Cruel Spring   (2016Apr04)

Monday, April 04, 2016                                                    11:40 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Super Leap Week   (2016Mar01)

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Tuesday, March 01, 2016                                                  5:18 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Okay then.

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Nobody For Hire   (2016Feb04)

Thursday, February 04, 2016                                           4:11 PM

When I was a young firebrand, I felt that a job was a fallback position—that exceptional people (like me, of course) should strike out on their own and do great things, free from the bonds of nine-to-five servitude. Two things escaped my notice at the time—one, that exceptional people worked just as hard, even harder, for themselves than other people worked for their boss—and two, that working people had something that even exceptional people don’t have—they were needed to get a job done. It’s nice to be needed. At one point, when I was working in the early days of office computing, I was very much needed—it was a great feeling.

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My working life back then was exciting—my father was starting a small business and I was helping with the computers—new and exotic at the time. The energy of growing a business combined with the innovation of computers—whose software, hardware, and operating systems changed with alarming frequency—kept me hopping. Computers were unusual and they brought with them new ways of thinking—I spent a lot of time explaining things to people—things I had had explained to me only a short time beforehand. There was a lot of learning, and teaching, involved. And the computers made us so competitive that the business grew swiftly—bringing its own challenges. If I were young again, that’s what I’d do—start a small business—there’s nothing like it for adventure.

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Lately I’ve been trying to accept that my infirmity went on for too long, that restoration of my health (such as it is) came too late, and my senior years arrived too early—and that these three combined present a good case for me to accept that any professional life I might have had has gone by the boards—that mere existence, mere dependency, is the best I’m going to do with my near future. I recognize that living off my disability, without any struggle to regain my place in the commerce of the day, is a surrender—but I’ve spent some time fighting to stay alive, to stay sane—and it looks like that is the only challenge I’m prepared to face. Excusing myself from the greater struggle, that of wresting a paycheck from the wide world, is just another lesson I’ve picked up from my teacher, my cancer, my mortality.

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My illness has taught me that there is a realm beyond that of ‘try harder’—I’m a little annoyed whenever someone suggests that I could do more. When a nerve is severed, no amount of ‘try harder’ will ever reconnect it; when a muscle no longer contracts, when the skin is numb to the touch, ‘trying harder’ doesn’t enter into the problem. When a mind that once served me so well that I look back on it now with awe, decides to atrophy—I cannot regain my genius by earnest effort any more than by wishing on a star. While I’m pleased and excited that my health is so much improved from what it was (what Billy Crystal, in “The Princess Bride”, describes as ‘mostly dead’) it is just as important for me to accept that my old self is gone—all my assumptions about my abilities, my knowledge, my stamina, my capacity to learn new things—they’re all misleading taunts, memories of a healthy me that hasn’t existed for decades.

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So I’m giving up on finding a job—if I’m dissatisfied with myself, how could I expect anyone else to find a use for me? If anybody wants to call me on this—or explain how I should just ‘try harder’—well, you know what you can do with that sentiment. There are seven billion people running around—I think we can do without one pair of shaky hands, and things will still roll along pretty much unchanged.

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The biggest problem is that I remain a neo-Calvinist by nature—and I’m unhappy without any hard work to do—I feel most needed when I’m being pushed to meet a deadline. Drawing pictures was always my go-to busy-work—but shaky hands and draughtsmanship don’t go together. It’s a conundrum. I’m trying to teach myself to enjoy being unneeded—but context is everything, and I’d love to have one—a context, that is. That’s what a job really boils down to—I’ve had different jobs at different salaries, but behind it all, whatever job it was was always a context to my life—a framework for my self-worth. Only exceptional people can stand alone, assured that they are of value, even without a paycheck to show for it—but even exceptional people need a target for their efforts, a challenge to strive for. Perhaps it’s just ego on my part—I’m disappointed with the lightweight challenges I’m prepared to meet—and I miss the days when people sometimes expected the impossible of me and I was able to deliver. Applause, applause—yeah, those were the days.

I’m Getting Stoned   (2016Jan29)

Friday, January 29, 2016                                          10:35 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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On The Job Market   (2016Jan05)

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Tuesday, January 05, 2016                                                9:44 AM

I can sight-read music like nobody’s business—and I can do the New York Times crossword puzzle from Monday through Thursday –and last night I was yelling at my TV screen because none of the three Jeopardy contestants knew many answers that were obvious to me. So if I’m so perceptive and clever and well-educated, why the hell am I not a good candidate for a job?

Well, most jobs have the ‘clever’ taken out of them, so you don’t have to rely on a smart-ass like myself to come along. Most jobs require subordination, promptitude, and ‘good social skills’ (which, in my head, I interpret as ‘not being myself’). It figures—in my school days, I succeeded in scholarly stuff but failed at what everyone knew was the real point of school—fitting in—so why should I expect scholarly skills to help in the adult version of school—employment?

Most people have a subconscious acceptance of authority—but I’ve spent a lot of time being a ‘teacher’s aide’-type student, training new employees, editing other peoples’ writing, correcting other people’s mistakes, and practicing autodidacticism—so I’ve never been able to do any more than make a pretense of accepting authority. That’s good enough for reasonable people, but for managers and the like, for whom authority is part of their self-image—my veneer is too thin—they see right through someone who thinks they’re mere mortals—and they see my kind of attitude as a threat to their authority, which in their context, I suppose, I am.

I’ve known for a long time that I would never be happy outside of self-employment—but I’ve never had enough ambition to start my own business—and I’ve never come up with a business idea that I liked well enough to put my whole life’s effort into. To be honest, I’ve become so disenchanted with materialism, capitalism, and business that I couldn’t start my own business without becoming a self-hater. I could work for someone else—I could put up with it for the sake of bringing home some bacon for my family—but I’d have to find someone who really needed a geek—and was willing to put up with the strangeness of a geek.

That’s not an impossible task—but time has passed—and now I’m a damaged, sixty-year-old geek with real issues, so the fit is a lot tighter now—and it’s not as if the job market was suffering any sort of surplus. Plus, my big sell was my computer skills—and I’m obsolete on that subject now. I could learn new computer skills, but I always learned that stuff in the context of doing business—it’s hard to do as a pure learning exercise—and it’s always been my experience that computer skills never match the job requirements—on-the-job computer skills never match up with the tutorial stuff.

I used to be able to go into a job interview with the certain knowledge that the employer would be lucky to have me—whether they knew it or not. Nowadays, I’m not so sure. Job-interviewing is an ungodly ritual . I keep putting it off—you put me in a room with a judgmental so-and-so and I’d take that fucker’s head off, never mind getting hired—I’d be lucky to leave the room without being put in handcuffs.

There was a time when I would have been a valuable addition to any workforce—problem-solving, fact-checking, training, organizing, paperwork—I was a working fool, coming in early, staying late, skipping vacations. I still think of myself that way—but then I remember that my present-day self has trouble getting up in the morning, walking around the block, driving a car, talking to people, and concentrating—I’m not god’s gift to employers any more. And I can’t stand the thought of being one of those employees that people ‘put up’ with, the ones who keep their jobs just because it’s too much hassle to fire them—I always looked down on those people, and I won’t become one of them.

Moreover, it was easier for me to be enthusiastic about my work back before I’d had twenty years to think about how horribly selfish and thoughtless most business-owners and managers are. Presently, I’d have a chip on my shoulder before I even walked into a place of employment. I’ve come to understand why Tolkien was so vehemently opposed to property and ownership—it rots the soul. But then most of the rottenness of my soul comes from idleness. Most people are too busy, too obligated, to sit around—as I have lo these many years—thinking about the way the world works, and how terribly one small part of humanity bullies the rest of it—and, with that condition being unlikely to change, my dwelling on it can only lead to despair and feelings of futility—hence my frustration.

Hmmm, not much of a resume….

Tomorrow We’ll All Be Okies    (2015Sep09)

Wednesday, September 09, 2015                                                       1:23 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Obama Put the Good Back in News   (2015Jul14)

Tuesday, July 14, 2015                                             10:04 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Confederacy of Dunces   (2015Mar10)

Tuesday, March 10, 2015                                 11:36 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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Strangling Big Government   (2015Jan30)

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Friday, January 30, 2015                                            11:39 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Refining Fire   (2015Jan28)

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Sunday, January 25, 2015                       11:51 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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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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Your Choice (2014Dec14)

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

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

 

 

 

 

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

Chapter Seven

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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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“What I Did For Love” (2014Nov19)

Wednesday, November 19, 2014                   11:52 AM

Here we are, Wednesday near noon. After my big day; writing, recording, producing and posting my new song’s video yesterday; I had trouble sleeping and have just woken up this morning—unusually late, even for me. The video shows Four ‘views’ so far, (still less than 24 hours since posting)—as my posts go, that’s practically ‘viral’. And, as usual, the success, such as it is, is in the doing of the thing. The verses had started popping into my head the day before. After I’d thought up a few lines I really liked, I started to worry that it was a good song idea that would just wander through my brain for a day or two and wander right back out again. It wouldn’t have been the first, or the hundredth.

So I gave myself a pep-talk, internally: this is current, this is amusing, this is about something that matters to you (I says to myself, I says). How will you feel if you let it slide and see someone else’s similar idea pop up online a few days from now? Again, it wouldn’t have been the first time, or the hundredth. I was having trouble sleeping the night before, as well—so I went to the PC in the wee hours, to type up the verses I’d thought of so far. Spencer, a night owl, too, was already there, playing his video game. I didn’t feel it was worth ruining his good time, so I went back to bed.

But the song still bothered me, so I will-power-‘crow-barred’ myself into making some quick videos, just a few seconds each, singing the verses as they occurred to me—and those video fragments were my reference when I began the job in earnest yesterday morning. I typed them all up and re-arranged them into the best sequence of verses I could figure. But then the printer wouldn’t print it. We have a shared printer in our house, but it boots from Claire’s PC, which for some reason had set that printer to “Local”—I’ve never sat at Claire’s PC before, but an hour or two later I had it fixed, and the lyrics printed.

While I’d waited for the strange PC to do its updates and re-starts, etc. I had also been working on the piano part. This was new territory—I’d never written lyrics to suit an old folk song before, having always used original music for my original songs—and that presented a problem. I can’t play from memory—even a song as simple as “Froggy Went A-Courtin”. And there was no way I was going to be able to sight-read the music and read off the lyrics-sheets at the same time—so I had to learn “Froggy Went A-Courtin” by heart. In the process, I realized that I’d mis-remembered exactly how the song went—I had added an additional phrase, or line, of my own. Now I had to learn to play the song without looking, and to follow my rhythmic pattern instead of the original’s. If you listen to the video, you can hear how unsure of the piano part I was, even ten verses in—memory has always been my kryptonite.

But the video-shoot went surprisingly well—I only sang the song twice through and the second version came out as good as my skill-set was ever going to make it (without prolonged rehearsal and arrangement—which, with my tendency to forget what I’m doing, posed a risk, again, of leaving the song in limbo instead of finding its way onto YouTube). So I edited the final video from that second go-round, slapped a Title-image on the front and a Credit-image on the end, and posted it. Then I ‘shared’ it to Facebook, WordPress, Twitter, Tumblr, and Pinterest (I don’t know what I’m doing, online, but I do it as hard as I can).

The thing is, this song wasn’t my only recent, original-content post to the internet—I’ve recently posted a few drawings, some fine videos, some passable essays, and the first part of a new book I’m writing. I’d also been experiencing the frustration of posting those things and having them all be roundly ignored, for the most part, by everyone who is kind enough to ‘like’ or ‘comment’ on my posts (and that’s a pretty tiny list of people to begin with). This song, representing as it did the farthest reaches of my creative abilities, and following so many previously unremarked-on efforts, was the equivalent of my shouting, “Hey! Over here! Look at me!”—and it needed some ‘views’ to keep me from going totally bonkers. So—four views by the next morning—success!

My stuff can hardly be categorized as ‘masterpieces’—my poems, essays, and piano improvs are always more intended as ‘intermezzos’, little diversions with some thought and some wit, and a pinch of talent. Being little treats, as it were, I don’t expect them to garner me rave reviews or a towering reputation—I just hope for them to be noticed in passing, a chuckle along the way or a moment’s reflection. Thus, even slight notice is success. But the real success is in the doing and having gotten it done.

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:

 

My Turn To Talk (2014Oct24)

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Friday, October 24, 2014                     4:50 PM

I want to talk to these people. For starters, it isn’t fair that their personal stupidity gets so much exposure while the rest of us are stuck talking only to our small circle of friends and neighbors. I want to talk to Don Young, Chris Christie, Nan Hayworth, that bubble-brain on FOX news (Yeah, which one? I know.) and that 17-year-old walking pimple from Australia who likes ISIS, and killing people. I want to tell you all something.

You’re all assholes—stupid, sick, selfish, stuck-up, stupid assholes. Did you notice I used ‘Stupid’ twice? Yeah, that was on purpose. But don’t worry—you five are certainly not alone. There’s Rick Perry—Texas asshole. There’s Rand Paul—Kentucky asshole. There’s Vlad Putin—Russian asshole (bonus points—it’s not easy to make your ignorance stand out in Russia!) There’s Republicans as a whole—what a bunch of eyes-tight-shut assholes you people are. Nothing personal—you’re all just as stupid as mud, that’s all.

And a lot of you are evil motherfuckers, as well. Don’t get me wrong—you’re still unbelievably stupid—but evil, too. And in such a dazzling variety of ways—you’re selfish, you’re greedy, you’re xenophobic, you’re homophobic, you’re afraid of girls, you’re afraid of educated people—you’re even afraid of the thoughts in your own damn heads. How’s that for cowardice? What makes these lily-livered, piss-yellow cry-babies think that their fear-mongering is something the rest of us in the world have the slightest use for? Too scared to think straight, I guess.

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Koch brothers? Are you listening? Your mother should have strangled the both of you with your own umbilicals—you think being rich makes you right? Sorry—being rich just makes you bigger assholes. But stay rich, please—if that’s what it’s like, heaven protect the rest of us—you two are already beyond all hope—a  pair of scumbags with enough money to spread the fame of your idiocy far and wide. I guess I’m lucky—when I have something idiotic to say, at least I can’t afford a billboard to plaster it on.

So which makes me the most angry—you pack of morons, or the morons that feature you in the media, to the point of obscuring anything that really matters? It’s a tough call. Stupidity is generous to you all. But, no—it’s still you idiots. The people that have to make a living have at least some sort of excuse to do the stupid things they do—they’re not in charge of Stupid—that’s all on you, you self-important bags of excrement, you.

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All that being said, here’s a piano improvisation in the same, damn-the-torpedoes vein:

 

 

And just to keep everything civil, here’re some pleasanter words from far pleasanter people…

 

Put Me On The List (2014Sep15)

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Monday, September 15, 2014                12:24 AM

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How do I reach the mind of a reader and convey our times with any grace? As with all things now, the list of imagery or phrases would make Whitmann blanch—back in his day, he was delighted that there were so many wonders and charms to be catalogued in his poems. In our time, a writer despairs of there being far too many details in even the merest moment of our lives. That may be the cause of the popularity of lists.

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Actual paper-printed books of lists were authored, and made bestseller lists, even before the advent of social media memes. Our collective consciousness has determined that a list gives more information in less time, by virtue of confining itself to a category and a list of members of that category—it’s virtually mathematical. It also feeds our pre-occupation with competition. In time we can have standardized lists so well-known that the title of the list (say List A) will take the place of paragraphs of re-chosen, re-worded examples of the list.

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For instance, instead of my wasting time writing down a lengthy indictment of the GOP, I can simply reference List F (the List of Things Progressives Dislike about the Republican Party) and carry on with my point unhindered. Instead of re-writing the National Anthem and the Constitution in my summary, I can simply print ‘List I’ (the List of Things that Over-Intellectual Bloggers Love about The USA). These two lists alone would reduce my blog posts to a single page, instead of the usual three or four.

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Think of it: List R (the List of Remaining Examples of Blatant Racism that Still Persist), List E (the List of Reasons Why Education is Vital to National Security and Economic Growth), List P (the List of Crimes Against Humanity (and Especially Minorities) in the Present Prison System)—how much time they would save! There are so many details that there are bound to be Lists so numerous people will question whether Lists really save time. I’m reminded of the early days of office computers. Back then, the first step in computerization was to data-enter the last six-months-to-two-years of paper records (and this while also using the system to enter new paperwork and bookkeeping).

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Naturally, people were doing at least twice their usual work while learning to work with this new thing: a mini-computer work-station. Inevitably, the workers would begin to comment on how much time and effort the new computer was ‘saving’ them—and question whether computerizing had any advantage at all over the old ways. Hey, if start-ups were easy, everyone would be an entrepreneur—and there were many an old, revered (but now defunct) business that failed to realize that computerization was, in effect, a ‘second start-up’ of every company in those days.

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So lists will probably remain a pleasant bit of diversion posted to Facebook by George Takei (dear old Uncle George) for some time to come. But they are inevitable—whenever something becomes too awkward and bulky to memorize and repeat again and again, we rename the whole kit-and-caboodle ‘the Revolutionary War’ or ‘the British Invasion’ or ‘LGBT’ (a mini-list as anagram). In the future, with population growth as it is, there will be very few things on this earth that will stand alone, without a category to be listed in.

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Pick a subject, any subject, and Google it—you’ll see what I mean. Nothing comes back all on its lonesome—it’s either ‘not found’ or it has one hundred listings, or ten million. The Internet is the soil of global culture—the layered detritus of millions of data-points, comments, articles, and opinions. As they age, they creep lower and lower on search results, supplanted by fresher entries of the same. The New is precious to the World Wide Web—and it can get pretty precious about what’s new—if you’ll pardon the wordplay. For example, I saw a recent video getting lots of re-posts (meaning it was popular) and it was just the song “Let It Go” but re-worked with the lyrics, “Fuck it all. Fuck it All…” …you get the idea.

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That’s the sort of thing that eats up the seconds and minutes of my life, amounting to several hours a day. I’m chafing at the bit as this drug-like escapism takes over so much of my time. I’m hoping that after my treatment is over, I’ll get healthy enough to do something outside the house. I have no idea what that may be, but I know I’ll like it better than my computer keyboard.

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In the meantime, I’ll continue on my main project—finding a form of words that will clearly set out my thoughts on how ending employment-as-we-know-it is a necessary step towards a just future. The axiom that a man must earn his way in the world makes little sense in a world with too much technology and not enough resources. Today, the number of jobs available and their salaries are casual decisions made by the business leaders and bankers. We all pretend that the system is merit-based and recognizes hard work and loyalty—but we know that’s not really true.

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All the legitimate work in the world today could be done by a fraction of the 8 billion people in the world—how can we continue to fantasize about ‘earning a living’ when we’re already completely dependent on these economic ‘rulers’? They decide how many people get jobs, they decide how much—scratch that—how little those workers will be paid. It’s all a pretense, desperately trying to maintain the status quo that keeps those ‘rulers’ in charge.

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For our society to be humane it must eventually bend towards socialisms of one sort and another—competing over jobs has become a cruel joke. And those that lose the competition don’t deserve any less than the fortunate employed—nor do the employed deserve the draconian forms employment has taken in this long slough of high un-employment.

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Everyone has to get an allowance—the same subsistence wage that people now work three jobs to acquire—and those with ambition can go out and look for work, while the rest of us just live. Corporate Slavery is my mental label of employment-as-we-know-it—no escape from poverty, no chance of advancement, not enough funds for education (O, that’s another thing that has to be subsidized), and the poor living conditions and crime that such a horrendous system perpetuates.

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The filthy rich like to bitch about illegal aliens, but it’s mostly to divert our attention away from how we citizens are being shafted by Capitalism. They tell us to be afraid of Terrorism, when they are stripping America of all its Freedoms and Opportunities. They tell us to ignore Climate Change, but only because Petroleum is such a big part of their status quo—and Progress is the thing they most fear. Change threatens them, but it beckons to us. Listen, you can hear it calling.

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Wailing and Weeping (2014Aug26)

20140824XD-SkyPix (5)Tuesday, August 26, 2014            2:52 PM

 

Stardate 09 point ho-ho-dee-ho-dee-ho

Status renewal:

Pill count: 12 (morning) 2 (evening)

Sleep Cycle: way off of ‘daytime’ norm

Lungs in terrible pain: taking the cigarettes easy today—no weed!

Fatigue: still hovering at max.

Loneliness: very high

Frustration: barely under control

Drinking: None

Projects: None

Value: None

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Now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s try something more coherent. Last week of August—my melancholy usually waits till the leaves start to turn, but this has been a very un-hot summer and it seems to be leaving without ever really arriving (Not one heat wave this year—where’s global warming when you need it?).

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I’ve been promised a full cure of my HCV—it won’t happen—I’ve been so sick for so long, I’d have to marinate my entire anatomy in ‘cure juice’ to get it all out. HepC will even leave outposts in my bone marrow to repopulate the blood stream and liver after they’ve been ‘completely cleared’. In my bone marrow! Jeez.

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I am on my own. That is to say, I’m not alone—there’s Spence here all the time, in his own building, but there—and Claire takes care of me in the morning and at night with meals and pills and hundreds of other things—and my friend, Sherryl, stops by nearly every day and we have a chat or a cuppa. But that gives me only the barest minimum of contact to humans—no hanging around or long talks or collaborations on interesting ideas, no physical contact to speak of, no intense interest in me or my doings—just maintenance of my continued breathing, really.

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I try to fill the emptiness I feel by playing the piano or Facebooking or writing (like this)—none of it works completely; it just provides a framework for me to thrash about within. Until my illness, I was unaware of the very real, physical stamina that thought requires. Now it is plain as the nose, as they say, and it has become my nemesis—I can still think, but not very deeply or very long—and that’s where intelligence lies. My former intelligence lies afar. My superpower is gone and I’m helpless in the grip of the Red Sun.

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See the good? Find that silver lining? Yeah, sorry—I can’t seem to oblige. Truth is, I’m barely alive. I’m a burden on my family. I’m a lousy role-model for my son. I don’t leave the house. I’m sitting on a pile of atrophied muscles and forgotten skills. I’m not involved—I’m missing the party. I want so much—I’m still wanting a few things I’ve become too old to ever achieve. I’ve been dying, literally, for nearly two decades—it’s been a parade of horror and pain and isolation and heartbreak and helplessness.

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Have I become wiser? Has the refining fire burnt away impurities and left me with the pure gold of reason and mercy? There’s some truth to that—I am wiser than I was—but to what purpose? My lack of people skills is not at all helped by being wiser—wise is no party-trick, it’s more like x-ray vision. It takes the false front away, but it takes all the fun with it. X-rays of beautiful bodies are just x-rays. X-rays of a celebration show the noise but fail to capture the mirth. I was much happier being intelligent, but foolish.

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Music is all I have now—I listen to it constantly. I pay more attention to soundtracks than to special effects. But I’ve built my own tragedy into music, as well—by trying the impossible, trying to make my own music. I should have stuck with just listening. I have no natural talent, and all my hard work is towards fighting fatigue, not finding beauty in what I do. It’s Sisyphean, and what’s worse, self-imposed. What was I thinking?

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My greatest fear is to find myself perfectly healthy and alive again. I’m fast approaching sixty years old—how the hell do I start over at sixty? How do I recreate a social life at sixty? How do I re-enter the workforce at sixty? It will be hard enough to reconcile myself to the erasure of my forties and fifties, how am I supposed to just pick up where I left off? If this medicine really works, I will find out just where I ‘pick up’.

Truly, I can’t simply start off where I left off. One of the hardest things about my illness was how long it took to be diagnosed. I spent many years being unfairly accused of alcoholism and drug abuse—just at the point where I had stopped my wild ways for some time—and both things, the accusing and the reining in of my lifestyle, were (unbeknownst to anyone, including me) the effects of my increasing liver failure and the blood toxicity it causes.

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Everyone, including my wife, my kids, and myself, resented my ‘laziness’ and my ‘lack of willpower’. I thought being forced out of management and getting fired was what I deserved. I assumed that I had no one to blame but myself—I laid such a heavy guilt trip on myself that, when I finally found out the truth, I was glad to learn I had a fatal disease—it was a far better reality than the self-hatred I was immersed in.

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Thus, I must pick up where I left off my health, not my life. I remember a nervous, overly serious guy in his thirties who had a head full of plans and dreams and more. I remember working hard, sometimes through the night—it didn’t faze me, I was always obsessive about projects. This was before the internet and I spent a great deal of time answering questions—I was a walking Wiki, calculator, copyeditor, proofreader, and history timeline. I loved being over-educated. One of my long-term goals was a PhD—I had planned to take school courses forever. Now I can hardly remember my name.

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No, I fear that health may prove a harder life than my mostly bed-ridden, everyday usual. We all fear change, even beneficial change. Plus, my memories betray me—the agony of getting out of bed and getting to work (during those years when I didn’t realize I belonged in a hospital) was a daily hell. The frustration of staring at the computer screen and not knowing what to do, when I was used to programing without flow-charts, the entire structure always firm in my mind, was unbearably humiliating. The heartbreak at not having the strength to spend time with my kids, to take them places, or do school projects together—I hated myself worst of all for that.

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Those are some of the reasons I don’t look back on my active past with longing—I fear the return of an active life because my last one ended in torture and near-madness. But I will try. I’m hoping to find myself capable enough to build a happy lifeand find some worthwhile work (I’m damned if I’ve gone through all this so I can work at Burger King in my sixties!). If my hands stop shaking, at least somewhat, I may just go back to drawing full-time—the internet provides a variety of ways to sell original artwork. If I get some concentration back, I’ll try writing fiction. I will definitely get in shape, no matter how much it hurts—I’m most tired of all of ‘being tired’.

 

Well, that’s my wailing and weeping for today.

Love or the Patriot Act (2014Aug15)

 

 

 

 

Thursday, August 14, 2014                  3:11 PM

 

Love or the Patriot Act

 

Robin Williams is dead—an apparent suicide. And Philip Seymour Hoffman is still on my mind. Two of our greatest artists choose not to go on living—what is that supposed to tell us? Nothing good, that’s what. Lauren Bacall lived to a ripe old age—but those who worked for her or encountered her on the streets of Manhattan all agree she was quite scathing—nothing like the fond remembrances of Robin Williams that gush from everyone he ever met.

 

My late brother and I had a running debate on this—being nice, according to him, was a stupid waste of time—my attitude was that being nice to each other was the point of life. We both had firm beliefs in our opposite views—neither one of us could ever budge the other, nor did we get along all that well. But it seems we were just a dual personification of Yin and Yang—both pushing hard in different directions, which led to a spinning energy that neither of us could benefit from, nor be harmed by.

 

Why was I, the atheist, so sure that being nice to each other was the point of living? Well, when you take away the mythical support systems of the religious, you are left with no absolute reason to continue living—it becomes a choice. I see only one reason to make that choice, to face up to that challenge—and that is love.

 

But when love becomes a reason for greed or violence or persecution, it is a twisted thing. Whenever a parent takes from others for the sake of the family, the family learns a twisted definition of love. Whenever a patriot bad-mouths a foreign-looking citizen, he or she warps the true meaning of our country’s Constitution. Whenever a politician cries, “Be afraid—Be very afraid!” it is an insult to our founding fathers, who made a point of Freedom being something worth fighting and dying for.

 

The Patriot Act is a perfect example—politicians decide to cancel our civil liberties for our own good, just because someone might blow up a building (and this after hundreds of thousands of Americans have given their blood and their lives to earn those liberties).

 

Why has this become so confused? Because we seem to forget that Love, like Freedom, is more precious than life. Without love and freedom, we end up with a life hardly worth the name. We cannot insist on liberty for ourselves and deny it to others. We cannot both love and possess anyone or anything. Our love does not grant us title to the object of our love—to the contrary, it makes us a possession of our beloved. We don’t own our spouse or our kids—they own us.

 

We should be ashamed of our acceptance of the Patriot Act—its name tries hard, but its truth is as unpatriotic as Nazism or Communism. We have allowed this to continue long after the blind panic encouraged by the Bush administration had calmed down. We no longer support stupidity in the highest office. We no longer blindly support war against Bush’s enemies. Why do we hesitate to call for an end to the Unpatriotic Act? It is far more anti-American than the NSA phone-tapping that everyone got into such a flurry over.

 

The only thing we have to fear is fear itself, said FDR. Most people think, “Yeah, we shouldn’t be afraid—that makes sense”. But his words go deeper than that. Fear is the enemy of both love and freedom—we can choose, but we can’t have both fear and freedom. Liberty bounded by intimidation is a false concept—there’s another quote about ‘surrendering liberty for security ends up losing both’ or something like that. We have more pride than courage—we have more shame than faith in our country’s precepts.

 

The only thing Americans have faith in these days is money. They believe in the miracle of money, even as the power of money destroys our lives, our lands, our culture, and our country. It has even driven us to forsake the arts in our educational system—in spite of the fact that the arts are vital to understanding humanity (including ourselves). Outside of schools, the arts have become an industry—a multi-billion dollar industry that is, nevertheless, not important enough to include in our education programs. Go figure (at least you know math).

 

One important thing learned by studying the arts is that human expression invariably turns to love as its theme—the joys and sorrows of love are uppermost in everyone’s mind. Money is rarely the subject of a poem, a painting, or a song—and when it is, it is rarely shown in a good light.

 

Where did we lose the concept of sacrifice? We respect and honor it with words, when it comes to the military—but where else can we find anything but a jeering attitude at the thought of giving up something of ourselves for the sake of another, or of a group? We certainly don’t find it in business. We rarely find it in communities—the odd volunteer fire-person or EMT, the occasional volunteer food-outlet or shelter—but we find these rarities chronically understaffed.

 

I am as guilty as anyone. Whenever I’m asked to contribute to a charity, I feel like there are plenty of richer people who can just toss out twenties and fifties to whoever asks for it—the fact that generosity on my part would require doing without something for myself, when others can toss bushels-full at it and not even notice, seems unfair.

 

Plus, I don’t like the idea of crowd-sourcing programs that our taxes should be paying for—social engineering is beyond my experience and my budget, and if you don’t like ‘big government’, it’s only because you’ve never needed help. Having said that much, I must add that a lack of community involvement is as much a barrier to the inclusion of the marginal as any lack of funding.

 

Fortunate are the communities that knit themselves together—their lives are fuller and their opportunities are more diverse. I have noticed this especially in police-force communities—their isolation (or worse) from the general public drives them to seek each other’s company—they know the value of working together and of backing each other up—and the extreme danger of the job gives them all a strong sense of kinship. Does this lead to their sometimes thinking their wards are their enemy? I can’t say. But community is a strong tool—and a strong defense.

 

Babies will often create a temporary mini-community, when extended-family members and barely-known neighbors and a clique of schoolgirls who babysit, etc. will come together in common purpose. The group will slowly disintegrate as the baby reaches toddlerhood—but it will have acted as a community until that time.

 

The worst time is had by those who most need a community—those without family, those without homes, those without a support system of any kind. The worst communities are often those with the wealthiest residents—they pay their way through difficulties, hence they don’t want to pay for anyone else’s problems—and they’re too busy making more money to think of helping in some non-financial way, giving their time or attention to someone else.

 

Money can’t be simply thrown in the direction of the needy. The community must address their individual needs and concerns and then ask for money needed to achieve a specific goal. If a community has no leadership, or if leadership is without the support of a community, important issues are neglected. We do not need excitable or ham-handed leaders—we simply need responsible adults to think of their community as an important part of their lives.

 

Money is the score-keeper. Our lives are competitions. We all go after what we want; and someone wins, and the rest turn to other things. Our kids compete for class-levels, grades, scores, sports, and each other. It isn’t real competition—it’s more of a struggle to stay off the bottom. People like me, who have been forced to the sidelines by misfortune, are tempted to see ourselves as losers—for, even though life continues to be a struggle for us, our chances of scoring (i.e., making money) are zero. Those who are above the fray, the very wealthy, need only compete with the small number of their ‘peers’—and, more importantly, they change the rules as they go.

 

After decades of industry, banking, stocks, war armaments, monopolies, lobbying, and ‘person-hood’, the big-money people and corporations have widened the gap between themselves and the billions of blithely competing thralls of their unshakeable system. For they know the horror of our situation far better than we grasp it—the metaled jaws of commerce will macerate even the super-rich, if they get caught in a jam. Even a couple of billion dollars isn’t enough for this crowd—that’s still middle-class in their view. As the rule-makers, they have a horror of being made to follow someone else’s rules—so they’ve set the rules by now so it’s impossible for a nobody from nowhere to steal as much of other people’s money as they do. The Land of Opportunity and the American Dream have given way to a new American Order that says the money-people are fully in charge.

 

They scoff at people who work all day and don’t make enough money to both eat and take medicine. They look down their noses at the millions of chronically unemployed, as if the free-market system (which the money-people control) hadn’t put all those people out of their jobs. They lobby congress incessantly to protect their profits by legislating against our rights as employees, consumers, investors, homeowners, prisoners, or patients. Some of the worst corporations make their money from manufacturing weapons and outsourcing para-military mercenaries. They send jobs overseas to countries where the workers are more victimized than we are. They keep their money overseas so they can dodge their taxes, leaving us to pay for the communities they profit off of.

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As you may have guessed, I’m not a big fan of money. If I had any money, I’d give it to my wife—she’d know what to do with it. I’d be much happier if everyone else had money—or no one. It’s just not working anymore—all it can do, from here on in, is make things worse….

 

Yes, I know this blog entry is disjointed and confusing–I’m on medication now, and for the next six weeks… Hopefully the posts will become more coherent with time. In the meantime, read all my stuff with a grain of salt.

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The Specialization of People (2014Jul03)

20140630XD-JuneDrowsesAway 019 The feudal system of the Middle Ages was a fairly simple system—there was little confusion. There may have been great wrong done, great good done, but it was not confusing. When one person makes all the rules, one person decides on the dreams, the goals, and the right and wrong of things—decisions become straightforward. I’m simplifying, certainly—the Middle Ages saw antagonism between the church and the monarchy, between the monarchy and the nobility, and between high-born and low-born. But the patriarchal, top-down pyramid of authority overlay all of those differences. Racism was total—but made little difference in a world where strangers from the neighboring town were remarkable—and the rare Moor or Oriental was more a novelty than a cultural concern. Feminism was non-existent—as were Gay Rights—and Liberty, for that matter. The Middle Ages were so authoritarian that no chorus of voices was ever raised in favor of changes of any kind. Indeed, keeping one’s mouth shut was a survival skill.

With the coming of the United States, democratic republics began to supplant the absolute rule of royalty—and this complicated matters greatly relative to the Middle Ages. Suddenly, different needs and goals became cause for debate—more than one man could have a say in the direction of our efforts and the following of our dreams. The Dutch had set an example for the American Colonies by foregoing their monarchy in exchange for a Republic—but the representatives in their ruling body were so numerous and contentious that their government was virtually paralyzed.

The newly-born USA had a more well-thought-out constitution, so we didn’t have that specific first-step problem. What we did have were separate states that were nominally willing to subsume their sovereignty under a united federation—what we now think of as the federal government. These thirteen states (and those to follow) all had different cultures, with different interests—and their struggle to compromise all these differences into a federal whole consisted mostly of issues concerning borders, trade, and transportation.

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But before the Civil War, the overlaying pattern remained that of Men having authority, whether over an entire state or a single family. Women had no legal claim to any rights or property outside those their husbands or their fathers chose to grant them. Africans were imported as slaves. Natives were dismissed as wild savages without any civil claim to their homelands. In this way, America became even more specific—White Men now had all authority—everyone else was considered subject to them, in one way or another. So, despite the growing number of states, each with their own character, one truth held sway over all—white men determined the goals and dreams of their cultures—and those needs had uniformity.

But now we have an American society which must address many different goals and needs. Women, minorities, children, the disabled, the mentally-challenged, the non-Christians, religious fundamentalists, the LGBT population, undocumented migrants, the poor, and the gifted—all these special groups of needs and dreams require different things, different laws—even different ideas.

That’s where the confusion comes in. The one thing human civilization never developed was a system that served multiple interests—monolithic authoritarianism has always protected us from this complexity—but no more. The plethora of problems we now face are in large part due to the plethora of freedoms we have been evolving. Authority, to some extent, is gone—and the complex culture its demise has engendered contains a tangle of many threads, many needs, many goals—and those threads are easily snarled.

 

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Part of the difficulty lies in the fact that these special ‘groups’ are not discrete groups—their members live next door to each other, even in the same family’s home—and every adjustment made for the benefit of one group impacts the adjustments required for all the other groups. This condition reminds me of Newton’s research—at one point, Newton wanted to know not only the rate-of-change in velocity, but the rate-of-change of the rate-of-change in acceleration, and so he invented a new mathematics called Calculus. What we need to do is to invent a ‘calculus’ of social justice—a process so complicated that we have never needed it before, and so never realized it’s importance.

People are well aware that our modern times are almost chaotically complex—and they’re aware of the need to change to meet these new challenges. But I suspect people are not aware of how deeply that change must cut into our usual expectations. For example, we mostly agree that habitat destruction, climate change, and toxic waste will render our home planet uninhabitable—yet we hardly know what to do beyond wringing our hands—the problem seems unsolvable. That may be because all of our previous problem-solving paradigms are too simple to tackle such an intricate dilemma.

And the one thing that retains authority, Money, makes a vice of change—we’ll never be able to start working on our ‘social calculus’ until the voices of money and power cease to manufacture the seeming paradoxes they throw at us, using over-simplified examinations of overly-complicated issues.

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If we don’t overcome their ‘enforced stupidity’, the job of analyzing ourselves as a ‘multi-body problem’ will only become more intransigent. I’m reminded of an Asimov essay about scientific specialization—he pointed out that at the beginning of the university system, being a ‘renaissance man’, i.e having an education in everything, was still possible—there were a limited number of books and a relatively small amount of written knowledge. But once the ball got rolling, mathematics (as an example) grew to contain the mathematics of astronomy, chemistry, engineering, etc.—and that these sub groups developed sub-sub groups and so on, until today we have to pick a small pocket of a sub-sub-sub specialization, if we want to really ‘know it all’.

The specialization of people is progressing in the same way—we once thought of the ‘women’ issue as ‘feminism’—a single topic. But now we have reproductive rights, sex slavery, genital mutilation, gender-role indoctrination, equal pay and opportunity, lesbian rights, et. al. Feminism is now a ‘group heading’. And these sub-issues are themselves potential ‘group headings’, as each issue reveals differences of culture or commerce or religion. To include ‘feminism’ in our new paradigm of societal calculus becomes a more complex question with every passing day—and this is true for all our new ‘components’ of ‘the will of the people’.

‘The will of the people’ once had a monochromatic undertone, as if the people all wanted one thing, or at most, one group of things. Now that we recognize that ‘the people’ represent a diversity of ‘will’s, we must recognize that our methods of obtaining that ‘will’ must have a matching complexity. And as complexity begets complexity, we need to have an ‘open architecture’ to our system that will allow for the inevitably greater specialization of people (and their will).

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So my heart rests easy, for the moment—I had despaired of a society with so infinite a number of problems—but now I recognize that our old ways of understanding the will of the governed need a quantum-leap of enhancement to match the explosion of authority into true individuality.

At first look, it seems impossible that there should ever come a day when we shake loose the shroud of pettifogging confusion that besets us through the courtesy of the mass media—and the super-rich cronies that manipulate it to our unending turmoil of talk, debate, and misrepresentation blaring from every LCD screen. The practice of displaying arguments between the ignorant and the learned as ‘controversy’, rather than the celebration of stupidity it truly is—this ‘teaching the controversy’ way of questioning that which is beyond the point of reasonable question—is a sad and twisted sophistry of education itself. Only those with the insight of higher education (but lacking the integrity of what we may call ‘wisdom’) could have conceived of this childish stratagem. Its internal logic holds steady, but its deepest predicates are flawed—and its results are specious rather than meticulous. Once having strayed into it, like barbed-wire, we seem to be quite stuck.

The idea that big money will loosen its control of the populace to the point of unfettered, ground-breaking social experimentation seems even more impossible than our extrication from mass media’s zombie-light. But the world was a very different place not so long ago—and there is no reason to think that we won’t see even greater change to come. There are some changes that I would personally love to witness.

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Salwa Bugaighis, prominent Libyan activist, was assassinated nine days ago—she was a selfless promoter of a better, more democratic Libya and so, of course, she was shot dead. Politicians rarely get assassinated—great people, great leaders, who may or may not be politicians, are the ones who get assassinated. I was traumatized somewhat, in my childhood, by the assassination of JFK. He was my hero, he was the President of the United States, and he was gunned down in broad daylight in the middle of the street. Boom. That sudden knowledge rearranged my perception of the world I lived in—it put a dark filter on what was until then a thoughtless, hazy assumption of ‘right in the world’.

Then my growing up was peppered by repeated examples: MLK, RFK, Malcolm X… and I learned that Gandhi had also died by an assassin’s gun. The women of the Middle East (and specifically of the Arab Spring) are continuing this proud (for them) but shameful (for us) tradition—the more humanitarian their goals, the faster they are gunned down– Salwa Bugaighis is the latest in such a long line that her death barely made the news.

My greatest living hero is Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani girl who champions education, particularly for girls—she was shot in the face (and neck) by would-be assassins, but she was too tough for them, and survived. She continues her work today and is, IMHO, the brightest light on the face of the Earth today.

 

our Bee-Balms...

our Bee-Balms…

 

The sad truth, however, is that she was lucky—and that those animals will probably try again. Thus, I would like to see a world where our best and truest leaders are not gunned down the minute they show their heads. How we get there I couldn’t say—but I would like that very much.

Another change I’d like to see in the world is a new attitude towards money. I’d like to see people who have too much of it feel ashamed of themselves—and I’d like to see the rest of us treating them like the sociopaths they truly are. I’d like to see a proportional increase in our respect for those in want—and an embarrassment with ourselves whenever we fail to do all we can to make their lives as safe and comfortable as our own.

We can appreciate when a football star takes a big hit—we say, “Wow! Did you see that? What a guy!” We should be able to apply the same values to the needy. I mean, wow!, here are people sleeping outdoors in winter, going a whole day without food, having to walk wherever they need to go. Such people! I’m impressed—partly with their strength and courage, but partly because, as with watching the football star, we are much happier being impressed with their struggle than having to actually live through it ourselves, out on that field, taking those hits.

I’d like ‘world peace’ too—but that’s just silly.

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To close, I want to state that I am an atheist on permanent disability—there is no question that my needs and goals are specialized, differing greatly from the norm, as well as from the many other non-norms. I don’t wish to be granted anything at the expense of someone else’s need—I want to be counted as a part of a great whole, and given my portion. And I believe most people would not begrudge me my existence, so long as it doesn’t place an unfair disadvantage on their specialty-group. But such a desire is a question of epic complexity—well beyond the two-dimensional capabilities of our current system—and will require something that doesn’t presently exist—a science of balanced compromise within a diverse citizenry.

We come from competition—we evolved from a place in the food chain, after all—our legal process is adversarial, our political process is adversarial, our sports are adversarial—even our educational institutions are competitive in nature. This simple one-on-one process is an excellent way to settle simple yes/no types of questions. But the more complex social constructions we must develop will only seize up in the face of such simple-minded algorithms. We will have to become a ‘family of man’. We will have to change from competitors to cooperators, if only to allow for complexity.

But competitiveness is innate—many groups will continue to find that depriving another group of its rights is a victory for ‘their’ side. The competitive paradigm will beat back any attempts at cooperation—I can even now hear my more conservative acquaintances shouting, “Communism!” at any thought of a government system that allows for anything to trump personal freedom or economic might. And while I don’t advocate what has historically been named ‘communism’, I must insist that we do live in common with each other—we are a community. Just as we do, indeed, care about our society, in spite of our horror of becoming ‘socialists’. Cooperation, too, is a dirty word, when shortened to co-op. But the villainous character we ascribe to community action, social engineering, and cooperation in good will, is insane without the presumption that the people who live this way are the enemies of freedom.

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Thus, while I optimistically look forward to the betterment of our global condition, there is no guarantee that social calculus and community spirit will manifest itself out of thin air. It will have to straggle through the many attempts to use our present complexity as a rallying-cry for those who would solve the problem by reneging on the social progress we have so recently made. Our present society makes a tempting Gordian Knot—while we may wish to patiently tease out the many twists, more bellicose thinkers will do their damnedest to just slice the thing apart. Complexity may be solved with calculus, but it can just as easily be solved by simplifying things, i.e. ceasing to care about the rights and needs of some of us for the convenience of others.

But like Hitler’s ‘final solution’, that is a primitive urge masquerading as a modern concept—we must go forward with humanitarian aims, or there will be no point in going forward—except for the lucky(?) few.

 

Our little baby watermelon--coming along...

Our little baby watermelon–coming along…

 

Paradox for June 13th, 2014

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Happy Friday the Thirteenth everyone.

What am I going to do about this fungal infection behind my ear? Now that I can afford three meals a day, why does my stomach hurt so much? If my electricity is off how will I take a shower? If I leave my top pants-button unbuttoned behind my belt buckle, I don’t have to spend money on new clothes that fit.

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So there’s no great mystery to my affection for “The Princess Diaries”, or even “The Princess Diaries II: Royal Wedding”—nothing is more comforting than the problems of young, wealthy royalty when trying to escape from the problems of being less-than-young and less-then-wealthy. And I might as well face it—the only person more adorable than the young Anne Hathaway is the grande dame herself, Julie Andrews—and the pair of maids does the cutest step-n-fetchit two white girls ever managed.

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Does this mean my insides are just a big stew of hogs-wallow? Well, I suppose so—I’ve always been soft-centered—there’s nothing but goo in there, really. If I was a tough guy, I would have been built of sterner stuff. But I’m not, never have been, and the world has been going my way on many fronts since my earliest childhood—that was when the pressure against corporal punishment in schools led to arrests and firings of the worst offenders. My older brothers spoke of kids being jacked up against the wall, punched, slapped—but it was all a memory by the time I began to haunt the halls of academia.

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Tolerance grew in northeast America almost side-by-side with me—and my failings (as they would have been seen a few years earlier) became virtues as each year slipped by—my respect for women became acceptable, then somewhat mandatory. My inability to understand prejudice, instead of putting me on the wrong side of my culture, became more and more the public norm. The sixties and the seventies were a unique time when the good-hearted people became activists—ever since, and virtually ever before, the political activists have been the angry fringe. But the inertia of those days still creates a higher ground for those advocating increased inclusion and equality.

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LGBT activism has yielded a whole new world of secularists versus fundamentalists—the legislation and the courts favor inclusion of gays, but the fundamentalists can still be very damning of this segment of our population—one I know of even calls publicly for their execution! But the main effect is to push religion firmly into the camp of conservatives. Secularists get along fine with the more reform-oriented faiths—but even now it is difficult to say, “Well, the religious right will just have to suck it up.” Fundamentalists are a fiery lot, by and large, and they could easily become our own domestic ‘Al-Qaeda’, if they’re not handled delicately.

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Religious freedom suddenly becomes a contentious concept—a fundamentalist sees no problem with advocating that their religious beliefs be made into laws—which is the opposite of traditional religious freedom (and of literal religious freedom). They seem to think that being denied the freedom to remake our laws in the name of the Bible is a denial of their religious freedom—but religious freedom, while guaranteeing our freedom to worship as we please, also guarantees that no one can impose their religious beliefs on the rest of us.

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Outside of the bastions of fundamentalism—or, I should say, pockets of it—there is a large population of nominal Christians who ‘believe in God’ and even believe in the teachings of Christ (in that he taught us to love and forgive each other) but never go to church, or only go to church on Easter and Christmas. They are amenable to the LGBT community, to equality for women, and even to the use of Marijuana as medicine—they take the ‘love’ part seriously, but they don’t care much for millennia-old rules about diet and lovemaking.

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I won’t complicate the issue by trying to prove these people are non-religious, or even anti-religious. But these quasi-Christians are undeniably in favor of expanding our inclusion of all people, all genders—even all religions—and in that sense, they are anti-fundamentalists. Their love for their fellow person is so strong that they cannot deny the religion that legitimizes it—but it also forces them to deny the stringent judgments of fundamentalists.

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And as this social progress makes the world a friendlier place, there is an ironic counter-progress that empowers corporations and constrains individuals more and more each day. We will finally have a free-and-equal-spirited society—and it will arrive on the same day that our government has been manipulated into canceling freedom in the name of capitalism. If there were any hint of the liberality in most American’s hearts evident in the lobby-controlled, fundamentalist-friendly government’s workings, we would have a lot more alternative-energy and infrastructure-repair on the agenda—with its attendant jobs, not to mention a tax on the rich and the big companies—and a lowering of taxes for the less fortunate.

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So many economic clamps placed on the government’s efforts to help its citizens—such furious uproar when we talk about taxing the corporations and the rich—as if to say, “How dare you? We’re in charge here and you’re lucky to have what little you have now.” Democracy sounds like ‘majority rule’, but it has somehow eluded that and transformed into some kind of casino—run by shady owners who kowtow to the whales and bilk the rest. Yet people continue to strive towards their better selves—it’s a paradox, if you ask me.

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Easter Thoughts (2014Apr20)

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Sunday, April 20, 2014               5:54 PM

Well, I’m well satisfied with my essay—and Mike Cook liked it a lot, so there I am. He says it will be included in his July newsletter. While that is happy news, I feel tremendously let down. ‘Post-partum’ depression is part of a creative person’s life—the thrill of writing, drawing, or performing something new, something all one’s own—it can’t just Stop. The aftermath is a frustrating combination of wanting to wave it in front of the whole world saying, ‘Look what I did!’ and of having nothing to turn to where that project once was. Starting a new thing is the only cure but that can’t happen until the reverberations of the finished project have died down inside my head.

My family's first home in Bethpage, LI, NY

My family’s first home in Bethpage, LI, NY

So I’m familiar. Been there, always do that. My self-image is a constantly shifting mass of shards—one piece glinting here, another flashing there. I have been an artist my whole life—but I have never been an artist. I have never tied myself and my creations to any money-making venture. Conversely, I only work for the audience in my bathroom mirror—so I can’t complain that I have no artistic career. But I’m proud—I think some of my stuff is fantastic, and I know that I need courage to do what I do and to live my life the way I do.

My Family's 2nd home in Katonah, NY

My Family’s 2nd home in Katonah, NY

I don’t look down my nose at successful artists—if anything, I envy them. Nothing suggests substantial worth like a high price tag—making money would be a great help in shoring up my self-image. But that, I see now, will never happen. I’ve done some copywriting and some illustration in my day, in passing, and I can attest to the fact that there is a world of difference between being an artist (a spiritual, or at least innate, condition) and being commercially artistic. The cardinal difference is in who says the work is done and satisfactory. If I say it, I’m being an artist. If my ‘boss’ has the last say, that’s commercial art.

Central Blvd. Elementary School, Bethpage, LI, NY (My grades 1-5)

Central Blvd. Elementary School, Bethpage, LI, NY (My grades 1-5)

I remember graduating from high school a year early, going to college for maybe a month, quitting and coming home—somehow, I was standing in the back of my high school’s auditorium during the graduation awards ceremony—students were being given prizes for excellence in Art, Writing, Math, etc. In my former life, such a ceremony would have included me in some category. But then and there I was visiting a school, not being a student—and none of the prizes were for me. I understood it, but I still had trouble dealing with it. Everyone has told me (now that it’s too late) “O! You should’ve never skipped your senior year of high school—that’s the best part.”

John Jay Jr High School (Now Middle School) in Cross River, NY

John Jay Jr High School (Now Middle School) in Cross River, NY

So I’ve always had a sense of where things matter socially and where things matter personally. Public notice is something I wouldn’t like—some financial success would have been nice, don’t get me wrong—and the critic in my head is far harsher than anyone else has ever been. Also, I’m 58 now—misconceptions about honor, glory, power, and riches are long behind me already—as I’ve grown older, my focus gets tighter and tighter on the question of ethics. I’ve left behind all my generalizations and objectifications—I see people as people now. I see them as myself now. I hurt when they hurt—I smile when they are happy.

Katonah Elementary School, Katonah, NY (My grade 6)

Katonah Elementary School, Katonah, NY (My grade 6)

That isn’t so much—everyone has that feeling about their family—but I am learning to extend it to every person, even people I don’t like, people who do wrong. I don’t behave this way because of a religion—although the idea may have come from any of the major faiths—I live this way because it is sensible. Humankind is a family—and the less we recognize that, the more we fail. We are failing now, right now, and we have been for a long time. Yes we have wonderful things, great tech, delicious foods, fast cars—but we have decided to ignore the warnings of scientists about how our ways are killing the planet that gives us food, water, air, and so much more. That’s a fail.

JJHS, Cross River, NY

JJHS, Cross River, NY

Say what you want in defense of high-tech capitalism—speak any doubts you have over the truth of global climate change—none of that will matter when the Mighty Quinn arrives. Sane people like myself feel the giddy spin of madness, calmly watching as A-type personalities muddy the waters of common sense, while the pens of CPAs are destroying all the best that our world has to offer. I could join a group and fight the power—but that’s thinking too small. We would need a sweeping gestalt-change no less overpowering than the beginning of the Christian Era. But Christs are in short supply—and even he couldn’t stretch a few loaves and fishes enough to feed seven billion people.

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Reed College, Portland, OR

I see most of the obvious actions in that context—if it isn’t a sweeping, overall revision of the human vision, it isn’t enough—and, worse yet, it simply adds to the turmoil and confusion. So I do nothing, in the public sense. I do not act. It’s just as well—if I succeeded in improving mankind’s fate, I’d get a big head about it and I wouldn’t be fit to live with. My mission, as I see it, is to post a lot of nonsense like this on the Internet, to help other people whenever I have the opportunity, and to make my own life, as far as possible, an example to my children. And even on that point I’d prefer they copy their mother’s example of steadfast strength and unceasing love and happiness.

SUNY at Oswego, NY

SUNY at Oswego, NY

I say I am proud; I say I want to set an example for my kids; I consider myself unique and special—but that’s not the end of it. I also doubt myself; I feel a touch of fear about what I may be doing wrong; I look around at everyone else’s priorities and valuations—and even my outsized self-confidence quails at the thought of so many people valuing what I ignore, and ignoring what I value. Still, my long adherence to atheism is an even bigger disagreement between me and the majority—and if I’m going to trust in my own judgment on something so vital, it’s not much to tack on my little perceptions as to aesthetics, or ethics.

Castleton State College, Castleton, VT

Castleton State College, Castleton, VT

Although I have been getting used to disagreeing with an entire classroom full of my peers from a very early age, I still feel an atavistic cringing at the thought of facing one way while everyone around me faces the other. It is a natural impulse to get along and go along—we are a social species and I have as much desire to fit in as the next person. My parents were wrong to ask me, ‘Would I jump off a bridge if all my friends were doing it’—the answer is, of course, no—but then if I take that and apply it to my whole life, I’m likely to find almost everything in our crazy, modern society to be in the category of ‘jumping off a bridge’. And that’s exactly what happened.

SUNY at Stony Brook, LI, NY

SUNY at Stony Brook, LI, NY

Thus I’m left in a social vacuum of my own making—I like to read books, I listen to classical music, and I play the piano. That is probably true of many people—but even ‘many’ people can come to a per capita of 0.0005%. So, in a small community like Somers, that would only be three or four of that ‘many’, at best, and even then, I like certain books and dislike others; I like instrumental classical music but I don’t care for opera; and I play the piano, but not very well. Now most people that play the piano are pretty good at it, otherwise they usually give it up—the number of people like me—people that persist in struggling with our limitations, is vanishingly small.

SUNY at Purchase, NY

SUNY at Purchase, NY

Other people, perhaps more emotionally stable people, would concede to popular acclaim and start watching sports on TV, or join a group of online gamers, or join a book club. But I have to work with what I have. I’m a pretty bad liar, I think. And I have no patience—none—especially in conversation. When I hear someone say something stupid or hurtful I turn and walk away—unless the stupid one is picking on someone younger or smaller—then I find myself saying stupid, hurtful things right back at them. I have no self-control to speak of.

Pace University

Pace University

But I spent most of my life being right when everyone else was wrong—in school, in business, in computers—and that’s a hard attitude to change. Even in my reduced mental capacity, there are many people on TV who are demonstrably stupider than I am now. That seems to me like an overabundance of stupid, being not very pleased with my own stupidity. And being half-a-shut-in doesn’t help expand my social circle, either. But I have good friends, nice people, even good neighbors (except for this one guy who just moved in behind us!) and my family, and that’s more than enough people for me to interact with—any busier and I’d be exhausted—I get very tense around other people nowadays, just trying not to say anything that might hurt their feelings, and not to say anything when I disagree with what they’re saying.

Married 1980

Married 1980

I’m big on argument—always have been—but in my ‘second’ life I’ve started to trust humanity to be self-adjusting. If I think someone is wrong, they’ll find out if I was right or not, whether I tell them or not—and nowadays I can’t always be sure that I’m right about anything. Most people misunderstand anyway—I’ve never corrected anyone in any spirit other than a desire to be helpful—but for many, any argument is an attack, so I just upset them instead of helping them.

Jessica Duffy  born 1982

Jessica Duffy born 1982

There’s more I should say, I suppose, but I am just exhausted with trying to talk honestly about myself. I’m actually seven feet tall, a Nobel prize-winner, and a legendary Latin lover—I am ‘the Most Interesting Man in the World’ (but I don’t drink Dos Equis, because of my liver transplant). I’m Superman; I can fly; I’m just incredible…

Spencer  -born 1988

Spencer Thomas -born 1988

I am here

I am here

There are No Free Lunches—Unless You Own the Deli (2014Apr07)

Monday, April 07, 2014              2:28 PM

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It’s so simple. All we have to do is be fair with each other, to care about our community, and to refrain from judging each other. If we did that, we wouldn’t have income inequality—we’d have a generous support system that makes working an option rather than a necessity; we wouldn’t have a powerful group of organizations trying to perpetuate ecological destruction—we’d have a powerful Environmental Protection Agency with the authority to force businesses to curtail their air-and-water-and-ground pollutions, to go bankrupt, if necessary, to protect the global environment; we wouldn’t have underground currents of bigotry in our society—we’d have social norms that insisted on equality for women, non-whites, and the disabled.

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It would mean adding an entirely new level to our evaluation process—once a business was determined to be profitable, it would also have to be seen to be a sensible activity—one which doesn’t turn a blind eye to the ecological or humanitarian downsides that certain businesses might engender. Profit should not be at the top of our decision tree. Human survival should have that spot. And human decency should be in there ahead of profit, too. Damage is not being recognized as part of our evaluation process. Neither ecological nor humanitarian destruction is considered—only the figures on the balance sheets and the laws lobbied into existence to pre-empt any do-gooders that might sue them for such destruction.

Museum of Science and Industry

Corporations with no loyalty to humanity should not be given the latitude of legal ‘person-hood’—they are not our friends, they represent a cancer of morality that threatens our continued existence. Because a corporation cannot feel pain, it doesn’t include human suffering into its calculations—it has only one goal—revenue—and only one law—economize. A few decades ago, the people that ran corporations felt a moral compunction against ‘doing evil’—they had not yet separated, in their minds, their responsibility as people from their actions as managers of a corporation. Today, the only question that concerns them is whether their lawyers are good enough to shield them from whatever thoughtless, profit-making scheme they can come up with. They tell themselves that the world works that way—which it didn’t always, and which only works now because so many of the rich and powerful are shameless enough to hide behind it. They tell themselves that if they didn’t do their job, someone else would, and the only difference would be that their children had to go to public schools, and that the only work for an honest man these days pays minimum wage.

Milwaukee Art Museum

But here’s the thing the rich folks don’t want to think about: people no longer have to work to survive. Let me back up a bit for this one. Ancient nomadic cultures disliked the idea of agriculture—it gave people a surplus of food, and that surplus went right back into feeding a standing army, which protected the grain and livestock from raiders and thieves. As agriculture grew, and civilization matured, these permanent emplacements became small cities—the work required for survival drops even lower, and an upper class appears—people who have the power to command others and excuse themselves from daily labors, even to the owning of slaves.

Thus began the standard equation—special people were in charge, and un-special people were expected to do what work remained obligatory. As time went on, the idea of retiring more people from the full time work force expressed itself as a middle class—those who did less work and had more discretionary time than the un-special in general. Had this continued, the middle-class would have experienced a growth, per capita, of middle-class people, and a decline in the number of ‘un-special’ people until they were no more.

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But the wealthy of our present day insist that only a person who works for the ruling class eight full hours a day should ‘deserve’ a subsistence living wage—and only a few, who are expected to work ten-or-twelve hours a day, should enjoy the relative ease of middle management. This is madness from at least two perspectives.

The first—the idea that our present-day global community requires 99% of us to work all day, every day, is ludicrous. Second—they include themselves in the ‘workforce’—as if deciding where to eat lunch was equivalent to the labors of road-pavers and electrical linemen.

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Factories made it possible to do the work of hundreds of craftspeople in a single day, with a handful of employees running the machinery. Today, factories are becoming roboticized to the point where only one or two people can do the work of thousands—or, to be more precise, one or two people can watch over the machines that do the work of thousands. But more importantly, this is also true of agriculture—huge tracts of farmland are tended by a small number of machine drivers, freeing the hundreds of man-hours farming just a few acres represented, up until a century ago. Armies, too, are doing more killing and destruction with better and better machines, and less and less soldiers.

And now, the latest development—our economy implodes, and when the economy finally climbs back out of the hole, it leaves the American work-force behind. Employment still lags, even while big business has an historic boom. The rich still insist that we peasants are too lazy to get a job—but they don’t have any jobs to offer. The economic straits of the 99% are worthy of at least as much effort as was exerted to alleviate the citizens that starved and froze during the Great Depression—but no, say the rich, you’re all just lazy.

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Having a good job isn’t the be-all it used to be—it is becoming a rarity, a luxury. There are a lot of jobs in one labor-marketplace—the minimum wage, part-time, ‘not enough to live on’, ‘not enough to raise a family on’-type jobs. This is the last straw. The rich suppose we should all work long and hard every day—even if we don’t get paid fairly. Meanwhile, the amount of work required to keep the wheels turning in our present society gets smaller and smaller.

I don’t have a job. I don’t have any prospects for finding a job. Does that make me unworthy of living? Should I just kill myself? Don’t answer that. I believe that our government should address this slow but steady change in our paradigm. Single mothers (and fathers) should be subsidized—whether they work outside of the home, away from their children, should be a choice, not a necessity. Young people should have their education-loan debts forgiven. Corporations should be taxed, and heavily, as should the super-rich citizens. You’d think corporations and the super-wealthy would want all these things, because they promote a healthy business environment.

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Perhaps they’re scared—after all, once you start giving money to poor people, it’s only a matter of time before you start taking money from the wealthy! Well, boo-hoo for them. Income inequality begins with the wealthy getting greedy, not from the poor getting lazy. Work ain’t what it used to be.

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The Dividing Line

Tuesday, March 18, 2014           2:52 AM

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Someday public schools will be civilized to a fare-thee-well, in keeping with the future’s streets, which will be safer than one’s own living room, and far more courteous than the sidewalks of the present. I suppose we could say that, as go the public thoroughfares, so goes the public schooling environment. After all, school prepares us to join society—not just any society but, specifically, the immediate area’s society.

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It’s odd (but I was rather precocious) that I sensed, as I neared the end of Central Boulevard Elementary School in Bethpage, Long Island, that I would not ‘get on well’ in the high school, or even the junior high. The stories my elder siblings related gave me a sense that those places were dangerous—and so they were, and most likely are so, today, for all I know. I’ll never know, having been moved to Katonah just in time for sixth grade at Katonah’s Elementary School.

Bear2007May5 024

And I found them dangerous, as well, as were the John Jay Junior High and John Jay High School that ensued. In a different style?—maybe sometimes but not too much. As I’ve mentioned many times earlier, I didn’t view my family’s house as a paragon of warmth and comfort—although there were, I’m sure, glimmers of it here and there. And then school became a trial.

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There always seems to be at least one bully in every class group, in every outdoor recess, who gets by on the same demographic trend that keeps cable news channels and reality-TV shows on the air. They relieve boredom, if only for a while—and in an unpleasant-feeling manner. I was a perfect target—pre-traumatized, unsure of my community, and preferring a good book to most other things. Only once did I throw a punch—on the playground back in Bethpage. It horrified me. I don’t know if I like fighting or not, whether I’m good at it or not—all I know is that it feels bad hurting someone else.

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Usually when I call someone out as ignorant, I’m referring to the ignorance of this one, crystal-clear truth—hurting other people feels bad. If it doesn’t feel bad to you, if you enjoy it, I don’t know what to tell you. Get over it, because even if you aren’t bothered about it, other people are.

Bear2007May 040

If people witness a traumatic event, a fatal car-crash, or a gang-shooting—the horror that goes through all those witnesses’ minds at that second is immense. People are horrified just to see it happen, never mind actually assaulting someone or being assaulted.

Bear2007May 038

People tend to overlook this point. Survivor guilt is in the same category—watching others die, and living to tell about it, also horrifies the hell out of people. Our hearts do bleed for them. Military action veterans are not all incapacitated by PTSD, but they none of them come home unchanged.

Bear2007May 030

Some people still insist that hitting your kid is the only way to get them to mind. That may be true, but maybe kids aren’t necessarily required to listen to a parent’s every command—we raised our two kids without any violence of word or tone or deed. I admit, they have minds of their own—but I count that as a win, not a loss. The vice-principal of the Somers Middle School called the house one day—I picked up—he said, “Mr. Dunn, are you aware your daughter has blue hair?”

Bear2007May 034

I said, “Yeah. ..” (I wasn’t really—but it didn’t surprise me.)

He said, “Aren’t you concerned that your daughter might cause a disruption in class?”

I said, “What? For having blue hair?”

He said, “Yes. No one else in her grade has blue hair!”

I said, “We encourage her to express herself—I can’t exactly tell her not to dye her hair different colors. Besides, who does it hurt?”

By this point, the Vice Principal had the measure of me—‘one of those parents’—and with a few more gruff grunts he hung up. I stood there thinking—‘That guy wanted me to yell at my daughter for coloring her hair blue!’

Bear2007May 028

As Politics, being at its root all about selflessness, still attracts mostly egoists, power-graspers, and prima donnas—so too, does Teaching, being at its root all about nurturing the incipient excellence of every child, still attract people who despise children, or worse, simply enjoy being in loco parentis to a captive crowd of squirming children—and ‘learning’ comes later, if at all. There are other livelihoods that seem to attract those least invested in the root ideals of their jobs—and more interested in some self-gratification opportunity behind their masks of esprit de corp. One of humanity’s great mysteries, says I.

Bear2007May 027

However, if I may return to my original point, I think the theory that public schools reflect their environment could be applicable to more than the physical neighborhood, to include the local ethical baseline, as well.

Bear2007May 026

I can say this, having been a student in a poor area and in a wealthy area. The ethics of the wealthy can be pretty ugly—where they exist at all (‘But I kid the super-wealthy, they’re really very nice people…’ – Bill Maher). Cheating is shameless in wealthy communities’ schools—sometimes it’s a downright familytradition. Extortion is more prevalent in the leaner communities, as it is played out every day in areas where a buck is hard to come by, but bills they gotta lotta.

Bear2007May 018

Regardless, as schools are intended to prepare us for the future, we can’t expect them to do anything better than to prepare them for where they live. That sounds a lot more fascist than I intended—but if survival, or gainful employment, in one’s own neighborhood is not the goal of the school, what should it be? One thing most schools have in common is a pathway to advanced learning for gifted students—but let’s face it, not everyone is quote-unquote gifted. Still, wasted greatness is more likely in a depressed area than in, say, Beverly Hills.

Bear2007May 016

The biggest problem regarding depressed areas is that they have permanence—change is less welcome in places where security is hard to come by. Becoming poor, aside from being a tortuous hell-on-earth, is also an indoctrination, a training process in which we learn to suffer—and growing up poor is even more damaging to one’s self-image.

Bear2007May 015

Most of the ‘educational dispersal’ is used only by the rich kids. Upper-income families see their kids go to schools of higher learning in far-away places, and aren’t surprised when, after graduation, their kids then go to a random metro-area to try to ‘make it’. But for lower-income families, travel is rare—and travel is a rarity for many different reasons—some of the same reasons that didn’t allow their poor parents to go to every game or performance, every year—and didn’t give them much time to help their kids with their homework, etc., etc., and so on. But the vicious cycle which ensnares the impoverished is well-known for its interconnective stickiness. I won’t belabor the point any further.

Bear2007May 009

Finally, I think it’s plain to see that schools cannot be improved in a vacuum. Conversely, if the neighborhood gains access to good, steady jobs—that influx will be reflected not only in the public schools, but in every part of the neighborhood’s character.

Bear2007May 007

Business is the trouble. The higher the price-tag on a deal, the less said against it by good people or bad. We can exercise the generosity of the Buddha when it comes to tipping, or leaving pennies in the dish—but when we’re talkin’ thirty-five-mill, buddy—just keep your trap shut if you know what’s good for you.

Bear2007May 006

And there stands the dividing line.

Good people can’t be comfortable taking advantage of others, or endangering others, or lying about something important. And all top-executives (and most of middle management) know that those three things are required of a ‘business man’. Does this ad demean women? Only a little. Isn’t the mark-up a little high on this? It’s what the market will bear. What if some kid gets hurt? You’re creating problems that nobody needs right now….

Bear2007May 004

And this divides people because all the jobs that pay good money involve becoming a ‘business-person’. People think we need higher education for these jobs—that’s just a ‘maybe’—the only absolute requirement is that you pick a side and the hell with all the rules.

Bear2007May 003

There are other jobs. There are jobs where you get to talk to people, do some good, get something done that you’re proud of—yeah, we got those jobs. None of them pay more than minimum wage, some pay nothing at all—but they’re there.

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I suppose that’s what we ought to expect. If we want to get paid a lot more money than the average person, we have to do something special, something that separates us from the mob. It’s a shame that the price is somehow ‘letting go’ of what you wanted to believe in. And anyone with kids is an automatic blackmail victim—sure, stand on your principles—but your kids will lose the roof over their heads and a lot more. It’s a strange world—I hated it so much that I’m actually happier being a ‘useless vestige’ than to have to jump back in that cesspool of commerce.

Natural History Museum London

Natural History Museum London

I heard on the news that 40% of corporations have job openings going begging for lack of qualified applicants. So, does that mean these corporations have excessively high expectations, or does it mean that half the working population is not well-educated enough to do jobs which involve anything more complex than simple addition and subtraction?

Museum of Science and Industry

Museum of Science and Industry

I little of both, I hope. Otherwise the USA may be heading economically downward simply for the lack of educated young people. What a wonderful plum that will be on the plates of the Conservative Right-wingers, huh? The country that invented public education will soon be the worst educated of the developed countries (if we aren’t already—you Google it, I can’t stand to look).

Field Museum of Natural History

Field Museum of Natural History

It’s difficult to gauge, but I think, overall in a historical sense, that Christian fundamentalists have done far more harm (and for far longer) than the Muslim fundamentalists. This is one of the many reasons I publicly announce my atheism whenever the chance pops up—it isn’t so much that I’m sure about the whole question of a God existing or not—I really don’t know. What I do know for sure is that all these old, established religions with their texts from BCE, are the result of civilization and human nature.

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Claiming to speak for God is a powerful gig, if you can pull it off. Once one attains such authority—one can even gainsay Kings and Presidents. We now have learned (those of us who didn’t experience it firsthand) that the priesthood was for centuries a haven for child-abusers and sadists—and they got more respect back then, when their ranks were rife with pederasty, than they do now that the Church is actively scraping this ancient scum out of their institutions. Others, like the Jehovah’s Witnesses, had their expiration date, AKA their ‘day of judgment’, their ‘end-times’, their ‘rapture’—come and go without even a tiny cloud forming overhead. How do you polish that turd?

New South Wales Art Gallery - night

New South Wales Art Gallery – night

The Muslim fundies’ pre-occupation with suicide bombing seems to have alienated quite a few Muslims who don’t see anything in their Quran about suicide-vests. And the Jews are ahead of the game, having split into orthodox and reform at the same time they founded their own nation—quite a while ago—plus they’re generally more sensible about interpreting the Bible than any of the ‘youngster’ religions Judaism spawned.

Still, heaven was originally overhead—an unreachable place. Well, too bad, we’ve gone and reached it, and ‘no heaven’ up there anywhere close to Earth orbit—what can you do? Hell is even worse—once imagined to be deeper (and hotter) than the lava that flows from the Earth’s depths. Trouble is they made up Hell before they realized we’re standing on a globe—so Hell is even less underneath than Heaven is overhead.

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And then there’s the archeological evidence of the evolution of religion from its primitive mythology to the modern rites and scriptures of today. And there’s archival proof of human editing of these holy writings to shape ‘what was holy’ to suit sometimes-unholy ends. Our centuries-held misogynous attitudes were a by-product of the early Christian proselytizers’ campaign against the healing-women and other important women’s roles in early Western Europe, naming them Witches and labelling their familiarity with herbs and healing practices as Witchcraft.

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Science, too, was repressed for centuries—chemical experiments were known as alchemy, i.e. black magic. The church’s problem with astronomy is well-known, even today—for it is a glaring example of religious leaders ignoring anything outside of their orthodoxy, at times to the detriment of common sense.

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Literacy was confined to the ruling class—a little knowledge is a dangerous thing, so you can imagine what a lot of knowledge might lead to… And most of the nobility didn’t even bother to take advantage of their access to reading—back then the ethical slant was that their education was a luxury, almost a sin—not to be used, unless being trained  for clergy themselves. Even having learned Latin or Greek, a layman was not supposed to go reading through the Bible himself, he was supposed to listen to the words of the priests at Mass, and leave the comprehension to them. This is still true for many of the Islamic faith—reading the Quran is not recommended, its wisdom should be dispensed only by the Imam.

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So I see established religions as being a bigger detriment to civilization and enlightenment than any other obstacle on our path towards ‘world peace’. Money has become the new religion for many people—and a blind acceptance of Capitalism is not much different from these old religions. Simple things like ‘the Earth needs husbanding’ are suicidally left undone just because it would be bad for the Economy. And what good will this ‘Healthy Economy’ be to us when the Earth can no longer support human life?

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We are captives of A Healthy Economy—even the slightest wobble sends mobs of upset people into supermarkets and delis, clearing the shelves in a matter of hours, if not minutes.

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Thus I prefer not to rail at religions—they are on the ropes already—and the real problem with our society lies in Capitalism and its cancerous consumption of the Earth, of all our days, of all our efforts—not to mention Capitalism’s ugly sister, Poverty—and less than one person in a thousand gets to enjoy their lives, rich or poor.

Opnamedatum: 2010-03-01

Our scientific achievements have become proprietary assets rather than blessings from science. Our schools are veering away from a well-rounded education, towards a more technical-vocational-training kind of schooling—instead of producing fertile, active minds, we now want our schools to provide fodder for the workplace. Not quite the American Dream, these days…

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Capitalism used to work well. Endless growth was once a possibility. There was enough for everyone—there was room to grow. Again, business is the trouble—the higher the price-tag on a deal, the less said against it by good people or bad. And now economic inequality has pushed us back towards the times when rich people felt entitled and poor people felt helpless—war will be its result—the fight over shrinking resources, plus the ongoing toxification of the planet, together will create conditions that make today’s uproars in Syria, Crimea, and Afghanistan and the radiation in Japan, the islands of plastic waste in the oceans, and the drought in California seem like a walk in the park.

Charles I with M de St Antoine (1633) by Anthony van Dyck

Charles I with M de St Antoine (1633) by Anthony van Dyck

Global instances of unprecedented coastal flooding are numerous—the sea-level is rising. There are reports that some popular fishing areas have become so overrun by jellyfish that they’ve not only eaten all the fish, but have become a menace to navigation. As are the aforementioned ‘floating islands’ of refuse that have appeared on the seas, mostly plastic junk but massive enough to create havoc in a busy sea lane.

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Weather extremes of heat and cold do not ‘put the lie’ to Global Warming, they have enlightened us that the correct term is ‘Global Climate Change’. The real danger is the amount of added energy our global combustion-exhaust gives to the global weather system. The recent Polar Vortex is an example of an ‘over-revved’ atmosphere that went spiraling down to freeze crops in California and Florida shows that weather phenomena are beginning to cause the kinds of disasters conservationists have been warning us about since the 1960s.

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The reason for (and the problem with) this is that the large corporations have a half-century of practice at mis-informing the public and lobbying the government. They will nay-say us all into destruction, all for the dirty green.

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I Do Believe In Spooks, I Do Believe In Spooks, I Do, I Do…. (2014Feb26)

I Do Believe In Spooks, I Do Believe In Spooks, I Do, I Do….

Wednesday, February 26, 2014          1:00 AM

A Thought:

So I wanted to say to all my friends that in spite of my being atheist, I still believe in the impossible—and I believe in magic, spirits, UFOs, and anything else—but having said that, I don’t believe any of us really knows anything—thus it would be idiotic not to believe in the unknown.

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The thing about most religions is that they seem convinced they have specific knowledge of something none of us can possibly know—like what ‘happens’ after we die. I haven’t the slightest idea, but I don’t think anyone else does either. And I’m highly suspicious of anyone who says they do.

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People say, “You have to have faith in God”, but all I really need is to have faith in the person or persons saying that. If God wants me to have faith, he/she/it should say so, and stop all this passive-aggressive nonsense. If someone wants me to have faith, they need to start with first principles—why should I trust the person speaking? I’d be likelier to clap for Tinker-Bell than to pray to a God who is at once so unknowable—and yet so well-known-and-understood by the leadership of these religions.

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Another Thought:

I saw a TV ad for a drug—the announcer was saying something about side-effects ‘may include swelling of the lips or throat’, but I misheard it as, ‘smelling of the lips’—and that got me thinking about random side-effects—this is a bit that Colbert (on his ‘Report’) does a lot—and I came up with—

Side-effects may include:

smelling of the lips, lobster-jaw, enphlegmation of the flamm, kitten-sneeze, and boxer/brief bruising..

(But, with my useless memory, I may just be sub-consciously plagiarizing Colbert for half of these.)

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Yet Another Thought:

I’ve just burned my newest CD of improvs—a full hour and twenty minutes worth of what I consider some of my most listenable piano-playing ever—if I could just remove my first 1,332 videos, maybe someone might actually listen to the last 15—still, I had to post the 1,332 to get here, so nix mox…

I’ve also written an entertaining essay or two (although, as with my music, amongst the dross of hundreds of essays) but it has become clear to me that there aren’t a lot of people looking online for witty banter in essay form—who’da thunk it?

Lately I’m really upset about my hands shaking—drawing wild pictures was always my big crowd-pleaser, and now that I have the globe for an audience—I can’t draw!

Sucks to be me. But only once in a while…

Godessette

I am now———-Thoughtless. 

‘til later….

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The Finger On The Button (2014Feb20)

Thursday, February 20, 2014               12:52 AM

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The beauty of the world can be so sharp it cuts—the singer’s voice, the crystal etched, the colors of the paintings, the smell of weather outside the front door—it’s really quite painful when one fully opens oneself to it. So, with paradoxes like that, it seems lunatic to expect our society to make the least bit of sense. Michelangelo said that there is no beauty without some strangeness of proportion—and the Japanese craftspeople always add an imperfection to finish their works, as a concession to the Universe. We research scientific minutiae without the slightest regard for all the really big, completely unanswerable questions in life. We speak of differences of opinions and orthodoxies of faiths—we know nothing, we understand nothing—we care only for ourselves, except when love kills our sense of self-preservation.

I was just watching “The Life of Emile Zola” (1937) on the TV—its ending focused on Zola’s championing of Alfred Dreyfus, the French Officer falsely accused of treason and kept imprisoned on Devil’s Island even after the French War Dept. were informed of his innocence—just to save the Army Ministers from the public embarrassment. It is a damning portrayal of corrupt authority and the injustices it forces on all of the people they purportedly serve. Then, before I turned off the TV, CNN showed footage of the Kiev riots, in Ukraine.

Those Ukrainians were protesting their government’s choice to sign a trade agreement with Russia, rather than sign a trade agreement with the EU. Many people were killed and hundreds wounded as Kiev riot police clashed with huge mobs of protestors—I couldn’t say what the truth is, concerning the Trade Deals, but I do know that it is much easier to have a meeting with concerned groups’ leaders than to start a pitched battle in the streets of the capitol city.

There’s been a lot of news stories lately about legislation that is in the interest of banks and corporations, rather than the good of our country’s citizens. These, combined with recent rulings allowing unfettered financial support to political campaigns, are only two of the many unsettling changes we seem to face in 2014. Capitalism has evolved into a modern weapon, and the taking hostage of our government is its most threatening act. We were fine with using it against other countries, subsuming their living culture into our consuming culture, but now that it has turned on us we are at a loss. What can we do against the owners of everything, even those who own the right of self-expression, i.e. the media moguls? How do we fight an enemy that we use as a reference source? How come history is so full of stories about corrupt leadership and self-interest among authority, yet we still act as if our leaders are honorable folk?

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When I see a parade of legislators on TV, each making statements more ignorant than the one before, I always wonder why anyone takes these people seriously. Whenever they lobby to roll back some piece of modern progress I am stunned to hear them advocate racism, sexism, rejection of science, rejection of our social conscience, and the social services it compelled.

These are double-whammies in that a supposedly sane and educated person mouths these foul sentiments and that our media amplifies their ‘legitimacy’ by covering such things in lurid detail, leaving no even-stupider sentiment go unheard in the process. There should be a military base somewhere, with a guy whose finger is on the button, ready to call ‘bull-squat’ on any of these distracting idiots, and cut them off from all media notice with the touch of a red button. Now, that’s national defense. Call it Home-brain Defense—stupidity, psychos, and rank fiction will no longer be tolerated.

Trouble is we’d probably have to impeach every member of both houses, at least 48 governors, and who knows how many mayors.

Beautiful Weather We’re Having…

This Means War (2014Feb19)

Wednesday, February 19, 2014          12:21 AM

Whenever our ethics are discussed the conversation goes on and on—like philosophy, it’s all just a bunch of words we use to entertain ourselves. But whenever such issues become a question of income, we fold like cheap lawn-chairs. When it comes to supporting our loved ones, we will brook no risk to the family’s shelter and security. Having had personal experience of the question, I can’t argue the point—like all behavior based on our instincts; there is no rebuttal, no matter how intellectual or attractive the alternative view.

But foresight is part of our nature as well. Long-term threats allow us to break out from domestic security and go to war. And war is just as much a part of human nature as protecting ones family. Wars were much simpler back when the paradigm was one-leader-vs-another leader, one nation against another. But modern warfare is more about fairness in leadership—one country after another exploding into violent rebellion against the powers-that-be, who (let’s face it) are often more concerned for themselves than for the needs of their citizens.

We here in the USA are struggling to hang on to the image of ‘protectors of democracy’ while ignoring some of the more egregious retaliations against popular uprisings throughout the globe—and while becoming, through corruption, a bastion of Capitalism rather than a bastion of Constitutional laws and humane ideals.

Being public-spirited is no longer considered a serious part of one’s character. It’s okay to be a liberal activist or a tea-partier protestor, or an advocate for a specific cause; it’s okay to be angry and forceful and even unreasonable in support of one’s views. It is not okay to simply want to make a contribution to our communities’ maintenance and progress—today’s civic duty is to pick a side and fight like hell.

And so, we have fought amongst ourselves, goaded by extremists of every stripe who are, in turn, funded by more well-heeled extremists with a big stake in continued, unregulated Capitalism. Our global civilization’s growing complexity, coupled with its sudden ability to talk person-to-person with virtually everyone else in the world, has filled our media and our minds with struggles and debates and injustices and dangers. We have become used to this chaos teetering on the edge of our self-extinction, this roiling debate fueled by the urgency of a world grown more fragile with every technological miracle we dig up.

We are so inured to our ‘situation’ that we now accept ‘apocalyptic’ as a new entertainment genre. What worries me about all those movies and shows is that they describe the horrendous aftermath of just one thing going wrong. No one has yet shot a movie where everything goes wrong at once. But there are scores of issues that threaten our health, our happiness, our lifestyle, our rights, our freedom, and our equality. I’m guessing at some point we will all realize that discussing all this stuff is not enough.

We will eventually go to war against Capitalism. And our beloved USA will almost certainly be on the wrong side of that fight. What is today our strength will become the millstone ‘round the neck of our tomorrow. When rebels start agitating against big money—corporate or personal—they will find, I fear, the United States leading the fight against them. By destroying (or absorbing) all alternative socio-economic cultures, Capitalism has become a twisted exaggeration of the system that once allowed ethics and power to work hand in hand—by becoming the only game in town, Capitalism slowly but surely eclipsed every other ‘value’ we once valued.

Money has become power. Once, capital was mere wealth—a questionable luxury, as often responsible for unhappiness as is stark poverty. But now one can buy security teams, private jets, and multi-media opinion generators, etc.—things that promote a disconnection between the money-empowered and the money-enthralled.

But the skewed perspective imposed on us by Capitalism is not a scientific fact—it is a consensus. It is a collective choice. Once capital ceases to be the choice of the majority, its power will evaporate—but that can only happen in a world with a viable alternative—and what could that be? I wish I knew.

2044

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Friday, February 07, 2044          6:59 PM

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Farewell:

I’m the one. Fate had to pick someone to be here, now, at the end. Well, not the end—you know what they say about endings. Say rather at our leave-taking. And I am the one who last boards the last shuttle, after all the others have embarked. I look around—not too bad, ‘though pretty bad, of course—but there’s hope of recovery in a distant future…

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Take-Off:

As I strap myself into the lift-seats in the Maintenance section (back of the rocket, as it were) my mind is suddenly filled with the enormity of it—here we are, following in the footsteps of the Fell, taking wing into the cosmos. As I leave this planet, we repeat a step that many have taken—the Fell, and who knows how many sentients before them. We say good-bye to planet Earth.

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MRB 2:

The ‘ancient aliens’ nuts had it partly-right—we weren’t the first ones here—but we came from here—we evolved within the mega-ecology of the ‘virgin’ Earth. The way it was told to me was that the Fell left Earth for good, many millions of years before we did. Once they had left—and enough time had passed—this holy planet reverted to its teeming oceans, crowded with whales, sea-beds covered with lobsters—forests grown so profusely that a person couldn’t walk into one, never mind walk through one. The plains spread out over fertile lands packed with maceratory herds—and permafrost and sand covered the cold and the arid. Flocks of birds once again filled the skies, sometimes, during migrations, blocking out the sun for days.

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That’s what makes it holy. No matter what damage we do to her—we eventually do one of two things: we disturb this place until it can no longer support us—or we wise up and hit the road—and having done either of those things, we relieve the Earth of her burden of sentients—and she re-purifies herself.

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MRB 3:

Eventually, even the metals used to make orbital-labs and satellites will come back down to where they came from, back into the Earth. It’s isn’t a fast process. It takes long enough that by the time a new sentient species evolves, it has petroleum underground and rare metals scattered all over the world. Those millions of years—those are ‘user-transparent’ (as we used to say)—the new species will never have any inkling that their world has been used before. In the face of supereons, even gems and stainless steel parts become dust in the wind.

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Orbit Approach:

There’s a trick to it—that’s why all sentients are clever—if you miss the tricky part, you never leave. Earth is a playpen—each of the new, sentient species must grow up in it. You can just imagine how much time it takes an entire civilization to grow up—hell, even thirty years ago we had no idea of the ‘trick’.

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But we got lucky—some gal with enough money to make herself heard managed to convince some people to prepare for leaving Earth, and they convinced others, etc. until it became a world-wide issue. Leaving Earth is the tricky part—the Earth is a great place to grow up—but being confined to a playpen as a teenager is simply wrong. Our survival depended on our maturity—if we lacked the courage to leave the nest, we would stay there until starvation ended us.

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Trans-Earth Orbit:

So we had a world-wide consensus (not without detractors, of course) by 2030. The next decade was an epic parade of cooperative construction on massive ships, colonies, and space-platforms. Countless boosters pushing away from Earth’s gravity-well filled the horizon like distant fireworks. A few scientists began focusing on the technology that would transform space-debris into water, atmosphere, fertilizer, and building materials. Sub-ecologies, like Kansas farmland and Louisiana rice paddies, had to be transported to labs where they could be the ‘sour-dough’ that we would use to create new fertile growing areas amidst the vacuum of space.

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The whole project was weakened by lack of a plan to get everybody off the planet—until, in 2038, materials science finally gave us Arthur Clarke’s holy grail—a space elevator! Ethical qualms thus reassured, the only remaining difficulty was the significant number of people that didn’t want to go. Removing people against their will was a non-starter—we weren’t going to do this if it demanded blood on our hands—our future voyage, as mankind, could not begin with a mass murder.

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The problem was picked at—turns out that any one past menopause wasn’t a problem, anyone too young would be legally required to go with their families, and most adults that didn’t want to go weren’t all that ambitious. Holdouts were informed that most factories and industrial facilities would be destroyed as a final, helping hand on Earth’s long voyage to its next sentient explosion.

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Station V-5:

Great, curved windows showed the glowing, blue ball with the white stripes. There were less than a hundred-thousand humans remaining on our old playpen—scattered widely enough that they’ll never join up, in small enough groups that inbreeding will doom them, if it isn’t something else first. What reasoning could be done had been done—they know the same facts. They’re just downright ornery—who knows? Maybe that’s the last cut of the umbilical—shedding the downright ornery, those so well adapted to their cradle that they will die in it rather than be discomfited.

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I think of the billions of us out here, a fledgling civilization, not even ready yet to pass across to neighboring stars—and how long it will take us to fill up our new home and suck dry the solar system’s vast resources. And I wonder if it will last long enough for humanity to reach for the stars.

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Keep On Keeping On (2014Feb05)

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Wednesday, February 05, 2014          5:40 PM

There was a kerfuffle in the news media not too long ago over the idea of Business Owners being taxed more—the conservative argument was that these titans of industry had created their empires by the sweat of their own brows, single-handedly; and the liberal rebuttal was that America, as a work environment, deserved some credit since it provided a friendly culture for the yeast of business owners’ phenomenal growth and profits.

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That is to say that having paved roads, well-regulated commercial practices, and well-funded customers—all had something to do with any single businesses’ success. The furor disappeared quickly—but on further thought, that may not have been the best outcome. One way in which businesses resemble their individual employees is that when they stop carping, they can seem to be reasonable—even wise.

No, having had a think, I’m thinking the conservatives didn’t suddenly become reasonable over a logical dispute. I’m thinking some one of them was clever enough to foresee the ultimate terminus of the debate—that the interaction and interdependence of businesses and government and the rich and the rest of us—is quite total.

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For my money (pardon the pun) whenever the high-muckety-mucks start to bitch about a government plan that means reductions in their profits, when the other side of the argument is perhaps sheer survival for millions of homeless, of the poor—and all their children, as well—I get angry! Who the hell do they think they are? I experience a profound wish that they were stuck on a street corner tonight with no money, and their kids there too. Maybe that would influence their ethics—or perhaps, by reflex, they will simply stop a passing stranger and take everything they own.

TCB, Money Talks, I Got Mine Jack, and other hillbillian hits through the years have always enforced the Prime Directive: money isn’t everything—it’s the only thing. But where do we start? How do we push back against this societal virus whose only claim to legitimacy is that —after having bested Fascism and Divine Unification—it has done better than Stalin’s purges and Mao’s purges? Capitalism hasn’t shown itself to be the more humane form of democratic government—it has only proved that it’s the lesser of five evils.

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Our faith in Cash is as willful and self-determined as our faith in our religious institutions—and both have proved, over and over, to be rather leaky vessels under the waves of real life. If one decides cash is worthless, it ceases to have worth—if a person won’t sell anything they own, or buy anything with money, they have effectively removed themselves from Capitalism. But that person has not removed his or her Society from Capitalism—so Capitalism’s power will still control that person’s fate. Indeed, if someone did it really well, capitalists would spring from the bushes, copy the basic concept, and start marketing it.

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One beachfront to be considered is this: changing the positive status-symbol of continuous acquisition of more wealth into a symbol of childishness—and create a status symbol out of divesting oneself of wealth and possessions—Wouldn’t it be funny if ‘poor’ people resented not having enough money to give any of it away? If they got annoyed by the persistent nagging of ‘..would you like a better apartment?; …would you like to eat at a great restaurant?; …does your family have enough blankets tonight?’ Imagine annoying people by trying to give them too much, instead of cancelling ‘milk for enfants’ (How any congressperson could allow that and still look at themselves in the mirror is beyond me).

20140205_midl_rght_detail_(smallversnOf_SK-A-3147-B)And I’m beginning to see the conservatives’ attraction to Christian Fundamentalism—it allows us to talk a good prayer, without actually taking responsibility for anything changing—whereas Ethical Humanism actually requires a person to take part in a humane society. If that got popular, Capitalism would start to see some real push-back. While I recognize the great comfort that billions are afforded by their respective religions, I cannot accept any premise based on pure faith. To me, faith is something we have in each other, regardless of our spiritual choices. Someday someone will figure out how to make it easier for us to have faith in each other, even though we can see each other’s faces (and we don’t even like some of them). We would lose the feeling of being entitled to let other people suffer needlessly. It would be very unglamorous, except perhaps for the result.

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So I keep dreaming up possible ways to make society less dysfunctional. I keep getting angry when I hear about rich people and big corporations that look down at us, coldly calculating the next advantage Capitalism will allow them to take of us. I keep feeling sorry for all the people whose world is too isolated to realize that their critics are the only ones who have anything to apologize for—that there is nothing wrong with their differences—that their differences are, in fact, a part of what makes them a whole, beautiful person. I keep worrying that America will not supersede itself, that we will allow some more regimented dominion to perpetuate the cycle of entitled carelessness by a chosen few—and suffering for the rest. And I keep on keeping on.

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Surprise, I Run This Hell-Hole!

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Friday, January 31, 2014             8:59 PM

Unfortunately, my PC’s sound system is not up to drowning out “Undercover Boss”’s final reveal moment in the next room. The unctuous ‘boss’ is being patrician in stages, ticking off each of his encounters with the female employee and the ‘prizes’ that come with each so-called lesson he’s learned in ‘his time with her’ (a condescending angel in the lower muck of the masses, I guess) which I couldn’t hear clearly but were obviously greater and greater ‘gifts’, judging from the female employee’s greater and more tearful outbursts of thanks and disbelief with each new debt paid off, new car given, and all culminating in her promotion to some heavenly post within upper-middle management.

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I have two problems with this noise blaring through from the TV room. Firstly, it’s mostly men bosses and female employees—just as well since a female boss would not need to ‘learn’ that it matters how the staff are treated; that not everyone can charge off whatever comes along on the old Amex card; or that human nature creates office politics like air comes from trees.

Secondly, it seems to encourage an attitude of ‘classes’ of people—something that is never acceptable outside of the workplace. Most bosses take advantage, consciously or unconsciously, of the fact that employees aren’t actually answering a bosses questions so much as answering the question ‘Do you want to keep working here?’’ When the boss smiles, the employee smiles back—what in hell else is he or she supposed to do?

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And no acknowledgement is made of the fact that of the many millions of ‘employees’ (AKA people) who are not appearing on “Undercover Boss” this evening—that all the fairest and rightest things gone awry in their lives, find their only succor in daydreaming about being this poor working girl who is brought to tears by the idea of living without fear and want and injustice (or, at least, with less fear and want and injustice.)

Besides, all this ‘reality-TV’ stuff gets my goat—people, like Heisenberg’s sub-atomic particles, change their behavior as a function of being looked at—and these programs are the best evidence of this theory I’ve ever seen. Not so long ago, most citizens would back away from the idea of being on camera—it is only with the decades of reinforcement that TV equals money, that celebrity equals money—people nowadays are actually becoming sociopaths to achieve this new ‘goal’ which, only a generation or so ago, required professional people be well-paid to even consider doing. Comedians are laughed at in theaters and on TV, around the world, for a virtual eternity—how many of us are comfortable with that idea? Not to even mention paparazzi…

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Facts (or Competing Insanities) (2014Jan20)

Opnamedatum: 2012-08-31

Facts:

We are destroying our environment, and even now that we know how deadly that is, we’re still doing it.

We are killing each other and we won’t stop, even though killing someone never accomplishes anything.

We know that it is foolish to trust a banker, but we still give them our money to hang on to for us.

We know that throwing people in prison never makes them change, but we keep doing it.

We know that elected officials are usually corrupt, but we still vote them into office every Election Day.

These are all simple, indisputable facts—and a fair indication of how much we value common sense (i.e. really not much at all).

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No, I can’t write another poem—it’s not like there’s a button I push and bam, the poem comes into my head. I wish there was, of course, but too much poetry can rot your brain, so just be thankful you’re not getting any here, today.

I started to try to make a poem. I listed all the plain facts about us Americans that show how crazy, almost sociopathic, our culture is. Look at foreign ‘first-world’ countries like Sweden or Spain—they’ve broken step with our ‘march towards the future’. They’ve banned putting hormones into cows; they banned Genetically Modified grains such as those sold by Monsanto. They are pushing ahead with alternate-energy infrastructure and non-petroleum car fuels. The most advanced thing the USA has managed is a recent ban on making electric light bulbs exactly the way Thomas Edison made the first one—whew! —my head is spinning.

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Meanwhile, we gouge the planet for rare earths useful in electronic components and batteries—third world kids have day-jobs in China and India, just chipping these precious (and highly toxic) elements out of old motherboards and Intel processors. Taking these minerals out of the Earth seems no like big thing—but you’re forgetting the most important part of their name: ‘rare’. To get this stuff, they chew away entire mountains, forests, islands—wherever it is, it is far more valuable on the open market than the lives of the helpless people who used to live on top of these ‘earths’.

But today, I’m trying to stay away from rant-territory. I want to talk about how we see sanity and insanity. Everything is fractal these days, so a small crook gets a big punishment, and a big crook gets to take over his domain; small lies are despised, but really big lies form the bedrock of most political platforms; insanity in an individual gets you locked up, but refusing to accept society’s insanities is even more likely to get you locked up.

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These insane ‘givens’ are so important to us that we get angry, or at least annoyed, at anyone who wants to talk about them. We do this because we believe that insanities such as bigotry, pollution, etc. cannot be changed—we believe that talking about these ‘infra-problems’ is a waste of time.

We believe this mostly because these problems are only symptoms of the big problem—differing attitudes. Some people will take advantage of a good deal to the point where they get more than any one individual was supposed to get—leaving some less-pushy, less-advantaged people to go without. This happens with food, with shelter, and especially with money. It happens with everything, really.

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And the reasons can vary—some takers are selfish, but others feel ‘self-less’ because they’re taking all they can for their children. We all accept that insanity is part of being a parent. But we also laugh at comedies which exaggerate this trait in some characters, especially the mother-roles. This indicates that we recognize that parental drive, but we also recognize that society requires us to keep a grip on it and not get carried away beyond all fairness. Unfortunately, this doesn’t mean we all get it, just that it is there to see, if you’re looking.

Divisiveness comes in a million flavors: from benign loyalty for your local sports team to cabals of bigots trying to manipulate legislation. Competition is a good thing, in its place. But I think we need to decide where competition’s place is, and we need to keep it in its place. Competition is fun, when it’s just for jollies—but is competition a perfect way to choose a leader? Is competition a perfect way to drive our economy? Does competition have no limits in our society because we can’t change the rules, or because we don’t want to change the rules? The later, I think.

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It becomes ever clearer that we will need to supply base-minimum revenue to all citizens—computers and automation are shrinking the job market while our population grows. This can only end in disaster for the huge number of people who don’t have jobs—or have jobs that pay less-than-subsistence wages to easily-replaced employees. Workers’ strikes hold little punch when laborers in ‘emerging’ countries are already siphoning away all the unskilled-labor jobs. And it’s hard to form an effective global union—Europe is having enough trouble just trying to standardize their currency, and unions are a much harder row to plough.

The business owners that still say ‘An honest worker can always find a job, if the worker tries hard enough.’ are living in the 19th century. Back then, our whole world was work—no electricity, no appliances, no cars, no supermarkets —more work than you could shake a stick at. But here in 2014, things have changed—there are lots of jobs, but those jobs aren’t nearly enough to employ the full workforce available.

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Look at our ‘recovery’ from the Great Almost-Depression—stocks are up, profits are up, bonuses are up—but jobs, not so much. Between my camcorder and my PC, I can make an hour-long video in HD and Dolby sound, entirely by myself. Claire has software that does her taxes in April (and emails in the return). I correspond with people from all over the world, nearly every day, in e-print, audio mp3, or video uploads; I can post photos on my blog, share e-documents for my online-university professor to grade; I can even shop for virtually anything without leaving the house—and it will be on my doorstep the very next day.

Yes, yet another list of ‘the wonders of modern technology’—but that is not my purpose. I want you to imagine all the jobs that a person could have held in 1964, just 50 years ago, that would play a part in all these things—all the lighting and sound and film-development and film-delivery and editing people needed to create a TV video in 1964; all the accountants and mail carriers and bankers that were a part of annual tax-filing in 1964; how difficult, not to mention expensive, it would have been to send notes and photos and make telephone calls every day to people in Germany, South Africa, or Iran—hundreds of film-developers, color-film producers, switchboard operators, and telephone linemen.

Well, the telephone linemen are safe, for now, I guess—at least until optical-cable replaces phone-lines completely (and they’re still going to need someone to run those cables) so who knows. But my point, I think, still stands—millions of jobs are now mere memories of the quaint, pre-digital America. And the race to create new jobs is being undercut by the race to automate whatever can be automated (destroying jobs).

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And, no, the answer is not to stop automation. Repetitive or difficult work should be given to machines—it’s more efficient. But if progress is to maintain its position as a positive force, we will have to stop making people compete for jobs—this isn’t Thunderdome. FDR began the process when he called for support of those who couldn’t support themselves. Those people were then considered ‘excused’ from the competition to survive—partly because they were doomed to failure in that competition, and helping them seemed preferably to watching them starve in the streets.

Well, I think the time has come to at least start thinking in terms of the day when a miniscule job market dooms virtually everyone to fail in finding work. The day is coming soon when significant percentages (even majorities) of the population cannot possibly find work in a shrinking job market. What will we do? Don’t healthy, well-educated people deserve as much respect and comfort as senior citizens on Social Security or wounded veterans on Disability? How can we condemn someone for not working when there is no work to do?

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And the first thing, as usual, that needs to change is our point of view. I’m old enough that the idea, to me, of being unemployed is an embarrassing one—we are used to thinking of jobs as something we compete for, and not finding a job makes one a ‘loser’. But things don’t work like that anymore. We should get the ball rolling by granting revenues to the millions of long-term unemployed—the ones so long out-of-work that their length of joblessness makes them undesirable—and the ones who just gave up, after years of sweating the job market, chasing interviews, printing resumes—when the futility of it all finally beat them.

These are not lazy people. These are not shirkers. These are people like me and you, but without any revenue, or any hint of a possibility of a revenue-producing job. There are not enough jobs for these people—even with vocational training, the new jobs just aren’t there. I think it’s time we stopped waiting for that to end—I believe it’s only the beginning of a new paradigm. The future is a place where having a job is a status symbol, not a dire need. Without any change in this direction, we can just sit and watch while the USA tears itself apart—rich against poor, race against race, violence for its own sake.

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You know, all those crazy suicide bombers in the Mid-East—they didn’t start out that way—they weren’t born with a compulsion to lash out at the Powers-That-Be, they weren’t born with the desperation that devalues life itself. They become crazy because of the hopelessness and want and fear that they grow up in.

We have to start thinking about how much more gets done through cooperation than competition—we may need to find something else to compete about in our daily lives—I don’t know if people can be happy without competition. But we need to stop making survival a competition. If half the country is out of work and we still produce the same, let’s give revenues to the unemployed half—it’s better than letting them starve in the street, and it’s much nicer, which (in my view) is always a good thing.

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And don’t think I’m talking pure charity here—an economy can’t function if everyone is broke—and hungry, rioting mobs just ruin property values and insurance rates. We need to have everyone supported, even if we don’t all work for our revenue. Science fiction tales such as Star Trek are always positing a future where money is obsolete, where people only work at what suits them—well, believe it or not, it’s time to start planning how to really do that.

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Three Films just out on VOD (2014Jan14)

Tuesday, January 14, 2014           6:23 PM

Just watched “The Butler”—very inspiring and uplifting. Even Cuba Gooding, Jr. was afraid to make a joke. There’s such a division between me and black people—their last half-century is a history of struggle and strength and dreams and has, for the purposes of this movie, at least, found a happy, even glorious, ending in Obama’s 2008 election as the first African-American President of the United States. My last half-century has been spent resembling the rednecks whose behavior and ignorance have brought shame to all Caucasian-Americans.

But enough about me—every president in the movie is a major star (I can imagine the wrestling agents, maddened by the blood-scent of a good cameo role). As the story of one man going through his life, the only meaty roles went to Oprah Winfrey (Gaine’s wife) and Cuba Gooding, Jr. (White House co-worker). There were many characters in passing, which I didn’t even get a good look at before their brief time on screen ended, but whom I learned watching the ‘Cast’ credits, was over-stuffed with actors and actresses who wouldn’t normally be seen in bit parts.

I also watched “Enough Said”, James Gandolfini’s last film, which also starred Julia Louise-Dreyfus, and in which both are confident, comfortable actors with a great script. Humorous, but not cringe-worthy—and I think that’s a rare compliment among Hollywood’s recent romantic comedies. Granted, the two star-crossed lovers are divorced fifty-year-olds—but as a fifty-something myself I can tell you that it was a much-appreciated crumb thrown in the direction of we ‘old people’.

Last night, I screened the current remake of Stephen King’s “Carrie”, which kept me awake until 3 am, but not because I was scared. Perhaps I was put off by the demonstration of how mean girls of today torture their classmates—worlds away from 1970s practices, but no different in their cruelty. In this case, a reminder that ‘the only constant is change’ was an unwanted one. Modern CGI gave a few interesting moments to the graphics, but they forgot to put anything behind the characters’ faces–which made it very hard to stop seeing them as actors and to get involved in the story.

Growth Spurt

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Techo-Industrial progress is generally thought of as a growth process, a progression of steps towards a brighter future. But as I look back on my Computer-Whiz career, I can see that digital technology outgrew me. It outgrew me and thousands of others, men and women who had struggled through the early days of the digital office revolution.

In the 1970s and 1980s there were hundreds of new products and programs every month, eldritch code and cabling that went through an evolutionary maze from Pre-PC, room-sized standalones, to PCs using Basic, to PCs using dBase, to LAN-connected PCs, to PCs with Windows 2.0, to email, bulletin boards, and the dawn of the World Wide Web—and all these stages had commensurate enhancements in printer technology, analog-modems to cable, cabling, through its various incarnations of ports and plugs, to wireless, Faxes, scanners, laser-printers, mice, keyboards, and monitors, in-house programmer to off-the-shelf-software to Office Suites, Adobe graphics suites, ‘Meeting-minder/Contacts’ Sales suites, and bookkeeping programs galore.

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I began as one of those ‘in-house guru’-types, doing everything computer—setting up the machinery, running the cable, hardware repairs, software programming, user-training, de-bugging, printer-paper schlepper, printer jam un-jammer, etc.

In the course of the next two decades, I would read badly-translated-Japanese users’ guides on modem installation, hard-drive installation, balancing the voltage on the CPU, 200-page tomes on how to set all the settings for all the users of a new LAN version, dictionaries of code-syntax, and a lot of other documentation that would never make the bestseller list (or in some cases even qualify as being written in English).

I sucked it all up in my brain and it was quite a suck—but I was pretty sharp back in the day. Twenty years—the computer industry from its first shoots, growing into the ‘monster with a billion tentacles’ we have today—I rode the wave and fully enjoyed being up on that big tech wave with relatively few peers.

Now, I’m in no shape to go back to a life of coding, so you needn’t think this is sour grapes, but the digital culture has outgrown all the many things I once knew or used. Anybody can use a computer now, hell, it’s not even a PC anymore, it’s just your phone mostly now. User-friendliness, once a big issue, has disappeared from the lexicon, owing to how completely it has been achieved. Even someone with a PhD in Computer Science, in 1989 (assuming no further education) would be as digitally-illiterate today as I am. Technology simply outgrew the need for our skills.

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But we are not lonely in that category—millions of others are in this group with us—letter carriers, phone-jack installers, radio DJs, journalists, fighter pilots, astronauts, camera and movie film processors, electronics cable manufacturers. Now there’s talk of 3-D printing opening wide someday soon—there goes factory work—whatever hadn’t already been replaced by robots, that is. Fortunately, we have some breathing space in this area—it’ll be quite some time before 3-D printers will be cheaper than 3rd-world labor. I’d bet a guy with a fax machine business in 1990 probably thought it would last.

New jobs? Sure, new tech is bound to create some jobs—but not for hordes of employees. Most innovation these days is achieved through enhancements in software and the electronics—the small part of innovations that create new jobs usually create only one or two jobs, and very specialized ones, at that.

And so we see progress. Our technology is growing like a weed. It is outgrowing the need for hands and eyes. Soon the cars won’t let us drive ourselves—too risky. And virtual meetings take the place of many arduous junkets to far-off customers or suppliers. Wikipedia is, for virtually everybody, a better memory than the one we were born with—and if some of its data is false, just imagine how much data inside your own head is a bunch of BS and you can rest easy that it’s still a good trade.

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Luckily, no one has a job remembering, so at least the economy is safe from Wiki—if you don’t count World Book or Encyclopedia Britannica—both of which no longer print paper-books, having migrated online years ago, so those printers were out, regardless of Wiki.

But I like work. Our cultures are always founded on work—our bodies need work to stay healthy, our minds need work to stay sharp. Mobs of farmers used to get plowing, sowing, reaping, milling, whatever. Craftspeople used to make stuff with their hands—that sounds like a nice way to go through life. But there’s no need any longer. Machines do the farming, factories make stuff in bunches—and all of it quicker and cheaper than people.

Without the need for those masses of workers, there’s still plenty for a person to do. Medicine, Computers, Law, Construction—jobs all over—for now. But that doesn’t mean those jobs are still going to be there in ten or twenty years. As technology grows, its growth accelerates—the more jobs it does for us, the faster it will be taking more jobs away. Even if our profligate consumerist lifestyle wasn’t killing the planet, our notion of ‘progress’ has our own erasure from the list of significant things built into itself. We are rushing towards our own uselessness. Onward!

Thought

Thomas Cahill on “Bill Moyers”

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Monday, December 30, 2013              1:44 AM

On Bill Moyers tonight a guy said, ‘There’s really only two sides: kindness and cruelty.’ And I agree. When all detail is scraped away, a kind person will do what they can, and a cruel person will do what they can get away with. The main obstacle to that clarity is human history. We start focusing on debts, borderlines, dogmas, politics, and whose dad could beat the other guy’s dad. The cruel side uses all this ‘white-noise’ to tap-dance endlessly around the simple issue of ensuring that no one starves to death.

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My South African friend became quite exercised about we Americans always bringing up Apartheid. (On Bill Moyers they also talked about Mandela’s turning away from revenge or bitterness towards his oppressors—and how that was as rare a thing as a thing can be.) I think South Africans have a false sense of how easy it is to end bigotry—their miraculous, overnight switch from apartheid to equality, as an entire nation, could have gone in many different, less peaceful, directions after Mandela’s release from prison.

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But the funniest thing on TV today was mentioned on both Bill Moyers and Religion & Ethics Newsweekly—The new Pope, Francis, is throwing a huge monkey-wrench into the neo-con evangelists’ secularizing of Christianity. He reminds the world that ending poverty and hunger must be a Christian’s highest priority, Catholic or otherwise—this flies in the face of pious Republicans whose decidedly selfish narrative ‘explains’ cutting food stamps for poor families and refusing to raise taxes on the wealthy.

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The Roman Catholic Church, prior to Francis, was a major banking institution and the single biggest holder of real estate around the globe—an institution soaked in power and property—and was thus reliably on the side of big business and high finance. Pope Francis’s new thrust seems to be a sharp break with expectations. He wants Christians to live their faith: mercy, charity, and love—and he’s not inclined to spiral off into some distraction that allows the status to stay quo. Recently, the Pope even mentioned the existence of atheists like myself—and not as damned souls doomed to perdition, either!

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This pleases me more than I can say. I was happy enough to hear that the Catholic Church had finally seen the light, vis-à-vis pederasty and general corruption amongst the priesthood, and would no longer consider buggery an ‘old tradition’, but rather as the crime it was always (quietly) known to be. But now—O, to have a Pope stand up and tell the world that we don’t know what Christianity is. If Christians want to be worthy of their faith they have to act like Christians. They have to believe in mercy towards, charity for, and love of our fellow men and women.

 

You know, people talk about the Jews having to avoid the flesh of scavengers, like pigs and shellfish; or the Muslims having to pray four times a day (or is i

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t 5?). But Christians get a pass. To believe in Christ is to want to follow his teachings—which say plenty about the poor and the outcast, but nothing at all about mortgage derivatives or early foreclosures. There was a story about J. K. Rowling in the news this week—she was a billionaire, but now she’s given away so much to charities that she’s become a mere multi-millionaire. I was shaking my head at the thought that this was news—it was news because no one else had ever f*#king done the same.

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But between her, Bill and Melinda Gates, billions of US $s in foreign aid, and the Catholic Church, we still have starving kids and homeless victims of a global system that says, ‘not my problem.’ Just within the USA alone, we have erosion in our beautiful Capitalist sand-castle—Detroit declared bankruptcy a while ago—the whole city. Of course, rich people can move. But what does civil bankruptcy mean to the Detroit denizens that were already broke before the crisis? It means that what little support the poor were getting there will become no support at all. A major city in the USA!—O how the mighty have f*#ked up.

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And often we hear about the churches of all denominations being the major source of soup kitchens, charities and volunteer work. There’s only one problem with that—nobody goes to church much anymore. Hey, don’t shoot the messenger—but there are definitely a lot of people besides just me, all staying home from church—some just lazy, yeah, but a lot that just don’t have religion in their lives now. A lot of Catholics are staying away because of the betrayal of sexual misconduct committed by their once most-trusted and respected civic leaders, their local priests. And don’t even ask about the number of young men deciding to enter the priesthood–who in their right mind would jump into that abyss?

I don’t want to go into that cesspool of a subject, but my point is—the church is no longer the core of a town or a neighborhood. And without the collections funds, the charities have no cash to operate. It is time we stopped looking to church charities and began implementing something more secular. We could call it “The Centers For People We’ve Finally Stopped Pretending Weren’t Suffering” (“…and stuff”, as Derek Zoolander might say).

Well, I Googled, so now I know the guy on “Bill Moyers” was Thomas Cahill—and he was right: ‘There’s really only two sides: kindness and cruelty.’

Don’t Go Getting Crazy (2013Nov26)

There seems to be a rise in mental issues that may or may not be part of the dip in our economy. After all, if you take someone’s livelihood away and practically guarantee that he or she won’t be able to find a new job, ‘reactive behavior’ occurs—you can call it insanity if you want, or call it desperation, or cognitive dysfunction, or even maybe hunger and shame.

Suddenly ‘life on the street’ gets a little more crowded, a little more dangerous—people with poor coping skills feel pressure, newly homeless are still reeling from the collapse of their lives, families, self-worth… As for me, besides the terror at the thought I could someday end up there (!) I see it as a scary sci-fi story—the rich people have hacked the system, disenfranchised  much of the majority’s (the Saps’) democratic, legislative machinery of redress and reform, and have settled in for a long era of sucking our blood, like tics, and laughing down at us from their penthouses.

Having had Arnold Schwarzenegger serve as Governor of the State of California, it is difficult to imagine his sui generis Action-Hero-role swooping in and kicking ass and blowing up bad guys—when Ahnold is blatantly a part of the current system—a system that is proof against any uprising of the heroic or the violent. When your enemy is the system, you are facing down the heavily armed, the decidedly uninterested, and the pitiful few whose life is nearly as bad as one’s own.

Even some of the worst-off, the real ‘nose-divers’—they want nothing so much as a chance to buy back into the system that brought them where they are—on the street. And for many people, there seems little difference between business and gambling—both want something from you, both offer you future advantages that may or may not happen, depending on how honest the table is—and the luck of the draw.

But what does business offer during these hard, hard times? A virtual guarantee that the game is rigged, that the fat cats make the big dough and all us little people just keep on working, and taking it, without much to show for it. But let’s not be silly—in a world where our banking and finance industry big-shots are convicted felons, how can we possibly maintain our hope that the dice aren’t loaded in Vegas and ACNJ?

A fascinating field for debate–can civilization contain the animal within all of us? Do we want it to? If so, how much containment is enough? How much is too much? Should society try to accommodate our animal-humanity, or repress it? Can we, as a group, or even I, as an individual, ever match up our late-night resolutions with our early-morning excuses?

If everyone is at some level of mental health, how far should we go to splice that psyche onto a digital world of yes and no answers? Are people called ‘sane’, such as you or me, only to say that we are somewhat less crazy than the institutionalized crazies? We all live inside our heads–society lives outside of everyone’s heads–can we ever synchronize the two or are we doomed to mob-mentality forever?

Fascism? Not at all–I believe the problem is less amenable to brute force than it may seem–the biggest question is how aware people are of the various attempts at all those things that are currently underway–we use iconic words like liberty and freedom to represent the value of each individual life and heart. Nonetheless, we have a criminal/justice/penal system to exert constraints against anyone getting too ‘free’. We have ‘social services’ which imply that even the poorest soul will be kept from harm. Nonetheless we write budgets that curtail those services at the very time when their need for expenditures increases and unemployment is high.

We aren’t talking about ‘two steps forward, one step back’, we’re talking about two steps in every direction. People love being ‘hooked up’ to the world on the internet, but they don’t want anyone to peek at their private business as it streams to every hub across the globe. People will endure personal searches to get on a plane, but they don’t want their freedoms impinged upon by setting up DWI roadblocks in their neighborhood.

To me, it’s a matter of facing facts–you can’t have a globalized ‘community’ without its mandatory troublemakers (every community has them) not to mention Big Bro checking out our keystrokes–but digital surveillance doesn’t actually focus on an individual, it just monitors all traffic for key words and phrases. We like being able to track our car when someone rips it off, but we don’t want the police to be able to track it. We like to check out of a store where the counter-person just aims a laser gun at the RFID tag, instead of using a brain that may or may not be there–but we don’t want that data to be used for inventory, marketing, sales projections, etc.

We don’t even have a clear demarcation line between what is our behavior (our private business) and what breadcrumbs we leave as consumers (corporate research)! There’s a lady’s family that has been fighting to take the patent for her cancer-cell genes away from a pharma-R&D corporation and return them to the deceased’s family’s possession–but it’s all new law. People don’t notice what a brouhaha goes on in civil courts for all these new legal issues raised by new technology, particularly in biology and surveillance. The faster they drop in our laps, the more new law is required to control all the new abuses all this tech progress makes possible!

And, as someone (finally) began pointing out, our legislation has no ‘housekeeping’ function–we never repeal outdated laws–which in some cases can be a good or a bad thing. I don’t have a solution–but I know it’s a problem, and I know no one is talking about it.

New South Wales Art Gallery - night

New South Wales Art Gallery – night

One-Way Finger-Pointing (2013Nov15)

So, I can’t understand this ‘instant disaster’—or maybe I just don’t want to—a few days ago, everyone was very happy with the President, even though there were problems with the Healthcare.gov website, and then the Insurance industry sends out blanket cancellations, specifically blaming the Affordable Healthcare Act for the cancelling of these policies.

First off, they followed this specious accusation with a sales pitch for a ridiculously overpriced ‘replacement’ policy they offer—and held back any emphasis on the new insurance ‘marketplace’ the AHA laws had created—sometimes failing to even mention that option in their ‘cancellation notices’. And there’s something else they conveniently overlook—that the Insurance moguls were cancelling existing policies because they failed to meet the new minimum requirements for Health Insurance!

So, did Obama really lie about keeping our policy? Or did he just conveniently overlook that Insurance Companies were definitely going to have to cancel those policies, because  the new law made them sub-standard. Now, I heard a lot of cherry-picking: some middle-aged woman made a big deal about not needing maternity coverage, because she was done having children. She didn’t understand, apparently, that the point is no health insurance policy be considered legitimate if it doesn’t cover all medical needs.

Lots of people don’t need every single, itemized bit of coverage in their plan—that’s called a ‘minimum standard’—the Insurance company offers a policy that protects you from unforeseen medical costs—if it doesn’t include maternity, that’s not a ‘savings’ for post-menopausal women, it’s merely a refusal of decent coverage for all the rest of the women capable of bearing children.

In all this ‘Tea Party’ madness, we sometimes lose sight of whose side we are on. Health Care Reform has been a major issue for decades—and for all that time, between our insurers and our employers deciding what our health coverage and cost should be, legislators have tried to curb the excesses and depredation that system was stuck in.

It is the Health Insurance Industry that is our enemy, not the President of the United States—how hard is that to understand? Insurers and Big Pharma have their economic sights set on all of us, just as any employers will. They want to get the most they can out of us, and give us back the least they can get away with. If our government can protect us from that, why are there so many politicians railing against the Affordable Healthcare Act?

I suspect their agendas lean towards other priorities than our well-being. The really sad part is they are tricking us into helping them help the Insurance lobby.

And in the process, they are demonizing our President for trying to curb the excessive rip-offs of these money-grubbers and make things better for the rest of us. They try to defame Obama just to help the Insurance industry maintain their ‘freedom’ to screw us over—and the Talking Heads rush on the air and say, “O No, the world is ending for Obama” – the real headline is: “Insurance Companies Close to Eluding Regulation”.

Back In The USSR Days

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When the Cold War ended and people started tearing down the Berlin Wall in 1989, it wasn’t just the end of a war, it was the end of a way of life. And those of us who were born near its beginning were cut adrift in a world that no longer made sense.

In my day, we knew who the enemy was—it was the United Soviet Socialist Republics, the USSR, the place that is known today as about ten different countries, including Russia, Poland, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia (or whatever, and however many, new countries Czechoslovakia is now), and most of Eastern Europe. We thought of them as the Commies.

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Boy, did we hate the Commies! They outlawed religion. They kept the few Jews that survived WWII from leaving the Soviet Union, so they couldn’t go live in the new Israel. (Or NYC, which had a larger Jewish population than Israel—and still does, for all I know.). They outlawed any literature and music from the West (we used to be ‘the West’—that is, the NATO countries and their satellite nations). Trade with ‘The Free World’ was prohibited. Free speech and free assembly were prohibited. The only reason we went to the Moon was because the Russkies (another word for Commies) put a satellite in Earth orbit first—and scared us to death with visions of them raining nuclear missiles down from the sky. Then VP Lyndon Johnson was quoted saying ‘we cannot allow the communists to take the high ground of space’.

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We had our favorite Soviet artists, like Solzhenitsyn the writer and Shostakovich the composer—and we admired them not just for their talents or artistry, but for the harassment they endured under the Soviet’s cultural restrictions. We ridiculed the Russkies in our media—Boris and Natasha (of ‘The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show’ fame) were generic caricatures of inept Soviet spies who couldn’t even catch “moose and squirrel”. As a child, I also went through atom bomb defense drills at school—they had all us kids go into the hallway, huddle down facing the walls and cover our heads with our hands. I remember also being informed that I should never look directly at an atomic blast because it would cause permanent blindness. No one said anything about how blindness would be the least of a person’s problems if they were close enough to look directly at a nuclear explosion.

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But, there were upsides to the Cold War, too. Companies’ employment practices couldn’t be made too draconian without being accused of the same kind of autocratic invasion of human rights that the Commies were guilty of. Our freedoms of speech and of assembly were more jealously guarded because it was one of the things that made us the ‘good guys’.

Religion was kept in perspective as well—we could see that no hand of God was destroying the Godless Commies, so we couldn’t say religion was fact, as some evangelists try to do today—but we also recognized it as an important personal freedom. It was relegated to the background in practical terms—no one took seriously the fission between science and the Bible—science was science and religion was religion.

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And civil rights got a huge boost from the Cold War—as soon as the Commies began to deride our ‘Free Country’ for being racist and quite unequal, the civil rights groups, the feminist groups, they all had to be taken seriously—they had become part of the Cold War, not as an enemy but as a necessity.

Information was free then—as it had always been. Scientists took collaboration to be such a serious mandate for scientific progress that the idea of owning information had a Commie feel to it. And that was leading edge scientific research—nowadays we can accept the idea of information ownership because our ‘information’ consists of reality-show-videos, music-videos, online gaming shortcuts—and other such frippery. The sharing of information between two scientists, in today’s terms, would be up against a mountain of Non-Disclosure Agreements and a mob of lawyers. The people who own things have gathered information unto themselves—and now the great scientific minds of the World are kept locked away by these Fat Cats so that they may profit from whatever genius those thinkers possess.

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I admit, it was a simpler time. Back then, the idea of riding in a jumbo jet was new and modern—steering them into the WTC Towers wasn’t something anyone thought about until much later—and even then, in 2001, most of us were shocked by that particular idea. I read the “Tom Swift, Jr.” adventure series when I was little—that was science fiction about jumbo planes and undersea construction, all dumbed down to the level of grade school reading. But I loved them.

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Later on, I began to read the late Tom Clancy—along with several million other people—his novels were very satisfying. The only evil in the world was the Communist Bloc—and U.S. soldiers never did anything wrong. As long as Jack Ryan defused the bomb in time, the world remained free from the threat of Soviet Dominion! In Clancy’s last real best-selling thriller, “Executive Orders”, he has cobbled together enough serendipity to land Jack Ryan in the White House (Someone steers a jetliner into the Capitol Building during a State of the Union address.) yet still leaves his character enough running room to fight bad guys hand-to-hand before it’s all over. And when it was over, it was over—that book was published in 1996.

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Clancy would write several other popular novels that would concentrate on the technology of modern warfare, mostly starring the sons (and daughters) of the main characters used throughout the books of his glory days. Many movies were made of his books–and his later post-Cold War writings were almost as prodigious, inspiring the TV series “Tom Clancy’s Net Force” and video-games from “Red Storm Entertainment”. He died in October of this year, 2013.

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Not only had we become used to the two-dimensional configuration of our civilization, us vs. them, but at its farthest, most extreme remnants, it became codified in entertainments, from “The Russians are Coming, The Russians are Coming” (1966) until the movie version of “The Hunt for Red October” (1990)—we enjoyed the melancholy status quo of two peoples separated by ideologies, who were always seen by each other as far too human when encountered face-to-face.

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We had yet to encounter a world in which terrorism was the new paradigm—I’ve always been very upset about our country’s reaction to 9/11—the fear that we allowed into our life-styles and our laws—was by far the greater attack—and we fell before it. Nowadays I could start a riot simply by walking away from a backpack in a crowded place. And yet we have more fatalities accounted for by random shootings this past decade, not to mention the home-grown terrorist Americans that bombed Oklahoma City. We have more fatalities accounted for by soldiers’ suicides than those who have fallen in action!

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Clearly, something’s amiss. We must put away our fear. And we must put away our pride. We have to take stock of ourselves, individually, and as a society, and we have to start figuring out sensible plans for moving forward.

The biggest storm in recorded history hit the Philippines a few days ago—and the consensus is that climate change is about as ‘real’ as it gets. The lying bastards who have knowingly obfuscated this issue for decades to get their almighty, god-damned dollar are not pooh-poohing Global Warming anymore—the smart ones are investing in the ocean-walling business—every big city in the world is near the shore of some ocean, and that’s a lot of massive berms and boundary wetlands.

The Chinese are learning what we learned—go overboard on the cheap, dirty energy, and the cities become murky fogbanks of lung-glue, and cancers break out all over. The Chinese will be easier to reason with—their advisors need only point out their windows, or at American newspaper headlines—the results of fifty years of greedy, sloppy energy-production are manifesting globally, in historically bad weather and bad crops. The planet is physically changing—and not in a good way. Between resource-rape and over-population, we’re headed for a bumpy ride these next ten, twenty years.

Tea-partiers trumpeting their petulant ignorance are not to be blamed—no journalist with any wits would waste time on Sarah Palin and that bunch. It is the Koch brothers, a notably personal aberration comprised of twin nut-jobs, who deserve the blame for inciting the stupidest demographic we have, and more than them—it is the cold, shark-like predations of all corporations, in their present configuration. The laws governing corporations in the USA read like an instruction manual for destroying the human race—and they must be changed.

We can never go back to the fairy-tale of “Moose and Squirrel” vs. “Boris and Natasha”—we know all too well now that our greatest dangers lie within ourselves and within our society. As a people, we don’t take enough responsibility—we don’t have more than a quarter of eligible voters voting in any election—and you can imagine how many informed voters that comes to. Not a lot. You know who comes out—the yahoos. They may be dumb, but they’re smart enough to win elections—simply by showing up.

I don’t know—I’m not expecting to see too many more decades—I ain’t dying, but I ain’t young, neither. My only concern is the kids, trying to make a good life for themselves in this junk-heap of a civilization we’ve become. Whenever I try to imagine a lifetime starting from now, I just get very tired. Can you imagine? It was hard enough starting in the 1950s—starting in the twenty-first century seems like something I wouldn’t enjoy—luckily, my opinion isn’t what matters.

There are some things I’m sure of. Money is a problem. Ignorance is a problem. Fertility is a problem. And, of course, Peace is a problem. There are organizations which, no matter how fine someone slices it, exist for the sole purpose of keeping the truth from being shared. Likewise, there are PR firms and propaganda departments that exist for the sole purpose of telling us lies, or at least, well-spun truths. Education will never work well until we recognize it as an ongoing thing—most especially now, when technology changes the marketplace, and the jobs market, so quickly.

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Public schools that don’t graduate literate students are not acceptable—how is that even possible? It’s possible because even very good, dedicated people are powerless against politics—and politics is rife in public education now. Maybe that’s because parents started trying to get their kids educated ‘with conditions’. The differently-abled are well-deserving of any assistance that can be devised. But the differently-‘faithed’ are a different story—we need to tell those parents to cowboy up and teach that junk at home, where it belongs.

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We can see the way the debate is formed by the media—what’s important is pre-decided—all that’s left is the arguing, which the media facilitate the best they can. And we all have fun, arguing over stuff, discussing stuff, criticizing stuff. We can see that many important things are left out of modern news reporting—things that don’t have high visibility yet have immense importance—these issues are ignored entirely. Think to yourself—aren’t there things you think about, that you never hear about in the news? And aren’t some of those things kinda important?

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Ahh, like The Beatles, I miss being “Back In The USSR”.

Take That

Take That (Election Night 2013)

Election Night! November 5th, 2013

Election Night!
November 5th, 2013

Augmentation, but In a Bad Way

Get back to me on that.

Get back to me on that.

 

Augmentation, but In a Bad Way

2nd consecutive rant–I can do this all winter….

Our Dog Is Getting On

Our President can’t reason with unreasonable people.

Our Dog Is Getting On

My most recent rant–enjoy!

Cold Tea (2013Oct07)

Monday, October 07, 2013                  8:59 PM

The ‘Tea Party’ House Representatives were voted in ‘in anger’—and they make things worse by ignoring any rules of logic or civility. Their mandate, as they see it, is to upset government-as-usual—which no one can deny they have now succeeded at. Bravo, Tea Party—you win.

Just one problem—the Tea Party has no off switch. It was sent to D.C. in protest against all the laissez-faire acceptance of the Twenty-First Century’s dynamic paradigm.

The Tea Party won’t accept any religious freedom that infringes on their religion—and their religion (as represented by the squeakiest wheel) is a type of fundamentalist protestant Christianity. The Tea Party prefers to see global culture as the subsuming of the rest of the nations under the USA’s economic sway, if not legislative. And the Tea Party is against the coddling of perfectly exhaustible humans who ‘claim’ to be disabled or otherwise unable to work—not to mention their children.

The evolutionary story of the Christian faith was completed at the turn of the last century. It was most noticeably finalized by “The Golden Bough” by James George Frazer, first published in1890. I will pause here and quote Wikipedia.com, to save us both some time:

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:

[“The Golden Bough: A Study in Comparative Religion”

(retitled “The Golden Bough: A Study in Magic and Religion” in its second edition)

is a wide-ranging, comparative study of mythology and religion, written by the Scottish anthropologist Sir James George Frazer (1854–1941).

 

It was first published in two volumes in 1890;

in three volumes in 1900;

the third edition, published 1906–15, comprised twelve volumes.

The work was aimed at a wide literate audience raised on tales as told in such publications as Thomas Bulfinch’s “The Age of Fable”, or his “Stories of Gods and Heroes” (1855).

Sir Frazer offered a modernist approach to discussing religion, treating it dispassionately as a cultural phenomenon rather than from a theological perspective. The influence of The Golden Bough on contemporary European literature and thought was substantial.”]

And this was a crushing blow to organized, modern religions—at this point (as of my writing this) all have been discredited for over a century. T.S. Eliot’s “The Wasteland” is considered by many to be the pre-eminent poem of the entire 20th century. It’s subject, in large part, is the devastation felt by these good people when the very bedrock of their reality was de-bunked. Nor did this deathblow to the legitimacy of churches come out of the blue.

In 1888, Friedrich Nietzsche, in “The Gay Science”, Section 125, ( translated by Walter Kaufmann):

“God is dead. God remains dead. And we have killed him. Yet his shadow still looms. How shall we comfort ourselves, the murderers of all murderers? What was holiest and mightiest of all that the world has yet owned has bled to death under our knives: who will wipe this blood off us? What water is there for us to clean ourselves? What festivals of atonement, what sacred games shall we have to invent? Is not the greatness of this deed too great for us? Must we ourselves not become gods simply to appear worthy of it?”

For more than a century, scholars have grappled with historical evidence, with proof that religion is a tradition, not a reality. Because the understanding only comes after an education that involves science, archeology, history, and philosophy, those left with no choice but to turn away from our ancient traditions, or risk hypocrisy, are few—and we tend to be those irritating college-boys and girls. Thus the news that god is dead has come and gone, unless you are well educated enough to understand what research has revealed.

In the interval, we post-modern sophisticates have come to avoid the issue in public out of sympathy for whosoever may still believe in their religion. Thus the major changes were academic rather than public. We see a great reduction in those who once used to prescribe learning (Ancient) Greek, Latin, and Sanskrit so that any truly serious scholar would be able to read the earliest records of the sacred scriptures.

Nowadays, students of Science and Mathematics can ‘show off’ by memorizing all the Latin names of special flora and fauna. Beyond that, the language and alphabet of the ancient Greeks, Romans, or Hindus has become a purely archeological and scholarly interest in the halls of higher learning (pre-supposing I exempt all such institutes that may still be run on the precepts of some such dogma that forbids that point-of-view). An advanced degree in Religion or Religious Studies was once considered a powerful tool for a leader, or a teacher—presently those degrees are viewed by many as no different from a degree in Philosophy or Ethics.

Throughout the Twentieth Century a polite détente was observed with regard to those who considered Christian religions exposed as historical amalgams, rather than ‘revealed scripture’—and those who clung to their faith in spite of what research and learning had unearthed about our distant past. The Old-Timers (if you’ll excuse my calling them that) were not confronted on the sidewalk every day by impatient atheists who wanted them to get over their ‘delusion’. That’s how we got to the point of Charismatic Cults in the 1970s, and hypocritical TV evangelists who were begging for money—and getting it in handfuls from lonely old folks who had nothing to do but watch TV all day.

But this new ‘respectability’ is beyond all sense. Our Christian fundamentalists funded the Muslim fundamentalists’ war against the Soviet Union (godless heathens, that is). Now we have debates on what is extremist, what is terrorist, what is harmless fundamentalist doctrine?

The truth is that it’s all a sham. But religion is a part of society. The Catholics, and the Salvation Army do the most to support the impoverished, but Protestants, Muslims, lots of ‘church-groups’ of whatever stripe are also out there, trying to make a difference. To date, no fund-raising organization for helping the poor has ever replaced our churches and temples.

And that has never been addressed as a public issue. Neither has the basis of ethical behavior, outside of an organized faith’s doctrine. Declaring ones atheism isn’t going to make one a lot of friends. The atheist’s peace of mind is also scant. But the freedom from the ludicrous, the letting go of the incredible… there are some upsides to being without a church.

But I have allowed myself to meander—back to the point. The full quote from Karl Marx is: “Religion is the sigh of the oppressed creature, the heart of a heartless world, and the soul of soulless conditions. It is the opium of the people”.

He makes no mention of our addiction being used by the establishment to coerce us into cooperation with the very-far-from-fair Capitalist system. For some reason, I always implied that meaning in my own mind. Regardless, when religion becomes part of the politics of a government, it invariably signals some group of hypocrites trying to manipulate the simpler folk. To be fair, I think there are plenty of politicians out there who are privately agnostic—but if they hadn’t the sense to keep it to themselves, they wouldn’t be politicians now, would they?

So the Tea Party can boast members with a very prickly attitude about church-going. And the Tea Party is very picky about freedom. I, for instance, enjoy the freedom of walking down the street and feeling perfectly safe in my own little American neighborhood. But I can only enjoy that freedom because others have lost the freedom to let their dogs roam unleashed, have lost the freedom to hold dangerous drag races down the street I’m walking on, and have lost the freedom to DWI their automobile right up my—shutcho-mouth.

The Tea Party wants to keep their freedom to say no to mandatory healthcare. Where were these people when we got saddled with mandatory auto insurance to register a car—or mandatory home insurance to get a mortgage? I’ll tell you where they were—they were being properly ignored by sensible people who were looking at the bigger picture. We got so used to having responsible representation in the federal government that we got tired of voting—and after a while; the excitable nut-jobs were the only ones voting.

I’m as guilty as the next person—I didn’t bother to v