Belated History   (2016Jul27)

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Wednesday, July 27, 2016                                                12:50 AM

Yesterday’s nomination of Hillary Clinton to be the Democratic party’s presidential candidate and, with a little luck, the first woman president, was a major historic event—undercut only by the fact that it took us two hundred years and 44 male presidents to get here. The UK’s first woman leader is already a quaint bit of nostalgia—and many other democracies have been graced by women leaders—and we’re just getting around to it.

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That’s the trouble with America—we’ve done so much—yet there is even more still left to be done. Michael Moore recently made an entire movie about good ideas that originated in America, were adopted by other countries (who benefitted greatly) yet failed to catch on, here in the land of the free and the home of the brave. And every time a progressive puts forth a good idea for making America a better place there’s a stubborn autocrat who finds a reason to block progress. Democracy is slow, grinding work—especially when it’s swimming upstream against the Citizen’s United ruling that opened the lobbyists’ coffers.

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We saw an old lady at the convention who was a little girl in 1920, when the nineteenth amendment gave women voting rights, and lived to vote for the lady who we hope to be our nation’s first Madam President. Barack Obama’s presidency has given the empowerment of dreams to millions of African-American children—Hillary Clinton is in line to do the same for half our nation’s citizens, and every little girl in America. The GOP wants to minimize this aspect of Hillary’s candidacy, but our President is first and foremost a symbol to the world—and it’s about time we broke the gender wall. Everyone calls it a ceiling, but that’s just to emphasize the unfairness of holding women down—it’s really a wall and we need to break through.

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I was also pleased to see so many details of Hillary Clinton’s long and selfless service to the people of America—state after state credited her with making a positive difference in their lives. The truth about her civil service only makes the GOP smear campaign, over the decades, that much more reprehensible. And after tonight’s endorsements from her friends, her constituents, her colleagues, and her husband, the idea that the GOP nominee can stand up to any comparison is ludicrous.

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As president, one is expected to interact with Congress—that’s 100 Senators and 435 Representatives—over five hundred legislators—it helps if you’ve been to law school. As president, one is expected to make decisions about things happening around the globe, things happening in science, education, health, farming, industry, energy—and business. Knowing about business is great—but knowing a lot about a lot of things, knowing a lot of people, knowing how government works—these are all important, too. The presidency is a tough job for a qualified person—for a newbie trainee, it would be a tragic farce.

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I was always a problem student—I grasped concepts at once, and got very restless waiting for the rest of the class to catch up—my notebooks had more doodles than notes. Nobody appreciates the egghead who screws up the bell curve. But trust me—I’ve already solved this little multiple-choice problem and I am more than restless—I’m scared to death that the rest of the class might not catch up by November.

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Two Works by Rameau   (2015May14)

Thursday, May 14, 2015                                          8:23 PM

Xper Dunn plays Piano – May 14th, 2015

“Gavotte variée”, from Suite in A minor (1726) by Jean-Philippe Rameau

Notes:

I start this recording with the most difficult of the variations—I was trying to warm up—but then I start from the beginning and play it all the way through. I take some pride in how well I sight-read this Rameau piece, in spite of my poor motor-control—it is a big improvement over the way I’ve played it in the past.

Unfortunately, it is still a terrible job if compared to any proper performance—I recommend listening to Trevor Pinnock’s (or anyone else’s) performances, elsewhere on YouTube, to hear the charm, power, and beauty of this piece when played properly by a musician, on either the piano or, more properly, on the harpsichord.

Plus, while this recording is over ten minutes, Trevor Pinnock plays the piece in about two minutes—so it saves time as well. I only post my own recording because I love this piece and I’ve tried most of my life to play it—like all my classical ‘dream-board projects’—and this may be the closest I ever come.

[hyperlink to proper performance: Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 — 1764) – Suite in A minor – Gavotte avec 6 Doubles,Trevor Pinnock ]

Xper Dunn plays Piano – May 14th, 2015

“Les Cyclopes” by Jean Philip Rameau   (2015May14)

Note: I don’t play this sheet-music so much as play around with it–and while I eventually hit every written note, there are parts where I’m just improving on the chord changes. See ‘Trevor Pinnock’ (and others) to hear a proper performance of this piece.

[hyperlink to proper performance: Jean-Philippe Rameau (1683 — 1764) – Les Cyclopes. Trevor Pinnock ]

[The Artworks by Cornelis Troost and Johan Barthold Jongkind are provided (for non-commercial use only) by The Rejksmuseum (State Museum) in Amsterdam, Netherlands.]

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“River View in France, possibly near Pontoise”, Johan Barthold Jongkind, 1855

Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

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“Family Group near a Harpsichord”, Cornelis Troost, 1739

Source Graphic courtesy of : The Rijksmuseum Website

Cheez-it—The Cops!   (2015Apr16)

Thursday, April 16, 2015            2:19 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Piano Covers from the Movies   (2015Apr15)

Wednesday, April 15, 2015                                    4:18 PM

Herman Hupfeld , in his beautiful lyric to “As Time Goes By”, wrote:

“This day and age we’re living in / Gives cause for apprehension

With speed and new invention / And things like fourth dimension.

Yet we get a trifle weary / With Mr. Einstein’s theory.

So we must get down to earth at times / Relax relieve the tension

And no matter what the progress / Or what may yet be proved

The simple facts of life are such / They cannot be removed.

You must remember this….”

We’re pretty familiar with the rest—there are few people who have neither heard this song nor watched the movie, “Casablanca”. But like the vast majority of standards, the ‘intro’ is usually overlooked—if not left out altogether. In the case of many songs, the ‘intro’ is no great loss. Some are outright drivel, or the worst sort of doggerel, and the fame of such songs indicates that some smart performer realized he or she had better get right to the ‘burthen’, without any preamble, or they’d lose their audience. And, surely, this also accounts for the fact that most classic songs are considered as having been properly performed whether they include the official ‘intro’ verses or not.

However, in some cases lyricists positively shine so much in their wit and wordplay that it’s a shame to leave the ‘intro’ unrecognized—particularly with the great lyricists. Nothing upsets me more than a songbook that decides not to print the ‘intro’—taking the choice out of my hands for the sake of volume, I suppose.

“As Time Goes By” has a fascinating introductive verse, as seen above. Hupfeld bewails the hectic pace of modern life, it’s constant changes and new information. He gets “a trifle weary of Mr. Einstein’s theory” and wants to get away from all that. He seeks out bedrock principles on which to rest, safe from the shifting sands of cultural distraction. And, of course, he finds them in Love, that favorite of all bedrock principles.

How surprised Mr. Hupfeld would be to learn that his theory of days-gone-by would see eternal popularity in spite of such enormous changes in women’s roles and in relationships generally. A kiss is still a kiss—except when it’s a workplace harassment lawsuit or a charge of improper touching of a minor or the gift of herpes. And in a way, a kiss is now more than a kiss, assuming that Hupfeld wasn’t imagining two men or two women kissing.

Worse yet, we are no longer allowed to ‘weary of Einstein’s theory’—we have to remember our PIN numbers, our passwords, the usual computer Control-codes, game-controller button-sequences, et. al. We have to worry about our AC’s BTUs, our car’s MPG, separating our recyclables, our FICA, our prescriptions deductible, and whether we have time to find out what ‘streaming’ is, or should we just keep trying to program our VCRs. Neither Hepfeld nor Bogie could have envisioned a culture where everyone had to learn to type—and only with their thumbs.

Still, the most luxuriously nostalgic aspect of these lyrics is that they still hung on to the dismissive subtext of that word ‘theory’. Today, when we mention Einstein’s Theory of Relativity, whether Special or General, we hear the word ‘theory’ in its historical sense, not in the sense that no one yet accepts the truth of it—much like the ‘theory of evolution’. Only the fringe-dwellers in today’s society place any emphasis on the word ‘theory’ in these phrases. Back in the early nineteen-forties, though, Einstein’s theories could still be confined to cocktail-party gabbing—Hiroshima and Nagasaki were yet to come, as were nuclear power plants, nuclear subs, nuclear aircraft carriers, or nuclear-powered space probes.

Today we take Relativity for granted, just as we accept quantum physics, or the big-bang theory. Now string theory, dark matter, black holes, and the Higgs-Boson particle have come to be commonplace concepts among physicists and cosmologists—even discussed on popular science programs for the layperson. On top of that, we are in the midst a digital-technology revolution, an upheaval so great that it threatens the stability of global civilization with its sheer speed, while we try to adapt from the ‘generational’ pace-of-change enjoyed for all prior history, to change that now happens on a monthly basis.

What wouldn’t we give to ‘sit under the apple tree’ of the 1940’s whenever we got weary of all that? Oh, for the days when the ‘facts of life’ were not only simple, but they couldn’t be removed! Here’s me taking a stab at the old classic, followed by two more piano covers from my piano songbook, “AFI’s 100 Greatest Movie Songs”. (I also recorded “Evergreen” but left it out in the end—I’m sure I can do it better some day soon.) I left out all the video effects today—sometimes less is more….

Keep Rolling, Stone   (2015Apr06)

Monday, April 06, 2015                                            1:18 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

A Beautiful Melody (2015Mar19)

In the first recording, I do my best with ‘Melody in F’ arranged for piano, [from “Souvenir d’un lieu cher” (Memory of a Cherished Place) for violin and piano, Op. 42 (Meditation, Scherzo and Melody) (1878)] by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky (1840–1893). The original piece is just beautiful. I’ll provide the YouTube link here, if you’d like to hear Janine Jansen perform an Encore broadcast on April 19th, 2013, with Paavo Järvi conducting the Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra in the Alte Oper Frankfurt. (You’d better listen to mine first–I can’t follow a real virtuoso, no matter what instrument they play!)
The second recording, the improvisation, is one where I think it’s pretty obvious that I’ve just played the Tchaikovsky piece, but maybe that’s just in my head. It’s hard to tell–you can steal a lot from another composer without it showing, unless you’re taking the actual melody….

 

 

Home-Style Music   (2015Feb24)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015                                      10:24 PM

These are two familiar pieces of Tchaikovsky for those who listen to my videos, but here is today’s run at them, for your listening pleasure. I’ve just finished watching “Whiplash”, a wonderful film about a horrible music teacher and the demands placed on exceptional musicians, and while the film gave me a great deal of food for thought it certainly left me in no doubt as to my unfitness to join the ranks of professional musicians—I just love Tchaikovsky, that’s all.

Today’s improv came in three separate themes, so I have marked them in the video—just trying to add flavor. I’m looking forward to listening to them—I hope they came out good…

O, and there’s one from yesterday that’s kinda lively:

 

 

 

Back to Bach   (2015Feb11)

Thursday, February 12, 2015                                    12:02 AM

Bach’s English Suites are a favorite of mine. This is not the first time I’ve posted a recording of the A Minor Suite, though it is rare that I record the full suite. This recording was done over two days and it’s a bit better than any of my previous attempts, so I’m posting it. Someday, I’ll have to review my YouTube channel videos and delete all the older versions of redundant posts—assuming that the newer ones are always better—I’ll have to do some comparison listening to be sure. So, maybe someday is pretty far off.

It’s not that I don’t listen to my own recordings—I hear them plenty when I’m editing them and I also burn them to CDs and listen to them away from the computer. However, it’s an educational process for me—I hear the mistakes more clearly than the music and I can’t help but make mental notes on how to play it better next time. Once I’ve given them a good listen, they usually just make me itch to jump up, go to the piano, and play it again, better. But that’s just the sheet music for other peoples’ stuff.

My improvisations are a different story—for some reason, I really like my own music. Not every day, and not all day, but I like it and I listen to myself quite often, especially when reading—or to lull me to sleep at night. I like to listen to some real music—all kinds—and listen to some ‘me’. My music isn’t better than real music, but it isn’t exactly worse—it’s more like ‘complimentary’ to real music—it gives me a break from the passion and precision and perfection of say Glenn Gould, or Ziggy Stardust, or Matt Glaser, or Enya. It’s filler, for when real music is too much but silence is too little. To me, anyway.

So, here’s a long-ass Bach piece that came off rather well, and the improvs from each day (I highly recommend Tap-Dance–it came out pretty good):

Russian Folk Songs (2015Feb09)

XperDunn plays Piano
February 9th, 2015

16 Russian Folk Songs
(Covers from the Russian Songbook)

01) All Throughout The Great Wide World I Wandered
02) Do Not Scold Me And Do Not Reproach Me
03) The Boundless Expanse Of The Sea
04) My Sweetheart
05) No Sounds From The City Are Heard
06) Do Not Awaken My Memories
07) Stenka Razin (From Beyond The Island)
08) Snow Flurries
09) The Cliff of the Volga
10) The Story of the Coachman
11) The Little Bell
12) Farewell To Happiness
13) The Slender Mountain Ash
14) Dubinushka
15) Oh, You Dear Little Night
16) Down The Volga River

 

 

 

and improv…

 

 

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

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Saturday, February 07, 2015                            12:37 PM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lucky Me (2015Feb06)

Friday, February 06, 2015                                6:25 PM

I just received a belated birthday gift from my mom—one of those tea infusers that look like miniature medieval weaponry, a tea ball. (She also sent me, among other gifts, what Bear likes to call ‘Clown Pants’ which are red plaid flannel pants with an elastic waist and a string-tye tightener—but we won’t go into my propensity for garish apparel.)

I shoulda tooka picture—but instead, I have used Bear’s latest quilting project as my front- and end-piece illustrations. She does wonders with a needle and thread—I love her work.

Yesterday and today I tried to play two dances from “The Fitzwilliam Virginal Book – Vol. I”:

“XIII. Pavana.” by John Bull, and

“XIV.  Alman.” by Anon.

Yesterday’s recording was terrible, so I tried again today and got an acceptable rendering from the Fitzwilliam—still, pretty-decent Piano Improvs from both days’ recordings, so I have two of those today—lucky me.

But first, I play two of my favorite pieces from this ancient music book. You can hear birds singing outside during the performance (our local birds come for the bird-seed but they stay for the concert—and they like to chime in). It reminds of those pieces in which composers like Handel or Couperin would try to score music to sound like birds—I find it’s much easier to simply invite them to sing along…

 

 

 

The Great Man (2015Feb05)

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Thursday, February 05, 2015                          9:36 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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O–and, while I’m posting stuff:

I’m All About Soil Moisture (2015Jan31)

Last day of January–the Winter won’t last forever, after all….

Well, they finally launched the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) observatory today.
In honor of which, I have two improvs and a song of Mendelssohn…

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Blizzard Fail   (2015Jan27)

Tuesday, January 27, 2015                                        3:37 PM

The weatherman predicted the worst Winter storm in history for last night and the majority of today. The mayor of NYC made emergency announcements at 7 PM last night. I expected to be snowed in, without power, and who knows what else might happen.

Being a coastal storm, and heading northward, it trashed Long Island, Boston, and Maine, as predicted—sorry about that, Down-Easters—but here in Somers, where the initial forecast was one-to-two feet of snow, then just one foot—I’d be surprised if the official measurement reached six inches. It looks more like four or so.

Which means I was allowed to shoot, edit, and post four videos today—I shot the whole room in hopes that the weather outside would appear frightful, but all the video shows is a white glow where the windows should be windows. Unluckily, that left me with very dark videos, which I have tried my best to brighten with my video-editing controls, but it’s still a pretty lackluster show—just a dark room with my head peaking up from behind the piano.

I took some stills for the Titles and Credits graphics, too—in the “Mendelssohn – Songs Without Words No. 25”, you see where Claire couldn’t catch the cardinal  outside our window (you can just see a bit of red). In the “Mendelssohn – Songs Without Words No. 24”, you can see a wren at the same window (it’s a very popular sill). The improvs just show pics of our yard covered in snow.

The two Mendelssohn pieces, as usual, are posted more as proof that I can sight-read/stumble my way through with minimal mistakes than as any competition for the real pianists out there—but that’s where I’m at—what else can I do? I’ll let you judge for yourself what sort of voice I’m in with today’s two improvisations….

 

 

 

 

 

Finally, here are some of today’s stills, on their own…

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The Very Latest (2015Jan23)

I’m not getting any writing done, but I’m enjoying the absence of the ‘push’ that makes me write.

In the meantime,  I had a pretty good day at the old eighty-eight.

First, I made fewer-than-usual mistakes whiling playing these two pieces by our old pal, Felix:

 

Then, I have a real improv, in which I play like no one’s watching. (That’s why I always turn the camera on–so that I forget it’s there sometimes.):

 

And here’s a more ‘formal’ kind of thing that I get when I’m not playing alone:

 

Hope you like’em!

 

Songs without Words (2015Jan14)

Felix Mendelssohn wrote a collection of piano pieces entitled “Leider ohne Worte”, which is German for Songs without Words. The collection is one of my favorite playbooks. They are challenging for me, so these aren’t good examples–though I’m sure YouTube has many other performers playing it much better. Anyhow, here’s my latest playlist of my most recent recordings from the book:

(One short note: the photograph used in these videos shows the Superman® socks my daughter gave me for Christmas!)

And the obligatory piano improv:

 

Enjoy. and good night…

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

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(Just out on VOD:)

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

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

Director, Screenplay: John Ridley

Starring: André Benjamin, Hayley Atwell, Imogen Poots

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Saturday, January 03, 2015                    2:19 PMadven312

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Seasonal Withdrawal (2014Dec29)

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

 

ESSAY:

Monday, December 29, 2014                          2:13 AM

 

Before The Beginning And After The End

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

More Xmas Music (2014Dec05)

I switched from Piano to Digital Piano because I couldn’t sing loud enough–but now, having heard my voice clearly, I’m not so sure….

 

Then I played a silly little pavanne…

 

And here are some photos of the neighborhood from this morning:

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and finally, here’s two videos from earlier this week:

 

 

 

 

 

“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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Thanks For Your Service (2014Nov11)

I’ll be watching the Concert for Valor later, but I wanted to play a little Veterans Day Concert of my own…

Freshly Tuned (2014Nov06)

What a week! Voting and dining out on Tuesday, collaborating with Pete C. on Wednesday, and today Chris Farrell came by to tune the old Mason & Hamlin Baby Grand. And the week’s not even over yet.

Here are three videos of me enjoying the fresh piano-tuning, then some photos of our rainy day, our kitchen–and I caught a couple of shots of Chris while he was tuning…

The Beatles covers are: “It’s Getting Better”,”Fool On The Hill”,”Flying”,”For No One”  —  I hope you like it.

 

 

 

 

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Pete’s Back! (2014Nov05)

Hooray! Peter Cianflone–in the house! Back to play along with the hermit pianist. And (my apologies for the camera work) his back to us the whole time! But it still sounds great:

 

Something Different (2014Oct28)

I keep to the extremes of classical piano music–I like to play the very old Baroque and Renaissance, or the very late Romantic and Modern composers for keyboard–but there are exceptions, to whit–Haydn, Mozart, and Beethoven (what little of his work is within my technical limits). But Johann Christian Bach (9/5/1735-1/1/1782) the “eleventh surviving child and youngest son of Johann Sebastian Bach. He is sometimes referred to as ‘the London Bach’ or ‘the English Bach’, due to his time spent living in the British capital, where he came to be known as John Bach.” [Quoted from Wikipedia] He falls into the Early Classical, if speaking of the chronology of music history–and is said to have had some influence on Mozart’s works, or at least his concertos–personally, I have trouble hearing such subtleties, so I leave it to you to decide.

One reason I avoid the less titanic composers is that the music of the greats sings out pretty well–even under the fingers of a clumsy dabbler like me–but the delicate and simple music of mere demi-gods such as J.C. Bach really throws a spotlight on inadequate technique–and the poor technique throws it right back, lighting their creations with a guttering fluorescent bulb, rather than the warm sunlight of a proper performer. In spite of this, whenever I make a halfway-decent show of sight-reading some interesting music (and this IS that) I can’t resist posting the proof on YouTube. This is one of those times.

One last thing–I couldn’t blame anyone for passing on 30 minutes of inept classical piano, but you really should give today’s improv a try–it’s got a tangy Spanish flavor at the start that I’m very pleased to have discovered.

 

 

 

When I Fall In Love — With Shakespeare (2014Oct21)

Piano Cover: “When I Fall In Love” (plus “Improv- When In Love With Shakespeare”) (2014Oct21)

My early-morning, throat-clearing session:

A piano cover of “When I Fall In Love”,
followed by a brief improvisation which I have chosen to
entitle “Improv- When In Love With Shakespeare”.
(You may notice the improved quality of the vocals caused by the positioning of the camera closer to my mouth than the piano.)

Sonnet IV

Vnthrifty louelineſſe why doſt thou ſpend,
Vpon thy ſelfe thy beauties legacy?
Natures bequeſt giues nothing but doth lend,
And being franck ſhe lends to thoſe are free:
Then beautious nigard why dooſt thou abuſe,
The bountious largeſſe giuen thee to giue?
Profitles vſerer why dooſt thou vſe
So great a ſumme of ſummes yet can’ſt not liue?
For hauing traffike with thy ſelfe alone,
Thou of thy ſelfe thy ſweet ſelfe doſt deceaue,
Then how when nature calls thee to be gone,
What acceptable Audit can’ſt thou leaue?
   Thy vnuſ’d beauty muſt be tomb’d with thee,
   Which vſed liues th’executor to be.

Here Shakespeare uses finance as an allegory, exhorting the youth to spend his beauty carefully, not to waste it in self-satiety, but to produce heirs
that may enjoy his legacy.

Sonnet V

Thoſe howers that with gentle worke did frame,
The louely gaze where euery eye doth dwell
Will play the tirants to the very ſame,
And that vnfaire which fairely doth excell:
For neuer reſting time leads Summer on,
To hidious winter and confounds him there,
Sap checkt with froſt and luſtie leau’s quite gon.
Beauty ore-ſnow’d and barenes euery where,
Then were not ſummers diſtillation left
A liquid priſoner pent in walls of glaſſe,
Beauties effect with beauty were bereft,
Nor it nor noe remembrance what it was.
   But flowers diſtil’d though they with winter meete,
   Leeſe but their ſhow,their ſubſtance ſtill liues ſweet.

This and the following sonnet can be seen as a pair–both use the seasons to symbolize the passage of time and the path of life. Youth is warned to
distill something permanent from his Summer, to keep him through hideous Winter.

Sonnet VI

Then let not winters wragged hand deface,
In thee thy ſummer ere thou be diſtil’d:
Make ſweet ſome viall;treaſure thou ſome place,
With beauties treaſure ere it be ſelfe kil’d:
That vſe is not forbidden vſery,
Which happies thoſe that pay the willing lone;
That’s for thy ſelfe to breed an other thee,
Or ten times happier be it ten for one,
Ten times thy ſelfe were happier then thou art,
If ten of thine ten times refigur’d thee,
Then what could death doe if thou ſhould’ſt depart,
Leauing thee liuing in poſterity?
Be not ſelfe-wild for thou art much too faire,
To be deaths conqueſt and make wormes thine heire.

As with Sonnet V, the theme is the distillation of self against the losses of time’s passing–but with the specific notion, here, that ten children (!) make
a sure harvest against the poverty of age and death.

 

 

SHAKESPEARE SONNETS – Sonnet II & Sonnet III (2014Oct18)

Sonnet II

When fortie Winters ſhall beſeige thy brow,
And digge deep trenches in thy beauties field,
Thy youthes proud liuery ſo gaz’d on now,
Wil be a totter’d weed of ſmal worth held:
Then being askt,where all thy beautie lies,
Where all the treaſure of thy luſty daies;
To ſay within thine owne deepe ſunken eyes,
Were an all-eating ſhame, and thriftleſſe praiſe.
How much more praiſe deſeru’d thy beauties uſe,
If thou couldſt anſwere this faire child of mine
Shall ſum my count,and make my old excuſe
Proouing his beautie by ſucceſſion thine.
This were to be new made when thou art ould,
And ſee thy blood warme when thou feel’ſt it could.

In this poem, Shakespeare casts Time in the role of a military force, attacking youth. He urges youth to act, to produce new youth, before time can claim its victory over his own ‘lusty days’. Keep in mind that ‘forty winters’, in Shakespeare’s time, was nearly synonomous with a life-time.

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Sonnet III

Looke in thy glaſſe and tell the face thou veweſt,
Now is the time that face ſhould forme an other,
Whoſe freſh repaire if now thou not reneweſt,
Thou doo’ſt beguile the world,vnbleſſe ſome mother.
For where is ſhe ſo faire whoſe vn-eard wombe
Diſdaines the tillage of thy huſbandry?
Or who is he ſo fond will be the tombe,
Of his ſelfe loue to ſtop poſterity?
Thou art thy mothers glaſſe and ſhe in thee
Calls backe the louely Aprill of her prime,
So thou through windowes of thine age ſhalt ſee,
Diſpight of wrinkles this thy goulden time.
But if thou liue remembred not to be,
Die ſingle and thine Image dies with thee.

There’s certainly cause to label these first seventeen the ‘procreation’ sonnets! Reading this third one, I imagine Shakespeare may be Literature’s greatest Yenta. And though he meditates on the grand circle of life’s bud, bloom and wilt, I spy a bit of simplicity to his attitude. While he warns the youth that beauty is fleeting, he also agrees with the utter value of that beauty–he doesn’t dispel vanity, he gives it advice.

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XperDunn recites Poetry – SHAKESPEARE SONNETS – Sonnet I (2014Oct17)

Friday, October 17, 2014                       1:52 PM

Shakespeare Sonnets – A Proposed Series

 

Sonnet I

From faireſt creatures we deſire increaſe,

That thereby beauties Roſe might neuer die,

But as the riper ſhould by time deceaſe,

His tender heire might beare his memory:

But thou contracted to thine owne bright eyes,

Feed’ſt thy lights flame with ſelfe ſubſtantiall fewell,

Making a famine where aboundance lies,

Thy ſelfe thy foe,to thy ſweet ſelfe too cruell:

Thou that art now the worlds freſh ornament,

And only herauld to the gaudy ſpring,

Within thine owne bud burieſt thy content,

And tender chorle makſt waſt in niggarding:

   Pitty the world,or elſe this glutton be,

   To eate the worlds due,by the graue and thee.

 

Here in the opening sonnet, Shakespeare exhorts the ‘beautiful people’ to get busy making babies—to produce from their beauty beautiful children, thus increasing the world’s beauty, rather than selfishly luxuriating in their own.

(These first seventeen sonnets are often dubbed the ‘procreation’ sonnets….)

 

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Half of the ‘Seasons’ (2014Oct14)

Tuesday, October 14, 2014                  9:39 PM

XperDunn plays Piano on October 14th, 2014

Excerpt – six (6) ‘months’ from “The Seasons” (Op. 37bis)

by Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky  (1840–1893)

 

  1. March: “Song of the Lark”
  2. April: “Snowdrop”
  3. May: “May Nights” [“White Nights”]
  4. June: “Bacarolle”
  5. July: “Song of the Reaper”
  6. August: “The Harvest”

 

–Tchaikovsky is among my favorite composers to play—many of his piano pieces are intended for beginner and intermediate level pianists, which put them within my grasp. When playing, for instance, Beethoven or Chopin, I have to select pieces that do not assume a virtuoso technique—leaving the majority of their works outside the realm of my possibility.

The twelve pieces known as “The Seasons” were commissioned by the publisher of a St. Petersburg monthly music magazine—Tchaikovsky contributed one piece per issue for the year 1886 (They were all written the year previous). Subscribers had the pleasure of learning a new piano piece to complement each month of the year—imagine a whole year in which Tchaikovsky sent you a monthly soundtrack to play in your family room or music room! The charm of their origin is one of the things that endear these works to me.

There are bits of poetry attached to each title ‘month’, but these were determined by the Publisher, not the Composer. They can be seen on Wiki—which, by the way, points out that Tchaikovsky didn’t exactly bare his soul to write these pieces—they were more by way of earning some extra dough.

Nevertheless, I ever return to this manuscript to play a piece or three—someday I aspire to play the whole thing, January straight through to December—but it’s no small effort and I remain challenged by a few, more demanding months (like “February”). In fact, I consider today’s video of merely half of the twelve something of a high point in my video recital career—it won’t win a Grammy, but it’s surely a personal best of sorts. I hope you enjoy it.

And my posts aren’t complete without at least one improv, and today’s no exception—“Maple Trees” also includes a clip of the wind in the trees in our yard today….

 

 

Music, Poetry, and Art (2014Sep29)

Over the last two days, I have created three new videos.

First is “A Fall Turn”–it is an unusually long specimen and includes photos of the encroaching autumn in our front yard.

Second is “Rough Riders”–a peppy sort of galloping thing, with reproductions of famous masterpieces and other art.

Third and last is “Her Face Had A Halo”–after playing this, I heard it in my head, then wrote the lyrics below.

So, here they are:

 

 

 

[written on Sunday, September 28, 2014 at 10:02 PM]
“YOUR FACE HAD A HALO”

O say, can you remember
when school started every September?
When greens turned gold and
Winds blew cold, remember?
And hair around your face once made a halo.

Your face a lovely setting for your eyes,
Your eyes a gateway into outer space,
Your words like honey wrapped in silk,
When with you I was never in a ‘place’.

When we were young we had that hungry fire,
That curiosity about desire.
We had no way to know that life was long—
We only knew the words to sweet love’s song.
The hair about your face once made a halo.

 

 

Mid-Month Recordings (2014Sep19)

It’s been taking me some time to process and publish my recordings from Sept. 15th. Here are the only three that made the cut…

 

 

 

I Think I’ll Quit Facebook (2014Aug21)

Wednesday, August 20, 2014                10:14 PM

I’m thinking of quitting Facebook. I’ve enjoyed ‘interacting’ with people—I was surprised that everyone in my past was still out there, living lives I knew nothing of. I was amazed at some of the accomplishments of people who I last saw as children, or at best, teenagers. The connectedness to all the latest of the very latest in politics, showbiz, art, music, movies, books, writing, poetry, science, astronomy, space exploration, gadgets, discoveries, and absolutely everything else, has made me feel much more in touch with the world and the people in it. It’s almost like a canoe that goes along; and you can slip your hand in the water and feel the world flowing through your fingers.

So why quit? There are several reasons. At the end of the day, I don’t want my sole output to consist of keystrokes, mouse clicks, and peering at a glowing screen (no matter how mind-blowing the graphic). I can’t ‘Like’ my way through life. And the shadows of Mordor are gathering, i.e. between commercial and marketing activity, and Facebook’s own mad-scientist muddlings with what does or does not appear on our feeds, Facebook has become a dark wood with giant spiders in it. Several of my Facebook friends have been hacked. The interloper was found and expunged, the true people are back behind their profiles, and all’s well—plus, we all have an eye out now, if any of our friends starts IM-ing or posting strangely—but the chill is in the air.

It’s unsettling—whenever anything such as the internet, or snowboarding, or break-dancing—whenever anything draws a crowd of happy, engaged people who not only watch the thing, but begin to participate in the thing, the filthy rich will set up some kind of commercial approximation of it. Thus the clock is started. Once anything becomes a commodity or an asset, the race is on. Who can attract more customers; who can find the cheapest costs, who can get the highest price? Who has the best marketing campaign? Ultimately, it becomes regulated, circumscribed, a dead thing, a shadow of its former inspiration. It becomes a dark doppelgänger of what it could have been.

But Facebook is still free. Rather than simply quitting, I should consider changing my privacy settings. I could restrict my profile to just friends and a few favorite content providers, like George Takei, The Daily Show, I fucking Love Science, etc. Then I wouldn’t have to wade through the posts that are cleverly disguised sociology-landmines, or outright sales-pitches. My favorite ad is the small one on the bottom right of the Facebook ‘frame’—it’s usually a picture of a large-breasted young lady without a shirt, with the tag-line: “You gotta see this!” I actually clicked on that thing before I knew what I was doing. But the site you’re brought to is like a small-town diner’s paper placemat, just full of local service-businesses’ websites—and just reeking of hacker-vulnerability.

But cutting myself off from the ‘fire hose’ kinda defeats the purpose of being plugged into the whole world—it’s kinda the point. Otherwise, I imagine my friends and I will all end up uploading phone-pics of our breakfast each morning!

I know to avoid anything on the side-ribbons of the Facebook frame—no matter how intriguing. And I know to look for those little logos that warn of a larger organization behind that post. But it takes so long and gets so tiring. So, I guess I’ll stick with my friends, for a while at least, until the foliage gets too thick to hack through to them… ..if it gets too bad, I may still have to perform some sort of self-intervention. Life should not be lived on a keyboard. I spend hours on the computer, preparing and posting my little videos and my little essays (like this)—but I will not ‘hang out’ here. I have a perfectly good front lawn—there’s even some decent lawn furniture to sit in and talk (to myself if necessary).

Now, this is not the fault of Facebook, this is a failing of our Capitalism—one of its many—but nothing, not even Facebook (“It’s free and always will be.”) can keep out their tentacles. Facebook is a fragile thing, and it has become a badly trampled garden. We’ve all experienced ‘trolls’—they can be blocked and are, therefore, relatively harmless—but the ones who crawl behind the code (like the employees fiddling with our Facebook feeds) are far more difficult to spot, much less defend against.

Sociology is a wonderful thing. I took a course in college—it was great. But the first thing they teach you is that individuals are random and unpredictable, but the larger the ‘sample size’ (# of people) you study, the more predictable they become. And the internet is a darn big ‘sample size’. Sociology is primarily used in marketing research—its most profitable use (though it has many more important uses going begging). So it is only natural for market researchers to salivate over a titanic mass of consumers, all with the power to pay by clicking a mouse. But Heisenberg is on our side—the stats are only valid if WE don’t know we are being observed.

I saw a Times article—a man clicks ‘like’ on everything he sees on his feed for two days straight—even stuff he hates, he clicks ‘like’. He started getting crazy feed-posts from such nutjobs that he was afraid he’d be put on a government watch-list. His Facebook friends’ feeds went crazy, they were all screaming at him, asking if he’d been hacked. And some administrator at Facebook eventually called him to talk about it! He was messing up their trending algorithms.

It sounded like fun, but then I thought maybe it’d be better just to sign off for good and all. Would I lose something important, something worth staying in my present mode of checking out Facebook for two or three hours every day? Well, there are some people I interact with almost every day, very nice folks all of whom I enjoy being in touch with. And we all share stuff from the internet-fed chaos around us. All of them are too far away to have any regular contact with outside of Facebook.

Now here is the hilarious record of what happens when I try to play doubles with a real musician, Peter Cianflone–it’s almost too embarrassing to post, but I had so much fun—The first picture is to click on for the entire playlist (listen to all five videos in a row). The five individual videos are available below that, so you can pick and choose as you like. Enjoy, I hope!

Click picture above to hear Playlist..

Click picture above to hear Playlist..

 

Civilians or Hostages or What? (2014Aug09)

 

 

 

 

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I can’t speak to the culture in the Gaza Strip right now. I neither expect (from my comfortable home in a non-war-zone neighborhood) that my neighbors would cluster around an active rocket-launcher emplacement—nor that the military would allow them within 500 yards (or miles, more likely) of such an obvious target. I wonder how it is that so many innocent Palestinians are close enough to these things to be killed or wounded by Israel’s return fire.

 Do the terrorists hold a block party around the launcher before they fire? Do they threaten the women and children who try to get away? Or do they indoctrinate their women and children to believe it is their sacred duty to stand under an Israeli missile-targeting system? The terrorists have been accused of storing arms and explosives under their mosques. The Israelis claim to have witnessed secondary explosions from some mosques. Just today, a Palestinian spokesman accused the Israelis of deliberately firing on one of their mosques.

 It is apparent that the Palestinians are as responsible for these civilian deaths as the Israelis whose missiles caused them. To put their own innocents in harm’s way for publicity purposes is just as much a war crime, if not more so, as the Israelis defending their territory with missile strikes at rocket-launcher positions. And I would like to know the point they think they’re making. Hamas (or who-the-hell-ever) shoots their rockets into the air—which then come down, they know not where. That alone should give pause to a responsible adult—several of their rockets have landed in Gaza.

 The last I heard, their rockets had been supremely unsuccessful—not a single Israeli has been hit. When such foolish behavior invokes a response from a nation that can hit what it aims at—at that point it would seem clear to any sane person that the time had come to find a more effective method to solve their difficulties.

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 One is tempted to regard Hamas as a bunch of crazy people. But the issue is—have they been driven to insanity by inhumane persecution? Or is being unreasonable considered acceptable in their culture? I can hardly see any reason why the Israelis, as a rule, would have any great fondness for Palestinians—they are human, after all—but has that friction created a bullying policy towards those who have sworn to destroy them? Even that would be understandable, if not quite acceptable.

 But we Americans share a belief in the nobility of the survivors of the Holocaust and their country. We assume that of all the people on the Earth, the Jews know the evil of persecution better than anyone. Israel has become a strong nation, and proud—as well they should be—but that pride and strength can get twisted up pretty bad (trust an American on this). I hope they still remember their thirst for justice as much as the bitterness of their persecution.

 And an important addendum—what about the rest of the frigging Middle East, huh? Israel is not their only neighbor. If the heads of Saudi Arabia, Iran, Egypt—whoever—if any one of them wasn’t afraid of ‘getting their foyers all dirtied up’ by a visit from the Palestinians, they could be offering all sorts of humanitarian aid and developmental resources to the area. They could turn that blasted moonscape into a thriving metropolis if they wanted to. Perhaps it is more to their liking to let the Israelis go on twisting in the wind—and the Palestinians.

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Four More (2014Aug08)

Here they are:

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hope you liked them!

Two More from The “Hand-Maid” and Two More from Me (2014Jun06)

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here are the pictures I used in “Rum-ta-ta-Tum” :

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Two from “Muficks Hand-maid” (1678) by Henry Purcell (2014Jun24)

 

I love seventeenth-century English keyboard works.

 

 

 

 

Two for the Italian Baroque–Two for Me (2014Jun21)

Well, things have been weird lately–Claire just started her new ‘Work Study’ job, Jessy just got offered extra work doing Real Estate photography on weekends, and Spencer and I are enjoying my new arrival of sour candies! I’ve been doing a lot of piano playing without the camera on–but here’s some new stuff I just did…

 

 

 

 

 

Hope you liked it!

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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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Inspired to Hate, Fight, and Kill (2014Jun06)

"Planet Rise" by Xper Dunn

Friday, June 06, 2014                  7:01 PM

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D-Day remembrances today, including an unplanned 15-minute talk between Obama and Putin, both being at the same Normandy memorial event and no doubt aware of how ironic a present-day fracas over a part of Eastern Europe must seem on such a day, at such an event. They and others were treated to a unique dance piece involving masses of dancers on a large ‘playing field’ setting overlaid with an idealized map of the world. The most diverting part was played by the ‘Underground’ dancers who wove amongst the belligerent forces dance-groups—Claire loved it, I thought it dragged a bit, but I’m no big dance fan. I couldn’t help imagining the thoughts behind the eyes of all the old soldiers—whom I suspect were struggling to keep their expressions non-judgmental. In other words I thought it may have been the wrong audience and setting for something that artsy—but I’m no judge, what do I know.

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My favorite part of all the military ‘holy’ days is that the movies on TV come out in force—armed forces, that is. I just finished watching that “Band of Brothers” episode, “Why We Fight”—the one where they come upon a death camp—which ends with the German townspeople being forced to bury the remaining piles of corpses to a string quartet playing some mournful Beethoven. The afterword stated that 6,000,000 Jews and 5,000,000 of other ethnic minorities were murdered in the implementation of Hitler’s ‘Final Solution’—that’s eleven million people slaughtered by a fascist government system. Many other millions died innocently in bombings and shellings and shootings, disease and starvation, and there were hundreds of thousands of soldiers, sailors and airmen killed in action—on all sides of the fight. (We often overlook the facts that Russia fielded more fighters and took the lion’s share of the brunt of Nazi Germany’s savagery—and that the Chinese took the worst of it from Japan’s madness for military expansion. In 1945, after the Japanese withdrew, the Chinese government was so threadbare it was forced to stand silent as millions of its citizens died of the great famine that swept central China immediately after the war.

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The USA, very proud of its part in ending both World Wars, deftly ignores how late we were to join both fights—and how little we sacrificed compared to other nations who played the game on their home fields. I’m proud of America’s part in world history—and of our armed forces—the only empire that never takes possession of its conquests. Perspective, however, should not blind us to the records of history or the nature and value of the rest of the world. Proud is good, but selfish is not, and willfully ignorant is unacceptable.

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We are part of the same dark history that includes the ‘bad guys’ of history. First we slaughtered the Native Americans, then we imported and enslaved another minority—one we had created. The Nazis once wanted to exterminate minorities, and the South Africans once wanted to quarantine minorities rather than show them respect. We all now live in a wonderful, modern, global community that has agreed to the axiom that Human Rights must be unconditional, or they are not Human Rights. We all respect each other now, behind all the likes, dislikes, disagreements, and preferences, we recognize that our fellows (and even our enemies) are human beings like ourselves. That is the public face of all developed countries.

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But it is incomplete. Hatred is still very much with us. Some discount the equal rights of women; some discount the humanity of other racial groups; some discount everyone outside of their major faith; and many erroneously equate wealth and power as signs of greatness. Such prejudices still pervade some otherwise-civilized nations: Saudi Arabia still condescends to the female half of their population; Russia still criminalizes homosexuality; etc., etc.

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Outside of these institutional archaisms, there is the thornier problem of the quiet bigot—America is chock-full of such communities and individuals. How can these people know enough to be ashamed to speak their thoughts out loud in public and yet remain ignorant enough to cling to these fantasies of superiority and entitlement? Are their lives so harsh they require a mental whipping boy—something to blame for their lack of happiness? No, if that were true, there would be a demographic pattern to these devolutionary anti-socialists. The stats show that hate is everywhere—rich or poor, north or south, hate for women, hate for non-whites, hate for non-Christians—it persists in families that work hard to keep it alive in the face of so much enlightened pluralism in our media, our government, and our legislation—and in our daily lives. It must confuse the hell out of their kids.

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The truth, as Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein put to music so long ago, is that ‘you have to be carefully taught’. No one is born with the will to hate someone else based on their few differences. It is passed down from mother to daughter, from father to son—as is, unsurprisingly, tolerance. But tolerance itself needs no indoctrination—parents simply inform their children that all of us are people and none of us should be left out or excluded—and the children recognize a simple truth when they hear it. Prejudice must be repeated and reinforced over and over–it has to be carefully taught.

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How do we end this? I like to think that erosion will work against the pockets of willful ignorance until they are all gone—but that is both grindingly slow and terribly uncertain—people are crazy. Who’s to say we won’t see erosion in the wrong direction? So action seems required—but how do we act against parents raising their children in the privacy of their own homes? Plus, it is easy to deflect ones motives—to blame ones judgments against others on some practical detail rather than the hidden hate that truly inspired it. How do we stop that? I wish I knew.

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Can’t We Have Just One Good Thing?

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Monday, June 02, 2014               10:07 PM

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On Sunday, June 1st, five Taliban prisoners from Gitmo were flown to Qatar as part of the agreement to release Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl, the only known U.S. prisoner of war in Afghanistan, held captive for five years. His former platoon members consider his leaving the camp as an act of desertion—and after he was captured, some even resented the enormous search effort that followed his disappearance. Some of Obama’s political enemies are calling his unilateral decision to make the exchange a violation of Congress’s right to oversight and mutual decision-making in the matter of POW exchanges. Many Afghanis, including President Karzai, protest the American transfer of the five Taliban prisoners to Qatar, a third nation, as a violation of Afghani sovereignty. They further protest that these prisoners are charged with war crimes and crimes against humanity—and that setting them free virtually guarantees their return to terrorist activities.

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This is how modern America (led by the news-media) reacts to the return of their sole POW from our longest-lasting military engagement. Apparently, PTSD is all well and good once our military return home—but if someone becomes ‘disenchanted’ with the war while still ‘in theater’, that poor bastard is a deserter, maybe even a traitor—and his platoon-mates consider it good riddance to bad rubbish.

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I’d like to meet these fellows—I’ll bet they’re all real, stand-up guys. After five years of imprisonment by the worst terrorists on Earth, their first comment on their old pal, Sargent Bowe, is that he should be court-martialed and sent to prison! They claim he didn’t like the war and that he ‘wandered off’—real eagle-eyes, these guys. Nobody noticed? He disappears and they all just gape at each other and shrug? ‘Armies-of-One’, each and every one of them, I’m sure.

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The GOP who cry foul the loudest are the ones who have made abundantly clear their intention to counter and oppose every initiative, every post-nomination, and every decision President Obama decides to try for. And I’m fed up with their protests of innocence whenever their flagrant racism is pointed out—so let me just point out one other fact these Tea-Pots are guilty of.

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By robbing our President of the minimum respect and cooperation every other preceding president has been accorded, out of our proud tradition of accepting election results and getting on with the business of governing, they are also betraying the majority of the citizens, we the people, who elected Obama (sorry-I meant re-elected Obama) by a decisive margin.

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They have been literally screaming ‘Down with the President!’ for six years now—and aside from myself, I haven’t heard anyone call them traitors. Well, if President Obama felt he had to broker this deal without their sabotage of our government’s every responsibility, they can hardly expect anyone to take them seriously when they complain that they weren’t ‘included in the decision-making’. And as for President Karzai (who will remain President of Afghanistan for only a while longer) he has bought his domestic political capital by his shows of antagonism towards the USA for years—his protests carry as little evidence of objectivity as those of the Republican Party, and for the same reason. They both thrive on degrading the United States by abusing our President.

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Five terrorists with ‘cred’ from their stays at our national disgrace—Guantanamo Bay Prison—yes, releasing them sounds like a really bad idea—they will be heroes to the enemies of the USA and their potential ability to recruit new terrorists is incalculable. Nevertheless, we went to war against the Taliban and the Taliban is no more. Al-Qaeda has been decimated of its original command-and-control leaders.

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Let Pakistan have them, or Boko Haram, or whoever—their original roles have disappeared and the last place any of them want to be is in Afghanistan, or back with us—if it returns our only POW back to America (and if his ‘buddies’ don’t jail him) it will have been worth it. In fact, if we can come up with any excuses to chuck out the remaining military detainees in Gitmo, I for one am all for it.

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Is Bowe Bergdahl a hero? Probably not. Is he a casualty? Most definitely. My money is on him suffering PTSD while serving in action and not getting a whole lot of support from his comrades. Add to that five years of unthinkable panic, pain, stress, and desperation as a prisoner of terrorists. He still hasn’t been put on a plane to America because the army medics are trying to get him used to trusting another person in the room with him—a description that sounds an awful lot like ‘total breakdown’. Even if he wasn’t emotionally unstable when he went missing, he sure is now. Of all the military that served there, Bowe Bergdahl may be the only one whose nightmarish fears of Afghanistan came completely true. I feel that should be a consideration when discussing his legal liabilities, if any truly exist.

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Sometimes I try to figure out which country will be the next ‘America’—we have gone a long way down the road of decline. Our spirit is weak. Our ambitions are myopic. Our ideals have become stories we tell about the past, not something most of us still strive for in daily life. Our propensity to let money corrupt everything we once stood for has eaten away at our moral foundations to the point where, like the melting ice caps, it seems beyond the point of repair—on a downward slide to a new world where our America will become as trapped in its circumstances as any Old World nation ever was.

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I wish it weren’t true. I wish lobbying and legal bullying hadn’t gotten us so surrounded by the forces of mindless corporate entities, corrupt government officials, the military-industrial complex, and the monolithic communications giants, that grass-roots politics can be shouted down by big-money political smear campaigns and divisive interest groups. Sadly, I sometimes ponder Sweden, Australia, Iceland, Brazil, Great Britain, and Canada—I ask myself if I shouldn’t encourage my kids to emigrate, to abandon the declining empire of our Constitution and start somewhere with less cholesterol in its veins.

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Still, they say that while it is too late to stop the ice caps from melting, we still have a century or so before the truly devastating rise of sea level to ten or twenty feet above where it is now. My generation will be gone, but my kids may live to see the whole world get new coastlines (and the attendant chaos). So, while I think of the decline of America, I still think it will be their best bet until many decades from now—they’ll have to decide on their own best location, after I’m gone.

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I feel so sad to think of how I once saw my country—I was naïve, yes, but some of what I believed in was actually true. Nowadays, not so much. And when something like a returning POW is treated to the scandal-mill process of modern news and political infighting, instead of joy and gratitude—well, perhaps Army Sergeant Bowe Bergdahl’s ‘disenchantment’ with fighting for his country in Afghanistan had some grounds to base it on.

Philadelphia Museum of Art

Tweet-Tweet…Tweedle-De-Dete (2014May14)

Hi All. For today we are serving a taste of bird songs, followed by four folk songs from Russia–after that, I just happen to have an Improv, as well. Enjoy!

Being out in the yard is not just pretty flowers–you can hear the birdies singin, too. Stills of the shoot are displayed below the two videos…

 

 

 

 

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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.

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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.

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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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One Grisly Nightmare [& Two(2) Piano Covers]

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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?”

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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!’

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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….

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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.

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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?

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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.

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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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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…

Three Songs And An Improvisation (2014Feb12)

 

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XperDunn plays Piano
February 12th, 2014

3 Standards: ‘Look of Love’, ‘Lovers Concerto’, ‘Love Is All Around’

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[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

The Look of Love (1967 song)
Released January 29, 1967
Recorded Philips Studios, London
Composer: Burt Bacharach Writer: Hal David

Ursula Andress inspired Burt Bacharach to compose “The Look of Love” watching her in an early cut of the film Casino Royale.

The track is played while Vesper Lynd seduces Evelyn Tremble, observed through a man-size aquarium.

“The Look of Love” is a popular song composed by Burt Bacharach and Hal David and sung by English pop singer Dusty Springfield, which appeared in the 1967 spoof James Bond film Casino Royale.

In 2008, the song was inducted into the Grammy Hall of Fame. It also received a Best Song nomination in the 1968 Academy Awards.
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[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

“A Lover’s Concerto” a single by The Toys

from the album: The Toys Sing “A Lover’s Concerto” and “Attack!”
Released 1965
Writer(s) Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell, Christian Petzold

“A Lover’s Concerto” is a pop song, written by American songwriters Sandy Linzer and Denny Randell and recorded in 1965 by The Toys.

Their original version of the song was a major hit in the United States, the UK and elsewhere during 1965. It peaked on the US Billboard Hot 100 chart at number 2
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[From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia]

“Love is All Around”
Single by The Troggs
Released October 1967
Label(s): Page One/Fontana UK; Fontana (Mercury) US
Writer(s) Reg Presley

“Love Is All Around” is a song composed by Reg Presley and originally performed in 1967 by Presley’s band, The Troggs, featuring a string quartet and a ‘tick tock’ sound on percussion, in D-major. Purportedly inspired by a television transmission of the Joy Strings Salvation Army band’s “Love That’s All Around”, the song was first released as a single in the UK in October 1967.

On the US Billboard Hot 100, the record entered at No.98 on 24 February 1968, peaked at No.7 on 18 May 1968, and spent a total of 16 weeks on the chart.
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Lastly, the graphics are by Hokusai

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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Rebellion In The Ukraine (2014Jan29)

 

 

 

Please note: these photos are from “The Atlantic”.

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[ “Thanks to Chris Kearin, for pointing out this post from “www.theatlantic.com” ]

 

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.

Opnamedatum: 2012-06-28

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

Xmas Carols

 

Sunday, December 01, 2013                3:32 PM

Well, it’s December, at least—long past the appropriate time to bring up the holiday season, to most marketers. But Xmas is not so easily tamed. We give our thanks in November, we give our presents in December, and we give ourselves new goals at New Year’s, the first day of next year. Xmas is in the middle but gets the lion’s share of the focus—giving things to each other calls to that materialism we all have at least a spark of—but it is an event, and in so many senses, more engaging than the more ritualistic form of the ‘book-ends’ holidays.

So I prefer to keep each event to its place and I never begin to play Xmas carols on the piano (and worse yet, sing) until December 1st. Xmas has pressure enough—and in the nadir of Winter—with the expectations needing filling and the mandatory purchases having unbalanced a recently comfortable account balance.

More’s the pity—the Winter fest of Europe’s ancienter times was a blow-out in every sense of the word—even sometimes electing a ‘governing fool’ who gave orders to the gentry—but always including drinking too much, brawling for no reason, and debauchery among the adults of the community. Even burning down a house or two was considered no great extreme—and the first thing the Reformed Protestant Churches did was outlaw the celebration of Twelfth Night, or Yuletide.

This did not stop people from celebrating—and it’s my guess that the raucous outburst of pent-up tension was the very best way to prepare for the group to live all huddled together, indoors, for most of the winter. Today, with stress an unavoidable fact of life, it makes little sense to have the holidays be filled with guilts and repressions—as it is celebrated by a tremendous number of Americans today. But even that undertow of familial and social demands on the celebrants does not define Xmas (no matter what Chevy Chase would have us believe).

I believe that Xmas has become an emotional refuge, its most important function being to allow us the fantasy, at least for a day or few, of thinking our lives have the same simplicity and cyclic regularity that those pagans once enjoyed. Most rituals have been stripped away from modern life, aside from weddings and birthdays—the number of people with ashes on their brow on Ash Wednesday is so sparse that it can disturb non-Catholics coming upon it the first time that day—they impulsively tell one he or she has a smudge on their forehead.

Those fortunate enough to be raising children focus the entirety of the ‘Season’ to their children’s (hopefully) treasured memories—the things parents hope their children will reproduce with their own families, some day. And no childhood fantasy is so seriously guarded as the ‘belief in Santa Claus’. This dichotomy between kids and adults has its good side, I guess, but I could never see it as different from ‘lying’, so we had no great emphasis on Santa’s reality—the kids are more interested in the presents, anyway.

That it is a stupid idea is confirmed, by my reckoning, by the number of stupid Christmas movies that focus on the maintenance of this myth as a humorous plot point.

Xmas has to do with being in the northern states, Washington to Maine, or thereabouts, and walking through snow to bring your freshly chopped-down pine tree into your living room. Anything else is not a Hollywood-approved location for this coziest of holidays—one can never feel quite as good about oneself as when donating to (or better yet, feeding) the wretched poor when the ground is covered with snow.

New York City has a slightly different take on the season, but is still within prescribed conditions to be a ‘real’ Christmas. It adds a lovely dollop of urbanity—window displays, municipal decorations, office parties (though not as solid a tradition as once was) and seeing the toys in FAO Schwarz’s and the big Xmas Tree in Rockefeller Center, on ones way to Radio City Music Hall for the traditional “Nutcracker” show.

 But the full-on, tradition-filled Christmas happens in New England—plenty of indigenous pine trees, a good chance of snow on the ground (before Climate Change, anyway) and tree ornaments that may have passed down through three or four generations. Ordinarily, the head of the clan will have ‘the family’ to their big house and make a short week of the holiday.

I watch nothing but the Hallmark Channel for the whole of December—I can’t get enough of these crazy movies—Elves fall in love with humans; Santa’s son doesn’t want to take over Christmas; a poverty-stricken family somehow find themselves living in a big, beautiful house in a lovely, loving, small town; Santa’s sleigh is stuck in the shop; A reindeer with a fluorescent nose flies at the front of Santa’s team—you know the drill.

However, it isn’t entirely Hallmark’s fault—it was Charles Dickens’ “A Christmas Carol” that gave Christmas its wish-fulfillment aspect. It was his idea that the ‘Christmas Spirit’ was a mandatory giver of grace to even the most twisted misanthrope. The idea that hard-nosed business-people were a blight on society wasn’t new, but the ludicrous suggestion that they can be convinced to open their hearts one day a year…  —all Dickens.

And now Hallmark channel has evolved into a cornucopia of sappy, sentimental hogwash, non-stop for 25 full days of nothing but Xmas movies. I am fascinated by their transmutation of human ritual into wish-fulfillment fantasies and Cinderella-type romances. There’s plenty of sneaky elves doing magic and smirking behind a corner at the surprised humans—there are plenty of BFFs that make seemingly trivial remarks that resonate with the movie’s plot-line (or it’s title—which in some cases is the movie in a nutshell, for example: “Snow Globe”).

But sometimes I catch them in a new bit of blasphemy—this year (unless I didn’t notice in previous years) was the use of the tag-line, ‘Hallmark, the Heart of Joy’! Can you imagine? “Joy: def. Intense and especially ecstatic or exultant happiness”.  In a religious context (if I may suggest that Xmas has a religious context) ‘joyfulness’ is the ecstasy felt by those who worship the newborn son of God. I’m sure Hallmark was just looking for a generic word, like ‘tinsel’ or ‘stocking’, to suggest Xmas without confining their audience to any specific religion—but in my opinion, ‘Joy’ can be seen as overstepping by sensitive folks like me.

Besides, Joy is pretty strong language, especially when describing the most shamelessly sugary genre of cinema in the world today. Maybe ‘Hallmark, the Heart of Sweet’ ? If you want to see something crazy, check out the Xmas Movies listing of your current cable provider, TV, Hulu, or Netflix—thousands of these films—and Hallmark makes five or ten new ones every year, just to cement their place at the forefront of kitsch. So I guess it’s what you call a ‘guilty pleasure’ for me to watch these movies on Hallmark channel for hours on end. I don’t approve of Hallmark’s immersion in the treacle of holiday sentiment—far from it.

Hallmark has a much older claim than computers to destroying our literate holiday traditions—the whole point of a card, back when, was that you made it yourself—put some thought and feeling into it. Lots of people still do that, but very few Americans—‘we care enough to send the very best’, as Hallmark once drummed into our ears, back when they were merely a greeting card company. All the little notes and present tags and letters from old friends—they are nowhere to be seen in modern American Xmases.

So I lie in bed and allow the false joy of Hallmark channel to wash over me. I wonder about the kids of today—how much of their holiday season is torn from their focus on the gadgets they all have now? How many kids get sleds for Xmas, compared to how many get the latest gaming consoles or handheld electronics? And I wonder at the power of my conditioning as a child, that even now as an atheist of decades, I still think Xmas has great value and should be treasured for whatever few truly human exchanges of love and joy (and presents) it still engenders, in spite of the tinsel.

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”.

Backlog

I’ve just been catching up to myself–all recordings from the past eight days have now been processed:

 

Hope you enjoy….

Graphics Explosion

Okay, two new improvs and a look at some of the artwork contained in my video uploads:

GRAPHICS:

Back in the I-beginning, museum sites had no restrictions on downloading graphics of their paintings, sculpture, etc.

Back then, it took minutes for a hi-res graphic to download off a phone jack ISP, but I knew that someday the doors would all be locked–so I downloaded graphics like an obsession. Nowadays, security on graphic image files is pretty tight. It’s all ‘information’ now, and information is ‘owned’ now, too.  But I don’t commercialize my sites, so nobody looks too closely. Also, there are special programs like that of the Rejksmuseum in Netherlands, which allows a user to download graphics of their masterworks for non-commercial use. I still grab stuff off the Google-Image search, but I have to be more careful about snagging something off of those new ‘graphics by fee’ sites–one of them threatened me with legal action a few weeks ago!

Anyhow–here’s some of my latest ‘artwork’ in service to my YouTube channel uploads, and the original files I used for graphics backgrounds. You’ll notice that I over-lighten or over-darken these paintings to make my Text stand out and be legible.

20131019XD-Improv-GYup_01_Art-HorseLexington-1968-Good

20131019XD-Improv-GYup_02_200_Currier_&_Ives_Ready_For_The_Signal

20131019XD-Improv-GYup_03_No_Known_Restrictions_Horse_Racing,_Currier_&_Ives_Lithograph_1890

20131019XD-Improv-GYup_04_Trotting_Cracks_on_the_snow

20131019XD-Improv-GYup_05_english_hunt_fence

20131019XD-Improv-GYup_06_Hunter

20131019XD-Improv-GYup_(CreditsCARD)

20131019XD-Improv-GYup_(TitlesCARD)

20131019XD-Improv-HYup_(CreditsCARD)

20131019XD-Improv-HYup_(TitlesCARD)

20131022XD-FitzWllmVrgnlBk_XV_Robin(TitlesCARD)

20131022XD-FitzWllmVrgnlBk_XVIII_BarafostusDream(TitlesCARD)

20131022XD-FzwlmVrgnl_17thCenturyEnglishMusic_01

20131022XD-FzwlmVrgnl_17thCenturyEnglishMusic_02

20131022XD-FzwlmVrgnl_17thCenturyEnglishMusic_Barfastus_s_Dream_01

20131022XD-FzwlmVrgnl_17thCenturyEnglishMusic_Barfastus_s_Dream_02_Baschenis_Musical_Instruments

20131024XD-Improv-Factory(TitlesCARD)

20131024XD-Improv-PrototypeX(CreditsCARD)

20131024XD-Improv-PrototypeX(TitlesCARD)

20131026XD-Improv-AdAstra(CreditsCARD)

20131026XD-Improv-AdAstra(TitlesCARD)

20131026XD-Improv-Aspere(CreditsCARD)

20131026XD-Improv-Aspere(TitlesCARD)

20131026XD-Rijksmuseum_MyStud_Art-Nouveau_interieur_anoniem_1890-1910

20131026XD-Rijksmuseum_MyStud_Delftsche Slaolie-Jan_Toorop_1894

20131026XD-Rijksmuseum_MyStud_Het_stadhuis_op_de_Dam_in_Amsterdam-Gerrit_Adriaensz-Berckheyde_1672

20131026XD-Rijksmuseum_MyStud_Portret_van_een_vrouw_tussen_bloemen-Eva_Watson-Schütze_ca_1910

20131026XD-Rijksmuseum_MyStud_Seated Cupid-Etienne-Maurice_Falconet_1757

201320811XD-PreRaphWomen_GoldenTrio

20131026XD-Rijksmuseum_MyStud_Mantelpiece_w_relief_of_Paris_n_Oenone-Jan_Baptist_Xavery_1739

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 vote until Clinton. The aftermath, that terrible eight years of ‘W’, was much harder to take now that I was a voter. But Obama’s election, and re-election, restored my faith in my fellow citizens. I’m supremely happy with his steering of the ship of state. The only thing that went wrong was the Tea Party. The implicit racism of the Tea Party is borne out by its creation after Obama took office, it’s persistent disrespect and rumor-mongering towards our head of state—regardless of the harm done to our nation’s perception by the rest of the world, and its current pretense of fighting to ‘preserve their freedoms’ while the country, perhaps even the globe, begins to smolder.

They are a shame and blight on our body politic. I have to hope that even the idiots who elected them will see their mistake, and vote for someone else to take their office, someone with some common sense and respect for our governing system.

Obama has turned our economy back upwards from the ditch the GOP drove it into—he has passed and (now) implemented the affordable care legislation that the GOP are screaming about—it is very popular. Apparently, health care is something poor people, even middle class people, want and need.

To turn this country upside-down in protest is worse than childish—it is criminal. If it were up to me, I’d charge a heavy fine on the Tea Party reps for every day they thumb their noses at our country’s well-being and reputation abroad.

Bachmann’s Reich

I saw Michelle Bachmann interviewed by Wolf Blitzer on CNN this morning. She didn’t answer any of his questions. He pressed and pressed for a simple yes or no on any of his several reasonable questions. She talked around him, over him, under him, throwing out Tea-Party talking points as she evaded the subject Wolf was trying to talk about. She contradicted him with a bunch of spurious poll numbers and misinformation to which Wolf could only respond, “Where are you getting this information?” (Which she claimed she had ‘back at her office’).

We have seen Bachmann and other Tea-Party stalwarts take their cues from Palin’s VP-run playbook whenever they are faced with serious disagreement. It is transparently the behavior of someone trying to evade the plain truth by becoming hysterical over left-field distractions and quoting patently imaginary facts and figures—they even rewrite history to push their ignorant (and obviously paid-for) agenda.

In the old days we described this behavior as ‘squirming’ and ‘bold-faced lying’. But today it is viewed by many people as ‘Tea-Party politics’—as if, when red-necks get up on their haunches and shout their frustration at a complicated and pluralist world, they are permitted to be completely nonsensical and wildly untruthful. I think it has something to do with their response to this, which is to charge that everyone else is lying. They even pose as martyrs to ‘gotcha’-journalism (translation: any reasonable questions posed in front of a camera).

But I’m not mad at these poor souls—they are deluded, misguided, and given far more attention and legitimacy than is healthy for the uneducated. I’m mad at us—how did we allow stupidity to become a valid political platform? When did we drop any minimum intelligence limit for people who have a national microphone before them?

President Obama made an address later on this afternoon, in which he pointed out that the House of Representatives has a solemn duty—political kamikaze tactics may be all the House GOP members are interested in, but they have actual responsibilities as well. That they ignore those responsibilities is just another maddening symptom of this new class of politician, the ‘stubborn simpleton’ (Yes, I’m referring to Ted Cruz). The fact that experienced, older GOP members are nearly as dismayed as the Democrats at the irrational and irresponsible behavior of the Tea-Partyers says a great deal about just how far from sanity these people have gone (and taken the rest of us with them).

I’m glad Obama has put his foot down—negotiating with such cretins does nothing to appease them—and nothing anyone else can say can convince them that they are in the wrong—about anything. That’s the surest sign of their mental imbalance—their refusal to face reality.

The only thing worse? That these troublemakers are expected to be re-elected by their constituencies! When seniors don’t get their Social Security allowance, when soldiers in the field don’t get a paycheck to send to their families, when no one can get a loan for the foreseeable future—will those people really re-affirm their faith in this group?  I would do more than merely vote for a Democrat—I’d have them charged with high treason.

They are threatening to break the world, to destroy the United States of America, to ruin everyone’s day for years to come—how can anyone see them as responsible office-holders and elected officials?

The Bitch

Thursday, September 26, 2013            1:58 PM

Everybody loves a bitch. The Stones had a big hit in “Bitch” (Sticky Fingers 1971) I think, in large part, because we kids loved to sing along. And it’s just a fun word to say—“bitch, bitch, bitch.” We love them. We go crazy over them—especially the mega-bitch. A mega-bitch is a completely evil, incredibly hot woman, such as Shannon Doherty’s role as Brenda Walsh in the series “Beverly Hills, 90210” (1990). Women are drawn to a bitchy character because she is self-determined and adversarial; men are fascinated by a bitchy character because no matter how evil her mind, heart, or voice—she’s still a woman, and men, by and large, want women.

I’d venture a guess that the proliferation of old witches and crones in our folk stories were a product of male story-tellers who were more comfortable with a bitchy character bereft of any hint of fecundity—but I’m no archeological psychologist, I just know myself.

I’ve just had a rather embarrassing email exchange with a writer friend, whose first serialized on-line novel I’d found instantly engaging and compelling. Some poor schlub’s horror-of-a-girlfriend character was a constant spur to my interest. But when she debuted her new novel’s first chapter, set in a sort of antebellum Edwardian atmosphere, I instantly attacked her for it, saying the whole thing was worthless, a pile of junk. (Jumping the gun is a favorite hobby of mine.)

But when, at her urging, I went back and re-read the chapter, I suddenly found, by focusing on it better, that it was a well-paced, tightly written piece of fiction—so, feeling like a jackass, I sent her my apologies. I was confused—it was well written, yet it repelled me at first—and even having found that it was good, I still lacked any inclination to read more.

But this morning it came to me. There was no bitch. Moreover, there wasn’t a bad-guy or an evil influence in sight. When I had my health, and was a terrible bookworm, I would casually allow myself (and the author) the first 150 pages as a ‘gimme’. I’d had plenty of experience with writers with a slow burn—and they were often the best, if I could ride out the slow start.

Now I have a more modern sensibility—I need a quick fix. I need coercion, I need conflict, I need me a bitch. I truly miss those good old days when I could re-read Robin Hood in that wonderfully drowsy ‘dear reader’ kind of style; I could re-read the Iliad and be charmed by the interplay of human drama and Jovian fate and the symbolism and the repeated phrases that made it as much a chant as a story. I read everything and anything—and fast—I averaged 1.3 books a day—unless they were little things of 300 pages or less. Before I lost my health, I got to where I preferred only 700+ page-books, like King, Follett, Clancy, and Ian Banks. Anything less than that frustrated me—I would hardly get comfortable in the writer’s world when I would find myself reading the exit sign: “The End”.

But today, I mostly do TV. When I do commit to a book, I start reading like I always used to—but then I quickly find my neck aching, or my eyesight blurring, or just a mental inability to follow along as I read. I put it down, wait an hour, try again. In the last half of the book I will become transfixed, and I’ll wonder why I don’t still do this all the time. But the next day, after I finish the book, I’ll have blurry vision most of the day, and little aches and pains and spasms from holding open the heavy book and from focusing my eyesight (through magnifying glasses) on the page for hours at a time.

So, long story short, I don’t read much anymore. When I do, I get impatient of any settling-in type beginnings and intolerant of any slack in a storyline. I prefer to be left wondering to being given more than I need. I’m become the same audience as the illiterate—just show me eye-candy with music, please.

And the end result is a media with a narrow range, stories that introduce conflict from the first sentence and keep it hot right until the big car crash (with explosion) at the end. All the best told stories are the opposite, they build and build a world around you, inserting conflicts at strategic points, adding detail and suspense and character development with the tidal flow of their story’s pace—only with such subtle storytelling can an artist ever build up to a tidal wave far more awesome than a mere car crash—but without the leeway to do this, merely good writers can outperform the great writers, making wam-bam-thank you-ma’am plotlines the industry’s default quality.

Fortunately, the treasure house of the past is still easily accessible to anyone with a library card. But be careful to read the book before you see the movie. I had read “The Lord Of The Rings” three times before Peter Jackson got his green light—so the freeze-dried husk of the CGI version will never mar my memories of the happiness I felt marching along with the Fellowship through Tolkien’s worlds. Or stalking Clancy’s cold-war villains from one end of the Earth to another. Or shivering from my immersion in the horror of King’s nightmare town, Kerry, Maine. How I wish I could still spend whole days there, day after day.

But this isn’t about me. My writer friend has brought into focus a dilemma that all modern writers face—subtle writing is to small audiences as simple writing is to big audiences (and big money). And I’m not suggesting that today’s writer has to ‘dumb-down’ their writing to be popular—I’m saying that the leeway enjoyed by earlier writers has contracted to a fine point—a tightrope that must be walked. Mass audiences actually require intelligence in their entertainment—but it must be a carefully monitored dose, administered with precise timing and dosage, from moment to moment in their favorite tales.

Stephen Spielberg cracked this code, creating movies that blew us away, while not insulting our intelligence. The use of levity is essential is his formula, but he also kept the mayhem and the fear going at all times.

And perhaps most restrictive of all, today’s popular stories must start with high drama—either dread, rage, sublime ecstasy, or just plain explosions. My writer friend, in beginning with a busy, happy family scene, had failed to grasp me by the throat—but was that her failing, or mine?

The Vagaries of Emotional Cycles

Today was a rest day. Not that I actually schedule rest days—I only have days of high activity, high productivity days, terrible days, and rest days. I like days when I’m active—I get up and move around, even go outside; I talk to people; I do the crossword; I write, draw, or play the piano—anything that rouses the circulation at least a little, anything that puts some spark in those brainwaves.

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Such activity inevitably leads to a productive period. I’ll record some piano music; I’ll write op-ed-type essays; I’ll scan in some old artwork or I’ll photo-shop my artwork and my photos, whatever I usually do when I feel like I’m involved in life, even if only peripherally. The ultimate goal is to ‘Post’ things to my online friend-circles—a finished recording, a proofread essay, some graphic artwork of my own creation. Not everything I write gets posted—and I’ll tell you why I’m glad about that. If I was comfortable posting everything I wrote, I wouldn’t be getting at the heart of things that are important to me.

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And that’s probably the same reason I can’t get a toe-hold on any fiction-writing—if I wrote about things I care about, things I felt are too personal to share with ‘the public’, even in fiction form, I would feel too exposed. Plus, all my characters would be transparent ‘takes’ on the people closest to me—my family and friends. So, even if I was comfortable laying myself open to the world at large, I wouldn’t feel right using people I care about as characters in a story. Sometimes, when I’m reading something, I’ll wonder to myself about the author and whether he or she felt embarrassed about certain scenes or dialogues, especially when it involved recognizable characters from their actual life.

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Anyway, it’s not for me. I don’t think I could write an intimate love-scene and be okay with my children reading it, or my mother, or my neighbors, or really anybody—no, writing fiction is for thicker-skinned people than me. And I see no point to writing fiction that can’t be shared with the world. Still, I can write essays to myself about myself—that falls under the heading of ‘therapy’ (like those letters they tell you to write and then tear up when you’re mad at somebody). And I have felt certain instances of clarity that came as a result of putting my thoughts and feelings into words.