. He denied the report’s conclusion that no useful information resulted from torturing prisoners. He also carped about other details with which he took exception—as if proving the report’s inaccuracy were the issue. That is not the issue. Most of the long, detailed debate on all the news programs addresses similar details—details which are all equally and entirely beside the point.

The point is that torture is wrong. We shouldn’t have done it. There are those who will ask if, by not torturing a suspected terrorist to get information to prevent harm  to innocent civilians, I would let those innocent people be killed? And this is indicative of the fear-based notions that became so popular after 9/11—the same fear that had us demonizing anyone who opposed our invasion of Iraq; the same fear that has us, even now, shaking in our boots at the sight of one of our neighbors in a turban or a veil.

If America is a democratic nation that condones torture, than our citizens are no longer innocent—it’s that simple. If I were killed in a terrorist attack, that would suck—but I, as an American, would far rather die than see my country become a cesspool of fear, hatred, and, ultimately and worst of all, stupidity. If there are people in our CIA that are willing to surrender our nation to that kind of debased filth, in the name of national defense—please go defend some other nation—you’re not wanted here. If America doesn’t stand for justice when the chips are down, it doesn’t really stand for anything.

Our own cowardice and thirst for vengeance was responsible for making the CIA think that we would condone a coward’s tactics. The CIA wasn’t working in a vacuum. There were crowds of people burning Dixie Chicks CDs—emulating the Nazis in their fury against girls who thought making war on Iraq was a mistake—and in the end, we found out that those young ladies had a point. We re-elected a man who had publicly proven himself a dunce, because his stupidity condoned our own unwise urges towards panic and violence. We somehow decided that any Americans with even a hint of Middle Eastern dress or appearance were murderous extremists—even though we’d never looked twice at them before.

You know, when I first watched, agape, as the towers fell,  a chill went down my spine—not for what they had done, but in fearful anticipation of what we would become in response. And my worst fears have been realized. I’ve been ashamed of my country almost from that moment, because we have, at every turn, chosen the coward’s path. We invaded a country for no good reason. We tagged every bearded man as a potential murderer. We made death-threats against those who urged reason and humanity. And we condoned torture—again, not in a vacuum, but there were no public outcries commensurate with such a threat to our nations’ honor and integrity. And now we must live with the shame. It’s not complicated (more’s the pity).

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My only question is what can we do to restore and protect our nation’s honor, going forward?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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When we talk about double-entry accounting, computerized inventory databases, and how to calculate the 8.25% sales tax on your department store purchase—it’s easy to think of Capitalism as having the precision of a gram scale and the inherent fairness of a court of law. But consider, dear reader, the familiar figure of the business-owner—an entrepreneur starts up a business and hires employees to do the work. The business-owner pays the employees a salary. The business makes a profit (one hopes). The business-owner pays the salaries and keeps all the rest of the profit. This is normal.

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But does that paradigm have the elegance and inherent fairness of a mathematical equation? Is it right? What if the company makes millions of dollars for the business-owner, and the employees’ salaries are a tiny fraction of that? Capitalism states that a business-owner, by virtue of owning the business, is perfectly right to retain all the profits to him-or-herself. Further, it is perfectly right to pay employees’ salaries based on the cost of labor, not on the value of the product of the labor. I suspect, without having lived a lifetime of Capitalist culture, I might see something unjust in that set-up.

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If we look at the history of the popular music industry, we see examples of musical artists whose greatness resulted in mass sales of recordings and licenses—all profits of which went to business-owners whose only justification for this was a legal agreement of ownership of the musician’s creations as terms of employment. And we also see court cases where this glaring injustice has, more recently, resulted in rulings that award greater protection to the creators of original content. In spite of that, popular music (and the entertainment industry in general) is still rife with business practices that reward those with ownership over those that produce what is owned.

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Back when employees in many industries could plan on starting a business of their own, this inherently unfair system had a silver lining. The idea was you were a virtual slave of someone else until you could manage to own your own place—at which point you would become one of the slave-owners, and could forget about that whole mess. In many ways, it mimicked the old concept of parenting. But with giant corporations filling virtually every marketing and service niche available, even the new businesses that appear out of thin air (like programming ‘apps’) are ephemeral things, quickly consolidated into the workings of some electronics giant’s new division.

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The current reality for the 99% is employment—and even that modern enslavement is considered dream-worthy to the substantial percentage of chronically unemployed. The average law-abiding citizen is given working hours, corporate policies to adhere to, bosses they must obey—and as little as possible in the way of compensation or benefits. In the old days, some business-owners believed that profit-sharing programs would increase productivity and loyalty among workers—this old applesauce is roundly laughed at today, in spite of its still being true, even without it being practiced.

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And that is one example of what has changed about Capitalism—business-owners once looked for ‘win-win’-type solutions—our new killer-Capitalism insists that only the ‘Win’, singular, is of any relevance. Worse was the Dilbert-ification of the office environment. Cubicles introduced a blatant ‘cattle’ aspect to office work—the sameness, the lack of elbow room, the almost purposeful de-humanization of the work area. But to me the greatest over-reach was the appearance in employee-policy handbooks of the banning of personal items at workstations—suddenly, no one could put up a picture of their children, keep a potted plant, indulge in a tchotchke (or ten). While there was truth to the claim that some abused the privilege and created cluttered, unprofessional work areas—it still seemed an opportunity for guidelines and limits, rather than a total ban on personalization.

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But banning something humane fits right in with the mind-set of business-owners and their managerial goons. Give any human being the slightest whiff of authority and suddenly they’re not happy unless they’re telling everyone else what to do—it’s human nature.

While the dehumanizing of employees is certainly nothing new, it becomes an issue when civilization seems to measure progress by Capitalist sign-posts rather than the causes of humanity and justice. The arrow of human rights followed a seemingly direct course, right from the Enlightenment, through the American Revolution, right up to the defeats of Fascism and Communism. We continue to win victories in this battle with the legal end of segregation, the fights for feminism, rights for the disabled, and gay rights. But we also see Capitalism taking some of our self-evident human rights away from humanity as a whole (whether in their roles as employees or consumers) and for reasons that many deem justified (such is their submergence in the logic of money).

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Consider the air, dear reader. Is there any significance to the right to vote, the right to a fair trial, or the right to free speech—if we are denied the right to breathe—or to drink clean water? Much wailing has gone up, since Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring” and for all the decades after—and even now—over the fact that we can’t stop destroying the environment without destroying civilization. But I don’t see it that simply. We could curtail our destruction of the environment and still maintain the bulk of civilization—but we would have to destroy Capitalism to do it. We would have to end the primacy of ownership over justice and place humanity’s welfare above the posturings of nations and stockholders and financiers. Civilization could easily come out of it better off—but certain very powerful individuals would not. And that would mean war. And war always has the truth as its first casualty—so that’s not going to work.

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And don’t get me wrong—I’m well aware that people will always find some other way to use each other, and hurt each other, even without money as the nail to hang it all on. But Capitalism has grown into a globally-interlocking behemoth with a momentum even its One-Percenters can no longer control. It forces all of us, nay, hurries all of us towards the cliff of profit-without-consequence. It destroys ways-of-life for whole communities, corrupts the governance both local and national, and dehumanizes everything that can be turned to profit—which, in today’s Capitalism, means everything and everyone.

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While we continue to fight for human rights in our laws and in our government, we lose more ground than we gain due to the encroachments of business practices. Business leaders and their pawns (including many a congressperson and senator) will explain that homelessness, lack of health care, indecent wages, and the loss of clean air and water—are all things that must be looked at in terms of profit and loss. We must begin to ask, “Whose profit? Whose loss?” Is one person’s right of ownership greater than another’s right to survive? And if it is, why do we bother to talk about human rights? If the world’s economy can be held over our heads while plutocrats lord it over the needy millions, and trash the planet, and dissolve our way of life, is Capitalism our guiding light—or is it the train entering the far end of the tunnel?

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Like all evils, Capitalism is deceptively simple—with darkly complex underpinnings. Ideas of charity and sacrifice are excluded from the logic of business—but not from the business of being a human being. Ideas of conservation and renewable resources, that were so idealist-seeming, have become matters of species survival—and money-lovers are still trying to argue that fact away, because ownership and responsibility don’t align very well. The wealthy try to build high-rise apartments that overshadow Central Park—as if the substantiality of the building overrules the existence of the mere shadow. And this is the problem with Capitalism—it deals in the immediate and substantial and discounts the ephemeral, where true meaning is often found.

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Once, Americans could turn away from the harsh world of money, industry, and big cities—and find a haven in the more natural corners of the earth. Capitalism was a mosh-pit in which we could choose to participate or walk away. Civilization was once so small that this could be accomplished simply by climbing up into the mountains that surrounded a populous valley. But then it became a matter of going where people could barely survive, like the arctic circle, or the deserts. Now, of course, the world is full. We may not bother to grace the inhabitants with infrastructure, education, or even sufficient food and water—but we nevertheless ‘do business’ there, wherever ‘there’ is. We drill for oil, mine for diamonds or coal, chop down the forests and poach the wildlife (what’s left of it).

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We destroy, in the process, the old ways of life, the flora and fauna that once supported undeveloped cultures, we net all the fish, kill all the whales—we might as well shoot each and every one of those people in the head. And all because some multinational has so much money that they can pay the tin-pot dictators that have ‘sovereign rule’ over these victims. It was bad enough when we thought that only the third world was vulnerable to the moneyed interests—now we have the same kinds of people paying off our own politicians, running oil pipelines from one end of America to the other, spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico, killing off all the bees with pesticides, and using untested GMO crops in place of healthy foods. We’re all going to die—and we are all unified in our support of our killer, Capitalism.

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Capitalism was a means to an end—prosperity. Now that prosperity for all mankind is a possibility, Capitalism has become the only thing keeping us from it. We crossed the finish line, but business-owners want us all to keep running our rat race, keep up productivity, keep those profits rolling in—it’s insane. But I don’t want to get rid of money—that’s just as crazy. No, we need something more nuanced—limits on money. We need limits on what money can buy, and limits on which places and things are considered outside of the rule of Capitalism, by virtue of their ethical or ecological qualities. And to start out with the most important change, we need separation of cash and state.

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The pilgrims, having left Europe because of religious persecution, found that they had brought religious strife with them—and saw separation of church and state as the only solution to their looming self-destruction. They did not think their religion was unimportant—quite the contrary. But they could see that religion empowered by law was a weapon that could cut everyone. Neither is Capitalism unimportant, but Money as the only Law is an equally dangerous blade, or more so—as it is poised to cut the entire world open.

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Political Arrangements! (2014Nov18)

What a day! I wrote a song, “Obama Went A-Courtin”; I played through two challenging piano arrangements, George Shearing’s take on “If I Give My Heart To You” and Bob Zurke’s version of “I’m Thru With Love”; and I threw in a couple of short improvs, just for fun…

 

“If I Give My Heart To You”
by Jimmie Crane, Al Jacobs, Jimmy Brewster
(c) 1953 Miller Music Corp.
Piano Interpretation by George Shearing:

 

“I’m Thru With Love”
words by Gus Kahn
Music by Matt Malneck, Fud Livingston
(c) 1931 MGM Inc.
Piano Solo Arranged by Bob Zurke:

 

The Hook (2014Nov15)

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Saturday, November 15, 2014                       1:02 PM

 

Everything today is about the hook. I saw an online ad for Star-Trek spaceships (“Enterprises”, that is) for a low, low price—plus plenty of free extras—the only catch was that it was a subscription, and they would be sending me different spaceships, once a month, forever—and billing me for them, of course. I saw a newly released movie on my VOD menu. It was about a boy and girl who were far distant from each other but could see what each other thought and hear what each other said—it was a romance. I’ve seen the same premise, but only seeing through the other person’s eyes—it was a horror movie about a serial killer. Communication is so important.

The king of the hooks would have to be ‘The Heart Of Joy”, AKA the Hallmark Channel. Every year about this time (just before Thanksgiving) their schedule becomes one long expanse of Christmas-themed movies, most of them produced by Hallmark itself. I am shamelessly addicted—it’s worse than Law & Order re-runs. I just saw one where the young lady protagonist, who just happens to be named Krissy Kringle and just happens to live on Candy Cane Lane, receives a lot of mistakenly-delivered letters to Santa. One little girl sends a book, explaining that Santa had accidentally left his “Naughty or Nice List” when he visited her in the hospital.

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Hijinks ensue, of course, and of a very Christmassy flavor. In the end, people are healed, lessons are learned, and Santa gets his book back. It’s like heroin—I can marathon this stuff for days at a time. But it got me thinking. Hallmark is like the Manhattan Project of sentiment—all things treacly are massaged to a fair-thee-well and dutifully squished out like Play-Doh from a Play-Doh factory. Is it evil? It’s difficult to say with the rubber hose between my teeth, probing for a vein—but I have my suspicions. I mean, it makes perfect sense—here are these actors—and actors are paid to pretend—so they pretend that they, and basically all people, are earnest, conscience-stricken, and well-fed.

It’s the season, so it’s no fair calling them out on the ugly truths of domestic poverty, bad parenting, etc., etc.—thus the problems are manageable in these movies, unlike the real problems we face in the real world. But then they have to add in ‘the real Mrs. Claus’ masquerading as a nanny for a troubled single-parent family or an Elf who wants to see what’s outside of Santa’s Workshop (and in a masterpiece of fiction, doesn’t go sprinting back home in screaming hysterics) or an old homeless man who turns out to be someone’s long-lost father, just waiting for love to make him whole again.

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If, like me, you’ve seen news stories about some of the nightmares that pose as nannies for unsuspecting families—or rape statistics for elfin-shaped young ladies just moved to the big city—or the mental health obstacles that are so much of the problem when trying to undo homelessness, then you may find yourself strongly attracted to the Heroin, I mean Hallmark Channel. But is it healthy? I guess what I’m really wondering is—is it merely escapism, or is it as delusion-inducing as the Southboro Baptist Church? If we whip ourselves into a frenzy of Christmas-time love and faith, we may find ourselves hating The Un-Christmassy enough to kill somebody. It wouldn’t be the first time someone got upset about someone else killing the mood.

And what of the crash? When I switch off the TV and walk into the kitchen, I may find it difficult to handle the newspapers, visitors, and telephone calls I find there. Those other people may not have watched the same movie as me. They might not be quite brimming with the same surplus love of their fellow man—and punch me right in the nose, figuratively or literally. Watching the Hallmark Channel Christmas Movie Marathon may make it impossible for me to survive, away from my hi-def flat-screen.

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However, there are commercials. The TV commercials, even Hallmark’s own, have a different texture from the movies—the treacle is still there, but the main motif is altered to ‘you need this thing to be happy’ followed by ‘buy this thing’. And even a Hallmark movie can’t completely obliterate such unadulterated huckstering. So, to be fully dosed with Christmas syrup, I always make sure I have a book to read. Yes, a book! You wouldn’t believe how long the commercial breaks in these movies are. One can easily read three or four pages before the movie comes back on—and, of course, I’m a virtuoso of the mute button—so I go from movie to book and back to movie quite seamlessly. The tone of the book can be problematical—the otherwise phenomenal Stephen King, for instance, is not recommended for this particular purpose. But I find that science-fiction novels can be a wonderful counter to Hallmark, as they both believe in wild optimism—even wishful thinking—but in two very different settings. My current commercial-break reading material is “The Peripheral” by William Gibson. It’s excellent, so far (as Gibson always is) if you’re looking.

But let’s return to the movies. By the end of New Year’s, I’m actually relieved to turn to that channel and find “Little House” re-runs, or something equally repulsive. I turn to the more reality-based programming of the other channels and Christmas is over for me. So what is this extended trance that takes me hostage each year? Perhaps, for me, it supercharges the ambient ‘Christmas cheer’ that naturally occurs in our lives. Or perhaps it makes more visible the falseness of the Season, a specific time in which we are obligated to be better people, to think kinder thoughts. Is it the human condition that caring must have a start and end point, like a race? Maybe we have the Holiday Season because humanity cannot bear very much reality—and the reality of kindness and caring is just too much of an effort to be part of our ongoing, normal lives.

It could be that the season of giving, rather than being a false pretense of our ‘better selves’, is really just the best we can do—one month a year, we try to be good. We don’t necessarily succeed—but we try—and that’s more than we can be bothered to do the other eleven months of the year.

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